I will just throw this out there right now, if Dive Bomber (1941) did not feature my man, Errol Flynn, it’s more than likely that I would not have watched this film. While I don’t mind WWII films, I’m not particularly interested in films that depict the war aspect of the war. I’m more interested in stories about the homefront, or at least a central story that takes place adjacent to the war scenes. And one type of war film, I’m especially not that interested in, are stories about planes, tanks, submarines, or other war-related machines. With that said, the central story of Dive Bomber is interesting, as it deals with the effects of being a pilot and the efforts taken to combat a common issue, altitude sickness.
However, let’s be real here. I watch Dive Bomber because it features Errol Flynn wearing a myriad of different uniforms, and I am here for it.
Dive Bomber starts off with a plane crash. A Navy pilot, Lieutenant “Swede” Larson, is practicing dive bomb maneuvers over the US Naval Base in Honolulu. During a high speed dive (from a high altitude), Swede blacks out (presumably from altitude sickness) and crash lands at the base. At the hospital, Swede’s colleague and friend, Lieutenant Commander Joe Blake (Fred MacMurray), is concerned that his friend will not survive. The US Navy Doctor, Lieutenant Doug Lee (Flynn) convinces the senior surgeon to operate. During the operation, Swede dies. Blake, distraught over the death of his friend and convinced that the operation was done in haste, blames Lee for Swede’s death.
This incident convinces Lee to become a flight surgeon. He relocates to the US Naval Station in San Diego to start his training. He goes through a rigorous course and is trained by a myriad of different Navy personnel, including his nemesis, Blake. After completing the program, Lee is promoted to the position of Assistant Flight Surgeon to Senior Flight Surgeon, Commander Lance Rogers (Ralph Bellamy). Rogers is working on developing a solution for combating altitude sickness. We observe multiple pilots, including Blake, being grounded due to failing their recent physicals. The film makes it appear that pilots who regularly fly at high altitudes seem to have a shelf life of sorts, and there comes a point for every pilot when he’s no longer in good enough physical condition to fly. I’m not up on the technical aspects of aviation and military protocol, but that’s what I assumed.
Much of the film involves Lee, Rogers, and Blake performing various tests trying to determine the altitude at which pilots start to black out, and how the aircraft itself is affected when the oxygen level and temperature start to fall. The men develop a harness and later a flight suit that help to provide oxygen to the pilot when he starts his ascent into higher altitudes. I find the scenes of them testing the harness to be funny, because it basically looks like a rubber version of what sumo wrestlers wear. The flight suit resembles something a scuba diver would wear, which makes sense, since scuba divers would deal with oxygen and water pressure issues.
Outside of the main storyline involving altitude sickness, the subplot of the film involves the rivalry between Lee and Blake. Aside from the grudge that Blake holds against Lee for causing the death of his friend (or so Blake thinks), Lee also seems to beat Blake to the punch when it comes to women. Blake meets a young divorcee, Linda (Alexis Smith), and thinks he’s found a hot number to date. However, Linda is already acquainted with Lee previously, so she’s excited to see him when he shows up at the same party Blake is attending. This incident only increases the tension between the two men, which at first affects their altitude sickness experiments. It was fun seeing Ralph Bellamy in a role where he isn’t just the schmuck boyfriend, cast aside by the leading lady for the more dashing leading man. Bellamy’s character plays a crucial role in the plot of this film. There is also an annoying sub-subplot involving Allen Jenkins’ character being hunted down constantly by his ex-wife. At one point, he fakes quarantine to get away from her. It’s not very funny though and completely unnecessary to the overall film.
While I don’t know entirely how accurate Dive Bomber‘s depiction of WWII, the Navy, altitude sickness, and all that is, I do find this film enjoyable as a whole. Though like I said, if the film did not star my favorite actor, Errol Flynn, I don’t know that I would have made a point to see this film. The film is worth watching however, if only to see the gorgeous Technicolor photography and to watch a unique war film that deals with the very real issue of altitude sickness. I also enjoy films that feature current technology, as it’s fun to see what was considered cutting edge at that time.
Tomorrow, May 16, is National Classic Movie Day. Even though for me, everyday is National Classic Movie Day, tomorrow is “official.” It would be wonderful if the spotlight on classic film brings about a new crop of fans. While classic films still seem to be a bit of a niche interest, at least on Twitter, it feels like new classic film fans are made every day. I have always loved classic film, and it makes up about 90% of my “new” movie viewing. After all, on TCM’s Private Screening series, Lauren Bacall was quoted as saying, “It’s not an old movie if you haven’t seen it.”
This year, the wonderful host at the Classic Film and TV Cafe, has asked bloggers to discuss four of their favorite film noir. Along with musicals, pre-code, and melodrama (“weepies” if you will), if there’s another type of movie I love, it’s film noir. While many film noir may have a formulaic plot, it is the combination of actors, director, cinematography, music, editing, etc. that can set one movie apart from another. It is always so satisfying to discover a “new” film noir, or any classic film really, and be surprised by a plot twist or ending. Narrowing my list down to four will be difficult; but I will try. I definitely have dozens of film noir that I absolutely love.
In no particular order:
#1Detour (1945) Starring: Tom Neal and Ann Savage Director: Edgar G. Ulmer Studio: PRC Pictures
Synopsis: The film opens with Al Roberts (Neal) hitchhiking. He ends up at a diner in Reno where he drowns his sorrows in a cup of coffee. It is obvious that something is bothering Al. Al’s disturbed mental state becomes further evident when another customer plays a song on the jukebox that reminds Al of his former life in New York City–a life that while not great, must have been better than whatever he is going through now. Al’s voiceover serves as the device that brings the audience back to the beginning of Al’s story.
In New York City, Al worked at a nightclub playing piano. He laments wasting his talents playing in a shabby club; however he puts up with it because he’s in love with the club’s singer, Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake). One evening, she announces that she’s quitting her job and moving to Hollywood to try and make it in Hollywood. Al is depressed about Sue’s departure and eventually decides to drive to California to propose to her. However, not having any money, Al has to resort to hitchhiking across the country.
While in Arizona, Al meets Charles Haskell, a bookie on his way to Los Angeles. On their way to the City of Angels, Haskell ends up dying. Not knowing what to do, Al ends up taking Haskell’s identification and car and continues his trip. After crossing over the California border, Al stops for gas. It is at the gas station when he meets the amazing Vera (Savage). At this point, Vera’s in charge and Al’s just along for the ride.
Why I Love Detour: I love Detour purely because of Ann Savage’s performance. Her performance is absolutely amazing. I love how she is onto Al from the get-go and she will make sure to take advantage of him every opportunity she gets. Al is complete mincemeat after Vera gets done with him. Another reason I love this film is because we really don’t know Al’s story. Is he truly innocent of all the events in the film? Or is he just trying to convince himself that he is? For a film that is barely over an hour long, it is a trip from start to finish. There is not a wasted moment. This film is also very low budget which I think adds to the entire aesthetic and feel to the movie.
If you are not familiar with Tom Neal, I highly recommend reading about him. He was 1/3 of the infamous love triangle involving girlfriend Barbara Payton and her fiance, actor Franchot Tone. Despite her relationship with Tone, Payton and Neal carried on their affair for months in the early 1950s. It came to an end briefly when Payton became engaged to Tone, but then she quickly resumed her affair with Neal. It all came to a head on September 14, 1951 when Neal and Tone got into an altercation over Payton. To say that Tone lost the fight would be a gross understatement. Neal pulverized Tone. Tone suffered a smashed cheekbone, a broken nose, and a concussion which resulted in his hospitalization. Despite this, Tone inexplicably still married Payton. Their union lasted a whole 53 days when Payton left Tone for Neal.
I feel like knowing this drama surrounding Tom Neal really lends to his performance as the unreliable narrator, Al Roberts, in Detour. I also really wish we had a prequel just about Vera. I would love to know about her life leading up to the events of Detour.
VERA: “Say, who do you think you’re talking to… a hick? Listen mister, I’ve been around, and I know a wrong guy when I see one. What’d you do, kiss him with a wrench?
#2 The Locket(1946) Starring: Laraine Day, Brian Aherne, Robert Mitchum, Gene Raymond Director: John Brahm Studio: RKO
Synopsis: The Locket is a film with a very interesting flashback within a flashback within a flashback narrative structure. The film starts with a wedding. Nancy (Day) is set to marry her second husband, John Willis (Raymond). Before the ceremony starts, Dr. Harry Blair (Aherne) arrives at the Willis home, requesting to speak with John. John acquiesces and the two men retire to another room. Alone, Harry tells John that he is Nancy’s first husband. He warns John that his bride is a kleptomaniac, murderer, and chronic liar. She has never been punished for any of her crimes.
The film then segues into a flashback featuring Nancy as a child. As a child, Nancy lived with her mother in the Willis estate. Her mother worked as a maid for the Willis family. Nancy’s best friend, Karen Willis, has a birthday party one afternoon, and her snooty mother does not invite the “low class” Nancy. Karen, feeling bad for Nancy, opts to gift her a locket. Mrs. Willis is outraged, stating that the locket was expensive and it wasn’t Karen’s place to give it away. Mrs. Willis takes the locket back. Later, the locket goes missing and Nancy is accused of its theft. Insulted, Nancy’s mother sticks up for her daughter. This leads to Mrs. Willis firing Nancy’s mother. She and Nancy move out. This incident is a formative event in Nancy’s life. From here on out, she steals anything she wants, rationalizing that it doesn’t matter because she’ll be blamed regardless.
Subsequent flashbacks involve Nancy’s relationship with an artist, Norman Clyde, and her marriage to Harry, and the events leading up to her wedding to John.
Why I love The Locket. This film has such an unusual narrative structure. I’ve read complaints about the complicated plot, but I like it. It’s such a unique film and I love seeing Laraine Day as an absolute sociopath. I love the ending scene. I felt that this film was adept at showing how childhood trauma can affect a person well into adulthood. I also love the vibe of this movie. What’s also fascinating about this film is that Nancy is set to marry into the Willis family–the very same family that treated her so horribly when she was a child and were the root cause of her childhood trauma. It’s never explained in the film whether this was a calculated movie on Nancy’s part, or just a coincidence. It’s another interesting layer to the film’s plot line.
NANCY: How could I ever have liked you, Norman? Arrogant, suspicious, neurotic… NORMAN: It isn’t neurotic to be jealous. NANCY: It’s worse than neurotic to be jealous of a dead man.
#3 Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) Starring: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Ed Begley Sr., Shelley Winters, Gloria Grahame Director: Robert Wise Studio: United Artists
Synopsis: Burke (Begley Sr.) is a former policeman who was fired from his job when he refused to cooperate with state crime investigators. Desperate for money and wanting to stick it to his former employers, Burke comes up with a plan to rob a bank upstate (New York). If pulled off successfully, Burke stands to make a mint. To help him, he recruits ex-con and racist, Earle Slater (Ryan). Burke promises Slater $50,000 if he helps pull off the heist. Slater’s incentive for helping is his pride. He is unemployed and living with his girlfriend, Lorry (Winters). Lorry works as a waitress and is supporting herself and Slater financially. Living in the same apartment building as Slater and Lorry is Helen (Grahame), who tempts Slater in to a tryst while his girlfriend is out. Finally, in addition to Slater, Burke recruits Johnny Ingram (Belafonte), an African-American jazz musician who is also in hock to bookies for about $7,000. Despite being an all-around decent man, Ingram is desperate for money. It is explained that his wife divorced him and he lost custody of his daughter due to his gambling. Burke, Ingram and Slater work out the details for the heist. They work through every detail. However, threatening to undermine the entire venture is Slater’s absolute contempt and bigoted attitude toward Ingram.
Why I Love Odds Against Tomorrow: This film has an amazing message without being preachy. The ending is absolutely fantastic, I don’t want to say too much more about it, at the risk of ruining it. But it is well worth the 95-minute investment to get to this point. I also love the on-location cinematography. The grittiness of the New York City streets works perfectly with this very gritty film. Robert Ryan’s performance as the disgusting racist Earle Slater is fantastic. You absolutely despise him throughout the entire film. He is such a worm–even Shelley Winters (who plays a disgusting racist in A Patch of Blue) doesn’t deserve him. Gloria Grahame’s part isn’t really consequential to the overall plot, but she’s always a nice on-screen presence in a film noir. Harry Belafonte was fantastic in this film. I wish he’d made more movies. I especially love the cool jazz song that he performs. This film has an overall cool jazz score as well.
SLATER: What you doin’ with such a big ol’ dog in New York?
BURKE: Never had a wife
#4 Jeopardy (1953) Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Ralph Meeker Director: John Sturges Studio: MGM
Synopsis: Doug (Sullivan) and Helen Stilwin (Stanwyck) and their son Bobby, are on a road trip driving to Baja California, Mexico. They are planning on traveling to a remote fishing spot on the coastline and will camp while there. Shortly after arriving, Bobby decides to venture out onto a derelict jetty that juts out into the water. His foot becomes caught in some of the planks and Doug rescues him. While walking back to the beach, the jetty collapses, causing the wood piling to fall on Doug’s leg. Making matters worse is that the tide is starting to come in. Doug will drown if he can’t free his leg. Helen and Bobby try a variety of tactics, including a car jack, to free Doug, but to no avail. Estimating that he has about four hours before the tide fully comes in, Doug sends Helen into town for some rope and/or help.
Helen leaves in the car, leaving Bobby and Doug on the beach. Helen finds the gas station that she and Doug passed earlier and tries to get help or a rope. She manages to get some rope. She also comes across a hunky man, Lawson (Meeker). She explains her predicament and he gets into the car. Thinking that he’s accompanying her to offer to help Doug, she has no qualms about letting this stranger, albeit a hunky stranger, into her vehicle. It quickly becomes clear that Lawson is a dangerous escaped convict and he’s using Helen as a means to escape. At one point during their “trip,” Helen tells Lawson that she’s willing to do anything to save Doug.
Why I Love Jeopardy: First off, Ralph Meeker is hot hot in this movie. I wouldn’t have blamed Barbara Stanwyck for one second if she’d abandoned Barry Sullivan to run off with Meeker. This isn’t as well known a film noir title, but it is well worth a watch. Stanwyck always plays the tough as nails woman so well. I actually really like Barry Sullivan, especially in film noir. He’s fantastic in Suspense (1946) and Tension (1949). Ralph Meeker is excellent in this film. I can’t describe what it is that I find so appealing about Meeker. He has this primal quality about him and he always sounds like such a thug when he talks. I loved him in Kiss Me Deadly (1955).
HELEN: I’ll do anything to save my husband…anything!
10 Honorable Mentions (I know this is cheating, lol):
The Hitch-Hiker (1953) Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman. Dir. Ida Lupino
DOA (1950) Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton. Dir. Rudolph Mate
Angel Face (1952) Jean Simmons, Robert Mitchum, Mona Freeman. Dir. Otto Preminger
Phantom Lady (1944) Ella Raines, Franchot Tone, Elisha Cook Jr. Dir. Robert Siodmak
The Spiral Staircase (1946) Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore. Dir. Robert Siodmak
Lured (1947) Lucille Ball, George Sanders, Charles Coburn. Dir. Douglas Sirk
Deadline, USA (1952) Humphrey Bogart, Ethel Barrymore, Kim Hunter. Dir. Robert Brooks
In a Lonely Place (1950) Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy. Dir. Nicholas Ray
Too Late for Tears (1949) Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy. Dir. Byron Haskin
Cry Danger (1951) Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Erdman. Dir. Robert Parrish
Believe it or not, this was my second Greta Garbo film. My first was only a few weeks prior when I watched Mata Hari (1931). I’d seen clips of Garbo before and I just didn’t “get” her. Every clip of her, she seemed to be playing the same person–Greta Garbo. But then, I saw Mata Hari. While that wasn’t the greatest film, Garbo was fantastic. I “got” her. You couldn’t take your eyes off this woman. Even if she wasn’t the central part of the scene, I still watched her. When she wasn’t on-screen, I wanted her to come back. Where was Greta? Anyway, I decided to follow up Mata Hari with Queen Christina.
Queen Christina was a film that I’d heard about, mostly in the context of the androgynous nature of Garbo’s titular Queen Christina, the kiss Christina gives her lady-in-waiting, and the very scandalous scene between Garbo and John Gilbert in their mountain hotel room. But this film was so much more. I loved this movie, it was fantastic. I loved this movie so much that I actually bought the Greta Garbo Signature Collection box set on Amazon, just so I could own Queen Christina and see more of Garbo’s work. Not only did this box set come with all of Garbo’s biggest “talkie” films, it also came with her silents as well. I look forward to seeing more Garbo.
Queen Christina, 1933 Starring: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Lewis Stone, C. Aubrey Smith, Reginald Owen Director: Rouben Mamoulian Studio: MGM
SYNOPSIS: At the beginning of the film, we witness King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden killed in battle during the mid-17th century. His six year old daughter, Christina, ascends the throne. Presumably, the adult members of Christina’s court act as ruling monarchy until Christina is old enough to understand her responsibility to her country. Fast forward a couple decades and a now grown Christina (Garbo) is a beloved ruler of Sweden. Her subjects adore her and respect her devotion to her country. She very much strives for peace for Sweden, and is happy when the Thirty Years’ War comes to an end.
However, like so many of these movies go, the men of Christina’s court are concerned that Christina does not appear to be in a hurry to marry and produce an heir. Despite Christina’s accomplishments and power in Sweden, she apparently isn’t anyone until she’s produced an heir. Presumably Christina is pushing 30 which heightens the anxiety surrounding her lack of husband and children. Christina however, doesn’t agree that she needs to marry, and she especially does not want to marry the suitor her court picked out. I don’t blame her, her male advisors want her to marry the heroic Karl Gustav…who is also her cousin. Christina is not interested in Karl, and there’s a funny part later in the film where she sees a photo of Karl. She laughs and says “is that what he looks like?” in a mocking tone. Obviously Christina and Karl are not well acquainted despite being cousins.
Christina’s attitude toward marrying changes though when she meets a Spanish Envoy by the name of Antonio (Gilbert). One day, after tiring of her restrictive life, Christina decides to sneak out of her castle and take a relaxing horse ride to a neighboring town. However, it starts snowing and she seeks refuge in a small inn. Because Christina is dressed in masculine attire, the innkeeper assumes that Christina is a man. He gives Christina the last room at the inn. When Antonio shows up also looking for lodging, the innkeeper appeals to Christina, aka “the man” to whom he rented the last room. When Christina sees Antonio she agrees. Even the chambermaid is flirting with Christina, thinking she’s an attractive man. Antonio feels uncomfortable looking at Christina as he feels attracted to a person whom he thinks is a man. When Christina starts to change out of her clothing to get ready for bed, Antonio is realized to discover that he’s crushing on a woman, not a man.
Christina and Antonio’s lust for one another cannot be contained and it can be assumed what they do that evening. The next morning, Antonio is informed that the snowfall will cause them to be snowed in for a few more days. Devastated (::wink:: ::wink::) Antonio and Christina continue their tryst. There’s a funny scene afterwards, presumably post-coital, where they feed each other fruit. Christina walks around the room caressing bedposts, still in ecstasy. Throughout their sexy evening, Christina never lets on that she’s Queen of Sweden.
MY THOUGHTS: I absolutely loved this movie. Garbo is absolutely gorgeous. Even when she’s supposedly being mistaken for a man, she’s absolutely breathtaking. I loved the costumes in this movie. I also hadn’t seen John Gilbert in a film and I can see why Garbo was smitten with him. He was adorable in this movie and I also learned that that rumor that his talkie career bombed because of his voice was not true at all. Gilbert’s voice was fine. I would hands down watch this movie again and I’m happy that I own it.
I followed up The Public Enemy with another James Cagney/Joan Blondell feature. These two make a good pairing. This was also a very entertaining film–and it made one thing clear, Joan Blondell knew how to slap!
Blonde Crazy, 1931 Starring: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Louis Calhern, Ray Milland, Guy Kibbee Director: Roy Del Ruth Studio: Warner Brothers
SYNOPSIS: At the beginning of Blonde Crazy, we meet Bert Harris (Cagney), a bellboy who works at a midwestern hotel. One day, a young woman, Anne Roberts (Blondell) applies for a job at the hotel as a chambermaid. Bert takes an instant liking to Anne, and after some finangling, he scores her the job. Anne excels at her work as the chambermaid, but between Bert’s constant advances, and the other creepy male patrons of the hotel, she learns that there is more expected of her than just bringing more towels. This is where we see Blondell show off her considerable slapping skills.
After one particular heinous encounter with a wealthy patron, A. Rupert Johnson (Kibbee), which culminated in him groping Anne. Because he has taken a fancy to Anne and because he is a con artist, Bert suggests to Anne that they get back at Johnson by scamming him. They can extort money out of him and pay him back for harassing Anne. Anne is reluctant at first, but ultimately goes along with the plan. She and Johnson go out on a date. Bert pays a pal to pretend to be a cop and “catch” Johnson and Anne in a compromising position. In an effort to protect his reputation and keep from going to jail, Johnson pays the cop $5,000. The $5,000 goes to Bert and Anne, which they split 50/50.
Anne and Bert decide to move to the more glamorous New York City, where they live the high life. One evening, they meet Dan Barker (Calhern) and his date. After getting to talking, Dan takes a liking to Bert and offers to cut him in on his counterfeiting scheme. All Dan needs is a $5,000 investment from Bert. Bert ends up giving Dan his and Anne’s money. Meanwhile, Anne has fallen in love with Bert, but is turned off by his constant desire to scam people instead of earning money legitimately. She ends up meeting and falling in love with an Englishman, Joe Reynolds (Milland).
MY THOUGHTS: I loved this movie. It was fun to see Cagney playing such a wacky character, though his “Honnnnnn-ey” catchphrase got a little tiring after a while. This was a very precode precode. There is a pretty sexy scene of Blondell bathing. And there was a funny scene of Cagney looking for money in Blondell’s bra. The scene culminates with him putting her bra over his eyes like a big pair of lacy glasses. This was a very funny film and I liked the plot with Cagney and Calhern. Milland was kind of dull, but his character was needed for the third act of the film.
I started off this year’s #PreCodeApril event on Twitter with one of the all-time great pre-code films, The Public Enemy (1931). This film is also one of the premier gangster films, and is the film that made James Cagney a star. It was also one of Jean Harlow’s first big parts. With all the hype surrounding the film and its massive starpower, it is amazing that it has eluded me until now. Of course, I knew about the famous grapefruit scene between Cagney and Mae Clarke. I just hadn’t seen the scene within the context of the film.
The Public Enemy, 1931 Starring: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Mae Clarke Director: William A. Wellman Studio: Warner Brothers
SYNOPSIS: The Public Enemy takes place over about a twenty year (give or take) span of time. At the beginning of the film, it’s the early 1900s. We meet our main characters, Tom Powers (Cagney) and his best friend, Matt Doyle (Woods), as children living in Chicago. The two boys are troublemakers and are seen engaging in petty theft around town. They work for a gangster named “Putty Nose.” Putty Nose has the boys steal small items, then he pays them for the items. Putty presumably then sells them for a higher price to someone else. Putty Nose then invites the boys to participate in a robbery at a fur warehouse. The heist goes awry when Tom is startled by a stuffed bear and shoots at it. His gunshot alerts the police to their presence, who end up shooting one of the members of Putty’s gang. Tom and Matt gun the police officer down. When the boys go to Putty for help, they discover that he’s left town. This incident establishes a grudge that Tom carries with him to adulthood.
Time passes and the two boys grow up. By 1920, with Prohibition in full swing, Tom and Matt are enlisted by a bootlegger to help distribute his illicit liquor. Tom and Matt are living the high life as bootleggers. They eventually get girlfriends, Kitty (Clarke) and Mamie (Blondell). Tom and Kitty quickly tire of one another. Their relationship reaches its bitter end (literally) when Tom pushes a grapefruit half into Kitty’s face. Eventually Tom meets another woman, Gwen (Harlow), who admits that she’s been with a lot of men. As time passes, Tom’s illicit activity and relationships with other noted members of the underground makes him the target of a rival gang.
MY THOUGHTS: This was such an amazing film. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of it, I was just anticipating the grapefruit scene. But Cagney was mesmerizing on screen. Apparently, he was supposed to have the supporting role as Matt Doyle, with Edward Woods in the leading role as Tom. However, when the first day’s rushes came back, director William A. Wellman realized what charisma and starpower Cagney had and switched his and Woods’ roles. And while Woods may have been the loser in the deal, the world is richer for Wellman’s insight. Cagney is fantastic in this film and with a less interesting lead (read: Woods), the film might have been average at best. Cagney elevates the material. The ending was truly gruesome. I was not expecting it. Joan Blondell was excellent, even in her small role. She and Cagney make a delightful team. Harlow had flashes of what made her a big star, but it is obvious that she is still very early in her career. Having watched a few of Harlow’s pre-codes, she really comes to her own a year later in 1932 with Red-Headed Woman and Red Dust.
April 17th will mark the 104th anniversary of William Holden’s birth. Holden is someone who I first became acquainted with when he appeared as himself on my personal favorite episode of I Love Lucy, and perhaps the best episode (imo)–“L.A. at Last!” or “Hollywood at Last!” as it’s also known. Holden’s episode is hysterical. The expression on his face when Lucy turns around after “fixing” her putty nose (“The California sun certainly makes your skin soft,” Lucy says) is hilarious and still makes me laugh no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Throughout the rest of the Ricardo and Mertz’s trip in California and even later in the series, multiple celebrities make reference to Holden and his having warned them about Lucy’s antics. For whatever reason, the idea that William Holden was running around Hollywood warning people like John Wayne about Lucy Ricardo is hilarious. I Love Lucy and William Holden also brought about one of my favorite quotes from the series:
MAN (to ETHEL): Pardon me. Are you sitting on John Wayne?
ETHEL: Who, me? No!
MAN: Are you positive?
LUCY: Positive. She’s sitting on Bill Holden. She’s president of the Bill Holden Fan Club, and once a year she comes here to sit on his signature.
“Lucy Visits Graumans,” I Love Lucy. Season 5, Ep. 1. Originally aired October 3, 1955
Anyway, my point in saying all of this was that for the longest time, I was only aware of William Holden by his appearance on my favorite show, and the constant references to him in the episodes leading up to and after his episode aired. I’d never seen one of his films before. I only knew him from I Love Lucy. Having not heard much about him, in comparison to the *big* Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, etc. I figured he was one of those stars who was big in their time, such as Tennessee Ernie Ford, who made multiple appearances on I Love Lucy.
Oh how I was wrong.
After becoming fully obsessed with I Love Lucy as a middle schooler, I learned that Lucille Ball had appeared in a film with Holden–Miss Grant Takes Richmond. I borrowed the VHS from the library and watched it. I found that film pretty funny, especially Lucy’s role, but didn’t find anything remarkable about Holden. In the film, he played a character very similar to how Holden portrayed himself on I Love Lucy. Some time passed before I saw Holden in another film. He didn’t jump out to me as someone whose films I just had to watch.
Then I saw Sunset Boulevard.
My opinion on William Holden did a complete 180. In ‘Sunset,’ Holden was cynical, sarcastic, romantic, conniving, weary, compassionate, etc. etc. His performance in this film was so fantastic that I was hooked. Soon I ended up watching a lot of Holden movies: The Country Girl (the film he was promoting on I Love Lucy), Sabrina, Picnic, The Moon is Blue, Apartment for Peggy, Paris When it Sizzles, Network, Born Yesterday, Executive Suite… But one film that I watched that I really loved was Force of Arms, which premiered in 1951.
(Woo! Finally I made it to the entire point of this whole post.)
Force of Arms reunites William Holden with his ‘Sunset’ co-star, Nancy Olson. This was the third film out of four films that they starred in together. One part of ‘Sunset’ that I really enjoy is the relationship between Holden and Olson’s characters. Holden’s cynical yet romantic Joe Gillis does not get off to a good start when he first meets Olson’s Betty Schaefer. Joe, a screenwriter, and Betty, a script reader both work for Paramount Pictures. Joe walks into the office of a producer just to overhear Betty harshly criticizing Joe’s script. Later the two reunite at a New Years Eve party, and start working together on a new screenplay after Betty pitches some ideas to Joe as to how they can salvage his story. Throughout much of the film, Joe meets in secret with Betty while his employer (and perhaps keeper), Norma Desmond, sleeps. Joe and Betty have a cute relationship. They laugh, they share stories, they appreciate each other’s intelligence, and eventually they fall in love. And while things don’t work out for Holden and Olson’s characters in ‘Sunset,’ they fare much better in Force of Arms.
Force of Arms takes place during World War II in Italy. Holden plays another character named Joe, this time Lieutenant Joe “Pete” Peterson who is part of the American 36th Infantry Division. After a hard fought battle in San Pietro, Joe and his division are given five days’ rest in a small Italian town. One evening, while walking through a cemetery, Joe meets WAC Lieutenant Eleanor “Ellie” MacKay (Olson). Joe tries to better make Ellie’s acquaintance, but is rebuffed because she is in no mood to be picked up while in a cemetery. Later, Joe and Ellie are reunited when he and his friend go to the post office to see if they’d received any correspondence from back home. It turns out that Ellie works at the post office. Earlier in the day, Joe had received a promotion from sergeant to lieutenant, and Ellie offers to buy him a celebratory drink. He accepts.
Joe and Ellie begin to spend more and more time together and grow closer as the movie progresses. However, despite how much Joe wants to be with Ellie, she keeps him at arm’s length as she’s afraid to fall in love again. It seems that she was previously engaged to another soldier and was deeply in love, but then he was killed in the war. She is too scared to fall in love as she doesn’t want to experience heartbreak again. However, her mind is changed when Joe’s leave is cut short. Not wanting to lose him, she agrees to marry him when he returns on his next leave.
The film then transitions into a bunch of battle scenes which usually don’t interest me. I love World War II era movies (or in this film’s case, films that take place during the war), but I am more interested in the homefront aspect–or if it directly involves the war aspect, there needs to be another storyline interwoven with the battle scenes. Thankfully, Force of Arms has a romance that is intermingled between the gunfire and carnage. Despite being involved in the very serious situation that is war, Joe remains determined to see Ellie again. Even after falling into a deep depression after the death of a friend and not wanting to see anyone, even Ellie, we know that true love will prevail–Ellie and Joe will be together again. Otherwise, what was the point of this movie?
Nancy Olson was the perfect person for the part of Ellie. Her cherubic face, her sweet demeanor. She is what brings hope to Holden’s bitter, cynical Joe. Were a harsher woman cast, Joan Crawford, for example, or Ida Lupino, I don’t think this film would be nearly as heart wrenching. Ellie is the perfect compliment for Joe. She can provide sympathy and warmth to an angry man. Ellie represents hope and happiness for Joe. No matter how nasty he acts towards her, she remains in love with him. Ellie is what keeps Joe from giving up all hope. She makes him want to live. When Ellie receives some shocking news about Joe, she is in disbelief. She cannot believe what she is being told. Ellie’s anguish is palpable.
William Holden plays the type of character he became best known for in this film. Joe is a handsome everyman, who is just angry at himself, angry at the world. However, despite his bitterness, he never once becomes mopey. Never is Joe mean. He isn’t an unbearable person. He’s just disappointed. Upset. Depressed. Tired. Despite how cynical and jaded Joe is, there’s always this glimmer of hope. He knows that things can get better. Joe just needs some luck or an opportunity. Holden always manages to bring a charm and vulnerability to his roles. You can’t hate Joe. You can’t hate Holden.
While this might not be the greatest World War II-set romantic drama ever made, I loved this film when I first saw it. But I’m always a sucker for a genuinely romantic film, free of most of the typical plot contrivances that malign the romance genre.
Doris Day would have turned 100 today. For years, I thought for sure she was going to make it, so I was very sad when she passed away in 2019 at the age of 97. Doris seemed eternal–one of the last remaining major figures of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Her sunny persona and girl next door looks I think led to her being unfairly labeled as “virginal” or goody goody. I even had this same perception of her until I actually started watching her films. Yes, she does have some sugary sweet roles, but those are only a tiny part of her overall body of work. One such departure from this image is Doris’ turn as the titular character in Julie, produced in 1956.
For years, when shopping the Warner Archive 4/$44 DVD sale, I would see Julie listed among the list of titles for purchase. Warner Archive for the most part, uses the original poster art for their film cover. The poster asks the question: What happened to Julie on her honeymoon? After seeing this film listed again and again during the sales, I just had to know: what did happen to Julie on her honeymoon? Eventually I purchased the movie to find out the answer. To put it simply, what happens to Julie on her honeymoon is that her husband tries to kill her.
Julie opens with a particularly haunting title track, with Doris singing the melody. Back-up singers continue to sing “Julie” in an eerie manner. Julie is an uncomfortable, tension-filled film noir–one of Doris’ few forays into this genre or style of filmmaking. The film opens with Julie (Doris, obviously) and her new husband Lyle (Louis Jourdan) arguing. The widowed Julie has just remarried the handsome and talented concert pianist Lyle, after her first husband commits suicide due to financial issues. The newlyweds had been attending a function at the country club when they got into a heated argument. Upset, Julie climbs into her car and drives off; but before she can get away, Lyle climbs into her car and continues the argument.
To say that their marriage is not getting off to a good start would be an understatement. Lyle obviously has a screw loose which is indicative right off the bat when he slides over on the bench seat of the car and places his foot over Julie’s, causing her to continue to accelerate on the highway. She is careening all over the highway, nearly driving off the cliff on multiple occasions while trying to negotiate California’s curvy coastline. As Julie screams for him to stop and to not kill them both, Lyle finally relents by letting his foot off Julie’s, seizing control of the steering wheel, and bringing the car to a stop. Understandably, Julie is a complete wreck.
Lyle continues to show himself for the abusive monster that he is, manipulating Julie into forgiving him for his actions. He says that he only did what he did out of love and that he needs her to help him get over his extreme jealousy. Lyle is a creep and things do not get better for Julie. Meanwhile, Julie has been speaking with her first husband’s cousin, Cliff (Barry Sullivan). Cliff is not convinced that his brother committed suicide, and if he had, it wouldn’t have been due to financial issues as Cliff had offered his brother money. Hearing this, Lyle at first plays it cool and actually seems sympathetic, but that soon goes by the wayside. He grows tired of repeatedly hearing Julie wonder outloud what could have triggered her husband’s suicide and tells her to leave her marriage to him in the past.
Lyle continues to stalk Julie and Cliff throughout the film and eventually Cliff asks Julie, what if her husband hadn’t committed suicide? After all, Lyle was staying at their home when her husband died. The film culminates with a somewhat unbelievable scene in which flight attendant Julie is forced to take control of the plane’s cockpit to save the lives of the passengers onboard.
Overall, Julie is a very tense and interesting film. Louis Jourdan is terrifying. I like him much more in this film than I did in Gigi. What I find the scariest about Jourdan is that is portrayal of a jealous, hot-tempered spouse is that his portrayal is not too far off the mark. I could completely see someone acting in the way that he does in this film. Doris also found this movie nerve-wracking to make as the behavior of Jourdan was reminiscent of the abusive treatment she received at the hands of her first and second husbands. What I find fascinating about Jourdan and Doris’ performances in this film is that off-screen, they were friends and neighbors! I also like Barry Sullivan. He is never flashy, but he’s good and I find him interesting. He’s great in noir.
I wish that Doris had made more noir and grittier fare, because she was good in these types of roles. A year prior to Julie, Doris made Love Me or Leave Me where she played the real life Ruth Etting, a singer and dime-a-dance girl who just wants to make it in show business. She has to deal with her abusive manager/lover, James Cagney, who uses his position to make or break her career as a means to control her. Just before making Julie, Doris had appeared as a distraught mother whose son is kidnapped in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of his 1934 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much. This role was also a departure for Doris who had to spend much of the film frantically looking for her child, but it did bring us her signature song, “Que Sera Sera.” In 1960, Doris would make her last dramatic film, Midnight Lace, where she plays a woman being terrorized on the telephone.
While Julie may not be the greatest film noir, nor is it even the best Doris Day film, it demonstrates that Doris Day was more than just a lightweight romantic lead and singer. She is excellent as a young woman who marries the wrong man, but has to keep her cool to survive. Later, it’s her calm demeanor that is needed to save the lives of dozens of passengers. If there was one thing that Doris Day was always good at, in every role she had, was being a calming presence on screen. Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be.
As much as I love Bette Davis (she’s my second favorite after Lucille Ball), I do not watch The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex for her. I watch for my man, Errol Flynn (portrays Lord Essex, obviously). Davis’ preparation for the role as England’s Queen Elizabeth I is legendary. To accurately portray the 60-something year old monarch (despite only being 31), Davis shaved back her hairline to mimic Elizabeth I’s reported hair loss. She even shaved off her eyebrows! Which Davis later admitted was a mistake, as her eyebrows didn’t grow back properly. Forever after the film, she had to pencil in her eyebrows. Davis performed a lot of research for her role, and came up with many of Elizabeth I’s quirks and mannerisms herself based off her studies. One such quirk that Davis inserted into the film was Elizabeth’s propensity to fidget with her beads or other things. It’s the fidgeting that drives me crazy. It’s very distracting. It’s the one thing that turns me off of this film.
‘Elizabeth and Essex’ got off to a very rocky start. Davis wanted Sir Laurence Olivier to appear as Lord Essex. However, he was unavailable. Instead Warner Brothers cast their big star, Errol Flynn, to appear alongside Davis. The film’s high production costs led to the decision to cast Flynn as the studio hoped to not only recoup their budget, but to make a profit as well (obviously). Davis was very unhappy about the decision and did not make a secret of her dissatisfaction with her co-star. She treated Flynn very poorly and didn’t hold back when criticizing his acting ability. In his (fantastic) autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Flynn recalls their first dress rehearsal of the scene in which Essex makes his entrance into the film to answer to Elizabeth I re: his latest military defeat (and she slaps him across the face). Essex has to make a long walk, through the middle of the English court, towards Elizabeth I who is seated on her throne.
“Finally, they called the first real rehearsal, and I must say, that as Bette assumed her place on the throne, dressed as Elizabeth, with great big square jewels on her hands, and on her wrists big heavy bracelets, she was living the part. She was Queen Elizabeth. I started the walk down through the English court. The cameras were grinding, the extras were gazing at me or at the throne, and I reached the Queen…Then all of a sudden, I felt as if I had been hit by a railroad locomotive. She had lifted one of her hands, heavy with those Elizabethan rings, and Joe Louis himself couldn’t give a right hook better than Bette hooked me with. My jaw went out. I felt a click behind my ear and I saw all these comets, shooting stars, all in one flash. It didn’t knock me to the ground. She had given me that little dainty hand, laden with about a pound of costume jewelry, right across the ear. I felt as if I were deaf.”
Errol Flynn in My Wicked Wicked Ways (1959).
The tense situation on the set did not improve from there. In his book, Flynn acknowledges that Bette was a great actress; but it’s safe to say that they were never going to be bosom buddies. Flynn also asserts that Bette’s animosity towards him is due to his turning down her advances. Whether this is true or not, is hard to say. Either way, Flynn and Bette never worked together again after ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ There is a famous anecdote about Bette and friend (and ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ co-star) Olivia de Havilland. Decades after the filming of ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ and even Flynn’s passing in 1959, Bette and Olivia attended a viewing of ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ Bette was quoted as saying about Flynn: “I was wrong, wrong wrong. Flynn was brilliant.”
The basic plot of ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ is that Queen Elizabeth I is having an affair with the much younger, Lord Essex. While she is in love with Essex, Elizabeth fears that his intentions are not entirely honorable. She is afraid that the much younger Essex, will use his youth, popularity, and influence to take over her throne. Her vanity worries continue throughout the film. Essex maintains that he is in love with Elizabeth, but at the same time he knows that there is no heir to her throne. It is hard to ascertain whether his motives are genuine, or if he just wants to insinuate himself into the accession line for the British throne. Elizabeth, I think, is in love with Essex, but struggles between her love for him and her duty to the English people. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting, Penelope (de Havilland), also lusts for Essex and uses her position to try and drive a wedge between Elizabeth and Essex.
Now onto the real point of this blogathon–the costumes. Obviously, Elizabeth’s costumes are the highlight of the film. Famed costume designer, Orry-Kelly, designed all the costumes for ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ Elizabeth’s gowns were very extravagant and apparently weighed about sixty pounds. Poor Bette Davis regularly lost 2-3 lbs daily just from sweating under the heavy lights during film production. Bette wears an array of Elizabethan gowns. I’ll admit that I am not familiar with the actual terminology for the different parts of an Elizabethan gown. For the purposes of this blog, I googled “Elizabethan gown” to try and learn the correct names for the different components.
Many of Bette’s gowns are what’s known as a “French gown” which is a dress with a square neckline, tight bodice, and a full skirt. Bette had to be put into a corset everyday in order to present the proper silhouette for her Elizabethan garb. According to some of the articles I read, buxom women would need to wear a corset in order for the gown to fit properly. Less-endowed women could get away with just some boning placed in the bodice of the gown. Bette no doubt had a bosom, thus the corset. Elizabethan gowns were outfitted with a device called a “Spanish Farthingale” which was essentially a hoop skirt, as to give the dress the correct Elizabethan look. Then, there was the “bumroll” (lol) which was a padded device that women wore around their hips to make the skirt pop out more. There is no doubt that Bette is also wearing a similar device to achieve the right aesthetic.
Then, there is another type of skirt, whether it is a petticoat, or something called a “kirtle” that will be a decorative skirt that will cover the spanish farthingale. Then, if that weren’t enough, FINALLY, the dress is put on. Bette’s costumes also include decorative elements, like the ruffs, which provide the more well known Elizabethan touches, like the big ruffled cuffs and high ruffled stiff collars. There were also ruffled collars that just went around the neck, but didn’t stick up half a foot from the neck. The kirtle is the contrasting part of the skirt that is visible. After this many different layers, which didn’t even include any sort of underwear or stockings that Bette might be wearing, no wonder the costume weighed 60 lbs.
Many of Bette’s gowns in the film follow this same silhouette, but the gowns themselves all different from one another. The gowns are made of varying fabrics (brocade, silk, velvet to name a few) and colors. Her gowns are festooned with a variety of different decorative elements, like beading, lace, jewelry, flowers, and embroidery. Orry-Kelly would also change up the gowns by adding bunched sleeves, or extra ruffles, or what have you. Elizabeth’s costumes are very beautiful and elaborate. They truly are the highlight of the film.
Flynn’s costumes however, while not as elaborate, are still beautiful. Very few men could get away with tights and still look cool. But as Flynn proved in both The Adventures of Robin Hood and again in ‘Private Lives,’ is that he looks amazing in everything. Honestly, I pay more attention to Flynn than I do to Bette when I watch this film. When Flynn makes his grand entrance into the film as the defeated Lord Essex, he is dressed in a beautiful navy blue with gold trim doublet, with brown and gold breeches, brown tights, and knee-high brown boots. Nobody wore knee-high boots as beautifully as the 6’2″ Flynn. He is also wearing a black and gold breastplate with a red sash draped diagonally across it. And of course, because this film takes place during the Elizabethan era, he has on a tall, ruffed collar. For the sake of propriety, we will assume that Flynn’s Lord Essex is not outfitted with the codpiece that was custom during Elizabethan times.
Flynn’s costumes follow a similar template, though the components are changed up based on the action of the scene. Obviously, he is not always dressed in battle armor, except when appropriate. There is another scene where Essex is dressed in a teal outfit, and he’s wearing a gold garter or some sort of decorative element around his leg, under the knee. He also wears a variety of short and long capes in this film. Flynn’s costumes are also adorned with a variety of embellishments, and the type of fabrics are changed up. While Elizabeth wears a lot of bright, bold colors, Essex for the most part is dressed in more neutrals, like dark blue, brown, and teal.
Olivia de Havilland’s Lady Penelope and Elizabeth’s other ladies in waiting, including chanteuse, Mistress Margaret Radcliffe (Nanette Fabray), wear costumes similar to Elizabeth I, but they are less ornate, less busy. Lady Penelope in particular wears quite low-cut costumes and overall appears sexier (as sexy as one can be in Elizabethan garb) than Elizabeth I. This was probably a purposeful choice as Lady Penelope is presented as a foe for Elizabeth I. She has the hots for Essex and seems like a more logical partner for him than the aging monarch.
This is a wonderful film, in spite of Bette Davis’ constant fidgeting with her beads or whatever else is in her hands. There is no doubt watching this film that she studied and worked very hard to play Elizabeth I. In fact, she might have prepared a little too much as this performance seems a little more rigid than other performances of Bette’s that I’ve seen. Flynn of course is Errol Flynn. He is a great hero and a great lover. It is logical that Elizabeth and Penelope would both be in love with him. It is also logical that he’d use his good looks, popularity and influence to worm his way into Elizabeth’s confidence, so that she’d let her guard down as he keeps his eye on the prize (i.e. her throne). It doesn’t even matter that Flynn didn’t even attempt to not sound Australian. Flynn looks hot in his costumes. That’s all that matters to me. Poor Olivia de Havilland, was cast in this film right after finishing filming her role as Melanie in Gone With the Wind. Someone of her stature is wasted in the small part as Lady Penelope. However, it is nice to see her play a bad girl, a conniving type.
I don’t normally blog two days in a row, but I couldn’t miss an opportunity to write about one of my favorite “bad” movies, Roller Boogie, made in 1979. I love the roller disco films, and own the trilogy–Roller Boogie (1979), Skatetown, USA (1979), and Xanadu (1980). These movies are national treasures and are very much a product of the time in which they were produced. Unfortunately, I was born too late for the roller disco fad, so I live vicariously through these movies. Roller Boogie is a particular favorite of mine. Yes, it’s considered bad; but compared to things that people consider “good” or “masterpieces,” e.g. Apocalypse Now, give me Roller Boogie any day of the week!
TERRY BARKLEY: If I’m old enough to be on my own; then, I’m old enough to make my own decisions. I do not want to play the flute. I do not want to go to Juilliard. I do not want to be paired off with Franklin Potter. He is a lecherous jackass! And I never want to hear another string quartet again in my life!
LILLIAN BARKLEY: Well, now that we know what you don’t want, what is it that you do?
TERRY BARKLEY: Now, I want to win a Roller Boogie contest down at the beach.
LILLIAN BARKLEY: A Roller Boogie contest?
Linda Blair as Theresa “Terry” Barkley and Beverly Garland as Lillian Barkley in “Roller Boogie” (1979)
And with that conversation, we have the basic premise of this film. Terry Barkley (Linda Blair) is a young woman whose parents dream of her using her musical talent to pursue a flautist scholarship at the prestigious Juilliard. We’ll overlook the fact that when Terry is seen playing the flute that she doesn’t appear to be very good. We’ll take Roller Boogie‘s word for it that she’s gifted. The point is, Terry doesn’t want to play the flute. She doesn’t want her college paid for. She wants to give all that up for a Roller Boogie contest that will be over before school starts. But that doesn’t even matter. TERRY WON’T BE CONTROLLED. SHE WILL BE A ROLLER BOOGIE CHAMPION.
The fly in the ointment however, is that the skating club, Jammer’s (which holds the annual Roller Boogie competition), is threatened by LA mobsters who want the land that the club is sitting on. They use some rough tactics to harass the proprietor, Jammer, into shutting down the club. Without Jammer’s, how will Terry become a roller boogie champion?
Much of rest of the plot involves Terry, her beau, Bobby (Jim Bray, who might be one of the worst actors I have ever seen) who has Olympic aspirations (last I checked, there was no roller skating event, but whatever), and the other skaters trying to band together to save Jammer’s. The mob of course, is there to try and thwart the skaters’ attempts at interfering with their plans. However, these are the most ineffective mobsters ever. They are forced to flee an altercation with the skaters when the skaters start throwing produce at their car. Later, they chase Terry and Bobby through the city streets. Apparently two teenagers on roller skates can move faster than a car. But whatever. Then there is tension between Terry and her parents, who don’t want to see their daughter give up her scholarship for something trivial, like roller boogie.
This film is absurd. There are so many things in this film that make absolutely zero sense. There are characters in the film who don’t really serve any purpose. Terry’s parents want her to get together with the wealthy Franklin Potter, but he’s a total sleaze, and Terry is not interested. At the beginning of the film, Franklin tries to put his hand up Terry’s skirt after her flute recital. Later, when she’s leaving to head down to Jammer’s, he “surprises” her by trying to trap her in the garage and force her to have sex with him. He’s ready to go, as he’s doffed his pants and underwear, keeping only a towel wrapped around his waist. Thankfully, Terry is able to not only rebuff his advances, but she is able to take off with the towel–leaving Franklin to show off his business to his and Terry’s mothers.
Jim Bray is an absolutely horrible actor. There is nothing redeeming to say about his performance. The only good thing about him is that he can skate. That’s all I have to say about him. There isn’t anything really remarkable about the other skaters in the film. I recognized Terry’s friend, Lana (Kimberly Beck), as one of Lucille Ball’s children from Yours, Mine and Ours. The best performance in the film was probably Linda Blair, as she was probably the most seasoned performer as well. Blair was Oscar-nominated for her role as Regan in The Exorcist (1973). I am not a fan of The Exorcist, but I am also not a fan of horror. Give me Linda in Roller Boogie any day of the week!
THINGS I LOVE ABOUT ROLLER BOOGIE:
The roller skating costumes. There are some crazy costumes in this movie. Some are more conservative than others. Linda Blair for the most part dresses fairly conservatively compared to some of the other women in this film. But I am here for the gold sequined leggings that I saw one woman wearing. I also loved Terry’s white fringe dress in the finale. I also loved her polka dot blouse that she wears during the roller skate chase scene.
The entire premise of the film. Terry wants to give up a scholarship to a prestigious school in favor of a contest that will be over before school starts.
The name of the club–Jammer’s. My husband’s name is James and one of my pet names for him is calling him “Jammers.” So that makes me laugh. Unfortunately, he told me that he did NOT want to form a roller disco dancing partnership with me, so that was disappointing.
Terry’s car. Terry drives a mint green Excalibur Phaeton car that looks reminiscent of a 1920s vehicle with running boards and the spare tire on the side. Researching this car led me to learning about “kit cars” of which I knew nothing about. Not being a car person (except to look at them and say if they’re cool or not), I researched them. I learned that this car was based on a 1928 Mercedes SSK. The manufacturer would take a contemporary car engine and chassis and fit a fiberglass body over the top.
The montage of Terry and Bobby’s skating lesson. Terry asks Bobby to teach her how to dance on skates so that she can enter the Roller Boogie competition. Their lessons last for approximately one day, where we don’t see Terry get any better, but supposedly, she learns enough to enter the competition and be considered a worthy opponent.
The LAPD cop who patrols the Venice Beach beat! He wears the standard police cap with police emblem, which is whatever. But then! He wears a white T-Shirt with a generic LAPD emblazoned across the front. BUT THEN, he wears navy blue hot pants and roller skates. YES! This is law enforcement in Roller Boogie-land.
Bobby wears a shirt with a glittery red “BJ” showcased in all its glory. I know that it’s his initials. But it’s still funny.
All of the skating scenes. This movie is about roller disco after all, so it wouldn’t even be half as good without good skating scenes. The opening scene of the chain of roller skaters moving throughout Venice Beach in California is awesome and makes you think that you really need to start roller skating to get into shape!
The dialogue in this movie. There are some real gems in this film when it comes to quotable lines. Some of the things that people say in this film would never be uttered by a real person. See my Favorite Quotes section below.
The mother’s disapproving of Terry’s Roller Boogie aspirations, while at the same time being hooked on a myriad of different pills. The woman’s purse is a mobile pharmacy. The parents in this film completely disapprove of Terry’s Roller Boogie dreams, with the dad going as far as to say: “It’s the skating isn’t it? It’s that insane disco music thing!” Then, the dad ends up being the lawyer to Jammer’s, then all of a sudden the parents are at the roller boogie contest and are only too eager to present the trophy.
LILLIAN BARKLEY: Lovey, you’re giving your mother a migraine. (She opens her purse and looks inside, pulling out various medicine vials) LILLIAN BARKLEY: Diet pills… sleeping pills…diuretics…quaaludes…valium! There you are.
Beverly Garland as “Lillian Barkley,” in Roller Boogie (1979)
FAVORITE QUOTES IN ROLLER BOOGIE:
TERRY BARKLEY to FRANKLIN: I swear you’ve got more hands than in a poker game!
TERRY BARKLEY: Franklin, I’m not in the mood for octopus rallies. FRANKLIN POTTER: Terry! I need you, your body is driving me crazy! TERRY BARKLEY: Franklin, Barbie dolls drive you crazy. You’re oversexed!
BOBBY JAMES: Hey Terry! Wait up! Hey, wait up! TERRY BARKLEY: Thanks for skatin’ with me kid. BOBBY JAMES: We still have 45 minutes left. And my name a’int kid, it’s Bobby. Bobby James. TERRY BARKLEY: Keep the change, Bobby James.
BOBBY JAMES: Take off your skirt! TERRY BARKLEY: Okay.
BOBBY JAMES: Look, you’re not no bimbo from the boardwalk.
TERRY BARKLEY: Hi. Remember me? LILLIAN BARKLEY: Oh, Theresa! Theresa! Oh! Now before I turn you over to your father, is there anything you want to tell me? Pregnant? TERRY BARKLEY: Mother! I’ve been gone over night. LILLIAN BARKLEY: Well, how long does it take these days?
When I saw this blogathon announced and saw that John Williams was mentioned as having scored Valley of the Dolls, I was intrigued. I love ‘Dolls’ and I hadn’t realized that John Williams who is famous for so many classic film scores (Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark,Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, just to name a few) also scored what I think might be the greatest movie of all time (okay, I kid. The greatest movie of all time is actually The Long, Long Trailer). I’ve seen ‘Dolls’ multiple times and hadn’t really thought of the score. I researched Williams’ participation in this film and learned that he was responsible for composing the film’s score and doing the arrangements of instrumental versions of Andre and Dory Previn’s songs. To write this blog entry, I popped my Criterion-edition blu ray into my player and focused on Williams’ score as I watched this soap opera unfold.
Valley of the Dolls opens with Dionne Warwick’s mournful rendition of “(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” playing as snow falls in slow-motion. The despondent sounding lyrics, combined with the snow, lull the viewer into some sort of trance. Warwick sings lyrics that hint at the levels of desperation our three heroines will reach during this film.
Gotta get off, gonna get Have to get off from this ride Gotta get hold, gonna get Need to get hold of my pride
“(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” written by Dory and Andre Previn, performed by Dionne Warwick
We watch Ann Welles (Barbara Parkins) arrive for her first day at work as a secretary at a theatrical agency in Manhattan. Despite some misgivings from her employer, Producer Henry Bellamy, Ann is given her first assignment: delivering contracts to Broadway star, Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) and having her sign them. As Ann arrives at the rehearsal hall, she sees up-and-comer Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) doing a show-stopping rendition of the song she is performing in Helen’s show. Ann makes her way to Helen’s dressing room and manages to get Helen’s signature on one contract. However, Ann’s visit is interrupted when Helen is made aware of Neely’s talent and how her song in the show should propel Neely to stardom. Helen is jealous and orders Neely’s song cut from her show. Nobody but Helen Lawson will be the star.
Neely is outraged that her song was cut from the show and quits. Convinced of her talent, Bellamy’s business partner, Lyon Burke, books her a gig on Joey Bishop’s variety show. Neely is a sensation and soon she’s on her way to Hollywood. Meanwhile, Ann is given a glamorous job modeling cosmetics in both television and print advertisements. Finally, another acquaintance of Ann and Neely’s, Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), a beautiful young actress with an abundance of looks, but limited talent, finds herself in a challenging situation. Jennifer falls in love with nightclub singer, Tony Polar, who lives with his sister/manager, Miriam (Lee Grant). On the surface, Miriam seems to be very controlling; but in reality, she is concealing a hereditary condition which Tony has. She is worried that 30-year old Tony’s illness, which has remained dormant until now, will soon emerge. Unfortunately, Tony’s illness is right on schedule. Soon, he is unable to walk. Jennifer and Miriam move Tony to a sanitarium so that he can receive proper care. To pay the bills, Jennifer starts making French “art films” or “nudies” as Neely snidely, calls them.
Ann and Jennifer’s storylines are fine. They have their moments, but truly the real star of this film is Neely. Neely is a complete disaster. She is my hero. After getting treated to a delightful 1960s montage of Neely getting ready for her Hollywood debut, we watch her quickly fall apart. She becomes swiftly addicted to “dolls” (i.e. barbiturates) and as an added bonus, also becomes an alcoholic. Neely cannot function without her dolls and booze. She needs them to wake up. She needs them to work. She needs them to sleep. Eventually, Neely is unemployable and finds herself divorced and walking down a seedy boulevard lamenting the constant presence of “boobies.” Neely truly hits the bottom of the barrel when she discovers that she had sex with a stranger who later steals from her.
“Boobies, Boobies, boobies. Nothin’ but boobies. Who needs ’em? I did great without ’em!”
Patty Duke as “Neely O’Hara” in “Valley of the Dolls” (1967)
“Who’s stoned? I am merely traveling incognito.”
Patty Duke as “Neely O’Hara” in “Valley of the Dolls” (1967)
Ann and Jennifer both have their misadventures with dolls as well; but neither of them have as spectacular a collapse as Neely. Ann’s battle with doll addiction lasts all of five minutes. Unfortunately for Jennifer, she receives some life-changing news and is unable to cope. Neely has an amazing scene toward the end of the film when she confronts Helen and Helen ends up with her wig in the toilet.
Throughout all of Ann, Neely, and Jennifer’s misadventures with dolls, John Williams’ score punctuates the action with the intense sound of strings. The score is somewhat jazzy to fit the vibe of the action and the era. The score used in Neely’s recollection of her treatment at the sanitarium has a horror movie vibe, which juxtaposed with the bleak surroundings, is like a horror movie within a camp classic. Jennifer’s “art film” has music which evokes visions of Paris, with its use of the stereotypical Parisian accordion type music (I am not sure how to describe it). Williams’ score in ‘Dolls’ features swelling strings and over the top arrangements that fit the soap opera that is Valley of the Dolls. Williams ended up being nominated for the 1968 Oscars for Best Scoring of Music–Adaptation or Treatment. He lost to Camelot, which I haven’t seen, but I’d like to go on the record to say that John Williams was robbed.
Gotta get off, gonna get Out of this merry-go-round Gotta get off, gonna get Need to get on where I’m bound When did I get, where did I Why am I lost as a lamb When will I know, where will I How will I learn who I am Is this a dream, am I here, where are you Tell me, when will I know, how will I know When will I know why?
“(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” written by Dory and Andre Previn, performed by Dionne Warwick
BARTENDER: “Should I call you a cab?” NEELY: “I don’t need it! I don’t need ANYBODY, I got talent, Edward. BIG talent.” NEELY: “They love me.”