Tag Archives: 1940s

Favorite Performers: Gene Kelly

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Even with the scar, Gene is pretty cute!

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of Gene Kelly’s passing at the age of 83.  I remember hearing of his death in the sixth grade and feeling so sad.  I was a few months shy of twelve at the time.  I had just discovered Nick at Nite the year prior and had just discovered Gene Kelly by way of his appearance with Lucille Ball in DuBarry Was a Lady (1943). While ‘DuBarry’ wasn’t his best film, I liked Gene.  He just had that je ne sois quoi about him.  After seeing him with Lucy, I was hooked.  I religiously checked the TCM listings (then in its infancy) for Gene’s movies and tried to set the VCR to record them.  With each recording, I’d cross my fingers hoping that I’d set up the recording correctly and that the tape wouldn’t run out before my recording was complete.  Between TCM and the ever reliable Hollywood Video, I managed to see a few of Gene’s films.  When I heard that he had died, I remember watching Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The Pirate (1948) with my friend who also loved him.

While I love Fred Astaire, I would never compare him with Gene.  Honestly, they’re like apples and oranges.  Sure, they’re both dancers and both men, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.  In the end though, I think I have to give Gene the edge–if only because I love the fabulous elaborate dance numbers he put together in his films.  Astaire, to his credit, did do some pretty fantastic numbers in his post-Ginger Rogers films.  However, Astaire never put together such productions like the ballet in An American in Paris (1951) and the “Broadway Melody” number in Singin’ in the Rain–two of my favorite numbers of any musical ever made.   Gene was a pioneer and an innovator not only in musicals but in the world of film itself.

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Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in “Ziegfeld Follies (1945)”  Two fantastic, yet very different dancers.

Gene was born in Pittsburgh in 1912.  As a child, he was reluctantly enrolled in dance classes with his brothers.  Gene dreamed of playing shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team–not being a world renowned movie star, dancer, choreographer and director.  At some point, Gene had a change of heart and gave up on his dream of being a professional baseball player.  Lucky for us, he decided to dedicate himself to dancing. By the early 1930s, Gene was a teacher at his own dancing school. By the late 1930s, Gene had established a very successful dance studio and decided to move to New York City to find work as a choreographer.  He didn’t find much success during his first stint in New York.  By 1940, he was back in his hometown starring in and choreographing local theater productions.  It was in one of these productions where he was discovered and given a larger part.  That part led to an even larger part in a bigger production and so on.

By 1940, Gene was back in New York appearing on Broadway in Pal Joey–a play which was later made into a 1957 film starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak. During Gene’s appearance in Pal Joey, he was approached by Hollywood mogul David O.Selznick for a Hollywood contract.  By the time Gene made his film debut in 1942 in For Me and My Gal with Judy Garland, Selznick had sold Gene’s contract to MGM.  During the next couple of years, Gene appeared in a few dramatic films and even appeared in a musical with Lucille Ball who had recently signed with MGM after a long stint at RKO as “The Queen of the Bs.”

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Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien, Tommy Dorsey, Rags Ragland and Zero Mostrel in “DuBarry Was a Lady.”

Gene’s big big break was when he was loaned to Columbia to appear with Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl (1944).  It was this film where he finally started to show glimpses of what he would achieve later.  One of the best dance numbers in this film is when Gene dances with his own reflection.  For the next decade or so, Gene appeared in a remarkable series of films that gradually built upon one another and showcased the innovative film and storytelling techniques and dance routines that Gene would become known for.  Gene was lucky to come around at just the right time–the Golden Era of the Hollywood musical from the mid-1940s through the mid to late 1950s.

By the late 1950s, the public’s tastes had changed and intense dramas and issue driven films were more popular.  The musicals of the 1960s and beyond definitely have a different feel about them and feel gritty and grim–which is a definite contrast to the glamorous and sparkly looks of their predecessors.  By this point in his career, Gene had mostly retired from dancing and turned into a director.  One his biggest films was 1969’s Hello, Dolly! which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning three. In 1980, Gene returned to the big screen in the musical Xanadu.

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Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John in that cinematic classic, “Xanadu.”

Despite its reputation as one of those “so bad, its good” movies, I love Xanadu.  It has everything you’d want in a film: Gene Kelly, Gene Kelly roller skating, Gene Kelly playing the clarinet, Olivia Newton-John singing catchy 80s pop songs, a big roller skating dance number, flashbacks, Greek Gods, magic, neon… This film has everything.  When asked about why he made this film, Gene stated that the film had a great concept, it just didn’t quite turn out.  I think it turned out great.  This is truly one of the gems from 1980.  After Xanadu, Gene was pretty much retired and spent the remainder of his life making the award show circuits (picking up a Cecil B. DeMille award in 1981, Kennedy Center Honors in 1982, AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 1989, just to name a few of the honors he received).  By the late 1980s-early 1990s, Gene’s health steadily declined until his passing in 1996.

My favorite Gene Kelly movies:

Words and Music (1948),”Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.” Gene and Vera-Ellen only appeared in a segment of this musical biopic starring Mickey Rooney and Tom Drake, however, they are definitely the highlight.  “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” is definitely a sexy number, a trait that is unusual in the goody two shoes MGM movies of the 1940s.  Vera-Ellen’s character is killed and she dies on the staircase, on her back, right in front of the camera.  All we see of Vera-Ellen’s character is her chest and legs.  This number also has great music that I really like.

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Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen in “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” in “Words and Music.”

On the Town (1949). This film is the final film that Gene made with Frank Sinatra and I feel that it is their best.  I like Anchors Aweigh but cannot stand Kathryn Grayson, so that film pales a little bit in comparison with ‘Town.’  I thought Gene had a great rapport with not only Frank but love interest Vera-Ellen.  My favorite number in this film is actually the “Prehistoric Man” number that mainly features Ann Miller, but Gene provides some amusing backup.  However, for Gene’s best number in this film, that honor would have to go to “A Day in New York” where all his co-stars, save for Vera-Ellen (who had ballet training, which non of the actor cast members had).  Vera-Ellen and Gene make a great duo–which is interesting because I don’t typically think of Gene as being part of a dancing team.


An American in Paris
.  This film is widely considered Gene’s masterpiece and won the 1951 Oscar for Best Picture over the likes of A Streetcar Named Desire and A Place in the Sun.  While I like ‘Desire,’ and ‘Sun,’ give me ‘Paris,’ any day.  This film is so much fun and such a delight to both the eyes and ears that it makes an enjoyable experience each time I see it.  The best number in this film is of course the seventeen minute ballet at the end of the film.  This was a huge gamble for Kelly, director Vincente Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed.  Not only was the ballet expensive to produce, but it was unknown whether the audience would respond to it.  Well the audience did and the film was a huge hit, winning six Oscars, including the aforementioned “Best Picture” Oscar.  Gene was also given an Honorary Oscar for his versatility and achievement in choreography on film. My favorite part of the entire ballet is the Toulouse Lautrec part.  Could anyone else but Gene Kelly wear a flesh colored leotard?

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Gene Kelly’s flesh colored leotard in the Toulouse Lautrec part of the ballet in “An American in Paris.”  I’m not going to lie, this gif was the whole reason for this post.

Singin’ in the Rain.  This is probably Gene’s best known film and honestly, it is probably the best musical ever made.  I love this movie.  From the amazing cast (Gene, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen) to the great music, fun storyline, great costumes, everything.  This film is almost perfect.  The only thing marring this fabulous film, in my opinion, is the fact that Debbie Reynolds’ character has three different singing voices.  O’Connor is hilarious and has his amazing “Make ‘Em Laugh” dance routine.  Has there ever been a dance that looked so physically exhausting? Jean Hagen is hilarious as Lina Lamont, Gene’s delusional co-star and Hollywood-manufactured love interest.  Lina has a horrendous voice that is fine in silent film (because obviously you can’t hear her), but in a talkie… ugh.  And Debbie is just adorable as Gene’s love interest and the studio’s new discovery, threatening to supplant Lina’s status as top female star at the studio.  Pretty much every number in this film is fantastic, but my favorite would be the “Broadway Melody” number toward the end of the film.  It is colorful, has great dancing, a storyline, and fun music.  My favorite part of it is the part where Gene dances with Cyd Charisse, who is wearing a fringed and beaded green flapper dress.  The music is fantastic and Gene and Cyd just sizzle on screen.  This is one of the sexier musical numbers during the production code era.  The best part is when Gene lifts Cyd up with just one arm.

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The most famous moment in Gene Kelly’s entire career, singing (and dancing) the title song from “Singin in the Rain”

Other favorite Gene Kelly films:

Summer Stock (1950). “Get Happy” is probably one of the best numbers in Judy Garland’s career.  On the flipside, “Heavenly Music” is probably one of the absolute worst numbers in Gene’s career.  I loathe that number.  The only good part is when the dogs run out on stage.

The Pirate.  This film failed at the box office in 1948, but it’s a great film.  Perhaps it was ahead of its time.  Gene has all kinds of great athletic numbers, including one where he dons shorty shorts and dances with fire.  Judy is great and looks gorgeous and there is a fantastic number at the end where Gene dances with the amazing Nicholas Brothers.  They sing “Be a Clown” which suspiciously sounds like “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain.  Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown” came before Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed’s “Make ‘Em Laugh.”  However, both The Pirate and Singin’ in the Rain were produced by Arthur Freed. Hmm…

-Les Girls (1957).  Gene dances with Mitzi Gaynor in a fantastic number called “Why Am I So Gone (About That Gal?).”  Mitzi looks great and she and Gene have a great dancing chemistry.

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Gene Kelly and Shirley MacLaine spoofing the big 1940s musicals in “What a Way to Go!”

What a Way to Go! (1964) This film stars Shirley MacLaine as an inadvertent black widow who just wants to live a simple life, free of material possessions.  The present day part of the film features her telling the story of how she met and married each of her husbands and how money led her husband to his eventual death–the kicker being that it was Shirley who in trying to help her husband’s psyche, ends up leading him to riches.  With each death, Shirley inherited her husband’s fortune.  She’s worth millions upon millions of dollars and just wants to give it all away.  She’s sent to a psychologist (Robert Cummings) because who wouldn’t want all that money? In this film, Gene plays Shirley’s fourth husband, Pinky Benson.

When Shirley meets Gene, he is working as a two-bit clown in a small club. His act is lame and nobody in the club pays attention to him.  She feels sorry for Gene because he’s a very nice man and she senses that underneath the clown getup, he does have some talent.  One night, Gene is running late and doesn’t have time to put on the clown costume.  She convinces him to go out without the costume and just perform his act.  Well, Gene’s simple soft-shoe routine is a sensation and soon he’s off to Hollywood.  We are then treated to a send up of the big flashy MGM musicals as Shirley describes her life with Gene to the psychologist (each of her stories about her different husbands is a spoof of a different genre of film).  Shirley is up to the task of dancing with Gene and they do a really great and funny number together.  Gene’s character eventually becomes a huge, egotistical star who lives in an all-pink mansion (his character’s name is “Pinky” after all), and by all-pink, I mean ALL-PINK.  He eventually meets his fate when he is crushed to death by a stampede of adoring fans.

KELLY, GENE

 

 

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Favorite Performer: Ann Blyth

One of the best things about watching classic film is discovering new favorite performers.  Sure, there are the well-known legends of classic film: Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, etc. and I love many of them too and can completely see how and why these men and women have endured decades after their last film; but there are a whole crop of other actors in these films that deserve to be just as well known.  Many of my favorite performers were steadily working actors and were even stars in their day, but over the years, they’ve been all but forgotten.  Thankfully, through vehicles like TCM, the internet, the TCM/Fathom classic film events and other film revivals all over the country, these actors are once again getting their day in the sun.  It is my hope that through TCM and the classic film events that these actors will once again be in the limelight.   Often for me, it is the films with the big name that leads me to discovering these other performers, many of whom are just as good as the big name to whom they’re lending support, or even sharing a star billing with them!

One such performer who was a star in her day and whom deserves more recognition is Ann Blyth.

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Ann Blyth, 1940s

My first exposure to Ann Blyth was her star-making turn as the daughter-from-hell, Veda Pierce in the 1945 classic, Mildred Pierce.  ‘Mildred,’ starred Joan Crawford as the title character, a recently divorced mother who is determined to give her spoiled teenage daughter, Veda, everything she wants.  This film was a comeback vehicle for Crawford whose contract at MGM had been terminated two years prior, after eighteen years with the studio.  In 1945, Crawford signed with Warner Brothers and immediately embarked upon a string of hit films, mostly in the melodrama genre, where her career thrived for the next decade or so.  As an aside, frankly, I prefer this short period of Crawford’s career.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Crawford, but I absolutely love Crawford during her Warner Brothers era–plus I really love melodramas.  But I digress…

Back to Ann Blyth.

Prior to ‘Mildred,’ Blyth was under contract with Universal, mostly appearing in musicals that took advantage of her singing talent.  She was paired often with Donald O’Connor as Universal hoped that they could replicate the success of MGM’s Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musicals that were popular a few years prior.  The Blyth/O’Connor musicals were successful enough, but Blyth’s star skyrocketed after she was loaned out to Warner Brothers to appear in ‘Mildred.’ Blyth was cast after Shirley Temple, Virginia Weidler, Bonita Granville, and Martha Vickers were considered.  Frankly, the idea of Shirley Temple slapping Joan Crawford sounds intriguing.  I believe Granville could also have done a pretty good job as she played a horrible child in 1936’s These Three.  But after seeing Blyth’s performance (and having seen it multiple times as Mildred Pierce is one of my favorite movies of all time), it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the part.

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Veda tells Mildred what she really thinks about her in Mildred Pierce

Blyth’s portrayal of Veda, I believe, is one of the all-time most “femme-fataly” of all femme fatales in noir.  On the surface, she looks harmless.  She’s got a sweet face and a very nice sounding voice.  However, under the surface, there lies one of the most shallow, despicable characters in classic film.  Veda is brazen and unapologetic about what she wants and what she’s willing to do to get what she wants.  In some ways, I find that admirable, because she knows what she wants and she doesn’t care what she has to do to get it.  On the other hand, the way she goes about it is questionable.  Veda can show moments of kindness and sympathy, but one has to wonder how genuine it is when the next scene has her saying/doing something awful to Mildred.  My favorite moment of the entire film is Blyth’s “f-you” speech to mother, Mildred, which culminates with Mildred ripping up Veda’s windfall (in form of a check that Veda received after some mild extortion), Veda slapping Mildred, and Mildred kicking Veda out of the house.

VEDA (to MILDRED): “With this money, I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men who wear overalls. You think just because you made a little money, you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t. Because you’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing. With this money, I can get away from every rotten, stinking thing that makes me think of this place or you!”

Damn.  I’ll have to say that Veda deserves everything she gets in this film.  Her monologue above pretty much sums up Veda’s entire character.  There is nothing redeeming about Veda.  Mildred does everything for her, even jumping into the incredibly difficult restaurant industry, and despite after much success, really has nothing to show for it at the conclusion of the film.

After ‘Mildred,’ Blyth appeared in a variety of different film genres.  One such film was 1948’s Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid with William Powell.  This fantasy film is a lot of fun.  Powell portrays a middle-aged psychiatrist, Arthur Peabody,  who is experiencing a bit of a midlife crisis when it occurs to him that his fiftieth birthday is quickly approaching (we’ll look past the fact that Powell already looks 50 and then some).  While on vacation, Peabody hears some singing coming from a distant island.  Taking his fishing boat, Peabody travels to the island and discovers the source of the singing.  It’s a mermaid, Lenore, played by Blyth.

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Ann Blyth and William Powell in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid

While Lenore is mute and does not speak, she does sing.  Throughout the rest of the film, Peabody spends a lot of time with Lenore.  Lenore is mischievous and charming which Peabody finds exciting as it is pulling him out of the rut he feels he is in.  Lenore is also young and likes Peabody, which he also finds exciting as a man nearing fifty.  Peabody even ends up teaching Lenore how to kiss.   Much of the film involves Peabody trying to hide Lenore, first in the bathtub of his hotel room and later in the insanely large fish pond at the hotel.  Other characters in the film, overhearing snippets of Peabody’s conversations with Lenore and seeing Lenore’s face (not her mermaid body obviously) immediately think he’s having an affair.

While Blyth has no lines in ‘Peabody,’ she is completely enchanting as the mermaid.  Between her beautiful face and her gorgeous singing voice, it’s no wonder that Peabody is instantly smitten.

Blyth’s Hollywood career wasn’t incredibly long, though longer than some.  Over the course of thirteen years (1944-1957), she appeared in about thirty or so films.  While I believe Mildred Pierce represents the apex of her career, Blyth makes an impact in every films of hers that I’ve seen.  In addition to the two films I mentioned above, I also recommend Blyth’s last film, The Helen Morgan Story.  Despite her voice being inexplicably dubbed, Blyth’s performance as tragic torch singer, Helen Morgan, is excellent.  She portrays a woman who was at the top of her career, only to lose it to alcohol addiction.  While this may not be the best biopic, Blyth shines in a performance that was different than the many musicals that she made prior to this film.

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Ann Blyth Today

Today Blyth lives near San Diego, California.  At 89 years old, she still answers her fan mail and is known to journey up to Los Angeles occasionally to appear at film related festivals.  In 2013, Blyth appeared at the TCM Film Festival to be interviewed by late TCM host, Robert Osborne.  In this interview, she showed that she still had the charm and lovely demeanor that she showcased in all those films decades prior.  Fortunately, the real Ann Blyth is nothing like her best known role, Veda Pierce.

 

 

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.

Classic Quotes Blogathon–“Casablanca” (1942)

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One of the qualities a “classic” film has is memorable dialogue.  A movie’s scenes can only be enhanced by clever and well-written dialogue.  Prior to “talkies,” the character’s words were typed out across the screen on a title card.  When the characters are “speaking” on screen, oftentimes the actors are just filmed saying different words, but obviously, because the film is silent, the audience does not hear what is being said.  The audience is told what is being said, via the title card.

In Singin’ in the Rain (1952), a film that depicts the movie industry’s transition from silent to sound films, there is a memorable scene between Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen’s characters, Don and Lina, respectively.  Don and Lina are filming the scenes for their next silent film, The Dueling Cavalier.  Don is furious with Lina because she had his new lady friend, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) fired from her job at the studio.  They’re supposed to be filming a love scene.  While Don is stroking Lina’s arm and kissing her passionately, he’s also telling her things like “I don’t like her half as much as I hate you.”  Later in the film, after converting The Dueling Cavalier from silent to sound, Don, Lina and the rest of the studio personnel watch their film in a theater.  Silent films were not known for having great dialogue.  Unfortunately, the crew in The Dueling Cavalier didn’t realize that they needed to actually write something for the characters to say.  The actors are no longer silent on screen.  Don’s character is reduced to saying things like: “I love you. I love you. I love you.”  If a movie, like Singin’ in the Rain, can make their scenes and dialogue memorable, then it is destined to be a classic.

Aside from Singin’ in the RainCasablanca is another classic film from the studio era.  One of the reasons that the film is so popular and memorable is the dialogue.  This film is one of the most quotable films of all times.  The dialogue in Casablanca is gold, from start to finish.  The iconic airport scene at the end of the film has so many memorable quotes, it’s hard to choose a favorite.

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“Everybody comes to Rick’s”

My particular favorite quote is muttered by Claude Rains’ Captain Louis Renault, the shamelessly corrupt head of the Vichy French police in Casablanca.  German official, Major Strasser is also in Casablanca while he keeps track of Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo and his wife Ilsa.  Rick’s Cafe American, run by expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is the most popular club in town.  There is a backroom gambling den which though illegal, is popular and well attended.  Captain Renault frequently spends time at the roulette table.

On one particular night, Major Strasser and his cronies are spending time at Rick’s.  Strasser leads a rousing rendition of “Die Wacht am Rhine,” a patriotic German anthem.  Laszlo interrupts and has the band play “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.  The dueling anthems is a very beautiful and powerful part of Casablanca (Anything to not hear that guitar lady sing again!).  Pretty soon, the French are drowning out the Germans.  Upset, Major Strasser orders Captain Renault to close Rick’s.

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Captain Renault demands that Rick’s be shut down.  Rick naturally asks what grounds the Captain has for closing his establishment.  Captain Renault is grasping for a reason to close Rick’s down and then delivers one of the funniest lines in the whole film:

CAPTAIN LOUIS RENAULT: “I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”
(The dealer hands the Captain a stack of money)
DEALER: “Your winnings, sir.”
CAPTAIN LOUIS RENAULT: “Oh, thank you very much…everybody out at once!”

This scene perfectly sums up Captain Renault’s entire persona.  He’s a corrupt official.  He’s a hypocrite.  He doesn’t care about what is right or wrong, he just wants to win.  Even if it means allying with the Germans, he doesn’t care.  He wants to be on the winning side.  Captain Renault is ultimately a good guy and eventually comes around toward the end of the film when he agrees to join Rick who plans on leaving Casablanca.

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“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Carson, eat your heart out.

In Memoriam…

Sorry for the delay in posting, but I’ve been very busy with work and dealing with the aftermath of a disaster incurred in my home.  During the Thanksgiving weekend, my sewer pipe and sump pump decided to join forces and fail at the same time.  Not to be outdone, the rain poured furiously, further compounding the problem.  As a result, my basement flooded about 1′, destroying everything in its path.  Unfortunately, in one of the rooms in the basement, I was storing my DVD collection.  I lost all the films on the bottom shelves in the room.  Some other films also suffered some collateral damage due to coming in contact with one of its flood-ravaged brethren.

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You’ll notice that the rug is floating.  All the movies that are on their sides on the second to bottom shelf are the ones in the water.  There were seven shelves in all.  Sadly, inside that cardboard box on the right side, were all my husband’s classic NES, SNES, Sega, etc. game cartridges.  While I know that the DVDs themselves are okay, the cover art is destroyed.  Plus the movies were covered in sewer water.  Who wants sewage contaminated films? I don’t.  Ick! Insurance should provide me with enough money to be able to replace all the victims.

Anyway.  This brings me to my post:

In Memoriam to some of those lost in the great flood of 2016…

You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) /You Were Never Lovelier (1942).

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In You’ll Never Get Rich, Fred Astaire portrays the manager of a theater who is enlisted by the theater owner, Robert Benchley, to help him woo dancer Rita Hayworth by buying her a gift.  However, Benchley is caught by his wife, Frieda Inescort, who is at the end of her rope.  It is implied that Benchley has a wandering eye and Inescort has had enough.  She threatens divorce.  To save his marriage, Benchley insists that Astaire bought the gift and sets Astaire and Hayworth up on a date.  Matters are further complicated when Astaire is drafted into WWII and Hayworth travels to the camp (to perform for the troops) and to visit her real boyfriend.  She and Astaire end up falling in love.

In You Were Never Lovelier, Hayworth portrays the second eldest daughter of a wealthy Argentinian, Adolph Menjou, who also owns a local nightclub.  Menjou has four daughters and has insisted that his daughters must marry in order of age.  Astaire portrays an American dancer who finds himself out of work after losing all his money betting on horses.  Looking for work, Astaire visits Menjou’s club.  Menjou is not interested.  Astaire ends up contacting his friend, Xavier Cugat, who has been hired to perform at Menjou’s eldest daughter’s wedding.  Astaire spots Hayworth and is immediately smitten, but she rebuffs him.  Hayworth is not interested in marriage.  Her two younger sisters are in love and desperately want to marry (in the film it the ladies seem like they’re more desperate to sleep with their boyfriends, but of course, morality dictates that they must wait until they’re married).  Knowing the plight of his youngest daughters, Menjou begins sending orchids and love notes to Hayworth under the guise of a secret admirer.  One day, Astaire tries to visit Menjou.  Menjou, not seeing Astaire and thinking he’s the bellboy, orders him to go deliver the latest love trinkets to Hayworth.  Astaire complies and Hayworth assumes that Astaire has been the one sending the notes.  Hayworth ends up asking Menjou to set her up with Astaire.  Menjou, who dislikes Astaire, offers to give Astaire a long-term contract at the club if he will do his best to repel Hayworth.  Of course, they fall in love instead.

A Summer Place (1959)

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One of my favorite types of films are the over-wrought melodramas of the 1950s.  A Summer Place has everything you could ever want in a film: adultery, bigotry, alcoholism, love, teen pregnancy, everything.  Plus, it has memorable theme music that is present throughout the film and adds to the overall mood of the film.

A Summer Place tells the tale of two former teenage lovers (Dorothy McGuire and Richard Egan) who end up reuniting twenty years after the end of their affair.  Neither McGuire nor Egan are happy in their respective marriages.  McGuire’s husband, Arthur Kennedy, is an alcoholic.  McGuire and Kennedy operate an Inn on Pine Island off the coast of Maine.  The Inn used to be Kennedy’s family’s opulent family mansion.  With the family fortune all but gone, they are forced to rent out rooms.  McGuire and Kennedy have even moved into the small guest house on the property so that they can rent out their master suite.  One day, Kennedy receives a message from an old acquaintance, Richard Egan, who wants to bring his family to the resort.  Egan, who used to be a lifeguard back when Kennedy knew him, is now a millionaire.  Kennedy doesn’t want Egan to visit, feeling that he’s only there to brag about how he’s rich and Kennedy is now broke.  However, McGuire tells him to accept the request, because they need money.  McGuire and Kennedy also have a teenage son, Troy Donahue.

Egan shows up with wife Constance Ford and teenage daughter Sandra Dee.  Egan and Ford have a rocky marriage.  She is bigoted against pretty much everyone.  He even delivers a delicious diatribe completing ripping her a new one.  Egan, who is very cognizant of “the love that got away” (McGuire) encourages daughter Dee to listen to her natural desires and to embrace her developing figure and interest in the opposite sex.  Ford on the other hand, is a prude who forces Dee to hide her curves and disapproves of any behavior that seems indecent.  She particularly disapproves of Donahue and even goes as far as forcing Dee to submit to a particularly embarrassing and degrading physical exam after she suspects that Dee and Donahue were having sex, even though both parties vehemently deny it.

McGuire and Egan, who haven’t been together for twenty years since McGuire left the then broke Egan for the rich Kennedy, rekindle their romance and are soon engaged in an adulterous affair.  Their respective spouses end up finding out and the marriages are soon dissolved.  At the same time, McGuire and Egan’s respective children, Donahue and Dee, are wrapped up in a teen love affair of their own.  Knowing of the time they lost, McGuire and Egan are the most supportive of their children’s affair.  Ford and Kennedy both disapprove.  Donahue and Dee are deeply in love and nothing, not even being sent to different schools in different states, will keep them from seeing one another.

Yours, Mine and Ours (1968)

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This film, the precursor to The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), features Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda as widowed spouses who end up marrying and merging their families.  The problem? Ball is the mother of eight children and Fonda has ten children.  The beginning of the film features funny scenes of Ball and Fonda’s courtship.  When they originally meet, neither knows about the other’s considerable brood.  When the truth comes out, they try to put the kibosh on their relationship, but soon it is apparent that they are truly in love and they decide to take the plunge.  Both groups of children dislike each other and the tension is high.  Eventually they end up learning how to work together and to actually like each other.

One of the funniest scenes is when Ball comes over to meet Fonda’s children for the first time.  The eldest sons, tasked with making cocktails, end up getting Ball schnockered by making her “an alcoholic Pearl Harbor” (as Fonda puts it), which is a screwdriver containing vodka, gin and scotch with a tiny bit of orange juice (for color, I imagine).  Ball ends up dumping food on one of the children, laughing and crying maniacally, and generally making a fool out of herself.

Another funny scene deals with the plight of poor Phillip, one of Ball’s youngest sons.  This poor kid can barely get any food at breakfast, can’t reach the sink to brush his teeth, is left with enormous rain boots that he can’t walk in and later ends up getting in a fight with the teacher in his Catholic school.

My favorite scene though, is the one where Henry Fonda hands out room assignments.  He assigns a number to each child (oldest to youngest), a color to each bathroom and a letter to each bedroom.  One of the children walks away repeating, “I’m 11, Red, A.”

Van Johnson co-stars as a co-worker of Fonda and Ball; Tim Matheson appears as the eldest child, Mike; and Tom Bosley appears as a doctor.

…and for the saddest casualty of them all…

The Long, Long Trailer (1954)

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This is my favorite film of all time.  I have probably seen it a hundred times–not exaggerating.  When I replace my copy, I will be on my third copy.  I wore out my VHS.  Anyway, myself and my family can recite all the dialogue.  Desi Arnaz has the best lines.  These are some of the gems:

“It’s a fine thing when you come home to your home and your home is gone!”

“Have you any conception how much room it takes to turn this thing around? We might have to go on for miles and miles!”

Then the mechanic has two of the funniest lines, that continually haunt Arnaz for the first half of the film:

“Trailer brakes first!”

“Forty feet of train!”

This film is about a newlywed couple (Lucille Ball and Arnaz) who purchase a trailer and take it on their honeymoon.  Arnaz’ job takes him to different locations all over the country (it is not stated what his job is, but I am assuming that he is some type of engineer as Ball mentions him working on a bridge and a dam), and Ball envisions them living in this motor home and traveling to wherever Arnaz’ job takes him.  They plan to drive from Los Angeles to Colorado for their honeymoon.  On the way, they visit Ball’s relatives in another part of California and also visit Yosemite.  They get into hilarious incidents along the way, including an impromptu housewarming party, a night stuck in the mud, ruining Ball’s Aunt Anastasia’s prized rose, and much more.  The highlight of the film is when Ball has the bright idea of trying to prepare dinner in the trailer while Arnaz drives.

This film is basically one big long I Love Lucy episode, Arnaz’ character’s name is “Nicky” after all, but it is fun from beginning to end and features gorgeous Technicolor and scenery.