Category Archives: Favorite Classic Movies (Pre-1980)

MGM Musical Magic Blogathon–“Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)”

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“…Meet me in St. Louis, Louis.  Meet me at the fair. Don’t tell me the lights are shining any place but there…

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Esther (left) and Rose (right) belt out “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

This lyric is heard multiple times in Meet Me in St. Louis and it perfectly sums up the 1944 MGM classic, Meet Me in St. Louis.  In a nutshell, the film is about the Smith family and the love they have for each other and their hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.  Their hometown also happens to be the future home of that year’s World’s Fair.  However, Meet Me in St. Louis is so much more.  It rightfully deserves to be remembered as one of the great musicals of not only the Golden Age of Hollywood, but of all time.

Meet Me in St. Louis opens in the summer of 1903.  The Smith family is seen conducting their day-to-day business.  Matriarch Anna Smith (Mary Astor) and maid Katie (Marjorie Main) are making ketchup.  Younger daughter Agnes (Joan Carroll) comes in from swimming, crooning “Meet me in St. Louis.”  Grandpa Smith (Harry Davenport) is taking a bath.  High school aged siblings Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer) come in from a trip downtown.  It seems that a new attractive young neighbor, John Truett (Tom Drake) has moved in next door.  Esther immediately has a crush on John.  I don’t blame Esther for crushing on John, he’s cute, even if he’s kind of a dork.  Rose on the other hand, is dating Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully), who has moved to New York (for school perhaps? Or maybe he’s on vacation? It’s not clear why he’s there).  Rose is expecting a phone call from Warren.  A phone call in 1903 is a BIG deal.

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Rose takes a call from Warren… with the whole gang listening.

Rose’s phone call is such a big deal that the family is planning their dinner around Warren’s call.  It is assumed by Esther and Rose that Warren is calling to propose marriage to Rose.  After all, Rose is 18, and in 1903, if you’re not engaged by 18, you might as well be dead. The regular Smith dinner time is 6:30 pm.  However, Warren is planning to call at the same time.  Dinner has been moved up to 5:30 pm.  Patriarch Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames) is not too keen on the change in dinner times and Rose ends up taking the call with the entire gang in the room.  Warren finally calls and he and Rose end up having a hilarious conversation with a lot of “WHAT?! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”  The phone call ends with nary a proposal from Warren.  Rose may as well become a nun now.

Eldest sibling and brother Lon (Henry Daniels, Jr.) Rose and Esther plan a party for all their friends and to celebrate Lon’s admission to Princeton University.  The siblings plan a wild party, complete with roast rabbit, and a rousing song and dance to “Skip to My Lou.”  Esther also has ulterior motives at this party.  She and Rose have invited neighbor John to the festivities and Esther plans to make her move.

ESTHER: “I’m going to let John Truett kiss me tonight.”
ROSE: “Esther Smith!”
ESTHER: “Well, if we’re going to get married, I may as well start it.”
ROSE: “Nice girls don’t let men kiss them until after they’re engaged. Men don’t want the bloom rubbed off.”
ESTHER: “Personally, I think I have too much bloom. Maybe that’s the trouble with me.”
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Esther and John turn off the lights.

Esther gives it everything she’s got.  She tries hiding his hat in the breadbox to keep him from leaving, she wears her special perfume and she invites him to turn off the lights with her.  All she ends up with is returning John’s hat complete with raisins inside and John complimenting her on her strong grip and her perfume that reminds him of his grandmother.

The next day, Esther takes a trolley ride and hopes to see John.  The trolley is taking guests on an excursion to the construction site of the World’s Fair that is taking place in the coming year.  John misses the trolley, but after a rousing rendition of “The Trolley Song,” Esther is overjoyed to see that John has managed to catch a ride after all.  Later that evening, youngest sister Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) and Agnes go out for Halloween.  

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Tootie’s Halloween costume

 

Halloween in 1903 is a very strange affair.  The neighborhood kids dress up (which is fine) and spend the evening burning furniture and stealing things from the neighbor’s homes.  It seems that the stealing is condoned, as it is mentioned that the neighbors specifically set things out to be stolen, on the condition that it is returned.  The children also go around playing tricks on the neighbors.  Tootie ends up having to confront and throw flour at the “scariest” neighbor, Mr. Burkhoff.  She does so to prove herself to the older children.

TOOTIE (after throwing the flour at Mr. Burkhoff): “I killed him!”
TOOTIE (after the kids celebrate her “murder” of Mr. Burkhoff): “I’m the most horrible!”

On the way home from Halloween, Tootie and Agnes tie a dummy to the trolley tracks as a joke.  The trolley nearly derails and John helps the kids hide from the angry conductor.  Tootie ends up sustaining a split lip and a broken tooth during the affair.  When she returns home, she concocts a story about being assaulted by John.

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Esther goes over to John’s house to beat him up

Esther is furious that John would supposedly beat up children and goes over to his home to confront him.  She ends up attacking him.  John is caught completely off-guard and thinks Esther has just gone off the deep end.  Tootie then admits that she made up the entire story and Esther is angry and petrified that she just beat up the guy she likes.  This is the least of her problems however when Alonzo comes home with a big announcement.

It seems that Alonzo’s law firm is planning to transfer him (and consequently his family) to New York City.  The family is devastated at the idea of leaving their home.  Rose and Esther are especially upset, because they are still in high school and will have to leave their respective romances, friends, school, etc.  Esther and Rose are also upset when they realize that they will miss the World’s Fair that they’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

Christmas Eve rolls around and the three eldest children are looking forward to attending the annual Christmas Ball.  Esther plans to attend with John.  It seems that Rose’s paramour, Warren is attending the dance with Lucille Ballard (June Lockhart), a girl he met in New York.  Out of revenge, Esther and Rose plan to take the liberty of filling out Lucille’s dance card for her.  They plan on filling in all the names of all the losers and bad dancers at the dance.  By the time the Smiths get to the dance and meet up with Warren and Lucille, it seems that the plans have changed.  At Lucille’s urging, Warren and Rose pair up and Lucille pairs up with Lon.  At Grandpa’s behest, Esther ends up taking the bad dance card.

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Esther and John dance at the Christmas Ball

Esther’s dance card perks up however when John manages to get his tuxedo and come to the dance afterall.  He and Esther dance their last dance at the ball.  The Smiths are planning on leaving St. Louis after Christmas.  John proposes marriage to Esther that evening and she is overjoyed and accepts.  Later that evening, Tootie is realizing how moving to New York is going to affect her.  Esther tries to help Tootie by singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but all this does is drive Tootie to a near nervous breakdown about the thought of leaving everything behind.

Alonzo, seeing first hand how moving is going to affect his family, changes his mind and announces that the family will remain in St. Louis.  The family is overjoyed.  Warren, apparently overcome by emotion at the Christmas Ball, bursts in:

WARREN: “Rose Smith, we can’t go on like this any longer.  I’ve positively decided we’re going to get married at the earliest opportunity and I don’t want to hear any arguments.  That’s final.  I LOVE YOU! Merry Christmas.”
ROSE: “Merry Christmas.”
ALONZO: “Anna, who is that boy?”
ANNA: “Now Lonny, he’s a very fine young man. We’ll talk about it later.”
GRANDPA: “That young man is so excited he’s liable to leave on his honeymoon without Rose.”

The films concludes with the entire family, boyfriends and girlfriends included, attending the 1904 St. Louis World’s fair, or the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.  The family looks on at awe at the fountain that was also used in An American in Paris.  I feel like this fountain is also in Gigi and Clueless, but I am not sure.  For sure it’s in An American in Paris, however.  The film ends on a corny, but appropriate note.

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Esther and John at the World’s Fair
ESTHER: “Isn’t it breathtaking John!? I never dreamed anything could be so beautiful.”
ANNA: “There’s never been anything like it in the whole world.”
ROSE: “We don’t have to come here on a train or stay in a hotel. It’s right in our own home town.”
TOOTIE: “Grandpa? They’ll never tear it down, will they?”
GRANDPA: “Well, they’d better not.”
ESTHER: “I can’t believe it. Right here where we live. Right here in St. Louis.”
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Mary Astor gets to wear the prettiest white dress of all the ladies to the World’s Fair.

Meet Me in St. Louis is memorable not only for the memorable songs in the film, but for the effect it had on Judy Garland and her career.  By 1944, 21/22 year old Garland was tired of playing the cute teenage girl.  She was eager to take on adult roles.  Initially, when offered the role of “Esther Smith” in Meet Me in St. Louis, Garland was not happy.  Esther was yet another teenage girl.  However, director Vincente Minnelli managed to convince Garland to do the film.  One of the big things Minnelli did was to hire makeup artist Dorothy Ponedel to do Garland’s makeup.  With Ponedel, Garland was given an entirely new, glamorous image.  Garland was so happy with how she appeared on screen, that she had her contracts written so that Ponedel was her makeup artist on each film.  Minnelli made Garland feel beautiful in Meet Me in St. Louis.  Perhaps it was this reason why Garland fell in love and married him.

There are multiple reasons why I love Meet Me in St. Louis.  One of the main reasons are the costumes.  I love many of the costumes that Rose and Esther wear.  Anna wears an amazing multi-colored striped robe toward the end of the film.  It is so over the top and gaudy, I love it.  I also love the Smith Victorian home.  It’s gorgeous.  All the rich woodwork and detailed wallpapers are so ornate, but beautiful.  One of the best rooms in the entire house is the bathroom.  It has a beautiful stained glass feature.  I love that the set department paid so much attention to the details in the home.

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John proposes to Esther. I love her sparkly scarf!

Another reason I love Meet Me in St. Louis is for Garland herself.  Her personal problems are well known and it is well known that they affected her professionalism on this film as well.  However, in typical Garland fashion, the audience would have never known of Garland’s personal problems, they do not affect her performance at all.  I read somewhere that Garland never showed up to rehearsals to “The Trolley Song.”  The day came for the number to be filmed.  Everyone was nervous that Garland wouldn’t be prepared and the shoot wouldn’t go off as planned.  Garland showed up and boom! nailed the song on the first take.

Meet Me in St. Louis is such a joy to watch.  I’ve probably seen it over twenty times and I never tire of it.  I love Judy.  I love Tom Drake.  I love the costumes.  I love the songs.  I love the Smith home.  I love how Tom Drake describes everything as “peachy.”  I love Tootie and how morbid she is.  I love everything about this film.

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“The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon”- “The Long, Long Trailer” (1954)

The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon

Today is National Classic Movie Day.  In honor of this occasion, Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting “The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon.”  What better way to celebrate National Classic Movie Day by watching an old favorite film?

I discovered I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball on Nick at Nite in 1995.  From then on, I was hooked on all things Lucy.  When I discovered that she had a film career prior to I Love Lucy, I began looking for Lucy’s films on TCM.  One day, TCM was airing something titled The Long, Long Trailer (TLLT) that starred not only Lucy, but Desi Arnaz too! Lucy and Desi in the same film? I’m in!  From the first time I saw TLLT it quickly became my favorite film.  It is still my favorite film.  TLLT  also became one of my family’s favorite movies as well.  We regularly brought it camping to watch in our small camping trailer that we owned.  I have now probably seen TLLT  at least a hundred times–I am not exaggerating.  tllt

I absolutely love this movie.  It is hilarious, has memorable scenes and lines and is just so much fun to watch.  As someone who has gone camping almost her entire life (literally, I went camping for the first time when I was six-weeks old) many of Lucy and Desi’s adventures are relatable.  While we never stayed in trailer parks, we have dealt with the drama of backing it in, having the trailer collapse, trying to maneuver it in small areas and even dealing with it when it was slightly off-kilter.  Lucy’s physical comedy scenes are top-notch and Desi’s no slouch either.  My entire family can quote so many lines from this film and it’s to the point where I can almost recite the dialogue alongside the actor on-screen.  I never tire of this movie, no matter how many times I see it–it’s the definition of a comfort film.

TLLT  plays like a 90-minute Technicolor episode of I Love Lucy.  Lucy in TLLT might not be as big a schemer as Lucy Ricardo, but she is the one who goes through the ringer as the result of the ideas she has.  Desi’s character is a bit of a hybrid of Ricky Ricardo and Ethel Mertz as he willingly goes along with Lucy’s ideas, but is also the one that is the voice of reason.  Lucy and Desi’s character names in TLLT, Tacy and Nicky, even sound similar to their I Love Lucy characters, Lucy and Ricky.  Much of the humor of TLLT are the problems that Lucy and Desi experience.  These are problems that any naive novice trailer owner could encounter: getting stuck in the mud, not being able to park, trying to prepare dinner in a moving vehicle, driving on a narrow, treacherous mountain road–all things that could happen to the owner of a trailer.

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The trailer.  At the beginning of the film, Desi laments: “It’s a fine thing when you come home to your home and your home is gone!”

TLLT opens with Desi driving in a downpour, seemingly looking for someone or something.  He pulls into a trailer park and enters the lobby.  An older gentleman, Mr. Tewitt (Moroni Olsen), is sitting in the lobby.  As Desi begins to converse with Mr. Tewitt, we learn that he is looking for his wife, who along with his trailer, has gone missing.  Desi has spotted his trailer in this park.  Mr. Tewitt tells Desi that his wife is currently out looking at a trailer in the park–it is being sold by a young lady who has had a change in plans and needs to sell.  Desi puts two and two together and realizes that that young lady is his wife.  As Desi begins to tell Mr. Tewitt his story, the film segues into a flashback.

Soon-to-be-married Lucy and Desi are at home and Lucy is looking at a series of trailer brochures.  It seems that Desi has been offered a new position that will take him to different jobs all over the country.  It is not clear what Desi’s job is, but Lucy says: “If it (Desi’s job) isn’t a tunnel in Colorado, it’ll be a bridge in Alaska or a dam across the Pacific.”  Based on this, I am assuming that Desi works as some type of engineer.  Lucy, not wanting to spend her married life living out of suitcases and eating in random restaurants, suggests to Desi that they purchase a trailer.  They can travel from job to job and still have a home to return to.  Lucy promises to cook and clean and do everything needed to get Desi to agree.  With some reluctance, Desi agrees to go to the annual trailer show with Lucy to look at the “Bungalette” trailer that she has her eye on.

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Lucy and Desi look at the brochure for the “Bungalette” camper. Spacious on paper, a shoebox in person.

At the trailer show, Lucy and Desi locate the “Bungalette” and discover that the brochure was deceptive in how much space was available.  This trailer is tiny.  It’d be fine for camping, but not as a comfortable space to serve as a home for two adults. Desi is secretly happy that Lucy is disappointed.  Undeterred, Lucy keeps looking and soon spots “it” as Desi says.  “It” is a gorgeous yellow and chrome 36′ Redman “New Moon” trailer.   Lucy and Desi tour the trailer and agree that it’s gorgeous but must be expensive.  A salesman, seeing the opportunity to pounce, talks to Lucy and informs her that the trailer is $5345.  Of course, it can be paid in installments.  1/3 of the cost will need to be put down as a downpayment.  Lucy quickly calculates the downpayment to be roughly $1750 (actually $1763).  It seems that she and Desi’s budget for rent is $1800/year(!).  Lucy goes to work.

Before he knows it, Desi is signing paperwork and trading in his old car.  It seems a new car is needed to haul the trailer.  Lucy and Desi purchase a gorgeous pale yellow convertible to haul the gargantuan trailer.  Next, we’re treated to the hilarious scene of Desi at the auto shop getting the car fitted with new equipment to haul the trailer.  He has a hitch welded to the bumper, trailer brakes are installed and he’s given “block and tackle just in case.” His trunk is full of all kinds of “just in case” crap that the mechanic decides is necessary–though Desi isn’t briefed on the function of any of it. But, at least he has it, right?

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Desi and the overly chipper mechanic who reminds Desi that he now owns “40 feet of train!” and also ingrains the immortal phrase, “trailer brakes first!” into Desi’s brain.

After a terrifying first drive with the new trailer, Desi delivers the trailer to Lucy’s home where she and her girlfriends are stocking it with all of the wedding presents and other essentials.  This scene is utter pandemonium, culminating with a traumatized Desi cowering in the bedroom after a woman topples a pile of clothes hangers.  The chaotic scene is juxtaposed with a glimpse of Lucy and Desi’s fairly tranquil wedding reception.  After the reception, with the car and trailer packed, Lucy and Desi are on the road, ready to start their honeymoon!

On their wedding night, Lucy and Desi pull up to a seemingly nice, but noisy, trailer park.  The residents are all friendly, a little too friendly perhaps.  As Desi attempts to carry Lucy over the threshold, Mrs. Hittaway (Marjorie Main) sees them and for whatever reason assumes that Desi must be carrying Lucy because she’s injured.  I would think that Mrs. Hittaway would have seen Lucy walk up to the trailer, but apparently not.  Instead of telling the truth, Lucy and Desi concoct some story about Lucy twisting her ankle.  Mrs. Hittaway takes charge and devotes herself to administering aid to Lucy.  Mrs. Hittaway’s first order of business is getting some food into Lucy and Desi’s stomachs.  She orders husband Floyd the Barber (Howard McNear) to go get some food.

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The neighborhood welcome wagon

Word gets around the trailer park and soon Desi is hosting a neighborhood get together.  All the neighbors come over to gawk at the large trailer and also to socialize.  Poor Desi spends his evening washing dishes and serving soda to a bunch of people he doesn’t know (and honestly probably doesn’t even care to know.  They were only going to stay at the park overnight).  Lucy is passed out due to being slipped a sleeping pill by Mrs. Hittaway.  The wedding night is a bust.

The next day, eager to get out of the park, Lucy and Desi hightail it out of there and are back on the road.  The next day, the newlyweds decide that they want a private evening.  Lucy suggests that they pull off onto a remote road somewhere and camp.  Desi, not knowing any better agrees.  Soon they are driving on some bumpy, muddy logging road, and the trailer becomes stuck and lopsided.  Then of course, it starts raining.  Desi tries his best to level out the trailer.  Lucy attempts to make dinner.  She attempts to make eggs by rigging up some wire clothes hangers and forks to keep the pans in one place, but it doesn’t really work.  Lucy and Desi end up eating cheese and drinking wine for dinner.  Night time comes and Desi is fast asleep in his twin bed on the leaning side of the trailer.  Lucy has the twin bed at the top of the lean.  She tries to get into bed multiple times, falling out of bed each time.  At this point, one might ask, “why she doesn’t crawl into bed with her husband?”  To that, I say, “if she did that, then we wouldn’t be treated to the hilarity that ensues when the trailer collapses, the door opens, and out goes Lucy–straight into a six-foot deep mud puddle!

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(After Lucy falls out of the trailer and into the mud) DESI (half asleep): “What’s the matter honey? Can’t you sleep?

After her impromptu mud bath, morning comes.  Desi gets the trailer towed and cleaned up and soon he and Lucy are back out on the road! The next stop is Lucy’s Aunt Anastacia (Madge Blake) and Uncle Edgar’s (Walter Baldwin) home.  The newlyweds dream of a short visit where they don’t have to spend any money–or drive the trailer!  Desi and Lucy arrive with their trailer (40 feet of train, remember) much to the astonishment of the neighborhood.  After some obligatory introductions, Uncle Edgar nonchalantly tells Desi to back the trailer into the driveway.  “That way you have use of the car!” he says.  Apparently there are so many people living in the home that Lucy and Desi are still sleeping in their trailer.

Desi, not having ever backed the trailer up, pulls out his useless user manual which advises him to “pull into an attractive trailer park, shop for food and start eating!” He finally finds the instructions on how to back the trailer in and gives it a-go.  He makes multiple attempts and fails.  He drives into yards, plants, crowds of people, and worst of all, Aunt Anastacia’s prized rose.  Mortified, Lucy yells at everyone to get back and shut up and she will direct Desi.  Lucy gets Desi lined up with the driveway and instructs him to back in.  He does a good job, until the carport is shredded due to the trailer being too tall.  Personally, I blame Uncle Edgar.  He’s the one who told Desi to back into the driveway.

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The hilarious scene with Desi trying to back in the trailer with everyone screaming at him. “Poor Grace” is looking on with amusement from the porch. This scene culminates with Desi driving over Aunt Anastacia’s prized roses. “My rose! My rose! You tore down my rose with your lousy stinking trailer!” Aunt Anastacia wails.

A few days later, Lucy and Desi leave their relatives and get back on the road.  Their next stops are uneventful.  They visit a nice, quiet trailer park and Lucy fixes a romantic meal.  It is at this point that we learn that Lucy has been canning fruits and vegetables in an effort to truly make her house a home.  We also find out that she’s been collecting rocks as souvenirs from different places they’ve been on their honeymoon.  These aren’t just little pebbles however, these are enormous rocks that probably each weigh 10-15 lbs.

The next day, Lucy wants to learn how to drive the trailer.  Desi reluctantly lets her take the wheel and soon regrets it.  Lucy drives much faster than he does, passes cars despite the solid yellow line, gets distracted by dresses in the windows… she’s all over the place.  Understandingly, Desi is a mess.  Lucy assures him that she’s only driving 35 miles per hour.  “I am sitting in the suicide seat” he says.  Desi’s backseat driving ends up reaching its peak when he makes a comment about women drivers and Lucy understandably gets mad and sits in the backseat, fuming.  Their fight continues onto their next stop that evening–a service station on the side of the highway.  Lucy and Desi fight about who sleeps in the living room, with Lucy winning.  Their fight ends when they hear some frightening highway sounds–in the form of sirens and gunshots.

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Lucy tries to cook dinner in the trailer while Desi drives. This is the end result.

When morning comes, Lucy tells Desi that she has a solution for alleviating some of the tension between them: she will cook dinner in the trailer while Desi drives.  Sounds like a great idea right? It’s not.  Not only is it illegal (something Lucy and Desi don’t find out until after the fact), but it’s impossible to cook in a moving trailer.  Lucy concocts an elaborate meal: ragout of beef, caesar salad, and angel food cake.  While Desi drives, Lucy discovers that everything rocks while the trailer is in motion.  Soon, she and her meal are being tossed every which way and Lucy discovers that this was a bad idea.  She tries to get Desi’s attention but between the noise of the road and the noise of his “Ragout of Beef” song, he doesn’t hear her.  She’s all over the place, her food is all over the place, the trailer is a disaster.

After stopping the trailer, Desi returns to find Lucy bruised and battered.  He takes her to the beauty salon to get cleaned up.  While in town, Desi speaks with a man who is interested in purchasing the trailer.  Thinking that this is a fantastic idea, Desi speaks with Lucy who is vehemently opposed to the idea.  Lucy ends up winning and it’s back on the road.

The last big stretch of their trip takes them up a very steep mountain–8,000 feet elevation.  The roads are very narrow and are almost completely vertical.  This is a very dangerous road for the trailer, but the detour will take them hundreds of miles out of their way.  I don’t know, after watching them complete the drive, I think I’d rather take the detour! Desi gets the trailer and car worked on and is advised by the mechanic to not take any extra unnecessary weight.  Lucy needs to get rid of her rocks and all her canned fruits and vegetables.  Desi tells Lucy of their weight restrictions and she is not happy.  While preparing the trailer, Lucy schemes with the manager of the trailer park (where they’re staying) and ends up determining that if the weight is distributed evenly across the trailer, then it should be fine.  She then lies to Desi about getting rid of everything.

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Lucy and Desi white knuckle it for the 8,000 ft ascent up the mountain

It’s time to start the big climb.  The trip is harrowing.  The car’s wheels spin in the dry gravel.  The trailer can’t make it around a big curve without Desi having to back-up (with half of the trailer hanging over the cliff!) in order to make the maneuver.  They encounter a fellow driver who has to basically drive his car into the rocky wall in order to let the trailer pass.  Desi passes him successfully, even though the trailer does scrape against the car while passing.  Lucy and Desi have an awkward conversation about a book that Lucy was reading, which ends up turning into a conversation “a beautiful actress who loved squirrels.”  I am thinking the “beautiful actress” is Elizabeth Taylor as Desi references Michael Wilding.

While the trailer makes its ascent, Lucy’s rocks and canning jars start coming out of their hiding places and moving toward one end of the trailer.  Lucy and Desi finally reach the top of the mountain.  They get out of the car for a well deserved breather when suddenly one side of the trailer collapses.  Desi opens the door and out falls one of Lucy’s rocks.  Livid, Desi starts tossing all of the rocks and jars off the side of the cliff.  We are then brought to the beginning of the film.

After Desi has finished recounting the entire story of how he ended up looking for Lucy and his trailer, he ends up finding Lucy in the trailer park.  She has sold the trailer to Mrs. Tewitt and is busy packing.  Desi returns to apologize, but cannot overcome his ego to do so.  Lucy cannot seem to find the words to apologize either.  He leaves.  It’s looking like curtains for Lucy and Desi’s marriage, until Lucy realizes that she doesn’t want Desi to leave and goes chasing after him.  Lucy and Desi apologize, embrace and return to the trailer.

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“I’m sorry!”

 

And they lived happily ever after.

 

1961 Blogathon- “The Parent Trap”

1961

Let’s get together, yeah yeah yeah
Why don’t you and I comb-ine?
Let’s get together, what do you say?
We can have a swingin’ ti-me
We’d be a cra-a-zy team
Why don’t we ma-a-ake a scene…

This verse from “Let’s Get Together” pretty much sums up the premise of The Parent Trap.  Sharon and Susan end up meeting and getting together in a joint effort to reunite their parents.  They want to stay together, they want their parents to get together and they don’t want their dad to get together with a young gold digger named Vicky.

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The estranged parents caught in an embarrassing situation in the pool changing room! From the opening credits of “The Parent Trap.”

After a kicky stop motion animation puppetry sequence which, combined with Tommy Sands and Annette Funicello’s rendition of the title song, “The Parent Trap,” the audience is fully aware of the premise of the film.  Through animation and song, it is illustrated and explained that two sisters meet and scheme to reunite their divorced parents–so that they can be a complete family.

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Susan and Sharon first meet at camp

At the beginning of the film, Sharon (Hayley Mills) is being dropped off by her chauffeur.  She quickly befriends two other girls and they become a clique of sorts.  During her first few hours at camp, Sharon comes across another girl, Susan (Hayley Mills), who bares a remarkable resemblance to her.  They look identical, except Susan has short hair whereas Sharon’s hair is long.  To put it mildly, the two girls do not get along.

SUSAN’S ROOMMATE (about Sharon): “The nerve of her (Sharon), coming here with your face!”
SUSAN’S OTHER ROOMMATE: “What are you gonna do about it?”
SUSAN: Do? What in heaven’s sake can I do, silly?”
SUSAN’S OTHER ROOMMATE: “I’d bite off her nose, then she wouldn’t look like you.”

Susan has her own group of friends that she pals around with and the two groups of girls take turns terrorizing each other.

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How does nobody wake up when this booby trap is installed? Talk about being a sound sleeper!

Sharon and her friends (one of which is LaRue from Sally Field’s Gidget TV series!) flip Susan and her friends’ canoe.  In retaliation, Susan and her friends booby trap Sharon and her friends’ cabin–complete with honey, string, straw, the works.  It makes a massive mess.  While Sharon and her friends try to clean up, Camp Director Miss Inch and her assistant Miss Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies, come around for cabin inspection.  Of course, Sharon & Co.’s cabin is a disaster.  As a punishment, the girls are prohibited from attending the co-ed dance that is being held that evening.  Sharon and Susan’s disdain for one another comes to a head at the dance.

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Susan is caught in an awkward predicament at the co-ed dance–thanks to Sharon!

Banished from the dance because of Susan, Sharon waits for Susan to come outside with her date.  As Susan leans up against the deck railing, Sharon and her friend cut the back of Susan’s skirt off.  When Susan returns to the dance, the back of her panties are exposed to everyone at the dance.  For whatever reason, Susan doesn’t notice until her friends come to her aid and tell her that her panties are showing.  Mortified, Susan goes outside and ends up confronting Sharon.  The two girls end up brawling and ruining the dance and Miss Inch’s cake.

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Hey, at least you don’t have anyone bothering you while you’re trying to eat your lunch!

Sharon and Susan are punished for their unladylike behavior and are banished to the “Serendipity Cabin.”  This cabin is still in camp, but is secluded from the other cabins.  Miss Inch, tells the girls that they will: “eat together, sleep together and play together.”  Susan and Sharon eat meals together at the “Isolation Table.”  It begins to seem like Susan and Sharon are fated to be miserable for the rest of the summer until a fateful afternoon rainstorm.

After a funny scene involving Susan hanging up her Ricky Nelson photos:

SHARON: “Who’s that?”
SUSAN: “Are you kidding? Ricky Nelson?”
SHARON: “Oh your boyfriend.”
SUSAN: “I wish he was! You mean you’ve never heard of him? Where do ya come from? Outer Space?!”

A gust of wind and rain sweeps into the girls’ cabin and blows all the photos of Ricky Nelson around.  Sharon rushes to Susan’s aid and helps her batten down the hatches and try to salvage the photos.  After getting to talking and discovering that both only have one parent (Sharon lives with her mother and Susan with her father) and have the same birthday, Sharon begins to think there is more to this series of coincidences and perhaps it’s a stroke of serendipity (hence, the name of the cabin).  Susan doesn’t get it until Sharon shows her a picture of her mother, Maggie (Maureen O’Hara).  Susan tells Sharon that that is her mother too.  Ding! Ding! Ding! The girls have figured out that they are actually twins, split up at birth.

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Susan is a great hairdresser! Not sure if Sharon is as convinced.

The rest of camp is spent scheming.  The girls decide that they cannot be separated again and want more than ever to get their parents back together, so they can be a complete family unit.  Their plan is simple: they will switch places.  Sharon will travel to Susan’s home in Carmel, California to meet her father, Mitch (Brian Keith) and Susan will travel to Boston to meet Maggie.  Susan practices her diction (“Shan’t, can’t, aunt”) and tries to learn the blueprint of Sharon’s home.  Sharon tries to learn Susan’s housekeeper Verbena’s laundry schedule and the names of her animals.  Camp finally ends and the girls’ plan goes off with a hitch.

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“Well bust it up for heaven’s sake!”

While in their new homes, Susan and Sharon try to get used to their new lifestyles while trying to keep up the facade of being the other twin.  When Sharon’s grandfather (Charles Ruggles) overhears some suspicious phone conversations and Susan’s housekeeper Verbena (Una Merkel) observes the dog, Andrometer, acting weird around Susan, they begin to become suspicious.  Grandpa and Verbena might not know what is going on, but they are aware that something is “off.” The jig is finally up when Grandpa overhears a phone conversation between Susan and Sharon on the phone and Sharon confides in Verbena and tells her the truth.

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“I’m not sayin’ a word, not one word!” Verbena, who says so much without saying a word.

In Boston, Susan is struggling to keep up with Sharon’s piano lessons and the rigidity of her schedule.  She is also trying to talk to Maggie to find out the truth about the relationship between her and Susan’s father.  Meanwhile, in California, Sharon is in crisis mode because Mitch has announced that he is getting remarried to a young woman named Vicky.  Verbena dislikes Vicky and makes it known without “sayin’ a word.  Not one single word.” Verbena, while “not saying a word,” tells Sharon that she suspects Vicky of being a gold digger.  Sharon calls Susan in a panic about Mitch’s impending marriage and begs her to tell Maggie the truth so that they can get the show on the road.

After the phone call between Sharon and Susan, Grandpa who overheard it, pressures Susan to tell Maggie the truth.  Maggie and Susan are soon planning a trip to California, but not before this hilarious scene in the bedroom when Grandpa essentially tells his daughter, Maggie, that she looks old:

GRANDPA (after questioning Maggie’s hair and clothing and basically telling her that her style is outdated and matronly and fake encouraging Maggie’s stubbornness about updating her look):
“Stay the way you are… a nice, reliable, settled, comfortable woman, who accepts the coming of age with grace and dignity.”
MAGGIE: “That’s the most horrible thing anybody could say!”

Despite being upset with her father’s criticism of her appearance, Maggie takes his words to heart.  After a short layover in New York City, Maggie and Susan are at Mitch’s glorious doorstep in California.

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Mitch’s amazing living room in his gorgeous ranch house

Mitch’s California ranch home is probably one of the greatest houses in all of movies.  His house is gorgeous. The amazing stone work, the dark stained finishes, the great open areas (that you could only have in California.  It wouldn’t work here in Oregon), the gorgeous stained glass, the great tile, the beautiful mid-century modern furniture, I love this house.  It is much better than Maggie’s stuffy Boston townhouse.  His kitchen has amazing windows that extend the entire width of the room in front of the sink.  There’s also an amazing courtyard where Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills perform their “Let’s Together” song.

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“That plotz-faced child bride and her electric hips!” aka Vicky

Back to the movie,  Maggie and Susan show up at Mitch’s home, right as Mitch is entertaining his fiancee Vicky, her mother and the Reverend who is supposed to officiate the wedding–perfect time for the ex-wife to show up.  The Reverend, whom I sense is not a big fan of Vicky and her mother, catches Mitch and Maggie in a compromising position and is amused by the entire situation.  Maggie is dressed in Mitch’s bathrobe as she had just finished showering.  Mitch is chasing her around the house trying to catch her just as the Reverend walks in.  Vicky is understandably upset, but since she’s the villain and we don’t want her and Mitch to marry, we don’t care.  Maggie has the best lines at the end of this scene:

MAGGIE (to VICKY & VICKY’S MOTHER): “What a shame you can’t stay for dinner with us.”
VICKY’S MOTHER: “Yes. Vicky and I have a million things to do–fittings and odds and ends to buy.”
MAGGIE: “Just charge it all to Mitch–he’s loaded.”
VICKY’S MOTHER: “Oh? I didn’t know.”
MAGGIE: “Didn’t you?”

Boom! Maggie’s got Vicky and Vicky’s mother’s number.  After this point, Sharon and Susan go to work setting their “parent trap.”  First they try recreating Maggie and Mitch’s first date, based on information Susan got from Maggie earlier in the film.  They enlist ranch hand Hecky to serenade Mitch and Maggie like a gypsy.  Verbena cooks up a batch of veal parmesan for the meal.  Sharon and Susan come out on stage with something that slightly resembles a vaudeville act, based on the theme of “getting together.”

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“Let’s Get Together”

Sharon plays a concert pianist who is in the middle of a concert, performing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  Susan comes out in a big suede vest strumming a guitar.  My husband likes to point out how Susan is most definitely NOT playing the guitar each and every time we watch this.  And really, he’s right. Hayley Mills isn’t even pretending to play the guitar properly.  But all that doesn’t matter.  Maggie and Mitch are thoroughly entertained by their daughter’s shenanigans and are touched by the lengths they went through to set up this big date…. then they start arguing and all hints of possible romance are gone.

The next morning, the morning when Sharon and Maggie are supposed to return to Boston, the twins are desperate.  They decided to dress exactly alike and blackmail their parents into taking them on a camping trip.  At the conclusion of the camping trip, the girls will reveal their true identities.  This seems like a lame plan in that you’d think two parents who’d raised their daughters for 13 years would know who’s who, but Mitch admits that even he is not sure which twin is Susan.  The plan is set into motion… then Vicky shows up.

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Maggie, knowing that Vicky will hate camping, cunningly invites her to go along…then dips out at the last minute.

Maggie, knowing Vicky will be completely out of her element on a camping trip, hilariously tricks her into going camping with Mitch, Hecky, and the girls instead.  Vicky agrees to go, not knowing that she’s been bamboozled.  While on a hike through the woods to their camp, the girls concoct multiple schemes to drive Vicky bananas.  They give her sugar water stating that it’s mosquito repellent, they place a lizard on her canteen knowing she’ll freak out and they plant a fake idea in her mind that hitting two sticks together will scare away mountain lions.  While at camp, the girls trick Vicky into falling into the lake by having one twin stand on the other’s shoulders and pretending that the water was shallow.

(As a side note, it seems interesting to me that Sharon is so comfortable camping as she seems to be from a pretty stuffy household in Boston.  Though she did attend that summer camp, so what do I know?)

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The twins not at all stifling their amusement of Vicky’s traumatic camping adventure.

That evening, Vicky is beginning to crack.  She’s disgusted by the trout dinner (and the upcoming trout breakfast).  Mitch breaks the news to her that her mosquito repellent is bogus and that she’s basically inviting them to feast on her.   Mitch and Hecky laugh at her when she starts trying to keep the mountain lions away by hitting the sticks together.  In disgust, she goes to bed.  During the evening, Susan plays her famous “let’s booby trap the tent” trick that she employed in the beginning of the film, except this time Sharon is a co-conspirator rather than victim.

The next morning, Vicky wakes up to a baby bear licking honey off her feet.  Freaked out, she rushes out of the tent, no doubt getting pine needles stuck to her feet, trashes the camp and pushes Mitch into the tent.  Hecky grabs Vicky her boots and she screams out this immortal line:

“Get me out of this stinking fresh air!”

Vicky flounces off into the woods, with Hecky in tow, never to be seen again.

Back at the ranch, Maggie is whipping up some beef stew.  She has given Verbena the night off.  As for Hecky, who knows where he is.  Maybe Vicky has killed him.  Maybe she forced him to drive her far from Carmel.  Regardless, he’s not home.  The twins are up in Susan’s room.  They have apologized to Mitch for “submarining” Vicky and all is forgiven.  Which is good, because nobody liked her anyway.

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And the twins’ scheming finally pays off!

Mitch observes Maggie in the kitchen for awhile and decides to go gussy himself up.  He showers, shaves and combs his hair.  He turns some music on on the hi-fi for ambiance and also breaks out a bottle of red wine.  As Mitch and Maggie talk in the kitchen, they begin to reminisce about the times they spent with one another.  Soon, it is apparent that they really do still love each other, especially when they give each other a romantic kiss.

Now in bed, Sharon wakes up after having a dream about her father and mother remarrying.  Remember, she’s psychic.  She says as much at the beginning of the film.   I choose to believe that this scene implies that the trap has worked.  Maggie and Mitch are together again and the twins won’t have to endure “the six month split.”

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I choose to believe that Sharon’s dream was predicting the inevitable and Mitch and Maggie remarried. And they all lived happily ever after.

If it isn’t already obvious, I love this movie.  I just can’t with the Lindsay Lohan one.  Lohan will always be a “Mean Girl” to me.  She cannot fill Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills’ shoes.

 

The Golden Boy Blogathon–“Miss Grant Takes Richmond” (1949)

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William Holden was born 100 years ago today.  He made his film debut in Golden Boy (1939) co-starring Barbara Stanwyck.  Holden was only 21 when he was cast in his first film and it was apparent to everyone that he was inexperienced.  Holden was almost fired from his first part; but veteran film star Stanwyck took him under her wing and coached and encouraged him, often on her own time.  Under Stanwyck’s tutelage, Holden was able to keep his job and turned in a serviceable performance.  After the filming on Golden Boy ended, Holden and Stanwyck remained lifelong friends.

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William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck at the 1978 Academy Award ceremony

In 1978, the two friends appeared together as presenters at the annual Academy Awards ceremony.  Holden deviated from reading the list of nominees to publicly thank Stanwyck for her helping and supporting his career when he was first starting out.  Four years later, Stanwyck appeared at the Academy Awards to accept an Honorary Oscar.  Holden had passed away a few months prior.  After her very genuine and humble speech, Stanwyck paid tribute to her friend stating: “I loved him very much and I miss him.  He always wished I would get an Oscar.  And so tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish.”  It was a very sweet and emotional tribute.  I highly recommend looking up both Holden’s tribute to Stanwyck and Stanwyck’s tribute to Holden on You Tube.

Whether or not Holden would have still become a star without Stanwyck’s help, it is unknown, but being fired from his first big part could have definitely curtailed his career.  Stanwyck should definitely be given credit for being kind and generous and helping out a young man who wanted a film career.  She could have been a diva and demanded a more experienced co-star (and could have probably gotten one), but she saw something in her young 21 year old co-star and opted to provide her knowledge and advice instead.  For the next eleven or so years after Golden Boy, Holden continued in small parts and small films and continued to grow his skills and gain experience.  During this period, Holden appeared in many B-list films including one with RKO’s former “Queen of the Bs,” Lucille Ball.

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William Holden and Lucille Ball in “Miss Grant Takes Richmond”

In 1949, Holden and Ball appeared in the comedy, Miss Grant Takes Richmond.  Ball had just been signed to Columbia Pictures after a recommendation from Buster Keaton to Columbia studio-head, the irascible Harry Cohn.  Keaton suggested to Cohn that Ball would be perfect for comedic parts.  Miss Grant Takes Richmond was the first film Ball made under her new contract.  This film is mainly a vehicle for Ball and her physical comedy talents, but Holden provides excellent support as her straight-man.  His worldly, but weary, everyday man persona had emerged by this time and also provides Ball with a handsome and worthy love interest.  Reliable character actors, James Gleason and Frank McHugh, provide excellent support.

In Miss Grant Takes Richmond, Ball plays Ellen Grant, an aspiring secretary.  She attends secretary school and is the worst student in the class.  She can’t type, has to make constant corrections, pulls the ribbon out of the typewriter and manages to get ink everywhere.  She seems hopeless as a secretary–a sentiment echoed by her aunt and uncle and fiance who cannot understand why she’d want a career when she could just get married and be a housewife.  One day at the secretary school, Dick Richmond (Holden), comes in looking for a secretary for his real estate office.  Much to everyone’s surprise, including Ellen’s, Dick selects her.

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Left to Right: Frank McHugh, William Holden, Lucille Ball and James Gleason in “Miss Grant Takes Richmond.”

At the office, it seems that there is more going on between Dick and his associates, Gleason (James Gleason) and Kilcoyne (Frank McHugh).  Ellen constantly takes calls from people seemingly wanting to put down-payments down on various properties in various neighborhoods.  In reality, Dick and his cronies are actually running a bookmaking operation.  The calls and payments that Ellen is accepting are actually bets being placed on horses at various racetracks.  The real estate office and Ellen are just a front to fool authorities.  To keep up the charade, Dick mentions that there is some land available for a housing development, but the owner wants $60,000.  He mentions that this is too expensive, but he’d be willing to pay $55,000.  Without his knowledge, Ellen goes down to the owners of the property and manages to negotiate the price down to $50,000.

Ellen, her fiance (who is also a District Attorney), and the owner of the property all go down to Dick’s real estate office to let him know of the deal to purchase the land.  Ellen explains that Dick’s office will now be able to build a housing development of affordable housing.  Dick knows that this deal will cause financial trouble for his operation, but has to play along.  He then decides to try and scare Ellen away from the organization by being aggressively romantic with her, but that backfires when he finds out that he’s fallen for her.

Dick’s ex-girlfriend, Peggy Donato comes to visit her old flame and to also place a large bet ($50,000) on a race.  Ellen accepts the bet, not knowing that a) Donato is placing a bet on a horse race and b) That the race that Donato is betting on is fixed, in her favor.  Dick cannot afford to pay $50,000 to Donato.  Dick tries to explain his predicament to Donato who is not sympathetic in the slightest.  Donato, who still has feelings for Dick, tells him that he can either run away with her or she’ll have her goons take care of him.

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Lucille Ball tries to fix the cement after the foundation fiasco at the housing development

Back at the housing development, Dick has put Ellen in charge.  He has also embezzled funds from the down-payments he received for the houses in the development.  There is a funny scene at the construction site where Ellen and the female customers decide to adjust the foundation outlines (by moving the ropes) of their respective homes.  When they’re done, the size of the rooms are wildly out of proportion.  The construction crews start pouring the cement foundations, per the rope guidelines and soon realize something is horribly wrong.  There is a funny scene where the foreman rants about the crazy foundations.  People’s homes are overlapping, some rooms are enormous while others are tiny, there are random triangular shaped rooms that are too small to use, you name it, it’s a problem.  However, the project now has a larger problem, it’s out of money.

Dick, feeling guilty about scamming innocent people and Ellen, decides to run off with Donato and pay all his customers back.  Ellen finally figures out that the whole operation was a scam and that Dick took the money from the housing development.  She is upset, but decides that she still cares about her former employer and opts to scheme to get rid of Donato.  In a scene reminiscent of the 1957 I Love Lucy episode, “Lucy Wants to Move to the Country,” Ellen decides to dress up like a gangster and pass herself off as the real brains of the bookmaking operation.  She cobbles together her own “gang” and tries to intimidate Donato’s gang.  That plan backfires when Donato’s gang proves to be too strong.  At that time, Gleason and Kilcoyne show up with $50,000 that they won in a bet placed with Donato’s operation–which can be repaid to the people who purchased the homes at the development (or can be used to actually complete the homes).

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William Holden’s facial expression when he sees Lucy’s nose after she “fixes” it is the funniest part of the entire episode. “This California sun certainly makes your skin soft,” Lucy says. If I could find a picture that also captures the look on Desi Arnaz’ face, that would be the ultimate. (“L.A. at Last!” “I Love Lucy” episode #114)

This is a fun film that shows off both Ball and Holden’s strengths.  Two years later, Ball would be starring in her groundbreaking sitcom I Love Lucy.  In 1954, five years after their film together, Holden would be reunited with Ball when he made an appearance as himself on her show.  “L.A. at Last!” was the first episode of the Hollywood story arc of I Love Lucy.  Holden has his first encounter with the star-struck Lucy at the fabled Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood.  Later, he meets Lucy again in the Ricardos’ hotel room where she attempts to disguise her appearance with a putty nose.  My favorite thing about Holden’s entire appearance is the fact that this sets up the idea that Holden is a gossip.  There are multiple episodes featuring other celebrities where the celebrity alludes to Holden giving them the low down on Lucy.

By the time Holden makes his appearance on I Love Lucy, his star had risen exponentially since Miss Grant Takes Richmond, much like Ball’s had.  In 1950, a year after ‘Richmond,’ Holden got the plum role of Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd.  This film catapulted Holden into stardom.  He received an Oscar nomination for his part as the weary and cynical screenwriter who allows himself to be a “kept man” by the delusional and absurd former silent screen star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).  After Sunset Blvd., Holden appeared in a string of hits: Born Yesterday (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), The Moon is Blue (1953), Executive Suite (1954), Sabrina (1954), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), The Country Girl (1954), Picnic (1955), Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955), and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1955).  Holden took home the 1953 Best Actor Oscar for Stalag 17.  Holden’s string of hit films during just this five year period is remarkable and a feat which is rarely repeated.

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Hubba Hubba!

Favorite Performers: Kim Novak

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Kim Novak is someone who I discovered when I saw Picnic (1955) for the first time.  I had heard of her and knew what she looked like, but I had never actually seen any of her films until I saw Picnic.  She wasn’t my original draw to the film either.  I originally recorded it because I was a fan of co-star William Holden and I also love the overwrought melodramas of the 1950s.  My initial impression of Novak was that she was very pretty but she seemed somewhat stiff.  I began wondering if it was all style and no substance when it came to Novak.  However, as I kept watching her in Picnic, I noticed that she didn’t seem as stiff as she had in the opening scene.  I found myself warming up to her.

In Picnic, the crux of Novak’s character, Madge, is that she feels that she is only wanted and appreciated for her looks.  Her mother insists that Madge seal the deal with her rich upper crust boyfriend Alan, before her looks begin to fade.  Madge is 19, by the way.  Alan talks about and treats Madge like she’s a trophy on his arm.  Madge begins to resent everyone only focusing on her looks and not showing any regard for her wants, needs and desires.  Novak was very skilled in bringing the conflicted Madge to life.  On one hand, Madge doesn’t want to disappoint her mother; but on the other hand, she wants to live her own life and not skate by on her looks, even if that path looks uncertain.  Madge spends much of the film battling with her own wants and needs, versus those of her mother, boyfriend and the hot, mysterious, and exciting drifter William Holden.

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Kim Novak and William Holden dance in “Picnic”

After Picnic, I remember making a point of seeing Novak in some of her other films.  I saw Bell, Book and Candle co-starring James Stewart.  This film allowed the audience to see Novak as another type of character–a beautiful woman afraid to fall in love.  In this film, Novak plays a beautiful witch who lives in Greenwich Village in New York City.  Novak develops a crush on Stewart and ends up casting a love spell on him when she discovers he’s engaged to marry another woman.  The love spell causes Stewart to fall in love with Novak instead.  Soon Novak finds herself falling in love with Stewart and she’s faced with a choice to make: Fall in love with Stewart and lose her magical powers or keep her powers and let Stewart go.  Novak plays it cool in this film and is very adept at showing the progression of her character falling in love.  Despite being very beautiful and being labeled as one of the 1950s sex symbols of Hollywood, Novak’s characters are never overt in their sexuality, unlike someone like Marilyn Monroe.

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Kim Novak as “Madeline” in “Vertigo”

One of Novak’s most famous films is her turn in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  Novak is cast as one of Hitchcock’s typical icy blondes, but she brings so much to her complicated, somewhat dual role.  In this film, Novak must portray the beautiful and tragic Madeline who Stewart meets and falls in love with.  Later, she portrays the small-town girl, Judy, who of course resembles Madeline, and agrees to allow Stewart to transform her into his lost love.  As Madeline, Novak plays the wispy blonde, who is so beautiful but with an underlying vulnerability.  As Judy, Novak plays a more average looking woman (more like a gorgeous woman wearing too much heavy makeup) from Kansas who is trying to make it in big city San Francisco.  She is brassier and more no-nonsense than Madeline. Of course there is more to the story than meets the eye and Novak was fascinating to watch.

Novak is a highly underrated actress who I believe wasn’t taken seriously because she was so beautiful.  In all her films, she brings charm and also an underlying vulnerability that makes her a joy to watch on screen.  Today, Kim Novak lives on a ranch in a small town in Southern Oregon.  It’s exciting to think that one of my favorite Classic Hollywood stars is still alive and thriving in a town only about 3.5 hours south of me.  Maybe someday, I’ll make it back down there and maybe run into Kim Novak on the street or something.  I can always hope!

My favorite Kim Novak films:

-Picnic (1955).  I already talked about this film above; but this film deals with a drifter (William Holden) who interrupts the tranquility in a small Kansas town.  Most of the action occurs at the town’s annual Labor Day picnic.  Novak portrays Madge, a beautiful nineteen year old woman who is dating Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson), one of the town’s most eligible bachelors.  Novak falls for Holden, much to the chagrin of Robertson and her mother (Betty Field).

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Kim Novak and her cat, Pyewacket in “Bell, Book and Candle.”

Bell, Book and Candle (1958).  Described above as well.  This film depicts the story of a beautiful witch (Novak) who casts a spell on a man (James Stewart) whom she’s been admiring from afar.  Soon, she must decide whether to fall in love with Stewart and give up her magical powers, or let Stewart go in order to retain her powers.

Vertigo (1958).  Mentioned briefly above.  This film is so complex that it would be hard to describe it and do it any justice.  This is a film that has to be watched and watched intently, not casually.  A couple weeks ago, I watched this film in the theater and was fascinated by how much of the film I had forgotten or hadn’t pieced together the pieces of the story.  Once I had the story figured out, I found it amazing and captivating.  In a nutshell, this film tells the story of a man, James Stewart, who falls in love with a mysterious blonde and loses her in a tragic accident.  He meets another woman, Kim Novak, who resembles his lost love.  Stewart goes to work transforming his new girl into the girl he lost.

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Howard Duff and Kim Novak in “Boys’ Night Out”

Boys’ Night Out (1962).  This 1962 comedy is silly and definitely not worthy of any sort of award, but I love it.  There’s just something about early 1960s comedies.  In this film, Novak plays a college student who rents an apartment from a group of men (James Garner, Tony Randall, Howard Morris and Howard Duff).  The men are all married, except for Garner.  The husbands are bored with their wives and their day-to-day routine and want to set up an apartment to have a fling.  They base their plan on the same tactics their boss uses to have his fling.  Novak rents the apartment not knowing of their plan to commit adultery and the men don’t know that Novak is pretending to romance them as a means to gather material for her college thesis on the sexual life of the middle class male. Hilarity ensues.

-Pushover (1954).  This is a really great noir and is Novak’s film debut.  Novak portrays the beautiful girlfriend of a man who robs a bank and both of them are now on the lam.  Fred MacMurray co-stars as an undercover cop who is tasked with setting up a stakeout in an apartment across the street from Novak’s.  While watching her, MacMurray ends up falling in love with Novak.  Soon Novak is trying to corrupt him to join her side and MacMurray is conflicted between his love for Novak and his duty to his job and the police department.

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Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in “Pushover.”  She’s only 20 here!

Pal Joey (1957).  This is a musical starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Novak.  Sinatra portrays Joey, a singer and charmer who can make pretty much any woman fall for him.  The only problem is that he’s a complete cad.  Sinatra meets Novak, a chorus girl in one of his shows.  He genuinely seems to have real feelings for her. Sinatra dreams of opening his own nightclub but needs money.  He appeals to an old flame, Hayworth, who used to also work as a stripper.  She married a wealthy man and is now widowed.  Sinatra decides to romance Hayworth in order to convince her to give him money for his nightclub.  Throughout the film, Sinatra and Hayworth use each other and continues to romance Novak.  The love-triangle continues throughout the film until Sinatra is forced to make a decision.

 

The Bette Davis Blogathon–“Beyond the Forest”

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In the late 1920s, as a young twenty-something, Bette Davis attended the John Murray Anderson Dramatic School in New York and excelled in her courses.  In fact, she was the star pupil of the school.  One of Bette’s classmates was a young Lucille Ball, who was definitely NOT the school’s star pupil–in fact, the school wrote to Lucy’s mother stating that she was wasting her money and that her daughter had no future in acting (don’t worry about Lucy, she did okay for herself).  Bette on the other hand, had a future in acting and soon moved from the school to Broadway.

In 1930, Bette and her mother, Harlow Morrell Davis, left New York and moved to Hollywood to screen test at Universal Studios.  When Bette and her mother arrived at the train station, Bette was surprised that no one from the studio was there to meet her.  It turned out that someone had been at the train station and had seen Bette, but left, because he didn’t see anyone who looked like an actress.  Bette’s lack of conventional beauty would inhibit her career at first as studios didn’t view her as a glamorous leading lady.  She was often cast as the leading lady’s sister, friend… any type of role that implied “not beautiful.”  Bette failed her first few screen tests at Universal, but eventually made her screen debut in Bad Sister in 1931.

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Bette Davis in “Bad Sister”

After appearing in a few unremarkable films at Universal and a film at Columbia (which she was loaned out for), Universal opted not to renew her contract in 1932.  It looked like curtains for Bette, but fortunately, fate intervened.  Actor George Arliss had seen Bette and had suggested her as his co-star for The Man Who Played God at Warner Brothers.  Bette received good reviews for not only her performance but for her beauty (!) and Warner Brothers signed her to a five-year contract.

Bette was never known as a raving beauty.  While actresses like Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Hedy Lamarr, Vivien Leigh, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, and Ginger Rogers (to name a few examples) were touted by their studios for their beauty and glamour, Bette represented the tough woman.  While some Hollywood actresses were vain and did not want to sacrifice glamour, Bette was not.  She would do whatever it took to portray the part to its fullest.  Her breakthrough role was as a trashy waitress in Of Human Bondage in 1934.  Via write-in ballot, Bette was nominated for an Oscar for her role.  She lost, however, to Claudette Colbert for her performance in It Happened One Night.  Bette won an Oscar in 1935 for playing a drunk has-been actress in Dangerous.  It is thought by many that Bette’s 1935 Oscar was a consolation prize to losing the year before.

In 1938, Bette won another Oscar for her turn as a scandalous, rebellious Southern Belle.  This film was the beginning of the most successful and highly acclaimed part of Bette’s career.  A string of hits followed: Dark Victory, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Letter, Mr. Skeffington, Now Voyager, The Little Foxes, and A Stolen Life.  By the late 1940s, Bette’s star was starting to wane.  Bette’s films during the late 1940s were not as profitable or as acclaimed as her previous efforts.  Personally, one of my favorite films of hers during this period is June Bride (1948).  Bette should have made more comedies.  Despite her diminishing popularity and box-office return, Bette managed to re-negotiate a new four-film contract with Warner Brothers in 1949.

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I love the tagline on this poster!

After Bette’s new contract was signed, her first assignment was the amazing Beyond the Forest.  Bette didn’t find the film “amazing” and did everything she could to try and get out of the film.  She had requested script approval during contract negotiations but her request was declined.  Bette loathed the Beyond the Forest script and tried to drop out of the film.  Warner Brothers refused to release Bette and she was forced to complete the film. It might be Bette’s reluctance, or perhaps anger or irritation, about making Beyond the Forest which makes it so great.  Whether it is intentional or it’s written in the script, Bette’s performance is so over-the-top, so absurd, that it elevates this film straight into the world of camp. From Bette’s immortal “what a dump!” line to her epic death scene, Beyond the Forest is captivating from beginning to end.

Beyond the Forest tells the story of Rosa Moline, the wife of the town doctor in a small Wisconsin town.  Joseph Cotten portrays Rosa’s husband, Lewis.  Lewis is well-liked by everyone in town.  Since he is seemingly the town’s only doctor (think Dr. Baker in Little House on the Prairie), he is often out of the house on house calls or down at his office.  Rosa feels neglected, bored, repressed and any other negative adjective she can use to describe her life in a small town.  Rosa aspires to live in a big city, like nearby Chicago.  Somewhere with some nightlife and perhaps less predictability and routine.

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Bette as “Rosa”

To escape boredom, Rosa ends up meeting a vacationing man from Chicago, Neil Latimer (David Brian).  Latimer is renting a hunting cabin that is owned by a friend of Rosa and Lewis’. She and Neil end up engaging in a hot, adulterous affair.  To continue the affair, Rosa decides that she needs to cook up excuses to travel to Chicago to see Neil.  Rosa decides to talk to her husband and demands that he needs to confront his patients to pay their medical bills.  Rosa justifies her demands by stating that she needs the money to fund a new wardrobe.  Rosa travels back and forth to Chicago to see Neil, but eventually discovers that he’s engaged to another woman, a wealthy woman.  Neil breaks off the relationship.  Discouraged, Rosa returns home to her humdrum life.

Rosa discovers that she’s pregnant with her husband’s child.  While at a party for Moose, the caretaker of the hunting cabin, Rosa is re-acquainted with Neil and discovers that he’s broken off his engagement.  Rosa tries to concoct a scheme to dump Lewis and run off with Neil.  Unfortunately, Moose overhears Rosa’s plans and threatens to tell Neil about her pregnancy if she leaves her husband.

Moose’s threat to Rosa sets up the main conflict of the story.  At the beginning of the film, Rosa is on trial for murder.  The storyline is constructed in an interesting format.  It starts with the murder trial, moves into a flashback that shows how Rosa ended up in this predicament, then shows the verdict of the murder trial and then segues into what happens to Rosa after the murder trial.  A la Leave Her to Heaven, Bette purposely gets herself in an accident to induce an abortion.  It’s amazing how many studio era films contain scenes where the leading actress purposely falls down the stairs, falls down a hill, etc. in order to lose a pregnancy.  It’s interesting that that type of scene would pass censors.  I suppose in an era of back alley abortions, falling down the stairs may be a woman’s only option.  At the risk of further spoiling the story, Bette has the most fabulous death scene in the film.  It may be one of the longest, most drawn out death scenes ever.  Whether that was in the script for dramatic effect, or whether Bette decided to drag it out, who knows? All that is important is that this scene exists on celluloid, somewhere.

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Rosa’s epic death scene

Unfortunately for us, Beyond the Forest is unavailable on DVD/Blu Ray and cannot even be aired on TV.  There is some type of copyright issue that is preventing this film from being available.  I managed to see it during a one-night only showing a couple summers ago at the Northwest Film Center, a film program hosted by the Portland Art Museum.  Bette’s performance in this film is truly something to behold.  From her ridiculous black wig, to her sexpot wardrobe, Bette looks absurd and she plays the part of the town floozy to the hilt.  She is obviously too old for the part and lookswise, while I’ve always thought Bette was beautiful in a unconventional way, she is not believable as the town sex-pot.  However, this dissonance between Bette’s character and Bette herself only adds to the campiness of the film.

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Bette Davis as “Margo Channing” in “All About Eve.”

After Beyond the Forest, Bette successfully negotiated a release from her contract.  After eighteen years at Warner Brothers, Bette was a freelance actor.  She had her last major success (save 1962’s “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”) in 1950 at Fox studios with All About Eve, where she received an Oscar nomination playing the part of Margo Channing, a highly acclaimed theater actress who is feeling the pressure of age.  Adding to her woes is the fact that a young ingenue, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), is slowly insinuating herself into Margo’s life and slowly turning her friends against her and taking over her career.  All About Eve has many parallels with Bette’s life.  Despite the many successes she experienced in Hollywood, Bette was not irreplaceable.  As All About Eve illustrated, not once, but twice in the film, no matter how talented and acclaimed you are, there is always someone younger and more talented ready to take your place.

Doris Day Birthday Blogathon–“With Six You Get Eggroll”

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Doris Day made her film debut in 1948 in the musical, Romance on the High Seas.  Many of Day’s films throughout the 1940s and 1950s cemented her role as one of Warner Brothers’ top musical stars.  Some of Day’s best known films during this period are: Tea for Two, I’ll See You in My Dreams, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, The Pajama Game and Calamity Jane.  During the 1950s, Day also demonstrated that she was a capable dramatic actress and appeared in non-musical films like The Man Who Knew Too Much, Julie, and Love Me or Leave Me.  Day ended the 1950s starring in Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson.  This film proved that in addition to musicals and dramatic roles, Day was also comfortable in sophisticated romantic comedies.  In 1960, Day starred in one more thriller, Midnight Lace.

The filming of ‘Lace’ proved to be so traumatic for Day that she refused to make another film of this type ever again.  ‘Lace’ depicts a woman terrified that someone is trying to murder her.  The intensity of Day’s fear conjured up old memories of her abusive first husband.  She was so traumatized by the filming of ‘Lace’ that she vowed to not make another thriller again.  Day kept her promise.  During the 1960s, Day made two more romantic comedies with Hudson and then appeared in other romantic comedies with the likes of Rod Taylor, Cary Grant and James Garner.  Day also appeared in family comedies like Please Don’t Eat the Daisies with David Niven and her final film, With Six You Get Eggroll co-starring Brian Keith.

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I love the caption for this poster: “Does this look like a movie that could give you bad dreams?”

With Six You Get Eggroll was one of Day’s top money-making films.  This film, much in the same vein as Yours, Mine and Ours (1968) and The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), dealt with the blending of two families and the issues that can arise.  Day portrays Abby McClure a widowed, single mom who supports her three sons as the boss of a lumberyard.  Abby’s sister, Maxine, played by Pat Carroll (aka Ursula from The Little Mermaid), is constantly trying to fix Abby up with men.  In this particular case, Maxine wants to hook her sister up with Brian Keith, who portrays widower Jake Iverson.  Iverson is the father to a teenage daughter, Stacey, portrayed by Barbara Hershey.  Abby’s oldest son Flip (John Findlater) and Jake’s daughter are classmates.  In true classic film fashion, Abby’s youngest kids are at least ten-plus years younger than their brother, Flip.  Abby’s one son, Jason, looks like a mini Mo Rocca from The Daily Show.

When we first meet Abby,  we see her committing a major OSHA violation by standing on the forks of a moving forklift in her lumberyard.  I really enjoy the fact that Abby is the boss of a male-dominated field and appears to be running it efficiently and effectively and has the respect of her subordinates.  Next, Abby’s sister Maxine shows up and convinces Abby that she needs to invite a date to the dinner party that she’s having that evening.  Abby ends up taking her sister’s advice and invites Jake to the party.

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Doris Day’s amazing shower cap!

While getting ready for the party, everything that could go wrong for Abby, does.  Her dog, Calico, gets a hold of her wig and ruins the hairstyle.  Abby is forced to re-curl her wig.  Her “hair” is soaking wet by the time she is finished, and she resorts to cooking her wig in the oven at 200F in an attempt to dry it out and set the style before the party.  Meanwhile, while Abby is “putting her face on,” the kids are taking a bath.  Abby hears a bunch of noise coming from the bathroom that is most definitely not kids bathing.  When she walks in, she sees that the kids have somehow spilled yellow paint into the tub.  With children that now resemble The Simpsons and a golden-hued arm, Abby comes across her dinner party guests who’ve let themselves in.  With her yellow-dyed skin, yellow and white splotchy robe, amazing flowered shower cap and a face covered in cold cream, Abby looks a fright, but soon manages to get it together and have her party.

Sister Maxine and her husband are all over Jake from the second he walks in.  When Abby finally enters the room, they go to work trying to convince Jake and Abby that they’re perfect for one another and should get together.  Both Jake and Abby are uncomfortable and try their best to keep their cool.  Jake finally has had enough and makes up a bogus excuse about having to meet clients at the airport in a couple hours.  Later, Abby and Jake run into one another at the supermarket and end up having coffee at the drive-in, which is run by Herbie Fleck, portrayed by George Carlin (!).

Throughout multiple dates and outings to the drive-in to escape their children, Abby and Jake end up falling in love.  While I suppose it’s understandable, I don’t enjoy the behavior of the oldest two children, Flip and Stacey.  Flip is worse than Stacey.  When Abby comes home late one night after stating that she was running to the market for pumpernickel, Flip rips his mother a new one as if she were a teenager breaking curfew.   He is particularly patronizing to Abby and I wish she would have chewed him out right then and there, but perhaps that isn’t Abby’s style.  Flip repeatedly treats his mother like a misbehaving child and treats Jake as if he were some deviant.  Stacey isn’t as bad, but does treat her father and Abby pretty poorly until she finally comes around.  I understand that Flip and Stacey are having trouble adjusting to their parents having new romantic relationships, but seriously.  They graduate from high school during the film and presumably will be going to college.  Does it really matter?

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 A young George Carlin takes Doris Day & Brian Keith’s coffee order at their drive-in rendezvous spot.  

After a few months of sneaking around and drinking copious amounts of coffee and champagne at the drive-in, Abby and Jake decide that they should just get it over with and marry, much to the chagrin of the oldest children.  After marrying, Abby and Jake try to figure out how their family will live together in one house.  Day’s house is larger, but needs at least one more bedroom for Stacey.  Jake’s house is much smaller.  The newly blended family tries to bounce back and forth between houses, but logistically, it becomes a nightmare.  They eventually decide that they’ll buy a larger house.  Until their respective homes sell, Abby and Jake purchase a camper trailer that will serve as an extra bedroom.  After fighting over who gets to sleep in the camper, Abby and Jake move in–much to Abby’s chagrin.

Up until the camper fiasco, much of this film resembles one of day’s more sophisticated comedies.  There are multiple discussions about sex and there are quite a few “did they or didn’t they?” scenes between Abby and Jake.  In a scene where Abby and Jake have just endured watching television with the younger children, they look forward to having time to themselves to (presumably) make out on the couch.  Flip, however, senses this and makes a point of staying in the room, effectively ending any makeout sessions.  The tension, both sexual and not, in this scene is palpable, with Flip very smug, knowing exactly what he’s doing.  If With Six You Get Eggroll had been made when the production code was in full swing, I do not believe that Abby and Jake could have been portrayed as being home alone, canoodling with champagne in front of the fire, especially since they fall asleep in front of the fire.  Finally, Abby’s maid, Molly, played by Alice Ghostley (aka Aunt Esmeralda from Bewitched) expresses her annoyance when Abby and Jake show up at Jake’s house unannounced, looking for a place to rendezvous away from everyone.  It seems that Molly was promised the use of Jake’s house for the same reason.

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  Doris Day in the family camper trailer.  

Another feature of this film that sets it apart from other family comedies of the same time is the look and portrayal of the leading man.  Jake uses fairly strong language (for a family film) with multiple instances of “hell” and “damn.”  He seems quick-tempered (though not violent) and stubborn.  It’s also interesting that he has a pretty rough looking tattoo on his arm, which is prominently displayed when the kids walk in on Abby and Jake the morning after they eloped.  Good on Abby and Jake for getting dressed again! We have to assume SOMETHING went on on their wedding night.

One of the best scenes in the film is when Stacey exerts her “lady of the house” attitude one too many times for Abby’s liking and Abby decides to show Stacey what it means to be in charge of the home.  She writes up a very long and difficult list of household chores (ironing, vacuuming, waxing floors, silver polishing, etc.) for her to complete.  After working all morning and day, Stacey completes the list.  Abby gives her a new list for the next day, a list consisting of going to the movies and visiting with friends.  Stacey has a new appreciation for her new step-mother and they have a very sweet bonding moment.  Of course father Jake comes in and sees the list and completely misunderstands the point Abby was trying to make.  This misunderstanding evolves into a very heated argument, which serves as the catalyst for the camper mayhem at the end of the film.  The ending of the film features Jamie Farr (Klinger from M*A*S*H) and Allen Melvin (Sam the Butcher from The Brady Bunch).

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 The crazy cast of characters that join Brian Keith and Doris Day at the jail. 

One of my favorite things about 1960s comedies, is that there is almost always a scene taking place in a club with some crazy music playing.  The music is never identifiable and I imagine that it’s just being performed for the film.  With Six You Get Eggroll features a wild dance club with some music that sounds like they sampled the marimba track from The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” What’s also amazing about these scenes is the dancing.  As someone who is rhythmically challenged, the dancing that appears in these 1960s movies or the Beach Party movies looks like something I could do.  Cactus Flower, Yours Mine and Ours, and Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice all feature amazing club scenes.  I also think it’s funny that the music is pretty much the same throughout the entire duration of the club scene–it never changes.

With Six You Get Eggroll was released in 1968. At this time, the sexual attitudes in the United States were greatly evolving and Day’s brand of clean comedy was falling out of style.  Day was offered the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, but her manager/husband, Marty Melcher, turned the role down on her behalf.  Both Day and Melcher felt that the script was vulgar.  While Day’s films still attracted an audience, they were not turning the type of profit that they had prior.  During filming of ‘Eggroll,’ Melcher unexpectedly died.  Doris was devastated in more ways than one.  Of course, she was devastated that her husband had died; but she also discovered that her husband and his business partner had squandered all her earnings, leaving her deeply in debt.  She also discovered that her husband had signed her up for a weekly sitcom on CBS.  Day did not want to do a television show, but she had no other option.  She was obligated and also needed to repay her debts.  The Doris Day Show which aired from 1968 to 1973 essentially ended Day’s film career.

After the end of Day’s sitcom, she appeared on a few more variety shows and talk show interviews, but she was all but retired by the 1980s.  In 1989, she came out of seclusion to attend the Golden Globe Awards and accept the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award.  Since her retirement, Day has dedicated herself to animal rights and welfare.  She continues to keep busy at her home in Carmel, CA and tomorrow, on April 3, she will celebrate her 96th birthday–you go Doris!