The “Take Two” Blogathon- High Society (1956)

On April 19th in 1956, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier the sovereign ruler of Monaco. Grace had met Prince Rainier a little less than a year prior, in May of 1955. By saying “I do,” Grace gave up her successful, Oscar-winning Hollywood career and assumed her duties as Princess Grace of Monaco. She didn’t plan to give up her career after the wedding, but was pressured to do so by her new husband. As a result, the last film that Grace made was High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story.

Poor Celeste Holm, a fellow Oscar-winner to a cast full of Oscar-winners and she’s left off the poster.

The Philadelphia Story was released in 1940 and was the film that saved Katharine Hepburn’s career. In the original film, Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, an affluent young woman who is marrying for the second time to George Kittredge (John Howard). Tracy is part of the Philadelphia upper-crust. Her first husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) re-enters her life after arranging for Spy Magazine to cover Tracy’s wedding. Two years prior, Tracy had divorced C.K. due to him not meeting the impossible standards that Tracy sets for her friends and family. She also thought he drank too much and her critical opinion of his drinking caused him to imbibe even more.

On the same day, Macaulay “Mike” Connor (James Stewart) and Elizabeth “Liz” Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) a reporter and photographer, respectively for Spy Magazine arrive at the Lord estate. They are planning on covering Tracy’s wedding for their magazine. Complications ensue when Mike starts falling in love with Tracy, much to Liz’s chagrin. Liz harbors an unrequited crush on Mike. Meanwhile, Tracy is irritated with her ex-husband, C.K.’s constant presence. However, he helps her to realize that she needs to relax and stop being so judgemental of the people in her life. She is not perfect herself, so it is unfair to hold others to such a high standard.

Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm in High Society

In the musical remake of High Society, the action is moved from Philadelphia to Newport, Rhode Island. Grace Kelly assumes the role of Tracy and plays the role very well. She plays a haughty socialite just as well as Katharine Hepburn. Both women have a similar way of speaking, with a very pronounced mid-Atlantic accent. Interestingly enough, Grace herself is from Philadelphia and hails from the very same world depicted in The Philadelphia Story. However, I think I prefer the shift to the Newport locale. I love that the famous Newport Jazz Festival is used as a backdrop for High Society. The jazz music is also an excellent addition to the story, as Bing Crosby stars as C.K. Dexter Haven, Cary Grant’s role from the original film. Throughout the film, C.K. is busy organizing the festival, with Louis Armstrong and his band serving as the Greek chorus for the events in this film. C.K. also happens to live next door to the Lord estate, making his constant presence believable.

Not the planned wedding, but a good ending and we get to see Tracy’s gorgeous wedding dress! Let’s hope second time’s a charm for these crazy kids.

In High Society, it is Tracy’s father, Seth Lord, who has invited Spy Magazine to cover his daughter’s nuptials. The magazine has obtained some unflattering details about Seth’s various infidelities. Seth makes a bargain with Spy Magazine and allows them to send over a couple employees to cover the wedding. Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra) and Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm), a reporter and photographer respectively, arrive and are invited to stay at the Lords’ home. The scene where Mike and Liz arrive plays out in a similar fashion in both High Society and The Philadelphia Story. Tracy resents their intrusion and carries out an elaborate farce, including speaking French with her little sister and having her sister make an entrance dancing en pointe and then performing a song while playing piano. For her part, Tracy acts like a complete ditz, figuring that she needs to fit the image that the tabloids have of her. For the record, I find Virginia Weidler’s “Dinah” really annoying in The Philadelphia Story and prefer Lydia Reed as little sister, “Caroline,” in High Society. Weidler is the more talented performer, but there’s just something about her that makes me want to smack her.

Liz and Mike admire one of Tracy’s millions of wedding gifts

What I love about High Society is that there are more scenes between Tracy and C.K., giving us an idea as to why they fell in love in the first place. The Philadelphia Story hints at that, such as when C.K. gifts Tracy a miniature replica of their yacht, “True Love,” that they sailed around in during their honeymoon. In High Society, not only does C.K. gift Tracy the miniature replica of the “True Love,” but we’re treated to a flashback sequence of C.K. and Tracy singing “True Love” on their boat. I love any singing scene that involves characters playing a small accordion. This was also a fun scene where we actually hear Grace singing with her own voice. Thank goodness they did not dub her with someone like Marni Nixon. Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Nixon was an excellent singer, but her voice is so out of place in so many of the films where it is heard (case in point, Natalie Wood’s voice in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn’s in My Fair Lady).

Grace Kelly wears this amazing dress in High Society

I also love Grace Kelly’s costumes in this film. Her costumes are gorgeous, especially the blue chiffon dress with silver embroidery she wears during the party Tracy holds on the eve of her wedding. Katharine Hepburn’s dress in the same part of the film is incredible, but I think Grace has the edge. Grace also gets to wear a much better wedding dress during the film’s finale. I am not a fan of Katharine’s gown with the big girdle like thing across her waist. At the beginning of the film, Grace wears a simple beige blouse with beige slacks and red flats and she looks amazing. The woman could wear a stained sweatsuit and look fabulous.

One of the highlights of High Society is the duet between Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. This scene replaces the drunk scene between James Stewart and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story. The original scene is very funny, as Mike cannot stop hiccuping as he talks to C.K. However, with both Sinatra and Crosby in the cast, it is a no-brainer that a duet between the two men would have to take place. Sinatra and Crosby were often pitted against one another, with Sinatra being viewed as the crooner who would take the elder Crosby’s place. However, nothing could be further from the truth and the two men were lifelong friends. Their duet, “Well, Did You Evah!” is one of the highlights of the film.

Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong duet in High Society

It would also be remiss of me to not mention the amazing Louis Armstrong. He and his band serve as the Greek chorus, setting the scene for the film and then commenting on the action throughout. He provides a fun presence to the action and of course, since he’s performing at the Newport Jazz Festival, which is being planned by C.K., we are treated to a wonderful performance by Louis and Bing Crosby. The two men perform “Now You Has Jazz” and it is amazing. I would have loved if Louis Armstrong and his band had been hired as the entertainment at Tracy’s party on the eve of her wedding.

Tracy and C.K. spar in front of Tracy’s fiance, drip George Kittredge.

The ending of High Society plays out exactly the same as it does in The Philadelphia Story, the dialogue is almost repeated word-for-word. However, for whatever reason I find Tracy and C.K.’s quick decision to remarry more believable in High Society, even if I’m not totally sure on the coupling of Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby. However, the two actors did date in real life, so I guess it is plausible!

While The Philadelphia Story is regarded as the “better” film, I have perhaps the controversial opinion that I find High Society more entertaining. I love the casts of both films equally. I do enjoy The Philadelphia Story, at one point owning four copies. However, given the choice between the two, I would watch High Society. The jazz music and more “fun” feel make the film for me. I love all the Bing and Sinatra performances. Louis Armstrong is amazing. Grace Kelly is gorgeous. I just love it. It was amazing to see High Society in the theater last year.

(Singing)
MIKE: Have you heard that Mimsie Starr
C.K. Oh, what now?
MIKE: She got pinched in the Astor bar
C.K. Sauced again, eh?
MIKE: She was stoned
C.K. Well, did you ever?

Frank Sinatra as “Mike Connor” and Bing Crosby as “C.K. Dexter Haven” performing “Did You Evah?” written by Cole Porter in High Society (1956).

National Silent Movie Day- The Freshman (1925)

Another September 29 is upon us which means that it is National Silent Movie Day! 2022 is the second official year of this film event. This year, I opted to watch The Freshman starring the hilarious Harold Lloyd. Lloyd is someone who is often remembered alongside Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but I always feel like he’s mentioned as an afterthought, like “the greatest silent film comedians were Chaplin and Keaton… and I guess we can throw Lloyd in there too.” Harold Lloyd deserves to be revered just as much as Chaplin and Keaton. His “glasses” character is inventive and unique. I like Harold Lloyd’s comedy and find him a delightful middleground between the more sentimental Chaplin and the more physical Keaton. Don’t get me wrong, all three men were very skilled when it comes to physical comedy and acting; but each one is very different from the other.

The Freshman which debuted in theaters in 1925, tells the story of Harold Lamb, a young man who has saved exactly $480-something dollars (~$8100 in 2022 money) to go to college–Tate University to be specific. He saved the money selling washing machines. Harold has watched his favorite film, The College Hero, practically on a loop and has based his entire personality on the one presented in the film. He even learns the jig that The College Hero performs as part of a greeting when he meets a new person. Watching Harold execute the jig throughout the film is adorable, he looks so happy every single time he does it.

Harold rides the train to Tate University. On the train, he meets Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), a young woman also attending Tate. However, unlike Harold, she does not have a substantial savings and must work to afford the tuition. The train arrives at the station and Harold introduces himself to his new classmates, including, The College Cad (Brooks Benedict). After Harold does his jig, The College Cad laughs and makes Harold the laughingstock of the school. However, because he is so naive, Harold misinterprets his classmates’ laughter and The College Cad’s mocking as a sign that they all like him.

The College Cad eventually convinces Harold to try-out for the football team, thinking that it’d be hilarious. He isn’t selected for the team (of course), but ends up being hired to become the football team’s tackling dummy. Harold damaged the school’s only tackling dummy during his audition. The football coach loves Harold’s enthusiasm, however, but admits to the captain of the football team, Chet Trask (James Anderson) that Harold’s lack of athleticism does not make up for his positive attitude. Chet suggests to his coach that he bring Harold onto the team to be the waterboy. The coach agrees and invites Harold to join the team–except Harold thinks he’s joining as a football player.

Harold emulating “The College Hero”

Later, Harold is convinced to host the annual Fall Frolic dance. It’s obvious that the other students just want to use the big event to make a fool out of Harold. The Fall Frolic scene is hilarious. Harold hires a tailor to make him a new suit for the dance, but when he arrives to pick it up, he learns that the tailor is late and has only barely started sewing it together. Only a few stitches are holding the jacket and pants together. Despite the sparse stitches, Harold wears it anyway, hoping for the best. The tailor offers to follow Harold around the dance, sewing the suit together should it start to fall apart. Almost immediately, the tailor is having to sew the arms back onto Harold’s jacket.

The scene of Harold trying to stay in front of a curtain and entertain his date while the tailor works behind the curtain frantically sewing his suit together is hilarious and one of the best scenes in the film. I love the part when one of Harold’s classmates approaches him to ask for $10. Harold’s right arm is busy being repaired, so the tailor offers up his arm in place of Harold’s. The tailor’s arm (posing as Harold’s arm) reaches into Harold’s pocket and pulls out $10. While Harold is shaking hands (left hand) with his classmate, the tailor’s right hand pick-pockets the $10 out of Harold’s classmate’s pocket and puts the money back into Harold’s.

Eventually, Tate University’s football team is playing in the big game. Harold sits on the sideline, anxiously, as if to say “put me in coach, I’m ready to play.” He and another player watch as one teammate after another are knocked out of the game. The team is running out of benchwarmers and will be at risk of being disqualified from the game if they can’t meet the minimum requirement for active players on the field. Harold soon gets his big chance.

Jobyna Ralston and Harold Lloyd in “The Freshman.”

Women’s hair always seemed so ratty in the 1920s–no wonder they bobbed their hair later!

The type of comedy presented at the Fall Frolic is one of the things I love about Harold Lloyd. He has a lot of sight gags like this that are not as broadly comedic as Keaton, but are still very funny. There’s another funny scene in Safety Last! where Lloyd pretends to be an overcoat hanging on the wall. Lloyd’s character is very affable and approachable to audiences. He seems like an everyman and seems to be loving his life. He doesn’t have a stoneface like Keaton or seems like a hopeful sad sack like Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Harold Lloyd’s gags are just as well-timed and well-executed as anything Chaplin and Keaton did.

During the big football game, the audience cannot help but cheer for Harold. We don’t want to see him on the bench. We want Harold on the field, making the game-winning touchdown. Frankly, we want him to make any sort of score because in the fourth quarter the game is only at 3-0 in the opposition’s favor. Only a field goal. What a boring game! Harold’s enthusiasm and determination is contagious. This guy deserves to become his hero–The College Hero.

Harold’s jig greeting is hilarious

Broadway Bound Blogathon- Stage Door (1937)

TERRY RANDALL: I see that, in addition to your other charms, you have that insolence generated by an inferior upbringing.
JEAN MAITLAND: Hmm! Fancy clothes, fancy language and everything!
TERRY: Unfortunately, I learned to speak English correctly.
JEAN: That won’t be much of use to you here. We all talk pig latin.

Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” and Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” in Stage Door (1937)

This is just one example of the snappy dialogue present in the 1937 RKO classic, Stage Door. MGM’s 1939 classic, The Women, is held-up as the ultimate women’s picture, mostly because of the all-female cast and it’s spectacular script full of witty one liners and innuendo. While The Women is great, I much prefer Stage Door, despite including men in the cast in addition to the spectacular female cast. The cast is more appealing to me, the story is more interesting and frankly, the film is shorter which makes it a lot more compelling. It is my opinion that The Women runs a little long and could stand some editing. But I digress. This blog entry is not about The Women, it is about Stage Door.

Stage Door, directed by Gregory La Cava, was released on October 8, 1937. As a big Lucille Ball fan, this film is notable for being Lucy’s big break and was her first decent supporting role in an A-list production–and you can’t get much more A-list than co-starring in a film with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. In addition to Lucille Ball, this film also features Eve Arden and a 14 (!) year old Ann Miller. It is hard to believe that Ann is only a child in this film, she carries herself as a much older woman and more than holds her own dancing alongside Rogers in the film. Arden is awesome because she spends much of the film with a cat wrapped around her shoulders. Gail Patrick (playing a similar character to her “Cornelia” in My Man Godfrey) and Andrea Leeds also lend support as other women in the boarding house. Adolphe Menjou co-stars as producer Anthony Powell who is acquainted with the young women at the club and to whom the women look to for roles in upcoming productions. Look for a young Jack Carson as Judy’s lumberjack beau, Mr. Milbanks.

Three mega stars from left to right: Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers

Stage Door starts with a raucous, chaotic scene inside the Footlights Club all-female boarding house. The inhabitants of the boarding house are all aspiring Broadway performers, mostly acting, but some dancing as well. Because it’s the Great Depression and because breaking into Broadway is definitely not a sure thing, the women are struggling to survive and make ends meet. One of the boarders, Linda Shaw (Patrick) doesn’t seem to be starving, and it’s implied that she’s a kept woman–often being “kept” by Powell. We see Jean Maitland (Rogers) and Linda arguing over Linda’s borrowing Jean’s stockings without asking. Then, Judy Canfield (Ball) is observed asking Jean if she’d like to double date. Eve (Arden) walks around with a cat draped around her shoulders. The boarding house maid, Hattie (Phyllis Kennedy), contributes to the cacophony by poorly warbling some indistinguishable tune. An aging experienced actress, Ann Luther (Constance Collier), dispenses advice. Later she’ll guide Terry in her performance in her big break.

The noisy scene comes to a halt when a new boarder, Terry Randall (Hepburn), enters the Footlights Club looking for accomodations. It is apparent from the get-go that Terry is not in the same destitute situation as the other women in the club. She has money. She is interested in pursuing theater as a lark, not because she has a passion for the performing arts. Her obvious advantage makes her an instant adversary to the other women, especially Jean. According to Stage Door, Kay Hamilton (Leeds) is the best actress in the club. Kay is desperate to land the lead in Powell’s upcoming play, Enchanted April. Despite being the Footlights Club’s best actress, I find Andrea Leeds to be the weakest part of the film. I think her scenes are too saccharine and frankly, Kay comes off as pathetic. I can see why Terry is getting roles over her.

Left to right: 14 (!) year old Ann Miller, Ginger Rogers, and Lucille Ball

The main conflict of Stage Door comes when Terry breaks the status quo and barges into Powell’s office to demand to know why he refuses to see any of her fellow colleagues, despite their trying day after day to audition. Terry eventually ends up winning the coveted role in Enchanted April, making her the persona non grata at the Footlights Club. Hepburn’s solo scene at the end of the film when she recites the famous “the calla lilies are in bloom again…” speech is heart wrenching and one of the highlights of an otherwise dialogue-heavy film. Hepburn and Rogers are fantastic as the sparring roommates, a situation not too far removed from real life. Apparently, Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers did not get along. I would probably chalk it up to personality differences and probably a professional rivalry at RKO. Lucille Ball and Eve Arden are fantastic as the sarcastic roommates and it’s easy to see why the two women eventually became huge stars.

Eve Arden is awesome and walks around Stage Door with a cat wrapped around her shoulders

I love the ending of this film. After a very tragic and tense third act, Terry gives the performance of her life. Much of her performance is inspired by her friendship with Kay and how much Terry knew that Kay wanted the role. While dialogue indicates that Terry is not delivering the correct dialogue for her opening monologue, it is forgiven because she is properly evoking the mood the author intended. Terry demonstrates that she is intuitive and is an actress. At the behest of Ann, Terry goes on stage despite being distraught–“the show must go on,” as we all know. Terry is forgiven by her roommates, presumably because of her heart-wrenching performance in Enchanted April. She finally wins approval of her roommates who no longer see her as someone who is just slumming it in their boarding house as a form of entertainment. Terry has demonstrated that she has the passion and skill to be an actress on the stage. At the end of the film, Terry is shown throwing out sarcastic barbs alongside her former foe, Jean. A new starry-eyed boarder moves into the boarding house and Terry is right alongside the other women, ready to welcome the newbie into the fold.

Despite the presence of the hugely talented cast, the star of this film is the dialogue. It must have been quite a undertaking for the cast to remember all their lines.

Ginger Rogers and Gail Patrick are at odds through most of Stage Door

(After Terry has spoken at length and eloquently about Shakespeare)
EVE: Well, I don’t like to gossip, but that new gal seems to have an awful crush on Shakespeare!
SUSAN: I wouldn’t be surprised if they got married!
MARY LOU: Oh, you’re foolin’! Shakespeare is dead!
SUSAN: No!
MARY LOU: Well, if he’s the same one who wrote ‘Hamlet,’ he is!
EVE: Never heard of it.
MARY LOU: Well, certainly you must have heard of “Hamlet” !
EVE: Well, I meet so many people.

Eve Arden as “Eve,” Peggy O’Donnell as “Susan,” Margaret Early as “Mary Lou” in Stage Door (1937)

JEAN MAITLAND: (yelling) OH LINDA!
LINDA SHAW: Maybe if you spoke a little LOUDER next time, everyone in the whole HOUSE could hear you.
JEAN: Oh I’m sorry, I forgot you’re old and deaf.

Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” and Gail Patrick as “Linda Shaw” in Stage Door (1937)

JEAN MAITLAND: Do you mind if I ask a personal question?
TERRY RANDALL: Another one?
JEAN: Are those trunks full of bodies?
TERRY: Just those, but I don’t intend to unpack them.

Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” and Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” in Stage Door (1937)

JEAN MAITLAND: In some ways, you’re not such a bad egg.
TERRY RANDALL: As eggs go, I probably have my points.

Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” and Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” in Stage Door (1937)

KAY HAMILTON: It’s (her birthday cake) so beautiful, I hate to cut it.
JUDY CANFIELD: It’s one of Hattie’s cakes. Maybe you can’t cut it.
HATTIE: I resent that!
LINDA SHAW: Be careful you don’t drop it on your foot.
ANN LUTHER: Girls, I have the most wonderful news!
JUDY: Maybe the house is on fire.

Andrea Leeds as “Kay Hamilton,” Lucille Ball as “Judy Canfield,” Phyllis Kennedy as “Hattie,” Gail Patrick as “Linda Shaw,” and Constance Collier as “Ann Luther,” in Stage Door (1937).

EVE: I’ll never put my trust in males again
TERRY RANDALL: What happened to Eve?
JEAN MAITLAND: She’s brokenhearted. Henry’s in a cat hospital.
TERRY: An accident?
JEAN: He just had a litter of kittens.
TERRY: Well that’s easy to solve. Change his name to Henrietta.

Eve Arden as “Eve,” Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall,” Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland,” in Stage Door (1937).

TERRY RANDALL (in her play): The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died.

Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” in Stage Door (1937)

Van Johnson Blogathon- Van’s Friendship with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

On May 2, 1955, Van Johnson appeared as himself in “The Dancing Star,” an episode of I Love Lucy. I Love Lucy was the pioneering and now-iconic television sitcom starring his old friends, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. In this episode, Lucy’s character, Lucy Ricardo, finally realizes her dream of show business success. Van Johnson is appearing in a show at the hotel where the Ricardos and Mertzes are staying while Ricky (Desi) makes his film debut. Van’s partner is sick and Lucy ends up getting the chance to fill in. In this episode, Lucy Ricardo is finally given the opportunity to perform in a musical number where she doesn’t screw it up, whether purposefully or inadvertently. For a more detailed synopsis about “The Dancing Star,” click here.

Van Johnson, front left, watches as Frances Langford rallies the co-eds at Pottawatomie College in Too Many Girls.

Van Johnson’s relationship with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz did not start with I Love Lucy. He actually made Desi’s acquaintance first back in 1939 on Broadway. Desi had recently arrived in New York City as part of Xavier Cugat’s touring orchestra. Previously, he’d lived in Miami after emigrating there from his birthplace of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Desi had been performing as part of the Siboney Septet. He was discovered by Cugat and hired as a singer and conga drum player. Desi’s natural charisma and talent as a showman led to him forming his own orchestra. He was discovered by director George Abbott who wanted to cast Desi as Manuelito, the Argentinian football player. Van was cast in the same play as a college student and also as an understudy for the three male leads. He later understudied Gene Kelly in the Broadway production of Pal Joey which eventually led to Kelly’s discovery and subsequent Hollywood stardom.

Desi Arnaz #24 top left and Van Johnson #41 bottom center, appeared together in the film adaptation of Too Many Girls.

In 1940, Van came out to Hollywood to appear in the film adaptation of Too Many Girls. Van’s role is very small. He has an uncredited role as a fellow college student and appears as part of the chorus in some of the musical numbers. Van is near Lucille Ball in the big celebratory conga number (led by Desi Arnaz and Ann Miller) at the end of the film when Pottawatomie wins the big game. Watch Lucy screw up the choreography, she very noticeably comes in early or late in every single one of the moves. However, Van’s role in Too Many Girls did not lead to any big breaks. Disenchanted, he was ready to return to New York and back to Broadway where he had experienced more success.

However, before Van left for New York City, he had lunch with Lucy at Los Angeles’ famed Chasen restaurant. She introduced him to MGM’s casting director who just happened to be sitting at a nearby table. This led to a series of screen tests at many of the big studios. He ended up scoring a $300/week ($5452/week in 2022) contract at Warner Brothers. Van made his debut as a leading man in 1942’s Murder in the Big House opposite Faye Emerson. Unfortunately for Van, this contract did not lead to big success at Warner Brothers and his contract was dropped after six months.

Irene Dunne, Spencer Tracy, and Van Johnson in A Guy Named Joe.

Eventually Van was signed to MGM where his friend, Lucille Ball, had recently signed with after leaving RKO. Van’s big break was in the 1943 film, A Guy Named Joe, which starred Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne. During production, Van was in a car accident which left him with a metal plate in his forehead and numerous scars on his face. For most of his career, Van would hide his scars under heavy makeup. However, in 1954’s The Caine Mutiny, he opted to not wear the heavy makeup. His large forehead scar is prominently displayed in that film. MGM wanted to replace Van in A Guy Named Joe, but Tracy advocated for him. Thanks to Tracy, Van became a star after their film was a big success at the box office.

Van continued to appear in one hit film after another. In 1946, Van appeared with his friend Lucy in Easy to Wed, a remake of the 1936 hit, Libeled Lady. Van took on the role of Bill Chandler, which was played by William Powell in the original film. Keenan Wynn, Lucille Ball and Esther Williams take on the roles played by Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, and Myrna Loy, respectively. Bill Chandler is hired by Warren Haggerty (Wynn) to marry his girlfriend Gladys (Lucy) and then romance and woo Connie Allenbury (Williams), a socialite who is suing Warren’s newspaper for a large sum of money after they publish a false story about Connie being a homewrecker. To save the newspaper from financial ruin, Warren wants Gladys to charge Connie with alienation of affection after word gets about Connie’s romance with her husband, Bill. Curiously enough, perhaps in an instance of life imitating art, Keenan Wynn’s wife, Evie, married Van Johnson on THE DAY (!) of their divorce.

Van Johnson and Lucille Ball in Easy to Wed.

Easy to Wed is not nearly as good as Libeled Lady, but it is amusing. Lucille Ball is definitely the highlight and steps into Harlow’s shoes very well. Van asserts himself nicely as the straight man and is good at portraying the All-American young man. In the late 1940s and 1950s, Van continued to appear in films in every genre from war to film noir to musicals to comedy. At the time of his 1955 appearance in I Love Lucy, Van was at the height of his fame. In one of the episodes of I Love Lucy leading up to the big cross-country drive, Lucy asks her friend Marion Strong if she’d like Lucy to give a message to “the gang.” “The Gang” being Clark (Gable), Cary (Grant), or Van (Johnson), or Marlon (Brando)?” Later while the Ricardos are celebrating their wedding anniversary in Hollywood, Ricky name-drops Van and his wife Evie to a Hollywood newspaper about a (fake) party he’s throwing at the Mocambo. Van continued to appear in films and television. In 1968, he appeared in another film with Lucille Ball, Yours, Mine and Ours. Desilu had purchased the rights to the story in 1967, right before Lucy sold the studio to Paramount. Desilu had been founded in 1950 by Lucy and Desi. Desi retired in 1962 and sold his shares to Lucy.

Van Johnson, Henry Fonda, and Lucille Ball in Yours, Mine and Ours.

Van’s role in Yours, Mine and Ours is fun. He appears as Darrell Harrison, a fellow officer who works with and is friends with Frank Beardsley, played by Henry Fonda. Lucy appears as Helen North, a nurse who works in the dispensary at the base. Darrell thinks that Frank and Helen are perfect for one another, the only hitch being that Frank has 10 children and Helen has 8. To prove his point, he fixes Frank up with a young Hippie woman who is half Frank’s age and is very sexually aggressive. Frank is more modest and finds her sexual appetite off-putting. Darrell then fixes Helen up with a doctor who specializes in obstetrics and is at least half a foot shorter than she is. Darrell effortlessly brings the two characters together. For much of the rest of the film, he is used for comic relief and is delightful.

Van Johnson in Here’s Lucy in 1968.

Van continued to work with Lucy. He appeared as himself during the first season of her third sitcom, Here’s Lucy, in 1968. In the episode, Van plays himself and plays a Van Johnson doppelganger. In the episode, the Van Johnson doppelganger and Lucy (as Lucy Carter), talk about Yours, Mine and Ours. The fake Van Johnson, imitating the real Van Johnson, says that he loved working with the “kooky redhead.” Lucy Carter says that she thought that she (Lucille Ball) was much too young for Henry Fonda. Later, Lucy Carter compliments the real Van Johnson on his appearance in The Romance of Rosy Ridge, which was the film debut of Janet Leigh. Eventually, Lucy remarks that she was glad Van was court-martialed in The Caine Mutiny after he refuses to go along with her schemes.

Van and Lucy continued to appear in various specials together and remained friends. After Ball’s passing in 1989, Van continued to give interviews and appear in various documentaries and retrospectives about Lucy and Desi. He was one of the interviewees in PBS’ American Masters episode about Lucille Ball, “Finding Lucy.” It is apparent that Lucy, Desi, and Van all held each other in great esteem. It is obvious through their professional and personal collaborations and the way in which Van continued to talk about his friends long after their respective passings. Van Johnson passed away in 2008 and it is nice to think that he is now back with his friends.

“They (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) were soulmates. They knew it. The whole world did.”

“I am the luckiest guy in the world. All my dreams came true. I was in a wonderful business and I met a lot of great people all over the world.”

Third Annual Esther Williams Blogathon–Dangerous When Wet (1953)

I first saw Dangerous When Wet last year when TCM featured Esther Williams during their annual Summer Under the Stars programming event. The entirety of August 8, 2021 was devoted to Esther in honor of her centennial. This was the first film that I’d seen that featured Fernando Lamas. Lamas is someone who I only knew about from his appearance as himself in an episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, “Lucy Goes to Sun Valley.” I didn’t even know what films Lamas had appeared in and assumed he was just one of those stars who was big at the time (1958). I think that is a fair assessment. Today, if Lamas is known for anything, it’s for being the father of Renegade star Lorenzo Lamas and being married to Esther Williams.

I, however, remember Lamas for being hot hot, especially in his episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and Dangerous When Wet!

While Dangerous When Wet was being cast, numerous leading men were suggested to partner with Esther. One of the qualities an Esther Williams-leading man needed to have was an ability to swim. Many of Esther’s leading men like Howard Keel or Peter Lawford weren’t the strongest of swimmers. To keep them afloat during filming, Esther would have to stealthily prop them up with her hand or foot while they swam. When Fernando Lamas was suggested for Dangerous When Wet, it was different. Lamas, however, was a champion swimmer from South America. Finally, Esther had a co-star who could keep up with her in the pool. She later said that it was a nice change to be paired up with someone who actually possessed real swimming ability. Lamas’ casting allowed for more rigorous swimming scenes to be included in the film. Esther must have enjoyed working with Lamas–the two would eventually marry and be together until Lamas’ passing in 1982.

Dangerous When Wet opens with the Higgins family marching out of their house while singing “I Got Out of the Bed on the Right Side” while they make their way to the nearby swimming hole for their morning ritual of calisthenics and swimming laps. Esther plays Katie, the daughter of “Ma” and “Pa” Higgins (Charlotte Greenwood and William Demarest). I recognized Greenwood from her appearances in two Betty Grable films, “Moon Over Miami” and “Down Argentine Way.” Demarest is probably best known as “Uncle Charlie” from My Three Sons, but to me, I know of him because he’s in every film ever made. Both Greenwood and Demarest have very small roles in this film. This opening number is very charming. We see Katie who is more interested in a book about dairy farming than she is in swimming. However, since it’s Esther Williams, she is swimming by the end of the scene.

Windy (Jack Carson) has his sights set on Katie (Esther Williams)

One day, traveling salesman Windy Weebe (Jack Carson) comes through town hawking his special elixir, Liquapep. Supposedly, Liquapep is a tonic that is supposed to make someone super peppy and fit. Windy is also instantly smitten with Katie. It also comes out that the Higgins family’s dairy farm is also in trouble. They need a bull to keep the farm running, however they cannot afford it. Because of his fondness for Katie and seeing a chance to promote Liquapep, Windy suggests that the family enter a contest to swim the English Channel. The cash prize would give the family enough money to buy the bull. Swimming the channel isn’t hard, it’s only 20 miles (more like 42 with the currents) across. No problem, right?

I can think of worst things than to be carried by Fernando Lamas

The Higgins family decides that Katie is the strongest swimmer in the family (obviously, because it’s Esther Williams) and their best chance to win the prize. Windy offers to coach her. One foggy afternoon, Windy loses sight of Katie during their practice. Katie becomes disoriented in the fog and but soon finds a rowboat, similar to Windy’s. She quickly discovers that the rowboat is not being captained by Windy, but rather by hot Frenchman, Andre Lanet (Fernando Lamas), a French champagne salesman. It seems that Andre is on his way back to his yacht. He also becomes smitten with Katie. Soon he finds herself in a love triangle between Andre and Windy. Gosh, who to pick?

Andre and Katie’s romance heats up as the impending swim across the Channel draws nearer.

This is a funny sequence when Esther is grabbed by an amorous octopus (voiced by Fernando Lamas)

Dangerous When Wet features a fantastic animated sequence between Esther Williams and Tom and Jerry. This is the second musical number I’ve seen with Tom and Jerry. Fans of classic movie musicals will remember that Gene Kelly danced with the duo in 1945’s Anchors Aweigh. Fernando Lamas has a funny appearance in the animated sequence as an amorous octopus. Fernando’s octopus performs a reprise of his “In My Wildest Dreams” number that he serenades Esther with earlier in the film. Fernando Lamas sings in this movie. I had no idea he was a singer and he does a great job!

There is a funny scene where Andre gifts Katie a tiny white and red polka dot bikini. She jokes about how small it is before going into her room to try it on. She breaks the fourth wall as she pulls a shade down to shield the audience’s prying eyes. We never do see what Katie looks like in that bikini. I’m sure she looked great. Later, Katie wears a great one-piece bathing suit that is made of black lace. This is the suit she wears during the swimming duet between herself and Andre. The duet takes place after Katie get a little tipsy drinking Liquipep on a picnic with Andre. To sober her up, Andre invites Katie for a nighttime swim.

Katie relaxes in an intertube during a romantic night time swim, but is soon in for a rude surprise.

The swimming duet is really fun to watch as Esther and Fernando are really swimming and going for it. Fernando did not like it when Esther would swim faster than he did, so even in the film, he’s trying to swim faster than her. The duo perform laps and swim the backstroke while flirting with each other and falling more and more in love. Katie and Andre’s love for one another is never more evident than it is in the climactic race scene at the end of the film. The end scene was based on a real-life event that happened when Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller dived into the water to help his student, Florence Chadwick (the first woman to swim across the English Channel), complete her race when she started to falter. Weissmuller was also Esther’s Aquacade swimming partner before she started appearing in films.

I very much enjoyed Dangerous When Wet. It’s one of my favorite Esther Williams films and Fernando Lamas strips to his skivvies at the end and I’m here for that scene. I also just discovered that my DVD has a flaw it in that causes the film to permanently pause right before the Tom and Jerry number. This is unacceptable and I’m shopping for a replacement copy.

Tom and Jerry swim with Esther Williams

Singin’ in the Rain Blogathon- Songs of Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain is celebrating its 70th Anniversary this year. It is widely considered to be one of the best (if not the best) musicals of all time. I have seen this movie a million times. I’ve seen it in the theater multiple times. I own the huge box set. I love this movie. While it might be a cliche answer, considering its popularity, Singin’ in the Rain is my favorite musical. At the time the film came out however, it wasn’t thought to be anything special. It did turn a profit, but nothing remarkable. Even the origin of the film came from humble beginnings.

Don and Kathy eventually star in “Singin in the Rain” for Monumental Pictures

Arthur Freed, head of the “Freed Unit” and in charge of MGM’s musicals, wanted to develop a film based around the catalog of songs written by himself and composer Nacio Herb Brown. The only original songs written in 1952 for Singin’ in the Rain, were “Moses Supposes” and “Make ‘Em Laugh.” It is pretty clear however, that “Make ‘Em Laugh” is a rip-off of Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown.” There’s a pretty funny anecdote involving Freed showing Porter around the set during the production of Singin’ in the Rain. The cast and crew were rehearsing Donald O’Connor’s memorable “Make ‘Em Laugh” routine. Cole Porter heard the music and said “isn’t that ‘Be a Clown?'” Freed distracted Porter from the song before answering.

Gene Kelly performs the title song, “Singin’ in the Rain.”

The most memorable song in Singin’ in the Rain is the title song, “Singin’ in the Rain,” featuring Gene Kelly’s character, Don Lockwood, doing what else? Singing in the rain. Kelly’s song and dance in the rain is iconic and one of the most indelible scenes of Classic Hollywood cinema. In the musical number, Don is overjoyed after coming up with a plan to save his movie career and falling in love with Kathy Selden, played by the adorable and hugely talented Debbie Reynolds. There are some urban legends surrounding Kelly’s performance of the big title song dance number. One urban legend is that the water is actually milk, with the idea that milk would be more visible on screen. Co-Director Stanley Donen (Kelly was the other director), debunked this myth. One story that is true however, is that Gene Kelly was suffering from a horrible fever during production of his big dance number. It’s amazing that he was able to perform it so well and effortlessly, despite being so sick.

Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor sing “Good Morning” in Singin’ in the Rain.

“Singin’ in the Rain” was first heard in 1929, in the film Hollywood Revue of 1929. The song was performed by Cliff Edwards, who is best remembered now as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney’s Pinocchio. Edwards is seen wearing a raincoat and hat, while warbling this song in the rain. It was a big hit in its day, but Gene Kelly definitely added some life to the song in 1952. Another song from Singin’ in the Rain that was recycled, was “Good Morning.” In the 1952 film, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, and Gene Kelly sing the song after they realize that it’s past midnight after a disastrous film premiere. This song leads into Cosmo’s (O’Connor) brainstorm–turning Don and Lina Lamont’s (Jean Hagen) film, The Dueling Cavalier, into a musical. Judy Garland was heard singing “Good Morning” in her 1939 film with Mickey Rooney, Babes in Arms.

Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly harass the poor elocution teacher in “Moses Supposes.”

After it is decided to transition The Dueling Cavalier into a musical, Don and Lina are ordered to attend elocution classes. Miss Lina “And I Can Stan’ it!” Lamont definitely needs all the help she can get. Don, on the other hand, speaks fine, but is forced to go through these classes as well. We see him learning how to pronounce his “A” vowel sounds and say tongue twisters like “Chester chooses chestnuts, cheddar cheese with chewy chives. He chews them and he chooses them. He chooses them and he chews them, those chestnuts, cheddar cheese and chives in cheery charming chunks.” Cosmo shows up he and Don and end up singing “Moses Supposes” with a lot of rhymes. This number is used as a showcase for Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, but you cannot help but feel sorry for the poor elocution teacher. “Moses Supposes” was one of the original songs written for the film.

Debbie Reynolds is front and center in “All I Do is Dream of You” in this adorable number.

After dropping Don Lockwood off at a Hollywood party, Kathy Selden (Reynolds) makes her big splash in Singin’ in the Rain with her adorable performance in “All I Do is Dream of You.” Kathy and a chorus line of girls are seen in cute pink outfits while doing the Charleston amidst a storm of confetti. Don is instantly smitten with her, and so is my husband. My husband finds Debbie absolutely adorable in this number. My favorite part of “All I Do is Dream of You” is when Debbie so effortlessly removes a piece of confetti from her face. Whether that was scripted, I don’t know, but she made it look so easy. What an amazing lead role film debut for Debbie. She was so talented. “All I Do is Dream of You” can be heard as an instrumental song in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.

After Kathy sings “All I Do is Dream of You,” she unfortunately ends up hitting Lina in the face with a pie that she intended for Don. She runs out of the party in embarrassment. Lina reciprocates by having her fired. Don looks in vain for Kathy, but doesn’t have any luck. Eventually, Cosmo ends up performing a very acrobatic rendition of “Make ‘Em Laugh” in an attempt to cheer Don up. Let’s face it, this song is “Be a Clown.” There is no mistaking that. However, for all intents and purposes, it’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” in Singin in the Rain. Donald O’Connor’s solo dance is absolutely fantastic. I don’t know any other dancer(s), except for maybe The Nicholas Brothers, who could have performed the acrobatics required of this dance number. O’Connor is amazing.

If there’s one thing I love, it’s a random fashion show inserted into a film.

One of my absolute favorite things in a Classic Hollywood film is the random fashion show. Singin’ in the Rain does not disappoint and features a fashion show in the middle of the film during the “Beautiful Girl” montage. This section of the film is kind of random. My husband doesn’t like it because he feels like it is disjointed from the rest of the film. Me on the other hand, enjoy it because it features a fashion show and this section also serves as a way to get Don back with Kathy when we discover that Kathy is now working as a chorus girl in this musical number on an unnamed film. Singin’ in the Rain very effortlessly segues from the musical interlude to the story involving Kathy and Don. The other purpose that this section serves is that it shows how Monument Studios has had to adapt in face of the burgeoning technology of “talking pictures.” Now they’re producing musicals–a genre that wouldn’t have been possible during the silent era.

The “Beautiful Girl” montage opens with a mash-up of “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin,” “The Wedding of the Painted Doll,” and “Should I?” Images of flappers, women dressed as toy soldiers, and a man with a megaphone are seen. “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin'” debuted in 1936 in Broadway Melody of 1936. “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” was heard in another ‘Broadway Melody’ film, Broadway Melody of 1929. Finally “Should I?” was heard in Lord Byron of Broadway in 1930. The montage transitions into a man singing “Beautiful Girl” which was heard in the film Stage Mother in 1933. Kathy Selden is one of the chorus girls in the “Beautiful Girl” number. This scene then switches into an amazing fashion show–one of my favorite random fashion shows in film.

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in my favorite number from Singin’ in the Rain.

The ‘Broadway Melody’ films provided a lot of music to Singin’ in the Rain. In the big closing number, Broadway Melody is presented as the imagination of Cosmo Brown and Don Lockwood as they pitch the revamped version of The Dueling Cavalier to Monument Pictures Studio head, RF Simpson (Millard Mitchell). The big “Broadway Melody” number was featured in Broadway Melody of 1929 along with “The Wedding of the Painted Doll.” “Broadway Rhythm” was also featured in 1936, in Broadway Melody of 1936, along with “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’.” I love this part of the film. Cyd Charisse as the flapper in that green, fringed dress is gorgeous. She and Gene together are sizzling hot. This is one of the sexier dance numbers during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I love the music. Charisse is seen later wearing a white version of the same dress and later, a white dress with her own hair, and an enormous, flowing white veil. This is a very dramatic number set to an original song, the “Broadway Ballet,” composed by Nacio Herb Brown. This number is fantastic and I love it.

In the Classic Hollywood era, it is easy to find costumes and songs recycled from other previous films. If you have a great costume, or a great piece of music, why not re-use it? Singin’ in the Rain is proof that you don’t have to develop an entire catalog of new songs if you have songs that will suit the purposes of the film. However, the caveat to this is that you have to have writers that are talented. Props have to be given to the writing team of Adolph Green and Betty Comden. They were given a stack of songs and told to write a story using these songs, and boy did they deliver!

LINA: I’m a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament.

Jean Hagen as “Lina Lamont” in Singin in the Rain (1952)

No! No! No!
Yes! Yes! Yes!
No! No! Nooooooooooo!

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

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

The opening title card of “On the Beach.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner dance the night away.

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

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

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

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

Fred Astaire delivers a tortured performance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film opens as Poe’s poem does:

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

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

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

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

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

Only this and nothing more.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Peter Lorre and Son Jack Nicholson

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

Vincent Price takes his shot in the magic fight

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

Boris Karloff fires back with his magic

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

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

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

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

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

Quoth the Raven: “Nevermore.”

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

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

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

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

I am here for Dr. Errol Flynn.

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

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

Ralph Bellamy and Errol Flynn

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

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

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

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

::Sigh::

National Classic Movie Day! Four Favorite Film Noir

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

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

In no particular order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My queen, Ann Savage, and Tom Neal in Detour

Favorite Quote:

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


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

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

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

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

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

This screenshot perfectly captures the character of Nancy

Favorite Quote:

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


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

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

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

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

Favorite Quote:

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

BURKE: Never had a wife


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

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

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

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

Barbara Stanwyck and Ralph Meeker in “Jeopardy.”

Favorite Quote:

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


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

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