Tag Archives: 1950s

Favorite 50’s-60’s Teen Beach Movies

I love a good fluff film.  And you can’t get much fluffier than 1950s-1960s teen beach movies.  These films are never going to rank on the top of any “Greatest Movie of All Time” list (except for mine probably), but they’re a fun insight into a nicer, gentler time.  A time when teenagers weren’t grinding each other in clubs or at school dances, or doing stupid “challenges” like eating detergent (I’m sorry that’s NOT a challenge, that’s just dumb) but rather are doing “The swim” and goofy dances at beach luaus.  These are films where the biggest worry is whether the surf is good, or whether someone has a date to a luau.  There’s usually a romantic element.  These films have so much charm (and usually a little eye candy), I love them.  The music, the silliness, the dancing, everything that I want in a film.  Not everything needs to be Citizen Kane.

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Gidget and Moondoggie embrace on the beach in 1959’s “Gidget.”

My favorites:

Gidget (1959).  I covered this film earlier when I participated in the “Reel Infatuation” blogathon last summer.  I covered the object of Gidget’s affection–Moondoggie.  To give a short recap, Gidget is the coming of age story of 17-year old Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, portrayed by 50s-60s teen queen, Sandra Dee.  Gidget is at an age where her friends are boy-crazy and want to find boyfriends.  The beginning of the film finds Gidget being coerced into going to the beach to go “man-hunting.”  Gidget is self-conscious (she isn’t as well developed as her friends) and doesn’t feel that urge to partner off with a boy.  At the beach, she befriends a group of surfers and quickly discovers how much she loves surfing.  The surfers, all boys, quickly take Gidget under their wing.

While surfing with the boys, Gidget meets super-hot college student Moondoggie, played by teen idol James Darren.  At first, Moondoggie is indifferent to Gidget and gives her the cold shoulder.  Moondoggie it seems is determined to strike out on his own and get out from under his father’s thumb (and wallet), and decides that he wants to shirk the responsibility of college and take up the occupation of beach bum.  Under the tutelage of older friend Kahuna aka Burt Vail, played by Cliff Robertson, Moondoggie is determined to live life on his own terms.  To him, Gidget seems like some kid who is perpetually in the way.

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James Darren (Moondoggie) and Sandra Dee (Gidget) in “Gidget” (1959).

However, it soon becomes apparent that Moondoggie is putting up a big facade.  He doesn’t really want to be a beach bum (neither does Kahuna either, it turns out).  He also displays a protectiveness toward Gidget (as evidenced by him intervening in Gidget’s “surf lesson” with the handsy surfer “Loverboy”).  Later, he finds himself enamored of her and they have their first kiss at the luau.  At the end of the film, “the Gidg” and “Moondoggie” are going steady, he’s given her his pin!  As Gidget would say, “this [film] is the ultimate!”

Where the Boys Are (1960) This film, while it takes place at the beach and features teenagers, has a different vibe and feel than the typical teen beach movies of the era.  While it has some silly scenes and characters, the film overall has a more serious tone.  Where the Boys Are is the coming of age story for four teenage girls, Merritt (Dolores Hart), Tuttle (Paula Prentiss), Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) and Angie (Connie Francis).

The four girls decide to escape their snowy college campus in the midwest (don’t blame them there) and head to spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  While in Florida, each girl meets a man who indirectly teaches them something about themselves.  Merritt puts up a facade as being sexually progressive, an attitude which she expresses in her relationships class (much to the chagrin of the prudish teacher).  Melanie, inspired by her best friend’s attitude towards sex decides to jump headfirst into dating boys when she gets to Florida.  Tuggle is more traditional and wants marriage and children, in that order.  She’s looking for a man who not only shares her values, but is also taller than her.  She’s 5’10.5″ tall.  Angie is the “plain one” of the group (every teen movie seems to have one) and she’d just be happy to have someone be interested in her.  She is the most down to earth member of the group.

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The ladies in “Where the Boys Are” (1960) from left to right: Dolores Hart (Merritt), Connie Francis (Angie), Yvette Mimieux (Melanie) and Paula Prentiss (Tuggle)

Merritt ends up meeting Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), an older, rich college student who is experienced.  He tries to ply her with alcohol and tries to get her to spend the night, but she refuses.  Ryder soon discovers that Merritt talks a good game, but she’s really a virgin who isn’t ready for sex.  Tuggle meets tall “TV” Thompson (Jim Hutton).  He is goofy, but Tuggle finds that she likes him.  He doesn’t drop her instantly when she tells him that she won’t have sex before marriage.  However, he seems to have a roving eye which casts doubt on him being a suitable, long term partner.  Angie meets the goofy musician, Basil (Frank Gorshin), who she loves.  She’s able to show off her singing abilities in his “dialectic jazz” band.  Finally, Melanie has the worst wake-up call when she meets some Ivy leaguers, namely Franklin and Dill.  She genuinely feels something for Franklin but is taken advantage of by Dill after Franklin gives him the scoop that Melanie will be an easy score.

This film has a great theme song (sung by Connie Francis) and features a great cast.  I love the more realistic storylines and the vibe of the film.  Melanie’s storyline is a bummer, but I think it was needed to balance out the other characters’ storylines.  Unfortunately, Melanie’s situation is all too relatable.  Each girl features a different facet of relationships and I felt that all were portrayed very realistically.

Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961).  I’m not going to lie, this film isn’t nearly as good as Gidget (1959).  In this film, Gidget is portrayed by Deborah Walley.  Sandra Dee unfortunately was under contract to Universal and they wouldn’t release her to reprise her role in this Columbia film.  Gidget’s parents are recast as well.  Carl Reiner and Jeff Donnell portray Gidget’s parents Russell and Dorothy Lawrence.  James Darren, thankfully, reprises his role as Jeffrey “Moondoggie” Matthews.

I’ll admit that when I first saw this film, I didn’t like it.  Deborah Walley got on my nerves.  However, I rewatched it, and now it has kind of grown on me.  While Walley’s Gidget is different than Dee’s, I find her entertaining and it’s a fun take on the Gidget character.  I did like Reiner and Donnell’s portrayal of Gidget’s parents more than Arthur O’Connell and Mary LaRoche’s in the original film.  My criticism with this film is that I wish the costume designers had done service to Walley’s figure.  While Dee was very petite (not necessarily short though, she seems to be of average height), her costumes were flattering and chic.  Walley, while a little more curvy than Dee, but not fat by any means, was outfitted in some very twee looking costumes.  Assuming that the Gidget character is supposed to be at least 18, she’s dressed like she’s 12.  Unfortunately, these costumes gave Walley a short, squatty appearance.

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James Darren (Moondoggie) and Deborah Walley (Gidget) dancing in “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961).

Gidget Goes Hawaiian is meant to be a sequel to the original Gidget.  We’ll forget about the fact that every character is portrayed by a different actor except for Moondoggie.  The film even goes as far as to present “flashbacks” from the original film with Walley outfitted in Dee’s costumes and re-creating scenes from the original film.  One error I found however, is that Moondoggie gives Gidget his pin at the beginning of the film.  He gave his pin to Gidget at the end of the first film.  In the second film however, Gidget treats him giving her his pin as an engagement ring, or an “engaged to be engaged” type symbol.

In this film, Moondoggie is home from college for summer vacation. Continuing with the timeline established in the first film, we can assume that Moondoggie has probably just completed his sophomore (maybe junior) year of college and Gidget has graduated high school.  He and Gidget are inseparable.  Their love for one another is continuing to grow, we see a montage of them at the beach, on a date, and dancing closely.  There is a funny scene toward the end of the film where Gidget basically hints at sex, or at least asking Moondoggie if he’s experienced, to which he refuses to supply an answer.  I will presume that Moondoggie has some experience with the ladies prior to Gidget, and why wouldn’t he? He’s a fox!

Russell surprises his wife and daughter with a two week trip to Hawaii.  Dorothy is overjoyed (of course) and Gidget is less so.  Moondoggie will be home from school for only two more weeks.  Gidget refuses to go because she doesn’t want to lose their last two weeks together.  At first Russell is upset, but then he and Dorothy make peace with the idea of a two week romantic Hawaiian vacation sans Gidget.  Gidget tells Moondoggie of this injustice of having to go to Hawaii and he tells her to go, saying that it’s a great opportunity (because duh! it is).  Gidget ridiculously assumes that Moondoggie doesn’t love her anymore.

The remainder of this film involves the Lawrence’s trip to Hawaii, friends that Gidget meets along the way, including a new boy, and a misunderstanding between Gidget and her parents.  It’s ridiculous, dumb at times and doesn’t make any sense.  But I really enjoy this film.  I think it deserves its own post.

For Those Who Think Young (1964).  This film (based on a 1960s Pepsi ad campaign slogan) also features James “Moondoggie” Darren.  In this film, he plays Gardner “Ding” Pruitt III, a rich college boy who is constantly on the prowl for a new flavor of the week.  He keeps a fancy rolodex of his dates with comments about each.  His car has two (!) phones in it.  Bob Denver plays his sidekick, “Kelp.”  Another thing to love about these surfer movies, the absurd nicknames! Anyway, Ding has his sights set on Sandy Palmer, played by Pamela Tiffin. Sandy is the niece of Woody Woodbury, a comic who works at the dive bar, the Silver Palms.  The Silver Palms is located next to the college campus and is well known as an establishment that serves alcohol to minors.  This club also features a burlesque dancer named Topaz McQueen (Tina Louise).

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Pamela Tiffin (Sandy) and James Darren (Ding) in the 1964 COLOR film, “For Those Who Think Young.”

One day, Woody and his comic partner, Sid Hoyt (Paul Lynde) find themselves out of work.  It seems that their act at the Silver Palms is not that great.  Woody, performing the last show, decides to just perform a stand-up routine instead of the usual song.  His stand-up act is a massive success and soon the Silver Palms is rebranded into “Surf’s Up,” a brand-new college hangout that actually cards the patrons and brands them with a black-light stamp that says “No booze for youse” if you’re under 21.

Of course, the neighboring university thinks that nothing but debauchery happens at this club and want it shut down.  The main ringleader behind this movement is Burford Cronin (Robert Middleton) who just happens to be Ding’s grandfather.  The university even goes as far as to send their Professor of Sociology (Ellen Burstyn, billed in this film as “Ellen McRae”) to observe.  She gets drunk on two spiked “fruit juices” but ends up giving her seal of approval to the establishment anyway.

Aside from Surf’s Up, the main conflict in this film is the relationship between Ding and Sandy.  Ding actually finds himself genuinely liking Sandy and Sandy feels the same for him.  However, Ding’s grandfather, Burford, thinks that Sandy is too “low class” for his family.  It seems that his daughter, Ding’s mother, married a man whom Burford thought brought some “bad blood” into the family.  To further anger him, Ding announces that he and Sandy intend to marry when they graduate college.  Of course, Grandpa Cronin is upset, but like how these movies always turn out, his viewpoint does a 180 in 5 minutes and he’s welcoming Sandy into his family and embracing Surf’s Up, the club he wanted to close down 10 minutes ago.

Nancy Sinatra (Frank’s daughter) and Claudia Martin (Dean’s daughter) provide additional support in this film.  There is a bizarre musical number in this film that features Bob Denver’s chin.

Beach Party (1963). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one of the Frankie and Annette “Beach Party” films.  I’ll admit that I haven’t seen all of them, but I do own the box set.  I’m going to go with the first film in the series.  What I love about these films is that they have the most random co-stars.  Aside from Frankie and Annette, these films often have old Hollywood stars like Robert Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Keenan Wynn, Boris Karloff, Buster Keaton, Mickey Rooney or people like Paul Lynde, Don Rickles, and Stevie Wonder, everyone whom you wouldn’t expect to pop-up in a teen beach movie. These movies usually have a common theme, the main one being that Annette is mad at Frankie and Frankie being too clueless to know what he did.  In Frankie’s defense, sometimes Annette is being ridiculous.

In Beach Party, Robert Cummings stars as an anthropologist who, along with his secretary Dorothy Malone, is studying the sex habits of teenagers.  He comes across a clan of surfer kids, led by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Frankie and Annette aren’t “Frankie and Annette” in this movie, they’re “Frankie and Dolores.”  In most of the films, Frankie is “Frankie.”  Annette usually plays “Dee Dee,” but in Beach Party, she’s Dolores.  In the Beach Party series, Frankie always seems to be frustrated by Annette’s tendency towards being a cold fish.  This film is no different.  Frankie invites Annette aka Dolores, to a beach house for some alone time.  Annette, not trusting herself (or Frankie) with Frankie, has invited everyone to the beach house to chaperone.  Because this is a “Beach Party” movie, Frankie is mad at Annette and she’s mad at him.

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Annette Funicello (Dolores) and Frankie Avalon (Frankie) in “Beach Party” (1963).

In true Frankie and Annette fashion, they spend a bulk of the film jealous of one another.  Annette decides to flirt with Cummings, who is too dense to see what’s going on.  His secretary, Malone, who is in love with him (and closer to his own age), sees exactly what is happening.  Frankie hooks up with some floozy that he meets in an effort to retaliate against Annette.  There’s also a motorcycle gang, led by Eric Von Zipper who terrorizes the gang.

I enjoy these movies because, while they’re pretty dumb at times, the teenagers are cool.  They sing fun songs, wear cool bathing suits and hang out in some pretty neat looking clubs.

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The Astaire & Rogers Blogathon–“Post Astaire and Rogers”


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By 1939, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had made nine films together at RKO studios.  Their first film together, Flying Down to Rio (1933), featured the duo in supporting roles.  This wasn’t even supposed to be a vehicle for Fred and Ginger, the film starred Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond.  However, they excited audiences so much in “The Carioca,” that RKO was quick to re-team the duo in their second vehicle, The Gay Divorcee.  When ‘Rio’ was made, Ginger was the bigger star.  She had already appeared in almost two dozen films, including: 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933.  Fred on the other hand, was primarily a Broadway performer and had only appeared in one other film (Dancing Lady, where we’re treated to Joan Crawford’s awful dancing), where he played a fictionalized version of himself.

The Gay Divorcee was a huge hit and RKO was quick to keep teaming Fred and Ginger up in picture after picture.  Between 1933 and 1939, the duo had appeared in nine films: The Gay Divorcee (1934), Roberta (1935), Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Swing Time (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), Carefree (1938), and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939).  By this point, both Fred and Ginger were ready to move onto other projects.  Ginger, especially, was ready to prove herself as more than just a dancer in fluffy romantic films.  She had achieved some success in the ensemble dramatic film, Stage Door (1937), and wanted to do more in this realm.

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Fred and Ginger in “Swing Time.”

Fred, I don’t believe had acting aspirations as lofty as Ginger, but I believe he did want to try some more inventive dance routines.  Not that Ginger held him back, but seeing his performances where he dances solo, Fred seems to have more fun dancing–perhaps because he can do a more technical routine. After his initial partnership with Ginger ended, Fred appeared in a few more musicals with a variety of dancers: Broadway Melody of 1940 (w/ Eleanor Powell), You’ll Never Get Rich (w/ Rita Hayworth), You Were Never Lovelier (also w/ Rita Hayworth), and Yolanda and the Thief (with Lucille Bremer).  By 1946, Fred was tired of making films and retired.

Meanwhile, Ginger’s career was only getting bigger and bigger.  In 1940, Ginger appeared in one of her first major dramatic roles, Primrose Path with Joel McCrea.  I really like this film.  In this film, Ginger plays a woman who hails from a family whose tradition is prostitution.  Both Ginger’s grandmother and mother are prostitutes.  Ginger, understandably, does not want to follow in the family business.  She ends up meeting and marrying McCrea who is unaware of her family’s history.  Later in 1940, Ginger gets the role of a lifetime, the title role in Kitty Foyle.

When Ginger was first given the book for Kitty Foyle (for which RKO had just purchased the film rights), she was not impressed.  As she says in her 1991 autobiography, Ginger: My Story:

“As Howard [Hughes] and I were driving toward his residence, I glanced at my copy of Kitty Foyle.  There were explicit love scenes in it that were quite disturbing to me.  As I read these passages, I found myself passing judgement on them.  “That could never pass the censor board.  So what good is it for me to spend time reading it?” I was really embarrassed that RKO would send me something like this.  I snapped the book shut and quite deliberately, through it in the corner of Howard’s car.”

Ginger spoke to her mother, Lela, about the trashy book.  Lela very matter of factly, told Ginger that the studio would obviously have to tone down the sexual content as it would be impossible to film it.  The entire story would essentially have to be re-written.  After speaking with Lela, the producer and writer Dalton Trumbo (who was hired to write the script), Ginger’s qualms about accepting the part had been squashed.  Kitty Foyle ended up being a major hit, winning Ginger the Best Actress Oscar.

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Dennis Morgan and Ginger Rogers in “Kitty Foyle.”

After Kitty Foyle, Ginger continued to act in dramatic films but also dabbled in comedic and noir roles as well.  Ginger even went back to her roots and appeared in more musicals.  One of my personal favorites of Ginger’s 1940s career is her turn in Billy Wilder’s directorial debut–The Major and the Minor.  This film is hilarious.  However, you really have to suspend your disbelief when it comes to the premise.  If you can accept co-star Ray Milland believing that Ginger’s character is “eleven, twelve next week” then you will enjoy this film.

The Major and the Minor gave Ginger the opportunity to show off her broad comedy skills.  The premise of this film is that Ginger has been trying to make a-go in New York City for a year but to no avail.  She decides to return home (to Stevenson, Iowa) via train.  However, she finds out that she doesn’t have enough money to pay an adult fare.  She does however have enough money to purchase a children’s ticket.  She gives herself a “makeunder” by removing her makeup and putting her hair in pigtails.  She modifies her clothing to make it look like something a child would wear.  She purchases her ticket.

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Ray Milland and “12 year old” Ginger Rogers in “The Major and the Minor.”

On the train ride, Ginger attracts much attention from the conductor and train staff who are not buying her story that she’s “eleven, twelve next week” and that she’s tall because she’s “from Swedish stock.” Ginger has some very funny scenes trying to rationalize her grown-up appearance to the adults.  Ginger does take her child shtick a little far as she’s supposed to be 12 but she acts 5.  On the train, Ginger meets Ray Milland, a major who teaches at an all boys’ military school.  Milland can not see out of one eye.  With his blurred vision, he buys Ginger’s story that she’s 12.  Ginger ends up staying with Milland, Milland’s fiance and her sister for a few days.  Complications ensue when Ginger attracts the attention of the male cadets at the military academy and Milland’s fiance who is just not buying Ginger’s story.

I gave The Major and the Minor a lot of space in my article about Fred and Ginger, because it is probably my favorite of all of Ginger’s post-Fred films.  She also made one of my favorite Christmas-time films, I’ll Be Seeing You, where she plays a woman convicted of involuntary manslaughter and is serving time in prison.  She is given an eight-day furlough so that she can spend Christmas with her family.  During this furlough, she meets and falls in love with Joseph Cotten who is on a 10-day leave from the military hospital he’s been staying at.  I’ll Be Seeing You is a sweet, romantic film and is perfect for the holiday season.

In 1948, Gene Kelly was all set to appear opposite Judy Garland in Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade. However, right before filming was to begin, Gene broke his ankle playing volleyball.  Feeling bad, Gene coaxed Fred into coming out of retirement and replacing him in Easter Parade.   Fred agreed and this began a renaissance of some sorts of Fred’s career.  Easter Parade is one of my favorite films and as much as I love Gene, I cannot picture anyone else in this film other than Fred.

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Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in “Easter Parade.”

Easter Parade takes place in 1912-1913 New York City.  Fred plays a dancer who is part of a popular dance team.  His partner, Ann Miller, casually drops a bombshell on Fred: she’s been offered a solo show and has accepted.  Ann it seems, wants to be thought of as more than just Fred’s dance partner (Sound familiar?).  Upset, Fred goes down to a restaurant/bar to figure out a game-plan for his career.  While at the restaurant, Fred spots Judy, a singing waitress.  He makes a “My Fair Lady” type bet with the bartender.  He will pick Judy out of the lineup and turn her into his next dance partner.  The problem is Judy can’t dance.

Fred tries to teach Judy how to dance and she does okay, but is struggling.  It finally occurs to Fred that perhaps they should base their act around their respective talents.  Fred will dance and Judy will sing.  Perfect! With this change, Fred and Judy are a sensation and are soon auditioning for the famed Florenz Ziegfeld’s Ziegfeld Follies revue.  There is some drama between Ann and Fred and Judy and Fred that threatens to break up the act.  However, like all these films go, the drama is resolved and all is well by the end.

Easter Parade was a smash hit and MGM was eager to re-team Fred and Judy for another film: The Barkleys of Broadway.  However, by this point in her life, Judy was in bad shape and ended up being fired from production.  In perhaps a bit of a publicity coup for the film, MGM hired Ginger to take Judy’s place.  It had been ten years since their last pairing.  I don’t know if this is true, but I read somewhere that Judy, upset at being replaced, sent Ginger a shaving kit as a passive aggressive “congratulations” gift.  It seems that Ginger had a lot of peach fuzz on her face and used makeup and filters to hide it on screen. I hope this story is true, because it is hilarious.

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Ginger and Fred reunited for “The Barkleys of Broadway.”

The Barkleys of Broadway very much resembled Fred and Ginger’s real professional relationship: except in the film, they played a married couple.  In the film, Fred and Ginger are at the peak of their popularity, a sensation.  While at one of their shows, Ginger meets a playwright who suggests she take up dramatic acting.  Ginger tries to keep it a secret, but Fred finds out and the couple separate.  The Barkleys of Broadway was a big hit and continued to revitalize Fred’s career.  Curiously enough, Ginger’s career was starting to wind down.  She didn’t really make many big films in the 1950s, except for one of my favorites, Monkey Business with Cary Grant and a young Marilyn Monroe.

Starting with Easter Parade, Fred was becoming more innovative in his dance routines.  In Easter Parade, Fred used trick photography in “Steppin’ Out with my Baby” to make it appear like he was dancing in slow-motion.  In Royal Wedding, Fred again uses trick photography to make it look like he was dancing on the ceiling.  The Barkleys of Broadway features Fred’s “Shoes with Wings” routine where he dances with a bunch of shoes.

My other absolute favorite film from the later part of Fred’s career is Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn.  In this film, Fred plays Dick Avery, a fashion photographer for Quality magazine.  He is tired of photographing the same vapid models, who are pretty, but don’t really bring anything to his photograph.  His editor, Maggie Prescott (hilariously played by Kay Thompson, whom I wished had made more films), agrees that the magazine needs a new look.  They want to find someone who is as smart as they are beautiful.  They end up barging into (and destroying) the Manhattan bookstore: Embryo Concepts.  While at the bookstore, they find Audrey Hepburn, the shy shop clerk.

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Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson at Embryo Concepts bookstore in “Funny Face.”

Fred and Kay photograph the comic book reading model, Marion, but she’s just blah.  All beauty but no substance.  Fred ends up getting a photo of Audrey during the shoot.  Back at the magazine office, Fred is developing his photo of Audrey and sees that she has that je ne sais quoi that he and Kay have been looking for.  Kay calls up Audrey’s shop and orders some random books as a pretense to get her to come down to their office.  Audrey shows up and before she knows it, she’s been swept up in the world of modeling.  Audrey accepts the modeling work, as she’s informed that she’ll get to go to Paris.  Paris is where the renowned philosopher, Emile Flostre, regularly holds lectures about empathicalism–a philosophy that Audrey is very interested in.  Complications ensue when Audrey prioritizes her personal interests above those of her employer’s.  One of my favorite scenes of Funny Face is Fred and Kay’s dance at the beatnik hangout–“Clap Yo’ Hands.”

By the 1960s, both Fred and Ginger appeared infrequently in films but kept busy pursuing other interests.  Fred had his own television show for awhile and Ginger was a hit in theater, even appearing on London’s famed West End for a period.  Fred’s television career was very successful, his programs won numerous Emmys and revived an interest in dance.  In 1985, Ginger realized a lifelong ambition–to direct a play.  She directed an off-Broadway production of Babes in Arms.  Fred passed away in 1987 and Ginger in 1995.

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.”

Reel Infatuations Blogathon–James Darren, “Moondoggie” from Gidget (1959)

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When I heard about the “Reel Infatuation” Blogathon by Font and Frock and Silver Screenings , I knew that I needed to join.  How can I resist writing about some of my favorite movie crushes? I’ll never turn down an opportunity to post some beefcake photos!  For my entry, I decided to write about one of my favorite teen idols, James Darren, aka “Moondoggie” from the first three Gidget films: Gidget (1959), Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) and Gidget Goes to Rome (1963).  He is so cute and for me, he makes the film–even though I also love Sandra Dee too.  For all intents and purposes, I am going to focus on his first Gidget film co-starring Sandra Dee.  But don’t think you won’t be treated later to an entry about Gidget Goes Hawaiian co-starring Darren with Deborah Walley as the spunky surfer girl.  I can’t help it, I love the 1950s/1960s teen beach movies.

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James Darren as Moondoggie

Gidget is a coming of age story about 17-year old Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, portrayed by 50s/60s teen queen Sandra Dee.  The film takes place during Frances’ summer vacation between her junior and senior years of high school.  Her friends: Nan, Patti and Mary Lou are pressuring Frances to go with them on a “manhunt” to attract a boyfriend.  Apparently, if a girl hasn’t found a man before senior year of high school, she might as well become a nun.  The girls all go down to the beach and try to flaunt their stuff in front of the group of surfer boys, one of which is superhunk James Darren, aka Moondoggie.  Moondoggie is about 1-2 years older than Frances, he is starting college at the end of the summer.

The girls are trying too hard to attract the boys’ attention, except for Frances.  She’s a bit of a tomboy and ends up shunning the manhunt in favor of snorkeling.  Her friends think she’s hopeless.  Frances, in the first of multiple incidents, ends up getting tangled in some kelp.  Moondoggie sees her, grabs his surfboard, and fishes her out of the water.  From that moment on, we as the audience know that Moondoggie and Frances are going to end up together.  Moondoggie, though acting standoffish and too cool for school towards Frances, actually has a crush on her though he won’t admit it until the luau later in the film.

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Left to right: Sandra Dee (Gidget), Yvonne Craig (Nan) and Jo Morrow (Mary Lou). Craig’s bathing suit is hideous. I love Dee and Morrow’s bathing suits. I also love that Gidget couldn’t care less about impressing the boys–she’s going snorkeling.

Moondoggie’s crush on Frances is obvious.  He is the one who nicknames her “Gidget.”  Gidget is a portmanteau of “girl” and “midget.”  Basing her nickname on “midget,” might not be seen as being very endearing, but this action shows that Moondoggie is accepting Gidget into the group.  Earlier in the film, while talking to the group leader, Kahuna, Moondoggie vents about Gidget’s presence in their group.  Kahuna, at least a decade older than the other boys in the group, knows that Moondoggie has a crush on Gidget and easily accepts her into the group and suggests that the others do the same.  Kahuna, I think, also doesn’t take the surf group as seriously as the other boys, and doesn’t really care if Gidget’s there.  He just wants to surf.

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Moondoggie has fun teaching Gidget how to surf. As an aside, I love Gidget’s orange bathing suit.

Moondoggie’s infatuation with Gidget is also apparent when he sees Lover Boy (another boy in the surf group) giving Gidget surf lessons.  Lover Boy is getting very “handsy” with Gidget and it is very visibly making her uncomfortable.  It is obvious that Lover Boy has some other goals in mind besides teaching Gidget how to surf.  Moondoggie looks on at the lesson, and is very visibly irritated and jealous.  He intervenes when Lover Boy really gets carried away with the lesson.  Moondoggie not only wants to protect Gidget, he also doesn’t want other the other boys getting that up close and personal with her. He later takes Gidget surfing himself and gives her lessons on his board.  Moondoggie places his hands on her waist to help her stay up right on the board.

When Gidget gets tangled up in the kelp (again.  Come on Gidget!) and nearly drowns, Moondoggie saves her (again) and nurses her back to health in Kahuna’s tent.  As Nurse Moondoggie croons the movie’s theme song, “Gidget,” Gidget looks up at him adoringly and smiles.  She can’t keep her eyes off of him.  Moondoggie also smiles at her as he prepares a hot water bottle to warm her up.

“A regular tomboy, but dressed for a prom
Boy, how cute can one girl be?
Although she’s not king-size, her finger is ring-size
Gidget is the one for me…”

Later, Gidget finds out about the upcoming luau and convinces Kahuna to let her come.  It seems that the surfer boys think she’s too innocent to attend their annual shindig.  Gidget has an ulterior motive for attending the luau: she wants to get together with Moondoggie.  Because Gidget is awkward and can’t just tell Moondoggie, she puts together a scheme to make Moondoggie jealous.  She’s going to attend the luau with another one of the surfer boys and pay him to act friendly with her within sight of Moondoggie.  However, her plans are messed up when the surfer boy she hired ends up bailing and giving the job to Moondoggie!

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Gidget makes cow eyes at Moondoggie as he sings to her.

Moondoggie shows up to earn his money and also out of amusement after being told of Gidget’s scheme.  Now instead of doing the smart thing and admitting to Moondoggie that he was the boy she wanted to make jealous, Gidget pretends that she’s in love with Kahuna, despite him being twice her age.  Gidget has Moondoggie hold her tight while they sway to the music.  Entranced and in love, Gidget is soaking up every moment in Moondoggie’s arms.  One can’t help but notice that Moondoggie has the same facial expression as Gidget.  Both are holding each other, swaying to the music, eyes closed.

Moondoggie then brings out the big guns and serenades Gidget with “The Next Best Thing to Love.”  As Moondoggie sings, Gidget looks at him with big cow eyes.  Moondoggie is holding Gidget close and is just as smitten with her as she is with him.  He goes in for the big kiss and Gidget accepts it willingly… because, duh! Then of course, one of the surfers has to come over to remind Moondoggie that its past midnight and he no longer has to pretend with Gidget anymore.  Embarrassed, Gidget runs off.

Seeing that Gidget is leaving, Kahuna approaches Gidget for a ride to a friend’s beach shack.  Wanting to keep up the facade that she’s in love with Kahuna, Gidget agrees to give him a ride home and follows him into the beach shack for “one of his private parties.”  It is apparent that Gidget is hoping to get together with Kahuna, intimately.  Kahuna plays along and almost falls under her spell until he comes to his senses and tells her to go home.  Moondoggie, not trusting Kahuna and wanting to protect Gidget, shows up at the beach shack and has it out with Kahuna.

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Gidget’s dad plays matchmaker and inadvertently sets his daughter up on a blind date with Moondoggie, despite warning her to “never again go near those beach hoodlums.”  Don’t look so upset Gidget! He’s gorgeous! Your dad could have done a lot worse!

Gidget ends up being picked up by the police when her car breaks down.  She’s picked up by her parents and is grounded for the rest of the summer.  Had she just told Moondoggie about her scheme to make him jealous, she could have just avoided the whole Kahuna/beach shack debacle.  Fortunately for Gidget, the young man whom her father has been trying to fix her up with throughout the entire film turns out to be Moondoggie! Of course, to Gidget’s parents, he’s Jeffrey Matthews, the son of one of Gidget’s dad’s colleagues.

Gidget and Moondoggie on their “blind” date, end up going back to the beach.  They manage to get to the beach just as Kahuna is dismantling his shack.  They find out that Kahuna aka Burt Vail, has accepted a job as a pilot and is giving up the beach bum lifestyle.  Kahuna, knowing the whole time about Gidget and Moondoggie’s infatuation with one another, gives Moondoggie a reminder:

“Just remember, [Gidget] might be pint-sized, but she’s quite a woman.”

Gidget and Moondoggie embrace and Moondoggie asks Gidget to wear his pin:

GIDGET: “Oh boy, would I? Just wait until the girls get a load of this! Honest to goodness, it’s the absolute ultimate!”
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The Gidg has got her man!

I don’t blame Gidget for being such a nerd when Moondoggie “pins” her.  This is the ultimate symbol of “going steady.”  Moondoggie has essentially asked Gidget to be his girlfriend and she wholeheartedly accepts.  Her friends, the ones who were flaunting themselves trying to attract a boyfriend, are still single at the end of the film.  Gidget, who didn’t try hard at all, and was just herself, has managed to not only snag a boyfriend, but a super hot one to boot! You go girl.

Moondoggie shows up two-years later in Gidget Goes Hawaiian.  The story is presented as a continuation of the first film, despite having a different Gidget.  Moondoggie and Gidget are a year or two older, but are still madly in love.  Moondoggie is hands down, the best part about Gidget Goes Hawaiian.

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He’s so dreamy!

“The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon”- “The Long, Long Trailer” (1954)

The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon

Today is National Classic Movie Day.  In honor of this occasion, Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting “The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon.”  What better way to celebrate National Classic Movie Day by watching an old favorite film?

I discovered I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball on Nick at Nite in 1995.  From then on, I was hooked on all things Lucy.  When I discovered that she had a film career prior to I Love Lucy, I began looking for Lucy’s films on TCM.  One day, TCM was airing something titled The Long, Long Trailer (TLLT) that starred not only Lucy, but Desi Arnaz too! Lucy and Desi in the same film? I’m in!  From the first time I saw TLLT it quickly became my favorite film.  It is still my favorite film.  TLLT  also became one of my family’s favorite movies as well.  We regularly brought it camping to watch in our small camping trailer that we owned.  I have now probably seen TLLT  at least a hundred times–I am not exaggerating.  tllt

I absolutely love this movie.  It is hilarious, has memorable scenes and lines and is just so much fun to watch.  As someone who has gone camping almost her entire life (literally, I went camping for the first time when I was six-weeks old) many of Lucy and Desi’s adventures are relatable.  While we never stayed in trailer parks, we have dealt with the drama of backing it in, having the trailer collapse, trying to maneuver it in small areas and even dealing with it when it was slightly off-kilter.  Lucy’s physical comedy scenes are top-notch and Desi’s no slouch either.  My entire family can quote so many lines from this film and it’s to the point where I can almost recite the dialogue alongside the actor on-screen.  I never tire of this movie, no matter how many times I see it–it’s the definition of a comfort film.

TLLT  plays like a 90-minute Technicolor episode of I Love Lucy.  Lucy in TLLT might not be as big a schemer as Lucy Ricardo, but she is the one who goes through the ringer as the result of the ideas she has.  Desi’s character is a bit of a hybrid of Ricky Ricardo and Ethel Mertz as he willingly goes along with Lucy’s ideas, but is also the one that is the voice of reason.  Lucy and Desi’s character names in TLLT, Tacy and Nicky, even sound similar to their I Love Lucy characters, Lucy and Ricky.  Much of the humor of TLLT are the problems that Lucy and Desi experience.  These are problems that any naive novice trailer owner could encounter: getting stuck in the mud, not being able to park, trying to prepare dinner in a moving vehicle, driving on a narrow, treacherous mountain road–all things that could happen to the owner of a trailer.

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The trailer.  At the beginning of the film, Desi laments: “It’s a fine thing when you come home to your home and your home is gone!”

TLLT opens with Desi driving in a downpour, seemingly looking for someone or something.  He pulls into a trailer park and enters the lobby.  An older gentleman, Mr. Tewitt (Moroni Olsen), is sitting in the lobby.  As Desi begins to converse with Mr. Tewitt, we learn that he is looking for his wife, who along with his trailer, has gone missing.  Desi has spotted his trailer in this park.  Mr. Tewitt tells Desi that his wife is currently out looking at a trailer in the park–it is being sold by a young lady who has had a change in plans and needs to sell.  Desi puts two and two together and realizes that that young lady is his wife.  As Desi begins to tell Mr. Tewitt his story, the film segues into a flashback.

Soon-to-be-married Lucy and Desi are at home and Lucy is looking at a series of trailer brochures.  It seems that Desi has been offered a new position that will take him to different jobs all over the country.  It is not clear what Desi’s job is, but Lucy says: “If it (Desi’s job) isn’t a tunnel in Colorado, it’ll be a bridge in Alaska or a dam across the Pacific.”  Based on this, I am assuming that Desi works as some type of engineer.  Lucy, not wanting to spend her married life living out of suitcases and eating in random restaurants, suggests to Desi that they purchase a trailer.  They can travel from job to job and still have a home to return to.  Lucy promises to cook and clean and do everything needed to get Desi to agree.  With some reluctance, Desi agrees to go to the annual trailer show with Lucy to look at the “Bungalette” trailer that she has her eye on.

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Lucy and Desi look at the brochure for the “Bungalette” camper. Spacious on paper, a shoebox in person.

At the trailer show, Lucy and Desi locate the “Bungalette” and discover that the brochure was deceptive in how much space was available.  This trailer is tiny.  It’d be fine for camping, but not as a comfortable space to serve as a home for two adults. Desi is secretly happy that Lucy is disappointed.  Undeterred, Lucy keeps looking and soon spots “it” as Desi says.  “It” is a gorgeous yellow and chrome 36′ Redman “New Moon” trailer.   Lucy and Desi tour the trailer and agree that it’s gorgeous but must be expensive.  A salesman, seeing the opportunity to pounce, talks to Lucy and informs her that the trailer is $5345.  Of course, it can be paid in installments.  1/3 of the cost will need to be put down as a downpayment.  Lucy quickly calculates the downpayment to be roughly $1750 (actually $1763).  It seems that she and Desi’s budget for rent is $1800/year(!).  Lucy goes to work.

Before he knows it, Desi is signing paperwork and trading in his old car.  It seems a new car is needed to haul the trailer.  Lucy and Desi purchase a gorgeous pale yellow convertible to haul the gargantuan trailer.  Next, we’re treated to the hilarious scene of Desi at the auto shop getting the car fitted with new equipment to haul the trailer.  He has a hitch welded to the bumper, trailer brakes are installed and he’s given “block and tackle just in case.” His trunk is full of all kinds of “just in case” crap that the mechanic decides is necessary–though Desi isn’t briefed on the function of any of it. But, at least he has it, right?

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Desi and the overly chipper mechanic who reminds Desi that he now owns “40 feet of train!” and also ingrains the immortal phrase, “trailer brakes first!” into Desi’s brain.

After a terrifying first drive with the new trailer, Desi delivers the trailer to Lucy’s home where she and her girlfriends are stocking it with all of the wedding presents and other essentials.  This scene is utter pandemonium, culminating with a traumatized Desi cowering in the bedroom after a woman topples a pile of clothes hangers.  The chaotic scene is juxtaposed with a glimpse of Lucy and Desi’s fairly tranquil wedding reception.  After the reception, with the car and trailer packed, Lucy and Desi are on the road, ready to start their honeymoon!

On their wedding night, Lucy and Desi pull up to a seemingly nice, but noisy, trailer park.  The residents are all friendly, a little too friendly perhaps.  As Desi attempts to carry Lucy over the threshold, Mrs. Hittaway (Marjorie Main) sees them and for whatever reason assumes that Desi must be carrying Lucy because she’s injured.  I would think that Mrs. Hittaway would have seen Lucy walk up to the trailer, but apparently not.  Instead of telling the truth, Lucy and Desi concoct some story about Lucy twisting her ankle.  Mrs. Hittaway takes charge and devotes herself to administering aid to Lucy.  Mrs. Hittaway’s first order of business is getting some food into Lucy and Desi’s stomachs.  She orders husband Floyd the Barber (Howard McNear) to go get some food.

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The neighborhood welcome wagon

Word gets around the trailer park and soon Desi is hosting a neighborhood get together.  All the neighbors come over to gawk at the large trailer and also to socialize.  Poor Desi spends his evening washing dishes and serving soda to a bunch of people he doesn’t know (and honestly probably doesn’t even care to know.  They were only going to stay at the park overnight).  Lucy is passed out due to being slipped a sleeping pill by Mrs. Hittaway.  The wedding night is a bust.

The next day, eager to get out of the park, Lucy and Desi hightail it out of there and are back on the road.  The next day, the newlyweds decide that they want a private evening.  Lucy suggests that they pull off onto a remote road somewhere and camp.  Desi, not knowing any better agrees.  Soon they are driving on some bumpy, muddy logging road, and the trailer becomes stuck and lopsided.  Then of course, it starts raining.  Desi tries his best to level out the trailer.  Lucy attempts to make dinner.  She attempts to make eggs by rigging up some wire clothes hangers and forks to keep the pans in one place, but it doesn’t really work.  Lucy and Desi end up eating cheese and drinking wine for dinner.  Night time comes and Desi is fast asleep in his twin bed on the leaning side of the trailer.  Lucy has the twin bed at the top of the lean.  She tries to get into bed multiple times, falling out of bed each time.  At this point, one might ask, “why she doesn’t crawl into bed with her husband?”  To that, I say, “if she did that, then we wouldn’t be treated to the hilarity that ensues when the trailer collapses, the door opens, and out goes Lucy–straight into a six-foot deep mud puddle!

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(After Lucy falls out of the trailer and into the mud) DESI (half asleep): “What’s the matter honey? Can’t you sleep?

After her impromptu mud bath, morning comes.  Desi gets the trailer towed and cleaned up and soon he and Lucy are back out on the road! The next stop is Lucy’s Aunt Anastacia (Madge Blake) and Uncle Edgar’s (Walter Baldwin) home.  The newlyweds dream of a short visit where they don’t have to spend any money–or drive the trailer!  Desi and Lucy arrive with their trailer (40 feet of train, remember) much to the astonishment of the neighborhood.  After some obligatory introductions, Uncle Edgar nonchalantly tells Desi to back the trailer into the driveway.  “That way you have use of the car!” he says.  Apparently there are so many people living in the home that Lucy and Desi are still sleeping in their trailer.

Desi, not having ever backed the trailer up, pulls out his useless user manual which advises him to “pull into an attractive trailer park, shop for food and start eating!” He finally finds the instructions on how to back the trailer in and gives it a-go.  He makes multiple attempts and fails.  He drives into yards, plants, crowds of people, and worst of all, Aunt Anastacia’s prized rose.  Mortified, Lucy yells at everyone to get back and shut up and she will direct Desi.  Lucy gets Desi lined up with the driveway and instructs him to back in.  He does a good job, until the carport is shredded due to the trailer being too tall.  Personally, I blame Uncle Edgar.  He’s the one who told Desi to back into the driveway.

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The hilarious scene with Desi trying to back in the trailer with everyone screaming at him. “Poor Grace” is looking on with amusement from the porch. This scene culminates with Desi driving over Aunt Anastacia’s prized roses. “My rose! My rose! You tore down my rose with your lousy stinking trailer!” Aunt Anastacia wails.

A few days later, Lucy and Desi leave their relatives and get back on the road.  Their next stops are uneventful.  They visit a nice, quiet trailer park and Lucy fixes a romantic meal.  It is at this point that we learn that Lucy has been canning fruits and vegetables in an effort to truly make her house a home.  We also find out that she’s been collecting rocks as souvenirs from different places they’ve been on their honeymoon.  These aren’t just little pebbles however, these are enormous rocks that probably each weigh 10-15 lbs.

The next day, Lucy wants to learn how to drive the trailer.  Desi reluctantly lets her take the wheel and soon regrets it.  Lucy drives much faster than he does, passes cars despite the solid yellow line, gets distracted by dresses in the windows… she’s all over the place.  Understandingly, Desi is a mess.  Lucy assures him that she’s only driving 35 miles per hour.  “I am sitting in the suicide seat” he says.  Desi’s backseat driving ends up reaching its peak when he makes a comment about women drivers and Lucy understandably gets mad and sits in the backseat, fuming.  Their fight continues onto their next stop that evening–a service station on the side of the highway.  Lucy and Desi fight about who sleeps in the living room, with Lucy winning.  Their fight ends when they hear some frightening highway sounds–in the form of sirens and gunshots.

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Lucy tries to cook dinner in the trailer while Desi drives. This is the end result.

When morning comes, Lucy tells Desi that she has a solution for alleviating some of the tension between them: she will cook dinner in the trailer while Desi drives.  Sounds like a great idea right? It’s not.  Not only is it illegal (something Lucy and Desi don’t find out until after the fact), but it’s impossible to cook in a moving trailer.  Lucy concocts an elaborate meal: ragout of beef, caesar salad, and angel food cake.  While Desi drives, Lucy discovers that everything rocks while the trailer is in motion.  Soon, she and her meal are being tossed every which way and Lucy discovers that this was a bad idea.  She tries to get Desi’s attention but between the noise of the road and the noise of his “Ragout of Beef” song, he doesn’t hear her.  She’s all over the place, her food is all over the place, the trailer is a disaster.

After stopping the trailer, Desi returns to find Lucy bruised and battered.  He takes her to the beauty salon to get cleaned up.  While in town, Desi speaks with a man who is interested in purchasing the trailer.  Thinking that this is a fantastic idea, Desi speaks with Lucy who is vehemently opposed to the idea.  Lucy ends up winning and it’s back on the road.

The last big stretch of their trip takes them up a very steep mountain–8,000 feet elevation.  The roads are very narrow and are almost completely vertical.  This is a very dangerous road for the trailer, but the detour will take them hundreds of miles out of their way.  I don’t know, after watching them complete the drive, I think I’d rather take the detour! Desi gets the trailer and car worked on and is advised by the mechanic to not take any extra unnecessary weight.  Lucy needs to get rid of her rocks and all her canned fruits and vegetables.  Desi tells Lucy of their weight restrictions and she is not happy.  While preparing the trailer, Lucy schemes with the manager of the trailer park (where they’re staying) and ends up determining that if the weight is distributed evenly across the trailer, then it should be fine.  She then lies to Desi about getting rid of everything.

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Lucy and Desi white knuckle it for the 8,000 ft ascent up the mountain

It’s time to start the big climb.  The trip is harrowing.  The car’s wheels spin in the dry gravel.  The trailer can’t make it around a big curve without Desi having to back-up (with half of the trailer hanging over the cliff!) in order to make the maneuver.  They encounter a fellow driver who has to basically drive his car into the rocky wall in order to let the trailer pass.  Desi passes him successfully, even though the trailer does scrape against the car while passing.  Lucy and Desi have an awkward conversation about a book that Lucy was reading, which ends up turning into a conversation “a beautiful actress who loved squirrels.”  I am thinking the “beautiful actress” is Elizabeth Taylor as Desi references Michael Wilding.

While the trailer makes its ascent, Lucy’s rocks and canning jars start coming out of their hiding places and moving toward one end of the trailer.  Lucy and Desi finally reach the top of the mountain.  They get out of the car for a well deserved breather when suddenly one side of the trailer collapses.  Desi opens the door and out falls one of Lucy’s rocks.  Livid, Desi starts tossing all of the rocks and jars off the side of the cliff.  We are then brought to the beginning of the film.

After Desi has finished recounting the entire story of how he ended up looking for Lucy and his trailer, he ends up finding Lucy in the trailer park.  She has sold the trailer to Mrs. Tewitt and is busy packing.  Desi returns to apologize, but cannot overcome his ego to do so.  Lucy cannot seem to find the words to apologize either.  He leaves.  It’s looking like curtains for Lucy and Desi’s marriage, until Lucy realizes that she doesn’t want Desi to leave and goes chasing after him.  Lucy and Desi apologize, embrace and return to the trailer.

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“I’m sorry!”

 

And they lived happily ever after.

 

Favorite Performers: Kim Novak

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Kim Novak is someone who I discovered when I saw Picnic (1955) for the first time.  I had heard of her and knew what she looked like, but I had never actually seen any of her films until I saw Picnic.  She wasn’t my original draw to the film either.  I originally recorded it because I was a fan of co-star William Holden and I also love the overwrought melodramas of the 1950s.  My initial impression of Novak was that she was very pretty but she seemed somewhat stiff.  I began wondering if it was all style and no substance when it came to Novak.  However, as I kept watching her in Picnic, I noticed that she didn’t seem as stiff as she had in the opening scene.  I found myself warming up to her.

In Picnic, the crux of Novak’s character, Madge, is that she feels that she is only wanted and appreciated for her looks.  Her mother insists that Madge seal the deal with her rich upper crust boyfriend Alan, before her looks begin to fade.  Madge is 19, by the way.  Alan talks about and treats Madge like she’s a trophy on his arm.  Madge begins to resent everyone only focusing on her looks and not showing any regard for her wants, needs and desires.  Novak was very skilled in bringing the conflicted Madge to life.  On one hand, Madge doesn’t want to disappoint her mother; but on the other hand, she wants to live her own life and not skate by on her looks, even if that path looks uncertain.  Madge spends much of the film battling with her own wants and needs, versus those of her mother, boyfriend and the hot, mysterious, and exciting drifter William Holden.

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Kim Novak and William Holden dance in “Picnic”

After Picnic, I remember making a point of seeing Novak in some of her other films.  I saw Bell, Book and Candle co-starring James Stewart.  This film allowed the audience to see Novak as another type of character–a beautiful woman afraid to fall in love.  In this film, Novak plays a beautiful witch who lives in Greenwich Village in New York City.  Novak develops a crush on Stewart and ends up casting a love spell on him when she discovers he’s engaged to marry another woman.  The love spell causes Stewart to fall in love with Novak instead.  Soon Novak finds herself falling in love with Stewart and she’s faced with a choice to make: Fall in love with Stewart and lose her magical powers or keep her powers and let Stewart go.  Novak plays it cool in this film and is very adept at showing the progression of her character falling in love.  Despite being very beautiful and being labeled as one of the 1950s sex symbols of Hollywood, Novak’s characters are never overt in their sexuality, unlike someone like Marilyn Monroe.

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Kim Novak as “Madeline” in “Vertigo”

One of Novak’s most famous films is her turn in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  Novak is cast as one of Hitchcock’s typical icy blondes, but she brings so much to her complicated, somewhat dual role.  In this film, Novak must portray the beautiful and tragic Madeline who Stewart meets and falls in love with.  Later, she portrays the small-town girl, Judy, who of course resembles Madeline, and agrees to allow Stewart to transform her into his lost love.  As Madeline, Novak plays the wispy blonde, who is so beautiful but with an underlying vulnerability.  As Judy, Novak plays a more average looking woman (more like a gorgeous woman wearing too much heavy makeup) from Kansas who is trying to make it in big city San Francisco.  She is brassier and more no-nonsense than Madeline. Of course there is more to the story than meets the eye and Novak was fascinating to watch.

Novak is a highly underrated actress who I believe wasn’t taken seriously because she was so beautiful.  In all her films, she brings charm and also an underlying vulnerability that makes her a joy to watch on screen.  Today, Kim Novak lives on a ranch in a small town in Southern Oregon.  It’s exciting to think that one of my favorite Classic Hollywood stars is still alive and thriving in a town only about 3.5 hours south of me.  Maybe someday, I’ll make it back down there and maybe run into Kim Novak on the street or something.  I can always hope!

My favorite Kim Novak films:

-Picnic (1955).  I already talked about this film above; but this film deals with a drifter (William Holden) who interrupts the tranquility in a small Kansas town.  Most of the action occurs at the town’s annual Labor Day picnic.  Novak portrays Madge, a beautiful nineteen year old woman who is dating Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson), one of the town’s most eligible bachelors.  Novak falls for Holden, much to the chagrin of Robertson and her mother (Betty Field).

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Kim Novak and her cat, Pyewacket in “Bell, Book and Candle.”

Bell, Book and Candle (1958).  Described above as well.  This film depicts the story of a beautiful witch (Novak) who casts a spell on a man (James Stewart) whom she’s been admiring from afar.  Soon, she must decide whether to fall in love with Stewart and give up her magical powers, or let Stewart go in order to retain her powers.

Vertigo (1958).  Mentioned briefly above.  This film is so complex that it would be hard to describe it and do it any justice.  This is a film that has to be watched and watched intently, not casually.  A couple weeks ago, I watched this film in the theater and was fascinated by how much of the film I had forgotten or hadn’t pieced together the pieces of the story.  Once I had the story figured out, I found it amazing and captivating.  In a nutshell, this film tells the story of a man, James Stewart, who falls in love with a mysterious blonde and loses her in a tragic accident.  He meets another woman, Kim Novak, who resembles his lost love.  Stewart goes to work transforming his new girl into the girl he lost.

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Howard Duff and Kim Novak in “Boys’ Night Out”

Boys’ Night Out (1962).  This 1962 comedy is silly and definitely not worthy of any sort of award, but I love it.  There’s just something about early 1960s comedies.  In this film, Novak plays a college student who rents an apartment from a group of men (James Garner, Tony Randall, Howard Morris and Howard Duff).  The men are all married, except for Garner.  The husbands are bored with their wives and their day-to-day routine and want to set up an apartment to have a fling.  They base their plan on the same tactics their boss uses to have his fling.  Novak rents the apartment not knowing of their plan to commit adultery and the men don’t know that Novak is pretending to romance them as a means to gather material for her college thesis on the sexual life of the middle class male. Hilarity ensues.

-Pushover (1954).  This is a really great noir and is Novak’s film debut.  Novak portrays the beautiful girlfriend of a man who robs a bank and both of them are now on the lam.  Fred MacMurray co-stars as an undercover cop who is tasked with setting up a stakeout in an apartment across the street from Novak’s.  While watching her, MacMurray ends up falling in love with Novak.  Soon Novak is trying to corrupt him to join her side and MacMurray is conflicted between his love for Novak and his duty to his job and the police department.

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Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in “Pushover.”  She’s only 20 here!

Pal Joey (1957).  This is a musical starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Novak.  Sinatra portrays Joey, a singer and charmer who can make pretty much any woman fall for him.  The only problem is that he’s a complete cad.  Sinatra meets Novak, a chorus girl in one of his shows.  He genuinely seems to have real feelings for her. Sinatra dreams of opening his own nightclub but needs money.  He appeals to an old flame, Hayworth, who used to also work as a stripper.  She married a wealthy man and is now widowed.  Sinatra decides to romance Hayworth in order to convince her to give him money for his nightclub.  Throughout the film, Sinatra and Hayworth use each other and continues to romance Novak.  The love-triangle continues throughout the film until Sinatra is forced to make a decision.

 

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!