Category Archives: Film Reviews

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

Villains 2017

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

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Eve accepts the Sarah Siddons Award

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

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

The wheels are in motion…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Birdie is suspicious of Eve’s true intentions

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

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

MARGO: How do you mean that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Addison delivers the gut punch:

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes.  You go, Margo.

Finally, it’s karma’s turn.

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

Game. Set. Match.

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

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

Unrelated to Eve:

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

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The last time we ever see Birdie

 

 

 

 

 

 

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William Holden Blogathon–“Picnic” (1955)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Madge (Kim Novak)

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

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

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

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

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

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This looks like the cover of a trashy romance novel

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

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

Doris Day Blogathon–“It’s a Great Feeling” (1949)

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Today is Doris Day’s 95th birthday–not her 93rd like previously thought.  It’s only fitting that I honor Doris’ birthday by discussing one of her films.  Doris made her screen debut in 1948 with Romance on the High Seas after forging a career for herself as a big band singer and radio performer.  She had originally wanted to be a dancer, but a 1937 car accident injured her legs and essentially ended her dancing career before it even began.  She landed a job at Charlie Ye’s Shanghai Inn as a waitress in her hometown of Cincinnati, OH while she pursued a singing career. In 1939, she landed a job as a big band singer, which evolved into also performing on radio.  Her singing career led directly to her career in film.  By 1949, Doris was appearing in her third film, It’s a Great Feeling, a lightweight Warner Brothers film that was essentially a “who’s who” of the Warner Brothers lot in 1949.

It’s a Great Feeling isn’t a great film by any means and isn’t even a definitive Doris Day film. It is most likely a foot note in the careers of the stars who appeared as themselves (if the film was even mentioned at all).  However, the film did serve its purpose.  It put Doris Day’s star on the map and directly led to her getting bigger and better roles in every successive film.  Doris Day was a star for over thirty years before she retired (by choice) from her career.  She is a living legend and one of America’s most beloved stars.

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Dennis Morgan (left) and Jack Carson (right) scheme to discover a new star

In It’s a Great Feeling, Doris plays Judy Adams, a waitress in the Warner Brothers commissary.  Star Jack Carson has been signed to appear in the new film, Mademoiselle Fifi.  Multiple famous directors (Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh and King Vidor) are approached to direct the film, but refuse once they find out about Carson’s casting.  A running joke in the film is that Carson is such a terror to work with that nobody will work with him.  The studio reluctantly agrees to let Carson direct the film (since nobody else will).  Now, he needs to find a female co-star.  He tries enlisting well known female stars, like Jane Wyman, but nobody will have anything to do with him.  Carson enlists friend Dennis Morgan to help him find a co-star and Morgan suggests he look for an unknown–rationalizing that nobody who knows Carson will work with him, so he’ll have more luck finding someone who doesn’t know any better.

Carson and Morgan end up coming across Judy, the waitress in the commissary.  Carson and Morgan’s first step to “discovering” her, is to introduce her to fictional studio head, Arthur Trent.  They remember that Trent likes to discover his own talent, so Carson and Morgan “arrange” to have Judy conveniently pop up in random places–elevator operator, cab driver and dental hygienist.  All Carson and Morgan end up doing is driving Trent bananas.  Judy keeps trying too hard to appeal to the casting director by looking at him with a goofy smile and rapidly fluttering eyelids.  (I do think that the weird sounds that accompany Judy’s smile and eye flutters are very annoying, and really the only blight on this otherwise entertaining film).

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Doris dresses as French singer “Yvonne” in an attempt to be cast as a Frenchwoman in “Mademoiselle Fifi.”

After their first scheme fails, Carson and Morgan arrange a screen test for Judy.  That too is a disaster, as it experiences technical problems and actually causes studio head Trent to experience a nervous breakdown.  Judy later re-appears as a French singer in an attempt to convince Trent that she is right for the role.  However, despite an elaborate ruse and help from two major actresses, Trent sees through Judy’s charade and she’s turned down.

Disillusioned with her lack of success and treatment in Hollywood (including all the nonsense that Carson and Morgan made her endure), Judy decides to head back home to Goerkes Corner, WI to marry her longtime sweetheart Jeffrey Bushdinkle, whom she left to pursue her career in Hollywood.  After discovering that there may be an opportunity for Judy in pictures, Carson and Morgan follow her to her hometown and plan on breaking up the wedding.  When they arrive, the Adams/Bushdinkle nuptials are already in progress.  Watching in bemusement to see who Judy could possibly want to marry in lieu of pursuing a film career, Carson and Morgan watch through the window.  The groom’s face is hidden until after the vows.  The bride and groom are declared man and wife and they go in for the kiss.  When their faces part, Carson and Morgan finally get to see the groom.  With a name like Jeffrey Bushdinkle, how attractive could be possibly be?

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Jack Carson (left) and Dennis Morgan (right) look on in astonishment when they see Judy’s groom. “What some girls will go for, he’s got nothin’,” Carson says, unconvincingly.

Answer: Very.  I won’t give it away, but if this man were waiting for me in Small Town, USA and there was a choice between living in this tiny town and being with this gorgeous man… well… it would be a very difficult choice and I don’t blame Doris Day’s character for one second.

Jack Carson, eat your heart out.

Dinner & a Movie: Roman Holiday (1953)

I recently checked a new book out from the library, TCM: Movie Night Menus: Dinner and Drink Recipes Inspired by the Films we Love.  While I questioned some of the meals, I liked the idea of pairing a meal and a cocktail with a film.  A decade or so ago, TBS had a television show that followed these same lines.  It, I believe, was called “Dinner and a Movie.” In the show, the hosts would prepare a meal that was loosely themed to the featured film.  Usually it had some cutesy name (often times the name was a pun on the name of the film).  I liked the ideas featured in the TCM book as it was less corny and seemed more in tune with my idea of making film viewing an event in and of itself. Who says you have to leave the house to “go out” ?

I’ve been trying to come up with some type of feature for the blog.  I often enjoy pairing drinks and/or meals with specific films.  Even if this is my hundredth time watching the film, it can feel like a different experience in the context of a dinner and drink event.  For my first feature, I went with Roman Holiday (1953).  I decided to go with Roman Holiday, because I wanted to watch something that took place in Italy to go with my Italian meal. I made lasagna and paired it with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from California.  I’m not going to include recipes, because lets face it, I had to use a recipe to make the meal in the first place–so it’s not my recipe. My lasagna happened to be made with italian turkey sausage (instead of the traditional ground beef or ground beef and pork sausage blend).  The turkey makes the meal feel lighter.  I also added fresh spinach to the ricotta filling.

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My turkey, spinach, tomato lasagna with a breadstick and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.  I USUALLY TRY NOT TO BLOW PLOT POINTS, BUT I NEED TO DO SO FOR THE SAKE OF DISCUSSION***

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Roman Holiday is such a delight.  It is Audrey Hepburn’s first major film role and is the film that catapulted her to stardom.  Peck was very kind to Hepburn during the making of this film.  At this point, Peck was the bigger star and should have received sole star billing (i.e. above the title).  However, he felt that this was Hepburn’s film and that she would win an Oscar for it.  He insisted to the studio heads that Hepburn’s name also appear above the title with his.  He was right.  Hepburn went on to win the Best Actress Oscar for her work in this film.  Peck and Hepburn went on to be life long friends.

In this film, Hepburn portrays Princess Ann.  Princess Ann’s nationality I do not believe is ever disclosed in this film. Princess Ann is on a European tour and is quickly growing bored with her regimented routine and schedule.  One night, appearing at another function (undoubtedly just one of hundreds that she has to attend), Ann has a breakdown after being briefed on her next appearance.  A doctor gives her a sedative (seemingly every doctor in the Golden Age’s solution. “She’s hysterical. Give her a sedative”).  Not knowing about the sedative, Princess Ann sneaks out of the embassy and into Rome.  Joe Bradley (Peck), an American reporter for the American news service comes across her sleeping on a bench.  Not knowing of her true identity, he tries to give her money for a taxi to go home, but she’s too out of it to cooperate.  He ends up taking her home to sleep it off.

The next morning, word is out that Princess Ann has taken ill and has canceled all appearances (obviously the embassy is trying to save face and figure out where she is).  Bradley ends up going to work late under the pretense that he’s completed his interview with Princess Ann.  His boss calls him out on his lie.  Bradley sees a photograph of the Princess in the newspaper in his boss’ office.  Seeing an opportunity, Bradley bets his boss $5,000 that he can get an exclusive interview with Princess Ann.  He returns home and despite the Princess’ hesitations, he ends up taking her out for a day of fun in Rome.  With her newfound freedom, Princess Ann cuts her hair short and even drives a Vespa around town! Unbeknownst to her, Bradley has hired his friend Irving (Eddie Albert) to photograph the Princess during her day of freedom.

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Isn’t this just one of the most joyful scenes in cinema?

Many romantic comedies involve deception.  Roman Holiday features multiple deceptions.  Gregory Peck deceives Audrey Hepburn in two ways: 1) He knows her true identity but pretends like he doesn’t and 2) He tells her that he is a fertilizer salesman.  Audrey Hepburn deceives Gregory Peck by devising her fake identity of “Anya.” Of course, Hepburn’s deception seems reasonable, as she wouldn’t want word to get out as to her whereabouts.  Peck on the other hand, at the beginning of the film, is lying to Hepburn purely to profit off of her decision to be “free.” Of course, in most of these romantic comedies, the characters usually find out about the other’s deception and the relationship seems to be in jeopardy at first until one of them makes a great gesture.

In Roman Holiday, however, Hepburn never finds out about Peck’s true intentions.  In fact, she realizes that her jig is up when the government agents track her town at a party and chaos ensues.  At the conclusion of the party, Hepburn bids Peck adieu, stating that she must resume her royal duties.  Peck realizes that he’s developed true romantic feelings for her and doesn’t want to hurt her by profiting off of the photos he has of Hepburn acting very un-Princess like.  While appearing at another meet and greet event, Peck and Albert present Hepburn with the photos of her trip under the guise of a generic memento of her trip to Rome.  Hepburn and Peck exchange some vague but direct allusions to their day together while maintaining the appropriate distance between a royal and a “strange” reporter.  At the conclusion of the event, Peck is left to wonder what could have been as he leaves Princess Ann. I can’t help but think that Peck’s character will stick around in Rome hoping to see Princess Ann each time she visits–or perhaps he’ll get an assignment in Princess Ann’s country.

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Joe Bradley says goodbye to Princess Ann.

When I first saw this film, I loved Audrey Hepburn’s character but thought that Gregory Peck seemed wooden.  I have had that same opinion of Peck in other films, but as I see more of him and learned about him as a person outside of the silver screen, I’ve grown to appreciate him more.  Now, when I watch him in Roman Holiday, he still has that deep, stiff sounding voice.  However, now his deep voice lends itself to sounding more romantic and strong–which is a good quality for a leading man.  He and Audrey have magnificent chemistry.  Audrey’s effervescence is a nice contrast to Peck’s tendency to seem too serious and she helps lighten him up a bit.

This film is filled with so much joy and happiness that it is impossible to tire of it.  This film was a wonderful way to introduce Audrey Hepburn to the American public.

Brief Encounter (1945)

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I had heard about this film for a couple years now and had seen it listed at the top of various lists.  It’s also a Criterion release.  I finally got the chance to watch this film.

Brief Encounter is a British film that is based on the 1936 Noel Coward short play, “Still Life” which was one of ten short plays that were performed under the title “Tonight at 8:30.” In 1945, this short play was adapted into the 86-minute film and was directed by David Lean.  Lean later went on to direct such films as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

This was an excellent film.  This film depicts a budding romance between two married people, Laura (Celia Johnson) and Alec (Trevor Howard), both married to different people, and the subsequent guilt both experience as their newfound relationship continues to thrive and begins towing the line between platonic friends and infidelity.  For much of the film, they grow closer and closer until they have an opportunity to make their relationship more physical.  This is the turning point in the film.  They begin by spending the day together every Thursday when they’re both in town.  Soon, it grows to them getting really cozy with one another until they’re regularly smooching on the quaint, romantic bridge.

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Laura and Alec at the train station

Laura is a privileged middle-class British mother and wife (she has a servant and doesn’t seem to have many obligations in the way of housework or tending to the children).  She goes into town every Thursday for shopping and going to the latest movie matinee at the theater.  She also regularly dines at the tea shop at the train station–this where she meets Alec, a doctor who once a week, does consultation work at the local hospital.  Despite her cushy lifestyle, Laura is bored.  Her husband doesn’t seem to pay much attention to her in the evenings, preferring to complete his crossword puzzle.  Their evenings are the same every night.  When she meets Alec, suddenly, her life is interesting and fun.  She feels feelings that she hasn’t experienced in quite some time.

The beginning of the film starts at the ending of the story.  Laura is back home, sitting across from her husband, watching him complete his crossword puzzle.  She stares at him, knowing that he is blissfully unaware of what has been going on in her life.  She imagines herself confessing everything to him.  Her internal confession serves as the narration for the events of the film.  Suddenly, we’re at the train station before Laura meets Alec.  Throughout the film, her narration demonstrates how conflicted and distraught, yet happy, Laura is in her relationship.  There is also a scene where Laura, while on an outing with Alec, sees two acquaintances in the tea room.  Suddenly, she is embarrassed and worried that the secret of her new romance will get out.   I believe that this scene and the one where she’s conflicted about making her relationship with Alec more physical demonstrate that deep-down, she knows that what she and Alec are doing is wrong.

Most of the action of the film unfolds without either Laura or Alec’s spouses in the scene.  Laura’s husband is only seen intermittently, Alec’s wife is not seen at all.  I believe that the lack of spouses in the picture allow us to see the story entirely from Laura and Alec’s perspective and allows us to feel for Laura and Alec.  While they are thisclose to cheating on their respective spouses, I found it hard not to root for them to end up together.

In addition to the story, I also really liked how the film was shot.  The black and white cinematography provided a romantic, moody atmosphere.  The train station was a wonderful setting.  Doesn’t it seem like the best films involve some sort of train travel? I also liked all the steam coming from the trains and the music that repeated each time Laura and Alec were together.  There were many interesting shots used in the film.  One of my favorite shorts showcased Laura sitting in the train.  We see her from the side, but we can see her entire face in the reflection on the window.  Laura’s self-reflection is literally being reflected on the glass for the audience to see.

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Laura looks out of the window during a moment of self-reflection.

 

This was a great film.  Highly recommended.

 

City Lights (1931)

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I’ll admit that silent movies are not among my favorite genre of film.  Recognizing that many of my favorite Golden Era performers came from the world of silent film, I try to watch some of their silent films, hoping that maybe I’ll find one that I like.  Honestly, I feel like many of the silent films I try to watch are too over the top and I find that the dramatics detract from whatever the storyline is.  I find myself getting bored and doing other things, or simply turning the film off because nothing “clicks” for me. Along with horror and science fiction (unless it’s of the cheesy B-movie variety), silent is among my bottom three favorite film genres.

However, with the recent TCM spotlight on Slapstick Comedy, I ended up catching The Circus (1928) with Charlie Chaplin.  Even though it was silent, Chaplin’s brand of storytelling, combined with his physical comedy made the film mesmerizing.  I ended up watching the subsequent silent film presented that evening–Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) with Buster Keaton and being equally enthralled.  Perhaps Chaplin and Keaton will serve as a positive introduction to silent film.

Prior to TCM’s spotlight, I had recorded three Charlie Chaplin films: The Kid (1921); The Gold Rush (1925); and City Lights (1931).  I recorded these films because: 1) Charlie Chaplin is a legend and I wanted to see his work; and 2) I wanted to give silent film another chance.  I don’t want to immediately discount hundreds of films because they’re part of a genre that isn’t my favorite.  With every film I watch, I go into it wanting it to become my next favorite film.  While nothing will ever usurp The Long Long Trailer (my favorite film), I’ve found numerous films over the years that rank among my favorites.  Surprisingly enough, one Charlie Chaplin film has now made it to my list of favorites–City Lights.

City Lights was released in 1931.  It was Chaplin’s first film made since the advent of
“talkies.” He was somewhat daring when he wrote, produced, directed and starred in this film.  And because he wasn’t busy enough, he also helped compose the score of this film as well.  While other studios were producing sound films, Chaplin stuck with silent.  He spent two years (1928-1930) working on City Lights.

City Lights has a very simple story: The Little Tramp falls in love with a blind Flower Girl and she falls in love with him, thinking he’s a millionaire.  The Little Tramp learns that she and her grandmother are facing eviction because they cannot come up with the $22 worth of back rent. He makes it his mission to raise the money to save his love’s home.  Among the many tactics he tries: a fixed boxing match, taking a job as a street sweeper, borrowing money from his millionaire “friend” (who only recognizes The Little Tramp when he’s inebriated) and finally in desperation, theft.

There are many great scenes in this film.  The scenes between The Little Tramp and his inebriated millionaire friend are hilarious.  At the beginning of the film, after The Little Tramp prevents the depressed, drunk Millionaire from committing suicide, he ends up not only getting a place to sleep that evening, but also a change of clothes.  The next morning, the sober Millionaire, upset about a stranger being in his bed, demands The Little Tramp to leave.  Later that evening, drunk again, the Millionaire sees his “friend,” The Little Tramp, out on the street and invites him in for a lavish party.  The next morning, while leaving for a cruise, the sober Millionaire again tosses his “friend” out.

My favorite parts of the film however, dealt with The Little Tramp and the blind Flower
Girl.  Their scenes together are so adorable.  The Little Tramp very much loves this girl and wants to do anything he can to help her.  He goes through great lengths to try and not only save the Flower Girl and her grandmother’s home, but he also wants to do something to improve the Flower Girl’s life–he wants nothing more than for her to be able to see.  The ending of the film, where The Little Tramp and the Flower Girl are reunited after months of not seeing each other is probably one of the best film endings of all time–and one of the most romantic.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s so simple and so sweet.

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In City Lights, Chaplin’s fifth full-length film, he continues to demonstrate his ability to mix physical comedy (e.g. the boxing match and the scenes with the Millionaire) with the romantic (e.g. the beginning and ending scenes with the Flower Girl) and even at times, the sad (e.g. the scene where The Little Tramp goes to jail) is just one of the reasons he was such a legend and genius in film-making.  Straight slapstick shtick often gets tiring (e.g. The Three Stooges).  Chaplin manages to not only make The Little Tramp sympathetic, but he makes him funny.  The Little Tramp is a well-meaning, sweet man who just wants love.  He’s poor and has to do whatever it takes to survive, but he has a good heart and deserves more than he has.  Despite what he lacks in material possessions, The Little Tramp more than makes up for in kindness.

Finally, another reason why I enjoyed this film were the clever tactics that Chaplin used to convey plot points in his films without using sound.  For example, in the beginning of the film where The Little Tramp meets the Flower Girl for the first time, there are a few tricks that Chaplin employs to set up the characters.  The Little Tramp, traveling with the Millionaire, spies the Flower Girl selling flowers.  He asks the Millionaire for money to purchase all of the girl’s flowers.  The Little Tramp borrows the Millionaire’s Rolls Royce and returns to the Flower Girl’s vending spot.  She hears the car drive up and then The Little Tramp purchases all of her flowers.  Then, she drops one of flowers and doesn’t notice–this is when The Little Tramp realizes she is blind.  As she’s making his change, a man gets into a nearby car.  She hears the door slam and the car leave, and assumes that her wealthy customer has left.  This simple scene sets up the premise: The Little Tramp falls in love with a blind Flower Girl who mistakenly believes that he is wealthy.  Throughout the film, she believes that she has a wealthy suitor who is giving her money to save her home and saving her from eviction.  Little does she know that her admirer is homeless, destitute and disheveled–all she knows is that he is sweet, caring and really seems to like her.  This premise when combined with the wonderful ending, is what makes this film stand out from others.  It would be easy to make the ending corny and saccharine, but through Chaplin’s genius, he’s able to deliver the perfect ending.

Jailhouse Rock (1957)

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In the past, I had unfairly dismissed the Elvis Presley movies, thinking that they would be silly and lightweight–mostly an excuse to showcase Elvis and his music.  And they probably are.  However, I’ve now seen two Elvis films: Viva Las Vegas and Jailhouse Rock.  I love Viva Las Vegas, it is such a fun movie.  Elvis and Ann-Margret’s chemistry is off the charts, I actually wish they’d made more films together.  In fact, I loved Viva Las Vegas so much, that I kept it on my DVR to watch over and over until I got my own copy.  I think I watched it about four times before I got my own DVD copy of it.  Anyway, Elvis definitely is no Spencer Tracy, Edward G. Robinson or even Fred Astaire, but he’s got enough personality and charisma that it makes up for what he’s lacking in the acting department.

Anyway… On to Jailhouse Rock.

I watched this movie last night.  I’d seen the famous scene where Elvis sings the title song in front of the cell doors, but that’s pretty much all I knew of the film.  Apparently, when viewing the “Jailhouse Rock” musical number, I never bothered to notice the fact that the “cells” have no walls, just the door.  I always assumed that Elvis sang this song while in jail–figuring that maybe he led some sort of crazy choreographed jailbreak or something.  I’m glad that this wasn’t the case.  For an Elvis film, this film actually had a somewhat dark storyline.

The plot involves Elvis, a young man who gets off to a rough start when he fights a drunk man in a bar and inadvertently kills him.  The man had been accosting a young woman in the bar and Elvis didn’t like it and punched him, which led to the brawl.  Anyway, Elvis ends up being convicted of manslaughter and is sentenced to 1-10 years in jail.  While in jail, he meets Mickey Shaughnessy (who I immediately recognized from Designing Woman), a has-been country singer who seems to have been in the clink for a while.  Shaughnessy hears Elvis sing and promises to teach him how to play the guitar. He later convinces Elvis to perform in an upcoming inmate variety show which is also televised. After the appearance, Elvis receives gobs of fan letters.  Jealous, Shaughnessy arranges to make sure Elvis doesn’t receive his fan letters.  He then convinces Elvis to sign a “contract” promising to cut him in for 50% of the profits if Elvis becomes a star.

After almost two years, Elvis is released from jail, he gets a job at a nightclub where he meets a beautiful young woman, Judy Tyler.  After hearing Elvis sing onstage (during an impromptu performance), she convinces him to record a demo for a local record studio.  Elvis’ song ends up being stolen by another artist and he and Tyler form their own record label to produce his music.  Elvis’ career takes off and his ego inflates with it.

I thought this was an entertaining film.  Elvis’ character seems to be a bit quick tempered as he hits people frequently throughout the film.  I thought that Tyler’s character somewhat evened out Elvis’ character.  If he had a tendency toward being impulsive, she was more level headed and rational.  I also really liked Tyler’s speaking voice.  It was very elegant and clear, much like Eleanor Parker’s. Shaughnessy’s character was also interesting as he was a bit of a sleaze but you also felt bad for him as well.

The songs in the film were good too, my favorite though being “Jailhouse Rock.”  Which actually isn’t performed in prison–it’s part of a prison-themed performance planned for the television special that Elvis is to appear in.  Elvis “The Pelvis” is shown in all his glory in this musical number.

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Some trivia:

-Just days after completing production on this film, her first big role, Judy Tyler and her husband were killed in a gruesome car accident.  She was only 24.

-Elvis’ apartment (after he makes it big) is simply a redressed version of Lauren Bacall’s apartment from Designing Woman.

-Elvis was so distraught after Judy Tyler’s death, that he couldn’t bring himself to watch the completed version of Jailhouse Rock.