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

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

The opening title card of “On the Beach.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner dance the night away.

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

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

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

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

Fred Astaire delivers a tortured performance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film opens as Poe’s poem does:

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

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

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

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

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

Only this and nothing more.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Peter Lorre and Son Jack Nicholson

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

Vincent Price takes his shot in the magic fight

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

Boris Karloff fires back with his magic

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

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

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

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

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

Quoth the Raven: “Nevermore.”

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

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

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

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

I am here for Dr. Errol Flynn.

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

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

Ralph Bellamy and Errol Flynn

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

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

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

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

::Sigh::

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

Sandra Dee in “Gidget”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stockard Channing as “Rizzo” in Grease (1978)

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

Sandra Dee in “Take Her She’s Mine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly’s loving mother in “A Summer Place”

National Classic Movie Day! Four Favorite Film Noir

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

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

In no particular order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My queen, Ann Savage, and Tom Neal in Detour

Favorite Quote:

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


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

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

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

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

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

This screenshot perfectly captures the character of Nancy

Favorite Quote:

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


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

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

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

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

Favorite Quote:

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

BURKE: Never had a wife


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

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

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

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

Barbara Stanwyck and Ralph Meeker in “Jeopardy.”

Favorite Quote:

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


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

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

#PreCodeApril2022 Film #3: Queen Christina (1933)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even dressed like a pilgrim, Garbo looks amazing.

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

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

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

#PreCodeApril2022 Film #2: Blonde Crazy (1931)

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

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

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

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

Blondell in the bathtub

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

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

Blondell really knew how to slap


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

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

The Public Enemy (1931)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ETHEL: Who, me? No!

MAN: Are you positive?

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

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

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

Oh how I was wrong.

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

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

Then I saw Sunset Boulevard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doris Day Centennial Blogathon- “Julie” (1956)

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

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

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

Doris and her bonkers husband, Louis Jourdan

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

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

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

Doris takes control of the plane in the cockpit

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

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

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

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

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

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