Home Sweet Home Blogathon- The Brady Bunch and Their Home at 4222 Clinton Way

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.

The iconic Brady home–the second most photographed private residence in the country after the White House

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).

The dining room

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 Man” aka Greg Brady eats breakfast in the kitchen while Carol and Mike chastise him for calling them by their first names.

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.

Greg, Marcia and Jan relax in the family room

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.

Greg and Marcia do “yard work” on the Astro Turf in the 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.

My favorite iteration of the girls’ room. I love the wallpaper!

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.

The most contentious room in the Brady home.

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.

The boys’ room. Bobby and Peter in the bunk beds, Greg in the single. Personally, I could do without the clown picture.

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.

Raquel and Alice in the hallway. Why is that chair there? It serves no purpose except to be in Raquel’s way!

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.

Mike and Carol’s love nest. I really like their screen.

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.

Greg’s swingin’ bachelor pad in the attic. Personally, I think he should have incorporated some of the things from his first pad.
I mean, surely some of these things would work perfectly in Greg’s attic room? I think he needs some of the mood lighting and tapestries.

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 stairs served as the optimal space for promotional photos. From left to right: Cindy (Susan Olsen), Bobby (Mike Lookinland), Jan (Eve Plumb), Peter (Christopher Knight), Marcia (Maureen McCormick), Greg (Barry Williams), Alice (Ann B. Davis), Carol (Florence Henderson), and Mike (Robert Reed)

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.

Oops! Marcia is about to spill correction fluid all over Mike’s architecture plans

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.

Ooh look at Alice’s luxurious view of the mop and bucket!

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.

Carol is about to find her mangled earring at the bottom of the washing machine in the service porch.

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!”

Clearing the DVR- “The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry” (1945)

Geraldine Fitzgerald’s provocative pose on top of brother George Sanders’ head is apropos to their relationship in this film–“strange affair” indeed

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.

Ella Raines and George Sanders. Their relationship is a bright spot in this film.

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.

George Sanders and Geraldine Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s character is a nut.

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.

Mrs. Ziffel serves up grub at the diner!

New Favorite Film Alert! And Clearing Out the DVR- Mrs. Miniver (1942)

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.

I loved Greer Garson in this film. She was gorgeous and turned in an amazing performance in this film.

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).

The heartbreaking scene in the shelter

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.

Teresa Wright and Richard Ney’s storyline was absolutely heartbreaking

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.

Happy Holidays Blogathon- “White Christmas” (1954)

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.

Bing Crosby croons “White Christmas”

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)
Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen sing “Sisters”

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.

Bing Crosby and National Treasure Danny Kaye have a lot of fun impersonating Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in “Sisters.”

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.

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and National Treasure Danny Kaye perform the Minstrel Number, “Mr. Bones.”

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.

Vera-Ellen and National Treasure Danny Kaye in “White Christmas”

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.

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, National Treasure Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen in “White Christmas”

Celluloid Road Trip Blogathon- “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945)

The term “film noir” conjures up black and white imagery. The use of shadows, rain, and narration are also common tropes. The detective and femme fatale are typical characters in a film noir. Cynicism, weariness, disillusionment and paranoia are often present. Director John M. Stahl’s 1945 masterpiece, Leave Her to Heaven, features a femme fatale, but otherwise doesn’t share many of the aforementioned motifs. It also features gorgeous locales, a beautiful leading lady, amazing costumes and fantastic immaculately decorated homes, all shot in glorious Technicolor. Technicolor film noir are not common, but Leave Her to Heaven is one of the all-time best. It also features one of the deadliest and most psychotic femme fatales of all time.

The gorgeous Gene Tierney stars as one of the most psychotic femme fatales ever in “Leave Her to Heaven”

Gene Tierney plays Ellen Berent, a socialite traveling from Boston to New Mexico. She is enroute to New Mexico to spread her father’s ashes. She’s accompanied by her cousin Ruth (Jeanne Crain) and her mother (Mary Phillips aka Ex-Mrs. Humphrey Bogart #2). While on the train, Ellen spots Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde). They are immediately smitten with one another and spend the remainder of their journey chatting. Ellen and Richard then discover that they’re all staying at the same New Mexico resort and Richard is invited to dinner. It is at the dinner when Richard learns that his resemblance to Ellen’s beloved, deceased father is one of the reasons why she was interested in him. Ellen’s beau, District Attorney Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) shows up and Ellen announces (to Russell) that she and Richard are engaged–much to Richard’s surprise.

This all should be a red flag. But Richard goes along with it. Richard announces that he’s planning on visiting his polio-stricken brother, Danny (Darryl Hickman) at a hospital in Warm Springs, Georgia. Richard and Ellen marry. While in Georgia, Danny announces his intention to travel with Richard and Ellen to Richard’s “Back of the Moon” lakeside cabin in Deer Lake, Maine. We (the audience) see Ellen beg Danny’s doctor to step in and prevent the trip. She also refers to Danny as “the cripple.” Ellen’s true colors are showing.

Danny swims while Ellen follows in Deer Lake

Deer Lake, Maine is where all the most infamous action of Leave Her to Heaven takes place. This is a gorgeous lake locale–lush with trees and emerald green water. The lake is vast and serene. Deer Lake is just one of the gorgeous locations in Leave Her to Heaven. The beautiful, tranquil settings are juxtaposed with the beautiful, yet psychotic Ellen. Multiple references are made to Ellen “loving too much.” It seems that Ellen loved her father so much that she actually drove a wedge between her father and her mother. Cousin Ruth is Ellen’s adopted sister as she was taken in by the Berent family at a very young age. Ruth makes a comment referring to “being adopted by Mrs. Berent” instead of by both Mr. and Mrs. Berent. One could assume that Mrs. Berent adopted Ruth after being basically left by the wayside by both her husband and daughter. Ellen then promises Richard to “Never let [him go]. Never Never Never.”

And she means it.

Throughout the film, Ellen showcases extreme jealousy toward anyone who divides Richard’s attention away from her. She will not let ANYONE get between herself and Richard. When Danny expresses his interest in following Richard and Ellen to Deer Lake, Ellen is livid. Deer Lake (actually Bass Lake in California) provides the backdrop for one of the most sinister, diabolical scenes in film history. Ellen and Danny go out in a rowboat in the middle of Deer Lake. Danny, who is just starting to regain his strength and ability to walk, tells Ellen that he’s going to swim across the lake. Danny is way over-confident, but Ellen lets him go ahead while she follows in the rowboat. Danny starts out well, but begins to slow down. Ellen, seeing an opportunity to rid herself and Richard of Danny’s presence, urges him to continue:

“You’re not making very much progress, Danny. Are you alright?”

(Later, after Danny starts complaining of being cold and having a cramp, Ellen keeps encouraging him)

“You don’t want to give up when you’ve come so far!”

Ellen’s cold heart reveals itself after removing her sunglasses when Danny drowns

Danny starts getting very tired and distressed. As he flails around helplessly, Ellen sits there, coldly. As if she were in a trance, Ellen stares at Danny as he frantically waves his arms, trying to keep afloat and signal Ellen for help. The camera is fixated on Ellen’s face, her eyes hidden behind her dark glasses. We hear Danny yelling for help. We see Ellen watching and watching, almost as if she’s waiting for confirmation that Danny has drowned and will no longer be in her way of loving Richard. As Danny goes underwater, Ellen rips off her glasses and reveals her cold, icy stare. Combined with her pursed lips, Ellen is satisfied that she’s just murdered young Danny. She feigns concern when she spots Richard on the lakeside trail, and makes a show of “saving” Danny by diving into the lake. Richard follows suit. However, both Ellen and Richard’s rescue attempts are futile. Danny is dead. Ellen is overjoyed. Richard is understandably upset and it’s obvious that he has an inkling that Danny’s drowning wasn’t entirely an accident.

Just when we didn’t think that Ellen couldn’t be any more insane, she tops herself (perhaps, it might be on par) at the family’s oceanfront home in Bar Harbor, Maine. I am here for all of the crazy things she does in this film. It’s just so much fun to watch.

The famous shot of Ellen on Deer Lake looking on while Danny drowns. (I really love her sunglasses)

Ellen Berent is one of the most evil and insane femme fatales in noir history. I think she might be crazier than Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity. The drowning scene in Deer Lake is simply one of the all-time most evil scenes in film. She could have just poisoned Danny or shot him or anything and that would have been bad enough. She sets poor Danny up to drown. His desire to impress Ellen and prove to himself that he’s on the mend from polio causes his overconfidence. Ellen, established to be an excellent swimmer earlier in the film, had all the opportunity to save him and didn’t. Devoid of emotion, she watches Danny struggle. She cooly stares at him, mentally counting down the minutes until he’s drowned. Only then does she “worry” and try to save him. Ellen is cold and calculating. She knows what she wants and how to get it.

Ellen always wins.

Agnes Moorehead Blogathon- “The Magnificent Aunt Fanny”

Agnes Moorehead isn’t considered a “great beauty.” I’ve always thought she was pretty. She had a unique beauty and I mean that in the best possible way.

Today, Agnes Moorehead is best known as Endora, Elizabeth Montgomery’s mother on the 1960s television sitcom, Bewitched. However, while Agnes is amazing as Endora, especially when terrorizing “Durwood,” she is so much more than Endora (even though she’s amazing and one of the best characters in the show). Agnes had already completed dozens of films prior to her turn on the small screen. She was also nominated for four Academy Awards. Unfortunately, she did not win any of her nominations. In my opinion, Agnes should have won for her turn as “Aunt Fanny” in Orson Welles’ 1942 film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), or as I prefer to call it: The Magnificent Aunt Fanny.

In the late 1930s, Agnes Moorehead joined Orson Welles’ stock company, The Mercury Theater. One of her fellow players was Joseph Cotten. Both Moorehead and Cotten would appear in Welles’ first film, Citizen Kane (1941) and they both star in his second film, The Magnificent Ambersons. ‘Ambersons’ is notorious for the hack-job that RKO did on the film during editing. Welles was out of the country working on another project. RKO removed over 40 minutes of footage from Welles’ original cut and also re-shot the ending. The studio changed the ending to a happier ending, one that matches the original novel on which the film is based.

Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead

While the final cut of ‘Ambersons’ is not what Welles envisioned, there is no doubt that Agnes Moorehead was a brilliant and gifted actress. Her characterization of Aunt Fanny is fantastic. Aunt Fanny is a jealous, but tortured woman. She might be the most sympathetic character in the entire film. It is not an easy feat to play someone who is jealous and bitter, yet vulnerable and tragic. This is a woman who has loved and lost without ever having love reciprocated. Can you really lose what you never had? The tragedy of it all is that Aunt Fanny held onto a false dream that she’d be with Eugene (Joseph Cotten) someday. Now, she’s alone without seemingly any prospects. She’s let her entire life pass her by.

Throughout the entire film, Aunt Fanny and George (Tim Holt) are foes and allies. At the beginning of the film, George and Aunt Fanny quarrel over Mr. Minafer’s (George’s father, Fanny’s brother) reluctance to take a ride on Eugene’s new-fangled contraption, “the horseless carriage.” From their whisper argument, it becomes clear that Aunt Fanny is holding a torch for Eugene. Eugene, on the other hand, is holding a torch for Isabel (Dolores Costello), George’s mother and Fanny’s sister-in-law. It seems that Eugene and Isabel used to date in their youth until he embarasses her in public and she rejects him publicly. Isabel married Wilbur Amberson, a man whom she does not love. Together Wilbur and Isabel raise spoiled brat George.

After Wilbur’s death, George and Aunt Fanny remain allies throughout the film–especially when discussing Eugene and Isabel’s budding relationship. George doesn’t approve of Eugene and is embarrassed by Eugene’s affection towards his mother. At first, Aunt Fanny claims that nobody knows about Eugene and Isabel, but lets it slip that there is town gossip. Then, George discovers that Isabel and Eugene were involved prior to his birth. He is horrified. He makes a jackass out of himself to one of the neighbors and town gossips when he demands to know where these stories about his mother originated. Aunt Fanny continues to play both sides, at times supporting Eugene and Isabel and opposing George; but also struggling with her desire to be with Eugene.

George! You do not touch Aunt Fanny!

I just want to reiterate how much George sucks. George Amberson is one of the biggest spoiled brats in movies. He has no business trying to meddle in his mother’s affairs. He is such a whiner in this film.

At least he gets his comeuppance in the film. He deserved it.

Aunt Fanny, this poor woman, has such bleak prospects in her life. She’s a lonely spinster, having lost (but never having had him in the first place) the only man she’s ever loved. Her only family, Wilbur, has died. He didn’t leave much of an estate, but did leave Fanny his insurance payout. The only blood family she has is stupid George, who belittles and mocks her endlessly. She is still acquainted with Isabel and Jack, but without Wilbur, she’s not really connected to them any more. Then, the only man she’s ever loved, Eugene, wants to be with another woman. Eugene is friendly with Aunt Fanny, but appears to only think of her as Isabel’s family, the kindly spinster Aunt.

“You wouldn’t treat anybody in the world like this, except Old Fanny! ‘Old Fanny’ you say, ‘It’s nobody but old Fanny, so I’ll kick her. Nobody’ll resent it. I’ll kick her all I want to!’ And you’re right. I haven’t got anything in the world since my brother died. Nobody. Nothing!”

Aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead), “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942)
Aunt Fanny, at the end of her rope

Finally, all the stress, anxieties, depression, the whole gamut of Aunt Fanny’s emotions comes to head when she has to reveal to George that her bad investments have left her and by proxy, George, penniless. George’s prospective $8/week lawyer job suddenly doesn’t look so great when he figures that they’ll need approximately $100/month to live on. Aunt Fanny’s bank ledger shows a balance of $28. Of course, being George, instead of giving Fanny some sympathy, continues to press and needle until she’s a hysterical, blubbering mess on the floor, leaning against the radiator. One gets the sense that George is more embarrassed by Aunt Fanny’s behavior than he is that she’s broke and by proxy, so is he. Aunt Fanny has reached absolute rock bottom. Not only is she alone and without Eugene. Now she doesn’t even have any money. She’s lost her only means of support. She’s lost the storied Amberson home. She’s lost everything due to her bad investments.

(George warns Aunt Fanny about leaning against the supposed hot radiator) “It’s not hot. It’s cold! The plumbers’ disconnected it. I wouldn’t mind if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t mind if it burned me George!”

Aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead), “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942)

At the end of the film, when things seem the bleakest for Aunt Fanny, George finally does something admirable. Probably the only nice thing he has ever done in his entire life. After Aunt Fanny finds a boarding house that she’d like to live in, mostly due to the sense of community and friendship amongst the other boarders, he decides to find a higher paying job so that he can help Aunt Fanny. Things are looking up for Aunt Fanny when the twice-widowed Eugene shows up at George’s bedside (where Fanny is sitting after George’s accident) and promises to look out for both her and George, as a tribute to his late wife Isabel.

While Eugene and Aunt Fanny may not end up a romantic couple, one cannot help but feel happy for Aunt Fanny after all that she’s gone through. She may have seemed jealous and bitter, but in the end, she was just a lonely woman who desperately wanted to be with somebody and take care of them.

Aunt Fanny 20 years from now if things don’t work out with Eugene?

What a Character Blogathon–SZ Sakall

Everyone remembers the big stars: Bogart, Hepburn, Monroe, Gable, etc. but not enough attention or praise is given to the character actors. Character actors are performers who often played supporting parts, but weren’t expected to carry the film. A film’s failure wasn’t blamed on the character actor. They weren’t “the name” that brought in the crowds. These actors were hired for the types of characters they portrayed. Some actors, like Claude Rains, for example, could play leading parts, supporting (but lead) parts, and character roles.

“Everything is hunky dunky.”

One of the all time best character actors is SZ Sakall, or as I like to call him: “International Treasure SZ Sakall.” SZ was born Gründwald Jakob in Budapest, Austria-Hungary (now present day Budapest, Hungary) on February 2, 1883. As a young man, he wrote vaudeville sketches under the pen name Szőke Szakáll. In the 1910s and 1920s, SZ was working on the Hungarian stage and screen. In the 1920s, he moved to Vienna. By the 1930s, he was living in Berlin. He continued to appear in German cinema and plays. He also ran his own production company.

SZ returned to Hungary in 1933 after the Nazis gained power in Germany. He started appearing in Hungarian cinema and performed in over 40 films. In 1940, SZ and his wife Anne moved to Hollywood after Hungary joined the Axis powers. Many of SZ’s relatives, including three sisters, were killed in the Nazi concentration camps. SZ started appearing in films almost right away. He made his American film debut in It’s a Date (1940) with Deanna Durbin. He also shortened his name to the much easier to pronounce, SZ Sakall.

SZ or “Cuddles” as he was dubbed by Jack Warner, specialized in playing befuddled, but loveable European shopkeepers, uncles, restaurant owners, etc. He was usually in a small part, some more critical than others. SZ was popular with actors like Errol Flynn, who loved him. But he was unpopular with other actors, like Alan Hale Sr., who claimed that SZ was a scene stealer. Flynn tells a story in his memoir, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, about how he liked to invite Cuddles and Hale to the same get togethers over and over:

“Sakall was a funny old guy. I always liked him for his screwy, mushy personality, but most other actors hated him. He messed up the English language so much that they couldn’t get their cues. I let him run on. It was fun to see the effect of him on the other character players. He ran off with many scenes, and that was enough to make him despised by the others.

Hale couldn’t stand him. They hated each other and refused to work with each other. To see them together was like a meeting of two prima donnas at a tea party. Naturally I brought them together as often as I could, and on this night Hale hollered, “For Chrissakes, Zakall [sic], a’int it time you learned to speak English? You been here long enough!”

Errol Flynn, “My Wicked Wicked Ways” (1959)

Over his Hollywood career, SZ appeared in over 40 films. He appeared in a variety of different roles and genres. His most famous role is arguably Carl, the waiter in Casablanca (1942). SZ appeared in dramatic films, comedies, musicals, westerns, he was everywhere. His last film was The Student Prince (1954). Sadly, SZ suffered a heart attack and passed away on February 12, 1955, 10 days after his 72nd birthday.

SZ will always be remembered for his colorful film appearances. His loveable, flustered persona is endearing as is the way he delivers his lines in mangled English. I absolutely love him and am always excited to see him when he pops up in a film.

My Top 5 SZ Sakall Appearances:

  1. “Carl” Casablanca (1942). In the classic film to end all classic films, SZ plays “Carl,” the head waiter and maître d’ at Rick’s Cafe American. He is loyal to Rick and watches in admiration as Rick (Humphrey Bogart) lets the young Bulgarian couple win at Roulette. He also delivers a funny line when asked if the gambling is honest.

CUSTOMER: “Are you sure this place is honest?”

CARL: “Honest?! As honest as the day is long!”

2. “Luigi” Never Say Goodbye (1946). SZ appears with buddy Errol Flynn in one of my favorite Christmas films. In this film, Flynn and ex-wife Eleanor Parker are divorced. Their daughter, Flip, hates spending 6 months with one parent and then 6 months with the other. She desperately wants to get them back together, as does her father Errol, who it seems was blindsided by the divorce. SZ plays Luigi, the owner of the restaurant where Errol and Eleanor frequented while they were dating. Luigi is also a family friend. Errol pulls him into his schemes and Luigi does all he can to follow along, often to disastrous results. There is a funny scene where he and Errol wake up after having spent the entire night bar-hopping while dressed as Santa.

PHILLIP (Flynn): “I don’t care about Nancy. But I don’t want her to start making a scene. You know how she is.”

LUIGI: “Sure. You take a girl out to dinner two or three hundred times and right away she thinks you’re interested in her.”

3. “Felix Bassenak” Christmas in Connecticut (1945). SZ appears as Barbara Stanwyck’s uncle who is enlisted to help his niece cook a delicious Christmas dinner for a visiting soldier, Dennis Morgan. Stanwyck’s character, Elizabeth Lane, works as a magazine columnist. She’s concocted this entire persona as the perfect wife, cook, mother, everything. She describes her gorgeous Connecticut farmhouse to her readers. On paper, Elizabeth looks like she’s living the dream and everything’s perfect. In reality, Elizabeth is single, lives in New York, and has just purchased an absurdly expensive mink coat. Her publisher, Sydney Greenstreet, is unaware of her charade and insists that Elizabeth host Christmas at her farmhouse for visiting soldier Dennis Morgan, who is so fond of her articles, that he writes to Greenstreet expressing his wish to meet her. Aside from being the chef who cooks all the food, SZ gets involved in Stanwyck’s shenanigans–at one point, he insists that the baby swallowed his watch.

FELIX: “Watch now. I show you how to flip-flop the flop-flips.”

4. “George” The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) . In this film, SZ plays Charles Coburn’s butler. Coburn is Thomas Merrick, “the richest man in the world.” Merrick owns a department store whose employees want to unionize. Merrick goes undercover as “Thomas Higgins” to find the source of the union talks. As he spends more time with the employees, the more he sympathizes with their desire to form a labor union. SZ is so put upon as Coburn’s butler–he only serves Coburn graham crackers and milk due to Coburn’s constant stomach issues. SZ does almost everything for Coburn to the point where he’s so out of touch with reality, that he fails at even the easiest of tasks. At one point, in an attempt to show up his nemesis, Coburn asks SZ to bring in a small child and sell her 12 pairs of shoes. Coburn tries the ugliest shoes on the little girl and the whole scheme falls apart.

GEORGE: “Dr. Schindler made up your pepsin in to sticks of chewing gum sir. He thought that you would like the change. You are to have one every hour on the hour. You will find them in your lower left breast pocket.”

5. Otto Oberkugen “In the Good Old Summertime” (1948). This film is a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 film, “The Shop Around the Corner.” In ‘Summertime,’ Judy Garland plays Veronica who gets a job at Otto Oberkugen’s music shop. One of the other salesmen, Andrew (Van Johnson), is threatened by her potential competition for sales, but he also develops a crush on her. Both Veronica and Andrew begin corresponding and falling in love with their respective secret pen pals. Little do they know that they’re corresponding with each other.

OTTO: “Don’t call me Uncle Otto. In the store, I am Mr. Oberkugen.”

SHEESH!

Double Feature: Where the Boys Are (1960) & Shag (1989)

I always love to come up with ideas for Double Features. I like to pair double features with common actors, directors, genres, themes–something that ties the two films together.

Left to Right: Page Hannah, Bridget Fonda, Phoebe Cates, Annabeth Gish in “Shag”

TCM recently aired Shag (1989) as part of their “Women in Film” series. I’d heard of this film, but didn’t know anything about it. Being a native of the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t know that “Shag” was a dance style, native to South Carolina. After watching this film, I can say that Shag is like a polite form of dirty dancing. Lol.

Left to Right: Paula Prentiss, Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux, and Connie Francis in “Where the Boys Are” (1960)

After having read the synopsis of Shag, I determined that it sounded very similar to Where the Boys Are (1960), one of my favorite teen beach movies. Both films are a coming of age story for four young women traveling to the beach for vacation where they learn about love and sex. In this blog entry, I’m going to compare and contrast the two films and try to draw parallels between the two.

SETTING: 1960s American South. Where the Boys Are is contemporary 1960 America in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The southern setting isn’t as explicit as these are girls traveling south from a snowy, Northern climate. Shag takes place in 1963 in Myrtle Beach, SC. The southern culture is highly emphasized with the accents, focus on propriety, and other symbols of the South.

PLOT: The plots are similar. In both films, a group of young women are traveling to a more “fun” environment for spring break. The girls in ‘Boys’ are about a year or two older than the women in Shag. They are 19 and already in college. In Shag, the ladies are high school seniors, putting them at 17-18 years old. The ladies in ‘Boys’ are on vacation for two weeks, so they have more time to explore the beach…and the boys. There is more time for the girls in ‘Boys’ to establish a relationship with the opposite sex so that their infatuation and “love” kind of makes sense. In Shag, the ladies are on a long weekend trip and are already proclaiming their love for these boys whom they’ve just met. The girls pack a lot of action into the three days of their trip.

‘Boys’ is a little more serious, as there are no wild parties, love triangles, or dance contests. Their humorous scene at the nightclub is probably the equivalent to the wild party in Shag. Both films feature the idea of sex and whether it is okay to have sex outside of marriage. Characters in both films present opposing viewpoints on the subject. Characters in both films also have sex, but it is presented in very different environments with varying levels of consent.

However, in both films, their respective vacations prove to be pivotal experiences in their lives which will inevitably shape them for years to come.

CHARACTERS:

Merritt (Dolores Hart) ‘Boys’ & Carson (Phoebe Cates) Shag

Dolores Hart (Merritt) in “Where the Boys Are”

Merritt is nearly suspended from her college for scandalizing the professor in her “Courtship & Marriage” course by offering her support for sex before marriage or “backseat bingo” as she calls it. She talks a big game about sexual freedom and not necessarily following the expected life plan for women. However, as the movie continues, it becomes apparent that Merritt might be all talk.

Phoebe Cates (Carson) in “Shag.”

Carson, on the other hand, isn’t prissy or uptight, per se, she’s more concerned about doing what’s right according to society’s expectations for young women in 1963. She’s engaged to be married (I know, a high schooler engaged, but hey it happened in “Boy Meets World”) to Harley (Tyrone Power Jr.). Harley is kind of dull or as Melaina says: “A square with corners” which doesn’t really make any sense, because the very essence of a square are corners, otherwise it’d be a circle, but we get the point. Harley is dull with a capital D. However, he’s the son of a tobacco executive, so he’s loaded. Marrying Harley would ensure that Carson would be financially stable.

Harley is comparable to Merritt’s beau, Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), as he is also rich and could provide Merritt with everything she’d ever need. Ryder seems to be a little more hip than Harley however.

Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) in ‘Boys’ & Melaina (Bridget Fonda) in Shag

Yvette Mimieux (Melanie) in “Where the Boys Are”

Melanie is Merritt’s classmate at college and has been listening to Merritt preach about pre-marital sex. She is inexperienced, but willing (to put it mildly). Merritt is Melanie’s closest friend and confidant. Melanie gets into trouble when she lets her dream of hooking up with a “Yale-ie” cloud her better judgement. Believing that a boy from Yale is somehow a better catch and that she’d somehow end up with an amazing boyfriend (maybe even husband), she realizes too late that he’s only after what she seems to be after, but isn’t really.

Bridget Fonda (Melaina) in “Shag”

Melaina (Bridget Fonda) is the stereotypical promiscuous (a la Ariel in “Footloose”) preacher’s daughter. She wants nothing more than to leave their dinky town of Spartanburg, SC and move to Hollywood. Melaina is a little more wordly and experienced than Melanie, but her brazen behavior gets her into a bad situation. Melaina ultimately has her sights set on Jimmy Valentine, a local wannabe Elvis celebrity, who has connections to Hollywood that Melaina could use. When she realizes that Jimmy’s agent is the one with the REAL connections, she kicks Jimmy to the curb.

Tuggle (Paula Prentiss) in ‘Boys’ and Luanne (Page Hannah) in Shag

Paula Prentiss (Tuggle) and Jim Hutton (TV) in “Where the Boys Are”

Tuggle makes it very clear that she’s a proper girl who does not want to have sex outside of marriage. She says she’ll remain chaste even if she has to have the local blacksmith weld her a belt. She wants to fulfill her destined female role: being married and having children. She is easily able to resist the charms of TV (Jim Hutton) and keeps him at arm’s length.

Page Hannah (Luanne) & Bridget Fonda (Melaina) in “Shag.” Look at Luanne’s amazing glasses!

Luanne is also very prim and proper, but not so prim and proper that she’s not above lying to her parents about her and her friend’s plans for the weekend. She convinces Melaina to ditch her bikini and pseudo-strip tease (i.e. “Modern Ballet” as Melaina calls it) routine for the beauty pageant and recite Scarlett O’Hara’s famous monologue from Gone With the Wind instead. Luanne is so worried about getting caught that she’s prepared a very lengthy web of lies to cover her tracks.

However, Luanne is not above getting herself a boyfriend, even if it’s her friend’s. Thus becoming part of two interlocking love triangles.

Angie (Connie Francis) in ‘Boys’ & Caroline aka “Pudge” (Annabeth Gish) in Shag

Connie Francis (Angie) in “Where the Boys Are”

Angie is not fat by any means (and she’s not, look at her tiny waist), but she’s curvier than her friends. She’s not ugly by any means either, but she doesn’t instantly catch the boys’ attention. Angie says that she doesn’t even have to bother lying to her parents about anything, because they just assume that she’s fine and staying out of trouble. Angie ends up attracting a young musician (Frank Gorshin), who is nice, but dense.

Annabeth Gish (Pudge) in “Shag”

“Pudge” is very pretty but was an overweight teen, hence the nickname. She’s recently lost the weight, but she’s still not as svelte as her friends. It doesn’t help that they persist in calling her “Pudge.” Even Luanne’s parents refer to her as “Pudge.” So obviously this is a nickname that Caroline’s had for quite some time. Anyway, despite her weight loss, Caroline is self-conscious about her size and finds it hard to believe that anyone would be interested in her romantically.

Caroline meets a local Myrtle Beach boy, Chip. He is very nice to her and even knows how to do the Shag dance, but he friendzones her–which is a huge blow to her self esteem. Caroline and Chip also participate in one of my favorite movie themes– The dance contest.

I just like this poster, I had to work it in somehow.

I love 1950s-1960s teen beach movies and Where the Boys Are definitely fits the bill. It has a great cast, great setting, humorous situations, poignant situations, and it doesn’t rely on cheesy cliches. Shag, while not a 1950s-1960s teen beach movie, per se, it takes place in the 60s, so it is a more modern look at that subgenre. There aren’t really many beach scenes, but there is an amusement park scene and a dancing at the drive-thru on rollerskates scene, so what more could you want? There are also two love triangles that interlock, which I also love. And, Shag features one of my favorite teen comedy tropes: The wild forbidden teenage party featuring total destruction of the house by strangers, jungle juice, and awkward situations.

I highly recommend both Where the Boys Are and Shag. Both are guaranteed to be a fun time and a nice respite from the weariness of the day to day drudgery of life.

Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon- “The Spiral Staircase” (1946)

Ethel in younger days. Which is hair and which is hat?

The Barrymores are a storied Hollywood dynasty. Siblings Lionel, John, and Ethel all began their careers on the stage in the late nineteenth century (1901 for John) and began appearing in silent film during the 1910s. While Lionel and John embraced Hollywood and made a large number of films, Ethel preferred the stage on Broadway. It wasn’t until the 1940s when Ethel was already in her 60s that she started taking on more film roles. She even won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her 1944 film, None but the Lonely Heart.

Robert Siodmak fills his noir with all kinds of amazing images, like this staircase in “The Spiral Staircase.”

In 1946, Ethel appeared in my favorite Robert Siodmak film noir, The Spiral Staircase. Siodmak is one of my all-time favorite film noir directors. Siodmak made so many fantastic noir: Criss Cross (1949), The Killers (1946), Phantom Lady (1944), The Dark Mirror (1946), and Cry of the City (1948). Siodmak is so adept at using all the noir tropes to create these very atmospheric, moody films. Who can forget the image of Franchot Tone’s seemingly glowing hands in Phantom Lady, or the smoke-filled heist of Criss Cross? In The Spiral Staircase, Siodmak literally uses a spiraling staircase as the focal point for the film’s tense scenes.

Fantastic use of shadow in this film!

Dorothy McGuire stars in The Spiral Staircase as a young mute woman, Helen, living in 1906 Vermont. She is mute due to childhood trauma. When Helen was a child, she witnessed her parents’ death in a fire. She has been unable to speak since. At the beginning of the film, Helen is attending a silent film screening at a local inn. During the film, a crippled woman is murdered in her room by an unknown assailant hiding in her closet. This woman’s murder is the third such murder in the community.

Dr. Parry (Kent Smith), a friend of Helen’s, was also at the inn and drives her home to her employer’s residence. Helen is a live-in servant for the invalid, Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore). Mrs. Warren’s stepson Albert (George Brent), her son Steven (Gordon Oliver), her staff Mr. and Mrs. Oates (Rhys Williams and Elsa Lanchester), her secretary Blanche (Rhonda Fleming), and her Nurse (Sara Algood) all live at the home as well.

As Helen walks up the driveway toward the home, we spot a cloaked figure watching from a distance. When Helen arrives home, she finds Mrs. Oates in the kitchen discussing the latest murder in the town. Mrs. Oates expresses fear that Helen will be targeted as the serial killer’s MO seems to be targeting disabled, i.e. defenseless, women. Helen is mute due to psychological trauma. If she’s attacked, she may not be able to scream for help.

Ethel Barrymore and Dorothy McGuire in “The Spiral Staircase.”

Mrs. Warren is bedridden with failing health, however, she is still feisty and sharp. Her hatred of her nurse is hilarious. Mrs. Warren doesn’t mince words when letting her nurse know how much she dislikes her. However, Mrs. Warren has a much better relationship with Helen. I got the sense that Mrs. Warren either empathized with her or felt some sort of protective feeling over her well-being. Mrs. Warren encourages Dr. Parry to take Helen to to Boston with him and see if he can help her through her trauma to regain her voice.

Throughout the remainder of the film, Helen’s paranoia and heightened sense of danger continues to increase as it becomes increasingly obvious that someone is targeting her.

Ethel Barrymore is amazing in this film. I love her performances. She always plays a stoic, no-nonsense, wise woman. In this film, even though her character is supposed to be physically weak and other characters just see her as a burden, she is the strongest one in the film. She has one glorious moment of triumph in this film. Another fantastic Ethel Barrymore performance is as Bogart’s friend and supporter, Margaret Garrison in Deadline, U.S.A.

I know that this is the Ethel Barrymore blogathon, but I love Dorothy McGuire in this film. She’s amazing in this movie. She is able to convey so much emotion with her face. McGuire plays a mute character in this film. She cannot speak. However, because of McGuire’s superb acting in this film, the audience doesn’t miss any of Helen’s feelings or thoughts without the dialogue. In fact, in this film, I think dialogue would have just gotten in the way of McGuire’s performance.

If you want to see another amazing Dorothy McGuire performance, check out The Enchanted Cottage (1945), co-starring Robert Young.

Claude Rains Blogathon- “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938)

I love Claude Rains. He definitely deserves to be more well-known. He appeared in just as many important films as his peers who attained “legend” status long after their passing. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have the typical leading man good looks. He was short. But so was Edward G. Robinson, and he’s considerably more well known than Rains. For the record, while I wouldn’t say that I found Rains “hot,” in some films, I think he’s quite attractive. And that voice!

Rains played the leading role in films like Mr. Skeffington, The Invisible Man, The Unsuspected, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and The Clairvoyant. And he often played the supporting lead in A-list films like: Casablanca, Now Voyager, Notorious, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and my personal favorite, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Prince John (Claude Rains) tries to butter up Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland)

The Adventures of Robin Hood, while a career-defining role for stars Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, it was also a remarkable role for Rains. As Prince John, Rains deviates from his typical sophisticated, dignified persona. Prince John is a despicable villain, drunk with power, eager to rob his subjects blind while his brother, King Richard the Lionheart, is fighting in the Crusades.

Claude Rains as Prince John assumes King Richard’s place on the throne.

Rains’ Prince John is quite flamboyant and a bit of a dandy. He is vain and wears a red-Prince Valiant-style haircut and flashy medieval garb with large embroidered velvet capes and bright colors. He enjoys sitting on Richard’s throne, holding Richard’s scepter. Prince John is a horrible person, very sadistic. He arranges an entire archery tournament with the sole purpose of luring Robin Hood out of hiding and setting up his execution. Prince John seems to relish watching “The Tall Tinker” (i.e. Robin Hood) and the other contestants shoot arrow after arrow, knowing that he’ll have his man at the conclusion of the tournament.

Despite how horrible Prince John is, Rains imbues him with so much panache and so much life that not only is it fun to watch Prince John attempt to ruin the Saxon’s lives, but it’s also fun to watch Robin Hood get the best of him each and every time. Prince John is hilarious, such as the scene when Robin Hood enters the banquet hall with one of Prince John’s royal deer (deceased) draped around his shoulders. I love the scene when Prince John is so excited to see “The Tall Tinker.”

Prince John (Claude Rains) (center) admires his striking Prince Valiant hairdo while The Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper) (left) and Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) (right) look on in bemusement.

Then of course, Prince John’s undoing at the end of the film is fun to watch as well. For someone who let power go to his head so fast and so hard, he sure gave up easily when Richard banishes him. If one wants to see Rains give a performance like no other, then watch The Adventures of Robin Hood. Plus, you’ll get to see the lovely Olivia de Havilland and my boyfriend, Errol Flynn.

Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) makes his triumphant entrance carrying one of Prince John’s prized royal deer.