Category Archives: Blogathon

The Small Screen Blogathon–“I Love Lucy”

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Picture it: Salem, Oregon, 1995.  A beautiful peasant girl turns on her parents’ 15″ black and white tube TV.  She comes across a show on something called Nick at Nite.  She is instantly transfixed by the action on the screen.  A redhead (we’ll have to take the characters’ word for it, it’s black and white after all), her Cuban bandleader husband, and their two friends were involved in some wacky scheme.  The next day, the girl tuned into Nick-at-Nite again and watched another episode of this hilarious show about a woman whose only dream in life, it seems, is to be in show business, much to her husband’s chagrin. The show was I Love Lucy, and the beautiful peasant girl, was me, minus the peasant part–just tapping into my inner Sophia Petrillo.

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I Love Lucy is rightfully considered one of the best, if not the best (which “best” is obviously subjective) television show in history.  The show was groundbreaking, almost literally, and created the blueprint for all situational comedies to come.  Every show, from The Dick Van Dyke Show, to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, to Cheers to Friends are indebted to I Love Lucy for inventing the situation comedy and engineering the way in which to perform in front of a live audience.

In 1950, CBS approached Lucille Ball with an offer to move her popular radio show, My Favorite Husband, to the new burgeoning medium of television.  CBS wanted Ball, her co-star Richard Denning and the other cast members to make the move with her.  However, Ball had other ideas.  At this time, Ball had been married to her husband, bandleader Desi Arnaz for ten years.  The couple’s marriage was faltering.  Much of the strain on their marriage was caused by their differing schedules.  Ball was in Hollywood filming her radio show and Arnaz was on the road, touring with his band.  Ball, seeing an opportunity to work with her husband and keep him home, told CBS that she was interested in the offer, but only if Arnaz could star as her husband.  CBS balked, thinking that the American public would not accept that their star, Lucille Ball, was married to a Cuban.  Of course, CBS was completely wrong, but to prove it, Ball and Arnaz concocted a vaudeville routine and took their act on the road.  People across the country loved them and soon CBS had to relent and give Ball and Arnaz the go-ahead.

In March of 1951, Ball and Arnaz filmed their pilot.  It was filmed in kineoscope.  Kineoscope was a method of filming a live performance.  A camera lens would be focused on a video screen, which would record the performance as it was being recorded.  This footage would later be re-broadcast to other markets.  Typically shows were filmed in New York, as this is where a majority of the population lived in the late 1940s-early 1950s.  If you have ever seen a YouTube video where someone has made a video of a movie, show, concert, etc. playing on their TV,  you know that the sound is muffled and tinny and the picture is blurry.  This is exactly what it was like to watch a kineoscope show if you didn’t live near New York.

To see a couple examples of Kineoscope, go to You Tube and search for: “I Love Lucy Pilot,” and “Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on The Ed Wynn Show.”

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Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on the “I Love Lucy” Pilot

Above is a screenshot from the I Love Lucy pilot episode.  Ball wears a housecoat and big baggy pants for much of the episode because she was pregnant with Lucie Arnaz.  The Ricardos live in a completely different apartment and the Mertzes haven’t been created yet.  I Love Lucy episode #6, “The Audition” is essentially a re-do of the pilot.  In the pilot episode, Ricky schemes with his agent, Jerry.  In the I Love Lucy episode, Jerry’s lines are given to Fred Mertz.  The pilot episode was a success and Ball and Arnaz were given the green light to start their series.

To produce their series, Ball and Arnaz formed Desilu Productions.  Arnaz was president and Ball was vice-president.  They hired the writers from Ball’s radio show, My Favorite Husband. Many of the crew members they hired were acquaintances from Ball’s radio program and from Ball and Arnaz’ movie and music careers, respectively.  For the Mertzes, they originally wanted Bea Benederet (Betty Rubble in The Flintstones and Kate Bradley in Petticoat Junction) and Gale Gordon (Mr. Mooney in The Lucy Show and Harry Carter in Here’s Lucy).  However, Benederet was under contract to The Burns and Allen Show and Gordon was on Our Miss Brooks.

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William Frawley and Vivian Vance as Fred and Ethel Mertz

One day, William Frawley, an old acquaintance of Ball’s from her movie days, called Ball and asked if there was room for him on her show.  Leery of his reputation as a hard-drinker, Arnaz and Ball met with him and decided he was perfect.  Ball later said: “William Frawley was ‘Fred Mertz,’ period.” Frawley was cast on the condition that he always show up to work sober.  He would be fired on the spot if he ever showed up to work intoxicated.  During all six seasons of I Love Lucy and the three seasons of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, Frawley kept his promise.

Casting Ethel Mertz turned out to be more of a chore.  Ball originally wanted to throw the job to her old friend, Barbara Pepper (Mrs. Ziffel on Green Acres), but CBS said no.  Much like Frawley, Pepper had a drinking problem too, but hers was much more severe.  Then I Love Lucy director Marc Daniels (who directed the first season) suggested an actress he worked with in New York, Vivian Vance.  Vance had a successful Broadway career and had spent twenty years on stage acting in various plays until re-locating to Hollywood in the late-1940s.  She appeared in a couple films, but by 1951, she was still relatively unknown outside of the Broadway circle.  She just happened to be appearing in a revival of Voice of a Turtle in La Jolla, California.  Arnaz and head writer, Jess Oppenheimer, drove down to see Vance and hired her on the spot. Vance was reluctant to give up her stage career for the unknown medium of television, but friend Daniels convinced her it’d be her big break–and it was.

With all the pieces put in place, it was time to start producing I Love Lucy.  Desilu purchased two soundstages and tore down the dividing wall to create one large room that could hold four separate stages.  The Ricardos’ living room was the larger, permanent stage.  The Ricardos’ bedroom was typically in the smaller stage to the left and the kitchen was the small stage to the right.  The other stage would often be the Tropicana.  The walls of the small stages had wheels that allowed them to move around.  Oftentimes, when a scene with a large amount of action was filmed, the walls of the set would be rolled in front of the Ricardos’ living room set.  Case in point, there is a blooper in the famous Vitameatavegamin episode (#30 “Lucy Does a TV Commercial”).  When Lucy comes staggering out of her dressing room (plastered on Vitameatavegamin, alcohol 23%) and the stage hands are searching for Ricky, you can see the Ricardos’ living room between the Vitameatavegamin set and Ricky’s set where he performs.

CBS wanted Arnaz and Ball to use the cheaper kineoscope and to film their show in New York.  Arnaz and Ball informed CBS that not only did they plan on remaining in Los Angeles, but they also wanted to film their program on 35mm film, the same film used by the motion picture studios.  They wanted the whole country to see their program clearly, not just the East Coast and they wanted to have copies of their program–figuring that if it bombed, at least they’d come away with some “home movies” for their children. CBS complained initially about the increased cost of the film, but Arnaz, the shrewd negotiator he was, offered to deduct $1000/week from his and Lucy’s salaries in exchange for the right to use film and the rights to their show. CBS, figuring that this whole thing will never work, agreed.

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The “I Love Lucy” set.  This is an early season 1-2 episode based on the floral love seat in the living room.

Arnaz knew that Ball performed best in front of a live audience.  To accommodate a live audience, Arnaz had to equip his soundstage with bleachers.  He was also required by the fire marshall to bring the building up to code by adding bathrooms and other modifications required of a facility that is going to hold large groups of people.  In order to ensure that the cameras didn’t block the audience’s view of the action, Arnaz, along with Academy Award winning cinematographer, Karl Freund, devised the three camera technique.  This camera, nicknamed “the three-headed monster,” would film the action from three angles.  Then after production, the editors would splice together the footage to create the final show. This technique is still in use today.

The very first episode of I Love Lucy, that aired, was actually the second episode filmed.  Episode #2, “The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub” is the first of many “versus” episodes.  In this case, it’s the men versus the women.  Lucy and Ethel want to go to a nightclub for the Mertzes’ anniversary and Fred and Ricky want to go to the fights.  Lucy and Ethel declare that they will find their own dates who will take them to the club.  Ricky informs Lucy that he and Fred will do the same.  Enlisting the help of an old friend, Lucy gets herself and Ethel set up as Ricky and Fred’s blind dates.  Except, the girls aren’t just coming as themselves, they show up dressed as hillbillies.  This is the first of many episodes where Lucy tries to pull a fast one on Ricky.  Arnaz made it clear to the writers from day one that while Lucy can play tricks on Ricky, he didn’t want Ricky to look like an idiot.  Ricky either needed to be in on the joke from the beginning or figure it out before Lucy succeeded.  In the case of this episode, Lucy blows her cover by offering to go grab cigarettes for everyone, stating that she knew where they were.  Ricky tells Lucy he knows it’s her and Ethel, they make up and all is well–except that the men end up at the fights with the ladies dressed to the nines.  Let’s just hope that a compromise was reached and maybe they went to the fights and the nightclub that evening.

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“Lucy Goes to the Hospital”

I Love Lucy was a success and was at the top of the ratings 4/6 years it was on television.  In 1953, Ball found out she was pregnant (with Desi Arnaz Jr.) and she, along with Arnaz, thought it was the end of the program.  However, it was decided that Lucy Ricardo would be pregnant too.  Desilu hired a priest, rabbi and minister to read the scripts and highlight any objectionable content.  All three religious leaders could not find any issues.  CBS allowed Ball and Arnaz to go ahead with their plan and Lucy Ricardo was set to have a baby.  The only stipulation being that the word “pregnant” could not be used on the show.  They had to opt for the funnier ‘spectin coming from Ricky.  Words and phrases like “infanticipating” and “having a baby” were used instead.  The episode where Lucy gives birth to Little Ricky was the highest rated episode of any television show (at that point) and even got a higher rating than Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration that took place the following day after Little Ricky was born. During this time, Arnaz invented the re-run by re-airing old episodes of I Love Lucy.  He wanted to give Lucy time to recover.  To make the episodes “fresh,” he and Frawley and Vance filmed new flashback scenes to introduce the episodes.  When these repeats garnered the same or higher ratings than the original airing, it was decided to forgo the new flashback footage and just re-air the episodes as-is.

I Love Lucy enjoyed huge success during its original six year run, winning multiple Emmy Awards and achieving high ratings.  It ended its run #1 in the ratings.  However, I Love Lucy has achieved even greater success in the decades since.  It is estimated that I Love Lucy has never been off the air since its debut in 1951.  Ball’s face is one of the most widely recognized faces in the world.  There are new generations of fans discovering I Love Lucy each and every day.  It is truly an indelible part of pop culture and television history.

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My Top 5 Favorite Episodes of I Love Lucy:

1) Episode #114, “L.A. at Last!”

The Ricardos and Mertzes finally make it to Hollywood.  After checking into their hotel at the Beverly Palms Hotel, Lucy and the Mertzes are on the prowl for movie stars.  They decide to go to “the watering hole,” aka The Brown Derby for lunch and celebrity spotting.  Ethel manages to embarrass herself in front of Eve Arden and Lucy ends up embarrassing herself in front of William Holden.  The true gem of this episode is later, when Ricky, newly employed at MGM, meets Holden.  Holden offers to give him a ride to his hotel.  Ricky, unknowing about what transpired at the Brown Derby earlier that day, asks Holden if he’d mind coming in to meet Lucy.  Lucy, understandably freaked out, but forced into meeting Holden, tries to disguise herself with a scarf, glasses and fake putty nose.  The funniest part of the entire episode is the look on William Holden and Desi Arnaz’ faces when Lucy turns around after having re-shaped her nose.

2) Episode #147, “Lucy Gets a Paris Gown”

In Paris, Lucy makes it known to Ricky that she wants a Jacques Marcell dress.  Ricky, not wanting to pay the huge price tag, says no.  Lucy, not willing to give up, stages a convincing hunger strike in protest of Ricky’s decision.  Ricky, feeling bad for Lucy, buys her the dress, but then discovers that Ethel has been sneaking food to her.  The dress is returned and Lucy is fuming. To appease Lucy and “cure” her of her desire for high-end French fashion (which Ricky and Fred think is ridiculous), they find some potato sacks, a horse’s feedbag and a champagne bucket and have two Parisian original gowns designed and created: one for Lucy and one for Ethel.  The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy and Ethel realize that they’ve been duped and attempt to hide under a tablecloth, that they apparently steal from the restaurant as they run away.

3) Episode #81, “The Charm School”

After an upsetting party where Lucy and Ethel feel ignored by their husbands, especially when the date of another guest attracts all their attention, Lucy and Ethel decide that their husbands are bored with them.  Lucy finds out that the woman who came to her party the night prior had just finished a course at “Phoebe Emerson’s Charm School.” Lucy and Ethel sign up and are put through a charm regiment that involves learning to walk, speak and dress like a charming lady.  The time comes for the big reveal and Ricky and Fred are speechless.  The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy opens the door to let glammed-up Ethel in.  As she opens the door, there’s Ethel leaning against the door frame, dressed in a one-strapped, skintight, leopard print dress with a cool snake-like thing around her arm.

4) Episode #23, “Fred and Ethel Fight”

The Mertzes are fighting (because Ethel said that Fred’s mother “looked like a weasel,” to which I say: “Fred’s mother is still alive?”) and Lucy decides to invite each one over for dinner without the other one knowing.  She lets Ricky in on the plan.  Ricky works with Lucy trying to get Fred and Ethel back together, but during course of conversation, he and Lucy end up getting in a fight.  Now it’s Ethel and Fred’s turn to try and get Ricky and Lucy back together! The climax of the episode is when Ricky stages a fake fire in the apartment, so that he can “save” Lucy and be a hero.  The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy wants to pretend like she was hit by a bus and has Ethel help her put on casts and a metal arm brace thing and then Ricky stages the fake fire which Lucy doesn’t know is fake.  Lucy freaks out trying to grab things, casually tossing them out her 4th story window.  She grabs some dresses and her huge jug of henna rinse. Then she makes a rope with a bedsheet and ties it around herself, but neglects to tie the other end to anything.

5) Episode #122 “The Star Upstairs”

Lucy discovers that she has met 99 movie stars and wants to meet one more so she can have an even hundred.  She reads a blind item in the paper that a big star is staying in the penthouse of a local hotel for some rest and relaxation.  Lucy instantly jumps to the conclusion that the star is in her hotel, and after pressing the bellboy for details, her assumption is confirmed–Cornel Wilde is staying in the penthouse right above the Ricardos’ hotel room! Lucy blackmails the bellboy into letting her borrow his outfit so she can deliver the paper.  That scheme fails wholeheartedly.  In the next attempt, Lucy hides under the bellboy’s cart.  Through the course of events, Wilde ends up thinking that Bobby is a really talented ventriloquist who can throw his voice across the room.  The scheme comes off well, but Lucy ends up being left behind in Wilde’s room.  Desperate to get out, she attempts to climb down the balcony using a makeshift rope that she crafts out of a beach towel.  The funniest part of the entire episode is Ethel trying to distract Ricky from seeing Lucy’s legs dangling from the balcony.

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Blogathon (Belated) Clark Gable & Joan Crawford’s affair

I kind of missed the boat on this blogathon, as my entry was due two weeks ago.  Well better late than never, right? I thought I would write my entry even if ultimately it doesn’t end up as part of the official blogathon event.  I will be better with my future events.  I think I also over-commit because everything sounds so great!

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Without further ado…

Joan Crawford and Clark Gable starred in eight, count ’em, eight films together: Dance, Fools, Dance, Laughing Sinners, Possessed (all in 1931), Dancing Lady (1933), Forsaking All Others and Chained (both in 1934), Love on the Run (1936) and Strange Cargo (1940).  Prior to that, both appeared as extras (uncredited) in 1925’s The Merry Widow.

By the time the early 1931 rolled around, Crawford had become MGM’s top star and Gable had just been signed a short term one year contract by Irving Thalberg, MGM’s top producer who was famed for his youth and ability to select good scripts and find new stars. Gable’s first role at MGM was a small part as a villain in Crawford’s Dance, Fools, Dance.  Thalberg, sensing that he had something special with Gable, ordered that the script be re-written and Gable be given some steamy scenes with Crawford.  During their first clinch, sparks flew.

After Dance, Fools, Dance, Crawford and Gable made two more films together and many films apart.  By the end of 1931, during the filming of Possessed,  Crawford and Gable were involved in a full-fledged steamy affair.  However, Crawford was married to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at the time and Gable was married to Maria Langham.  Both couples’ marriages were stormy, but due to morality standards of the time, it was imperative that Crawford and Gable kept their relationship on the down low.

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Crawford and Gable mostly kept their relationship contained to working hours.  They’d arrive to work early and stay late.  They rendezvoused in Crawford’s fancy trailer, which incidentally was a gift from her husband, Fairbanks Jr. He was still even making payments on it! They also occasionally lunched together in the commissary,  but only a couple times a week as to not arouse suspicion among their co-workers. Any breaks Crawford and Gable received were spent in the bed of a local hotel room. As we all know, the more a couple attempts to hide their relationship, the more people that know about it.  Despite Crawford and Gable’s attempts at discretion, their steamy affair was a well known secret around the studio.

Louis B. Mayer got wind of Crawford and Gable’s torrid romance and threatened their careers if they carried on.  Gable was to have made Letty Lynton with Crawford, but was removed when news of their affair broke.  He was replaced with Robert Montgomery. Crawford and Gable kept apart for awhile but still managed to appear in five more films together.  They continued their romance despite being married to other people.  Crawford divorced Fairbanks Jr. in 1933.  She remarried to Franchot Tone in 1935.  Gable remained married to Langham until 1939, when Gable fell in love with Carole Lombard and was forced to pay Langham a pretty penny in order for her to agree to divorce him so that he could marry Lombard.  Apparently, Crawford was jealous of Lombard’s relationship with Gable (whom everyone said was the love of her life and vice versa).  During the filming of Strange Cargo in 1940, Crawford would continually whisper things to Gable, presumably about Lombard, that irritated him.  However, in 1942 when Lombard was tragically killed in a plane crash, Crawford and Gable seemed to bury the hatchet.  Crawford was one of Gable’s closest confidants during his mourning.

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After Gable’s marriage to Lombard, and even after her passing, his relationship with Crawford carried on, but was never as steamy as it had once been.  They were good friends, perhaps “friends with benefits.”  Both Crawford and Gable remarried to other people.  They carried on until Gable’s death in 1960.  Even in interviews later life, Crawford referred to Gable lovingly, referring to him as her favorite leading man.  When asked why she found Gable so attractive, Crawford put it succinctly, stating: “…Balls! Clark Gable had balls.”  Crawford herself also had “balls,” figuratively speaking, which is perhaps why she and Gable got along so well.  In many ways Crawford and Gable were cut from the same cloth: similar meager childhood backgrounds, similar struggle to make it to the top of the heap in Hollywood, similar insatiable sexual appetites and so much more.

The Busby Berkeley Blogathon– “Pettin’ in the Park”

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I’ll admit that Busby Berkeley isn’t one of my favorite figures from the classic era of Hollywood.  While I recognize that his choreography is unique and very creative, sometimes I find it a little tedious when there is a lot of it present in one film.  Some of the kaleidoscope numbers seem to just go on and on.  However, in the terms of the modern movie musical, Berkeley is a pioneer.  Not only for uniting song and visuals together, but also for his technical work when bringing the musical number to life on screen.  As a choreographer,  Berkeley didn’t just merely have the chorus girls tap out a syncopated beat and move left to right within the constraints of the stage.  Berkeley had elaborate soundstages built to showcase his numbers.  Other routines he created featured large winding staircases, large sets of risers to feature multiple layers of dancers, enormous fountains and more.  Berkeley’s set pieces not only made use of the stage itself but all the vertical space above.  The dance numbers are always over the top and very much in rhythm.  Berkeley’s heyday was in the early 1930s, before the production code was enforced (this era is also known as “pre-code”).  Many of Berkeley’s dance numbers can also feature some racy elements that many people may find surprising for an eighty-plus year old film.

One of Berkeley’s raciest pre-code films is undoubtedly 1933’s The Gold Diggers of 1933 and despite what I said about not being a huge fan of Berkeley, I love this film.  Starring the usual Berkeley pre-code musical suspects: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, Ned Sparks, and Joan Blondell, The Gold Diggers of 1933 features Powell as a songwriter who is hired to write the music for girlfriend Keeler’s new show.  The opening number, “We’re in the Money” performed by Rogers, is pretty racy for a 1933 film as the girls appear to only be clad in a coin cape and bra with a large coin serving as a pair of panties.  Rogers’ large coin is ripped off her after the number when the costumes and set pieces are repossessed.  Despite the scantily clad dancers in this number, this is hardly the raciest production in the film–that honor goes to “Pettin’ in the Park.”

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Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell are “pettin’ in the park.”

“Pettin’ in the Park” features Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler “on a date” with Powell reading an excerpt from the book, Advice to Those in Love.  The main crux of the advice is that spending time outside with your partner is a sure-fire way to get them “in the mood.” Powell starts crooning a catchy tune while Keeler clomps around on stage (I don’t think she’s a good dancer, definitely not graceful).  The song Powell is singing is a little ditty entitled, you guessed it, “Pettin in the Park.” Keeler joins in on some of the verses. It features immortal lyrics like this:

Pettin’ in the park…bad boy
Pettin’ in the dark…bad girl!
First you pet a little
Let up a little, and then you get a little kiss!

Suddenly a box of animal crackers (that Keeler had on her person for whatever reason) transforms into a zoo with a park scene.  There are dozens of couples on screen “petting” one another.

Then, this is where the musical number gets bizarre.  Powell starts really taking the petting advice from his self-help book to heart, and he gets a little too “handsy” for Keeler’s taste in the back of a car.  She bails on him, on a pair of roller skates no less, and heads home.  Suddenly a whole line of roller skating policemen emerge, along with a “baby” played by Billy Barty.  He is wearing a big bonnet and sitting in a baby carriage. He then rolls through the scene while shooting spitballs.  Barty is absurd, because it’s obvious he’s not a baby–but rather a little kid (Barty was born a dwarf.  His full adult height was 3’9).  The cops then go after the baby.  They try to grab him, he ducks and they roll past him and away.

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“Baby” Billy Barty

Next, we’re treated to a scene of this park as it progresses throughout all the seasons.  We first see the chorus girls sporting winter fashions while they brave a snowstorm.  Then the scene progresses into the spring and summer.  We see all the petting couples lying on benches.  The women are wearing flimsy white dresses.  Everyone’s in blissful “Pettin’ in the Park” glee, until oops, it’s fall now.  A rainstorm breaks out and the women run for cover, hiding behind a series of dressing rooms located behind one large curtain–it looks like separate rooms though.

The women remain in silhouette as they remove their wet clothing and get into something more comfortable.  This is probably one of the most risque scenes that has ever appeared in a pre-code film.  It is obvious that most of the women are topless or maybe even nude, as they change into something more comfortable.  Lecherous baby Billy Barty is back, this time sporting rain gear.  With a mischievous grin and shifty eyes, he raises the curtain.   The ladies’ bare legs slowly come into view and they are now sporting sexy new outfits.  Except the outfits are not sexy at all.  All the ladies emerge from the curtain wearing metal clothing.  Almost a literal chastity belt, if you will– the perfect outfit for any “pure” woman.

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One of the raciest scenes in pre-code

The men are understandably a little disappointed and perhaps are in a little bit of pain, physically.  We’re back to Powell and Keeler, who is also now sporting metal clothing.  Billy Barty is to the rescue however, as he hands Powell a can opener.  The number ends with a suggestive shot of Powell cutting Keeler’s “dress” with the can opener.

This number would never be accepted today.  With today’s intense focus on sexual harassment, consent, and women’s roles in society, this number would have probably spawned numerous boycotts, social media diatribes, statements from the filmmakers expressing regret for having ever conceived of the number, hashtags, and everything else that could be done to express rage or apologize.  It is important to look at this number from a 1933 perspective, however.  It is a perception that people used to be a lot more prim and proper “back in the day,” or at least until the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and subsequent Women’s Rights movement in the 1970s.  However, it is obvious that even in 1933, the ideas about sexual roles were around even then–men are the pursuer and the women are the ones being pursued.  Sex was also on the forefront of almost any romantic couple’s minds.  Were the couples that were “pettin’ in the park” married? Probably not.  Powell and Keeler’s characters were not, yet off goes the chastity belt (though they marry by the end of the film).  One of the great things about “Pettin’ in the Park” is that the film is so delightfully indiscreet when it’s putting on the guise of being discreet–the perfect quality in any pre-code film, in my opinion.

Pettin’ in the park… bad boy!
Pettin’ in the dark… bad girl!
Dad and mother did it,
But we admit it,
I’m pettin’ in the park with you.

 

National Classic Movie Day–Top 5 Favorite Actors

So sorry I missed my last two advertised Blogathon events.  Frankly, I’ve been really busy at work and at the time I signed up for the events, I wasn’t anticipating how busy we’d be.  Inventory Control in the warehouse has been crazy and everyone (myself included) have been working mandatory 10-hr shifts + OT on Saturdays.  We’re halfway through the month, so if I can get through May, I should have more time to dedicate to writing.  I did not want to miss National Classic Movie Day.  This year, we’ve been asked to discuss our Top Five Favorite Actors, which believe me, is was quite an arduous task just to narrow down my favorites.

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Without further ado…

1954 photo of actor Errol Flynn.
Errol and I have the same sunglasses!

My boyfriend, Errol Flynn.  He’s the whole package: unbelievably attractive, charming, athletic, gifted, great accent, tall, he’s got everything.  Aside from his physical attributes, Flynn is a highly underrated actor.  One of Warner Brothers top stars of the 1930s-1940s, Flynn provided a nice alternative to the gangster and “weepy” films that also permeated the movie landscape at the same.  Though dozens of actors have tried, nobody can top Flynn’s portrayal of the legendary Sherwood Forest outlaw, Robin Hood in The Adventures of Robin Hood.  Flynn was born to steal from the rich and give to the poor.   He is one of the few male performers who completely steals the viewer’s gaze (or maybe the female viewer, lol) from the female lead.  Who even notices “her” when he’s on the screen? Did I mention that he’s super cute? And that accent! ::swoon::

Best Known FilmsThe Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, Dodge City and They Died With Their Boots On.

My Favorite Films: Gentleman Jim, Uncertain Glory, The Sisters, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Never Say Goodbye and Footsteps in the Dark.

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Alan Hale and Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim.  ‘Jim’ is a great Errol eye candy film by the way… you know, if that’s what you’re into 😉

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The Star Who Introduced Me to Classic Film: Lucille Ball.  In 1995, when I was in the sixth grade, I discovered Nick at Nite.  How I ended up on the channel, I don’t know and I don’t care.  The first show I watched was I Love Lucy.  I was immediately hooked.  I thought this show was hilarious.  Then, I ended up falling in love with the shows that came on after I Love Lucy, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Brady Bunch and The Munsters.  But ‘Lucy,’ was always my favorite.  On weekdays, I made sure to have all my homework and such completed, so that I was ready to go at 8pm to watch “my shows” uninterrupted.  On Saturdays, Nick at Nite had the “Whole Lotta Lucy Saturday” which was my favorite day, because you got to watch two episodes of I Love Lucy and an episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.

From my love of Lucy and my natural curiosity, I started borrowing books about Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy from the library.  It was from these books that I learned that Lucy had been a movie actress prior to being on I Love Lucy.  Soon, I needed to watch all the Lucy movies that I could get my hands on.  Lucille Ball appeared in dozens of films before hitting it big in radio and television–she could never seem to find her niche in film.  At this same time, TCM was in its infancy and soon I was scouring the TV Guide (remember the paper TV Guide that used to come in the Sunday newspaper?) looking at TCM’s schedule to see what Lucille Ball films were airing.  I would rig up the VCR and cross my fingers that 1) The recording actually worked; and 2) The tape didn’t run out!

From my exposure to Lucille Ball on TCM, I was exposed to other actors which led me to learning about other actors and so on.  I discovered Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers through Stage Door (which also featured Lucy); I discovered Gene Kelly through Du Barry Was a Lady (featuring, you guessed it, Lucy).  From Gene Kelly, I discovered other favorites like Ann Miller and Cyd Charisse.  I Love Lucy started me down the glorious wormhole that is classic film.  I never tire of classic film.  I never tire of Lucille Ball; and I never tire of I Love Lucy.

Best Known Films: Stage Door, The Long Long Trailer, Yours Mine and Ours, Mame and The Big Street.

My Favorite Films: The Long Long Trailer (My #1 favorite film of all time), Stage Door, The Affairs of Annabel, Miss Grant Takes Richmond, Five Came Back, Next Time I Marry and Beauty For the Asking.

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My spirit twin, Lucy Ricardo

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Judy looks longingly at “the boy next door” Tom Drake, in Meet Me in St. Louis.  I don’t blame her, he’s cute!

The Star to Whom I Just Want to Give a Big Hug: Judy Garland.  Poor Judy.  She had such a sad, tragic life.  She had a lot of problems that unfortunately affected her work.  However, you would never know of her problems from watching her on screen.  She is so charming and such a joy to watch.  She was a very unique performer.  She wears her emotions on her sleeve.  As an audience member, you feel every feeling she’s emoting on screen. She’s very underrated as an actress and only appeared in a handful of films where she didn’t sing.  One of her greatest performances is as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in A Star is Born.  Frankly, as much as I like Grace Kelly, Garland was robbed of the Best Actress Oscar in 1955.  Her performance is brilliant and also features one of her greatest musical performances, the torch song, “The Man Who Got Away.”

I find it tragic that MGM (allegedly) treated her so poorly when she was under contract.  Louis B. Mayer referred to her as “[his] little hunchback” and frequently made unkind comments about her appearance.  As a teenager, Judy was often cast as the less attractive buddy to the male star.  This is most evident in her films with Mickey Rooney.  Judy was Mickey’s friend, but she was never the object of his affections.  It didn’t help that Judy competed with the likes of Lana Turner and Ava Gardner who were all her peers when she was at MGM.  I think Judy was very pretty.  She had a unique beauty.   Frankly, I find Judy prettier than Lana Turner, only because Turner seems to have a bit of a generic blonde starlet look about her.  Judy is her prettiest in Meet Me in St. Louis and Easter Parade.

Judy’s performances and songs often have an underlying sadness about them and that’s why I want to give her a hug.

Best Known Films: The Wizard of Oz, A Star is Born, Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, and the Mickey Rooney films (Babes in Arms, Girl Crazy, Babes on Broadway and Strike Up the Band).

My Favorite Films: Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, The Clock, The Pirate, The Harvey Girls, Summer Stock and Presenting Lily Mars

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Perhaps Judy’s greatest number: “Get Happy,” from Summer Stock

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“Dignity, always, dignity.” From Singin’ in the Rain

Star Who I Could Watch Dance ALL DAY LONG: Gene Kelly.  I love Gene Kelly.  I love Fred Astaire too, but I love Gene Kelly and would venture to give him a slight edge over Astaire.  I would never compare the two men as dancers, as they have two completely different styles, but in terms of films, I love Gene’s films just a wee bit more.  I have found that some people are not fans of Gene’s because they find him too hammy or what not.  I don’t.  I find his smile endearing and also enjoy the massive musical numbers he puts on.  The ballet in An American in Paris is exquisite and a real joy to watch.  The Broadway Melody in Singin’ in the Rain is amazing.  Gene’s greatest on-screen moment may be his performance of the title song from Singin’ in the Rain.  Gene’s joy and enthusiasm is contagious in this number.  I defy anyone to watch it and not instantly feel happier.  If it doesn’t move you, then you’re made of stone and I don’t know if I want to watch movies with you anymore.

Each of Gene’s movies are so innovative and so different from one another.  They really are a work of art and demonstrates how much Gene loves dancing and showcasing the artistry of dance.  His films, like On the Town, An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain, elevated the musical film as an art form.  One of his greatest contributions to the musical is forming the plot around the music and dancing so that it makes sense within the context of the film.  Many opponents of musicals dislike them because they find the musical interludes random and they cannot suspend their disbelief.  I’ve found that Gene’s musicals (and many of Astaire’s as well) so beautifully incorporate the music and dance into the film and the dance numbers seem natural and not random at all.

I remember when he died.  I was in the seventh grade and so sad– I watched Singin’ in the Rain in his honor.

Best Known Films: Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, Brigadoon, On the Town, Anchors Aweigh, For Me and My Gal

My Favorite Films: Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, On the Town, The Pirate, Summer Stock, What a Way to Go!, Cover Girl, Xanadu

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My favorite moment of the ballet from An American in Paris

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“Fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy night.” All About Eve

Actor Who I’d be Terrified of, but Also Fascinated By: Bette Davis.  I love Bette Davis.  She is amazing.  She seems like she would have been completely intimidating in person, but also a joy to listen to.  She is compelling in her 1971 Dick Cavett interview (I highly recommend watching it on You Tube or Hulu if you have a chance).  I could listen to her recollect about her life and career all day.

Bette Davis has an interesting career trajectory.  She started out with small parts in a variety of pre-code films.  Many of these films are not good, but she has a few early films here and there that show that Bette had that certain something.  Her big break was Of Human Bondage in 1934.  Many felt that Bette was robbed of the Oscar for her performance in that film, and that her 1935 Oscar win for Dangerous was a consolation prize for having lost to Claudette Colbert the year prior.  Bette had to fight for good roles at Warner Brothers, which was very male driven.  She was on suspension many times, which paid off in the end, when she finally became Warner Brothers’ top female star.  The tides turned for Bette in 1938 when she won her second Oscar for Jezebel.  From then on, through the end of the 1940s, Bette churned out one hit film after another.  By the end of the 1940s, Bette’s star was waning. She left Warner Brothers after filming ended on the hilarious (albeit, unintentionally, I think) Beyond the Forest. She had a bit of a comeback with the amazing All About Eve, however this didn’t end up materializing with any other huge parts. By the 1960s, her career had segued into “psycho-biddy horror films” (as they’re known). I for one, really enjoyed her small role as an elderly aunt in 1976’s Burnt Offerings.

I love Bette because she really gives her all in her roles–she sacrifices glamour in name of the character.  In The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Bette had no qualms about playing a 60 year old Queen Elizabeth I to Errol Flynn’s 30 year old Lord Essex.  She shaved her hairline to mimic the real Elizabeth I’s balding and studied very hard in an attempt to play the Queen as true to life as possible.  In Mr. Skeffington and Now, Voyager, Bette allows herself to appear very unattractive as it fits within the confines of the plot.  In ‘Skeffington,’ Bette’s character is very vain and goes through great lengths to maintain her appearance.  After a bout of diphtheria, Bette’s character’s looks are ruined and she must cope.  In Now, Voyager, Bette appears as a frumpy, overweight, bushy eyebrow-ed spinster who undergoes a makeover which changes her life.  Even when Bette is completely bonkers, like in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, she commits.  “Go big or go home” seems to be her motto.

Best Known Films: Jezebel, Now Voyager, Mr. Skeffington, All About Eve, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Dark Victory

My Favorite Films: Now Voyager, All About Eve, Mr. Skeffington, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Sisters, Three on a Match, June Bride, The Letter, Little Foxes and Beyond the Forest.

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If you ever get a chance to see Beyond the Forest, do it.  Bette is hilarious.  She is the queen of camp.

Villain Blogathon–Eve Harrington, “All About Eve” (1950)

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All About Eve, the showbiz drama to end all showbiz dramas, starts in the present time at an annual theater award banquet.  Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), the evening’s recipient of the most prestigious award–The Sarah Siddons Award (for distinguished achievement), is set to take the stage.   The evening seems like a pleasant affair, but the narrator Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), quickly informs us that all is not what it seems.  As Eve ascends the steps and is about to take the award from the presenter, the picture freezes.  In a knowing and almost sarcastic tone, we are advised that we will “learn all about Eve” shortly.  The film quickly segues into a flashback, where we, as the viewer, assume that we will be taken on a journey to find out how Eve earned herself the prized Sarah Siddons Award trophy.  When I first saw this film, I knew that Eve had to have done something scandalous or nefarious to get there–and if you’re like me, this premonition will only hook you into wanting to take the ride to learn ALL ABOUT EVE.

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Eve accepts the Sarah Siddons Award

Trust me.  It’s worth it.  That Eve is a real piece of work.

We first meet Eve outside of a theater on a dreary evening in New York City.  It is pouring outside and Eve, wearing a raincoat and bucket hat is huddled next to one of the side doors.  She has just come from seeing her idol, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), perform in her latest play, “Aged in Wood.”  Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), a friend of Margo’s and wife of the play’s author, Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe), spots Eve outside.  Karen remarks to Eve that she’s seen her outside of the theater every evening after a performance.  Eve (who at this point seems like a genuine, starstruck young woman), comments that she loves Margo Channing and has seen every performance of this play.  She even remarks that she’d first seen Margo perform in San Francisco, where she became an instant fan.  Karen invites Eve inside to meet her idol.

The wheels are in motion…

Inside the theater, we meet Margo and all of her other theater friends and colleagues.  Aside from Karen and husband Lloyd, there’s Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) (Margo’s boyfriend and director of the play) and Margo’s assistant Birdie (Thelma Ritter) (also a former vaudevillian).  They’re laughing about an interview Margo gave and Karen introduces Eve to Margo and appeases to her ego by gushing over her.  After prompting her to tell the group how she found Margo and ended up in New York City, Eve gives her first of many excellent performances.  Eve tells a sob story about how she came from Milwaukee, WI and worked in a dead end career as a secretary in a brewery.

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Eve the starstruck fan, meets her idol, Margo Channing.

EVE: “When you’re a secretary in a brewery, it’s pretty hard to make believe you’re anything else.”

She then discusses how she dabbled in theater in her town, but of course, Eve with her fake humility, says she was awful.  It was at this theater where she met “Eddie” who was a radio technician, but was also in the Air Force.  Then Eddie was sent into combat when “The War” came.  Eve went back to work at the brewery and lived for Eddie’s once a week letters.  She saved her vacation time and money to be able to meet Eddie in San Francisco for a vacation.  Eddie never showed up.  He was killed in combat.  Now in San Francisco, Eve decided to look stay in town and look for work.  One night, Margo Channing came to town to perform “Remembrance” at the Shubert Theater, which Eve attended, and ultimately led to her following Margo back to New York and brings us to the current events.  The group is sympathetic to Eve’s story and instantly feel compassionate toward her plight.  The only person who is not convinced is Birdie.

BIRDIE: “What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end”

After accompanying Margo and Bill to the airport so he can catch his flight to Hollywood, Eve ends up being invited to live in Margo’s home and work as her assistant.  For awhile, Eve dotes on Margo and Margo is in bliss.  However, Eve has an ulterior motive.  By taking care of Margo and all her affairs for a few weeks, she can learn all there is to learn about Margo Channing and her friends and colleagues.   At the theater, Margo catches Eve on the theater stage, modeling Margo’s costume and pretending to bow and accept applause from an invisible audience.  When Eve realizes that she’s been caught, she has a look of terror on her face, but Margo chalks up Eve’s reaction to embarrassment and assumes that Eve’s actions are those of a wannabe theater actress.

Later that evening, Margo receives a phone call at 3:00AM.  Apparently, she had placed a call from New York to California at 12AM (Pacific Time) to wish Bill a Happy Birthday.   Margo assumes that Eve placed the call on her behalf.  It is apparent that Margo is confused and not sure if Eve’s intentions were pure or if there was some underlying motive. The next morning, Margo and Birdie discuss Eve and Birdie’s instinctive dislike of her.

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Birdie is suspicious of Eve’s true intentions

MARGO: She (Eve) thinks only of me, doesn’t she?

BIRDIE: Well let’s say she thinks only about you, anyway.

MARGO: How do you mean that?

BIRDIE: I’ll tell you how: like…like she’s studying you, like you was a play or a book or a set of blueprints–how you walk, talk, eat, think, sleep…

MARGO: I’m sure that’s flattering.  There’s nothing wrong with it.

Margo asks Eve about the phone call.  Eve admits that she forgot to tell Margo about the phone call.  She then nonchalantly mentions that she also sent a telegram to Bill for his birthday and smirks as she leaves and closes the door. The musical score then pops in with its wonderful shrieking violins and loud crescendos.  This music is a continual theme and is heard throughout the film each time Eve does something else nefarious.

From this point on, Eve’s behavior just gets more brazen as she works to take over Margo’s career.  Some of the things she does:

  • Eve finds out Margo’s understudy is pregnant and under the guise of humility, manages to manipulate Karen into asking Max into giving the role of Margo’s understudy to her.
  • Margo arrives late for an audition with another Addison DeWitt protegee, Miss Caswell (Marilyn Monroe).  Eve, Margo’s understudy, auditions with Miss Caswell instead.  She gives a brilliant performance (according to Addison).  Later, after Margo feuds with Lloyd about Eve (and Lloyd vents to Karen), Karen decides to play a joke on Margo to teach her a lesson and cause her to miss a performance (and help out Eve at the same time).  This will later backfire on Karen big time.
  • Eve goes on stage in Margo’s place and wins rave reviews. Just by “sheer coincidence,” Addison and all the other top theater critics in town just happened to be in the audience when Eve made her stage debut. Hmm.  Isn’t that curious?
  • Having taken over Margo’s role, Eve tries to take over Margo’s boyfriend Bill,  the director of “Footsteps on the Ceiling.”  It doesn’t work.  “Just score it as an incomplete forward pass,” he tells her.  From here on, Bill is suspicious of Eve.  Addison also witnesses Eve’s attempt to seduce Bill.
  • Eve then has a friend call Lloyd in the middle of the night to tell him that Eve is having some sort of emotional breakdown and that he needs to come over right away.  He comes to her hotel.  Eve then presents this as Lloyd leaving Karen in the middle of the night and coming to her.  She is convinced that she will marry Lloyd and he will write plays and she’ll star in them.
  • Addison, under the pretense to find out more about Eve’s background, states that he is going to write a column about her.  Actually performing a fact-checking mission, Addison asks Eve about her backstory.  He also does end up writing a column about his interview with Eve where he (and Eve) tear Margo apart.
  • Eve blackmails Karen into convincing Lloyd to give her the coveted role of Cora (the role written for Margo) in “Footsteps on the Ceiling.” Eve threatens to expose Karen’s scheme and how it caused Margo to miss the performance that allowed Eve to be “discovered.”
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Addison and Eve–“champion to champion.”

Margo however, has the last laugh.  During Bill’s welcome home party, already feeling irritated and upset with Eve, Margo introduces Eve to Addison, the acerbic theater critic who writes very blunt and sometimes scathing newspaper columns about the theater world.  Margo knows that if there is anything to find out about Eve’s true intentions, Addison will find out.

At first Addison appears to have been taken in by Eve.  He takes her under his wing (along with Miss Caswell) as a protegee.  He’s present for her audition with Miss Caswell and he is present when Eve goes on in Margo’s place.  It is assumed that he probably helped to arrange for all the local critics to be present.  However, Addison catches on to Eve and works to expose her for the fraud and sociopath she really is (takes one to know one, right?).

Then comes one of the best, most delicious scenes in the film.  Eve, after all her backstabbing, lying, selfishness, etc.  is finally exposed for the fraud she is and Addison uses her manipulation tactics against her.  He exposes the fact that Eve didn’t leave Milwaukee willingly.  She was having an affair with the boss and the boss’ wife had her husband followed by detectives.  Eve and the boss’ affair wasn’t proven–but she was given $500 to get out of town.  She never went to San Francisco.  She used the $500 to go to New York.  There was no Eddie.  No Shubert Theater (it doesn’t even exist in San Francisco!).  He exposes her real name.  It’s not Eve.  It’s Gertrude.  She has parents whom she hasn’t seen or talked to for three years.

Then Addison delivers the gut punch:

ADDISON: “That I should want you at all suddenly strikes me as the height of improbability.  But that, in itself, is probably the reason.  You’re an improbable person Eve and so am I.  We have that in common. Also a contempt for humanity, an inability to love or be loved, insatiable ambition–and talent.  We deserve each other.”

Addison blackmails Eve and states that she now belongs to him.  She has no choice but to acquiesce, otherwise, she’ll lose the theater career she worked so hard for (worked hard in a different way, but it was probably hard work nonetheless).

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Bette Davis, in that inimitable Bette Davis way, rips Anne Baxter a new one.

Back in the present day, the screen unfreezes, and Eve accepts her award.  She gives some fake praise to her “friends” and colleagues thanking them for helping her get the Sarah Siddons Award.  After the ceremony, Margo gives Eve a pretty good burn and pretty much tells her exactly what she thinks of her.  This is also one of my favorite parts of the movie.

MARGO: “Nice speech, Eve.  But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart.  You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.”

Yikes.  You go, Margo.

Finally, it’s karma’s turn.

Eve returns home from the ceremony to discover a young girl asleep in her room.  The girl wakes, introduces herself as “Phoebe,” and informs Eve that she’s president of the “Eve Harrington Fan Club” at her high school.  She idolizes Eve and wants to be a theater actress.  Hmm… sound familiar? Phoebe continues to appeal to Eve’s ego and soon finds herself working as Eve’s assistant in the hotel room.  Hmm… Addison quickly stops by to bring Eve back her award that she left in the back of the limo.  Eve has Phoebe answer the door.
ADDISON (to Phoebe): “Hello there. Who are you?”
PHOEBE: “Miss Harrington’s resting, Mr. DeWitt. She asked me to see who it was.”
ADDISON: “We won’t disturb her rest. It seems she left her award in the taxicab. Will you give it to her?”
(Phoebe holds the award and looks at it with the awe of a stage struck fan girl.  Addison knows this look)
ADDISON: “How do you know my name?”
PHOEBE: “It’s a very famous name, Mr. DeWitt.”
ADDISON: “And what is your name?”
PHOEBE: “Phoebe.”
ADDISON: “Phoebe?”
PHOEBE: “I call myself Phoebe.”
ADDISON: “Why not? Tell me Phoebe, do you want some day to have an award like that of your own?”
PHOEBE: “More than anything else in the world”
ADDISON: “Then you must ask Mrs. Harrington how to get one.  Miss Harrington knows all about it.”
(Addison closes the door with a smirk on his face, knowing the fate that awaits Eve).

Game. Set. Match.

Phoebe takes Eve’s award to the bedroom to pack it in Eve’s trunk (per Eve’s request) and spots Eve’s rhinestone studded cape draped across the trunk.  She puts it on, grabs the award and practices accepting the award in Eve’s three-way mirror.  In the closing scene, the mirror’s reflection shows a bunch of Phoebes.  This is a very effective scene and provides the film’s motif: “There is always someone smarter, more attractive, funnier, etc. waiting in the wings.”

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There’s always someone waiting in the wings–entering Phoebe!

Unrelated to Eve:

What happens to Birdie? She goes to deliver the sable coat to the owner and never returns.  One can assume that perhaps Eve was so efficient that Birdie wasn’t needed and lost her position.  However, she appears to have been a good friend of Margo’s, so that seems unlikely.  Thelma Ritter, where did you go?

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The last time we ever see Birdie

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Holden Blogathon–“Picnic” (1955)

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“I gotta get somewhere in this world. I just gotta.” -Hal Carter, Picnic.

And so sums up William Holden’s character in Picnic.  I’ve written about this film previously in this blog, but I thought that this time I would focus on William Holden and his character in the film.  Holden thought that he was miscast in this film and in many ways, he is right.  Hal is clearly supposed to be in his early to mid-twenties, as he’s a college classmate of Alan Benson’s (Cliff Robertson).  Holden himself was 37 and looked every bit of it.  From an age perspective, Holden is right.  He is too old.  However, from a personality standpoint, he is perfectly cast.

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Who cares how old he is supposed to be in this film? Hubba Hubba!

Holden made his screen debut in 1939’s Golden Boy, co-starring Barbara Stanwyck.  Holden was nervous and ill at ease and it was affecting his performance.  Columbia Studios bosses were unhappy with his performance and were on the verge of firing him.  Stanwyck, then one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, employed her star power and demanded that Holden remain in the film.  She coached him and helped him get through the filming of Golden Boy.  While Holden’s “green-ness” shows in this film, he’s not terrible (that honor goes to Lee J. Cobb, then 27, who was inexplicably cast as 21 year old William Holden’s father.  Cobb is horrible and very annoying in this film).  While Holden got steady work, it would take eleven years to finally “make it” and be a big star.

In 1950, Holden won the leading role in Sunset Blvd.  As “down on his luck” screenwriter, Joe Gillis, Holden developed his signature brand of cynicism, world weariness, but an overall good guy.  He would play this character in most of his films from here on out.  One of the best applications of “The William Holden” persona is his portrayal of Hal Carter in Picnic. A film in which, like I mentioned earlier, Holden felt he was miscast.  Yes, age-wise, Holden is too old.  He knows it and the audience knows it.  But personality-wise, Holden is perfect as Hal Carter.

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In Picnic, Hal Carter is a drifter who winds up in Kansas in hopes to reacquaint with an old college friend, Alan Benson.  Hal is unemployed and has jumped from job to job and city to city since dropping out of college.  He is trying to get his life back together and hopes that Alan will give him some sort of job.  Alan’s family owns a large grain mill and Alan promises Hal a job scooping wheat.  This job is not exactly what Hal has in mind–he wanted to be an executive.  Hal ends up meeting and falling for Madge Owens (Kim Novak), a 19 year old woman who is known to be one of the prettiest “girls” in the area.  But, oops! Madge is already involved with Alan.  This will drive a wedge between Hal and Alan.

Hal is just trying to find a niche for himself in a community where he can thrive.  He is tired of the drifting lifestyle and just wants to fit in somewhere.   From Hal’s expository dialogue, we learn that he is responsible for his previous failures.  Alan, believing that Hal is sincere in getting his life together, invites him to the town’s annual Labor Day Picnic.  At first, everything’s going great and Hal is charming everyone.  After Alan senses that Hal may have his sights set on his girlfriend, Madge (and Madge has her sights set on Hal), Alan begins giving Hal the cold shoulder.

Madge is facing a similar situation to Hal.  She is known for being beautiful and that’s it.  Her mother and boyfriend think that Madge can skate by on her looks and nothing matters except for her to “be pretty.”  It is apparent that Madge’s mother, Florence, wants Madge to use her beauty to land a boyfriend with a high social standing, so that by proxy, the Owens women (Madge, sister Millie, and mother “Flo”) will have high social standings as well.  It is apparent that Alan is really only interested in Madge so that he can have a pretty trophy on his arm.  Nobody takes Madge seriously because it is assumed that someone so beautiful couldn’t have any problems, right? Hal on the other hand, has made so many previous mistakes in his life, that his sincere actions are dismissed by others, thinking that he’s just a ne’er do well bum.  Both Madge and Hal are trapped by other people’s perceptions and expectations (or lack thereof) of them.

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Madge (Kim Novak)

Holden incorporates a raw sensuality and a brashness into Hal that is in direct contrast to Novak’s Madge who exhibits an uneasy and inhibited sensuality.  Hal knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to speak up.  Madge on the other hand, is conflicted.  For her entire life, she’s had people telling her what to do.  Finally, she finds herself feeling something for a man whom is the complete opposite of anyone she’s ever known.  Her mother doesn’t approve.  Her boyfriend doesn’t approve (well obviously I guess), not because he loves her, but because she’d look good on his arm.  Rosemary (Rosalind Russell), a boarder at the Owens’ home, goes off on Hal–not because she doesn’t like him, but because she resented him falling for younger Madge and not her middle aged self.  Rosemary is having her own personal crisis.  She is worried that she’s getting old and that she’ll be a spinster her whole life.  The only characters in the film who like Hal are: Millie (Susan Strasberg), Howard (Arthur O’Connell) and elderly neighbor Mrs. Potts (Verna Felton).

A powerful moment in the film is when Hal returns to the Owens home the day after the picnic (and a day after his and Madge’s rendezvous at the river bank) and makes one last plea for Madge to run away with him.  He proclaims his love for her and she realizes that she feels the same for him–so does Hal.  He yells “you love me! you love me!” repeatedly to Madge as he departs for the train.  Their feelings for one another are so expertly depicted in the now classic “Moonglow” dance–one of the sexiest scenes in film.  No words. No nudity. Nothing explicit–yet Hal and Madge’s feelings for one another are so explicit during the dance.  The sexual tension had already been building in the scenes preceding the dance and it explodes during the first moments when Madge hijacks sister Millie’s (more innocent) dance with Hal.

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“Moonglow,” one of the sexiest dances in film and a pivotal moment for the two characters in the story.

Holden was uneasy with the idea of dancing on screen.  Holden demanded $8,000 “stunt pay” to do the dance scene.  He figured the studio would balk and replace him with a dance double.  Well, that backfired.  The studio ponied up the money and Holden was on the hook to perform the dance. The director tried having Holden and Novak, with a few drinks in them, practice dancing to music from jukeboxes in the local bars, but they were too awkward and the end result was not sexy.  When it came time to shoot, Holden was allowed to have a few drinks beforehand.  The camera work was set up in a way to allow the stars to do minimal movement.  The camera would move around Holden and Novak on a dolly.  A bunch of lights were also added to change colors as the stars moved around which added visual interest to the screen.  Whatever hang ups and issues there were and whatever workarounds the crew had to incorporate in order to complete this scene worked, because the end result is gorgeous.  With each swivel of the hip, the audience can watch Holden and Novak slowly fall for one another.  This is where the audience begins to root for Holden and Novak to end up together.

Holden was able to so effortlessly bring sexiness, charm, humor, but at the same time, common sense and cynicism to his parts, that it really made him feel like an everyday person.  He lacked pretension.  You don’t feel like he’s putting on any type of facade.  He’s a “what you see is what you get” type of person.  He isn’t a distinct persona like Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do a “William Holden impression.”  But that’s not to say he’s lacking in any personality.  It’s just that he’s so approachable and real.  He isn’t larger than life.  While I like Grant, Bogart and Cagney, I find Holden’s realism refreshing and enjoyable.  Whereas, someone like Marlon Brando (to me), always seems like he’s using a shtick (don’t get me wrong, he’s excellent in On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire), he’s a bit too intense.  Holden seems like a guy you could go out for a beer with and not feel intimidated or nervous that you wouldn’t have anything to say to him.  He (and his characters) is a real person.

picnic
This looks like the cover of a trashy romance novel

To use the words of Madge to describe Hal, and in effect, describe an audience’s view of Holden himself:

“You don’t love someone because he’s perfect.”

Classic Quotes Blogathon–“Casablanca” (1942)

blogathon

One of the qualities a “classic” film has is memorable dialogue.  A movie’s scenes can only be enhanced by clever and well-written dialogue.  Prior to “talkies,” the character’s words were typed out across the screen on a title card.  When the characters are “speaking” on screen, oftentimes the actors are just filmed saying different words, but obviously, because the film is silent, the audience does not hear what is being said.  The audience is told what is being said, via the title card.

In Singin’ in the Rain (1952), a film that depicts the movie industry’s transition from silent to sound films, there is a memorable scene between Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen’s characters, Don and Lina, respectively.  Don and Lina are filming the scenes for their next silent film, The Dueling Cavalier.  Don is furious with Lina because she had his new lady friend, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) fired from her job at the studio.  They’re supposed to be filming a love scene.  While Don is stroking Lina’s arm and kissing her passionately, he’s also telling her things like “I don’t like her half as much as I hate you.”  Later in the film, after converting The Dueling Cavalier from silent to sound, Don, Lina and the rest of the studio personnel watch their film in a theater.  Silent films were not known for having great dialogue.  Unfortunately, the crew in The Dueling Cavalier didn’t realize that they needed to actually write something for the characters to say.  The actors are no longer silent on screen.  Don’s character is reduced to saying things like: “I love you. I love you. I love you.”  If a movie, like Singin’ in the Rain, can make their scenes and dialogue memorable, then it is destined to be a classic.

Aside from Singin’ in the RainCasablanca is another classic film from the studio era.  One of the reasons that the film is so popular and memorable is the dialogue.  This film is one of the most quotable films of all times.  The dialogue in Casablanca is gold, from start to finish.  The iconic airport scene at the end of the film has so many memorable quotes, it’s hard to choose a favorite.

ricks
“Everybody comes to Rick’s”

My particular favorite quote is muttered by Claude Rains’ Captain Louis Renault, the shamelessly corrupt head of the Vichy French police in Casablanca.  German official, Major Strasser is also in Casablanca while he keeps track of Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo and his wife Ilsa.  Rick’s Cafe American, run by expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is the most popular club in town.  There is a backroom gambling den which though illegal, is popular and well attended.  Captain Renault frequently spends time at the roulette table.

On one particular night, Major Strasser and his cronies are spending time at Rick’s.  Strasser leads a rousing rendition of “Die Wacht am Rhine,” a patriotic German anthem.  Laszlo interrupts and has the band play “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.  The dueling anthems is a very beautiful and powerful part of Casablanca (Anything to not hear that guitar lady sing again!).  Pretty soon, the French are drowning out the Germans.  Upset, Major Strasser orders Captain Renault to close Rick’s.

shocked

Captain Renault demands that Rick’s be shut down.  Rick naturally asks what grounds the Captain has for closing his establishment.  Captain Renault is grasping for a reason to close Rick’s down and then delivers one of the funniest lines in the whole film:

CAPTAIN LOUIS RENAULT: “I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”
(The dealer hands the Captain a stack of money)
DEALER: “Your winnings, sir.”
CAPTAIN LOUIS RENAULT: “Oh, thank you very much…everybody out at once!”

This scene perfectly sums up Captain Renault’s entire persona.  He’s a corrupt official.  He’s a hypocrite.  He doesn’t care about what is right or wrong, he just wants to win.  Even if it means allying with the Germans, he doesn’t care.  He wants to be on the winning side.  Captain Renault is ultimately a good guy and eventually comes around toward the end of the film when he agrees to join Rick who plans on leaving Casablanca.

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