A movie based on a board game should not be good. I can only think of one other movie based on a board game, Battleship (2012), and since I haven’t heard about that film since it came out ten years ago, I doubt that it will stand the test of time. I don’t even think it lasted until 2013. However, a film based on a board game that has stood the test of time is Clue, made 37 years ago in 1985. While the black comedy murder mystery failed to impress contemporary audiences upon its release, it has since developed a massive cult following. The film’s incredibly quotable dialogue has seamlessly integrated itself into everyday lexicon–or maybe just mine.
Clue, the board game, asks players to solve the murder of Mr. Boddy, the owner of the mansion in which the action of the game takes place. The answer to the murder lies inside an envelope placed in the center of the board. Players can assume the role of one of the mansion’s guests: Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Mr. Green, Mrs. White, and Professor Plum. A die is rolled and a player moves throughout the mansion, moving in and out of the mansion’s many rooms (Lounge, Dining Room, Kitchen, Ballroom, Study, Library, Billiard Room, Conservatory, and Hall). Players can also utilize the secret passageways that are present in each of the corner rooms. The secret passageway allows the player to move diagonally, from one corner to another. Upon entering a room, a player is allowed to make a suggestion. The player must make a suggestion and name a guest as the murderer and identify the murder weapon (lead pipe, knife, wrench, revolver, rope, and candlestick). The location of the murder is related to the room where the player resides. If the player states, “I think it was Miss Scarlet in the Conservatory with the lead pipe,” the person to the player’s left then has an opportunity to disprove the player’s suggestion by secretly displaying one of the matching cards in their hand. The player can then discreetly eliminate the room, guest, or weapon that was displayed by marking it on their clue sheet. If the player to the left cannot disprove, it is up to the next player to disprove the suggestion. If they cannot disprove the suggestion, it’s up to the next player, and so on. If nobody can disprove the suggestion, the player can then make an accusation. If none of the players can disprove the accusation, the player can reveal the contents of the envelope. If they are correct, they win the game.
The Clue movie takes the basic premise of the board game and gives it a slightly different spin. The film is set during the mid-1950s in Washington DC during the Red Scare. It is a dark, stormy night as six guests try to make their way to a mansion in the middle of nowhere. The cars of each guest match the color of their character’s pawn in the board game. Upon the guests’ arrival, they are given pseudonyms by Wadsworth, the Butler, and Yvette, the Maid. Wadsworth and Yvette are the only original characters added to the cast of main characters. The six guests’ pseudonyms align with the names of the guests from the board game. Right off the bat, one of the reasons that Clue is so awesome is that it has an All-Star cast:
Known For (as of 1985):
Rocky Horror Picture Show, Annie, Legend
Smile, Apocalypse Now, Valley Girl
The Last Picture Show, The Sting, Murder by Death, Private Benjamin
What’s Up Doc?, Paper Moon, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein
One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest, Taxi (TV), Back to the Future
Laverne and Shirley (TV), This is Spinal Tap
Mr. Mom, Mary Hartman Mary Hartman (TV), Fernwood 2 Night (TV)
Lesley Ann Warren
The Happiest Millionaire, Victor/Victoria, Songwriter, Mission Impossible (TV)
After the guests all arrive, a seventh guest, Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving) shows up. Wadsworth reveals that it was Mr. Boddy who was responsible for sending the invitations that led to the guests’ arrival at the mansion. It turns out that Mr. Boddy has obtained some incriminating information on each guest and plans to blackmail them. Each guest is accused of the following scandal:
Is a Madam, runs an underground brothel in DC.
Has been taking bribes on behalf of her husband, a Senator.
Murdered her husband, a nuclear physicist.
Lost his medical license due to having an affair with a patient.
Suspected of being one of Miss Scarlet’s clients and is also a war profiteer who sold plane parts on the black market, which led to many deaths.
Is gay. This isn’t a title he’s ashamed of, but would lose his job at the State Department if it were discovered.
After this news is revealed, Wadsworth informs the guests that the police have been notified and will arrive in 45 minutes. Mr. Boddy gives each of the guests a weapon (one of the six weapons from the board game). He teases them with the weapons, saying that one of them should murder Wadsworth, who has a key to the front door, allowing for their escape and subsequent freedom. The light is then turned out, a moan and gunshot are heard. The light comes back on and Mr. Boddy is found supposedly dead. The guests then begin wandering around the mansion, trying to investigate the death of Mr. Boddy. We see the guests move from room to room, just like in the board game. The rooms in the film even resemble the board game. Somebody played a lot of Clue while designing these sets.
As the film wears on, more bodies turn up and is becomes obvious that one of the eight people in the house is the murderer. It is worth noting that when the policeman shows up to respond to Wadsworth’s call, it is exactly 45 minutes from when Wadsworth made the call. As the film wears on, other people such as a stranded motorist and a singing telegram girl show up and are soon added to the body count. There is a hilarious scene where the guests try to alleviate the policeman’s suspicion by pretending to be making out with the dead victims. As The Chords’ “Sh-Boom” plays, Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum pretend to make out next to the booze soaked, drunk, passed out (dead) motorist. Mrs Peacock pretends to be the arms of the (dead) cook caressing Colonel Mustard and Mrs. White makes out with (dead) Mr. Boddy on the couch. The policeman is satisfied, saying “these are just folks having a good time!” By the end of the film, there are six victims. Speaking of the end of the film, there is a hysterical sequence in which Wadsworth breathlessly takes the guests (and the audience) through all the events of the film as he works to reveal the culprit behind all the murders.
Upon the film’s original release, the filmmakers created three possible endings, hoping that the audience will see the film multiple times to see all the endings. This plan did not work, as audiences did not feel the need to see in the film multiple times. In my opinion, the only way to see Clue is with the “All three endings” option enabled on the DVD. For the record, the third solution with Mrs. White’s amazing “Flames on the side of my face” speech is the best ending of the three.
Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White is absolutely hysterical in this film. One of the funniest parts of the film (aside from “flames on the side of my face”) is when she talks about her husband and how she’s not a black widow:
COLONEL MUSTARD: How many husbands have you had? MRS. WHITE: Mine or other women’s?” COLONEL MUSTARD: Yours MRS. WHITE: Five COLONEL MUSTARD: Five?! MRS. WHITE: Yes, just the five. Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong and disposable. COLONEL MUSTARD: You lure men to their deaths like a spider with flies. MRS. WHITE: Flies are where men are most vulnerable.
Martin Mull as “Colonel Mustard” and Madeline Kahn as “Mrs. White” in Clue (1985)
MRS. WHITE (explaining why she’s paying the blackmailer): I don’t want a scandal, do I? We had a very humiliating public confrontation. He was deranged. He was a lunatic. He didn’t actually seem to like me much; he had threatened to kill me in public. MISS SCARLET: Why would he want to kill you in public? WADSWORTH: I think she meant he threatened, in public, to kill her. MISS SCARLET: Oh. Was that his final word on the matter? MRS. WHITE: Being killed is pretty final, wouldn’t you say?
Madeline Kahn as “Mrs. White,” Lesley Ann Warren as “Miss Scarlet,” and Tim Curry as “Wadsworth” in Clue (1985).
MISS SCARLET: Do you miss him? MRS. WHITE: Well, it’s a matter of life after death. Now that he’s dead, I have a life. WADSWORTH: But he was your second husband. Your first husband also disappeared. MRS. WHITE: But that was his job, he was an illusionist. WADSWORTH: But he never reappeared. MRS. WHITE: He wasn’t a very good illusionist.
Lesley Ann Warren as “Miss Scarlet,” Madeline Kahn as “Mrs. White” and Tim Curry as “Wadsworth” in Clue (1985).
I saw The Great Muppet Caper for the first time last year when Fathom Events was showing this film in honor of its 40th anniversary. ‘Caper’ was also my first introduction to the late Dame Diana Rigg who passed away almost two years ago in September of 2020. I had heard of her and knew that she was famous for her role as Emma Peel in The Avengers, but I’ve never seen the show. I also did not know that she was a Bond girl until I signed up for this blogathon. For the record, Rigg appears opposite one-time Bond and as far as I can tell, the least popular Bond, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). I know at the end of her life, Rigg was appearing in Game of Thrones. I am not a Game of Thrones fan, so I missed her appearance here as well.
Which leads me into discussing what is most likely Rigg’s greatest feature film, The Great Muppet Caper.
In The Great Muppet Caper, identical twins Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear work as investigative reporters for The Daily Chronicle newspaper in New York City. While Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear don’t look like identical twins on the surface, when Fozzie puts on his hat, they look like mirror images of each other. Gonzo the Great works as their photographer. One day, the trio is fired after failing to report on a major jewel robbery. To get their jobs back, Kermit appeals to his editor to let the gang travel to London to interview the victim, Lady Holiday (Rigg).
(KERMIT is sitting on a bench as a girl and her dad walk by)
GIRL: Look dad, there’s a bear.
DAD: No Christine, that’s a frog. Bears wear hats.
Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo manage to scrape up $12 for their flight to London from New York. They aren’t even able to procure a seat in coach and are placed in the cargo hold with the baggage. The plane even won’t land for them and they’re thrown out of the plane above London. The trio manage to find free lodging at the Happiness Hotel where they meet Dr Teeth and his band–The Electric Mayhem, Scooter, The Swedish Chef, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker, Rowlf the Dog, Sam the Eagle, and many other recognizable Muppet faces.
The next morning, we meet Lady Holiday. She is awaiting the arrival of her new receptionist, who turns out to be Miss Piggy. Kermit shows up and mistakes Miss Piggy for Miss Holiday. Of course, Miss Piggy becomes infatuated with Kermit. Later, Kermit takes “Miss Holiday” (aka Miss Piggy) out for dinner. To keep up the ruse, Miss Piggy gives Kermit the address (17 Highbrow Street) of a fancy pants townhouse in an affluent area of town. She breaks into the home before Kermit gets there so that she can answer the door. When Kermit arrives, Miss Piggy tries to give him the grand tour without the residents knowing. The residents are an older couple, Neville (played by John Cleese) and Dorcas. They live in the large estate alone, as their children are grown, the pets are dead, and the butler has been fired. After leaving the townhouse, Miss Piggy and Kermit go to the fancy nightclub, the Dubonnet Club.
(Lady Holiday explains the entire backstory to “The Great Muppet Caper”)
MISS PIGGY: Why are you telling me all this?
LADY HOLIDAY: It’s plot exposition. It has to go somewhere.
MISS PIGGY as “Miss Piggy” and Dame Diana Rigg as “Lady Holiday” in The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
While at the club, the real Lady Holiday is present. Then her necklace is stolen by her jealous brother, Nicky (Charles Grodin), and three of Lady Holidays models: Carla, Darla, and Marla. After the robbery, Miss Piggy’s jig is up and Kermit discovers her real identity. At the same time, Nicky falls madly in love with Miss Piggy. During this scene it is also revealed that Nicky, Carla, Darla, and Marla were also responsible for stealing Lady Holiday’s jewels during the first robbery as well. Despite his attraction to Miss Piggy, Nicky frames Miss Piggy for the necklace theft and she is arrested.
MISS PIGGY to NICKY: You! It was you! Kermit was right! You’re a phony. You’re a phony! Yes you are! And you know what, you can’t even sing! Your voice was dubbed!
MISS PIGGY as “Miss Piggy” and Charles Grodin as “Nicky” in The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
Nicky comes up with his next heist to steal Lady Holiday’s Fabulous Baseball Diamond during her next fashion show. Unbeknownst to Nicky, Gonzo overheard the entire plot. He reveals it to Kermit and Fozzie who in turn recruit all their friends from the Happiness Hotel to thwart Nicky’s plot. Kermit explains the plot to Miss Piggy in prison while disguised as her lawyer. With all the wheels in motion, Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo and co. put their plan into action to hilarious results.
KERMIT THE FROG: But…Nicky why are you doing this?
NICKY: Why am I doing this? Because I’m a villain. It’s Pure and simple.
KERMIT THE FROG as “Kermit the Frog” and CHARLES GRODIN as “Nicky” in The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
While Diana Rigg isn’t the “star” of this film, she is the “good” human character in this film. She is absolutely gorgeous and always dressed to the nines in the most sophisticated haute couture fashion. She is hilarious, like when she blames her models for not making the dresses she designed, look good. The Great Muppet Caper is insane. Between the muppets’ hijinks and Charles Grodin being bonkers and infatuated Miss Piggy, Lady Diana Rigg is there as the straight-man. She remains stoic through the entire film and she keeps the film grounded. If her character was as crazy as everyone else in this film, I think it would have gone completely off the rails. However, despite her character being rather serious most of the time (in comparison with everyone else), she still manages to be funny with her one-liners and quips.
LADY HOLIDAY: And Marla. Too many frills and furbelows, I don’t think we should strive for the fan-tailed pigeon look, do you? And Darla, that outfit’s the pits. Loose where it should be tight and tight where it should be loose, like folds on a turkey’s neck. Why would I design such atrocious looking clothes?
DAME DIANA RIGG as “Lady Holiday” in The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
Aside from the wonderful Dame Diana Rigg, my favorite part of The Great Muppet Caper is the Esther Williams-esque Miss Piggy musical number, “Piggy’s Fantasy.” In this musical number, Miss Piggy, while modeling a bathing suit, imagines herself as the star of a water ballet. We also see Nicky (in a bubble) singing about how much he loves Miss Piggy. Kermit shows up at the end of the number (also in a bubble) singing about Miss Piggy. What’s remarkable about this number is that they really shot it underwater. One thing I love about the Muppet films is how flawlessly they’re able to animate the muppets without any wires, strings, etc. being visible. Some of the scenes they’re able to pull off, such as Kermit riding a bicycle in the first film, The Muppet Movie (1979), is fascinating.
But my absolute favorite part of The Great Muppet Caper is this photo that is shown at the beginning of the film. It is a photo of identical twins Fozzie and Kermit’s father.
This picture is hilarious and it makes me laugh every time I see it. Kudos to whoever at Jim Henson Studios designed this photo. It is hysterical. It does make me wonder what Kermit and Fozzie’s mom looks like.
TRUCK DRIVER: What are you doing here?
OSCAR THE GROUCH: A very brief cameo.
TRUCK DRIVER: Me too
Peter Ustinov as “Truck Driver” and Oscar the Grouch as himself in “The Great Muppet Caper”
Peter Bogdanovich passed away at the age of 82 this past January. Aside from directing such amazing classic films like The Last Picture Show (1971), What’s Up Doc? (1972) and Paper Moon (1973), Bogdanovich was known for being a fan of Classic Hollywood. In the TCM podcast, I’m Still Peter Bogdanovich, he talks about how he was a fan of the Golden Age from a young age, having been introduced to the silent comedians: Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton from a very young age. This love of movies eventually led to Bogdanovich keeping a file of 4″ x 6″ index cards where he’d record his thoughts about the movies he’d seen. When he was a young adult, he worked as a programmer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City where he’d schedule film retrospectives of Old Hollywood directors like Orson Welles, John Ford, and Alfred Hitchcock. He eventually developed a friendship with Welles.
Throughout Bogdanovich’s sometimes tumultuous career, he always maintained a love of Classic Hollywood. He was considered a film historian, having written multiple books and conducted many interviews with prominent figures in Classic Hollywood. One of his best documentaries is the one he finished toward the end of his career– The Great Buster: A Celebration, which premiered in 2018 and was distributed on blu ray by Cohen Media Group.
The Great Buster: A Celebration is a fantastic documentary. Bogdanovich’s narration is perfect for the subject. It is obvious that he loves Buster Keaton as much as we do. He also includes some wonderful interviews with people like Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and Dick Van Dyke. There are countless other interviews included, but the three I mentioned are my favorites. The documentary has a somewhat conventional narrative, the film starts with Buster’s birth on October 4, 1895 and concludes Buster’s story with his passing on February 1, 1966. However, Bogdanovich manages to change things up a bit by devoting a large portion of the documentary on the ten films considered to be Buster’s masterpieces.
I appreciate that Bogdanovich presented a balanced look at Buster’s life. He didn’t choose to only focus on the good, nor did he only focus on the bad. Buster’s rise to fame is covered, as well as the monumental career mistake he made in the late 1920s when he agreed to sign with MGM—against the advice of his contemporaries like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. This decision killed Buster’s career because he lost his autonomy. The Cameraman (1928) is the first film that Buster made under his new MGM contract, and while it is funny and has its moments (I like it, I own the Criterion), and Buster was able to direct, it is nothing like the films he made previously. Bogdanovich gives some space to Buster’s subsequent alcohol issue; but doesn’t dwell on it. I loved that a fair amount of time was devoted to Buster’s childhood. The idea that Buster’s parents were big successes on the vaudeville circuit because their act literally involved throwing their child (Buster) around the stage is hysterical. Buster’s parents had a suitcase handle sewn into Buster’s shirt so he’d be easier to throw.
I loved seeing the footage of Buster’s later career–especially his appearances in commercials and on Candid Camera. I could watch Buster Keaton on Candid Camera all day. He was hilarious. I was happy to see that even late in life, Buster was going through a renaissance. His services were still in demand and people still found his work funny. Even now, almost 100 years after Buster’s films, he is still funny. I just saw The General in the theater a few months ago with a live organ accompaniment, and the theater was packed. The jokes in The General were still funny now as they were then. It was wonderful to see how many people still had an interest in not only classic film, but silent film, but most of all, wanted to see Buster Keaton. The fact that The General was filmed in my home state of Oregon and I saw the film at a theater in Oregon probably helped too.
I highly recommend Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary, The Great Buster: A Celebration to anyone who loves Buster Keaton, or loves a great documentary in general. It is funny, it is poignant, it is inspirational, and it’s just plain entertaining. Bogdanovich includes lots of great scenes of all of Buster’s funniest gags and even some funny pictures of Buster when he was a child in vaudeville. It is obvious from watching this documentary that it was made by someone who loves Buster Keaton and appreciates his brand of comedy.
Bogdanovich asserts that the 10 films that Buster made in the 1920s when he was his own production studio (Buster Keaton Productions) were his masterpieces. These 10 films are:
Three Ages (1923)
Our Hospitality (1923)
Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
The Navigator (1924)
Seven Chances (1925)
Go West (1925)
Battling Butler (1926)
The General (1926)
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
I haven’t seen all of Buster’s masterpieces, but I can say that of the ones I have seen: Our Hospitality, Sherlock Jr., The General, and Steamboat Bill, Jr., Buster Keaton’s films fully deserve the adjective “masterpieces.” Sherlock Jr., in particular is fascinating for the amount of practical special effects used in this film. Some of the special effects are still fascinating now, and it’s been almost 98 years!
I am getting this post written just under the wire. I signed up for so many events that all took place in the same week. I didn’t realize that this event was coming up so quickly. Oops. It’s only 10:00pm here on the West Coast, so I will just about make it.
The “Wilhelm Scream” is a famous sound effect, that is used so much at this point that it’s cliche. The Wilhelm Scream was first heard in the 1951 film, Distant Drums, directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Gary Cooper. The scream usually used when someone is shot and falls from a great height, or is thrown via an explosion. This sound effect has been in circulation ever since its debut in the 1950s and has been utilized in countless films and television shows. One such film that the Wilhelm Scream can be heard in is the 1980s classic, Spaceballs.
Spaceballs is Mel Brooks’ parody of primarily Star Wars, but he manages to also parody Star Trek, Alien, The Wizard of Oz, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Planet of the Apes. However, the main focus of the parody is on the original Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas in fact, loved Brooks’ screenplay so much that he helped with the film’s storyline and production. Lucas’ involvement with the project had a caveat however, no Spaceballs merchandise could be produced as it would look too similar to Lucas’ Star Wars merch. Brooks agreed. He was then inspired to add therunning Spaceballs merchandise gag–which is hilarious. The Spaceballs merchandise features a wide array of products–products that usually aren’t even considered when developing movie merchandise.
The following merchandise is featured in Spaceballs:
Spaceballs: The T-Shirt
Spaceballs: The Coloring Book
Spaceballs: The Lunchbox
Spaceballs: The Breakfast Cereal (with 100% sugar!)
Spaceballs: The Flamethrower, “A Children’s Toy” (“Children love this toy,” Yogurt says).
Spaceballs: The Doll (which is a doll of Yogurt)
Spaceballs: The Towel
Spaceballs: The Plate
Spaceballs: The Shaving Cream
Spaceballs: The Toilet Paper
Spaceballs: The Sheet
Spaceballs: The Placemat
Spaceballs: The Wallet
Dark Helmet is also seen playing with Spaceballs action figures. It is unknown where these were procured, as Spaceballs: The Action Figures were never seen.
Anyway, this film follows a similar plot to the original Star Wars trilogy. I am not the biggest Star Wars fan (though I inexplicably own 3 Star Wars T-Shirts), but I have seen each film in the original trilogy. While I was able to draw parallels between the main characters in Star Wars and Spaceballs, I am not even going to attempt to identify some of the more subtle homages that Mel Brooks might have included. The basic plot of Spaceballs is that planet Spaceball, led by Dark Helmet (a Darth Vader parody, played by Rick Moranis), is planning on stealing all the fresh air from the nearby planet, Druidia. It seems that President Skroob (Mel Brooks) has squandered all of planet Spaceball’s fresh air.
President Skroob tells Dark Helmet to kidnap the princess of Druidia, Princess Vespa (a Princess Leia parody, portrayed by Daphne Zuniga) on her wedding day. She is planning to marry the very sleepy and dull, Prince Valium, who is always yawning and sports an unfortunate Prince Valiant haircut. With the people of Druidia distracted by the kidnapping of their princess, Dark Helmet will be able to swoop in and steal their air. The captain of Dark Helmet’s enormous ship named Spaceball One (which later changes shape into that of an enormous maid with a vacuum) is Colonel Sandurz. Dark Helmet’s plans are thwarted however, when Princess Vespa bails on her own wedding, not able to accept the idea of marrying Prince Valium. She escapes in her Mercedes spaceship with her droid assistant, Dot Matrix (a C3PO homage, voiced by Joan Rivers).
Later, Vespa’s father, King Roland (Dick Van Patten) contacts a mercenary, Lone Starr (A Hans Solo-esque Bill Pullman). Lone Starr is traveling with his “mog” (half man/half dog) companion, Barf (A Chewbacca parody played by John Candy). They drive a spaceship that looks like a Winnebago with wings. Roland offers Lone Starr and Barf money to find his daughter and return her to Druidia safely. Being a million dollars in debt to gangster Pizza the Hut (obviously Jabba the Hut or Madame Trash Heap from “Fraggle Rock” ?) and his henchman, Vinnie, Lone Starr accepts the job. Roland agrees to pay Lone Starr the million dollars if he finds Vespa.
Lone Starr and Mawg quickly find Vespa and Dot Matrix and bring them aboard their ship. Of course, Vespa is a snob at the beginning, and Dot Matrix is there with her “virginity alarm” to ensure that Vespa’s virtue remains intact. It soon becomes obvious however, that Vespa and Lone Starr will end up falling for one another. The Winnebago gang are eventually forced to land on the desert planet of Vega, after running out of fuel. They try to make their way across the desert, but eventually collapse due to dehydration. They are soon rescued by the Dinks, who whistle the “Colonel Bogey” march, which I remember playing in band in the eighth grade. The group is eventually led to a large corridor. In a scene reminiscent of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the group meets The Wizard, the leader of planet Vega, a Yoda-like creature by the name of Yogurt (Mel Brooks) is revealed. He soon lets the group in on his merchandising plan for Spaceballs.
While meeting with Yogurt, Vespa and Dot Matrix are tricked by Dark Helmet and brought to the Spaceball prison complex via the Spaceball One. To save Vespa and Dot Matrix, Lone Starr and Barf beat up a couple guards (similar to the Stormtroopers except with big round helmets) and steal their uniforms. They are able to break into the prison and rescue Vespa and Dot Matrix. On the way out, Barf finds himself in combat with the guards. This is where our Wilhelm Scream can be found. In this scene, Barf runs out of ammo and removes some piping from the wall of the ship. Using the piping, Barf reflects the gun shots back at the guards, hitting them. When the fourth guard is hit, he is thrown backward and lets out the famous Wilhelm Scream.
This film is hilarious. It doesn’t even matter if you aren’t a big sci-fi film fan (I’m not). Most people will get the film references. There are even random references to things that aren’t sci-fi. Mel Brooks has the alien from Alien singing and dancing a la Michigan J. Frog from one of my favorite Looney Tunes shorts, “One Froggy Evening.” I can see if Mel Brooks’ humor isn’t for everyone. There are parts of the film that are very crass and could be considered un-PC. I don’t care, because I love Mel Brooks. I read the reviews on Spaceballs, and there are many unfavorable opinions of this film. It just confirms what I’ve always thought: don’t let another person’s opinion influence your opinion on a film. If you like it, that’s all that matters.
2021 is (finally) coming to a close. While the year wasn’t so hot as a whole, except for my fabulous trip to Southern California in October, it was another year of discovering new favorite films. One of the best thing about being a fan of film, especially classic film, is that you never run out of “new” movies to see. As Lauren Bacall says in an episode of Private Screenings with Robert Osborne, “It’s not an old movie, if you haven’t seen it,” and I couldn’t agree more. There is an entire world of movies to discover, a world of films just waiting to become someone’s favorite.
Without further adieu, in no particular order, here are some of my new favorites that I watched for the first time in 2021:
#1 Road House (1948) This was a fabulous film noir that I watched right at the start of the new year. It is the final volume in the Fox Film Noir DVD series (I own the entire collection). I decided to take a look at it, because I’m a big fan of Ida Lupino. In addition to Lupino, it also starred Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, and Celeste Holm. At first, it seems like Ida is going to be the femme fatale, but it is soon revealed that she is a woman who will not be made a pawn in the games of the men, Wilde and Widmark. Even though she was originally brought into the Road House by Widmark to be another of his fly by night floozies, she refuses to be used and becomes a big star and later saves the day. In a time when every woman who wasn’t Judy Garland or Doris Day was dubbed, Ida uses her own voice to warble out “One for my Baby (And One More For the Road)” and it was fabulous.
#2 Mrs. Miniver (1942). I know. This is a big Oscar winner. A major classic of the studio era, but I hadn’t seen it yet. I absolutely loved this movie and actually bought the blu-ray literally right after watching it. That’s how much I loved it. Greer Garson won an Oscar playing the titular Mrs. Miniver and infamously delivered the longest acceptance speech, a record which still stands today. Long-winded speech or not, Garson deserved her award. In Mrs. Miniver, Garson portrays a very stoic woman and mother who stays strong and protects her family even directly in the line of fire during the German invasion of Britain. She puts humanity above all else, even when directly threatened by an injured German pilot. The scene with Mrs. Miniver and her husband and children hiding in the shelter while bombs fall all around them is heartbreaking. This family does not know what they’ll find when they emerge, or whether their house will still be standing. Despite everything, Mrs. Miniver remains a calm influence even in the middle of a tumultuous event, like a World War. I cannot say enough good things about this film, it was fantastic.
#3 Girl Happy (1965). Like the esteemed Mrs. Miniver, this Elvis movie is another film that I purchased immediately after watching it. I loved it. For years, with the exception of Viva Las Vegas (my favorite Elvis movie), I wrote off Elvis’ movies as pure fluff, and not fluffy in a good way, and many of Elvis’ movies are ridiculous, like Girl Happy, but if you can suspend disbelief and just go along with whatever plot is presented, I’ve found that many of Elvis’ movies are enjoyable diversions. In Girl Happy, Elvis plays a musician (a premise setting up lots of opportunities for Elvis to sing) who, along with his band, is hired by his boss to indirectly chaperone his 18-year old daughter, Shelley Fabares. Shelley is traveling to Florida for Spring Break and her overprotective father is worried. Elvis happily agrees, because he gets an all expenses paid trip to Florida. Like how most movies with this plot go (see Too Many Girls), Elvis starts to fall in love with the girl whom he’s chaperoning, and the girl discovers that he was hired to watch her and gets upset. Regardless, this movie was charming, fun, and I loved it.
#4 History is Made at Night (1937) This was a movie that I’d never even heard of until I heard that Criterion was restoring it and releasing it as part of their esteemed (at least among the boutique label community) line of films. I first watched it on the Criterion Channel and must have seen a pre-restoration print, because it was pretty rough. After watching it, I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of it. It had one of my faves, Jean Arthur! And Charles “LUCY! RAWWWR” Boyer. How has this movie been hiding from me this entire time? In this movie, Jean Arthur plays Irene, a woman who leaves her husband, Bruce, (Colin Clive) after he falsely accuses her of having an affair. To prevent the divorce from being finalized, Bruce tries to manipulate a situation to frame Irene for infidelity. He hires his chauffeur to pretend to be Irene’s lover, so that a private detective walks in and catches them in a compromising position. While this is taking place, Paul (Charles Boyer) is walking by Irene’s window. He overhears the ruckus and comes to Irene’s rescue, pretending to be an armed burglar. It’s a weird set-up, but ultimately leads to a beautiful love story with an ending that I was not expecting.
#5 Naked Alibi (1954). This was another film noir that I’d never heard of until I was reading Sterling Hayden’s filmography and discovered that he’d made a film with one of my faves, Gloria Grahame. Fortunately, my library had this film available and I was able to borrow it. This was a great movie. Hayden plays a police chief who tails a suspect, Willis, to Mexico. Willis is suspected to be the mastermind behind a series of crimes in the small town from which he and Hayden hail. While in a border town on the Mexican border, Hayden meets Grahame, a singer with whom he becomes smitten. Unfortunately, Grahame is the girlfriend of Willis, despite the shoddy treatment she receives from him. Hayden and Grahame’s connection with one another continues to grow until the very end of the film. This was a wonderful film and I thought that Gloria Grahame looked absolutely gorgeous.
#6 Dead End (1937). Despite the appearance of the Dead End Kids, whom I cannot stand (I don’t get their appeal), I thought this was a great movie. This film is a story about social classes and the privileges that are afforded to those of a higher social standing. The neighborhood in the film is a “dead end” both figuratively and literally. The rich live in high rise apartments that overlook the slums and tenements. Those who are not privileged to live in the high rises literally have the rich looking down upon them. If you have the misfortune to be born into the slums, it is all you can do to get out. Some try to do so honorably, like Dave (Joel McCrea), who dreams of making a career as an architect. However, he can’t just seem to book the right gig, so he has to survive by doing odd jobs. Others, like Drina (Sylvia Sidney) have slightly less honorable means to get out of the tenement, she wants to marry a rich man. Then, there are those like Hugh “Baby Face” Martin (Humphrey Bogart), who did manage to get out of the slums, but he did so by becoming a big-time mobster. The Dead End Kids represent the next generation who most likely will remain in the slums, unless they can somehow be guided into making a better life for themselves. Marjorie Main has a heartbreaking role as Baby Face’s mother. Claire Trevor is fantastic as Baby Face’s old girlfriend, who was never able to get out of the slums.
#7 Klute (1971) This was the first film in Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy,” which unfortunately I watched all out of order. I don’t think the films in the trilogy have anything to do with one another, so I think I’m okay. Anyway, there’s just something about the 1970s thrillers that I find fascinating. There’s a grittiness, a seediness, combined with the earth tones aesthetic that I just love watching. Anyway, in this film, Jane Fonda gives an Oscar-winning performance as Bree Daniels, a prostitute who aids police detective, John Klute, in investigating a murder. After finding an obscene letter addressed to Bree in the murder victim’s office, Klute rents an apartment in Bree’s building and begins tracing her. Concurrently, Bree is working as a freelance call girl to support herself while she tries to make it as a model/actress. Bree is also trying to find meaning in her life through sessions with a psychiatrist. This was such a fantastic movie and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who was responsible for the murder.
#8 Thunder on the Hill (1951) I am a big fan of Ann Blyth and this was a film of hers that I hadn’t heard of until I purchased Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema box sets. Thunder on the Hill, by the way, is on the second collection in the series. In this film, Blyth plays Valerie, a young woman convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. However, on her way to the gallows, Valerie and the police officers accompanying her, are forced to spend the night in the hospital ward of a convent due to massive flooding. Running the hospital ward is Sister Mary (Claudette Colbert), a woman who is also battling with her own mental troubles involving her sister’s suicide. Valerie is understandably combative and angry, but confides to Sister Mary that she is innocent of the crime of which she was convicted. Sister Mary, who has been warned in the past about meddling in other people’s affairs, is convinced of Valerie’s innocence and sets to save her before she is executed. This was such a wonderful film. It was interesting to see Blyth in such a different role than that of Veda in Mildred Pierce or the mermaid in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. I loved the suspense of the story and the cinematography was gorgeous. I am also a big fan of Douglas Sirk, so this film fit the bill.
#9 King Creole (1958) A second Elvis film on the list? Yes! I watched a lot of Elvis movies this year according to LetterBoxd, so it was bound to happen. This was an excellent film. It was much higher brow fare than Elvis would be offered once he returned from his stint in the army. In this movie, Elvis plays super senior Danny, who has failed high school once and looks like he’ll fail it again due to his behavior. He is offered a chance to graduate if he agrees to take night classes, but Danny turns it down, much to the chagrin of his father, Dean Jagger. There is drama between Danny and his father, in that Jagger lost his job as a pharmacist after his wife died. The family is forced to leave their nice home outside of New Orleans for a much more modest flat in the French Quarter. To help make ends meet, Danny was working before and after school. Now with school out of the way, Danny starts working at a club. As how most Elvis movies go, he is coerced into singing and is offered a job performing at the club, much to the chagrin of the club’s main act. Danny is soon a sensation. Eventually his connection with the local gangs threaten to affect his family, his relationship with a young woman named Nellie (Dolores Hart), and his life. This was such a great movie with a stellar cast. Aside from Elvis, Dean Jagger and Dolores Hart, Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau, Vic Morrow, and Paul Stewart also star in this film… and it was directed by none other than Michael Curtiz!
#10 Private Lives (1931) This was a fabulous pre-code starring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery. In this film, Shearer and Montgomery play Amanda and Elyot, two ex-spouses who end up staying at the same hotel while honeymooning with their new respective spouses. Both honeymoons are NOT going well. Amanda and her new husband Victor (Reginald Denny) are already fighting due to Victor’s incessant need to talk about Elyot. Because yes, let’s talk about your new bride’s ex-husband on your honeymoon. Great idea, Victor. Elyot is dealing with the same thing from his new wife, Sybil (Una Merkel) who won’t stop asking about Amanda. Eventually, Amanda and Elyot find each other and begin to reminisce about “the old times.” They end up leaving the hotel together and head to a new place in St. Moritz. This was a fabulous pre-code that had plenty of racy moments. I am not as big a fan of Shearer in her production code movies like The Women, but I love her in pre-code. She and Montgomery also make a great pairing. Poor Una Merkel is wasted in her role, but she is wonderful in her scenes.
#11 Hold Back the Dawn (1941) This was an amazing movie. One that I’d always wanted to see but it seemed like it was never on TCM–then finally it was and the movie was everything I’d hoped it would be. In this film, Charles Boyer stars as Georges Iscovescu, a Romanian immigrant who is stuck in a Mexican border town. Per immigration laws, he is looking at up to an eight year wait to obtain a quota number for entry in the United States. Georges then runs into an old flame, Anita Dixon (Paulette Goddard), an Australian who married a US citizen purely to obtain US citizenship. As soon as she could, she divorced the man and retained her citizenship status. Anita suggests that Georges do the same thing, then he and she could be free to start a new life together in New York. Georges immediately goes to work and spots Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland), a California school teacher whose bus has broken down. The bus is set to be repaired shortly, but Georges manipulates the situation (by “losing” a vital piece of the bus’s machinery) and forces Emmy and her class to stay overnight. This gives Georges enough time to woo Emmy and they are married after a whirlwind romance. However, Georges is required to wait in Mexico a few weeks before he can join Emmy in California. Emmy returns unexpectedly and Georges takes her on a trip (under the guise of a honeymoon, but in reality he is trying to hide from an immigration officer who is looking for con artists like Georges and Anita). Georges’ plans are complicated when he finds himself falling in love with Emmy. This was such an amazing film. Even though we’re supposed to dislike Georges, it’s hard to do because it’s Charles-freaking-Boyer. It’s easy to see why Emmy falls for him. I love true, legitimate romantic films (with no contrived plot points), and this is one of the best that I’ve seen.
#12 Gaslight (1944) Another Charles Boyer film! Third one on the list! Surprisingly Boyer was not on my top 10 actors watched in 2021, per Letterboxd. This was an amazing film. I don’t know how I went so long without seeing it. This is the film that gave the name to a form of psychological abuse, where one partner mentally manipulates another into thinking that they’re losing their mind. In this film, Boyer plays Gregory Anton, a pianist who marries Alice Alquist (Ingrid Bergman), a famous opera singer. Gregory works as Alice’s accompanist. At first, Gregory seems sweet, he convinces Alice that they move into her deceased aunt’s old home #9 Thornton Square in London, seemingly under the guise that Alice loved her aunt so much and that her aunt would want her home to be lived in. However, Gregory has ulterior motives which are revealed throughout the film. To keep Alice from catching onto Gregory’s motives, he gaslights her by manipulating situations and then making her think she caused them. Alice begins to think she’s going insane. And while she begins to question Gregory’s actions, he’s gotten her mind so messed up that she can’t convince herself that she’s right. A young, 17-year old Angela Lansbury makes her film debut as Nancy, a tart of a maid who takes pleasure in observing Gregory’s manipulation of Alice. Nancy even plays along to exacerbate the situation. Ingrid Bergman’s performance was a tour-de-force and she deserved every piece of the Oscar that she received.
#13 I Want to Live! (1958) If there are two things I love, it’s classic film and true crime. I Want to Live! has both. This film is a biopic of Barbara Graham, a prostitute who was executed in California in 1955 for her part in the murder of a wealthy widow. Susan Hayward gives an Oscar-winning performance as the doomed woman who at the beginning of the film, works as a prostitute who is arrested for soliciting sex across state lines. She then receives jail time after providing a false alibi to two friends who committed crimes. Despite her growing rap sheet, Barbara continues to “make a living” by committing petty crimes and turning tricks. Eventually, she hits the big time when she gets a job working with a big time thief, Emmett Perkins. Her job is to lure men into his illegal gambling parlor. Meanwhile, her husband has a drug addiction and is unemployed–leaving Barbara as the breadwinner. Eventually Perkins ends up becoming involved with criminals, John Santo and Bruce King. Barbara returns to Perkins’ establishment which is soon raided by the police. Barbara surrenders to the police for her involvement in the gambling ring, but soon learns that she is being accused in being complicit with Santo and King’s murder of a wealthy widow. Barbara tries to give her alibi, saying that she was home with her husband and son, but her husband has skipped town. Unless he can be found, Barbara is toast. This was such an amazing film. I know that there was controversy regarding how Barbara Graham was portrayed in the film, versus the real life events. I can’t comment on that; but what I can say is that real facts or not, this was a great movie.
#14 Suspense (1946) I went into this film noir not knowing entirely what to expect. It starred Barry Sullivan whom I like and Albert Dekker who always turns in a good performance. Sullivan and Dekker’s co-star was British figure skater, Belita. Often when athletes are put into films, especially athletes whose sport is exploited on screen, the results can vary drastically–especially if the athlete has limited acting talent. Sometimes this is good, such as the case with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan series. Other times, it can be limiting like is the case with Belita in another film of hers that I’ve seen. However, in this film, I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not saying Belita was amazing; but she was asked to play a figure skater, and Belita delivers on that front. In this film, Sullivan plays schemer, Joe Morgan, a newcomer to New York City who ends up taking a job at a theater as a peanut vendor. Belita plays the star performer, figure skater, Roberta. Albert Dekker plays Leonard, the owner of the theater and Roberta’s husband. Joe ends up suggesting a new act for Roberta, which revitalizes the show–as a reward he is made a manager. When Leonard leaves for a business trip, he puts Joe in charge. Joe and Roberta end up striking up a romance which Leonard soon discovers. This was a fantastic film. I actually was in suspense and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
#15 The China Syndrome (1979) This was another 1970s thriller that I watched which I really enjoyed. In this film, Jane Fonda plays television reporter, Kimberly Wells, who keeps getting stuck with the fluff stories during the local news segments. There is chauvinism present at the station, as it is thought that she couldn’t possibly handle a serious story. Her cameraman is the hot-tempered Richard Adams (Michael Douglas). One day, Kimberly and Richard end up getting a plum gig: doing a report from the Ventana, CA nuclear power plant. While visiting, they witness a malfunction in the nuclear power plant turbine operation and emergency shutdown protocol. Richard, despite being asked not to film, covertly records the entire incident. The incident is played off as not a big deal, but it becomes clear that the plant was thisclose to a meltdown. Jack Lemmon gives a fantastic performance as Jack Godell, the supervisor of the plant. Wilford Brimley was also excellent as the long-time employee, Ted Spindler, who battles with knowing what is right and his resentment over being passed up for promotion opportunities. I loved this movie. This isn’t normally my type of thing, but as a fan of 1970s thrillers and Fonda and Lemmon, I gave it a try. I’m glad I did. I was captivated from beginning to end and I especially loved Lemmon’s performance in the second half of this movie.
A Cry in the Night (1956). Raymond Burr, Natalie Wood, Edmond O’Brien.
Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018). A fabulous documentary on HBO Max.
The Caine Mutiny (1954). Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer.
Once a Thief (1965). Alain Delon, Ann-Margret, Van Heflin.
Walk on the Wild Side (1962). Laurence Harvey, Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter, Capucine.
Moonrise (1948). Dane Clark, Lloyd Bridges, Gail Patrick.
The Glass Wall (1953). Vittorio Gassman, Gloria Grahame.
The Big Combo (1955). Richard Conte, Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace.
Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021) The Great Gonzo, Pepe, Will Arnett.
Die Hard (1988) Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson.
Confession (1937) Kay Francis, Basil Rathbone, Ian Hunter.
Three Days of the Condor (1975) Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson.
I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) Susan Hayward, Richard Conte, Eddie Albert.
Possessed (1947) Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey
I will admit that I’m not the biggest James Bond person. Not that I don’t like the films, but they’re just okay for me. It might be because I’m not a big action person. However, I have seen some of the Bond films, in fact, I’ve seen all of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond films. I remember “Goldeneye” being a big thing in 1995, especially when it came to the Nintendo 64, the hot video game system of middle school. But I digress. My first introduction to Pierce was not James Bond. My first introduction to Pierce was when he played Sally Field’s new beau in Mrs. Doubtfire. I remember thinking how Sally was a lucky woman–her new boyfriend was hot!
In Mrs. Doubtfire, Sally Field plays Miranda Hillard, a successful San Francisco-based interior decorator. She is married to Daniel Hillard, a freelance-voice actor, played by the late Robin Williams. At the beginning of the film, Miranda and Daniel separate after he goes way over the top in a birthday celebration for their son. It’s the last straw for Miranda, who needs a responsible, reliable husband–not another, larger, child. She and Daniel separate and Miranda files for divorce. Daniel’s hopes for shared custody is based on his finding a suitable home and reliable employment within three months.
Needing someone to help keep the house in order and to watch the children, Miranda decides that she is going to hire a housekeeper/nanny. Daniel gets wind of this and concocts a scheme to put his voice acting skills to work and apply for the position. He gets his brother Frank, a makeup artist, to create a prosthetic mask and padding to bring “Mrs. Doubtfire” (Daniel’s female alter ego) to life. Mrs. Doubtfire applies for the position, wins over Miranda, and has the job. After a couple rough days, Mrs. Doubtfire hits her stride and is soon an irreplaceable member of the family.
Unfortunately for Daniel, Miranda has moved onto a new beau, Stuart “Stu” Dunmeyer, played by the super hot Pierce Brosnan. Sorry Robin Williams fans, as awesome as he was, he does not compete with Pierce Brosnan in the looks department–get it, Sally Field! There is a funny scene where Stu takes Miranda and the kids to the country club to swim. Depressed at the sight of seeing another man romancing his estranged wife and children, Mrs. Doubtfire downs drinks at the bar. At one point, after hearing a rude remark made about him by Stu, he throws a lime at the back of Stu’s head, then claims there was a “run-by fruiting” when Stu turns around in anger.
I think the film tries to somewhat portray Stu as a villain for comedic effect. However, he’s not really a villain in the sense that he’s purposely doing anything bad. However, he will be the factor that will ruin Daniel’s chances at reconciliation. While Daniel is trying to improve his life and meet the court requirements for joint custody, what he wants is to be back with his family; however Stu looks like he’ll be blocking that goal. And Stu isn’t just trying to hook up with old flame Miranda. After a business associate makes a comment about Miranda “having baggage” (i.e. three children), Stu corrects him, stating that he’s crazy about Miranda and her children.
Daniel’s behavior toward Stu reinforces Miranda’s decision to divorce him, in my opinion. Here is a grown man, who yes, is upset that Stu is taking his place as the patriarch, but he responds by throwing fruit, flipping Stu the bird, stating that Stu achieved his physique with liposuction, pulling the emblem off the hood of Stu’s Mercedes, and then truly takes things too far at Miranda’s birthday dinner. Daniel learns of Stu’s allergy to pepper. Daniel is at the restaurant to attend both a dinner/meeting with his new boss and as Mrs. Doubtfire to celebrate Miranda’s birthday. He ducks into the kitchen, finds Stu’s dinner and sprinkles pepper all over it. Stu is handed his dinner, takes a bite, and immediately starts choking. He is truly at risk of dying and Daniel finally realizes what he’s done and saves Stu’s life via the heimlich maneuver. Unfortunately for Daniel, the jig is up as Mrs. Doubtfire when his prosthetic mask is torn from his face while saving Stu. This brings us to the greatest line in the film:
MIRANDA: Oh my god! Oh my god! The whole time?! The whole time?! THE WHOLE TIME?! I have to go. We have to leave now. We have to go. I have to leave. We have to leave.
Sally Field as Miranda Hillard in “Mrs Doubtfire” (1993).
By the end of the film, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Miranda and Stu will continue seeing one another. Thankfully, Miranda and Daniel are able to resolve their differences enough that Miranda gives Daniel the housekeeper/nanny job so that he can see his children every day after school. The children can also see their father, via his “Mrs. Doubtfire” persona, which is a new hit children’s show in the local San Francisco market. It would have been easy for the filmmakers to turn Stu into a villain, make him slimy and gross, only wanting to hook up with Miranda for sex, her money, her business, etc. But the film doesn’t do that, Stu is presented as a stand-up guy, and we as the audience aren’t disappointed that Miranda might find a new father for her children. Both she and Daniel are better off in their new arrangement. And Miranda, who at the beginning of the film expressed how unhappy and angry she was in her marriage to Daniel, and how it made her act and feel, will finally get a chance at happiness. She’s found a man who brings what she needs to the table, and we cannot help but root for her and Stu.
I always love to come up with ideas for Double Features. I like to pair double features with common actors, directors, genres, themes–something that ties the two films together.
TCM recently aired Shag (1989) as part of their “Women in Film” series. I’d heard of this film, but didn’t know anything about it. Being a native of the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t know that “Shag” was a dance style, native to South Carolina. After watching this film, I can say that Shag is like a polite form of dirty dancing. Lol.
After having read the synopsis of Shag, I determined that it sounded very similar to Where the Boys Are (1960), one of my favorite teen beach movies. Both films are a coming of age story for four young women traveling to the beach for vacation where they learn about love and sex. In this blog entry, I’m going to compare and contrast the two films and try to draw parallels between the two.
SETTING: 1960s American South. Where the Boys Are is contemporary 1960 America in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The southern setting isn’t as explicit as these are girls traveling south from a snowy, Northern climate. Shag takes place in 1963 in Myrtle Beach, SC. The southern culture is highly emphasized with the accents, focus on propriety, and other symbols of the South.
PLOT: The plots are similar. In both films, a group of young women are traveling to a more “fun” environment for spring break. The girls in ‘Boys’ are about a year or two older than the women in Shag. They are 19 and already in college. In Shag, the ladies are high school seniors, putting them at 17-18 years old. The ladies in ‘Boys’ are on vacation for two weeks, so they have more time to explore the beach…and the boys. There is more time for the girls in ‘Boys’ to establish a relationship with the opposite sex so that their infatuation and “love” kind of makes sense. In Shag, the ladies are on a long weekend trip and are already proclaiming their love for these boys whom they’ve just met. The girls pack a lot of action into the three days of their trip.
‘Boys’ is a little more serious, as there are no wild parties, love triangles, or dance contests. Their humorous scene at the nightclub is probably the equivalent to the wild party in Shag. Both films feature the idea of sex and whether it is okay to have sex outside of marriage. Characters in both films present opposing viewpoints on the subject. Characters in both films also have sex, but it is presented in very different environments with varying levels of consent.
However, in both films, their respective vacations prove to be pivotal experiences in their lives which will inevitably shape them for years to come.
Merritt is nearly suspended from her college for scandalizing the professor in her “Courtship & Marriage” course by offering her support for sex before marriage or “backseat bingo” as she calls it. She talks a big game about sexual freedom and not necessarily following the expected life plan for women. However, as the movie continues, it becomes apparent that Merritt might be all talk.
Carson, on the other hand, isn’t prissy or uptight, per se, she’s more concerned about doing what’s right according to society’s expectations for young women in 1963. She’s engaged to be married (I know, a high schooler engaged, but hey it happened in “Boy Meets World”) to Harley (Tyrone Power Jr.). Harley is kind of dull or as Melaina says: “A square with corners” which doesn’t really make any sense, because the very essence of a square are corners, otherwise it’d be a circle, but we get the point. Harley is dull with a capital D. However, he’s the son of a tobacco executive, so he’s loaded. Marrying Harley would ensure that Carson would be financially stable.
Harley is comparable to Merritt’s beau, Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), as he is also rich and could provide Merritt with everything she’d ever need. Ryder seems to be a little more hip than Harley however.
Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) in ‘Boys’ & Melaina (Bridget Fonda) in Shag
Melanie is Merritt’s classmate at college and has been listening to Merritt preach about pre-marital sex. She is inexperienced, but willing (to put it mildly). Merritt is Melanie’s closest friend and confidant. Melanie gets into trouble when she lets her dream of hooking up with a “Yale-ie” cloud her better judgement. Believing that a boy from Yale is somehow a better catch and that she’d somehow end up with an amazing boyfriend (maybe even husband), she realizes too late that he’s only after what she seems to be after, but isn’t really.
Melaina (Bridget Fonda) is the stereotypical promiscuous (a la Ariel in “Footloose”) preacher’s daughter. She wants nothing more than to leave their dinky town of Spartanburg, SC and move to Hollywood. Melaina is a little more wordly and experienced than Melanie, but her brazen behavior gets her into a bad situation. Melaina ultimately has her sights set on Jimmy Valentine, a local wannabe Elvis celebrity, who has connections to Hollywood that Melaina could use. When she realizes that Jimmy’s agent is the one with the REAL connections, she kicks Jimmy to the curb.
Tuggle (Paula Prentiss) in ‘Boys’ and Luanne (Page Hannah) in Shag
Tuggle makes it very clear that she’s a proper girl who does not want to have sex outside of marriage. She says she’ll remain chaste even if she has to have the local blacksmith weld her a belt. She wants to fulfill her destined female role: being married and having children. She is easily able to resist the charms of TV (Jim Hutton) and keeps him at arm’s length.
Luanne is also very prim and proper, but not so prim and proper that she’s not above lying to her parents about her and her friend’s plans for the weekend. She convinces Melaina to ditch her bikini and pseudo-strip tease (i.e. “Modern Ballet” as Melaina calls it) routine for the beauty pageant and recite Scarlett O’Hara’s famous monologue from Gone With the Wind instead. Luanne is so worried about getting caught that she’s prepared a very lengthy web of lies to cover her tracks.
However, Luanne is not above getting herself a boyfriend, even if it’s her friend’s. Thus becoming part of two interlocking love triangles.
Angie (Connie Francis) in ‘Boys’ & Caroline aka “Pudge” (Annabeth Gish) in Shag
Angie is not fat by any means (and she’s not, look at her tiny waist), but she’s curvier than her friends. She’s not ugly by any means either, but she doesn’t instantly catch the boys’ attention. Angie says that she doesn’t even have to bother lying to her parents about anything, because they just assume that she’s fine and staying out of trouble. Angie ends up attracting a young musician (Frank Gorshin), who is nice, but dense.
“Pudge” is very pretty but was an overweight teen, hence the nickname. She’s recently lost the weight, but she’s still not as svelte as her friends. It doesn’t help that they persist in calling her “Pudge.” Even Luanne’s parents refer to her as “Pudge.” So obviously this is a nickname that Caroline’s had for quite some time. Anyway, despite her weight loss, Caroline is self-conscious about her size and finds it hard to believe that anyone would be interested in her romantically.
Caroline meets a local Myrtle Beach boy, Chip. He is very nice to her and even knows how to do the Shag dance, but he friendzones her–which is a huge blow to her self esteem. Caroline and Chip also participate in one of my favorite movie themes– The dance contest.
I love 1950s-1960s teen beach movies and Where the Boys Are definitely fits the bill. It has a great cast, great setting, humorous situations, poignant situations, and it doesn’t rely on cheesy cliches. Shag, while not a 1950s-1960s teen beach movie, per se, it takes place in the 60s, so it is a more modern look at that subgenre. There aren’t really many beach scenes, but there is an amusement park scene and a dancing at the drive-thru on rollerskates scene, so what more could you want? There are also two love triangles that interlock, which I also love. And, Shag features one of my favorite teen comedy tropes: The wild forbidden teenage party featuring total destruction of the house by strangers, jungle juice, and awkward situations.
I highly recommend both Where the Boys Are and Shag. Both are guaranteed to be a fun time and a nice respite from the weariness of the day to day drudgery of life.
I apologize for being so lax on my blogathon entries. I over-committed and apparently cannot sign up for every blogathon during end of the quarter time at work. We were very busy during the month of May and frankly, I just didn’t have the ambition to write anything after getting home. I’m trying to get back on track, because I do enjoy watching movies and writing about them and sharing my love of movies with everyone. I should hopefully have some more time.
Lately, I’ve been catching up with Ewan McGregor, who I’ve proclaimed as my new Scottish boyfriend. I realize that he isn’t a classic movie star, but I enjoy movies of all kind–not just classic film. Classic film is my favorite, but I do watch newer films as well. Anyway, a film that I just recently discovered and found completely enjoyable is Down With Love.
Down With Love, while a film from 2003, is an homage to the classic Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex farces of the late 1950s-early 1960s. Pillow Talk, in particular, shares many similarities with this pastiche film. The film takes place in 1962 Manhattan. The film has a very stylized appearance with numerous tongue in cheek jokes and corny dialogue that was present in the rom-coms of yore. The costumes and sets are colorful and gorgeous. Renee Zellweger’s apartment is hilarious and very 1960s. There is also lots of innuendo which is always delightful. Especially in this film, as the innuendo is pretty racy, but not crass. A funny scene involves McGregor’s new secretary, Sally, overhearing a conversation between McGregor and his boss. They’re discussing the newest innovation in men’s socks (no need for sock garters!), but without being in the room, Sally assumes that they are comparing the size of each other’s “manhood,” with McGregor coming out well ahead (“16 inches!” “And don’t forget, I have two of them”).
In Down With Love, Zellweger plays Barbara Novak, a feminist writer who writes the best-selling non fiction book, Down With Love. The book is a sensation and soon every woman on the planet is engrossed in it and adopting its philosophy. Down With Love tells women that they don’t need to fall in love with a man and assume a life of domestic servitude. Women, like men, can have a fulfilling career, social life and have meaningless sex. They don’t have to have a man around to be happy. A love of chocolate can be substituted for a man if they wish. The main thing that the men of the world dislike about Zellweger’s book is that it promotes an independent life for women.
McGregor’s character, Catcher Block, is a star reporter at Know Magazine For Men, is assigned to write a story on Zellweger’s book. McGregor is a playboy, “a ladies man, a man’s man, a man about town.” At first, he is completely against the idea, because he finds the idea of her book dumb and boring. However, he has a change of heart when he finds out that he’s losing dates because they have embraced Zellweger’s idea that women don’t need men. McGregor decides that he’ll write an exposé about Zellweger, exposing her for what he feels are her true feelings, based on his assumption that all women really want love and marriage.
To bait Zellweger into admitting that she really wants love and not just meaningless sex (so he has fodder for his article), he arranges for a chance meeting at a dry cleaner, knowing that she’s only heard his voice, but doesn’t know what he looks like. He puts on a pair of glasses and poses as Major Zip Martin, a kind and naive astronaut from the South who is content on remaining chaste until he feels ready for a physical relationship. Essentially Zellweger and McGregor are working toward opposite goals (opposite from their own and from each other’s). Zellweger grows frustrated that McGregor won’t have sex with her and McGregor is enjoying frustrating her until he finds himself falling for her and suddenly his plan becomes frustrating for him as well (emotionally and physically). One particularly funny scene involving McGregor’s frustration (more physical, than anything else) is where after a particularly hot first kiss, he has to literally cool himself off by dumping a champagne bucket full of ice water on top of his head. In fact, there are a lot of sexy kissing scenes in this movie. It definitely helps that McGregor is so cute. Lol.
There is considerable sexual tension between Zellweger and McGregor’s characters throughout the entire film. They have great chemistry with one another and are very adept at bringing their respective personas to the screen. Zellweger’s Doris Day-esque character is not as squeaky clean as Day’s characters, such as when Zellweger is trying to outright ask McGregor (as “Zip”) to go home with her, after having literally just met him ten minutes earlier in the dry cleaner. McGregor, in a very unusual role for him (no nudity for one, lol), is excellent as the European playboy. Even his faux Southern accent is adorable and hilarious. He is very charming and you can see how so many women succumb to his charms. He also displays excellent comedic timing (which was also present in Moulin Rouge! to some extent).
David Hyde Pierce lends support as McGregor’s boss and best friend, Peter. Pierce is essentially his Niles Crane (from Frasier) persona here, unlucky in love and neurotic. He pines over Sarah Paulson, who plays Vicky, Zellweger’s editor and best friend. Pierce and Paulson have a subplot where their two characters try to get together while at the same time, supporting their respective friends in their relationship. Of course, Pierce is aware of McGregor’s deception in his relationship with Zellweger. Pierce and Paulson also provide much of the humor of the film, as they get all the hilarious one liners that are ubiquitous in the world of “the best friend” in the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies. Pierce and Paulson are essentially the male and female versions of the Tony Randall character who provided support in all three Day/Hudson features.
Speaking of Randall… He shows up in a very funny segment in the film where be bemoans the success of Down With Love because it’s affecting his relationship with his mistress.
Down With Love didn’t do well upon its initial theatrical release. I believe it only barely turned a profit. This film is greatly underrated and perhaps may have been overlooked when it was new, because audiences didn’t know what to make of this pastiche film that pays tribute to the 1950s-1960s sex farces. Perhaps if this had come out a few years later when Mad Men came out, it may have done better. I only found out about and watched this film less than a month ago, and I won’t even share how many times I’ve watched it since then. I originally borrowed it from the library and have since procured my own copy. I may have watched it two times in a row today while I wrote this blog entry.
Up with Down With Love!
PS: Watch the beginning of the ending credits of the film. You won’t regret it. Unless you dislike cheesy 1960s inspired lounge music numbers, then… I don’t think we have anything else to discuss.
This film is just plain fun. And really, in the end of the day, that’s really all that matters.