Tag Archives: 1940s

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

picnic

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.

william&barbara
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.

williamandlucy
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.

missgrant
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.

lucilleball
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).

lucilleballwilliam
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.

holden
Hubba Hubba!
Advertisements

The Bette Davis Blogathon–“Beyond the Forest”

bette

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.

bette
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.

bette1
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.

beyond
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.

bettedeath
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.

margo
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”

blogathon

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

Birds Film
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.

lovebirds
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.
iago
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.
owl
“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.
psycho
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!
piper
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:

buddy1
Buddy the bird, enjoying some mango!

Favorite Performers: Gene Kelly

gene
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.

fredgene

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.”

dubarry

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.

Gene Kelly_Olivia Newton John_Xanadu-1980

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.

veraellen

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?

genekelly

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.

singin
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.

genewhat
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

 

 

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.

annblyth
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.

annblyth1
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.

peabody
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.

annblythtoday
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.

stars

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.

errol1
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 😉

lucy2

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.

lucy
My spirit twin, Lucy Ricardo

judygarland
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

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

genekelly
“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

genekelly1
My favorite moment of the ballet from An American in Paris

bette
“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.

beyond
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)

blogathon

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.

ricks
“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.

shocked

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.

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