The Odd or Even Blogathon- “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)

With this blogathon, we had to provide the option of two films, one film produced in a year ending in an even number and another ending in an odd number. The blogathon host would then flip a coin and decide which option to assign to the author. My two films were: Walk on the Wild Side (1962) and Once a Thief (1965). I was told to write about my “even” choice. Stay tuned for my eventual entry about Once a Thief, with the beautiful Alain Delon whom I just discovered last year, thanks to guest programmer, Dana Delany on TCM!

Everyone’s favorite critic, Bosley Crowther, described Walk on the Wild Side as a “lurid, tawdry, and sleazy melodrama.” With this ringing endorsement, I knew I had to see this film! Plus, it also featured two of my faves, Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Fonda! With these two powerhouse actresses in the cast, I figured that Walk on the Wild Side, if anything, would be entertaining. I first tried to watch this film in February 2019 when my husband was in the hospital. I discovered that it was streaming on Amazon Prime. But between being tired due to trying to sleep in the uncomfortable hospital chair and then being constantly bothered by the hospital staff, and then falling asleep while trying to watch the movie, I had to give up trying to watch it. Sadly, the film dropped off Prime and I didn’t get to see it.

I finally got to see Walk on the Wild Side last year when Criterion Channel featured the film during a series they had on Jane Fonda. I was so excited to see it.

It was worth the wait.

The awesome Saul Bass-produced opening credits

Walk on the Wild Side opens with some awesome Saul Bass-produced opening and closing credit sequences. As the opening credits are displayed, a black cat slinks its way through an urban landscape as an exciting jazz-inspired score plays. The black cat walks through the grimy neighborhood, passing broken fences, old cement pipes, rusted out plumbing and chain link. Eventually the black cat spots a white cat and picks a fight. This opening sequence is the perfect metaphor for the events that unfold in Walk on the Wild Side. The closing credits are just as fun with the black cat seen walking over a newspaper headline providing an update to the characters’ fate whom we just saw at the conclusion of the film.

Jane Fonda as “Kitty Twist” and a wet mop–err Laurence Harvey as “Dove Linkhorn.”

Walk on the Wild Side takes place during the Great Depression. It opens with Kitty Twist (Jane Fonda) sleeping inside of a large, cement tube somewhere in rural Texas. Dove Linkhorn (Laurence Harvey), a cowboy, spots her and wakes her up. Kitty is a young woman who has spent many years as a bit of a vagabond, doing what she needs to get by. The filmmakers try to make Jane Fonda look a little rough around the edges, but despite some messy hair and baggy clothes, she still looks great. Fonda also affects a Southern drawl, much better than the one she uses in Period of Adjustment. Dove tells Kitty that he’s on his way to New Orleans. His father has died and Dove decides that this is the time to find and reunite with his lost love Hallie. He gets wind that she’s in New Orleans.

(DOVE has this completely absurd and ridiculous reminiscence about his time with Hallie. Seriously nobody would ever say this)

DOVE: “I’ll never forget the first time I met her. We went swimming together. It was at night. The way she moved in the water, like a kind of white flash. It was then I kissed her for the very first time. She gave me something I’d never known before. Something I a’int experienced since. Afterwards in the moonlight, we danced like we were celebrating a miracle. Crazy kind of dancing. We sang and shouted like it wasn’t real, as if we were in another world. Sometimes I think it never really happened to us.”

Laurence Harvey as “Dove Linkhorn” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)

Kitty, not really having anywhere else to go or having anything else to do, decides to travel with Dove to New Orleans. Along the way, she shows him the ropes on hitchhiking and hopping freighters. Kitty also shows Dove the tools that women have at their disposal to get by in the world when she trades her baggy clothes in for a tight, form-hugging dress that shows off her assets to their highest potential. The ruse works and Kitty is able to get them a ride in the back of a box truck to complete the final leg of their trip. It’s obvious by this point that Kitty wants to get into Dove’s pants, but he rebuffs her every advance.

(KITTY is trying to seduce DOVE)

DOVE: “Sure I like you Kitty, but I don’t feel like foolin’.”

KITTY: “I’ll make you feel like foolin’.”

DOVE: “When I want something, I’ll ask for it!”

KITTY: “Who are you savin’ it for Dove? What’s her name?”

DOVE: “Hallie. Her name is Hallie.”

KITTY: “She’s in New Orleans?”

DOVE: “Hope so. I a’int seen her in three years.”

Jane Fonda as “Kitty Twist” and Laurence Harvey as “Dove Linkhorn” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
The miscast Anne Baxter as “Teresina.”

Upon arriving in New Orleans, Kitty and Dove stop at a small diner run by a kind Latina woman, Teresina (Anne Baxter. Yes, really. We’ll look past this for now). Kitty senses an opportunity to take advantage of Teresina’s hospitality and feigns illness after eating her meal. Teresina takes Kitty into the small bedroom behind her cafe to rest. As soon as Teresina is out of sight, Kitty loots her drawers, looking for something of value to steal. She eventually settles on Teresina’s beautiful rosary. Kitty emerges from the bedroom and she is very rude to Teresina, threatening to sue her for “poisoning” her.

(After TERESINA implies that KITTY was feigning illness while KITTY pitches a fit about being “poisoned” by TERESINA’S cooking)

KITTY: “Imagine, an innocent person walkin–“

TERESINA: “And of course, you make your living by walking.”

Jane Fonda as “Kitty Twist” and Anne Baxter as “Teresina” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)

Me-ow! Kitty’s behavior at Teresina’s restaurant leads to a fight between her and Dove. As they’re leaving, Dove discovers the rosary in Kitty’s pocket and forces her to return it. They return to Teresina’s cafe and return the rosary. Kitty storms off and disappears for about half the film. As the action of the film progresses, it becomes obvious where Kitty will re-emerge. Dove’s honesty appeals to Teresina and she gives him a job at her cafe. With a place to stay and some income, Dove continues to search for Hallie. He ends up discovering that she works works at “The Doll House,” a brothel in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Queen Barbara Stanwyck as “Jo,” the madam of The Doll House brothel

Now for the best part of the film–Barbara Stanwyck. My queen, Barbara Stanwyck, plays Jo, the proprietor of The Doll House. It seems that Jo discovered Hallie in New York City and brought her back to New Orleans. When Dove finds Hallie, she tells him how she came to live at The Doll House. Hallie’s story implies that she and Jo became lovers, which Hallie was receptive to because she was so lonely. Jo is very protective of Hallie, both out of a personal interest and a business interest, because Hallie is the #1 girl at The Doll House. Dove and Hallie reunite and resume their relationship, much to Jo’s chagrin.

Eventually, Kitty re-joins the film (looking amazing I might add) when she’s picked up on vagrancy charges. Jo apparently bailed her out and perhaps in repayment, Kitty becomes an employee at The Doll House. Jo then figures out that Kitty and Dove are acquainted with one another which is where Jo finds her ace in the hole. Kitty is apparently underage (which we wouldn’t know looking at her). Dove and Kitty traveled together from Texas to Louisiana. Jo sees this as an opportunity to threaten Dove, stating that she will tell authorities that he transported a minor over state lines for the purposes of immoral activity and statutory rape. However, she’ll keep quiet if Dove leaves, without Hallie. However, Jo isn’t the type to just let things go.

JO to HALLIE: “I want to know what’s going on between you and that boy. Are you in love with that Texas dirt farmer?

(After further arguing between JO and HALLIE)

JO: You may be weak, but I’m not. I’ll find your dirt farmer and that will be the end of that.”

Barbara Stanwyck as “Jo” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
Jane Fonda as “Kitty Twist” looking amazing when she rejoins the film as one of Jo’s new girls.

This film is kind of trashy, but in all the right ways. It is not quite as trashy as one of my other faves, Valley of the Dolls, but it’s up there. Laurence Harvey has the personality of a wet mop, so there isn’t much to say about him, except that he’s miscast. Harvey is British playing a cowboy. Capucine isn’t much better. She epitomizes ice queen, which does not seem like the ideal quality for a prostitute. She seems like she’d be the type of prostitute who’d come with a big laundry list of things that they “won’t do.” Anne Baxter’s casting as a Latina is baffling. Her affected “Mexican” accent is even worse. The filmmakers could have cast someone else, like Katy Jurado, if they wanted a Latina accent. If they really wanted Baxter, I don’t think changing the character’s nationality would have made much of a difference. While I love Baxter, she has such a deliberate way of speaking, with. each. and. ev-ery. syl-a-ble. so. clear-ly. em-pha-sized. Regardless, Baxter’s miscasting just lends to the fun. That’s how I look at it.

The real stars of this film, in my opinion, are Fonda and Stanwyck–the two actresses for whom I watched this film. Fonda is excellent as the conniving young woman who does whatever she wants, takes whatever (or whomever) she wants. She doesn’t care who she hurts as long as she gets what she wants. Fonda brings a spark to her scenes with Harvey, which is desperately needed since he’s so boring. I love that she’s allowed to be a little more loose in this film as she was a bit too stiff in her earlier films like Period of Adjustment. Stanwyck is amazing and she did an excellent job as the villain of the story. She is so cruel and ruthless. Jo is a woman who is so clearly in love with her star girl, that no man, and especially not a drip like Laurence Harvey, are going to come between her and the woman she loves. Poor Barbara Stanwyck’s legless husband. He doesn’t stand a chance.

Ice Queen Capucine looking glamorous in 1960s couture in a film that takes place during the Great Depression. Oops.

This film also features gorgeous 1960s gowns, except, oops. This movie takes place during The Great Depression. But hey, if Anne Baxter can be Mexican, then Capucine can wear 1960s Pierre Cardin couture. Sartorial anachronisms aside, Walk on the Wild Side is a great film if you enjoy a slightly trashy film. The early 1960s black and white, gritty aesthetic really makes the film. It’s a fun film to watch if you don’t take it too seriously and just go with whatever is presented on screen. I was so happy when Sony saved this film from out of print oblivion by releasing a new blu ray of the movie this past September. You better believe that I bought it.

The Umpteenth Blogathon- “Desk Set” (1957)

One of the hallmarks of a classic film (regardless of age) is its rewatchability factor. There are plenty of good films, but if it’s not something that I’d ever watch again, it’d be hard for me to consider it a “classic.” I have plenty of films in my collection that many people would not consider classics, or even good movies, but if I love them, then that’s all that matters and they’re “classics” to me. With that said, for this blogathon, we were asked to write about a film that we’ve seen an umpeenth amount of times. This is a film that we’ll watch no matter how many times we’ve seen it. We’ll watch it when it’s on TV, even if we own the DVD. This is a film that never gets old no matter how many times we’ve seen it.

My collection is made up of tons of films that I’ve seen a million times. What’s the point in developing a collection of films if you’re only going to watch them once? One of my films that I never tire of watching is Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s penultimate screen pairing, Desk Set. Hepburn and Tracy made a total of nine films together. Their first film, Woman of the Year, or their last, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner might have more name recognition, but for my money, Desk Set is their best and my personal favorite.

Left to Right: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Blondell, Sue Randall, and Dina Merrill in “Desk Set.”

I’ve seen Desk Set multiple times. It’s always one of my go-to Christmas films, due solely to the wild Christmas party featured in the film. This past Christmas season, I watched this film two days in a row. Desk Set has always been one of my favorite films, but up until recently, I’d always wondered about the title. What was a “desk set” ? And how does this title relate to the film? Well I finally looked up “desk set,” and unfortunately, the answer was anticlimactic. A “desk set” is literally a desk. So that answer was pretty boring and I decided that the title was meant to describe office life.

SYLVIA (answering a question over the phone): Reference department, Miss Blair. Oh yes, we’ve looked that up for you, and there are certain poisons which leave no trace, but it’s network policy not to mention them on our programs.

Dina Merrill as “Sylvia Blair” in “Desk Set” (1957)

In Desk Set, Hepburn stars as Bunny Watson, the head librarian in the reference library at the Federal Broadcasting Network (FBN) in Manhattan. The reference library is basically a manual version of the internet, where anyone can call in and request any sort of information, from baseball statistics, to bible passages, to entire poems. No question is too big or too small for the reference library. Also working in the library is Bunny’s best friend, Peg Costello (Joan Blondell), Sylvia Blair (Dina Merrill), and newbie Ruthie Saylor (Sue Randall aka Miss Landers from “Leave it to Beaver”). The women have a camaraderie and work well together. Bunny is also dating Mike Cutler (Gig Young), an executive at the network, but they’ve been dating for over seven years and the relationship is seemingly going nowhere.

(BUNNY is getting ready to meet MIKE)
BUNNY: How do I look?
PEG: Too good for him

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” and Joan Blondell as “Peg Costello” in “Desk Set” (1957)
Bunny and the dull Mike Cutler. I love her dress, but Mike has got to go!

One day, a methods engineer and efficiency expert, Richard Sumner (Tracy) comes to visit the employees at the FBN. He is the inventor of the Electromagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator, or EMERAC for short. EMERAC is one of my favorite things in movies, the large 1950s computer that fills up an entire room, has a lot of lights and sound effects, and shoots out pieces of paper. The head of FBN wants to possibly purchase an EMERAC and install it in the research library to help the librarians. However, as these things often go, rumors spread that Sumner is actually looking to replace the librarians with EMERAC and save FBN money over the long term.

RUTHIE: What do you suppose he’s (Richard) doing all that measuring for? Do you think we’re being redecorated?
SYLVIA: Does he look like an interior decorator to you?
PEG: No! He looks like one of those men who’s just suddenly switched to vodka!

Sue Randall as “Ruthie Saylor,” Dina Merrill as “Sylvia Blair,” and Joan Blondell as “Peg Costello” in “Desk Set” (1957)

At the same time, since this is a Hepburn/Tracy film, we anticipate Gig Young getting out of the picture so that they can be together. This happens when Bunny and Richard find themselves bonding over sandwiches in the cold, frigid air. Bunny impresses Richard with her ability to recall facts and use logic and previous experiences to solve the riddles he tries to stump her with. Later, the two are caught in a rainstorm and Bunny invites Richard to her home to dry off and warm up. One of my favorite parts of this scene is when Bunny, needing to find something for Richard to wear while his clothes dry, offers him one of Mike’s Christmas presents–a bathrobe with an “MC” monogram. Both Peg and Mike show up and are surprised to see Richard. They’ve even more surprised to see Richard in a bathrobe with Mike’s monogram. Oops.

BUNNY: I’ve read every New York newspaper backward and forward for the past 15 years. I don’t smoke. I only drink champagne when I’m lucky enough to get it, my hair is naturally natural, I live alone–and so do you.
RICHARD: How do you know that?
BUNNY: Because you’re wearing one brown sock and one black sock.

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” and Spencer Tracy as “Richard Sumner” in “Desk Set” (1957)
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in “Desk Set.”

Later, the employees at FBN have the greatest Christmas party. It ranks up there with the Christmas party in The Apartment. This party is absurd and could only happen in the 1950s when it was not only allowed, but encouraged to be drinking alcohol while at work. The champagne is seemingly flowing out of a faucet as the women in the reference library float around from department to department drinking and carousing. Obviously, no actual work gets done at FBN on Christmas Party Day. Poor Ruthie says, “But I don’t want to drink in the middle of the day!” but her pleas fall on deaf ears. It is at the Christmas party when Mike drops the bombshell that he and Bunny are moving to California and are going to marry. This is news to Bunny as Mike didn’t even formally propose to her. Bunny has to break it to Mike that she doesn’t want to move, and they end up breaking up–FINALLY.

BUNNY: Have some tequila, Peg
PEG: I don’t think I should. There are 85 calories in a glass of champagne.
BUNNY: I have a little place in my neighborhood where I can get it for 65.

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” and Joan Blondell as “Peg Costello” in “Desk Set” (1957)
The reference librarians attend the best work Christmas party

A few weeks later, EMERAC is delivered and put to work. Sumner’s prissy assistant, Miss Warringer, is there to demonstrate EMERAC. The women in the reference library have seemingly been compiling data on punch-cards to feed into the machine. Then payday arrives and the reference librarians expect the worst–pink slips. Unfortunately, their worst fears are confirmed when each woman pulls a pink slip out of their envelope. Then Sumner arrives to demonstrate EMERAC. Then the phone starts ringing off the hook with all kinds of crazy questions. The women in the reference library refuse to help due to their recent firing. Miss Warringer is forced to take the calls and the reference librarians look on in amusement as she struggles to even take the calls, let alone actually finding the answer.

BUNNY: Really, you girls kill me. I was here until ten o’clock last night and this morning at 9, I had to go to IBM to see a demonstration of the new electronic brain.

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” in “Desk Set” (1957)

Miss Warringer enters the wrong information into EMERAC and is unable to answer the question correctly. The reference librarians use their resources in the stacks to find the correct answer. This routine continues a few more moments with each successive question, with Miss Warringer getting more frustrated by the minute. EMERAC eventually malfunctions and starts going crazy just as Bunny starts reciting the “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight” poem to mock Miss Warringer’s misspelling of the name of the island of “Corfu.” Miss Warringer, knowing that she’s being made fun of, storms out in disgust.

EMERAC loses its mind

Sumner understandably wants to know why the reference librarians are being so rude to Miss Warringer and he learns of their firing. Then it comes out that an EMERAC was also installed in payroll, and that machine also went insane and issued pink slips to everyone in the building, including the president! Sumner then clears up the misunderstanding (which probably could have been cleared up a hour ago, but then we wouldn’t have a movie) and explains that EMERAC is only meant to assist, not replace. The women are relieved and Sumner then asks EMERAC if he should marry Bunny. Well duh, he designed the machine and it’s a Hepburn/Tracy film, so you can imagine the answer.

RICHARD (to BUNNY): Something about the way you wear that pencil in your hair spells money.

Spencer Tracy as “Richard Sumner” in “Desk Set” (1957)

The film ends with the FBN reference library intact and Bunny and Sumner are engaged.

I love this movie. I love the scenes of EMERAC. The big computers are always so much fun to watch (see Touch of Mink, 1962). I love poor Miss Warringer’s big tantrum. I love the scenes of Hepburn and Blondell together. Blondell always makes every film better. Hepburn and Tracy were charming together. I loved Hepburn’s wardrobe and her fabulous apartment. This entire film is so much fun to watch and it’s enjoyable to see a career woman actually succeeding in her career, wanting to keep her career, and finding a partner who finds her intelligence exciting and isn’t intimidated. Sumner finds Bunny’s encyclopedic knowledge a turn-on versus Mike who seemingly doesn’t think much of Bunny’s job if he thinks that she’s willing to follow him to the West Coast with no notice. I imagine that after this film, Sumner and Bunny marry, they’re happy, and together they make the reference library better and better.

Bunny hilariously mocks EMERAC

Despite being over sixty years old, Desk Set still feels modern. People are still worried about being replaced by machines and sadly, in many instances, their fears are well-founded. However, no amount of artificial intelligence will ever replace a person’s unique set of experiences, knowledge, and skill sets. Were FBN a real company that was still around today, I’m sure that the reference library would have long since been phased out once the internet became more accessible. However, I could see the reference librarians moving into the roles of fact checking, as those types of roles are always needed by television, movies, news outlets, etc. etc.

What grown woman, especially a woman like Bunny, would want a giant Bunny for Christmas? And, why would a woman named Bunny, want a Bunny stuffed animal? She probably gets bunny stuffed animals all the time! Come on Mike! No wonder she broke up with you.

You Knew My Name: The Bond, Not Bond Blogathon- Pierce Brosnan in “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993)

I will admit that I’m not the biggest James Bond person. Not that I don’t like the films, but they’re just okay for me. It might be because I’m not a big action person. However, I have seen some of the Bond films, in fact, I’ve seen all of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond films. I remember “Goldeneye” being a big thing in 1995, especially when it came to the Nintendo 64, the hot video game system of middle school. But I digress. My first introduction to Pierce was not James Bond. My first introduction to Pierce was when he played Sally Field’s new beau in Mrs. Doubtfire. I remember thinking how Sally was a lucky woman–her new boyfriend was hot!

Robin Williams, Sally Field, and Pierce Brosnan in “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

In Mrs. Doubtfire, Sally Field plays Miranda Hillard, a successful San Francisco-based interior decorator. She is married to Daniel Hillard, a freelance-voice actor, played by the late Robin Williams. At the beginning of the film, Miranda and Daniel separate after he goes way over the top in a birthday celebration for their son. It’s the last straw for Miranda, who needs a responsible, reliable husband–not another, larger, child. She and Daniel separate and Miranda files for divorce. Daniel’s hopes for shared custody is based on his finding a suitable home and reliable employment within three months.

Needing someone to help keep the house in order and to watch the children, Miranda decides that she is going to hire a housekeeper/nanny. Daniel gets wind of this and concocts a scheme to put his voice acting skills to work and apply for the position. He gets his brother Frank, a makeup artist, to create a prosthetic mask and padding to bring “Mrs. Doubtfire” (Daniel’s female alter ego) to life. Mrs. Doubtfire applies for the position, wins over Miranda, and has the job. After a couple rough days, Mrs. Doubtfire hits her stride and is soon an irreplaceable member of the family.

“It was a run-by fruiting!”

Unfortunately for Daniel, Miranda has moved onto a new beau, Stuart “Stu” Dunmeyer, played by the super hot Pierce Brosnan. Sorry Robin Williams fans, as awesome as he was, he does not compete with Pierce Brosnan in the looks department–get it, Sally Field! There is a funny scene where Stu takes Miranda and the kids to the country club to swim. Depressed at the sight of seeing another man romancing his estranged wife and children, Mrs. Doubtfire downs drinks at the bar. At one point, after hearing a rude remark made about him by Stu, he throws a lime at the back of Stu’s head, then claims there was a “run-by fruiting” when Stu turns around in anger.

I think the film tries to somewhat portray Stu as a villain for comedic effect. However, he’s not really a villain in the sense that he’s purposely doing anything bad. However, he will be the factor that will ruin Daniel’s chances at reconciliation. While Daniel is trying to improve his life and meet the court requirements for joint custody, what he wants is to be back with his family; however Stu looks like he’ll be blocking that goal. And Stu isn’t just trying to hook up with old flame Miranda. After a business associate makes a comment about Miranda “having baggage” (i.e. three children), Stu corrects him, stating that he’s crazy about Miranda and her children.

The hunky Pierce Brosnan in “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Daniel’s behavior toward Stu reinforces Miranda’s decision to divorce him, in my opinion. Here is a grown man, who yes, is upset that Stu is taking his place as the patriarch, but he responds by throwing fruit, flipping Stu the bird, stating that Stu achieved his physique with liposuction, pulling the emblem off the hood of Stu’s Mercedes, and then truly takes things too far at Miranda’s birthday dinner. Daniel learns of Stu’s allergy to pepper. Daniel is at the restaurant to attend both a dinner/meeting with his new boss and as Mrs. Doubtfire to celebrate Miranda’s birthday. He ducks into the kitchen, finds Stu’s dinner and sprinkles pepper all over it. Stu is handed his dinner, takes a bite, and immediately starts choking. He is truly at risk of dying and Daniel finally realizes what he’s done and saves Stu’s life via the heimlich maneuver. Unfortunately for Daniel, the jig is up as Mrs. Doubtfire when his prosthetic mask is torn from his face while saving Stu. This brings us to the greatest line in the film:

MIRANDA: Oh my god! Oh my god! The whole time?! The whole time?! THE WHOLE TIME?! I have to go. We have to leave now. We have to go. I have to leave. We have to leave.

Sally Field as Miranda Hillard in “Mrs Doubtfire” (1993).

By the end of the film, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Miranda and Stu will continue seeing one another. Thankfully, Miranda and Daniel are able to resolve their differences enough that Miranda gives Daniel the housekeeper/nanny job so that he can see his children every day after school. The children can also see their father, via his “Mrs. Doubtfire” persona, which is a new hit children’s show in the local San Francisco market. It would have been easy for the filmmakers to turn Stu into a villain, make him slimy and gross, only wanting to hook up with Miranda for sex, her money, her business, etc. But the film doesn’t do that, Stu is presented as a stand-up guy, and we as the audience aren’t disappointed that Miranda might find a new father for her children. Both she and Daniel are better off in their new arrangement. And Miranda, who at the beginning of the film expressed how unhappy and angry she was in her marriage to Daniel, and how it made her act and feel, will finally get a chance at happiness. She’s found a man who brings what she needs to the table, and we cannot help but root for her and Stu.

YES!

What a Character! Blogathon–Elisha Cook Jr.

WILMER COOK: Keep on riding me and they’re gonna be picking iron out of your liver.

SAM SPADE: The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.

Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer Cook and Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon.”

HELEN: I must warn you though, liquor makes me nosy. I’ve been known to ask all sorts of personal questions after four cocktails.

MARTY: ‘s alright. I’ve been known to tell people to mind their own business. Cold sober too.

Claire Trevor as Helen and Elisha Cook Jr. as Marty in “Born to Kill.”

GEORGE PEATTY: This couple, sittin’ in front of me, oh, they weren’t young, exactly. I guess the woman was about your age.

SHERRY PEATTY: A little senile, you mean? With one foot and a big toe in the grave?

GEORGE PEATTY: You want to hear this or not? Do you or not, Sherry?

SHERRY PEATTY: I can’t wait. Go ahead and thrill me George.

Elisha Cook Jr. as George Peatty and Marie Windsor as Sherry Peatty in “The Killing.”
“Well Wilmer, I’m sorry indeed to lose you. But I want you to know I couldn’t be fonder of you if you were my own son. But well, if you lose a son, it’s possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon.”

Elisha Cook Jr. carved out a very unique niche for himself in Hollywood. He often played a villain, but never a outwardly scary villain. He was no Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in Kiss of Death or Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) in Cape Fear. Cook Jr.’s portrayal was much different. He was mild-mannered, timid even, but was still able to make the action of the film seem uncomfortable. To me, he comes across as someone who seems like they could crack any time now. In The Maltese Falcon, he trails Sam Spade all over San Francisco and makes threats along the way, but Spade never takes him seriously. Even at the end of the film, Cook Jr.’s boss, Kasper Gutman, sells him out and makes him the fall guy. Kasper does this to save his own neck.

When I first learned about Elisha Cook Jr., I did what I always do for every new film and new actor I discover: I looked up his Imdb and Wikipedia pages. I was astonished to learn that Cook Jr. was born in 1903! 1903! In ‘Falcon,’ he looks like a kid compared to Bogart and company. However, he was only four years younger than Bogart! Save for Sydney Greenstreet, Cook Jr., was older than the other members of his gang: Mary Astor and Peter Lorre. This was insane to me. He had such a baby face that it was astonishing that he was almost 40 when he appeared in ‘Falcon.’

It is partially Cook Jr.’s baby face that lends to his ability to play these meek, timid characters who provide a duplicitous nature to his characters. He didn’t always play the villain, but he often played someone who was pretty much on the up-and-up, but got in over his head due to his naiveté and inability to stand up against a stronger personality. In The Killing, Cook Jr., works at a large horse track as a cashier. He is married to the very domineering (physically and personality-wise) Marie Windsor, who treats him like garbage because he hasn’t provided her with the lifestyle to which she feels accustomed. To make his wife like him better, Cook Jr., gets involved with criminal Sterling Hayden who wants to pull off one last heist. Cook Jr., offers to use his position as an employee of the horse track to help Hayden pull off the heist. In exchange, he is supposed to receive a large sum of money. Unfortunately, Cook Jr. ends up paying for his involvement with his life.

Probably the most action Elisha Cook Jr. ever got in one of his films–Phantom Lady.

In contrast to his wimpy weaklings, Elisha Cook Jr., did turn in a very uncharacteristic (yet entirely typical) performance in Phantom Lady. In this film, Ella Raines is trying to prove the innocence of her boss who is sitting on death row for murdering his wife. He has an alibi, but the alibi cannot be located. Raines is trying to follow the clues to find the alibi and exonerate her boss before it’s too late. Nightclub drummer Cook Jr., is one of the people who can help lead her to the alibi. To convince him to give her the details, Raines tries to emulate the type of woman that a musician would be interested in. Donning fishnet stockings, a slinky dress, and stilettos, hepcat Raines’ ruse works. Cook Jr., invites her to this seedy private club away from the nightclub.

Here’s where Cook Jr.’s uncharacteristic performance comes in. Obviously wanting to seduce Raines and “make it” (as they say in old movies back then) with her, he presents the most erotic, sexually charged drum solo ever committed to celluloid. This is as close as filmmakers could get in having characters have sex on screen in 1944. Cook Jr.’s drumsticks hit the drumheads with such an intense, rhythmic beat. Close-ups of his sweaty face, eyes widening, smile tightening are juxtaposed with shots of the drumsticks. As the beat intensifies, so does the intensity in Cook Jr.’s face until the scene climaxes, and he and Raines slink out the door when she offers a come hither look. Like in most of his films, Cook Jr., doesn’t survive Phantom Lady, but at least he had some fun before his murder.

Elisha Cook Jr. is one of my favorite character actors. He brings such a unique presence to screen and you never know what you’re going to get, while knowing exactly what you’re going to get when he’s on screen.

My favorite Elisha Cook Jr. performances:

  • The Maltese Falcon
  • The Killing
  • Born to Kill
  • Phantom Lady
  • House on Haunted Hill
  • The Big Sleep
  • The Gangster
  • Don’t Bother to Knock
  • Love Crazy
  • I Wake Up Screaming
  • Ball of Fire

WATSON PRITCHARD: They’re coming for me now… and then they’ll come for you.

Elisha Cook Jr. as Watson Pritchard in House on Haunted Hill

The Distraction Blogathon- “Casablanca” (1942)

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“We’ll always have Paris.”

“Play it Sam, play ‘As Time Goes By.'”

“I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on here.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“Everybody comes to Rick’s.”

Humphrey Bogart (Rick), Claude Rains (Louis), Paul Henreid (Victor) and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa) in “Casablanca.”

These are just some of the amazing quotes from Casablanca. Casablanca is considered one of the greatest films of all time, and for good reason–it is a fantastic movie. Almost every line of dialogue is quotable. The characters (especially Rick, Ilsa, and Louis) are iconic. The last scene between Rick and Ilsa at the airport and later, the ending scene with Rick and Louis walking off into the fog are forever symbolic of Classic Hollywood. Between the quotes, the scenes, the music, Rick and Ilsa’s romance, Louis’ corruption… there is so much to remember about Casablanca. However, does anyone remember the object that plays a central role in the film? 1

1 Obviously a rhetorical question, because duh, we’re all Classic Hollywood film fans, OF COURSE we know the answer to this question; but roll with it.

Answer? The letters of transit. The letters of transit are introduced in the film as a piece of crucial documentation that refugees must present to leave Casablanca, Morocco. These refugees are hoping to obtain a letter of transit so that they can travel through German-occupied Europe to Lisbon, Portugal (which is neutral), then board a ship/plane to head to their new life in the United States. These documents are the objects that motivate the main characters’ actions in the film. The audience is first introduced to Peter Lorre’s character in the film, Ugarte, as he races through town and into Rick’s (Humphrey Bogart) club, Rick’s Cafe American. Ugarte boasts that he murdered two German couriers to obtain these precious letters of transit. He wants to sell them in Rick’s club. In the meantime however, Ugarte asks Rick to keep the letters of transit safe.

Later, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) arrive in Casablanca and head over to Rick’s. Victor is the leader of the Czech Resistance movement. Because of his activity, Victor ranks high on the Germans’ list of persons to not allow to leave Casablanca. Thanks to Rick’s business rival, Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet), Rick is suspected of having the letters of transit in his possession. This suspicion is what leads Ilsa and Victor to Rick’s. Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), the corrupt prefect of police, also suspects Rick has the letters of transit. He is a subject of the German-controlled France and is supposed to be preventing Ilsa and Victor’s escape.

Dooley Wilson (Sam) attempts to comfort Humphrey Bogart (Rick) as he laments Ilsa walking into his gin joint.

But does the audience care about the letters of transit? No. Not really. As the audience, we are immediately captivated by Rick’s sour reaction to Ilsa’s showing up at his club. What’s the story there? That’s what we want to know. Judging from Ilsa’s acquaintance with Sam (Dooley Wilson), Rick’s pianist and friend, and her asking him to play “it,” we know that there’s a story there. Sam knows what “it” is and reluctantly agrees to play the song when Ilsa persists. When Sam acquiesces to Ilsa’s request and begins playing “As Time Goes By,” (i.e. “it”), Rick angrily emerges from his office, demanding to know why Sam is playing *that* song. He spots Ilsa and oof. If looks could kill. Rick’s reaction, combined with Sam quickly grabbing his piano bench and scurrying out of the way, is what we need to know about. What is the story behind Rick and Ilsa?

The story of Rick and Ilsa provides the main framework of the story and the main conflict. Add in the fact that Ilsa is married to Victor, and a love triangle develops. Rick and Ilsa’s romance is re-kindled and soon it’s up in the air as to whether Ilsa will want a letter of transit to leave Casablanca. A different side of Rick emerges. He was a cynical, world weary ex-pat living in Casablanca, seemingly impervious to everything. Then Ilsa shows up (unexpectedly) and the romantic side of him emerges. Louis is there, kind of playing both sides, both as an ally of Rick’s but also wanting to follow through on his “duty” and prevent Victor’s escape. He knows Rick knows where the letters of transit are, but he doesn’t really work too hard to look for them. Louis, a French police officer, is stuck in the middle between duty to his country and duty to the corrupt Nazi regime who had taken over Vichy France. At the end of the film, Louis tosses the full bottle of Vichy water into the trash, symbolically showing that he is severing his ties with the Nazis. Louis, like Rick, becomes a patriot.

At the end of the film, Rick makes the ultimate sacrifice and sends Ilsa off with Victor. He hands over the letters of transit very casually. There is no big fanfare, no big build up when Rick hands off the coveted documents. Instead, we are treated to Rick’s very self-sacrificing monologue, the monologue in which he finally severs ties with Ilsa and closes this chapter of his life. This is closure to the romance that we’ve been captivated by since the beginning of the film. We’re finally finding out the resolution of the love triangle. Which man will Ilsa end up with? The man she fell in love with after her husband was thought to be dead? Or her husband, whom she reunited with (and abandoned Rick in the process) after learning that he was still alive? Does she stay with the man who escaped the war to live in Casablanca? Or does she stay with the man who is conducting very important, but also dangerous work on behalf of the Resistance? The letters of transit are essentially irrelevant in the context of the real crux of the film.

Humphrey Bogart (Rick) and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa) in the iconic airport scene from “Casablanca.”

RICK: “Last night, we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you’re getting on that plane with Victor where you belong.”

ILSA: “But Richard, no… I… I…”

RICK: “Now you’ve got to listen to me! You have any idea what you’d have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten we’d both wind up in a Concentration Camp. Isn’t that true, Louis?”

LOUIS: “I’m afraid Major Strasser would insist.”

ILSA: “You’re only saying this to make me go.”

RICK: “I’m saying it because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”

ILSA: “But what about us?”

RICK: “We’ll always have Paris. What we didn’t have, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”

ILSA: “When I said I would never leave you.”

RICK: “And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t have any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

(ILSA lowers her head and begins to cry)

RICK: “Now…now…”

(RICK gently grabs Ilsa’s chin and raises it, so they can look into each other’s eyes.)

RICK: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Humphrey Bogart (Rick), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa), and Claude Rains (Louis) in one of the most iconic scenes in Classic Hollywood.

The final scene between Rick and Ilsa is one of my absolute favorite scenes in any film. Who knew that a scene where two people are breaking up could be so romantic and heartbreaking. It was beautifully written and acted. After taking in the emotional gravitas of this scene and the absolutely heart-wrenching ending to this romance, who is still thinking about the letters of transit?

Rick, hide me! Do something! You must help me, Rick!”

CMBA Fall Blogathon: Laughter is the Best Medicine- “My Man Godfrey” (1936)

In today’s world, especially during the midst of a once in a century event (e.g. a global pandemic), laughter can be just the cure. A good comedy allows one to disappear into the world presented by the film. For the duration of the film, the viewer can forget about his or her troubles. In the film’s world, the viewer’s tax problems, health issues, financial struggles, relationship woes, etc. do not exist. A good comedy will endure, continue to entertain and remain funny, no matter how many times it has been seen by the viewer. One comedy that fits this bill is My Man Godfrey. I have seen this film at least a dozen times and it never fails to make me laugh.

Carole Lombard (Irene) and William Powell (Godfrey) in “My Man Godfrey.”

My Man Godfrey tells the story of the wealthy Bullock family, prominent figures of the New York social set. This family is completely insane. At the beginning of the film, we meet the grown Bullock daughters, Cornelia (Gail Patrick) and Irene (Carole Lombard). Cornelia and Irene are taking part in a scavenger hunt, an event put on to entertain the rich for the evening. This scavenger hunt requires the participant to locate all the items on the list and return them to headquarters. Each wealthy family makes up one team and the members of the team work together to locate each object on the list. Cornelia and Irene are in search of a “forgotten man” (i.e. homeless, destitute man). They come across Godfrey (William Powell).

Cornelia instantly makes an enemy of Godfrey when she offers him $5, making it seem like she’s doing Godfrey a favor. When she informs him that it is part of a scavenger hunt, he is irritated and Cornelia ends up in an ash pile. Irene, on the other hand endears herself to Godfrey when she reveals herself to be of a much kinder temperament to Cornelia. Enchanted by Irene and wanting to help her beat the snobbish Cornelia, Godfrey agrees to return to the scavenger hunt’s headquarters as Irene’s forgotten man. With Godfrey’s help, Irene wins the scavenger hunt.

Godfrey gives an amazing speech at the scavenger hunt headquarters. He chastises the rich for using the less fortunate as a form of entertainment, and does not mince words. After making his contempt for the rich folks’ activities clear, Godfrey leaves in a huff. Feeling bad for upsetting Godfrey, Irene chases after him and offers him a job as her protégé and family butler. Godfrey accepts the position. The next day, Godfrey arrives for his first day of work and quickly learns what he has gotten himself into.

Alice Brady (Angelica), Eugene Pallette (Alexander), Cornelia (Gail Patrick) and Carlo (Mischa Auer) in the Bullock living room

The Bullock family is bonkers. The matriarch of the family, Angelica (Alice Brady), has her own protégé, Carlo (Mischa Auer). Carlo is supposedly a musician, however we never hear him play more than one part of one song. Alexander (Eugene Pallette), the patriarch of the Bullock clan, is exasperated by Carlo, whom he sees as a mooch and drain on the family’s finances. There is a hilarious scene where a fed up Alexander asks Carlo to accompany him. We then hear glass breaking. Alexander returns and states that Carlo “had to leave very suddenly.” Alexander is the straight-man to the family’s antics, but even he has his moments of insanity. Cornelia is a snob and very much resents Godfrey’s presence in the family’s home. She does not hide her contempt for him. Irene however, is in love with Godfrey and does not hide her feelings for him whatsoever. Finally, Molly (Jean Dixon), the wise-cracking maid is Godfrey’s experienced counterpart whose sassiness is perfect for showing Godfrey “the ropes” of handling the various temperaments of the members of the Bullock family.

One particularly funny moment in the film has Irene hosting a party for her friends while experiencing a moment of depression after being rebuffed by Godfrey. She walks around the party in a dramatic moment saying things like: “life is but an empty bubble,” and “what is food?” Carole Lombard’s Irene is the key to the film’s comedy. She is so hilariously wacky, but at the core is just a sweet young woman who wants someone she can love. Godfrey is that person with whom Irene is completely smitten. However, the trick is to win over Godfrey. William Powell’s portrayal of Godfrey brings a steady, calming influence to the film. Without the straight-man Godfrey character, this film would be completely off the rails and would probably be really irritating. Godfrey’s looks of exasperation and sheer surprise make him a very funny character in his own right.

I love this movie. Irene, Godfrey and Angelica make me laugh and never fail to make me feel better. My Man Godfrey is one of my all-time favorite screwball comedies. This movie is a riot with each scene funnier than the last. I can imagine myself living in the Great Depression, scraping up some change to see this film in the theater. I can imagine myself laughing hysterically at this film and feeling better because I was able to forget about standing in the breadlines for just a few minutes. This is the power that movies have–escapism. A film that can whisk the viewer away and capture their imagination is a film that will endure for generations. My Man Godfrey is one such film that has endured for 85 years and will continue to last because it is hilarious. It never fails to make me feel better through its power to make me laugh.

Forgotten Man William Powell is “rescued” to Carole Lombard.

Some of my favorite quotes from the film:

GODFREY: My purpose in coming here tonight was two-fold: firstly, I wanted to aid this young lady. Secondly, I was curious to see how a bunch of empty-headed nitwits conducted themselves. My curiosity is satisfied. I assure you it’ll be a pleasure to go back to a society of really important people.

Godfrey telling off the rich folk for using the less fortunate as entertainment fodder

GODFREY: These flowers just came for you, miss. Where shall I put them?

IRENE: What difference does it make where one puts flowers when one’s heart is breaking?

GODFREY: Yes, miss. Shall I put them on the piano?

Godfrey dryly reacting to Irene’s over-the-top dramatic behavior

CARLO: Oh Money! Money! Money! The Frankenstein monster that destroys souls!

ANGELICA (to ALEXANDER): Please don’t say anything more about it! You’re upsetting Carlo!

Carlo reacting to Alexander’s rant about money and Angelica trying to protect her mooching protégé.

IRENE: What is food?

Irene is dramatically moping around the house and trying to sound philosophical.

The Biopic Blogathon: “Gentleman Jim” (1942)

The real James J. “Gentleman Jim” Corbett

James John “Gentleman Jim” Corbett was a competitive boxer best known for beating the famed heavyweight world champion, John L. Sullivan. Despite having only fought in about twenty matches, Corbett went up against the best fighters the sport had to offer. He was famous for his technique, which involved actual skill and practice, in lieu of sheer brute force. His refined conduct inside and outside the boxing ring led to the media referring to Corbett by the nickname, “Gentleman Jim.” At the end of the nineteenth century, boxing was still illegal in about half of the states in the union. The brutal nature of the sport led to it being considered immoral. However, Corbett’s genteel behavior and adoption of the Marquess of Queensbury Rules 1 (still in use in boxing today) led to the sport becoming more acceptable, especially among the women who flocked to his matches in droves. Corbett was one of the first modern sex symbols in the sports world.

1 The Marquess of Queensbury Rules were drafted in 1865 and established a code of ethics that fighters must follow at all times during a match. It wasn't enough to win, a fighter also had to play by the rules. There are a multitude of rules, including boxing ring regulations, proper gloves and shoes, 10-count before declaring KO, referee given power to end bout, and other rules. 
Despite what the poster might have you believe, Flynn does not have a mustache in this film.

In 1942, about ten years after Corbett’s passing, Warner Brothers set out to create a biopic of his life after having purchased the rights to his story from his widow. To star in the film as the first sex symbol of modern day boxing, Warner Brothers cast (who else?) Errol Flynn. Of all the stars in their stable, Flynn is the perfect choice to appear as the refined, lithe, attractive “Gentleman Jim.” Flynn himself was a boxer before Hollywood and was a natural athlete. To hone his boxing skills and to properly portray the real-life Corbett’s footwork technique, Flynn took extensive lessons. He rarely used a double during filming.

Flynn’s James “Jim” Corbett is presented as a brash young man with a “cock of the walk” type attitude. Working as a bank teller in San Francisco alongside his best friend, Walter (Jack Carson), he very easily ingratiates himself into the Olympic Club, a very elite club and gym for the upper crust. A young woman, Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith) comes into the bank one day to get some change for her father’s card game and meets Jim. Hearing that she’s on her way to the Olympic Club, Jim very graciously (lol) offers to accompany her to the club. Soon he manages to invite himself on a lunch date with Victoria and before he knows it he’s in the club showing off his boxing technique to the members of the club. The members are impressed and much to Victoria’s chagrin, Jim is invited to become a member of the club.

Alexis Smith and Errol Flynn as Victoria Ware and Jim Corbett. This picture nicely sums up Victoria and Jim’s relationship throughout most of the film.

Victoria and Jim have a very funny love-hate relationship throughout the film. Victoria finds Jim’s cockiness and forward behavior very off-putting. On his first day as a member, Jim has himself paged all over the club, “Paging Mr. Corbett,” to make him appear important to the other members of the club. His arrogant behavior irritates the other members of the club, but they put up with it because of his ability. Victoria heckles Jim throughout the film. She cheers for his opponents, boos him when he enters the ring, and mocks his behavior. Victoria’s dad looms in the background laughing at Victoria and Jim’s flirtatious, yet faux contemptuous behavior toward one another. “You two are the funniest couple” he says. However, despite how much Victoria pretends to be irritated by Jim, there’s a definite vibe that she’s got a crush on him. And who wouldn’t? Look at the man.

Jim also has a hilarious Irish family who provide some comic relief for the film. His father, Pat (Alan Hale) and mother, “Ma,” are both Irish immigrants who run a stable in the working class area of San Francisco. After a few prominent boxing matches, Jim’s star rises and he arranges for his family to move to the upper crust Nob Hill neighborhood. Pat and Jim’s brothers run a saloon that Jim purchases for them. The family is hilarious. One of their running gags is their heated arguments, which culminate with them taking the fight outside–“The Corbetts are at it again!” is heard a few times in the film. It is interesting how Jim is the only member of the family to speak with an Australian accent, but we’ll let that slide.

Alan Hale as Pat Corbett and Errol Flynn as his son, Jim.

Much of the film involves Jim’s power growing as he takes down one acclaimed boxer after another. During his first major bout, there’s a funny scene where his opponent’s son asks his mother why his dad doesn’t look like [Jim] in his underwear. The mother responds, “he did, once.” Jim wins the match and attends a party in his honor. However, he learns about the snobbery of the upper crust when his friend Walter is kicked out of the party due to not following dress code and drunkenness. My favorite part of this scene is where Walter starts drinking a man’s cocktail and the man says “hey that’s my drink!” Walter says, “it is? Then this must be mine!” as he grabs another drink and knocks it back. Upset over the treatment of his friend, Jim bails and they continue the celebration.

Jack Carson, William Frawley and Errol Flynn as Walter, Billy Delaney, and Jim Corbett

The celebration ends the next morning in Salt Lake City when Jim and Walter wake up. They discover that during their drunken evening, Jim had won $10 in a fight and gained a manager, Billy Delaney (William Frawley). Delaney is “strictly big time” (he says) and is soon booking Jim into more prestigious fights. Jim’s prizefighting career culminates with a huge 60+ round fight against the reigning heavyweight world champion, John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond).

Ward Bond and Errol Flynn as John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett

At the risk of spoiling the film, Jim emerges as the victor of the huge Corbett vs Sullivan match. At his celebration party, a humbled Sullivan shows up unexpectedly to cede his title to Jim. The scene is very poignant as Sullivan has to admit defeat and face the fact that he is no longer the greatest in the world. Jim, who idolized Sullivan when he was younger, gives the man a boost as he says that he’s grateful that he wasn’t the same Sullivan a decade prior. This moment humbles Corbett as he knows that there’s always someone waiting in the wings that is better. Soon Corbett will be humbled, just like Sullivan was that evening.

Finally, Victoria and Jim’s contentious relationship reaches its climax. Victoria continues to feign annoyance at Jim’s arrogance and he finally calls her out on it. He makes her admit that she doesn’t hate him as much as she lets on.

Alexis Smith and Errol Flynn as Victoria Ware and Jim Corbett– Geez, kiss already.

(After Jim kisses her while she berates him for being a “tin-horned, shanty Irishman”)

VICTORIA: Fine way for a gentleman to behave

JIM: Oh darling, that gentleman stuff never fooled you, did it? I’m no gentleman.

VICTORIA: In that case, I’m no lady.

(Jim and Victoria kiss again, this time as two people who have the hots for one another)

Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith as James “Jim” Corbett and Victoria Ware in “Gentleman Jim” (1942)

Like most biopics, Gentleman Jim strays from the truth a bit. The real “Gentleman Jim” was soft-spoken as he considered that more dignified. However, the casting of Errol Flynn brought about the “cock of the walk” attitude that definitely makes for a much more exciting film. Gentleman Jim was Errol Flynn’s favorite film of his career and it shows. This film is the peak of Flynn’s popularity and good looks. This film makes the best use of Flynn’s athleticism, good looks, charisma, everything. Alexis Smith was perfect casting. She’s formidable enough both in stature and personality to face Flynn. He is at his best when he has a strong leading lady to play against.

Swoon

My favorite parts are:

  1. When Jim falls into the San Francisco bay during an illegal fight and he completes the match in wet boxing pants.
  2. When Billy Delaney tries to maintain a quiet, relaxing environment for his prizefighter in the days leading up to the John L. Sullivan fight and his family bursts in and soon they’re singing and dancing an Irish jig. Billy Delaney says: “Look at those maniacs! What do you mean barging in here like a herd of wild elephants?” I love how Jim looks on in the background in amusement while Billy and Pat scuffle.
  3. When Ma Corbett corrects her family, saying “John *L* Sullivan,” emphasis in the L.
  4. The ending romantic scene with Victoria and Jim where they finally kiss. It’s about time, you know she’s been wanting to hook up with him since the beginning of the film.
  5. The very sweet scene between Jim and Ma where she worries about him fighting.

Now, time for my swoon moment:

YES!

Errol Flynn. Errol is my #1 favorite actor and this is the film that cemented that. He is hot hot in this film and is fantastic. He is one of the few leading men who take attention away from the leading lady. He is so gorgeous in this film and is just so much fun to watch. Aside from the film being genuinely a good film, he also provides plenty of opportunities for ogling.

In this film, we get to see:

  1. Flynn in wet, tight pants
  2. Flynn in short shorts
  3. Flynn in a tuxedo and top hat
  4. Flynn in a form-fitting union suit. HE EVEN MAKES A UNION SUIT LOOK GOOD.
  5. Flynn in tight pants
  6. Flynn with no mustache
  7. A lot of shirtless, Flynn action
“Give ’em room!”

Van Johnson Blogathon- I Love Lucy “The Dancing Star”

Van Johnson isn’t a name that often comes up when people think about figures from the Golden Age of Hollywood. However, that isn’t to say that he wasn’t a star. He co-starred alongside many of Hollywood’s more legendary actors; but he never got that one film that would catapult him into the echelon of “legend.” Some of the “legendary” actors Van co-starred with: Gene Kelly (Brigadoon), Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (State of the Union), Judy Garland (In the Good Old Summertime), Humphrey Bogart (The Caine Mutiny), and Elizabeth Taylor (The Last Time I Saw Paris). However, despite not ever making “the film” to propel him to legend status, Van was a big enough star to appear as himself alongside two of television’s biggest legends: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, on an episode of I Love Lucy.

A young Van Johnson watches on as Frances Langford serenades the crowd in Too Many Girls.

The I Love Lucy episode, “The Dancing Star,” was not Van’s first experience working with Ball and Arnaz. In 1939, while trying to make it as a young actor in New York, Van scored a gig as understudy to the three male leads of George Abbot’s hit Broadway play (featuring the music of Rodgers and Hart), “Too Many Girls.” One of the main cast members (whom I’m going to assume that Van did not understudy) was the young 23-year old Cuban musician, Desi Arnaz. The play was a smash hit and Arnaz along with co-star Eddie Bracken were brought out to Hollywood to reprise their roles in the RKO film adaptation of the play.

In Hollywood, Van joined the cast as an uncredited part of the chorus. He can be seen in the background of a few scenes, but most prominently in the front of the crowd dancing during Desi Arnaz’ big conga number. Another new member of the cast of the RKO production was Lucille Ball. Ball was the star of the film and would play the role of the ingenue college student, Connie. Ball and Arnaz were introduced prior to the start of filming. However, their first meeting did not go well as Ball was still wearing the makeup and costume from her current film, Dance, Girl, Dance, which co-starred Maureen O’Hara. Ball’s makeup and costume was a black eye and a torn gold lamé dress that she wore while shooting a catfight scene with O’Hara. Looking at Ball’s black eye and torn gown, Arnaz could hardly envision her as the virginal ingenue of Too Many Girls. Later that evening, Arnaz and Ball were re-introduced. During this meeting, Ball had cleaned herself up and sported her own clothing and makeup. It was love at first sight for Ball and Arnaz and the rest, as they say, was history.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz met during the filming of “Too Many Girls”

Anyway, back to Van. After Too Many Girls, he got more understudy work, including as Gene Kelly’s understudy in the Broadway play, Pal Joey. Kelly would soon be starring in his first Hollywood film, For Me and My Gal, with Judy Garland. Discouraged, Van was about to quit Hollywood when friend Lucille Ball took him to the famous Chasen’s restaurant to meet an MGM casting director. This meeting led to Van getting a screen test at Columbia and Warner Brothers. Columbia didn’t pan out, but Van scored a few roles with Warner Brothers. After his contract with Warner Brothers ended, Van was signed to MGM. MGM is where Van finally got a break and soon was appearing in films. In 1943, Van got his big break when he appeared in A Guy Named Joe with Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne. He continued to appear in many quality films throughout the 1940s.

Van and Esther Williams in Easy to Wed.

In 1946, Van was re-teamed with friend Ball in Easy to Wed which also co-starred Esther Williams and Keenan Wynn. Through the remainder of the 1940s, Van continued to appear in many great MGM films. By 1950, Van was freelancing, which freed him up to appear in films in other studios. During the 1950s, Van also started appearing in shows on the burgeoning medium known as television. In 1955, Van was invited to appear in a guest spot as himself on his friends’ (Arnaz and Ball) sitcom, I Love Lucy. By 1955, I Love Lucy was a massive hit and big stars were willing to appear on their show for free just to get the chance to be part of the program.

Van appears during the Hollywood story-arc of I Love Lucy in the episode, “The Dancing Star.” Ricky Ricardo (Arnaz) has been offered a role as Don Juan in Hollywood. He along with wife, Lucy (Ball), and their best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance) all head to California. While in California, wacky Lucy has various run-ins with stars (William Holden, Hedda Hopper, John Wayne, Harpo Marx, Rock Hudson, Sheila MacRae, Eve Arden, and CORNEL WILDE IN THE PENTHOUSE), often with disastrous results. One such star who did not suffer at the hands of Lucy however, was Van Johnson.

In “The Dancing Star,” Lucy’s old frenemy, Carolyn Appleby (Doris Singleton) shows up unexpectedly to pay Lucy and Ethel a visit while she’s on her way to Hawaii to meet-up with husband Charlie. Carolyn says that she’s going to stop over for a couple days so that she can meet all the stars Lucy’s been hobnobbing with per the postcards Lucy’s been sending out to her friends in Hollywood. Obviously, Lucy didn’t expect her friends to show up wanting to be part of the action. As Lucy is panicking, Ethel tells her that Van Johnson is appearing in a show at their hotel, The Beverly Palms. Ethel spots Van sleeping next to the pool and tells Lucy to go down there and pretend that she’s talking to him. Ethel will then casually bring Carolyn up to the window, point out Lucy and Van and all will be well.

Lucy Ricardo begs Van Johnson to dance with her in “I Love Lucy”

The plan goes off, somewhat, except that Carolyn has forgotten her glasses. Apparently Carolyn Appleby must wear contact lenses and has lost them, because in her previous appearances on the series, she’s had no issues with her eyesight. However, when Carolyn is in California, she’s blind as a bat. Carolyn can only make out two red-headed blurs and just has to assume that that is Lucy and Van. Of course, Lucy can’t leave well enough alone and brags to Carolyn about all the other stars that were also down at the pool. She then further ups the ante by telling Carolyn that she’s throwing a big soiree tomorrow evening where tons of stars will be in attendance. Conveniently, Carolyn’s flight to Hawaii is supposed to depart tomorrow evening. Aw shucks.

And because it’s Lucy and she has to be the object of envy of The Wednesday Afternoon Fine Arts League (who usually meets on Tuesdays, never on Thursdays, but occasionally on Fridays), she tells Carolyn that she’s “chummy” with Van. Lucy’s fib is based on the fact that Carolyn can’t see and that Van’s partner is a tall red-headed woman. With Carolyn’s blurred vision, she won’t be able to tell that Van’s partner is not Lucy. However, Lucy’s “great” plan is foiled when Carolyn’s airline finds her glasses and returns them to Carolyn at the hotel. Desperate, Lucy approaches Van and begs him to dance with her. She finally gets him to agree when she flatters him by saying that she’s seen his show 14 times and knows it backwards and forwards. Ethel and Carolyn see Lucy dancing with Van and all is well.

(VAN JOHNSON in response to LUCY RICARDO’S constant proclamations of not having much time and that “she’s” going to be here any minute)

VAN JOHNSON: “Who’s going to be here any minute?”

LUCY RICARDO: “Carolyn Appleby! Who do you think?!”

Van Johnson and Lucille Ball (Lucy Ricardo) in “The Dancing Star,” I Love Lucy
Lucy Ricardo finally gets her chance to be in the show. Screenshot from CBS’ colorized version of “The Dancing Star”

Later that evening, Lucy gets her big chance: Van’s partner is sick and he needs someone to replace her last minute. Seeing that Lucy knows the routine, Van thinks that she’s the perfect choice. And with this set-up, we finally get to see Lucy Ricardo in one of her rare performances where she’s allowed to perform a dance number without purposeful or accidental mishaps. In the “How About You?” number, Lucy and Van perform a beautiful, simple song and dance number. Lucy looks beautiful in her feather-covered gown. She and Van are a sensation. Ricky watches his wife dance this wonderful number with a deep adoration. Ethel and Fred watch their friend, proudly. And Carolyn is overjoyed.

Wait? Carolyn?! Wasn’t she going to Hawaii?

Apparently, Carolyn has decided to put off her flight to Hawaii one more day to attend Lucy’s big Hollywood party. Yikes.

Cue the famous “Lucy Meets Harpo Marx” episode, the unofficial second part of “The Dancing Star.”

“Gotta little laryngitis, baby!”

100 Years of Esther Williams Blogathon- “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952)

August 8, 2021 marks the 100th birthday of MGM swimming superstar, Esther Williams. Williams’ remains one of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s best known musical stars, despite her stardom only lasting about a decade or so. I’ll admit that I used to not be a huge fan of Williams’. Not that I disliked her, but I thought she was stiff and somewhat bland. However, I think that I watched the wrong film as my introduction to Williams–Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949). I had originally watched ‘Ballgame’ to see Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. In this film, Williams plays the owner of a baseball team who does not initially get along with Kelly. Her character in this film is somewhat a stick in the mud and we’re only treated to a shoehorned-in swimming scene.

However, as someone who likes to give everyone another chance, because honestly as a classic film fan, I want to like everyone and everything. Luckily, my second introduction to Esther Williams was in the biopic, Million Dollar Mermaid, one of Williams’ best-known films.

The real Annette Kellermann, modeling her innovative one-piece swimming costume

In Million Dollar Mermaid, Esther plays real-life Australian swimming star, Annette Kellermann. We’ll look past the fact that Esther does not even attempt an Australian accent. The film starts in the late 19th century with polio-stricken Annette expressing her desire to swim as a means to improve the strength in her legs and overall health. Her father, Frederick (Walter Pidgeon) runs a music conservatory. We’re then treated to a montage of the young Annette taking swimming lessons, and later winning competitions. The montage also serves as a means to advance the timeline. Finally, we see a grown Annette (Esther Williams) accepting her latest trophy in the regional championship.

Later, Frederick accepts a teaching position that will take he and his daughter to England. While on board the steamer, Annette meets American promoter James “Jimmy” Sullivan, who is taking a boxing kangaroo to England. Thinking that Annette’s swimming talents will net them more funds than the boxing kangaroo, Jimmy begins to schmooze Annette and talks her into allowing him to promote her skills. As a promotional stunt, Jimmy announces that Annette will make the six-mile swim across a body of water. Annette ups the ante and announces that she will swim for 26 miles. Word gets around about Annette’s swim. However, she is unable to complete the swim.

Esther Williams as Annette Kellermann sporting a fantastic gold sequined one-piece swimming costume

Determined to figure out a way to market Annette’s skills, Jimmy suggests that they go to New York City to perform in an aquatic show in the famed Hippodrome. However, the owner of the Hippodrome does not see Jimmy’s vision and he is unable to get the deal. Annette then tries to go for a swim in Boston, but her “scandalous” one-piece piece bathing suit (versus the baggy dress with bloomers bathing suit that was worn at the time). The beachgoers are irate at seeing Annette’s body and repeatedly declare their disgust with being able to see her legs and shoulders. Annette ends up being arrested and goes to trial for indecent exposure.

In court, Annette pleads her case, stating that the one-piece men’s racing suit that she wears is much more practical for swimming than the big baggy things that women at the time were expected to wear. Annette’s occupation as a competitive female swimmer was unusual for the time as well. In the trial, Annette pleads not guilty to the indecent exposure charge. However, she offers a compromise: She has augmented her short, one-piece bathing suit by adding leggings to the bottom, thus covering her legs. Her new bathing suit basically looks like a cross between footie pajamas and a leotard. The judge is convinced and all charges are dropped. Annette is permitted to wear her custom swimwear.

Annette and Jimmy’s aquatic show is given the greenlight and is a big success. As these films typically go, Annette begins to fall in love with Jimmy, leading to amazing dialogue like this:

(Annette has finished her show and is drying off. Jimmy enters and pulls her into an embrace)

ANNETTE: Please, I’m soaking wet

JIMMY: Good, maybe it’ll put the fire out

Esther Williams and Victor Mature in “Million Dollar Mermaid.”

And like how these films often go, Annette and Jimmy have a misunderstanding which causes their romance to fizzle out… at least temporarily. During her separation with Jimmy Annette’s star begins to get bigger and bigger as her Hippodrome shows get more extravagant. Busby Berkeley directed the large, insane and extravagant water sequence, complete with Esther being dropped 50-feet and then rising above the surface on a platform.

Esther Williams performs in Busby Berkeley’s water routine

After my lukewarm introduction to Esther in Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Million Dollar Mermaid proved to be a much better initiation into Esther Williams’ stardom and filmography. I’ve found that no matter how corny, contrived and/or formulaic Williams’ movies can be, they are first and foremost entertaining. I love the spectacle of her films. Her underwater ballet sequences are fascinating and Esther’s dives and stunts are also impressive. Now, I find myself enjoying Williams’ films–even yes, Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Claudette Colbert June Star of the Month Blogathon–“The Palm Beach Story” (1942)

Claudette Colbert made a series of romantic comedies throughout her storied career. She is most well known for her Oscar-winning role in It Happened One Night (1934). She also made a series of romantic comedies with frequent co-star Fred MacMurray. However, my favorite film of Claudette’s is The Palm Beach Story, co-starring Joel McCrea and directed by Preston Sturges.

The Palm Beach Story starts off with a series of manic images showing a bride and groom racing to get to the church and random objects crashing around them. From the beginning scenes, we really have no idea what’s happening, only that Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea marry at the end of the sequence and that the year of the marriage was 1937. Fast forward five years, 1942, and we meet Geraldine “Gerry” Jeffers (Colbert) who is dealing with back bills and possibly losing her apartment. I am unsure exactly what Tom Jeffers’ (McCrea) occupation is, but when we meet him in 1942, he is meeting with an investor about funding is idea to build an airport that is suspended over a city.

“I’m twice your age and only half as big, but I’m mighty handy.” -The Wienie King to Tom.

Meanwhile, back at the Jeffers’ apartment, Gerry is watching “The Wienie King” (aka the greatest character in the film) touring the apartment. The Jeffers owe back rent and their landlord is thisclose to evicting them. The Wienie King is hard of hearing, which makes his two scenes even funnier. He also makes sure everyone knows that he’s The Wienie King and that’s how he made his wealth:

THE WIENIE KING: I’m The Wienie King! Invented the Texas wienie. Lay off ’em, you’ll live longer

The Wienie King, “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)

Gerry ends up sharing her’s and Tom’s financial troubles and how they’re about to lose their home. The Wienie King, not interested in her apartment anyway, pulls a thick roll of bills out of his pocket and hands Gerry $700 ($11,560 in 2021 dollars). She accepts it and uses the money to pay their back bills and buy herself a new outfit. When Tom arrives home, Gerry lets him know that their financial troubles are alleviated for now. Tom is suspicious of The Wienie King’s financial gift and also his pride is wounded that another man had to pay his bills. Gerry then admits that she fully used her womanly wiles to get money from The Wienie King.

TOM: Oh, is that so? He just–seven hundred dollars? Just like that?

GERRY: Just like that.

TOM: I mean, sex didn’t even enter into it?

GERRY: Oh, but of course it did, darling. I don’t think he’d have given it to me if I had hair like excelsior and little short legs like an alligator. Sex always has something to do with it, dear…you have no idea what a long-legged woman can do without doing anything.

Joel McCrea (Tom) and Claudette Colbert (Gerry) in “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)

The next day, Gerry packs her bags and leaves Tom. She believes that she and Tom are better off separately and they’re just holding each other back. She plans to take a train from New York to Palm Beach, FL. She ends up getting onto a train with the craziest passengers I’ve seen in a movie. Gerry ends up onboard with “The Ale and Quail Club,” a boisterous hunting (and drinking) club led by William Demarest (aka Uncle Charlie in “My Three Sons” and Ann-Margret’s father in “Viva Las Vegas”). The Ale and Quail Club is absolutely insane. Every member is drunk and partying heavily. They are even having a shooting contest IN THE TRAIN. When the members meet Gerry, they declare her their mascot. Eventually, the noise gets to be too much for Gerry. She borrows a pair of pajamas from one of the members and tries to sleep. The party then gets really out of hand, and Gerry leaves, not wanting to get caught in the crossfire.

The Ale and Quail Club is insane.

The Ale and Quail Club traincar, now riddled with bullets and missing all of its windows, is disconnected from the rest of the train and abandoned. Gerry finds an empty upper berth and crawls in, while standing on millionaire John D. Hackensacker III’s (Rudy Vallee) face, breaking his glasses in his eyes (yikes). But Hackensacker doesn’t mind and quickly takes a shine to Gerry. The next day, Gerry fashions herself the greatest dress made from men’s pajamas and a Pullman blanket. She and Hackensacker order two .75 ($12.39 in 2021) breakfasts.

Has anyone ever looked so stylish in men’s pajamas and a train blanket?

When Gerry and Hackensacker finally arrive in Palm Beach, Hackensacker offers to buy Gerry some clothing due to Gerry’s suitcase disappearing. Gerry accepts, thinking that he’ll buy her an outfit. Hackensacker has other ideas. We are next treated to a Pretty Woman-esque (once she goes to the store with Richard Gere’s credit card) montage with Claudette modeling one fancy dress after another. Close-ups of Hackensacker painstakingly marking each and every purchase in his small notebook are also amazing. Who knows what the final bill ends up being, but I’m sure it’s in the tens of thousands. Gerry and Hackensacker then go out on his yacht.

Meanwhile, Tom has arrived in Palm Beach and somehow knows that Gerry is at the yacht club. He’s waiting for her on the dock. Also arriving on a yacht is Hackensacker’s sister, Princess Maud Centimillia (Mary Astor). Her companion is her latest protegee, Toto, who barely speaks English and really has no idea what is going on. However, once the Princess spots Tom, she drops Toto–who unfortunately doesn’t understand that the Princess has no interest in him. He keeps showing up and the Princess sends him away. When Gerry introduces Tom to Hackensacker, she introduces him as her brother, “Captain McGlue,” much to Tom’s chagrin.

PRINCESS CENTIMILLIA: Who is McGlue?

GERRY: There is no McGlue.

PRINCESS CENTIMILLIA: Well thank heavens for something. That name!

Mary Astor (Princess Centimillia) and Claudette Colbert (Gerry) in “The Palm Beach Story.”

Soon, Hackensacker falls in love with Gerry. The Princess falls in love with “Captain McGlue” (Tom). And Tom and Gerry wonder if their marriage is worth saving.

This movie is absolutely hilarious especially “Captain McGlue” and Princess Centimillia. Joel McCrea is such an underrated star in Hollywood. He was adept at delivering lines with a dry, sarcastic humor. Such as in The More the Merrier when Charles Coburn asks McCrea what he does for a living. McCrea asks Coburn what his occupation is. Coburn says: “retired millionaire.” McCrea then answers Coburn’s occupation question by saying, “Same.” I love the scene of Rudy Vallee serenading Claudette Colbert with “Goodnight Sweetheart.” Every scene with the Princess’ protegee, Toto, is hilarious.

I know that Sullivan’s Travels and The Lady Eve are more revered as director Preston Sturges’ best film; but for me, The Palm Beach Story is his best. This film is perfect from start to finish.

Captain McGlue/Tom (Joel McCrea), Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor), John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee), and Gerry (Claudette Colbert)