Believe it or not, this was my second Greta Garbo film. My first was only a few weeks prior when I watched Mata Hari (1931). I’d seen clips of Garbo before and I just didn’t “get” her. Every clip of her, she seemed to be playing the same person–Greta Garbo. But then, I saw Mata Hari. While that wasn’t the greatest film, Garbo was fantastic. I “got” her. You couldn’t take your eyes off this woman. Even if she wasn’t the central part of the scene, I still watched her. When she wasn’t on-screen, I wanted her to come back. Where was Greta? Anyway, I decided to follow up Mata Hari with Queen Christina.
Queen Christina was a film that I’d heard about, mostly in the context of the androgynous nature of Garbo’s titular Queen Christina, the kiss Christina gives her lady-in-waiting, and the very scandalous scene between Garbo and John Gilbert in their mountain hotel room. But this film was so much more. I loved this movie, it was fantastic. I loved this movie so much that I actually bought the Greta Garbo Signature Collection box set on Amazon, just so I could own Queen Christina and see more of Garbo’s work. Not only did this box set come with all of Garbo’s biggest “talkie” films, it also came with her silents as well. I look forward to seeing more Garbo.
Queen Christina, 1933 Starring: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Lewis Stone, C. Aubrey Smith, Reginald Owen Director: Rouben Mamoulian Studio: MGM
SYNOPSIS: At the beginning of the film, we witness King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden killed in battle during the mid-17th century. His six year old daughter, Christina, ascends the throne. Presumably, the adult members of Christina’s court act as ruling monarchy until Christina is old enough to understand her responsibility to her country. Fast forward a couple decades and a now grown Christina (Garbo) is a beloved ruler of Sweden. Her subjects adore her and respect her devotion to her country. She very much strives for peace for Sweden, and is happy when the Thirty Years’ War comes to an end.
However, like so many of these movies go, the men of Christina’s court are concerned that Christina does not appear to be in a hurry to marry and produce an heir. Despite Christina’s accomplishments and power in Sweden, she apparently isn’t anyone until she’s produced an heir. Presumably Christina is pushing 30 which heightens the anxiety surrounding her lack of husband and children. Christina however, doesn’t agree that she needs to marry, and she especially does not want to marry the suitor her court picked out. I don’t blame her, her male advisors want her to marry the heroic Karl Gustav…who is also her cousin. Christina is not interested in Karl, and there’s a funny part later in the film where she sees a photo of Karl. She laughs and says “is that what he looks like?” in a mocking tone. Obviously Christina and Karl are not well acquainted despite being cousins.
Christina’s attitude toward marrying changes though when she meets a Spanish Envoy by the name of Antonio (Gilbert). One day, after tiring of her restrictive life, Christina decides to sneak out of her castle and take a relaxing horse ride to a neighboring town. However, it starts snowing and she seeks refuge in a small inn. Because Christina is dressed in masculine attire, the innkeeper assumes that Christina is a man. He gives Christina the last room at the inn. When Antonio shows up also looking for lodging, the innkeeper appeals to Christina, aka “the man” to whom he rented the last room. When Christina sees Antonio she agrees. Even the chambermaid is flirting with Christina, thinking she’s an attractive man. Antonio feels uncomfortable looking at Christina as he feels attracted to a person whom he thinks is a man. When Christina starts to change out of her clothing to get ready for bed, Antonio is realized to discover that he’s crushing on a woman, not a man.
Christina and Antonio’s lust for one another cannot be contained and it can be assumed what they do that evening. The next morning, Antonio is informed that the snowfall will cause them to be snowed in for a few more days. Devastated (::wink:: ::wink::) Antonio and Christina continue their tryst. There’s a funny scene afterwards, presumably post-coital, where they feed each other fruit. Christina walks around the room caressing bedposts, still in ecstasy. Throughout their sexy evening, Christina never lets on that she’s Queen of Sweden.
MY THOUGHTS: I absolutely loved this movie. Garbo is absolutely gorgeous. Even when she’s supposedly being mistaken for a man, she’s absolutely breathtaking. I loved the costumes in this movie. I also hadn’t seen John Gilbert in a film and I can see why Garbo was smitten with him. He was adorable in this movie and I also learned that that rumor that his talkie career bombed because of his voice was not true at all. Gilbert’s voice was fine. I would hands down watch this movie again and I’m happy that I own it.
I followed up The Public Enemy with another James Cagney/Joan Blondell feature. These two make a good pairing. This was also a very entertaining film–and it made one thing clear, Joan Blondell knew how to slap!
Blonde Crazy, 1931 Starring: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Louis Calhern, Ray Milland, Guy Kibbee Director: Roy Del Ruth Studio: Warner Brothers
SYNOPSIS: At the beginning of Blonde Crazy, we meet Bert Harris (Cagney), a bellboy who works at a midwestern hotel. One day, a young woman, Anne Roberts (Blondell) applies for a job at the hotel as a chambermaid. Bert takes an instant liking to Anne, and after some finangling, he scores her the job. Anne excels at her work as the chambermaid, but between Bert’s constant advances, and the other creepy male patrons of the hotel, she learns that there is more expected of her than just bringing more towels. This is where we see Blondell show off her considerable slapping skills.
After one particular heinous encounter with a wealthy patron, A. Rupert Johnson (Kibbee), which culminated in him groping Anne. Because he has taken a fancy to Anne and because he is a con artist, Bert suggests to Anne that they get back at Johnson by scamming him. They can extort money out of him and pay him back for harassing Anne. Anne is reluctant at first, but ultimately goes along with the plan. She and Johnson go out on a date. Bert pays a pal to pretend to be a cop and “catch” Johnson and Anne in a compromising position. In an effort to protect his reputation and keep from going to jail, Johnson pays the cop $5,000. The $5,000 goes to Bert and Anne, which they split 50/50.
Anne and Bert decide to move to the more glamorous New York City, where they live the high life. One evening, they meet Dan Barker (Calhern) and his date. After getting to talking, Dan takes a liking to Bert and offers to cut him in on his counterfeiting scheme. All Dan needs is a $5,000 investment from Bert. Bert ends up giving Dan his and Anne’s money. Meanwhile, Anne has fallen in love with Bert, but is turned off by his constant desire to scam people instead of earning money legitimately. She ends up meeting and falling in love with an Englishman, Joe Reynolds (Milland).
MY THOUGHTS: I loved this movie. It was fun to see Cagney playing such a wacky character, though his “Honnnnnn-ey” catchphrase got a little tiring after a while. This was a very precode precode. There is a pretty sexy scene of Blondell bathing. And there was a funny scene of Cagney looking for money in Blondell’s bra. The scene culminates with him putting her bra over his eyes like a big pair of lacy glasses. This was a very funny film and I liked the plot with Cagney and Calhern. Milland was kind of dull, but his character was needed for the third act of the film.
I started off this year’s #PreCodeApril event on Twitter with one of the all-time great pre-code films, The Public Enemy (1931). This film is also one of the premier gangster films, and is the film that made James Cagney a star. It was also one of Jean Harlow’s first big parts. With all the hype surrounding the film and its massive starpower, it is amazing that it has eluded me until now. Of course, I knew about the famous grapefruit scene between Cagney and Mae Clarke. I just hadn’t seen the scene within the context of the film.
The Public Enemy, 1931 Starring: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Mae Clarke Director: William A. Wellman Studio: Warner Brothers
SYNOPSIS: The Public Enemy takes place over about a twenty year (give or take) span of time. At the beginning of the film, it’s the early 1900s. We meet our main characters, Tom Powers (Cagney) and his best friend, Matt Doyle (Woods), as children living in Chicago. The two boys are troublemakers and are seen engaging in petty theft around town. They work for a gangster named “Putty Nose.” Putty Nose has the boys steal small items, then he pays them for the items. Putty presumably then sells them for a higher price to someone else. Putty Nose then invites the boys to participate in a robbery at a fur warehouse. The heist goes awry when Tom is startled by a stuffed bear and shoots at it. His gunshot alerts the police to their presence, who end up shooting one of the members of Putty’s gang. Tom and Matt gun the police officer down. When the boys go to Putty for help, they discover that he’s left town. This incident establishes a grudge that Tom carries with him to adulthood.
Time passes and the two boys grow up. By 1920, with Prohibition in full swing, Tom and Matt are enlisted by a bootlegger to help distribute his illicit liquor. Tom and Matt are living the high life as bootleggers. They eventually get girlfriends, Kitty (Clarke) and Mamie (Blondell). Tom and Kitty quickly tire of one another. Their relationship reaches its bitter end (literally) when Tom pushes a grapefruit half into Kitty’s face. Eventually Tom meets another woman, Gwen (Harlow), who admits that she’s been with a lot of men. As time passes, Tom’s illicit activity and relationships with other noted members of the underground makes him the target of a rival gang.
MY THOUGHTS: This was such an amazing film. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of it, I was just anticipating the grapefruit scene. But Cagney was mesmerizing on screen. Apparently, he was supposed to have the supporting role as Matt Doyle, with Edward Woods in the leading role as Tom. However, when the first day’s rushes came back, director William A. Wellman realized what charisma and starpower Cagney had and switched his and Woods’ roles. And while Woods may have been the loser in the deal, the world is richer for Wellman’s insight. Cagney is fantastic in this film and with a less interesting lead (read: Woods), the film might have been average at best. Cagney elevates the material. The ending was truly gruesome. I was not expecting it. Joan Blondell was excellent, even in her small role. She and Cagney make a delightful team. Harlow had flashes of what made her a big star, but it is obvious that she is still very early in her career. Having watched a few of Harlow’s pre-codes, she really comes to her own a year later in 1932 with Red-Headed Woman and Red Dust.
As much as I love Bette Davis (she’s my second favorite after Lucille Ball), I do not watch The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex for her. I watch for my man, Errol Flynn (portrays Lord Essex, obviously). Davis’ preparation for the role as England’s Queen Elizabeth I is legendary. To accurately portray the 60-something year old monarch (despite only being 31), Davis shaved back her hairline to mimic Elizabeth I’s reported hair loss. She even shaved off her eyebrows! Which Davis later admitted was a mistake, as her eyebrows didn’t grow back properly. Forever after the film, she had to pencil in her eyebrows. Davis performed a lot of research for her role, and came up with many of Elizabeth I’s quirks and mannerisms herself based off her studies. One such quirk that Davis inserted into the film was Elizabeth’s propensity to fidget with her beads or other things. It’s the fidgeting that drives me crazy. It’s very distracting. It’s the one thing that turns me off of this film.
‘Elizabeth and Essex’ got off to a very rocky start. Davis wanted Sir Laurence Olivier to appear as Lord Essex. However, he was unavailable. Instead Warner Brothers cast their big star, Errol Flynn, to appear alongside Davis. The film’s high production costs led to the decision to cast Flynn as the studio hoped to not only recoup their budget, but to make a profit as well (obviously). Davis was very unhappy about the decision and did not make a secret of her dissatisfaction with her co-star. She treated Flynn very poorly and didn’t hold back when criticizing his acting ability. In his (fantastic) autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Flynn recalls their first dress rehearsal of the scene in which Essex makes his entrance into the film to answer to Elizabeth I re: his latest military defeat (and she slaps him across the face). Essex has to make a long walk, through the middle of the English court, towards Elizabeth I who is seated on her throne.
“Finally, they called the first real rehearsal, and I must say, that as Bette assumed her place on the throne, dressed as Elizabeth, with great big square jewels on her hands, and on her wrists big heavy bracelets, she was living the part. She was Queen Elizabeth. I started the walk down through the English court. The cameras were grinding, the extras were gazing at me or at the throne, and I reached the Queen…Then all of a sudden, I felt as if I had been hit by a railroad locomotive. She had lifted one of her hands, heavy with those Elizabethan rings, and Joe Louis himself couldn’t give a right hook better than Bette hooked me with. My jaw went out. I felt a click behind my ear and I saw all these comets, shooting stars, all in one flash. It didn’t knock me to the ground. She had given me that little dainty hand, laden with about a pound of costume jewelry, right across the ear. I felt as if I were deaf.”
Errol Flynn in My Wicked Wicked Ways (1959).
The tense situation on the set did not improve from there. In his book, Flynn acknowledges that Bette was a great actress; but it’s safe to say that they were never going to be bosom buddies. Flynn also asserts that Bette’s animosity towards him is due to his turning down her advances. Whether this is true or not, is hard to say. Either way, Flynn and Bette never worked together again after ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ There is a famous anecdote about Bette and friend (and ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ co-star) Olivia de Havilland. Decades after the filming of ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ and even Flynn’s passing in 1959, Bette and Olivia attended a viewing of ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ Bette was quoted as saying about Flynn: “I was wrong, wrong wrong. Flynn was brilliant.”
The basic plot of ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ is that Queen Elizabeth I is having an affair with the much younger, Lord Essex. While she is in love with Essex, Elizabeth fears that his intentions are not entirely honorable. She is afraid that the much younger Essex, will use his youth, popularity, and influence to take over her throne. Her vanity worries continue throughout the film. Essex maintains that he is in love with Elizabeth, but at the same time he knows that there is no heir to her throne. It is hard to ascertain whether his motives are genuine, or if he just wants to insinuate himself into the accession line for the British throne. Elizabeth, I think, is in love with Essex, but struggles between her love for him and her duty to the English people. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting, Penelope (de Havilland), also lusts for Essex and uses her position to try and drive a wedge between Elizabeth and Essex.
Now onto the real point of this blogathon–the costumes. Obviously, Elizabeth’s costumes are the highlight of the film. Famed costume designer, Orry-Kelly, designed all the costumes for ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ Elizabeth’s gowns were very extravagant and apparently weighed about sixty pounds. Poor Bette Davis regularly lost 2-3 lbs daily just from sweating under the heavy lights during film production. Bette wears an array of Elizabethan gowns. I’ll admit that I am not familiar with the actual terminology for the different parts of an Elizabethan gown. For the purposes of this blog, I googled “Elizabethan gown” to try and learn the correct names for the different components.
Many of Bette’s gowns are what’s known as a “French gown” which is a dress with a square neckline, tight bodice, and a full skirt. Bette had to be put into a corset everyday in order to present the proper silhouette for her Elizabethan garb. According to some of the articles I read, buxom women would need to wear a corset in order for the gown to fit properly. Less-endowed women could get away with just some boning placed in the bodice of the gown. Bette no doubt had a bosom, thus the corset. Elizabethan gowns were outfitted with a device called a “Spanish Farthingale” which was essentially a hoop skirt, as to give the dress the correct Elizabethan look. Then, there was the “bumroll” (lol) which was a padded device that women wore around their hips to make the skirt pop out more. There is no doubt that Bette is also wearing a similar device to achieve the right aesthetic.
Then, there is another type of skirt, whether it is a petticoat, or something called a “kirtle” that will be a decorative skirt that will cover the spanish farthingale. Then, if that weren’t enough, FINALLY, the dress is put on. Bette’s costumes also include decorative elements, like the ruffs, which provide the more well known Elizabethan touches, like the big ruffled cuffs and high ruffled stiff collars. There were also ruffled collars that just went around the neck, but didn’t stick up half a foot from the neck. The kirtle is the contrasting part of the skirt that is visible. After this many different layers, which didn’t even include any sort of underwear or stockings that Bette might be wearing, no wonder the costume weighed 60 lbs.
Many of Bette’s gowns in the film follow this same silhouette, but the gowns themselves all different from one another. The gowns are made of varying fabrics (brocade, silk, velvet to name a few) and colors. Her gowns are festooned with a variety of different decorative elements, like beading, lace, jewelry, flowers, and embroidery. Orry-Kelly would also change up the gowns by adding bunched sleeves, or extra ruffles, or what have you. Elizabeth’s costumes are very beautiful and elaborate. They truly are the highlight of the film.
Flynn’s costumes however, while not as elaborate, are still beautiful. Very few men could get away with tights and still look cool. But as Flynn proved in both The Adventures of Robin Hood and again in ‘Private Lives,’ is that he looks amazing in everything. Honestly, I pay more attention to Flynn than I do to Bette when I watch this film. When Flynn makes his grand entrance into the film as the defeated Lord Essex, he is dressed in a beautiful navy blue with gold trim doublet, with brown and gold breeches, brown tights, and knee-high brown boots. Nobody wore knee-high boots as beautifully as the 6’2″ Flynn. He is also wearing a black and gold breastplate with a red sash draped diagonally across it. And of course, because this film takes place during the Elizabethan era, he has on a tall, ruffed collar. For the sake of propriety, we will assume that Flynn’s Lord Essex is not outfitted with the codpiece that was custom during Elizabethan times.
Flynn’s costumes follow a similar template, though the components are changed up based on the action of the scene. Obviously, he is not always dressed in battle armor, except when appropriate. There is another scene where Essex is dressed in a teal outfit, and he’s wearing a gold garter or some sort of decorative element around his leg, under the knee. He also wears a variety of short and long capes in this film. Flynn’s costumes are also adorned with a variety of embellishments, and the type of fabrics are changed up. While Elizabeth wears a lot of bright, bold colors, Essex for the most part is dressed in more neutrals, like dark blue, brown, and teal.
Olivia de Havilland’s Lady Penelope and Elizabeth’s other ladies in waiting, including chanteuse, Mistress Margaret Radcliffe (Nanette Fabray), wear costumes similar to Elizabeth I, but they are less ornate, less busy. Lady Penelope in particular wears quite low-cut costumes and overall appears sexier (as sexy as one can be in Elizabethan garb) than Elizabeth I. This was probably a purposeful choice as Lady Penelope is presented as a foe for Elizabeth I. She has the hots for Essex and seems like a more logical partner for him than the aging monarch.
This is a wonderful film, in spite of Bette Davis’ constant fidgeting with her beads or whatever else is in her hands. There is no doubt watching this film that she studied and worked very hard to play Elizabeth I. In fact, she might have prepared a little too much as this performance seems a little more rigid than other performances of Bette’s that I’ve seen. Flynn of course is Errol Flynn. He is a great hero and a great lover. It is logical that Elizabeth and Penelope would both be in love with him. It is also logical that he’d use his good looks, popularity and influence to worm his way into Elizabeth’s confidence, so that she’d let her guard down as he keeps his eye on the prize (i.e. her throne). It doesn’t even matter that Flynn didn’t even attempt to not sound Australian. Flynn looks hot in his costumes. That’s all that matters to me. Poor Olivia de Havilland, was cast in this film right after finishing filming her role as Melanie in Gone With the Wind. Someone of her stature is wasted in the small part as Lady Penelope. However, it is nice to see her play a bad girl, a conniving type.
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
In today’s world, especially during the midst of a once in a century event (e.g. a global pandemic), laughter can be just the cure. A good comedy allows one to disappear into the world presented by the film. For the duration of the film, the viewer can forget about his or her troubles. In the film’s world, the viewer’s tax problems, health issues, financial struggles, relationship woes, etc. do not exist. A good comedy will endure, continue to entertain and remain funny, no matter how many times it has been seen by the viewer. One comedy that fits this bill is My Man Godfrey. I have seen this film at least a dozen times and it never fails to make me laugh.
My Man Godfrey tells the story of the wealthy Bullock family, prominent figures of the New York social set. This family is completely insane. At the beginning of the film, we meet the grown Bullock daughters, Cornelia (Gail Patrick) and Irene (Carole Lombard). Cornelia and Irene are taking part in a scavenger hunt, an event put on to entertain the rich for the evening. This scavenger hunt requires the participant to locate all the items on the list and return them to headquarters. Each wealthy family makes up one team and the members of the team work together to locate each object on the list. Cornelia and Irene are in search of a “forgotten man” (i.e. homeless, destitute man). They come across Godfrey (William Powell).
Cornelia instantly makes an enemy of Godfrey when she offers him $5, making it seem like she’s doing Godfrey a favor. When she informs him that it is part of a scavenger hunt, he is irritated and Cornelia ends up in an ash pile. Irene, on the other hand endears herself to Godfrey when she reveals herself to be of a much kinder temperament to Cornelia. Enchanted by Irene and wanting to help her beat the snobbish Cornelia, Godfrey agrees to return to the scavenger hunt’s headquarters as Irene’s forgotten man. With Godfrey’s help, Irene wins the scavenger hunt.
Godfrey gives an amazing speech at the scavenger hunt headquarters. He chastises the rich for using the less fortunate as a form of entertainment, and does not mince words. After making his contempt for the rich folks’ activities clear, Godfrey leaves in a huff. Feeling bad for upsetting Godfrey, Irene chases after him and offers him a job as her protégé and family butler. Godfrey accepts the position. The next day, Godfrey arrives for his first day of work and quickly learns what he has gotten himself into.
The Bullock family is bonkers. The matriarch of the family, Angelica (Alice Brady), has her own protégé, Carlo (Mischa Auer). Carlo is supposedly a musician, however we never hear him play more than one part of one song. Alexander (Eugene Pallette), the patriarch of the Bullock clan, is exasperated by Carlo, whom he sees as a mooch and drain on the family’s finances. There is a hilarious scene where a fed up Alexander asks Carlo to accompany him. We then hear glass breaking. Alexander returns and states that Carlo “had to leave very suddenly.” Alexander is the straight-man to the family’s antics, but even he has his moments of insanity. Cornelia is a snob and very much resents Godfrey’s presence in the family’s home. She does not hide her contempt for him. Irene however, is in love with Godfrey and does not hide her feelings for him whatsoever. Finally, Molly (Jean Dixon), the wise-cracking maid is Godfrey’s experienced counterpart whose sassiness is perfect for showing Godfrey “the ropes” of handling the various temperaments of the members of the Bullock family.
One particularly funny moment in the film has Irene hosting a party for her friends while experiencing a moment of depression after being rebuffed by Godfrey. She walks around the party in a dramatic moment saying things like: “life is but an empty bubble,” and “what is food?” Carole Lombard’s Irene is the key to the film’s comedy. She is so hilariously wacky, but at the core is just a sweet young woman who wants someone she can love. Godfrey is that person with whom Irene is completely smitten. However, the trick is to win over Godfrey. William Powell’s portrayal of Godfrey brings a steady, calming influence to the film. Without the straight-man Godfrey character, this film would be completely off the rails and would probably be really irritating. Godfrey’s looks of exasperation and sheer surprise make him a very funny character in his own right.
I love this movie. Irene, Godfrey and Angelica make me laugh and never fail to make me feel better. My Man Godfrey is one of my all-time favorite screwball comedies. This movie is a riot with each scene funnier than the last. I can imagine myself living in the Great Depression, scraping up some change to see this film in the theater. I can imagine myself laughing hysterically at this film and feeling better because I was able to forget about standing in the breadlines for just a few minutes. This is the power that movies have–escapism. A film that can whisk the viewer away and capture their imagination is a film that will endure for generations. My Man Godfrey is one such film that has endured for 85 years and will continue to last because it is hilarious. It never fails to make me feel better through its power to make me laugh.
Some of my favorite quotes from the film:
GODFREY: My purpose in coming here tonight was two-fold: firstly, I wanted to aid this young lady. Secondly, I was curious to see how a bunch of empty-headed nitwits conducted themselves. My curiosity is satisfied. I assure you it’ll be a pleasure to go back to a society of really important people.
Godfrey telling off the rich folk for using the less fortunate as entertainment fodder
GODFREY: These flowers just came for you, miss. Where shall I put them?
IRENE: What difference does it make where one puts flowers when one’s heart is breaking?
GODFREY: Yes, miss. Shall I put them on the piano?
Godfrey dryly reacting to Irene’s over-the-top dramatic behavior
CARLO: Oh Money! Money! Money! The Frankenstein monster that destroys souls!
ANGELICA (to ALEXANDER): Please don’t say anything more about it! You’re upsetting Carlo!
Carlo reacting to Alexander’s rant about money and Angelica trying to protect her mooching protégé.
IRENE: What is food?
Irene is dramatically moping around the house and trying to sound philosophical.
May 16th is upon us again. It’s National Classic Movie Day. Though honestly, I’m sure for many of us, EVERYDAY is National Classic Movie Day. For this year’s event, Classic Film and TV Cafe has asked us to list six favorite films, each from a different decade–starting with the 1920s through the 1970s. We were also given another option of the 1930s-1980s, but since my husband I have been trying to watch more silent films, I’m going to take the original challenge. To ease ourselves into silent films, we’ve started with the classic comedians–an obvious and easy jumping off point. Good comedy is universal and timeless. Since I’ve written about a lot of my favorite films over the years and have a tendency to be verbose and not wanting to bore everyone with yet another dissertation detailing my love for The Long Long Trailer, I’m going to try and change things up a bit by selecting some favorites that I don’t *think* I’ve talked about yet.
1920s- The Freshman (1925)
Starring: Harold Lloyd & Jobyna Ralston
Plot: Lloyd stars as “Harold Lamb,” an incoming freshman who is eager to begin his studies at Tate University. He has saved up quite a tidy sum, $485 ($7400 in 2021 dollars), to use as spending money while enrolled in college. While on the train, Harold meets Peggy (Ralston) and the two are smitten with one another. While at Tate, Harold decides that the best way to fit in is to emulate his favorite movie star, known as “The College Hero” in a series of films. Upon introducing himself to a potential friend, Harold performs The College Hero’s jig and adopting the nickname, “Speedy.” However, unbeknownst to Harold, his attempts to be cool and fit in make him the object of everyone’s jokes, especially the college bully. The students’ laughter makes Harold think that he’s fitting in and he’s unaware that he is the school laughing stock. His only true friend in the film is Peggy, his landlady’s daughter. Harold ends up trying out for the football team, but his obvious lack of athleticism does not impress the coach. The star football player, wanting to continue to make fun of Harold, convinces the coach to hire Harold as the waterboy, hereby making Harold think that he’s made the team. The star football player’s ruse may end up haunting him and the team later.
My Favorite Part: My favorite part of this film is when Harold is at the Fall Frolic in an unfinished suit. His tailor has all the pieces of the suit attached with some very loose stitches. Harold opts to wear the suit while the tailor hides behind a curtain, hoping to casually finishing sewing Harold’s suit. While Harold tries to partake in the Fall Frolic activities, his suit starts falling apart.
1930s- Alice Adams (1935)
Starring: Katharine Hepburn & Fred MacMurray
Plot: Hepburn stars as the titular Alice Adams, a young woman from the “wrong side of the tracks,” at least from Alice’s perception. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with the Adams’ home. It is a nice, clean home. It’s not fancy, but it’s functional and well-maintained. However, it is obvious that the Adamses are unhappy with their lot in life. Mr. Adams (Fred Stone) is an invalid and works as a clerk at Mr. Lamb’s (Charley Grapewin) glue factory. Mr. Lamb as been very nice and patient with Mr. Adams and his illness. However, Mrs. Adams (Ann Shoemaker) is frustrated with her husband’s lack of motivation or ambition to do anything to improve their financial situation. Alice’s brother, Walter (Frank Albertson), is a gambling addict and is unable to hold down a job. He also fraternizes with African-Americans, which at the time, was seen as unseemly (and embarrassing) behavior.
Alice is invited to a dance hosted by a wealthy peer of hers, Mildred Palmer (Evelyn Venable). Alice tries to put on airs, despite being escorted by her brother and carrying a bouquet of violets that she harvested outside. In an attempt to prove herself worthy of attending this party, she tries to impress her peers with haughty behavior and conversation, but they are not impressed and she is essentially shunned. While at the dance, she meets the wealthy Arthur Russell (MacMurray) who sees through her shtick but is nonetheless charmed. He makes it known that he wishes to see her more often and Alice, worried that he won’t be interested in her if he knew her true social standing (though he already does), tries to continue her charade.
My Favorite Part: The family dinner is hilarious and heartbreaking all at once. Alice invites Arthur to have dinner with her family. Alice hires a maid, Malena (Hattie McDaniel), to keep up the charade. Despite being blistering hot outside, the entire family dresses in formal attire. Alice plans this absurd (and very hot and heavy) meal made up of fancy delicacies, but Malena’s poor cooking skills are not up to par with the food Alice wants to serve. Malena provides the comic relief of the dinner with her unimpressed facial expressions and genuinely uncouth behavior. Poor Alice is collapsing emotionally with each and everything that goes wrong. Arthur, bless his heart, stoically carries on despite the disastrous evening.
1940s- Gilda (1946)
Starring: Rita Hayworth & Glenn Ford
Plot: Johnny Farrell (Ford) is an American gambler, newly arrived to Buenos Aires, Argentina. When the film opens, Johnny is hustling some gangsters outside during a game of craps. Johnny wins a large sum of money using loaded dice. When the gangsters discover Johnny’s ruse they are about to beat him up when Ballin Mundson (George Macready), a stranger, steps in and rescues Johnny. Ballin owns a fancy casino and brings Johnny there, but warns him not to cheat. However, once a cheater, always a cheater and Johnny is caught cheating at blackjack. After Ballin catches him cheating again, Johnny convinces him to give him a job and soon becomes the manager.
One day, Ballin comes back from a trip announcing that he’s taken a new wife, despite having only known her for a day. He takes Johnny to meet his new wife, Gilda (Hayworth), and Johnny is shocked. The smile on Gilda’s face quickly fades. It is obvious that these two know each other and have a past. What kind of past remains to be seen. Ballin assigns Johnny to be Gilda’s keeper of sorts. Gilda and Johnny have a very intense love/hate relationship. Gilda at one point says to Johnny: “I hate you so much, that I would destroy myself to take you down with me.” However, in spite of how much they say they hate each other, they’re also always about 5 minutes away from jumping into the sack with one another. To irritate Johnny and get his goat, Gilda begins cavorting with various men at all hours of the evening. Johnny has to keep intervening out of loyalty to Ballin. However, at some point, the tension between Gilda and Johnny begins to take over and they’re unable to contain themselves. Ballin observes his manager and wife’s lust for each other and takes matters into his own hands.
My Favorite Part: My absolute favorite part is Gilda’s floor-length sequin coat. But plot wise, the classic “Put the Blame on Mame” song is definitely a highlight. I also really love the scenes at Carnival. Gilda’s gaucho outfit is amazing.
1950s- His Kind of Woman (1951)
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price & Raymond Burr
Plot: Robert Mitchum plays Dan Millner, a professional gambler. At the beginning of the film, he is very much down on his luck. One night, after being ambushed by a group of thugs, he is brought to one of the more senior thugs and is offered a “too good to be true” job. For $50k, Dan has to spend a year in Mexico. Figuring that there’s got to be a catch, but also figuring that he has nothing to lose, Dan accepts a $5k advance and takes a chartered flight to the isolated Morro’s Lodge in Mexico. While on his flight, Dan meets Lenore Brent (Russell). Lenore very matter-of-factly tells Dan that she has a million dollars. Dan is attracted to her but disappointed to learn that she’s involved with another guest at the resort, famous actor Mark Cardigan (Price). While milling around the resort, Dan overhears two guests: Martin Kraft and a man by the name of Thompson (Jim “Thurston Howell III” Backus) discussing a plot that Dan suspects is related to the $50k he was offered. The two men give Dan $10k hush money and tell him that someone will be arriving soon to go over the plan with him.
Around the same time, an undercover agent from the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service shows up stating that underworld boss, Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr) is scheming to try and get back into the US. Four years prior, he’d been deported to Italy. At this point, as far as I can tell, Ferraro is planning a “Face/Off” situation where he and Dan, supposedly of similar height and build, will literally switch faces. It seems that Martin Kraft is a plastic surgeon, who is armed with some sort of anesthesia that will allow him to perform the face switching procedure. At some point, Dan is kidnapped and under duress on Ferraro’s boat and it becomes up to Mark Cardigan to head an expedition to save Dan.
My Favorite Part: The entire scene involving Mark Cardigan heading up the rescue mission. Vincent Price’s hamminess makes the scene and it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as interesting or funny without Price. Price brings some much wanted levity to the film, especially while Robert Mitchum faces the idea of having to literally have his face ripped off and switched with Raymond Burr’s. I love the scene where Mark valiantly boards a small boat, only to have it sink immediately because it’s overloaded. I love the hilarious super long (and I imagine, heavy, especially water-logged) cape that he wears while he mans the (larger) rescue boat.
1960s- Girl Happy (1965)
Starring: Elvis Presley & Shelley Fabares
Plot: Elvis plays Rusty Wells, a nightclub singer (duh) who along with the other three members of his quartet have just ended their gig at a nightclub in Chicago. They plan to travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for Spring Break before moving onto their next job. However, the nightclub owner, “Big Frank,” messes up their plans when he extends their contract and they have to cancel their trip.
At the same time, Big Frank’s 18-year old college-aged daughter, Valerie (Fabares), is also planning on traveling to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. Despite his daughter’s legal adult status, Big Frank is terrified at the idea of letting his daughter travel so far away with just her friends in tow. Rusty sees his boss’ worry, and still wanting to go to Florida, comes up with the brilliant idea of offering to chaperone Valerie. Big Frank likes the idea and offers to bankroll Rusty and his friends’ trip. While in Fort Lauderdale, Rusty struggles with keeping an Italian playboy from lusting after Valerie and maintaining a semblance of a relationship with a “good time girl” (i.e. loose girl) Deena (Mary Ann Mobley). Rusty has to keep bailing on Deena when duty calls and she quickly grows tired of him. But because it’s an Elvis movie and he has to find himself in some sort of love triangle, Deena continues to maintain an interest in Rusty throughout the entire film.
And because this is an Elvis movie and because it’s a tried and true plot with one party being hired to chaperone or hang out with (or what have you) the other. You know that they’ll fall in love and you know that the person being chaperoned will find out. Despite the formulaic Elvis movies and plotlines, I still love it. His movies are fluffy, but they’re fun. And sometimes a fun movie is all that is needed.
My Favorite Part: I love the part when Elvis dresses up in Nina Talbot’s dress to escape from Officer Jackie Coogan’s jail. Elvis had dug a large hole and burrowed himself into the jail cell so that he could save Valerie and the other women.
1970s- The Muppet Movie (1979)
Starring: Kermit the Frog & Fozzie Bear
Plot: The film opens with all of the Muppets sitting together in an auditorium, waiting to watch their film. This film shows how all the Muppets met. We meet Kermit the Frog sitting in a boat in a pond, singing “Rainbow Connection” while strumming his banjo. A talent agent (Dom Deluise) who just happens to be at the same pond, hears Kermit’s song and says that he could be a Hollywood star. I mean obviously, it’s a singing frog playing the banjo! What more could anyone want? Kermit loves the idea of making millions of people happy and sets off for Hollywood. Along the way, he meets a terrible (but awesome) stand-up comedian, Fozzie Bear. Kermit invites Fozzie to Hollywood and the two set off in Fozzie’s Studebaker. This brings about my favorite quote from the film, “A frog and a bear, seeing America.”
Along the way, Kermit and Fozzie meet Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (which includes Animal), the band’s manager, Scooter, Gonzo and his girlfriend (Camilla the Chicken), Sweetums, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, Bunsen Honeydew, and Beaker. There are a million of celebrity cameos: James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, Telly Savalas, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, and perhaps the greatest cameo of them all… ORSON WELLES.
My Favorite Part: This entire film is hilarious. But I really love the part where Kermit the Frog and Miss Peggy go out for a romantic dinner. They are greeted by a snarky and rude waiter (Steve Martin) who wears shorty shorts, offers them a straw for their bottle-capped Idaho champagne (after offering to let them smell the bottlecap, of course).
Ah Errol Flynn. My boyfriend, Errol Flynn. While proved himself an adept actor in dramas, comedies, sports films, adventure… He’s best known today for his swashbucklers. Many of Flynn’s swashbuckler films involved him wielding a sword, such as in Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Don Juan, Against All Flags, and his best-known film, The Adventures of Robin Hood. In Flynn’s films, he always played the rogue hero. A man who displayed massive amounts of bravado and heroism, but could also make women weak in the knees with one flash of his megawatt smile. Flynn could swagger into the room and cut the villain down to size with one cutting remark. He always played a charismatic leader, one whom others looked up to and wanted to support. In this article, I’m going to focus on Flynn’s pirate films, it is Pirate Week, after all.
Captain Blood (1935). This film was Errol Flynn’s big break. While he’d appeared in two films prior to Captain Blood, in one film, he played a corpse (The Case of the Curious Bride) and in another (Don’t Bet on Blondes), he had the small role as a boyfriend–nothing that was going to catapult him into stardom. For ‘Blood,’ Warner Brothers had wanted to cast Robert Donat, but he turned the film down, fearing that it’d be too strenuous for his asthma. Finally, the studio settled on the unknown Australian, Errol Flynn, and cast him alongside the equally unknown, 19-year old Olivia de Havilland. This would prove to be a monumental film for both actors.
In this film, Flynn plays the titular, Captain Peter Blood, a 17th century British doctor who is arrested and accused of treason against King James II after treating Lord Gilroy. The judge sentences him to death, but the King sees an opportunity for profit, and opts to transfer Peter and other rebellious men to the West Indies to be sold into slavery. After landing in Port Royal, the men are put up on the block to be sold to the wealthy landowners. When it’s Peter’s turn, he is purchased for 10 pounds by Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland), the wealthy niece of the local military commander, Colonel Bishop. Arabella is charmed by Peter’s rebellious nature and let’s face it, he was the most attractive of all the slaves. Peter resents having been purchased like he was a piece of meat. To improve his situation, Arabella recommends Peter for the job of her uncle’s personal physician. It seems that Colonel Bishop suffers from the gout. The conflict of the film occurs when Peter puts together a plan for himself and his fellow slave men to escape. They do and thus begin their life of piracy.
The Sea Hawk (1941) In this pirate film, Flynn plays Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, a British subject of Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson). He and his crew capture a Spanish ship, helmed by the Spanish Ambassador, Don Alvarez (Claude Rains), who along with his daughter, Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall), were sent to Britain by King Phillip II of Spain, to quell Elizabeth I’s suspicions that he’s trying to put together an Armada Fleet. However, after Thorpe captures their ship, he takes Don and Dona to Britain with him. And because he’s ladykiller Errol Flynn, Thorpe wins the affections of Dona Maria by returning her jewelry that he and his crew had stolen. While Queen Elizabeth I doesn’t approve of Thorpe’s crew’s activities as it endangers Britain and Spain’s peace treaty, she hesitantly allows Thorpe to go forward with his plan to seize a Spanish Treasure Fleet.
At one point in the film Flynn and his crew are captured by the Spanish and made to work as slaves in the Galley. They are chained to each other and to the boat and forced to provide the ship’s power. Let me just get this out of the way: I am here for scantily-clad slave Errol Flynn. Of course, the men need to figure out a way to escape. Later, Flynn charms Queen Elizabeth I with his monkey (no, that’s not a euphemism. He really does have a monkey) and continues to woo Dona Maria. This is a really great film, probably Flynn’s best pirate film, in my opinion. I wish they’d cast a leading lady with a little more personality, as Brenda Marshall is a little bland, but over all, she is fine. Flora Robson is also much more effective as Queen Elizabeth I, than my personal Queen, Bette Davis. Yes, I said it.
Against All Flags (1952). This film features an older Errol Flynn. No he’s not has lithe as he was previously. He’s a little more haggard. He isn’t quite the same vivacious Errol Flynn of the past as his demons were quickly catching up with him; but because it’s Errol Flynn, he is still attractive and still has panache. In this film, Flynn plays Lieutenant Brian Hawke, who works aboard the British ship, The Monsoon. He volunteers for a dangerous mission to infiltrate the pirate’s base on the coast of Madagascar. He plans to pose as a deserter. When Hawke arrives at the pirates’ base, he immediately arouses suspicion in Captain Roc Brasillano (Anthony Quinn). Brasillano says that he will bring Hawke in front of a pirates’ council to decide his fate. If they don’t like him, he’ll be executed.
At the same time, because it’s Errol Flynn, he’s attracted the attention of Spitfire Stevens (Maureen O’Hara), the only female pirate aboard ship. She is one of the Captains of the ship and inherited the position from her father. At the council, Hawke ends up dueling one of the pirates and winning. He’s invited to join the pirates on a tentative basis, as he still needs to prove his worth. At some point, after taking over another ship, another woman is taken on board. She becomes immediately smitten with Hawke, much to the chagrin of Spitfire, even though she pretends not to like Hawke. Eventually, because it’s Errol Flynn, he ends up in a love triangle with himself, Brasillano and Spitfire, with an offshoot of a small triangle between himself, the other woman, and Spitfire. Hawke himself has no interest in the other woman, he only has eyes for Spitfire.
This is a beautiful looking film. One cannot go wrong with Maureen O’Hara. She was also known for her pirate films. It is definitely a treat to have two major figures of Pirate Cinema: Flynn and O’Hara, in the same film.
February is the month of Valentine’s Day. A month to celebrate romance. A month to celebrate love. Typically, in lieu of the regular romance movie routine, I personally like to watch movies about obsessive love, like Leave Her to Heaven, where the antagonist, Ellen Berent’s only problem is that “she loves too much.” That’s putting it mildly. For this blogathon however, I’m going to go the more traditional route with a salute to my favorite movie couples. No, it’s not the most unique idea, but I hope that my selections are unique. These are the couples you hope will end up together. Even if they don’t, if the relationship ends on a satisfying note, it can still be a relationship worth coveting.
#1 Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund- Casablanca (1942). This isn’t a unique choice. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) are often held up as one of Classic Hollywood’s greatest romances; but for good reason. Rick and Ilsa’s goodbye scene at the airport is iconic. Who can forget Rick lifting Ilsa’s chin as she sobs, then delivering the iconic line: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Yes he’s repeating a line that he says to Ilsa in Paris, but it’s this moment where the line is the most poignant. It’s the final callback to the passionate romance they shared before World War II changed their lives permanently. Yes, Ilsa was married to Lazlo (Paul Henried) while they were in Paris and she’s married to him throughout the film. But who cares about Lazlo? This is Rick and Ilsa’s romance. They fell in love in Paris. They were torn apart by the war when Ilsa discovers that her “dead” husband, Lazlo, is actually alive. They’re brought back together in Casablanca when Lazlo’s work with the French Resistance takes him to Morocco. Rick and Ilsa’s feelings for one another come back and it’s such a passionate romance, it’s almost a shame that they don’t end up together. But the ending allows Rick to be the bigger man and to find his place in the world, with Louis Renault (Claude Rains) by his side. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship, indeed.
#2 Harry Morgan & Marie ‘Slim’ Browning- To Have and Have Not (1944). I’d be remiss to forget about Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s iconic first film together. For not being known as a matinee idol, Bogart found himself part of many classic on-screen romances. In this instance, it was his appearance as Harry Morgan (Bogart), a fisherman working in the French colony of Martinique, a Caribbean nation. Because this takes place right after the Fall of France to the Germans during World War II, the island of Martinique is a mish-mash of Germans (due to the control possessed by the Pro-German Vichy France), sympathetic French, and other people trying to escape their lives. One of these people that Harry meets, is “Slim” (Bacall), a young American woman who is a bit of a wanderer and has found her way to Martinique. The sparks between Harry and Slim are obvious, especially after Slim teaches him how to whistle. Bogie and Bacall’s on-screen chemistry leapt off the screen and into real life as Bogie and Bacall fell in love and became one of Classic Hollywood’s most iconic couples.
#3 Frances “Gidget” Lawrence & Jeffrey “Moondoggie” Matthews-Gidget (1959). If there’s one type of movie I love, it’s the teen beach movie and Gidget is the all-time best teen beach movie, in my opinion. Part of the reason I love this movie so much is for Gidget (Sandra Dee) and Moondoggie (James Darren). In this film, Gidget (nicknamed bestowed upon Frances by the surfer boys, it’s an amalgamation of “girl” and “midget”) is a 17-year old incoming high school senior who feels inadequate next to her more physically developed, boy crazy girlfriends. At the beginning of the film, we see Gidget and her friends try to attract the surfer boys at the beach, with Gidget failing miserably due to her awkwardness. But there’s something endearing about Gidget. She’s genuine. She can’t muster up the ability to try and attract the boys, because it seems fake. She just wants to swim. She doesn’t want to play stupid games trying to get their attention. She ends up catching the attention of one of the surfer boys, Moondoggie. At first Moondoggie is standoffish, but it’s obvious that he’s doing so because he’s trying to keep up his “cred” with the other boys. But through being protective of Gidget and later having a chance to spend time with her one-on-one, he realizes that he really does like her. Gidget’s liked him the whole time. When they have a chance to be together, they are smitten. Frankly, they are adorable and I love them. In the end, Gidget’s friends are still single and Gidget’s hooked herself a hot college guy by staying true to herself. Get it, girl!
#4 Connie Milligan & Joe Carter- The More the Merrier (1943). Connie (Jean Arthur) and Joe (Joel McCrea) are adorable. They’re brought together by the meddling, Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn), a retired millionaire who sublets half of Connie’s apartment during the World War II housing crisis. When Sergeant Joe Carter shows up to answer Connie’s ad, Mr. Dingle sees an opportunity to fix the uptight Connie up with a nice young man. Mr. Dingle sublets half of his half of the apartment to Joe. After learning about Mr. Dingle’s arrangement, Connie is upset. Especially when the men start razzing her about her fiance, Mr. Charles J. Pendergast. Despite trying to impress the two men with Mr. Pendergast’s good points (he makes $8600/year and has no hair), it becomes even obvious that she’s matched up with the wrong man. By this point, Joe has a crush on Connie and wants to spend time with her. Later one evening, Joe and Connie find themselves alone together on the front stoop of their apartment building. What unfolds on the front stoop is one of the sexiest, romantic scenes in Classic Hollywood, and nobody had to lose any of their clothes. I love them together and hope that they lived happily ever after… without Mr. Pendergast.
#5 Nick and Nora Charles, The Thin Man Series (1934-1947). Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) Charles are the power couple that everyone wishes they were. They are part of society. They have a beautiful home. They have an amazing dog, Asta. And, they solve mysteries together, thanks to Nick’s background as a detective. Nick loves the thrill of the mystery and Nora desperately wishes to be a part of the thrill. Nick tries to keep her at home and safe from the danger, but Nora always manages to horn her way in, by finding a vital clue or having an alluring thought about a potential suspect. At the start of the film series, Nick had retired from his detective career when he marries socialite Nora. Nick and Nora have such an amazing rapport and chemistry with one another, that the mystery almost takes a back seat to their relationship. William Powell and Myrna Loy are so amazing together, that one wishes they’d been married in real life.