Tag Archives: 1940s

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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Clearing the DVR- “The Enchanted Cottage” (1945)

I’ve changed one of the pages on my blog from “Film Reviews” to “Clearing the DVR.”  I currently have 300+ films saved on my DVR.  It is 70% full.  I really need to clear up some room before I run out.  99% of my recordings are off of TCM.  The other recordings are PBS, a Me-TV documentary about Rose-Marie (Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show), and the colorized I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show Christmas Specials that aired back in December.  My issue is that for every movie I watch and delete, I end up recording three in its place.  My other issue is that I end up watching a movie I’ve seen multiple times, because it’s what I’m in the mood for and nothing else will suffice.  For example, even though I’ve seen this movie like five times now, I’m watching Gidget Goes Hawaiian.

I’ve started the “Clearing the DVR” feature here at Whimsically Classic as a means to motivate myself to watch some of the films I’ve recorded and hopefully clear up some space–so that my husband is able to record all his episodes of Archer on FXX before I steal all the space. Typically when I finish watching a film I’ve recorded, I mentally rate it using the following criteria: 1) Did not care for film, would not watch again; 2) Liked the movie, but do not feel that I need to re-watch it; or 3) Loved the movie and must procure my own copy.  Often times, if I’ve decided that I loved the film and want my own copy, I will keep the film on the DVR until I’ve located a copy.  There are also films that I love, Penelope (1966) for example, that are not on DVD.  Storing it on the DVR is the only way to “own” a copy of the film!  Honestly, if it weren’t for the DVR, I wouldn’t get to watch anything! enchanted

A couple nights ago, I watched The Enchanted Cottage.  I recorded this film a few nights ago on TCM.  After reading its praises on the TCM Message Board, I decided to give The Enchanted Cottage a whirl.  I am also a big fan of Dorothy McGuire and knowing that she starred in this film gave me another reason to record it.  I really enjoy watching McGuire’s performances.  Unlike peers like Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr (to name a few examples), McGuire portrayed more ‘normal’ (for lack of a better word) women.  I think McGuire was very pretty, but in a more natural type of way.  She wasn’t overly made up to look glamorous–she had a more attainable, average type beauty.  I also like McGuire’s characterizations.  She portrays women with real issues, women who overcome adversity and hardship to get ahead.  She is so subtle in her performances.  As much as I love Bette Davis, she loves to chew the scenery (as they say).  McGuire’s characters convey so much sympathy, tragedy, etc. through small facial expressions or inflections in her voice.

One of McGuire’s most spectacular performances, in my opinion, takes place in The Enchanted Cottage.  McGuire co-stars with Robert Young as one-half of a couple who fall in love despite their physical shortcomings.  Their love story is framed within a story about an enchanted cottage.  The story begins with Herbert Marshall, a blind pianist, who is holding a dinner party for McGuire and Young’s characters who have recently fallen in love and married.  Marshall is also their neighbor.  Even though he cannot see, Marshall has seen McGuire and Young’s love for one another grow throughout their courtship.  Marshall has written a “tone poem” (a poem set to music) about his neighbors’ (and friends’) love.  McGuire and Young are late.  Out of respect for his other guests, Marshall begins his poem about the enchanted cottage.

The enchanted cottage resides in a small New England town.  According to the stories that have been told throughout the years, during World War I, a young newlywed couple built a beautiful estate in the country.  The gorgeous home was razed by fire and only one wing could be saved.  That wing was converted into a small cottage which the owner then rented out to young newlywed couples.  The legend says that honeymooning couples experience magic in the cottage– a testament to their love.  A widow, Mildred Natwick, currently owns the estate and works to keep it maintained.  She curiously keeps a calendar dated 4-6-1917.

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Robert Young (pre-disfigurement) and plain-jane Dorothy McGuire. I don’t really think she looks homely.

Fast forward some 25 years later (right after Pearl Harbor) and an engaged couple (Young and Hillary Brooke) wire Natwick about renting the cottage.  Despite her reservations, they’re not officially married after all, Natwick agrees to rent them the cottage.  She advertises for a maid to come to the cottage to help her out.  McGuire shows up on her doorstep to apply for the position.  McGuire’s character is not beautiful in this film.  In fact, it’s mentioned multiple times by other characters and by McGuire, that she is “homely.”  Personally, I didn’t think McGuire was unattractive in this film.  I thought she was pretty in an unconventional way.  However, I could buy that she wasn’t considered beautiful.

I liked that McGuire’s homeliness wasn’t created via prosthetics and makeup.  McGuire insisted that she could be plain looking by not wearing makeup, sporting an unflattering hairstyle and wearing ill-fitting clothing.  Combine McGuire’s requests with bad lighting schemes and filmmakers were very adept at downplaying McGuire’s attractiveness and conveying the idea that she was “ugly.”  In an era of the beauty queen, I think this was very brave on McGuire’s part to appear unattractive.  Many of her peers were too vain to allow themselves to appear on-screen looking anything other than beautiful.

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Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Minnett.

Natwick feels a connection with McGuire and agrees to hire her as a housekeeper.  When Young and fiance Brooke show up, McGuire is immediately attracted to Young.  He is an attractive man.  Brooke immediately dismisses McGuire and the cottage.  It’s not blatant, but it’s there.  McGuire tries to play up the enchanted angle and shows Young and Brooke where previous lovers have etched their names into the window panes of the cottage.  Young tries to use Brooke’s engagement ring to make the engraving and the stone falls out of its setting.  Natwick tells them that it is because they aren’t actually married yet and only honeymooning couples can make the engraving.  One gets the sense that the stone falling out of the engagement ring is foreshadowing.

Before they can marry, Young is called to duty in World War II.  He is injured in a plane crash and now the right side of his face is disfigured.  He also suffered nerve damage in his right hand.  Young returns home to his fiance.  Brooke ends up calling off the wedding.  Depressed, Young returns to the cottage, hoping to stay.  Natwick and McGuire agree to let him stay.  As McGuire dotes on Young, he starts to see that she’s a caring and genuine person.  They spend a lot of time together and it is apparent that they really care for one another.  Neighbor Marshall shows up occasionally and despite being blind, he is able to see their love for one another grow.

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Dorothy McGuire, Robert Young and Herbert Marshall

Young ends up proposing to McGuire.  At first, he has bad intentions when he proposes–his mother (Spring Byington), thinking that his disfigurement has ruined his life has proclaimed that he either must move home and live with her or she’ll move in with him.  Not wanting to live with his mother, Young proposes marriage to McGuire.  He realizes he’s being a jerk and discovers that he genuinely cares for McGuire.  They marry.

After marriage, Young and McGuire discover that a physical transformation has taken place.  Young’s scars and physical injuries are gone.  McGuire is now beautiful.  They are overjoyed and attribute their physical attractiveness to the power of the cottage.  Natwick, who has been witnessing their romance since the beginning, seems hesitant to agree with them, but allows them to live in their fantasy.  Byington and her husband, Richard Gaines, show up wanting to meet new daughter-in-law, McGuire.  Upon seeing her appearance, Byington says something to the effect of how lucky it was for McGuire to marry, despite not being a pretty girl.  This comment devastates McGuire.  She realizes that no physical transformation has taken place for either her or Young.  Natwick explains that the cottage really has no actual magic powers–it’s simply the power of love.  Love causes a couple to look past any physical features and only see what they want to see.

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Beautiful Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young as they see each other

While the message of this film is “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and perhaps even “love conquers all,” it is a film with some very interesting ideas.  In the 1940s, perhaps the lack of outward beauty was seen as a type of defect, something that someone should be ashamed of and trying to fix.  In the 2010s however, the constant emphasis on Young and McGuire’s appearances almost seem abhorrent–especially when their appearance is nothing that they can help.  However, I choose to look at this film from a romantic angle.  Despite being practically shunned by society for how they look, McGuire and Young were able to look past it and see the qualities inside one another.  Would the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” message be stronger if either McGuire or Young weren’t physically disadvantaged and fell in love with a conventionally gorgeous person? A la Beauty and the Beast? I am not sure.  Is it better that two misfits (so to speak) fell in love? Or does it send the message that a misfit can only fall in love with another misfit?

This is a very interesting film to watch and analyze.  I liked the dreamlike quality and how the love story played out.  I also really liked Natwick’s support as the stoic widow who isn’t so much cold as she’s hoping that another couple will be in love as much as she and her husband were.  I get the sense that she and her husband were the ones who built the estate.  He was killed during World War I and the world essentially stopped for her.  When McGuire and Young fall in love, she is so overcome by their romance, this gives her hope–so much hope that she finally updates her calendar to the current date.  I also really liked Herbert Marshall.  One, I really like his voice.  Two, I think his blind pianist provided great support to McGuire and Young.  He does not know how they look.  He only knows that they are two kind people who have fallen in love.  He is truly blind, literally and figuratively, when it comes to outward appearances.

This was a fascinating film and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.  I have added this film to my running list of films to purchase.

MGM Musical Magic Blogathon–“Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)”

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“…Meet me in St. Louis, Louis.  Meet me at the fair. Don’t tell me the lights are shining any place but there…

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Esther (left) and Rose (right) belt out “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

This lyric is heard multiple times in Meet Me in St. Louis and it perfectly sums up the 1944 MGM classic, Meet Me in St. Louis.  In a nutshell, the film is about the Smith family and the love they have for each other and their hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.  Their hometown also happens to be the future home of that year’s World’s Fair.  However, Meet Me in St. Louis is so much more.  It rightfully deserves to be remembered as one of the great musicals of not only the Golden Age of Hollywood, but of all time.

Meet Me in St. Louis opens in the summer of 1903.  The Smith family is seen conducting their day-to-day business.  Matriarch Anna Smith (Mary Astor) and maid Katie (Marjorie Main) are making ketchup.  Younger daughter Agnes (Joan Carroll) comes in from swimming, crooning “Meet me in St. Louis.”  Grandpa Smith (Harry Davenport) is taking a bath.  High school aged siblings Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer) come in from a trip downtown.  It seems that a new attractive young neighbor, John Truett (Tom Drake) has moved in next door.  Esther immediately has a crush on John.  I don’t blame Esther for crushing on John, he’s cute, even if he’s kind of a dork.  Rose on the other hand, is dating Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully), who has moved to New York (for school perhaps? Or maybe he’s on vacation? It’s not clear why he’s there).  Rose is expecting a phone call from Warren.  A phone call in 1903 is a BIG deal.

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Rose takes a call from Warren… with the whole gang listening.

Rose’s phone call is such a big deal that the family is planning their dinner around Warren’s call.  It is assumed by Esther and Rose that Warren is calling to propose marriage to Rose.  After all, Rose is 18, and in 1903, if you’re not engaged by 18, you might as well be dead. The regular Smith dinner time is 6:30 pm.  However, Warren is planning to call at the same time.  Dinner has been moved up to 5:30 pm.  Patriarch Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames) is not too keen on the change in dinner times and Rose ends up taking the call with the entire gang in the room.  Warren finally calls and he and Rose end up having a hilarious conversation with a lot of “WHAT?! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”  The phone call ends with nary a proposal from Warren.  Rose may as well become a nun now.

Eldest sibling and brother Lon (Henry Daniels, Jr.) Rose and Esther plan a party for all their friends and to celebrate Lon’s admission to Princeton University.  The siblings plan a wild party, complete with roast rabbit, and a rousing song and dance to “Skip to My Lou.”  Esther also has ulterior motives at this party.  She and Rose have invited neighbor John to the festivities and Esther plans to make her move.

ESTHER: “I’m going to let John Truett kiss me tonight.”
ROSE: “Esther Smith!”
ESTHER: “Well, if we’re going to get married, I may as well start it.”
ROSE: “Nice girls don’t let men kiss them until after they’re engaged. Men don’t want the bloom rubbed off.”
ESTHER: “Personally, I think I have too much bloom. Maybe that’s the trouble with me.”
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Esther and John turn off the lights.

Esther gives it everything she’s got.  She tries hiding his hat in the breadbox to keep him from leaving, she wears her special perfume and she invites him to turn off the lights with her.  All she ends up with is returning John’s hat complete with raisins inside and John complimenting her on her strong grip and her perfume that reminds him of his grandmother.

The next day, Esther takes a trolley ride and hopes to see John.  The trolley is taking guests on an excursion to the construction site of the World’s Fair that is taking place in the coming year.  John misses the trolley, but after a rousing rendition of “The Trolley Song,” Esther is overjoyed to see that John has managed to catch a ride after all.  Later that evening, youngest sister Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) and Agnes go out for Halloween.  

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Tootie’s Halloween costume

 

Halloween in 1903 is a very strange affair.  The neighborhood kids dress up (which is fine) and spend the evening burning furniture and stealing things from the neighbor’s homes.  It seems that the stealing is condoned, as it is mentioned that the neighbors specifically set things out to be stolen, on the condition that it is returned.  The children also go around playing tricks on the neighbors.  Tootie ends up having to confront and throw flour at the “scariest” neighbor, Mr. Burkhoff.  She does so to prove herself to the older children.

TOOTIE (after throwing the flour at Mr. Burkhoff): “I killed him!”
TOOTIE (after the kids celebrate her “murder” of Mr. Burkhoff): “I’m the most horrible!”

On the way home from Halloween, Tootie and Agnes tie a dummy to the trolley tracks as a joke.  The trolley nearly derails and John helps the kids hide from the angry conductor.  Tootie ends up sustaining a split lip and a broken tooth during the affair.  When she returns home, she concocts a story about being assaulted by John.

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Esther goes over to John’s house to beat him up

Esther is furious that John would supposedly beat up children and goes over to his home to confront him.  She ends up attacking him.  John is caught completely off-guard and thinks Esther has just gone off the deep end.  Tootie then admits that she made up the entire story and Esther is angry and petrified that she just beat up the guy she likes.  This is the least of her problems however when Alonzo comes home with a big announcement.

It seems that Alonzo’s law firm is planning to transfer him (and consequently his family) to New York City.  The family is devastated at the idea of leaving their home.  Rose and Esther are especially upset, because they are still in high school and will have to leave their respective romances, friends, school, etc.  Esther and Rose are also upset when they realize that they will miss the World’s Fair that they’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

Christmas Eve rolls around and the three eldest children are looking forward to attending the annual Christmas Ball.  Esther plans to attend with John.  It seems that Rose’s paramour, Warren is attending the dance with Lucille Ballard (June Lockhart), a girl he met in New York.  Out of revenge, Esther and Rose plan to take the liberty of filling out Lucille’s dance card for her.  They plan on filling in all the names of all the losers and bad dancers at the dance.  By the time the Smiths get to the dance and meet up with Warren and Lucille, it seems that the plans have changed.  At Lucille’s urging, Warren and Rose pair up and Lucille pairs up with Lon.  At Grandpa’s behest, Esther ends up taking the bad dance card.

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Esther and John dance at the Christmas Ball

Esther’s dance card perks up however when John manages to get his tuxedo and come to the dance afterall.  He and Esther dance their last dance at the ball.  The Smiths are planning on leaving St. Louis after Christmas.  John proposes marriage to Esther that evening and she is overjoyed and accepts.  Later that evening, Tootie is realizing how moving to New York is going to affect her.  Esther tries to help Tootie by singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but all this does is drive Tootie to a near nervous breakdown about the thought of leaving everything behind.

Alonzo, seeing first hand how moving is going to affect his family, changes his mind and announces that the family will remain in St. Louis.  The family is overjoyed.  Warren, apparently overcome by emotion at the Christmas Ball, bursts in:

WARREN: “Rose Smith, we can’t go on like this any longer.  I’ve positively decided we’re going to get married at the earliest opportunity and I don’t want to hear any arguments.  That’s final.  I LOVE YOU! Merry Christmas.”
ROSE: “Merry Christmas.”
ALONZO: “Anna, who is that boy?”
ANNA: “Now Lonny, he’s a very fine young man. We’ll talk about it later.”
GRANDPA: “That young man is so excited he’s liable to leave on his honeymoon without Rose.”

The films concludes with the entire family, boyfriends and girlfriends included, attending the 1904 St. Louis World’s fair, or the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.  The family looks on at awe at the fountain that was also used in An American in Paris.  I feel like this fountain is also in Gigi and Clueless, but I am not sure.  For sure it’s in An American in Paris, however.  The film ends on a corny, but appropriate note.

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Esther and John at the World’s Fair
ESTHER: “Isn’t it breathtaking John!? I never dreamed anything could be so beautiful.”
ANNA: “There’s never been anything like it in the whole world.”
ROSE: “We don’t have to come here on a train or stay in a hotel. It’s right in our own home town.”
TOOTIE: “Grandpa? They’ll never tear it down, will they?”
GRANDPA: “Well, they’d better not.”
ESTHER: “I can’t believe it. Right here where we live. Right here in St. Louis.”
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Mary Astor gets to wear the prettiest white dress of all the ladies to the World’s Fair.

Meet Me in St. Louis is memorable not only for the memorable songs in the film, but for the effect it had on Judy Garland and her career.  By 1944, 21/22 year old Garland was tired of playing the cute teenage girl.  She was eager to take on adult roles.  Initially, when offered the role of “Esther Smith” in Meet Me in St. Louis, Garland was not happy.  Esther was yet another teenage girl.  However, director Vincente Minnelli managed to convince Garland to do the film.  One of the big things Minnelli did was to hire makeup artist Dorothy Ponedel to do Garland’s makeup.  With Ponedel, Garland was given an entirely new, glamorous image.  Garland was so happy with how she appeared on screen, that she had her contracts written so that Ponedel was her makeup artist on each film.  Minnelli made Garland feel beautiful in Meet Me in St. Louis.  Perhaps it was this reason why Garland fell in love and married him.

There are multiple reasons why I love Meet Me in St. Louis.  One of the main reasons are the costumes.  I love many of the costumes that Rose and Esther wear.  Anna wears an amazing multi-colored striped robe toward the end of the film.  It is so over the top and gaudy, I love it.  I also love the Smith Victorian home.  It’s gorgeous.  All the rich woodwork and detailed wallpapers are so ornate, but beautiful.  One of the best rooms in the entire house is the bathroom.  It has a beautiful stained glass feature.  I love that the set department paid so much attention to the details in the home.

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John proposes to Esther. I love her sparkly scarf!

Another reason I love Meet Me in St. Louis is for Garland herself.  Her personal problems are well known and it is well known that they affected her professionalism on this film as well.  However, in typical Garland fashion, the audience would have never known of Garland’s personal problems, they do not affect her performance at all.  I read somewhere that Garland never showed up to rehearsals to “The Trolley Song.”  The day came for the number to be filmed.  Everyone was nervous that Garland wouldn’t be prepared and the shoot wouldn’t go off as planned.  Garland showed up and boom! nailed the song on the first take.

Meet Me in St. Louis is such a joy to watch.  I’ve probably seen it over twenty times and I never tire of it.  I love Judy.  I love Tom Drake.  I love the costumes.  I love the songs.  I love the Smith home.  I love how Tom Drake describes everything as “peachy.”  I love Tootie and how morbid she is.  I love everything about this film.

The Golden Boy Blogathon–“Miss Grant Takes Richmond” (1949)

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William Holden was born 100 years ago today.  He made his film debut in Golden Boy (1939) co-starring Barbara Stanwyck.  Holden was only 21 when he was cast in his first film and it was apparent to everyone that he was inexperienced.  Holden was almost fired from his first part; but veteran film star Stanwyck took him under her wing and coached and encouraged him, often on her own time.  Under Stanwyck’s tutelage, Holden was able to keep his job and turned in a serviceable performance.  After the filming on Golden Boy ended, Holden and Stanwyck remained lifelong friends.

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William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck at the 1978 Academy Award ceremony

In 1978, the two friends appeared together as presenters at the annual Academy Awards ceremony.  Holden deviated from reading the list of nominees to publicly thank Stanwyck for her helping and supporting his career when he was first starting out.  Four years later, Stanwyck appeared at the Academy Awards to accept an Honorary Oscar.  Holden had passed away a few months prior.  After her very genuine and humble speech, Stanwyck paid tribute to her friend stating: “I loved him very much and I miss him.  He always wished I would get an Oscar.  And so tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish.”  It was a very sweet and emotional tribute.  I highly recommend looking up both Holden’s tribute to Stanwyck and Stanwyck’s tribute to Holden on You Tube.

Whether or not Holden would have still become a star without Stanwyck’s help, it is unknown, but being fired from his first big part could have definitely curtailed his career.  Stanwyck should definitely be given credit for being kind and generous and helping out a young man who wanted a film career.  She could have been a diva and demanded a more experienced co-star (and could have probably gotten one), but she saw something in her young 21 year old co-star and opted to provide her knowledge and advice instead.  For the next eleven or so years after Golden Boy, Holden continued in small parts and small films and continued to grow his skills and gain experience.  During this period, Holden appeared in many B-list films including one with RKO’s former “Queen of the Bs,” Lucille Ball.

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William Holden and Lucille Ball in “Miss Grant Takes Richmond”

In 1949, Holden and Ball appeared in the comedy, Miss Grant Takes Richmond.  Ball had just been signed to Columbia Pictures after a recommendation from Buster Keaton to Columbia studio-head, the irascible Harry Cohn.  Keaton suggested to Cohn that Ball would be perfect for comedic parts.  Miss Grant Takes Richmond was the first film Ball made under her new contract.  This film is mainly a vehicle for Ball and her physical comedy talents, but Holden provides excellent support as her straight-man.  His worldly, but weary, everyday man persona had emerged by this time and also provides Ball with a handsome and worthy love interest.  Reliable character actors, James Gleason and Frank McHugh, provide excellent support.

In Miss Grant Takes Richmond, Ball plays Ellen Grant, an aspiring secretary.  She attends secretary school and is the worst student in the class.  She can’t type, has to make constant corrections, pulls the ribbon out of the typewriter and manages to get ink everywhere.  She seems hopeless as a secretary–a sentiment echoed by her aunt and uncle and fiance who cannot understand why she’d want a career when she could just get married and be a housewife.  One day at the secretary school, Dick Richmond (Holden), comes in looking for a secretary for his real estate office.  Much to everyone’s surprise, including Ellen’s, Dick selects her.

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Left to Right: Frank McHugh, William Holden, Lucille Ball and James Gleason in “Miss Grant Takes Richmond.”

At the office, it seems that there is more going on between Dick and his associates, Gleason (James Gleason) and Kilcoyne (Frank McHugh).  Ellen constantly takes calls from people seemingly wanting to put down-payments down on various properties in various neighborhoods.  In reality, Dick and his cronies are actually running a bookmaking operation.  The calls and payments that Ellen is accepting are actually bets being placed on horses at various racetracks.  The real estate office and Ellen are just a front to fool authorities.  To keep up the charade, Dick mentions that there is some land available for a housing development, but the owner wants $60,000.  He mentions that this is too expensive, but he’d be willing to pay $55,000.  Without his knowledge, Ellen goes down to the owners of the property and manages to negotiate the price down to $50,000.

Ellen, her fiance (who is also a District Attorney), and the owner of the property all go down to Dick’s real estate office to let him know of the deal to purchase the land.  Ellen explains that Dick’s office will now be able to build a housing development of affordable housing.  Dick knows that this deal will cause financial trouble for his operation, but has to play along.  He then decides to try and scare Ellen away from the organization by being aggressively romantic with her, but that backfires when he finds out that he’s fallen for her.

Dick’s ex-girlfriend, Peggy Donato comes to visit her old flame and to also place a large bet ($50,000) on a race.  Ellen accepts the bet, not knowing that a) Donato is placing a bet on a horse race and b) That the race that Donato is betting on is fixed, in her favor.  Dick cannot afford to pay $50,000 to Donato.  Dick tries to explain his predicament to Donato who is not sympathetic in the slightest.  Donato, who still has feelings for Dick, tells him that he can either run away with her or she’ll have her goons take care of him.

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Lucille Ball tries to fix the cement after the foundation fiasco at the housing development

Back at the housing development, Dick has put Ellen in charge.  He has also embezzled funds from the down-payments he received for the houses in the development.  There is a funny scene at the construction site where Ellen and the female customers decide to adjust the foundation outlines (by moving the ropes) of their respective homes.  When they’re done, the size of the rooms are wildly out of proportion.  The construction crews start pouring the cement foundations, per the rope guidelines and soon realize something is horribly wrong.  There is a funny scene where the foreman rants about the crazy foundations.  People’s homes are overlapping, some rooms are enormous while others are tiny, there are random triangular shaped rooms that are too small to use, you name it, it’s a problem.  However, the project now has a larger problem, it’s out of money.

Dick, feeling guilty about scamming innocent people and Ellen, decides to run off with Donato and pay all his customers back.  Ellen finally figures out that the whole operation was a scam and that Dick took the money from the housing development.  She is upset, but decides that she still cares about her former employer and opts to scheme to get rid of Donato.  In a scene reminiscent of the 1957 I Love Lucy episode, “Lucy Wants to Move to the Country,” Ellen decides to dress up like a gangster and pass herself off as the real brains of the bookmaking operation.  She cobbles together her own “gang” and tries to intimidate Donato’s gang.  That plan backfires when Donato’s gang proves to be too strong.  At that time, Gleason and Kilcoyne show up with $50,000 that they won in a bet placed with Donato’s operation–which can be repaid to the people who purchased the homes at the development (or can be used to actually complete the homes).

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William Holden’s facial expression when he sees Lucy’s nose after she “fixes” it is the funniest part of the entire episode. “This California sun certainly makes your skin soft,” Lucy says. If I could find a picture that also captures the look on Desi Arnaz’ face, that would be the ultimate. (“L.A. at Last!” “I Love Lucy” episode #114)

This is a fun film that shows off both Ball and Holden’s strengths.  Two years later, Ball would be starring in her groundbreaking sitcom I Love Lucy.  In 1954, five years after their film together, Holden would be reunited with Ball when he made an appearance as himself on her show.  “L.A. at Last!” was the first episode of the Hollywood story arc of I Love Lucy.  Holden has his first encounter with the star-struck Lucy at the fabled Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood.  Later, he meets Lucy again in the Ricardos’ hotel room where she attempts to disguise her appearance with a putty nose.  My favorite thing about Holden’s entire appearance is the fact that this sets up the idea that Holden is a gossip.  There are multiple episodes featuring other celebrities where the celebrity alludes to Holden giving them the low down on Lucy.

By the time Holden makes his appearance on I Love Lucy, his star had risen exponentially since Miss Grant Takes Richmond, much like Ball’s had.  In 1950, a year after ‘Richmond,’ Holden got the plum role of Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd.  This film catapulted Holden into stardom.  He received an Oscar nomination for his part as the weary and cynical screenwriter who allows himself to be a “kept man” by the delusional and absurd former silent screen star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).  After Sunset Blvd., Holden appeared in a string of hits: Born Yesterday (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), The Moon is Blue (1953), Executive Suite (1954), Sabrina (1954), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), The Country Girl (1954), Picnic (1955), Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955), and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1955).  Holden took home the 1953 Best Actor Oscar for Stalag 17.  Holden’s string of hit films during just this five year period is remarkable and a feat which is rarely repeated.

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Hubba Hubba!

The Bette Davis Blogathon–“Beyond the Forest”

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In the late 1920s, as a young twenty-something, Bette Davis attended the John Murray Anderson Dramatic School in New York and excelled in her courses.  In fact, she was the star pupil of the school.  One of Bette’s classmates was a young Lucille Ball, who was definitely NOT the school’s star pupil–in fact, the school wrote to Lucy’s mother stating that she was wasting her money and that her daughter had no future in acting (don’t worry about Lucy, she did okay for herself).  Bette on the other hand, had a future in acting and soon moved from the school to Broadway.

In 1930, Bette and her mother, Harlow Morrell Davis, left New York and moved to Hollywood to screen test at Universal Studios.  When Bette and her mother arrived at the train station, Bette was surprised that no one from the studio was there to meet her.  It turned out that someone had been at the train station and had seen Bette, but left, because he didn’t see anyone who looked like an actress.  Bette’s lack of conventional beauty would inhibit her career at first as studios didn’t view her as a glamorous leading lady.  She was often cast as the leading lady’s sister, friend… any type of role that implied “not beautiful.”  Bette failed her first few screen tests at Universal, but eventually made her screen debut in Bad Sister in 1931.

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Bette Davis in “Bad Sister”

After appearing in a few unremarkable films at Universal and a film at Columbia (which she was loaned out for), Universal opted not to renew her contract in 1932.  It looked like curtains for Bette, but fortunately, fate intervened.  Actor George Arliss had seen Bette and had suggested her as his co-star for The Man Who Played God at Warner Brothers.  Bette received good reviews for not only her performance but for her beauty (!) and Warner Brothers signed her to a five-year contract.

Bette was never known as a raving beauty.  While actresses like Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Hedy Lamarr, Vivien Leigh, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, and Ginger Rogers (to name a few examples) were touted by their studios for their beauty and glamour, Bette represented the tough woman.  While some Hollywood actresses were vain and did not want to sacrifice glamour, Bette was not.  She would do whatever it took to portray the part to its fullest.  Her breakthrough role was as a trashy waitress in Of Human Bondage in 1934.  Via write-in ballot, Bette was nominated for an Oscar for her role.  She lost, however, to Claudette Colbert for her performance in It Happened One Night.  Bette won an Oscar in 1935 for playing a drunk has-been actress in Dangerous.  It is thought by many that Bette’s 1935 Oscar was a consolation prize to losing the year before.

In 1938, Bette won another Oscar for her turn as a scandalous, rebellious Southern Belle.  This film was the beginning of the most successful and highly acclaimed part of Bette’s career.  A string of hits followed: Dark Victory, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Letter, Mr. Skeffington, Now Voyager, The Little Foxes, and A Stolen Life.  By the late 1940s, Bette’s star was starting to wane.  Bette’s films during the late 1940s were not as profitable or as acclaimed as her previous efforts.  Personally, one of my favorite films of hers during this period is June Bride (1948).  Bette should have made more comedies.  Despite her diminishing popularity and box-office return, Bette managed to re-negotiate a new four-film contract with Warner Brothers in 1949.

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I love the tagline on this poster!

After Bette’s new contract was signed, her first assignment was the amazing Beyond the Forest.  Bette didn’t find the film “amazing” and did everything she could to try and get out of the film.  She had requested script approval during contract negotiations but her request was declined.  Bette loathed the Beyond the Forest script and tried to drop out of the film.  Warner Brothers refused to release Bette and she was forced to complete the film. It might be Bette’s reluctance, or perhaps anger or irritation, about making Beyond the Forest which makes it so great.  Whether it is intentional or it’s written in the script, Bette’s performance is so over-the-top, so absurd, that it elevates this film straight into the world of camp. From Bette’s immortal “what a dump!” line to her epic death scene, Beyond the Forest is captivating from beginning to end.

Beyond the Forest tells the story of Rosa Moline, the wife of the town doctor in a small Wisconsin town.  Joseph Cotten portrays Rosa’s husband, Lewis.  Lewis is well-liked by everyone in town.  Since he is seemingly the town’s only doctor (think Dr. Baker in Little House on the Prairie), he is often out of the house on house calls or down at his office.  Rosa feels neglected, bored, repressed and any other negative adjective she can use to describe her life in a small town.  Rosa aspires to live in a big city, like nearby Chicago.  Somewhere with some nightlife and perhaps less predictability and routine.

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Bette as “Rosa”

To escape boredom, Rosa ends up meeting a vacationing man from Chicago, Neil Latimer (David Brian).  Latimer is renting a hunting cabin that is owned by a friend of Rosa and Lewis’. She and Neil end up engaging in a hot, adulterous affair.  To continue the affair, Rosa decides that she needs to cook up excuses to travel to Chicago to see Neil.  Rosa decides to talk to her husband and demands that he needs to confront his patients to pay their medical bills.  Rosa justifies her demands by stating that she needs the money to fund a new wardrobe.  Rosa travels back and forth to Chicago to see Neil, but eventually discovers that he’s engaged to another woman, a wealthy woman.  Neil breaks off the relationship.  Discouraged, Rosa returns home to her humdrum life.

Rosa discovers that she’s pregnant with her husband’s child.  While at a party for Moose, the caretaker of the hunting cabin, Rosa is re-acquainted with Neil and discovers that he’s broken off his engagement.  Rosa tries to concoct a scheme to dump Lewis and run off with Neil.  Unfortunately, Moose overhears Rosa’s plans and threatens to tell Neil about her pregnancy if she leaves her husband.

Moose’s threat to Rosa sets up the main conflict of the story.  At the beginning of the film, Rosa is on trial for murder.  The storyline is constructed in an interesting format.  It starts with the murder trial, moves into a flashback that shows how Rosa ended up in this predicament, then shows the verdict of the murder trial and then segues into what happens to Rosa after the murder trial.  A la Leave Her to Heaven, Bette purposely gets herself in an accident to induce an abortion.  It’s amazing how many studio era films contain scenes where the leading actress purposely falls down the stairs, falls down a hill, etc. in order to lose a pregnancy.  It’s interesting that that type of scene would pass censors.  I suppose in an era of back alley abortions, falling down the stairs may be a woman’s only option.  At the risk of further spoiling the story, Bette has the most fabulous death scene in the film.  It may be one of the longest, most drawn out death scenes ever.  Whether that was in the script for dramatic effect, or whether Bette decided to drag it out, who knows? All that is important is that this scene exists on celluloid, somewhere.

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Rosa’s epic death scene

Unfortunately for us, Beyond the Forest is unavailable on DVD/Blu Ray and cannot even be aired on TV.  There is some type of copyright issue that is preventing this film from being available.  I managed to see it during a one-night only showing a couple summers ago at the Northwest Film Center, a film program hosted by the Portland Art Museum.  Bette’s performance in this film is truly something to behold.  From her ridiculous black wig, to her sexpot wardrobe, Bette looks absurd and she plays the part of the town floozy to the hilt.  She is obviously too old for the part and lookswise, while I’ve always thought Bette was beautiful in a unconventional way, she is not believable as the town sex-pot.  However, this dissonance between Bette’s character and Bette herself only adds to the campiness of the film.

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Bette Davis as “Margo Channing” in “All About Eve.”

After Beyond the Forest, Bette successfully negotiated a release from her contract.  After eighteen years at Warner Brothers, Bette was a freelance actor.  She had her last major success (save 1962’s “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”) in 1950 at Fox studios with All About Eve, where she received an Oscar nomination playing the part of Margo Channing, a highly acclaimed theater actress who is feeling the pressure of age.  Adding to her woes is the fact that a young ingenue, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), is slowly insinuating herself into Margo’s life and slowly turning her friends against her and taking over her career.  All About Eve has many parallels with Bette’s life.  Despite the many successes she experienced in Hollywood, Bette was not irreplaceable.  As All About Eve illustrated, not once, but twice in the film, no matter how talented and acclaimed you are, there is always someone younger and more talented ready to take your place.

The “Free For All” Blogathon–“Birds in Film”

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When you think of birds in the movies, this image probably comes to mind:

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Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchock’s “The Birds” (1963). Don’t even get me started on why they chose to run out of the school when the birds started congregating on the jungle gym.  Stay inside! I like to think that the birds attacked the children because they were singing that annoying song.

Alfred Hitchock’s 1963 masterpiece, The Birds, tells the story of Bodega Bay, a small town near San Francisco, California that is dealing with violent and random bird attacks.  Crows are inexplicably attacking people in their homes, in phone booths, outside, anywhere.  The film never explains why the birds are attacking.  Hitchock purposely eschewed the use of music in the film.  The only sounds we hear aside from dialogue and natural sounds from the actions in the film are the sounds of the birds crowing.  Each time the birds appear onscreen, we know that another attack is about to happen.  The film ends with no resolution.  In Bodega Bay, the birds are still out there and are to be feared.

In The Birds, there are two birds featured in the film who are not to be feared–the lovebirds that Rob Taylor wants to purchase from Tippi Hedren (who doesn’t actually work at the bird shop, but is shopping for a cage for her myna bird).  People who own lovebirds typically purchase them in pairs, as a pair of lovebirds will bond for life.  A solitary lovebird who doesn’t have a constant companion will be very sad.  Owners can own just one lovebird, but they should be prepared to spend a lot of time with their bird.  In The Birds, I believe that these lovebirds represent Taylor and Hedren’s characters.

Hedren’s character is a bit of a wild woman who somewhat lives in a gilded cage.  She’s basically a rich socialite with little regard for others.  Due to her behavior and attitude, she’s somewhat trapped by her lifestyle.  The only reason she goes to Bodega Bay initially, is to use the lovebirds as a means to pursue Taylor.  She’s rich and isn’t used to not getting what she wants.  Taylor makes it clear to Hedren in the pet shop that she’s not interested in people of her type.

Lovebirds may represent the antithesis to the other birds in the film.  Birds don’t have to be evil or be killers–they can be sweet, wonderful companions for humans and other birds.  The lovebirds in The Birds demonstrate that maybe humanity and nature can restore harmony soon.

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The lovebirds in “The Birds.” I believe these are “rosy-faced lovebirds.”

Aside from the birds in The Birds, there are other ways birds are represented in film:

COMPANIONS

  1. Iago the Scarlet Macaw parrot in Aladdin, while an evil bird, he is a wiseacre and says what’s on his mind regardless of whether he’s talking to his master, Jafar, or mocking the Sultan.
  2. Kevin in Up is a goofy bird and the comic relief of the film.  Kevin is a made-up tropical bird who helps Carl and Russell make it to Victoria Falls.  Kevin also provides the conflict of the film.  Famed aviator Charles Muntz has been looking for Kevin’s species for years.  Kevin is like many real birds in that when she (yes “she”) feels that someone is a friend, she will be kind and loyal.  However, if she senses someone is a threat, or that person was mean to her, she’ll be hostile and combative.  Also, like real birds, Kevin is very curious and gets into everything.
  3. Hedwig in the Harry Potter series is Harry Potter’s loyal owl.  She is a constant companion for Harry through all of his adventures. She would deliver Harry’s mail, but was also a faithful friend. Hedwig also demonstrated how smart and clever birds can be.
  4. Zazu in The Lion King.  Zazu is a hornbill who is not only Mufasa’s personal assistant and adviser, but he also takes care of Simba after Mufasa’s tragic death.  Zazu’s allegiance is partially out of duty to the kingdom, but I also feel that he feels a sense of loyalty to the deceased Mufasa.  Zazu also doesn’t want to see Scar in charge.
  5. Maleficent’s black crow, who I don’t believe has a name, is as evil as evil gets.  He keeps Maleficent informed on the goings on in the fairies’ cottage and is the first one to inform Maleficent of Princess Aurora’s location when he spies magic coming up through the fairies’ chimney.
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Iago from “Aladdin” (1992)

WISDOM

  1. Owl in Winnie the Pooh dispenses advise to Winnie the Pooh and the other residents of the Hundred Acre Woods.
  2. Scuttle in The Little Mermaid, while definitely not smart like Owl, he lives above the sea and regularly watches and interacts with the humans.  Mermaid Ariel, who desperately wants to live out of the sea meets up with Scuttle, often bringing objects from the ocean floor that she has found.  She asks Scuttle as to what the objects are.  While Scuttle is usually wrong (e.g. telling Ariel that a dinner fork is a “dinglehopper” and is used to comb her hair), he is very kind and tries to keep Ariel informed about what’s going on above the sea.
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“Owl” from “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”  (1977)

SYMBOLISM

  1. In The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Huston’s directorial debut and the first film noir, stars Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade.  While investigating the murder of his partner, Miles Archer, Bogart gets involved with a cast of characters who not only have something to do with Archer’s death, but who are searching for the elusive Maltese Falcon statue.  This bejeweled statue has traveled the world and is apparently worth tens of thousands of dollars.  When the statue is finally found, it is determined to be a fake.  The criminals are angry and frustrated, but seek to continue looking for it.  While holding the fake statue, a detective asks Bogart, “Heavy? What is it?” Bogart says, “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”  This faux bird represents the lack of loyalty the criminals displayed to one another during their journey.  A bird, when treated with love and kindness, can be a loyal and generous friend.  They’ll be by your side constantly and will give affection. They’ll also give you their dinner if you don’t pay attention, they want to make sure you eat.  The criminals are so shady in this film, that they don’t deserve to succeed at the end.
  2. There is much bird imagery in Psycho.  It is mostly used in the scene between Norman (Anthony Perkins) and Marion (Janet Leigh) in the motel office. The birds in these scenes foreshadow Norman’s psyche and Marion’s eventual fate. Norman has a variety of stuffed birds: everything from the predator hawk to a small songbird.  Norman mentions to Marion Crane (his eventual victim) that one of his hobbies is “stuffing things” i.e. taxidermy.  This foreshadows the fact that he’s been perhaps practicing his taxidermy skills elsewhere, like on his mother’s corpse, for example (granted she is a skeleton, but he’s been preserving her).  The birds are creepy as there are a lot of them. One could argue that the different types of birds are representative of the  characters in the film.  There is an owl and hawk, two predator birds, that are featured prominently on the wall.  Norman’s mother is a predator, her personality has completely consumed Norman’s.  There are also some small songbirds who represent Marion.  These birds would be consumed in no second flat by a predator, just like it doesn’t take long for Marion’s demise at the Bates Motel.  Birds are very fragile, just like Norman Bates’ psyche.  Women are often presented as fragile and delicate, in which a bird could represent Marion.  Norman even tells Marion that she “eats like a bird” as she picks at the bread on her sandwich.  Birds actually eat a lot, a fact which Norman even mentions to Marion.  There is so much going on in this scene that it would probably warrant its own blog entry.
  3. Birds can also represent a variety of other themes: freedom, the feeling of being trapped, evil, arrogance, and mischievousness.
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Norman Bates’ office in the Bates Motel in “Psycho” (1960)

Other favorite birds of mine:

  1. Donald Duck.  Look for him in Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land (1959).  Perhaps the only good math-related movie ever made.
  2. Daffy Duck.  His “Duck Amuck” (1953) cartoon is hilarious.
  3. Woodstock from Peanuts.  He doesn’t do much except be Snoopy’s companion, but he has his moments.
  4. Roadrunner.  He says so much by saying so little “beep beep” which roughly translates to “ha ha” when said to Wile E. Coyote after successfully evading yet another trap. Why does Wile E. Coyote want to eat him so much anyway? I doubt he’s got that much meat on him.
  5. Piper from the Pixar short.  This bird is just so cute!
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Piper from Piper (2016) Pixar’s short film. Look at his face!

This post was inspired by my bird, Buddy, a yellow-sided green cheek conure:

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Buddy the bird, enjoying some mango!

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