Tag Archives: 1930s

The Judy Garland Blogathon–Judy & Gene

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The Gumm Sisters. Judy is bottom center. Mary Jane is on the left and Virginia is on the right.

96 years ago today, one of the world’s best entertainers was born.  Judy Garland was born Frances Gumm in 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.  As a young girl, she performed with her two sisters, Mary Jane and Virginia as part of the Gumm Sisters vaudeville act.  Frances was the youngest and most talented in the group.  When Frances was five, the Gumm family moved to the Los Angeles area.  Mrs. Gumm tried to keep her daughters in the minds of show business executives by having them appear in various short films.  The Gumm sisters toiled in short films, dance classes and schooling for a few years until 1935 when Frances was discovered by MGM.  The Gumm sisters had changed their last names to “Garland” at the end of 1934.  In addition, Frances changed her name to Judy.

MGM studio head, Louis B. Mayer, saw Judy performing with her sisters and was immediately impressed with Judy’s talent.  He requested that Judy and her father come down to MGM and meet with him in his office.  Judy sang “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” for Mayer.  She was immediately signed to a contract.  However, soon MGM found that Judy was difficult to cast.  She was thirteen–too old to be a child star and too young to be an adult star.  Judy spent a few years playing the girl next door parts, co-starring with huge MGM star Mickey Rooney in his Andy Hardy series.  In 1939, Judy was cast in her star-making role: Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz.

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Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz.” In her most memorable screen moment. singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

After ‘Oz,’ Judy was seventeen and was eager to move onto more mature parts.  MGM however, kept her pigeonholed into girl next door parts.  She appeared as a goody goody teen in Babes in Arms and Strike Up the Band with Mickey Rooney.  In 1940, Judy finally snagged her first adult role in Little Nellie Kelly, playing a dual role to boot!  By 1940, much to MGM’s chagrin, there was no doubt that Judy was grown up.  She had already been embroiled in a hot and heavy affair with bandleader Artie Shaw until he ran off with Lana Turner.  Judy was devastated.  She then got together with musician David Rose, whom she married in 1941.  By 1942, Judy was a huge star at MGM and was transitioning into adult roles.  One of her major adult roles was as a vaudeville star in For Me and My Gal.

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Gene Kelly making his film debut with star Judy Garland, in “For Me and My Gal.”

For Me and My Gal is notable for not only being one of Judy’s early adult roles, but also for being Gene Kelly’s film debut.  Gene had been making a name for himself on Broadway, first as a choreographer and then as the star of Pal Joey.  MGM objected to Gene’s casting, but Judy supported him and campaigned for him to get the part.  Throughout production, movie veteran Judy supported Gene and gave him acting tips, especially when it came to adjusting his stage acting for the silver screen.  Gene always remembered Judy’s kindness when he made his first film and continued to support her throughout the rest of her life.

By 1948, Judy and Gene were huge musical stars.  It was also by this time that Judy was having her well-documented personal issues.  Judy initially was excited about shooting The Pirate, she thought it would be fun.  Director Vincente Minnelli (and Judy’s husband) also thought it would be a nice change of pace for he and Judy.  However, the production was in trouble as soon as it began.  Production was delayed two months because of Judy’s mental health.  She was then worried that co-star Gene would steal all her thunder.  Gene would regularly assist in choreographing the routines–he saw The Pirate as a way to make the dancing more ballet-like, a dance style that Gene was very familiar with.

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Hypnotized Judy screams out for Macoco in “The Pirate.” MACOCO!

Judy experienced multiple paranoia episodes during production and barely even showed up to shoot her scenes.  She was only present about 35 days out of the 100+ days of production.  When Judy was absent, the filmmakers would shoot around her.  During Judy’s absences, Gene would work closely with Minnelli on coming up with ideas for scenes and such.  When Judy would show up for work, she’d notice Gene and Vincente’s close relationship and become jealous.  She also thought that her husband had developed a crush on Gene (By all accounts, Gene was straight and did not reciprocate the crush).  Judy’s paranoia, combined with her addiction to pills, led to a nervous breakdown.

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Gene Kelly’s shorty shorts in “The Pirate.”

Judy’s mental health issues caused production to stretch from the planned two months to six.  In the end though, Judy pulled out a great performance–like she usually did.  Judy’s Manuela is one of her funniest performances–especially when she is hypnotized and starts crying out for Macoco.  “Mack the Black” is one of Judy’s most memorable songs.  The Pirate ended up losing money at the box office and was considered one of Judy, Gene and Minnelli’s worst films.  However, now The Pirate has found its audience and it is considered one of the classic musicals.   If you only watch one part of The Pirate, watch the scene where Gene dances with fire while wearing shorty shorts.  You won’t regret it.

In 1948, MGM wanted to re-team their two biggest musical stars, Judy and Gene, in another film, this time Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade.  Judy was supposed to play a waitress whom Gene’s character discovers and molds into his new dance partner.  Gene’s partner, played by Cyd Charisse, has decided to leave the act and strike out on her own. Just prior to production however, Gene broke his ankle during a heated volleyball game at his home.  Gene managed to coax Fred Astaire out of retirement and asked him to take his place.  Cyd Charisse ended up tearing a ligament in her knee and she was replaced by Ann Miller. If you can’t get Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, I guess Fred Astaire and Ann Miller will have to do (lol).  Easter Parade was a smash hit and soon MGM was eager to pair Judy and Fred up in The Barkleys of Broadway.

The Barkleys of Broadway was supposed to feature Judy and Fred as a successful husband and wife musical comedy team.  However, Judy’s character meets a famous playwright who suggests that she take up dramatic acting.  Fred’s character of course is upset.  Judy started production on the film but was soon fired after it was apparent that she had a serious addiction to prescription pills and alcohol.  MGM fired Judy from the film.  They then had the brilliant idea of reuniting Fred with his old RKO dance partner, Ginger Rogers.  Judy fumed at being replaced by Ginger.  It was known that Ginger had an unusually high amount of peach fuzz on her face.  Judy, feeling vindictive, sent Ginger a shaving mug and brush to “congratulate” her on the role (I don’t know if this anecdote is true, I read it somewhere, but if it is, it’s horribly petty on Judy’s part.  But it’s also hilarious).

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Judy and Gene dance the “Portland Fancy” in “Summer Stock.”

In 1950, Judy was cast and then fired from Annie Get Your Gun, due to her normal attendance issues and mental problems.  Busby Berkeley had also been hired to stage the musical numbers and Judy absolutely loathed him.  They had had their run-ins on previous Judy films.  MGM gave her one last shot and re-teamed her with co-star Gene in Summer Stock.  By this point, Gene was a huge star and he didn’t want to appear in a typical “let’s put a show on in the barn!” musical.  And in fact, Summer Stock does feature the gang putting a show on in the barn, albeit, a very large and fancy barn.  Neither Gene, nor director Charles Walters wanted to do the film, but both men did so as a favor to Judy, whom they liked and wanted to help.

In Summer Stock, Gene appears as the director of a small-time musical theater troupe.  One of the members of this troupe happens to be Judy’s sister, Gloria DeHaven.  Gene is also dating Gloria.  The theater troupe has been looking for a place to practice and hold their show.  Gloria suggests sister Judy’s barn on the family farm.  It is apparent that Judy is working hard to keep her family farm going, even through hard times.  Gloria on the other hand, doesn’t want to be a farmer, she wants to be an actress.  Eventually, Gloria ends up leaving the show and Gene ends up coaxing Judy to join the show after seeing that she has singing and dancing talent.  The conflict is that Judy is dating Eddie Bracken, the son of a very boisterous and bossy man who only wants to unite the two oldest families in town.  Eddie however, is such a wimp, that it’s hard to see why Judy even tolerates him.  By the end of the film, she doesn’t and has fallen for Gene–who in return, has fallen for her.  It’s a simple story, nothing groundbreaking, but it features a lot of memorable songs and dances.

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The horrible “Heavenly Music” number featuring Phil Silvers and Gene Kelly. I hate this number so much, I wish it would just die and go away. Judy apparently was supposed to be in this number too, but called in sick and they went ahead with the number anyway. I think Judy knew what she was doing. Shrewd move on her part, I say.

During production, Judy experienced her usual issues, but MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer pressured the film crew to keep going and to accommodate Judy’s issues.  He didn’t want to see her get fired from her third consecutive film.  In one incident, Judy did show up for work, but wasn’t up to filming.  To take the heat off of her, Gene feigned an ankle injury, so that he would be the cause of the production delay.  Gene choreographed two of the most memorable numbers in the film: “You, Wonderful, You” which he performs with simply a squeaky floorboard and a newspaper, and “The Portland Fancy” which features Judy and Gene in a fun dance-off.  Spoiler Alert: Gene wins! Thankfully, Gene was not responsible for creating the god-awful “Heavenly Music” number.  He only had the misfortune of appearing in it.  Supposedly, Judy was supposed to appear in it too, but called in sick that day.  It was decided to go on without her and film it with just Phil Silvers and Gene.  I don’t think Judy was sick, she knew what she was doing.  She didn’t want to have any part of that terrible number.

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Judy Garland in “Get Happy” in “Summer Stock.”

After filming completed, it was decided that Judy needed a big solo number.  By this point, she had taken a well needed vacation and had lost 15-20 pounds.  “Get Happy” was the number that was selected.  Judy looks noticeably thinner in this number and looks and acts more like the Judy Garland that everyone knows.  “Get Happy” is one of the highlights of Summer Stock and is one of Judy’s best numbers.  Summer Stock was released and was a big hit.

Judy was then re-teamed with Fred Astaire and assigned Royal Wedding.  Judy was replacing June Allyson who had to drop out of the film due to pregnancy.  However, Judy’s demons once again re-surfaced and she was replaced by Jane Powell.  At the end of 1950, MGM and Judy made the mutual decision to terminate Judy’s contract.  Judy wouldn’t return to the silver screen until 1954’s A Star is Born.  Judy’s performance as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester is tremendous, especially her rendition of “The Man That Got Away.”  Judy was nominated for the Oscar and in my opinion, she should have won.  However, Grace Kelly ended up walking away with the award for her performance as Bing Crosby’s plain and disgruntled wife in The Country Girl.  Judy was devastated by the loss.

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Because this gif from “An American in Paris” featuring Gene does not get featured nearly enough on this blog.

While Gene Kelly’s star soared even higher after Summer Stock (his last pairing with Judy), Judy’s collapsed except for her brief renaissance in A Star is Born.  Gene went on to create two of the most influential and highly regarded musicals of all time: An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain.  Gene’s rendition and dance to “Singin’ in the Rain” is probably the most famous musical number of all time.  Judy herself had sung “Singin’ in the Rain” in Little Nellie Kelly (1940).  The famous “Good Morning” song performed and danced by Gene, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds was also performed by Judy and Mickey Rooney in Babes in Arms (1939).  These songs were used in the film to show the development and transition of silent to talking pictures.  I would argue that Judy was one of the major players in helping the transition.  Gene’s contributions were important of course, but films had transitioned by the time he came on the scene.  Judy was right there almost from the beginning.

Without Judy Garland, there might not have been a Gene Kelly.

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Judy and Gene are “Ballin’ the Jack” in “For Me and My Gal.”
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The Busby Berkeley Blogathon– “Pettin’ in the Park”

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I’ll admit that Busby Berkeley isn’t one of my favorite figures from the classic era of Hollywood.  While I recognize that his choreography is unique and very creative, sometimes I find it a little tedious when there is a lot of it present in one film.  Some of the kaleidoscope numbers seem to just go on and on.  However, in the terms of the modern movie musical, Berkeley is a pioneer.  Not only for uniting song and visuals together, but also for his technical work when bringing the musical number to life on screen.  As a choreographer,  Berkeley didn’t just merely have the chorus girls tap out a syncopated beat and move left to right within the constraints of the stage.  Berkeley had elaborate soundstages built to showcase his numbers.  Other routines he created featured large winding staircases, large sets of risers to feature multiple layers of dancers, enormous fountains and more.  Berkeley’s set pieces not only made use of the stage itself but all the vertical space above.  The dance numbers are always over the top and very much in rhythm.  Berkeley’s heyday was in the early 1930s, before the production code was enforced (this era is also known as “pre-code”).  Many of Berkeley’s dance numbers can also feature some racy elements that many people may find surprising for an eighty-plus year old film.

One of Berkeley’s raciest pre-code films is undoubtedly 1933’s The Gold Diggers of 1933 and despite what I said about not being a huge fan of Berkeley, I love this film.  Starring the usual Berkeley pre-code musical suspects: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, Ned Sparks, and Joan Blondell, The Gold Diggers of 1933 features Powell as a songwriter who is hired to write the music for girlfriend Keeler’s new show.  The opening number, “We’re in the Money” performed by Rogers, is pretty racy for a 1933 film as the girls appear to only be clad in a coin cape and bra with a large coin serving as a pair of panties.  Rogers’ large coin is ripped off her after the number when the costumes and set pieces are repossessed.  Despite the scantily clad dancers in this number, this is hardly the raciest production in the film–that honor goes to “Pettin’ in the Park.”

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Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell are “pettin’ in the park.”

“Pettin’ in the Park” features Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler “on a date” with Powell reading an excerpt from the book, Advice to Those in Love.  The main crux of the advice is that spending time outside with your partner is a sure-fire way to get them “in the mood.” Powell starts crooning a catchy tune while Keeler clomps around on stage (I don’t think she’s a good dancer, definitely not graceful).  The song Powell is singing is a little ditty entitled, you guessed it, “Pettin in the Park.” Keeler joins in on some of the verses. It features immortal lyrics like this:

Pettin’ in the park…bad boy
Pettin’ in the dark…bad girl!
First you pet a little
Let up a little, and then you get a little kiss!

Suddenly a box of animal crackers (that Keeler had on her person for whatever reason) transforms into a zoo with a park scene.  There are dozens of couples on screen “petting” one another.

Then, this is where the musical number gets bizarre.  Powell starts really taking the petting advice from his self-help book to heart, and he gets a little too “handsy” for Keeler’s taste in the back of a car.  She bails on him, on a pair of roller skates no less, and heads home.  Suddenly a whole line of roller skating policemen emerge, along with a “baby” played by Billy Barty.  He is wearing a big bonnet and sitting in a baby carriage. He then rolls through the scene while shooting spitballs.  Barty is absurd, because it’s obvious he’s not a baby–but rather a little kid (Barty was born a dwarf.  His full adult height was 3’9).  The cops then go after the baby.  They try to grab him, he ducks and they roll past him and away.

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“Baby” Billy Barty

Next, we’re treated to a scene of this park as it progresses throughout all the seasons.  We first see the chorus girls sporting winter fashions while they brave a snowstorm.  Then the scene progresses into the spring and summer.  We see all the petting couples lying on benches.  The women are wearing flimsy white dresses.  Everyone’s in blissful “Pettin’ in the Park” glee, until oops, it’s fall now.  A rainstorm breaks out and the women run for cover, hiding behind a series of dressing rooms located behind one large curtain–it looks like separate rooms though.

The women remain in silhouette as they remove their wet clothing and get into something more comfortable.  This is probably one of the most risque scenes that has ever appeared in a pre-code film.  It is obvious that most of the women are topless or maybe even nude, as they change into something more comfortable.  Lecherous baby Billy Barty is back, this time sporting rain gear.  With a mischievous grin and shifty eyes, he raises the curtain.   The ladies’ bare legs slowly come into view and they are now sporting sexy new outfits.  Except the outfits are not sexy at all.  All the ladies emerge from the curtain wearing metal clothing.  Almost a literal chastity belt, if you will– the perfect outfit for any “pure” woman.

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One of the raciest scenes in pre-code

The men are understandably a little disappointed and perhaps are in a little bit of pain, physically.  We’re back to Powell and Keeler, who is also now sporting metal clothing.  Billy Barty is to the rescue however, as he hands Powell a can opener.  The number ends with a suggestive shot of Powell cutting Keeler’s “dress” with the can opener.

This number would never be accepted today.  With today’s intense focus on sexual harassment, consent, and women’s roles in society, this number would have probably spawned numerous boycotts, social media diatribes, statements from the filmmakers expressing regret for having ever conceived of the number, hashtags, and everything else that could be done to express rage or apologize.  It is important to look at this number from a 1933 perspective, however.  It is a perception that people used to be a lot more prim and proper “back in the day,” or at least until the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and subsequent Women’s Rights movement in the 1970s.  However, it is obvious that even in 1933, the ideas about sexual roles were around even then–men are the pursuer and the women are the ones being pursued.  Sex was also on the forefront of almost any romantic couple’s minds.  Were the couples that were “pettin’ in the park” married? Probably not.  Powell and Keeler’s characters were not, yet off goes the chastity belt (though they marry by the end of the film).  One of the great things about “Pettin’ in the Park” is that the film is so delightfully indiscreet when it’s putting on the guise of being discreet–the perfect quality in any pre-code film, in my opinion.

Pettin’ in the park… bad boy!
Pettin’ in the dark… bad girl!
Dad and mother did it,
But we admit it,
I’m pettin’ in the park with you.

 

National Classic Movie Day–Top 5 Favorite Actors

So sorry I missed my last two advertised Blogathon events.  Frankly, I’ve been really busy at work and at the time I signed up for the events, I wasn’t anticipating how busy we’d be.  Inventory Control in the warehouse has been crazy and everyone (myself included) have been working mandatory 10-hr shifts + OT on Saturdays.  We’re halfway through the month, so if I can get through May, I should have more time to dedicate to writing.  I did not want to miss National Classic Movie Day.  This year, we’ve been asked to discuss our Top Five Favorite Actors, which believe me, is was quite an arduous task just to narrow down my favorites.

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Without further ado…

1954 photo of actor Errol Flynn.
Errol and I have the same sunglasses!

My boyfriend, Errol Flynn.  He’s the whole package: unbelievably attractive, charming, athletic, gifted, great accent, tall, he’s got everything.  Aside from his physical attributes, Flynn is a highly underrated actor.  One of Warner Brothers top stars of the 1930s-1940s, Flynn provided a nice alternative to the gangster and “weepy” films that also permeated the movie landscape at the same.  Though dozens of actors have tried, nobody can top Flynn’s portrayal of the legendary Sherwood Forest outlaw, Robin Hood in The Adventures of Robin Hood.  Flynn was born to steal from the rich and give to the poor.   He is one of the few male performers who completely steals the viewer’s gaze (or maybe the female viewer, lol) from the female lead.  Who even notices “her” when he’s on the screen? Did I mention that he’s super cute? And that accent! ::swoon::

Best Known FilmsThe Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, Dodge City and They Died With Their Boots On.

My Favorite Films: Gentleman Jim, Uncertain Glory, The Sisters, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Never Say Goodbye and Footsteps in the Dark.

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Alan Hale and Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim.  ‘Jim’ is a great Errol eye candy film by the way… you know, if that’s what you’re into 😉

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The Star Who Introduced Me to Classic Film: Lucille Ball.  In 1995, when I was in the sixth grade, I discovered Nick at Nite.  How I ended up on the channel, I don’t know and I don’t care.  The first show I watched was I Love Lucy.  I was immediately hooked.  I thought this show was hilarious.  Then, I ended up falling in love with the shows that came on after I Love Lucy, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Brady Bunch and The Munsters.  But ‘Lucy,’ was always my favorite.  On weekdays, I made sure to have all my homework and such completed, so that I was ready to go at 8pm to watch “my shows” uninterrupted.  On Saturdays, Nick at Nite had the “Whole Lotta Lucy Saturday” which was my favorite day, because you got to watch two episodes of I Love Lucy and an episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.

From my love of Lucy and my natural curiosity, I started borrowing books about Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy from the library.  It was from these books that I learned that Lucy had been a movie actress prior to being on I Love Lucy.  Soon, I needed to watch all the Lucy movies that I could get my hands on.  Lucille Ball appeared in dozens of films before hitting it big in radio and television–she could never seem to find her niche in film.  At this same time, TCM was in its infancy and soon I was scouring the TV Guide (remember the paper TV Guide that used to come in the Sunday newspaper?) looking at TCM’s schedule to see what Lucille Ball films were airing.  I would rig up the VCR and cross my fingers that 1) The recording actually worked; and 2) The tape didn’t run out!

From my exposure to Lucille Ball on TCM, I was exposed to other actors which led me to learning about other actors and so on.  I discovered Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers through Stage Door (which also featured Lucy); I discovered Gene Kelly through Du Barry Was a Lady (featuring, you guessed it, Lucy).  From Gene Kelly, I discovered other favorites like Ann Miller and Cyd Charisse.  I Love Lucy started me down the glorious wormhole that is classic film.  I never tire of classic film.  I never tire of Lucille Ball; and I never tire of I Love Lucy.

Best Known Films: Stage Door, The Long Long Trailer, Yours Mine and Ours, Mame and The Big Street.

My Favorite Films: The Long Long Trailer (My #1 favorite film of all time), Stage Door, The Affairs of Annabel, Miss Grant Takes Richmond, Five Came Back, Next Time I Marry and Beauty For the Asking.

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My spirit twin, Lucy Ricardo

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Judy looks longingly at “the boy next door” Tom Drake, in Meet Me in St. Louis.  I don’t blame her, he’s cute!

The Star to Whom I Just Want to Give a Big Hug: Judy Garland.  Poor Judy.  She had such a sad, tragic life.  She had a lot of problems that unfortunately affected her work.  However, you would never know of her problems from watching her on screen.  She is so charming and such a joy to watch.  She was a very unique performer.  She wears her emotions on her sleeve.  As an audience member, you feel every feeling she’s emoting on screen. She’s very underrated as an actress and only appeared in a handful of films where she didn’t sing.  One of her greatest performances is as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in A Star is Born.  Frankly, as much as I like Grace Kelly, Garland was robbed of the Best Actress Oscar in 1955.  Her performance is brilliant and also features one of her greatest musical performances, the torch song, “The Man Who Got Away.”

I find it tragic that MGM (allegedly) treated her so poorly when she was under contract.  Louis B. Mayer referred to her as “[his] little hunchback” and frequently made unkind comments about her appearance.  As a teenager, Judy was often cast as the less attractive buddy to the male star.  This is most evident in her films with Mickey Rooney.  Judy was Mickey’s friend, but she was never the object of his affections.  It didn’t help that Judy competed with the likes of Lana Turner and Ava Gardner who were all her peers when she was at MGM.  I think Judy was very pretty.  She had a unique beauty.   Frankly, I find Judy prettier than Lana Turner, only because Turner seems to have a bit of a generic blonde starlet look about her.  Judy is her prettiest in Meet Me in St. Louis and Easter Parade.

Judy’s performances and songs often have an underlying sadness about them and that’s why I want to give her a hug.

Best Known Films: The Wizard of Oz, A Star is Born, Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, and the Mickey Rooney films (Babes in Arms, Girl Crazy, Babes on Broadway and Strike Up the Band).

My Favorite Films: Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, The Clock, The Pirate, The Harvey Girls, Summer Stock and Presenting Lily Mars

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Perhaps Judy’s greatest number: “Get Happy,” from Summer Stock

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“Dignity, always, dignity.” From Singin’ in the Rain

Star Who I Could Watch Dance ALL DAY LONG: Gene Kelly.  I love Gene Kelly.  I love Fred Astaire too, but I love Gene Kelly and would venture to give him a slight edge over Astaire.  I would never compare the two men as dancers, as they have two completely different styles, but in terms of films, I love Gene’s films just a wee bit more.  I have found that some people are not fans of Gene’s because they find him too hammy or what not.  I don’t.  I find his smile endearing and also enjoy the massive musical numbers he puts on.  The ballet in An American in Paris is exquisite and a real joy to watch.  The Broadway Melody in Singin’ in the Rain is amazing.  Gene’s greatest on-screen moment may be his performance of the title song from Singin’ in the Rain.  Gene’s joy and enthusiasm is contagious in this number.  I defy anyone to watch it and not instantly feel happier.  If it doesn’t move you, then you’re made of stone and I don’t know if I want to watch movies with you anymore.

Each of Gene’s movies are so innovative and so different from one another.  They really are a work of art and demonstrates how much Gene loves dancing and showcasing the artistry of dance.  His films, like On the Town, An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain, elevated the musical film as an art form.  One of his greatest contributions to the musical is forming the plot around the music and dancing so that it makes sense within the context of the film.  Many opponents of musicals dislike them because they find the musical interludes random and they cannot suspend their disbelief.  I’ve found that Gene’s musicals (and many of Astaire’s as well) so beautifully incorporate the music and dance into the film and the dance numbers seem natural and not random at all.

I remember when he died.  I was in the seventh grade and so sad– I watched Singin’ in the Rain in his honor.

Best Known Films: Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, Brigadoon, On the Town, Anchors Aweigh, For Me and My Gal

My Favorite Films: Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, On the Town, The Pirate, Summer Stock, What a Way to Go!, Cover Girl, Xanadu

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My favorite moment of the ballet from An American in Paris

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“Fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy night.” All About Eve

Actor Who I’d be Terrified of, but Also Fascinated By: Bette Davis.  I love Bette Davis.  She is amazing.  She seems like she would have been completely intimidating in person, but also a joy to listen to.  She is compelling in her 1971 Dick Cavett interview (I highly recommend watching it on You Tube or Hulu if you have a chance).  I could listen to her recollect about her life and career all day.

Bette Davis has an interesting career trajectory.  She started out with small parts in a variety of pre-code films.  Many of these films are not good, but she has a few early films here and there that show that Bette had that certain something.  Her big break was Of Human Bondage in 1934.  Many felt that Bette was robbed of the Oscar for her performance in that film, and that her 1935 Oscar win for Dangerous was a consolation prize for having lost to Claudette Colbert the year prior.  Bette had to fight for good roles at Warner Brothers, which was very male driven.  She was on suspension many times, which paid off in the end, when she finally became Warner Brothers’ top female star.  The tides turned for Bette in 1938 when she won her second Oscar for Jezebel.  From then on, through the end of the 1940s, Bette churned out one hit film after another.  By the end of the 1940s, Bette’s star was waning. She left Warner Brothers after filming ended on the hilarious (albeit, unintentionally, I think) Beyond the Forest. She had a bit of a comeback with the amazing All About Eve, however this didn’t end up materializing with any other huge parts. By the 1960s, her career had segued into “psycho-biddy horror films” (as they’re known). I for one, really enjoyed her small role as an elderly aunt in 1976’s Burnt Offerings.

I love Bette because she really gives her all in her roles–she sacrifices glamour in name of the character.  In The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Bette had no qualms about playing a 60 year old Queen Elizabeth I to Errol Flynn’s 30 year old Lord Essex.  She shaved her hairline to mimic the real Elizabeth I’s balding and studied very hard in an attempt to play the Queen as true to life as possible.  In Mr. Skeffington and Now, Voyager, Bette allows herself to appear very unattractive as it fits within the confines of the plot.  In ‘Skeffington,’ Bette’s character is very vain and goes through great lengths to maintain her appearance.  After a bout of diphtheria, Bette’s character’s looks are ruined and she must cope.  In Now, Voyager, Bette appears as a frumpy, overweight, bushy eyebrow-ed spinster who undergoes a makeover which changes her life.  Even when Bette is completely bonkers, like in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, she commits.  “Go big or go home” seems to be her motto.

Best Known Films: Jezebel, Now Voyager, Mr. Skeffington, All About Eve, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Dark Victory

My Favorite Films: Now Voyager, All About Eve, Mr. Skeffington, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Sisters, Three on a Match, June Bride, The Letter, Little Foxes and Beyond the Forest.

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If you ever get a chance to see Beyond the Forest, do it.  Bette is hilarious.  She is the queen of camp.

Great Moments in Movies- “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) Dorothy Enters ‘Oz’

Movies are made up of a series of moments.  Some moments are exciting, others are sweet.  Some moments are shocking, others are heartwarming.  It’s these moments that the audience remembers.  A film that contains a memorable moment (or multiple ones) is the one that audiences return to over and over again.  There are films that one loves to watch again and again, then there are others that one viewing is enough.  I love Classic films but I don’t instantly subscribe to the idea that just because it’s old, it’s instantly a classic.  A film has to be memorable.  A film has to be worthy of watching again and again without it being tiresome.  While a film may not have received critical acclaim, if it fulfills the aforementioned criteria, then for me, it’s a classic.

This series is about the memorable moments.  The moment in a film that sets the film apart from others.

Without further ado, here is a memorable moment:

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Dorothy steps out of her crashed home into the wonderful world of Oz

The Wizard of Oz (1939).  This film features a series of memorable moments, but the scene in which Judy Garland (Dorothy) steps out of her sepia-toned home and into the colorful world of Oz is one of the most memorable and one of the best in cinema. The contrast between the drab brown of the beginning and the bright, almost too bright, world of The Munchkins is awe-inspiring and does a perfect job setting up the magic of Oz.  This scene also sets up one of the most famous lines in film: “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

No Dorothy, you are most definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Clearing the DVR- 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.