Van Johnson Blogathon- I Love Lucy “The Dancing Star”

Van Johnson isn’t a name that often comes up when people think about figures from the Golden Age of Hollywood. However, that isn’t to say that he wasn’t a star. He co-starred alongside many of Hollywood’s more legendary actors; but he never got that one film that would catapult him into the echelon of “legend.” Some of the “legendary” actors Van co-starred with: Gene Kelly (Brigadoon), Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (State of the Union), Judy Garland (In the Good Old Summertime), Humphrey Bogart (The Caine Mutiny), and Elizabeth Taylor (The Last Time I Saw Paris). However, despite not ever making “the film” to propel him to legend status, Van was a big enough star to appear as himself alongside two of television’s biggest legends: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, on an episode of I Love Lucy.

A young Van Johnson watches on as Frances Langford serenades the crowd in Too Many Girls.

The I Love Lucy episode, “The Dancing Star,” was not Van’s first experience working with Ball and Arnaz. In 1939, while trying to make it as a young actor in New York, Van scored a gig as understudy to the three male leads of George Abbot’s hit Broadway play (featuring the music of Rodgers and Hart), “Too Many Girls.” One of the main cast members (whom I’m going to assume that Van did not understudy) was the young 23-year old Cuban musician, Desi Arnaz. The play was a smash hit and Arnaz along with co-star Eddie Bracken were brought out to Hollywood to reprise their roles in the RKO film adaptation of the play.

In Hollywood, Van joined the cast as an uncredited part of the chorus. He can be seen in the background of a few scenes, but most prominently in the front of the crowd dancing during Desi Arnaz’ big conga number. Another new member of the cast of the RKO production was Lucille Ball. Ball was the star of the film and would play the role of the ingenue college student, Connie. Ball and Arnaz were introduced prior to the start of filming. However, their first meeting did not go well as Ball was still wearing the makeup and costume from her current film, Dance, Girl, Dance, which co-starred Maureen O’Hara. Ball’s makeup and costume was a black eye and a torn gold lamé dress that she wore while shooting a catfight scene with O’Hara. Looking at Ball’s black eye and torn gown, Arnaz could hardly envision her as the virginal ingenue of Too Many Girls. Later that evening, Arnaz and Ball were re-introduced. During this meeting, Ball had cleaned herself up and sported her own clothing and makeup. It was love at first sight for Ball and Arnaz and the rest, as they say, was history.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz met during the filming of “Too Many Girls”

Anyway, back to Van. After Too Many Girls, he got more understudy work, including as Gene Kelly’s understudy in the Broadway play, Pal Joey. Kelly would soon be starring in his first Hollywood film, For Me and My Gal, with Judy Garland. Discouraged, Van was about to quit Hollywood when friend Lucille Ball took him to the famous Chasen’s restaurant to meet an MGM casting director. This meeting led to Van getting a screen test at Columbia and Warner Brothers. Columbia didn’t pan out, but Van scored a few roles with Warner Brothers. After his contract with Warner Brothers ended, Van was signed to MGM. MGM is where Van finally got a break and soon was appearing in films. In 1943, Van got his big break when he appeared in A Guy Named Joe with Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne. He continued to appear in many quality films throughout the 1940s.

Van and Esther Williams in Easy to Wed.

In 1946, Van was re-teamed with friend Ball in Easy to Wed which also co-starred Esther Williams and Keenan Wynn. Through the remainder of the 1940s, Van continued to appear in many great MGM films. By 1950, Van was freelancing, which freed him up to appear in films in other studios. During the 1950s, Van also started appearing in shows on the burgeoning medium known as television. In 1955, Van was invited to appear in a guest spot as himself on his friends’ (Arnaz and Ball) sitcom, I Love Lucy. By 1955, I Love Lucy was a massive hit and big stars were willing to appear on their show for free just to get the chance to be part of the program.

Van appears during the Hollywood story-arc of I Love Lucy in the episode, “The Dancing Star.” Ricky Ricardo (Arnaz) has been offered a role as Don Juan in Hollywood. He along with wife, Lucy (Ball), and their best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance) all head to California. While in California, wacky Lucy has various run-ins with stars (William Holden, Hedda Hopper, John Wayne, Harpo Marx, Rock Hudson, Sheila MacRae, Eve Arden, and CORNEL WILDE IN THE PENTHOUSE), often with disastrous results. One such star who did not suffer at the hands of Lucy however, was Van Johnson.

In “The Dancing Star,” Lucy’s old frenemy, Carolyn Appleby (Doris Singleton) shows up unexpectedly to pay Lucy and Ethel a visit while she’s on her way to Hawaii to meet-up with husband Charlie. Carolyn says that she’s going to stop over for a couple days so that she can meet all the stars Lucy’s been hobnobbing with per the postcards Lucy’s been sending out to her friends in Hollywood. Obviously, Lucy didn’t expect her friends to show up wanting to be part of the action. As Lucy is panicking, Ethel tells her that Van Johnson is appearing in a show at their hotel, The Beverly Palms. Ethel spots Van sleeping next to the pool and tells Lucy to go down there and pretend that she’s talking to him. Ethel will then casually bring Carolyn up to the window, point out Lucy and Van and all will be well.

Lucy Ricardo begs Van Johnson to dance with her in “I Love Lucy”

The plan goes off, somewhat, except that Carolyn has forgotten her glasses. Apparently Carolyn Appleby must wear contact lenses and has lost them, because in her previous appearances on the series, she’s had no issues with her eyesight. However, when Carolyn is in California, she’s blind as a bat. Carolyn can only make out two red-headed blurs and just has to assume that that is Lucy and Van. Of course, Lucy can’t leave well enough alone and brags to Carolyn about all the other stars that were also down at the pool. She then further ups the ante by telling Carolyn that she’s throwing a big soiree tomorrow evening where tons of stars will be in attendance. Conveniently, Carolyn’s flight to Hawaii is supposed to depart tomorrow evening. Aw shucks.

And because it’s Lucy and she has to be the object of envy of The Wednesday Afternoon Fine Arts League (who usually meets on Tuesdays, never on Thursdays, but occasionally on Fridays), she tells Carolyn that she’s “chummy” with Van. Lucy’s fib is based on the fact that Carolyn can’t see and that Van’s partner is a tall red-headed woman. With Carolyn’s blurred vision, she won’t be able to tell that Van’s partner is not Lucy. However, Lucy’s “great” plan is foiled when Carolyn’s airline finds her glasses and returns them to Carolyn at the hotel. Desperate, Lucy approaches Van and begs him to dance with her. She finally gets him to agree when she flatters him by saying that she’s seen his show 14 times and knows it backwards and forwards. Ethel and Carolyn see Lucy dancing with Van and all is well.

(VAN JOHNSON in response to LUCY RICARDO’S constant proclamations of not having much time and that “she’s” going to be here any minute)

VAN JOHNSON: “Who’s going to be here any minute?”

LUCY RICARDO: “Carolyn Appleby! Who do you think?!”

Van Johnson and Lucille Ball (Lucy Ricardo) in “The Dancing Star,” I Love Lucy
Lucy Ricardo finally gets her chance to be in the show. Screenshot from CBS’ colorized version of “The Dancing Star”

Later that evening, Lucy gets her big chance: Van’s partner is sick and he needs someone to replace her last minute. Seeing that Lucy knows the routine, Van thinks that she’s the perfect choice. And with this set-up, we finally get to see Lucy Ricardo in one of her rare performances where she’s allowed to perform a dance number without purposeful or accidental mishaps. In the “How About You?” number, Lucy and Van perform a beautiful, simple song and dance number. Lucy looks beautiful in her feather-covered gown. She and Van are a sensation. Ricky watches his wife dance this wonderful number with a deep adoration. Ethel and Fred watch their friend, proudly. And Carolyn is overjoyed.

Wait? Carolyn?! Wasn’t she going to Hawaii?

Apparently, Carolyn has decided to put off her flight to Hawaii one more day to attend Lucy’s big Hollywood party. Yikes.

Cue the famous “Lucy Meets Harpo Marx” episode, the unofficial second part of “The Dancing Star.”

“Gotta little laryngitis, baby!”

100 Years of Esther Williams Blogathon- “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952)

August 8, 2021 marks the 100th birthday of MGM swimming superstar, Esther Williams. Williams’ remains one of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s best known musical stars, despite her stardom only lasting about a decade or so. I’ll admit that I used to not be a huge fan of Williams’. Not that I disliked her, but I thought she was stiff and somewhat bland. However, I think that I watched the wrong film as my introduction to Williams–Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949). I had originally watched ‘Ballgame’ to see Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. In this film, Williams plays the owner of a baseball team who does not initially get along with Kelly. Her character in this film is somewhat a stick in the mud and we’re only treated to a shoehorned-in swimming scene.

However, as someone who likes to give everyone another chance, because honestly as a classic film fan, I want to like everyone and everything. Luckily, my second introduction to Esther Williams was in the biopic, Million Dollar Mermaid, one of Williams’ best-known films.

The real Annette Kellermann, modeling her innovative one-piece swimming costume

In Million Dollar Mermaid, Esther plays real-life Australian swimming star, Annette Kellermann. We’ll look past the fact that Esther does not even attempt an Australian accent. The film starts in the late 19th century with polio-stricken Annette expressing her desire to swim as a means to improve the strength in her legs and overall health. Her father, Frederick (Walter Pidgeon) runs a music conservatory. We’re then treated to a montage of the young Annette taking swimming lessons, and later winning competitions. The montage also serves as a means to advance the timeline. Finally, we see a grown Annette (Esther Williams) accepting her latest trophy in the regional championship.

Later, Frederick accepts a teaching position that will take he and his daughter to England. While on board the steamer, Annette meets American promoter James “Jimmy” Sullivan, who is taking a boxing kangaroo to England. Thinking that Annette’s swimming talents will net them more funds than the boxing kangaroo, Jimmy begins to schmooze Annette and talks her into allowing him to promote her skills. As a promotional stunt, Jimmy announces that Annette will make the six-mile swim across a body of water. Annette ups the ante and announces that she will swim for 26 miles. Word gets around about Annette’s swim. However, she is unable to complete the swim.

Esther Williams as Annette Kellermann sporting a fantastic gold sequined one-piece swimming costume

Determined to figure out a way to market Annette’s skills, Jimmy suggests that they go to New York City to perform in an aquatic show in the famed Hippodrome. However, the owner of the Hippodrome does not see Jimmy’s vision and he is unable to get the deal. Annette then tries to go for a swim in Boston, but her “scandalous” one-piece piece bathing suit (versus the baggy dress with bloomers bathing suit that was worn at the time). The beachgoers are irate at seeing Annette’s body and repeatedly declare their disgust with being able to see her legs and shoulders. Annette ends up being arrested and goes to trial for indecent exposure.

In court, Annette pleads her case, stating that the one-piece men’s racing suit that she wears is much more practical for swimming than the big baggy things that women at the time were expected to wear. Annette’s occupation as a competitive female swimmer was unusual for the time as well. In the trial, Annette pleads not guilty to the indecent exposure charge. However, she offers a compromise: She has augmented her short, one-piece bathing suit by adding leggings to the bottom, thus covering her legs. Her new bathing suit basically looks like a cross between footie pajamas and a leotard. The judge is convinced and all charges are dropped. Annette is permitted to wear her custom swimwear.

Annette and Jimmy’s aquatic show is given the greenlight and is a big success. As these films typically go, Annette begins to fall in love with Jimmy, leading to amazing dialogue like this:

(Annette has finished her show and is drying off. Jimmy enters and pulls her into an embrace)

ANNETTE: Please, I’m soaking wet

JIMMY: Good, maybe it’ll put the fire out

Esther Williams and Victor Mature in “Million Dollar Mermaid.”

And like how these films often go, Annette and Jimmy have a misunderstanding which causes their romance to fizzle out… at least temporarily. During her separation with Jimmy Annette’s star begins to get bigger and bigger as her Hippodrome shows get more extravagant. Busby Berkeley directed the large, insane and extravagant water sequence, complete with Esther being dropped 50-feet and then rising above the surface on a platform.

Esther Williams performs in Busby Berkeley’s water routine

After my lukewarm introduction to Esther in Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Million Dollar Mermaid proved to be a much better initiation into Esther Williams’ stardom and filmography. I’ve found that no matter how corny, contrived and/or formulaic Williams’ movies can be, they are first and foremost entertaining. I love the spectacle of her films. Her underwater ballet sequences are fascinating and Esther’s dives and stunts are also impressive. Now, I find myself enjoying Williams’ films–even yes, Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Classic Movie Day Blogathon- 6 Films, 6 Decades

May 16th is upon us again. It’s National Classic Movie Day. Though honestly, I’m sure for many of us, EVERYDAY is National Classic Movie Day. For this year’s event, Classic Film and TV Cafe has asked us to list six favorite films, each from a different decade–starting with the 1920s through the 1970s. We were also given another option of the 1930s-1980s, but since my husband I have been trying to watch more silent films, I’m going to take the original challenge. To ease ourselves into silent films, we’ve started with the classic comedians–an obvious and easy jumping off point. Good comedy is universal and timeless. Since I’ve written about a lot of my favorite films over the years and have a tendency to be verbose and not wanting to bore everyone with yet another dissertation detailing my love for The Long Long Trailer, I’m going to try and change things up a bit by selecting some favorites that I don’t *think* I’ve talked about yet.

1920s- The Freshman (1925)

Starring: Harold Lloyd & Jobyna Ralston

Plot: Lloyd stars as “Harold Lamb,” an incoming freshman who is eager to begin his studies at Tate University. He has saved up quite a tidy sum, $485 ($7400 in 2021 dollars), to use as spending money while enrolled in college. While on the train, Harold meets Peggy (Ralston) and the two are smitten with one another. While at Tate, Harold decides that the best way to fit in is to emulate his favorite movie star, known as “The College Hero” in a series of films. Upon introducing himself to a potential friend, Harold performs The College Hero’s jig and adopting the nickname, “Speedy.” However, unbeknownst to Harold, his attempts to be cool and fit in make him the object of everyone’s jokes, especially the college bully. The students’ laughter makes Harold think that he’s fitting in and he’s unaware that he is the school laughing stock. His only true friend in the film is Peggy, his landlady’s daughter. Harold ends up trying out for the football team, but his obvious lack of athleticism does not impress the coach. The star football player, wanting to continue to make fun of Harold, convinces the coach to hire Harold as the waterboy, hereby making Harold think that he’s made the team. The star football player’s ruse may end up haunting him and the team later.

My Favorite Part: My favorite part of this film is when Harold is at the Fall Frolic in an unfinished suit. His tailor has all the pieces of the suit attached with some very loose stitches. Harold opts to wear the suit while the tailor hides behind a curtain, hoping to casually finishing sewing Harold’s suit. While Harold tries to partake in the Fall Frolic activities, his suit starts falling apart.


1930s- Alice Adams (1935)

Starring: Katharine Hepburn & Fred MacMurray

Plot: Hepburn stars as the titular Alice Adams, a young woman from the “wrong side of the tracks,” at least from Alice’s perception. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with the Adams’ home. It is a nice, clean home. It’s not fancy, but it’s functional and well-maintained. However, it is obvious that the Adamses are unhappy with their lot in life. Mr. Adams (Fred Stone) is an invalid and works as a clerk at Mr. Lamb’s (Charley Grapewin) glue factory. Mr. Lamb as been very nice and patient with Mr. Adams and his illness. However, Mrs. Adams (Ann Shoemaker) is frustrated with her husband’s lack of motivation or ambition to do anything to improve their financial situation. Alice’s brother, Walter (Frank Albertson), is a gambling addict and is unable to hold down a job. He also fraternizes with African-Americans, which at the time, was seen as unseemly (and embarrassing) behavior.

Alice is invited to a dance hosted by a wealthy peer of hers, Mildred Palmer (Evelyn Venable). Alice tries to put on airs, despite being escorted by her brother and carrying a bouquet of violets that she harvested outside. In an attempt to prove herself worthy of attending this party, she tries to impress her peers with haughty behavior and conversation, but they are not impressed and she is essentially shunned. While at the dance, she meets the wealthy Arthur Russell (MacMurray) who sees through her shtick but is nonetheless charmed. He makes it known that he wishes to see her more often and Alice, worried that he won’t be interested in her if he knew her true social standing (though he already does), tries to continue her charade.

My Favorite Part: The family dinner is hilarious and heartbreaking all at once. Alice invites Arthur to have dinner with her family. Alice hires a maid, Malena (Hattie McDaniel), to keep up the charade. Despite being blistering hot outside, the entire family dresses in formal attire. Alice plans this absurd (and very hot and heavy) meal made up of fancy delicacies, but Malena’s poor cooking skills are not up to par with the food Alice wants to serve. Malena provides the comic relief of the dinner with her unimpressed facial expressions and genuinely uncouth behavior. Poor Alice is collapsing emotionally with each and everything that goes wrong. Arthur, bless his heart, stoically carries on despite the disastrous evening.


1940s- Gilda (1946)

Starring: Rita Hayworth & Glenn Ford

Plot: Johnny Farrell (Ford) is an American gambler, newly arrived to Buenos Aires, Argentina. When the film opens, Johnny is hustling some gangsters outside during a game of craps. Johnny wins a large sum of money using loaded dice. When the gangsters discover Johnny’s ruse they are about to beat him up when Ballin Mundson (George Macready), a stranger, steps in and rescues Johnny. Ballin owns a fancy casino and brings Johnny there, but warns him not to cheat. However, once a cheater, always a cheater and Johnny is caught cheating at blackjack. After Ballin catches him cheating again, Johnny convinces him to give him a job and soon becomes the manager.

One day, Ballin comes back from a trip announcing that he’s taken a new wife, despite having only known her for a day. He takes Johnny to meet his new wife, Gilda (Hayworth), and Johnny is shocked. The smile on Gilda’s face quickly fades. It is obvious that these two know each other and have a past. What kind of past remains to be seen. Ballin assigns Johnny to be Gilda’s keeper of sorts. Gilda and Johnny have a very intense love/hate relationship. Gilda at one point says to Johnny: “I hate you so much, that I would destroy myself to take you down with me.” However, in spite of how much they say they hate each other, they’re also always about 5 minutes away from jumping into the sack with one another. To irritate Johnny and get his goat, Gilda begins cavorting with various men at all hours of the evening. Johnny has to keep intervening out of loyalty to Ballin. However, at some point, the tension between Gilda and Johnny begins to take over and they’re unable to contain themselves. Ballin observes his manager and wife’s lust for each other and takes matters into his own hands.

My Favorite Part: My absolute favorite part is Gilda’s floor-length sequin coat. But plot wise, the classic “Put the Blame on Mame” song is definitely a highlight. I also really love the scenes at Carnival. Gilda’s gaucho outfit is amazing.


1950s- His Kind of Woman (1951)

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price & Raymond Burr

Plot: Robert Mitchum plays Dan Millner, a professional gambler. At the beginning of the film, he is very much down on his luck. One night, after being ambushed by a group of thugs, he is brought to one of the more senior thugs and is offered a “too good to be true” job. For $50k, Dan has to spend a year in Mexico. Figuring that there’s got to be a catch, but also figuring that he has nothing to lose, Dan accepts a $5k advance and takes a chartered flight to the isolated Morro’s Lodge in Mexico. While on his flight, Dan meets Lenore Brent (Russell). Lenore very matter-of-factly tells Dan that she has a million dollars. Dan is attracted to her but disappointed to learn that she’s involved with another guest at the resort, famous actor Mark Cardigan (Price). While milling around the resort, Dan overhears two guests: Martin Kraft and a man by the name of Thompson (Jim “Thurston Howell III” Backus) discussing a plot that Dan suspects is related to the $50k he was offered. The two men give Dan $10k hush money and tell him that someone will be arriving soon to go over the plan with him.

Around the same time, an undercover agent from the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service shows up stating that underworld boss, Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr) is scheming to try and get back into the US. Four years prior, he’d been deported to Italy. At this point, as far as I can tell, Ferraro is planning a “Face/Off” situation where he and Dan, supposedly of similar height and build, will literally switch faces. It seems that Martin Kraft is a plastic surgeon, who is armed with some sort of anesthesia that will allow him to perform the face switching procedure. At some point, Dan is kidnapped and under duress on Ferraro’s boat and it becomes up to Mark Cardigan to head an expedition to save Dan.

My Favorite Part: The entire scene involving Mark Cardigan heading up the rescue mission. Vincent Price’s hamminess makes the scene and it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as interesting or funny without Price. Price brings some much wanted levity to the film, especially while Robert Mitchum faces the idea of having to literally have his face ripped off and switched with Raymond Burr’s. I love the scene where Mark valiantly boards a small boat, only to have it sink immediately because it’s overloaded. I love the hilarious super long (and I imagine, heavy, especially water-logged) cape that he wears while he mans the (larger) rescue boat.


1960s- Girl Happy (1965)

Starring: Elvis Presley & Shelley Fabares

Plot: Elvis plays Rusty Wells, a nightclub singer (duh) who along with the other three members of his quartet have just ended their gig at a nightclub in Chicago. They plan to travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for Spring Break before moving onto their next job. However, the nightclub owner, “Big Frank,” messes up their plans when he extends their contract and they have to cancel their trip.

At the same time, Big Frank’s 18-year old college-aged daughter, Valerie (Fabares), is also planning on traveling to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. Despite his daughter’s legal adult status, Big Frank is terrified at the idea of letting his daughter travel so far away with just her friends in tow. Rusty sees his boss’ worry, and still wanting to go to Florida, comes up with the brilliant idea of offering to chaperone Valerie. Big Frank likes the idea and offers to bankroll Rusty and his friends’ trip. While in Fort Lauderdale, Rusty struggles with keeping an Italian playboy from lusting after Valerie and maintaining a semblance of a relationship with a “good time girl” (i.e. loose girl) Deena (Mary Ann Mobley). Rusty has to keep bailing on Deena when duty calls and she quickly grows tired of him. But because it’s an Elvis movie and he has to find himself in some sort of love triangle, Deena continues to maintain an interest in Rusty throughout the entire film.

And because this is an Elvis movie and because it’s a tried and true plot with one party being hired to chaperone or hang out with (or what have you) the other. You know that they’ll fall in love and you know that the person being chaperoned will find out. Despite the formulaic Elvis movies and plotlines, I still love it. His movies are fluffy, but they’re fun. And sometimes a fun movie is all that is needed.

My Favorite Part: I love the part when Elvis dresses up in Nina Talbot’s dress to escape from Officer Jackie Coogan’s jail. Elvis had dug a large hole and burrowed himself into the jail cell so that he could save Valerie and the other women.


1970s- The Muppet Movie (1979)

Starring: Kermit the Frog & Fozzie Bear

Plot: The film opens with all of the Muppets sitting together in an auditorium, waiting to watch their film. This film shows how all the Muppets met. We meet Kermit the Frog sitting in a boat in a pond, singing “Rainbow Connection” while strumming his banjo. A talent agent (Dom Deluise) who just happens to be at the same pond, hears Kermit’s song and says that he could be a Hollywood star. I mean obviously, it’s a singing frog playing the banjo! What more could anyone want? Kermit loves the idea of making millions of people happy and sets off for Hollywood. Along the way, he meets a terrible (but awesome) stand-up comedian, Fozzie Bear. Kermit invites Fozzie to Hollywood and the two set off in Fozzie’s Studebaker. This brings about my favorite quote from the film, “A frog and a bear, seeing America.”

Along the way, Kermit and Fozzie meet Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (which includes Animal), the band’s manager, Scooter, Gonzo and his girlfriend (Camilla the Chicken), Sweetums, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, Bunsen Honeydew, and Beaker. There are a million of celebrity cameos: James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, Telly Savalas, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, and perhaps the greatest cameo of them all… ORSON WELLES.

My Favorite Part: This entire film is hilarious. But I really love the part where Kermit the Frog and Miss Peggy go out for a romantic dinner. They are greeted by a snarky and rude waiter (Steve Martin) who wears shorty shorts, offers them a straw for their bottle-capped Idaho champagne (after offering to let them smell the bottlecap, of course).

Doris Day Blogathon- “On Moonlight Bay” & “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”

Doris’ amazing shirt!

Doris Day would have celebrated her 99th birthday on April 3, 2021. Miss Day passed away almost two years ago on May 13, 2019 at the age of 97. Up until the day she passed away, Doris had devoted the last half of her life to animal welfare–forming multiple non-profit organizations whose intent was to support both animals and other like-minded organizations. Through Doris’ non-profits, she also protected animals’ well-being through her Spay and Neuter program, and support at other legislation aimed to give animals the respect and dignity they deserve when facing illnesses and injuries that could potentially prolong their suffering and pain. With all that I’ve read about Doris and from what I’ve seen of her in interviews, I’m sure that she’s most proud of her animal welfare work and is what she’d like to be her legacy.

For major classic film fans like myself and others, Doris Day will forever be known for her pretty, perky girl next door persona, which later evolved into the persona of a sophisticated career woman. She ended her career playing mother roles. However, in all of these roles, no matter the setting, Doris Day was always a cute, personable woman with a gorgeous singing voice and effortless charm. She, much like the younger Sandra Dee, ended up being saddled with a reputation for being virginal–which really doesn’t make sense considering that she often played a mother toward the end of her career. This “virgin” label is often used as some sort of an insult, as if to discount Day’s work as being trivial or fluff. To this I say, what’s wrong with fluff?

I like fluff.

We’ll just ignore the fact that Doris doesn’t look anything like the poster in the actual film!

In a pair of my favorite fluffy films, On Moonlight Bay (1951) and its sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953), Day plays eighteen-year old, Marjorie Winfield. We’ll look past the fact that Doris was 29 and 31 in the two films. Day’s youthfulness and effervescent personality more than makes her believable as an eighteen-year old. She was also paired up with frequent co-star, Gordon MacRae, who is adorable in both films. On Moonlight Bay starts the Winfield Family’s story in the mid-1910s. The Winfields have just moved into a larger home in a more affluent neighborhood in their small Indiana town. Marjorie has recently graduated high school and since she’s not getting any younger, her father, George (Leon Ames), is eager to have her meet a suitor and marry. Much to his chagrin however, Marjorie is a tomboy and would rather play baseball than wear dresses and look for a suitable husband.

Lucky for Marjorie however, she soon meets neighbor Bill Sherman (MacRae), an Indiana University student. He is at home while on a break from school. Marjorie is smitten with him and soon is all about being a proper young woman, wearing dresses and the like. At first George is overjoyed, but soon is dismayed when Bill shares his unconventional thoughts regarding marriage and finances. Bill’s thoughts on finances is especially upsetting since George makes his living as a banker. Marjorie’s mother, Alice (Rosemary DeCamp), likes Bill as does Marjorie’s precocious younger brother, Wesley (Billy Gray). The Winfield’s maid, Stella (Mary Wickes), is too busy dealing with Wesley’s hijinks to be concerned about Marjorie and Bill’s relationship.

At some point, George tries to fix Marjorie up with his idea of a suitable suitor, Hubert, but Hubert is lame and dull. Nobody except George likes him. Marjorie reluctantly follows along, but Wesley has no qualms about making his opinions on Hubert known. By the end of the film, the US has entered WWI and Bill leaves to fight in the war. In the sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, it is 1918. WWI is over and Bill returns to his small Indiana town to pick things up with Marjorie. Thankfully, Marjorie has been waiting for Bill and the two resume their relationship.

The woman in this poster doesn’t even look like Doris!

Marjorie and Bill’s relationship really hits its stride. Except, the now nineteen/twenty-year old Marjorie is ready to marry Bill. However, Bill is reluctant to commit to Marjorie, because he has yet to find a good job. He does not want to marry Marjorie if he is not gainfully employed. Of course, because every movie needs to find a reason for the romantic couple to break up so that they can triumphantly reunite towards the end, Marjorie and Bill breakup over his not wanting to marry Marjorie. They are reunited thanks to one of Wesley’s schemes, which involves Bill disguising himself (with a fake mustache, of course) as a horse and carriage driver. There’s also an odd subplot involving the family thinking that father George is having an affair. Wesley also has a fantasy sequence where he’s a detective. Those sequences are fine, but honestly this film is all about Doris Day and Gordon MacRae.

On Moonlight Bay and By the Light of the Silvery Moon never seem to be mentioned among Day’s more well known titles like Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Calamity Jane, Love Me or Leave Me, etc. This pair of films deserve to be mentioned along Doris’ other wonderful films. Both films capture Doris’ wonderful girl next door persona, she’s cute as a button and it’s easy to see why Gordon would be so enamored by her. She is so cheery and charming. As is Gordon. Why that guy wasn’t a bigger star is beyond me. These films are very much in the same vein as Meet Me in St. Louis (even with the same dad), but they are different enough to not be considered a knock-off. I don’t even usually like child actors, but Billy Gray is able to imbue his character Wesley, with enough charm and personality that he comes off as funny, rather than obnoxious. At no point is Wesley cloying, or trying to manipulate the audience into feeling affection toward him. He is legitimately funny and sweet towards his sister in the film.

Aren’t they adorable? Doris Day and Gordon MacRae from the ending of “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”

We Love Pirates Blogathon: Errol Flynn’s Pirate Films

Of course I’d pick the blogathon button with my boyfriend, Errol Flynn (This photo is from “The Sea Hawk”)

Ah Errol Flynn. My boyfriend, Errol Flynn. While proved himself an adept actor in dramas, comedies, sports films, adventure… He’s best known today for his swashbucklers. Many of Flynn’s swashbuckler films involved him wielding a sword, such as in Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Don Juan, Against All Flags, and his best-known film, The Adventures of Robin Hood. In Flynn’s films, he always played the rogue hero. A man who displayed massive amounts of bravado and heroism, but could also make women weak in the knees with one flash of his megawatt smile. Flynn could swagger into the room and cut the villain down to size with one cutting remark. He always played a charismatic leader, one whom others looked up to and wanted to support. In this article, I’m going to focus on Flynn’s pirate films, it is Pirate Week, after all.

Two great stars are born in “Captain Blood,” Errol Flynn & Olivia de Havilland

Captain Blood (1935). This film was Errol Flynn’s big break. While he’d appeared in two films prior to Captain Blood, in one film, he played a corpse (The Case of the Curious Bride) and in another (Don’t Bet on Blondes), he had the small role as a boyfriend–nothing that was going to catapult him into stardom. For ‘Blood,’ Warner Brothers had wanted to cast Robert Donat, but he turned the film down, fearing that it’d be too strenuous for his asthma. Finally, the studio settled on the unknown Australian, Errol Flynn, and cast him alongside the equally unknown, 19-year old Olivia de Havilland. This would prove to be a monumental film for both actors.

While I’m not in love with his hair, I would pay 10 pounds to have Errol Flynn be my slave.

In this film, Flynn plays the titular, Captain Peter Blood, a 17th century British doctor who is arrested and accused of treason against King James II after treating Lord Gilroy. The judge sentences him to death, but the King sees an opportunity for profit, and opts to transfer Peter and other rebellious men to the West Indies to be sold into slavery. After landing in Port Royal, the men are put up on the block to be sold to the wealthy landowners. When it’s Peter’s turn, he is purchased for 10 pounds by Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland), the wealthy niece of the local military commander, Colonel Bishop. Arabella is charmed by Peter’s rebellious nature and let’s face it, he was the most attractive of all the slaves. Peter resents having been purchased like he was a piece of meat. To improve his situation, Arabella recommends Peter for the job of her uncle’s personal physician. It seems that Colonel Bishop suffers from the gout. The conflict of the film occurs when Peter puts together a plan for himself and his fellow slave men to escape. They do and thus begin their life of piracy.

Errol Flynn in a costume test for “The Sea Hawk.” He looks a little mangy, but I wouldn’t turn him down

The Sea Hawk (1941) In this pirate film, Flynn plays Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, a British subject of Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson). He and his crew capture a Spanish ship, helmed by the Spanish Ambassador, Don Alvarez (Claude Rains), who along with his daughter, Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall), were sent to Britain by King Phillip II of Spain, to quell Elizabeth I’s suspicions that he’s trying to put together an Armada Fleet. However, after Thorpe captures their ship, he takes Don and Dona to Britain with him. And because he’s ladykiller Errol Flynn, Thorpe wins the affections of Dona Maria by returning her jewelry that he and his crew had stolen. While Queen Elizabeth I doesn’t approve of Thorpe’s crew’s activities as it endangers Britain and Spain’s peace treaty, she hesitantly allows Thorpe to go forward with his plan to seize a Spanish Treasure Fleet.

See? Errol Flynn and his monkey. This really was Flynn’s pets. He loved all animals and had quite the menagerie at his home

At one point in the film Flynn and his crew are captured by the Spanish and made to work as slaves in the Galley. They are chained to each other and to the boat and forced to provide the ship’s power. Let me just get this out of the way: I am here for scantily-clad slave Errol Flynn. Of course, the men need to figure out a way to escape. Later, Flynn charms Queen Elizabeth I with his monkey (no, that’s not a euphemism. He really does have a monkey) and continues to woo Dona Maria. This is a really great film, probably Flynn’s best pirate film, in my opinion. I wish they’d cast a leading lady with a little more personality, as Brenda Marshall is a little bland, but over all, she is fine. Flora Robson is also much more effective as Queen Elizabeth I, than my personal Queen, Bette Davis. Yes, I said it.

Against All Flags (1952). This film features an older Errol Flynn. No he’s not has lithe as he was previously. He’s a little more haggard. He isn’t quite the same vivacious Errol Flynn of the past as his demons were quickly catching up with him; but because it’s Errol Flynn, he is still attractive and still has panache. In this film, Flynn plays Lieutenant Brian Hawke, who works aboard the British ship, The Monsoon. He volunteers for a dangerous mission to infiltrate the pirate’s base on the coast of Madagascar. He plans to pose as a deserter. When Hawke arrives at the pirates’ base, he immediately arouses suspicion in Captain Roc Brasillano (Anthony Quinn). Brasillano says that he will bring Hawke in front of a pirates’ council to decide his fate. If they don’t like him, he’ll be executed.

Maureen O’Hara and Errol Flynn in “Against All Flags”

At the same time, because it’s Errol Flynn, he’s attracted the attention of Spitfire Stevens (Maureen O’Hara), the only female pirate aboard ship. She is one of the Captains of the ship and inherited the position from her father. At the council, Hawke ends up dueling one of the pirates and winning. He’s invited to join the pirates on a tentative basis, as he still needs to prove his worth. At some point, after taking over another ship, another woman is taken on board. She becomes immediately smitten with Hawke, much to the chagrin of Spitfire, even though she pretends not to like Hawke. Eventually, because it’s Errol Flynn, he ends up in a love triangle with himself, Brasillano and Spitfire, with an offshoot of a small triangle between himself, the other woman, and Spitfire. Hawke himself has no interest in the other woman, he only has eyes for Spitfire.

This is a beautiful looking film. One cannot go wrong with Maureen O’Hara. She was also known for her pirate films. It is definitely a treat to have two major figures of Pirate Cinema: Flynn and O’Hara, in the same film.

Has anyone looked better in Technicolor than Maureen O’Hara? The woman in pink is the “other woman” who is in love with Flynn. We’ll just ignore whatever is going on with Flynn’s hair, and focus on his great costume!

Lovely Blog Party Blogathon: “Favorite Movie Couples”

February is the month of Valentine’s Day. A month to celebrate romance. A month to celebrate love. Typically, in lieu of the regular romance movie routine, I personally like to watch movies about obsessive love, like Leave Her to Heaven, where the antagonist, Ellen Berent’s only problem is that “she loves too much.” That’s putting it mildly. For this blogathon however, I’m going to go the more traditional route with a salute to my favorite movie couples. No, it’s not the most unique idea, but I hope that my selections are unique. These are the couples you hope will end up together. Even if they don’t, if the relationship ends on a satisfying note, it can still be a relationship worth coveting.

Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca”

#1 Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund- Casablanca (1942). This isn’t a unique choice. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) are often held up as one of Classic Hollywood’s greatest romances; but for good reason. Rick and Ilsa’s goodbye scene at the airport is iconic. Who can forget Rick lifting Ilsa’s chin as she sobs, then delivering the iconic line: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Yes he’s repeating a line that he says to Ilsa in Paris, but it’s this moment where the line is the most poignant. It’s the final callback to the passionate romance they shared before World War II changed their lives permanently. Yes, Ilsa was married to Lazlo (Paul Henried) while they were in Paris and she’s married to him throughout the film. But who cares about Lazlo? This is Rick and Ilsa’s romance. They fell in love in Paris. They were torn apart by the war when Ilsa discovers that her “dead” husband, Lazlo, is actually alive. They’re brought back together in Casablanca when Lazlo’s work with the French Resistance takes him to Morocco. Rick and Ilsa’s feelings for one another come back and it’s such a passionate romance, it’s almost a shame that they don’t end up together. But the ending allows Rick to be the bigger man and to find his place in the world, with Louis Renault (Claude Rains) by his side. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship, indeed.

Lauren Bacall & Humphrey Bogart in “To Have and Have Not”

#2 Harry Morgan & Marie ‘Slim’ Browning- To Have and Have Not (1944). I’d be remiss to forget about Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s iconic first film together. For not being known as a matinee idol, Bogart found himself part of many classic on-screen romances. In this instance, it was his appearance as Harry Morgan (Bogart), a fisherman working in the French colony of Martinique, a Caribbean nation. Because this takes place right after the Fall of France to the Germans during World War II, the island of Martinique is a mish-mash of Germans (due to the control possessed by the Pro-German Vichy France), sympathetic French, and other people trying to escape their lives. One of these people that Harry meets, is “Slim” (Bacall), a young American woman who is a bit of a wanderer and has found her way to Martinique. The sparks between Harry and Slim are obvious, especially after Slim teaches him how to whistle. Bogie and Bacall’s on-screen chemistry leapt off the screen and into real life as Bogie and Bacall fell in love and became one of Classic Hollywood’s most iconic couples.

Sandra Dee & James Darren in “Gidget” — Get it, girl!

#3 Frances “Gidget” Lawrence & Jeffrey “Moondoggie” Matthews-Gidget (1959). If there’s one type of movie I love, it’s the teen beach movie and Gidget is the all-time best teen beach movie, in my opinion. Part of the reason I love this movie so much is for Gidget (Sandra Dee) and Moondoggie (James Darren). In this film, Gidget (nicknamed bestowed upon Frances by the surfer boys, it’s an amalgamation of “girl” and “midget”) is a 17-year old incoming high school senior who feels inadequate next to her more physically developed, boy crazy girlfriends. At the beginning of the film, we see Gidget and her friends try to attract the surfer boys at the beach, with Gidget failing miserably due to her awkwardness. But there’s something endearing about Gidget. She’s genuine. She can’t muster up the ability to try and attract the boys, because it seems fake. She just wants to swim. She doesn’t want to play stupid games trying to get their attention. She ends up catching the attention of one of the surfer boys, Moondoggie. At first Moondoggie is standoffish, but it’s obvious that he’s doing so because he’s trying to keep up his “cred” with the other boys. But through being protective of Gidget and later having a chance to spend time with her one-on-one, he realizes that he really does like her. Gidget’s liked him the whole time. When they have a chance to be together, they are smitten. Frankly, they are adorable and I love them. In the end, Gidget’s friends are still single and Gidget’s hooked herself a hot college guy by staying true to herself. Get it, girl!

Joel McCrea & Jean Arthur in “The More the Merrier”

#4 Connie Milligan & Joe Carter- The More the Merrier (1943). Connie (Jean Arthur) and Joe (Joel McCrea) are adorable. They’re brought together by the meddling, Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn), a retired millionaire who sublets half of Connie’s apartment during the World War II housing crisis. When Sergeant Joe Carter shows up to answer Connie’s ad, Mr. Dingle sees an opportunity to fix the uptight Connie up with a nice young man. Mr. Dingle sublets half of his half of the apartment to Joe. After learning about Mr. Dingle’s arrangement, Connie is upset. Especially when the men start razzing her about her fiance, Mr. Charles J. Pendergast. Despite trying to impress the two men with Mr. Pendergast’s good points (he makes $8600/year and has no hair), it becomes even obvious that she’s matched up with the wrong man. By this point, Joe has a crush on Connie and wants to spend time with her. Later one evening, Joe and Connie find themselves alone together on the front stoop of their apartment building. What unfolds on the front stoop is one of the sexiest, romantic scenes in Classic Hollywood, and nobody had to lose any of their clothes. I love them together and hope that they lived happily ever after… without Mr. Pendergast.

William Powell & Myrna Loy in “The Thin Man” (1934)

#5 Nick and Nora Charles, The Thin Man Series (1934-1947). Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) Charles are the power couple that everyone wishes they were. They are part of society. They have a beautiful home. They have an amazing dog, Asta. And, they solve mysteries together, thanks to Nick’s background as a detective. Nick loves the thrill of the mystery and Nora desperately wishes to be a part of the thrill. Nick tries to keep her at home and safe from the danger, but Nora always manages to horn her way in, by finding a vital clue or having an alluring thought about a potential suspect. At the start of the film series, Nick had retired from his detective career when he marries socialite Nora. Nick and Nora have such an amazing rapport and chemistry with one another, that the mystery almost takes a back seat to their relationship. William Powell and Myrna Loy are so amazing together, that one wishes they’d been married in real life.

Home Sweet Home Blogathon- “A Summer Place” (1959)

After World War II, the idea of the “nuclear family” was advertised to married couples as the “American Dream” and the way things are supposed to be to achieve a happy life. Women who’d found employment outside the home while the men were fighting in World War II, were expected to give up their jobs and return to “domestic bliss.” If couples weren’t already married, they married upon the man’s return from the war. Married couples had a million children. They bought a tract home in some newly-built subdivision in the suburbs somewhere. Women who during the war, had found personal enrichment in being a military pilot or working in manufacturing factory work were expected to find the same personal enrichment in the newest vacuum, fancy stoves, and being a shill for Tupperware. If a woman did not find happiness in these things, she was branded as “unfeminine” or a “bad wife” or any other negative labels. As one can imagine, secret pill and alcohol abuse was rampant among housewives in the 1950s and 1960s.

The immaculate June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) in “Leave it to Beaver.”

Despite what was really happening in America, the new burgeoning medium of television was continuing to perpetuate the image of the perfect nuclear family. Women like June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) were seen as content and happy, while vacuuming the home, perfectly coiffed, dressed in high heels and pearls. She watched after her children, Wally and The Beaver, but hesitated to dole out discipline. Husband Ward was expected to make the disciplinary decisions for the children. Other shows like Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Donna Reed Show all presented the husband and wives as asexual beings whose only concern involved their children, their home, and everything else needed to uphold the image of the perfect nuclear family.

Meanwhile in the movie world, the collapsing studio system and Production Code allowed filmmakers room to explore more controversial themes and ideas. Dysfunctional families found more and more screen-time. Rebel Without a Cause presented a family with a browbeaten husband and a domineering wife. Their inability to come together as a parental unit is tearing their juvenile delinquent son apart. All That Heaven Allows depicts a mother (and widow) trying to find love again with a younger man, an arborist, much to the chagrin of her college-age children. Her children don’t approve of her relationship and don’t even like that she’s trying to find another husband, as if she would be cheating on their father.

Aside from ‘Rebel’ and ‘Heaven,’ there are countless other films depicting a complicated family dynamic: Written on the Wind, There’s Always Tomorrow, Peyton Place, Imitation of Life, the list goes on and on. Despite differences in theme, the one commonality that all these films have is that they demonstrate how intense and volatile these familial relationships can be when other factors are involved: class differences and expectations, alcohol, infidelity, out of wedlock pregnancies, sexuality, divorce, sexual needs, race, etc. These are all issues that if they exist, tend to remain hidden within the family lore. Family members cover for each other’s mistakes. If a member of the family is known for being racist, family members learn how to tolerate it, but don’t let it be known outside of the confines of the family unit. It is only when the skeletons in the collective family closet become known, that drama erupts, or someone suffers consequences, or both. One of the best examples of this idea is depicted in one of my favorite melodramas–A Summer Place.

::Cue Percy Faith’s “Theme to A Summer Place” ::

Bart (Arthur Kennedy) and Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire) in “A Summer Place.”

A Summer Place starts with Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire) and Bart (Arthur Kennedy) Hunter receiving a telegram from Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan). Jorgenson writes the Hunters to request accommodations for himself, his wife and their daughter at their Inn in the resort town of Pine Island, off the coast of Maine. About twenty years prior as a youth, Ken had worked as a lifeguard on Pine Island. He is now a successful chemist and millionaire. The Inn used to be Bart Hunter’s family’s mansion, but has since been converted into an Inn due to Bart’s squandering of the family fortune. Sylvia also has a history at Pine Island and had known Ken during his lifeguarding days. It is obvious that Bart and Sylvia have marital problems. Bart is an alcoholic and Sylvia has been forced to keep the Inn running so that she and their 17-year old son, Johnny (Troy Donahue), have a place to live and food on the table.

Bart, assuming that Ken wants to flaunt his wealth and hold it over Bart (who has lost all of his wealth) wants to deny the reservation request. Sylvia tells Bart that they have no choice but to accept Ken’s reservation. They need the money desperately. Bart reluctantly agrees. To give the Jorgensons the best accommodations possible, the Hunter family move into their guest house so that the Jorgensons can have Bart and Sylvia’s master bedroom suite.

Johnny (Troy Donahue) and Molly (Sandra Dee) in “A Summer Place.”

Meanwhile, Ken and his shrew of a wife Helen (Constance Ford) and their 17-year old daughter, Molly (Sandra Dee), are sailing to Pine Island. We get a sneak peek at Helen’s awfulness when she and Molly get into an argument over what Molly should wear when she disembarks the boat. Helen wants Molly to put on constrictive support garments and juvenile clothing that obscures her developing figure. Helen finds Molly’s figure and interest in boys to be vulgar. Honestly, Helen finds almost everything vulgar. Ken is much more permissive and finds nothing wrong with Molly’s figure, her choice in clothing, or her interest in the opposite sex. It should not come as a surprise that Ken and Helen do not sleep in the same bed, they don’t even share a bedroom. Honestly, it’s surprising that Molly even exists.

When Ken, Helen, and Molly step off the boat, Johnny and Molly immediately spot one another and are smitten. They spend time together and Helen instantly assumes the worst–there’s a horrible scene where Helen forces Molly to submit to a physical examination from a random doctor she hires to check and make sure she’s still a virgin. At another point, Helen slaps Molly so hard, she takes a very dramatic tumble into the Christmas tree. Yes. This is the type of woman we’re dealing with. In spite of Helen, Molly and Johnny fall deeper and deeper into love with one another.

Poor Molly suffers yet another humiliation at the hands of her mother

While Johnny and Molly are falling in love, Ken and Sylvia are reigniting their’s. It becomes obvious that Ken and Sylvia were lovers during their youth when Ken was lifeguarding on Pine Island–that is the real reason why Bart didn’t want Ken and his family on the island. Ken and Sylvia were deeply in love, but didn’t marry because Ken was a poor college student and couldn’t support Sylvia. They broke up and she married Bart, whom she didn’t love, but he was from a rich family with status. How Ken ended up with Helen, I have no idea. She could not have been a better option than being single. Regardless, Ken and Sylvia have stayed in their loveless, unhappy, sexless (except for at least one rendezvous) marriages for the sake of their children.

Sandra Dee’s beach hat in “A Summer Place.” This hat always makes me laugh.

Ken and Sylvia begin an affair which comes to light after the island’s night watchman rats them out to Helen and tells her about their nighttime trysts in the boathouse. Helen first decides to play the silent, suffering wife (based on the advice of her horrible mother who tells her to catch Ken and Sylvia together so she can get a bigger divorce settlement). However, after she forces Molly to go through the embarrassing physical virginity exam (after Molly and Johnny spend the night together on another island after their boat capsizes), Johnny threatens to kill her. Through a fit of anger, Helen reveals Ken and Sylvia’s affair to everyone. It’s game over and the Jorgensons and Hunters divorce. Ken and Sylvia are free to marry.

However neither Helen nor Bart will relinquish custody of their respective children. Apparently, despite being horrible people, the courts don’t look kindly on Ken and Sylvia (aka the better parents) because of their adultery. Custody is granted to Helen and Bart. Ken and Sylvia are given visitation rights. Helen and Bart choose to send Johnny and Molly away to separate non-coed boarding schools. Johnny goes to Virginia and Molly goes to another school a few states away. Despite their distance however, they stay in touch via letters (which are of course read by Helen) and secret visits. It is during one of these visits where Molly learns that she’s pregnant and tells Johnny. Helen learns of Molly’s pregnancy and informs Ken.

Ken and Sylvia’s amazing house!

A Summer Place is such an amazing melodrama. I love the over-wrought melodramas of the 1950s. I love them even more when they center on teenage melodrama. A Summer Place has two nuclear families: The Jorgensons and The Hunters. Neither family is happy. The Jorgensons are torn apart by Helen’s prudishness, hate, and intolerance. Ken has a spectacular monologue where he berates Helen for displaying yet another prejudice:

(After Helen alludes to Molly’s “Swedish blood” as the reason why she lets Johnny kiss her the first night they meet)

KEN: So now you hate the Swedes. How many outlets for your hate do you have, Helen? We haven’t been able to find a new house because of your multiplicity of them. We can’t buy near a school because you hate kids. They make noise. And there can’t be any Jews or Catholics on the block, either. And, oh, yes, it can’t be anywhere near the Polish or Italian sections. And, of course, Negroes have to be avoided at all costs. Now let’s see: No Jews, no Catholics, no Italians, no Poles, no children, no Negroes. Do I have the list right, so far? And now you’ve added Swedes. And, oh yes, you won’t use a Chinese laundry because you distrust Orientals. And you think the British are snobbish, the Russians fearful, the French immoral, the Germans brutal, and all Latin Americans lazy. What’s your plan? To cut humanity out? Are you anti-people and anti-life? Must you suffocate every natural instinct in our daughter too? Must you label young love-making as cheap and wanton and indecent? Must you persist in making sex, itself, a filthy word?

RICHARD EGAN as KEN in A Summer Place (1959)

BOOM!

Helen (Constance Ford) remains stoic as Ken (Richard Egan) rips her a new one. Boo! Hiss! Helen is a witch with a capital B.

Helen has nothing to say. She just stomps out of the room. Helen sucks. She is a horrible, vile person. She has absolutely no redeeming qualities. She’s awful at the beginning of the film and she’s awful at the end. At least with Bart, I feel like deep-down, without the booze, he might be a semi-decent person. At least he isn’t full of so much hate. I think he mostly hates himself and how he’s squandered his family’s fortune and status. If this movie had been made pre-1950, Helen and Bart would have made some sort of turnaround to save their marriages and win back their spouses. However, in 1959, we are rooting for Ken and Sylvia’s adultery. These people deserve happiness. They should leave their spouses. Who cares that they’re cheating on their partners? Their partners aren’t worth keeping. Molly and Johnny’s love should be encouraged so they can save themselves from a fate like Ken and Sylvia’s. Being teen parents might not be the best thing in the world, but it’s not the end of the world either.

At the end of this film, two nuclear families have crumbled but two more are rising from the ashes. Johnny and Molly are starting their own family. Ken and Sylvia have found happiness with each other. Bart and Helen are left on the outside as they should be. True love prevails. Hate can kick rocks.

Ken and Sylvia deserve all the happiness in the world after putting up with their miserable spouses for so long

Happy Holidays Blogathon- “White Christmas” (1954)

It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street are often listed as “must-see” films every year on various lists of classic Christmas films. And these films are fine. But they hardly rank on my list of films that I have to watch each year. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these films, I own these films; but honestly, they’re usually at the bottom of my pile when I exhaust all other possibilities and decide to not re-watch my absolute favorite Christmas film–White Christmas (1954) for the millionth time during the season. I usually end up watching White Christmas at least 3-4 times during the season. One year, I think 2018, I even saw it in the theater! That was amazing.

I absolutely love White Christmas. It is funny, it has great music, a great cast, a great plot, and great dancing! And, if that weren’t enough, it was also filmed in gorgeous Technicolor and presented in Paramount’s revolutionary (for 1954) VistaVision widescreen format. There were other technological innovations used in the production of this film including using larger negatives and prints that I don’t really understand, nor do I care. What’s important is that this film is absolutely gorgeous to watch.

Bing Crosby croons “White Christmas”

The film opens on Christmas Eve, 1944 during World War II. Former Broadway star, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and aspiring Broadway star, Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) are entertaining their fellow soldiers of the 151st Division. Bing (Bob) sings the perennial Christmas standard for which Bing Crosby will forever be associated and all other Christmas songs will be judged against–Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” “White Christmas” was originally introduced in 1942 for Holiday Inn, also starring Bing Crosby. In this film he co-stars with Fred Astaire. While “White Christmas” was introduced ten years prior, I believe that it is more associated with the 1954 film of the same name.

After Bob finishes singing, the troop receives word that their beloved General Waverly (Dean Jagger) is being relieved of his command. General Waverly arrives and says goodbye to his men. The men send him off with a song and then are bombed. Phil saves Bob from being crushed by a falling wall; but his arm is wounded in the process. This sets off a funny running gag throughout the film where Phil uses his arm injury as a means to guilt trip Bob into following his plan. Bob asks Phil what he can do to repay him for saving his life and Phil responds with the idea that he and Bob should team up as a Broadway duo. Bob is hesitant, but agrees.

PHIL: “My dear partner, when what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting whatever it is you’ve got left.”

BOB: “When I figure out what that means, I’ll come up with a crushing reply.”

National Treasure Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby in “White Christmas” (1954)
Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen sing “Sisters”

After the end of World War II, Bob and Phil go on the road and are a huge sensation. After a string of successes as performers, Bob and Phil turn to producing their own shows. They develop a new musical, called “Playing Around” and set off to cast it. One day, Bob and Phil travel down to Miami, FL to view “The Haynes Sisters,” a sister-act starring Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) Haynes. It seems that the Haynes Sisters’ brother, Ben “Freckle Face” Haynes (Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer) was an old Army buddy of Bob and Phil’s and he wrote to them asking them to check out his sisters’ act.

Bing Crosby and National Treasure Danny Kaye have a lot of fun impersonating Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in “Sisters.”

After watching Betty and Judy sing “Sisters,” both Bob and Phil are smitten. Bob has his sights set on Betty and Phil has a crush on Judy. Phil, liking to play matchmaker, notices that Bob is ogling Betty. After the sisters’ performance, he arranges for the four of them to meet. Phil and Judy hit it off immediately and sing and dance a gorgeous duet, “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing.” It also comes out that it was Judy who wrote to Bob and Phil, not her brother.

PHIL (Looking at the Haynes’ Sisters’ brother’s photo): “How can a guy that UGLY have the nerve to have sisters?”

BOB: “Very brave parents, I guess.”

National Treasure Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby in “White Christmas.”

Between sets, the sisters’ landlord shows up and announces that he is suing them for the cost of a damaged rug. The sisters claim innocence, but the landlord isn’t having it. He’s even gone as far as to get the police involved. To get Betty and Judy away from the police, Phil gives them his and Bob’s train tickets (in a compartment, naturally) to New York. However, Betty and Judy need to perform one more set at the club. Bob and Phil go on in their places in a very funny, lip-synced rendition of “Sisters.” One can’t help but see how much fun Danny Kaye was having hitting Bing Crosby with the feather fan. At this moment, I am going to start referring to Danny Kaye as “National Treasure Danny Kaye” because imo, he is what holds this entire film together.

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and National Treasure Danny Kaye perform the Minstrel Number, “Mr. Bones.”

Bob and Phil escape to the train, where Bob discovers that Phil has not only given away their train tickets, but he’s also given away their beds. Much to Bob’s chagrin, he and Phil will have to spend the evening in the club car. Bob, Phil, Betty, and Judy reunite on the train. Betty and Judy inform Bob and Phil that they’re on their way to Vermont to perform at a ski lodge over the Christmas holiday. The girls invite the boys to come along. The boys agree and the foursome sings about snow.

When they arrive at the Inn, they discover that Vermont has received exactly 0″ of snow. So much for skiing or tourism. For me personally, I welcome any winter without snow, but I can understand how the lack of snow would hinder people’s ski holidays. Bob and Phil are shocked to discover that their beloved General Waverly is the proprietor of the Inn and sunk his entire life savings into it. If he can’t turn a profit on it this holiday season, he will go bankrupt. Seeing their friend in trouble, Bob and Phil set off to save the Inn.

BOB: “We came up here for the snow. Where’re you keepin’ it?”

EMMA: “Well, we take it in during the day!”

Bing Crosby and Mary Wickes in “White Christmas” (1954)

I can’t get enough “White Christmas.” I’ve seen it at least two dozen times and I never tire of it. All the music is fantastic. Aside from the title song, “White Christmas,” I also really love Rosemary Clooney’s solo number, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” and the Haynes Sisters’ song, “Sisters.” And though I detest snow, I love the “Snow” song that the group sings on the train. And like many of these films where they put together a show, none of the musical numbers seem to make any sense in the context of the show that they’re supposedly putting together.

Vera-Ellen and National Treasure Danny Kaye in “White Christmas”

In rehearsals, we see a Minstrel show with Vera-Ellen dancing to “Mandy.” Later, we see National Treasure Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen dance to a song called “Choreography” where Kaye is some sort of flamboyant choreographer. Vera-Ellen dances to an instrumental version of the controversial “Abraham” song from “Holiday Inn.” Finally, we see the foursome perform “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army” behind oversized, exaggerated cutouts of people in typical professions. All of these lead us into the fantastic, emotional finale where we hear a reprise of “White Christmas.”

None of these songs could possibly fit together into any sort of cohesive narrative. But it doesn’t matter. Because all the songs are fantastic and the dancing is fantastic.

PHIL (After kissing Judy): “You know, in some ways, you’re far superior to my cocker spaniel.”

National Treasure Danny Kaye in “White Christmas” (1954)

This film is so much fun to watch. It is funny, emotional, sad, happy, romantic, this movie has everything. I love National Treasure Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen. Rosemary Clooney has such a beautiful singing voice and such a great style. I love Bing’s singing as well and I especially love his musician slang that he incorporates throughout the film. I love when he asks Betty to “bring the cow” (grab the pitcher of milk) over to the table where they are sitting. Mary Wickes, who plays General Waverly’s housekeeper, Emma, is hilarious. She’s often seen eavesdropping on phone calls and spreading misinformation.

EMMA: “Oh, my word. If I wasn’t such a mean old biddy, I’d break down and cry.”

Mary Wickes in “White Christmas” (1954)

Now excuse me, I’m off to watch “White Christmas” and National Treasure Danny Kaye.

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, National Treasure Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen in “White Christmas”

What a Character Blogathon–SZ Sakall

Everyone remembers the big stars: Bogart, Hepburn, Monroe, Gable, etc. but not enough attention or praise is given to the character actors. Character actors are performers who often played supporting parts, but weren’t expected to carry the film. A film’s failure wasn’t blamed on the character actor. They weren’t “the name” that brought in the crowds. These actors were hired for the types of characters they portrayed. Some actors, like Claude Rains, for example, could play leading parts, supporting (but lead) parts, and character roles.

“Everything is hunky dunky.”

One of the all time best character actors is SZ Sakall, or as I like to call him: “International Treasure SZ Sakall.” SZ was born Gründwald Jakob in Budapest, Austria-Hungary (now present day Budapest, Hungary) on February 2, 1883. As a young man, he wrote vaudeville sketches under the pen name Szőke Szakáll. In the 1910s and 1920s, SZ was working on the Hungarian stage and screen. In the 1920s, he moved to Vienna. By the 1930s, he was living in Berlin. He continued to appear in German cinema and plays. He also ran his own production company.

SZ returned to Hungary in 1933 after the Nazis gained power in Germany. He started appearing in Hungarian cinema and performed in over 40 films. In 1940, SZ and his wife Anne moved to Hollywood after Hungary joined the Axis powers. Many of SZ’s relatives, including three sisters, were killed in the Nazi concentration camps. SZ started appearing in films almost right away. He made his American film debut in It’s a Date (1940) with Deanna Durbin. He also shortened his name to the much easier to pronounce, SZ Sakall.

SZ or “Cuddles” as he was dubbed by Jack Warner, specialized in playing befuddled, but loveable European shopkeepers, uncles, restaurant owners, etc. He was usually in a small part, some more critical than others. SZ was popular with actors like Errol Flynn, who loved him. But he was unpopular with other actors, like Alan Hale Sr., who claimed that SZ was a scene stealer. Flynn tells a story in his memoir, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, about how he liked to invite Cuddles and Hale to the same get togethers over and over:

“Sakall was a funny old guy. I always liked him for his screwy, mushy personality, but most other actors hated him. He messed up the English language so much that they couldn’t get their cues. I let him run on. It was fun to see the effect of him on the other character players. He ran off with many scenes, and that was enough to make him despised by the others.

Hale couldn’t stand him. They hated each other and refused to work with each other. To see them together was like a meeting of two prima donnas at a tea party. Naturally I brought them together as often as I could, and on this night Hale hollered, “For Chrissakes, Zakall [sic], a’int it time you learned to speak English? You been here long enough!”

Errol Flynn, “My Wicked Wicked Ways” (1959)

Over his Hollywood career, SZ appeared in over 40 films. He appeared in a variety of different roles and genres. His most famous role is arguably Carl, the waiter in Casablanca (1942). SZ appeared in dramatic films, comedies, musicals, westerns, he was everywhere. His last film was The Student Prince (1954). Sadly, SZ suffered a heart attack and passed away on February 12, 1955, 10 days after his 72nd birthday.

SZ will always be remembered for his colorful film appearances. His loveable, flustered persona is endearing as is the way he delivers his lines in mangled English. I absolutely love him and am always excited to see him when he pops up in a film.

My Top 5 SZ Sakall Appearances:

  1. “Carl” Casablanca (1942). In the classic film to end all classic films, SZ plays “Carl,” the head waiter and maître d’ at Rick’s Cafe American. He is loyal to Rick and watches in admiration as Rick (Humphrey Bogart) lets the young Bulgarian couple win at Roulette. He also delivers a funny line when asked if the gambling is honest.

CUSTOMER: “Are you sure this place is honest?”

CARL: “Honest?! As honest as the day is long!”

2. “Luigi” Never Say Goodbye (1946). SZ appears with buddy Errol Flynn in one of my favorite Christmas films. In this film, Flynn and ex-wife Eleanor Parker are divorced. Their daughter, Flip, hates spending 6 months with one parent and then 6 months with the other. She desperately wants to get them back together, as does her father Errol, who it seems was blindsided by the divorce. SZ plays Luigi, the owner of the restaurant where Errol and Eleanor frequented while they were dating. Luigi is also a family friend. Errol pulls him into his schemes and Luigi does all he can to follow along, often to disastrous results. There is a funny scene where he and Errol wake up after having spent the entire night bar-hopping while dressed as Santa.

PHILLIP (Flynn): “I don’t care about Nancy. But I don’t want her to start making a scene. You know how she is.”

LUIGI: “Sure. You take a girl out to dinner two or three hundred times and right away she thinks you’re interested in her.”

3. “Felix Bassenak” Christmas in Connecticut (1945). SZ appears as Barbara Stanwyck’s uncle who is enlisted to help his niece cook a delicious Christmas dinner for a visiting soldier, Dennis Morgan. Stanwyck’s character, Elizabeth Lane, works as a magazine columnist. She’s concocted this entire persona as the perfect wife, cook, mother, everything. She describes her gorgeous Connecticut farmhouse to her readers. On paper, Elizabeth looks like she’s living the dream and everything’s perfect. In reality, Elizabeth is single, lives in New York, and has just purchased an absurdly expensive mink coat. Her publisher, Sydney Greenstreet, is unaware of her charade and insists that Elizabeth host Christmas at her farmhouse for visiting soldier Dennis Morgan, who is so fond of her articles, that he writes to Greenstreet expressing his wish to meet her. Aside from being the chef who cooks all the food, SZ gets involved in Stanwyck’s shenanigans–at one point, he insists that the baby swallowed his watch.

FELIX: “Watch now. I show you how to flip-flop the flop-flips.”

4. “George” The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) . In this film, SZ plays Charles Coburn’s butler. Coburn is Thomas Merrick, “the richest man in the world.” Merrick owns a department store whose employees want to unionize. Merrick goes undercover as “Thomas Higgins” to find the source of the union talks. As he spends more time with the employees, the more he sympathizes with their desire to form a labor union. SZ is so put upon as Coburn’s butler–he only serves Coburn graham crackers and milk due to Coburn’s constant stomach issues. SZ does almost everything for Coburn to the point where he’s so out of touch with reality, that he fails at even the easiest of tasks. At one point, in an attempt to show up his nemesis, Coburn asks SZ to bring in a small child and sell her 12 pairs of shoes. Coburn tries the ugliest shoes on the little girl and the whole scheme falls apart.

GEORGE: “Dr. Schindler made up your pepsin in to sticks of chewing gum sir. He thought that you would like the change. You are to have one every hour on the hour. You will find them in your lower left breast pocket.”

5. Otto Oberkugen “In the Good Old Summertime” (1948). This film is a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 film, “The Shop Around the Corner.” In ‘Summertime,’ Judy Garland plays Veronica who gets a job at Otto Oberkugen’s music shop. One of the other salesmen, Andrew (Van Johnson), is threatened by her potential competition for sales, but he also develops a crush on her. Both Veronica and Andrew begin corresponding and falling in love with their respective secret pen pals. Little do they know that they’re corresponding with each other.

OTTO: “Don’t call me Uncle Otto. In the store, I am Mr. Oberkugen.”

SHEESH!

Noirvember 2020

My “Noirvember” picks will be continually updated as the month wears on and I make my next choice!

Maxine Cooper & Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Noirvember is upon us. I love film noir, so every month is “Noirvember” for me, but I thought I’d try to actively participate in the event this year. Previously, I lurked in conversations and posts and read about it, but didn’t actually contribute.

For those who are unfamiliar with “Noirvember,” it is simply a portmanteau of the words “Noir” and “November.” It is a term used to describe what is essentially a month-long celebration of film noir. Noirvember was invented by a poster (@oldfilmsflicker on Twitter) who just wanted an excuse to catch-up on film noir. It has since evolved and become a full-fledged event.

I have seen a lot of film noir and have a lot of favorite films and performers. While I definitely want to revisit some old favorites, I also want to watch some “new to me” film noir. I don’t have a particular list of 30 film noir to watch, as I wanted my list to flow organically. However, so that I had some semblance of organization and didn’t spend my entire evening trying to decide what to watch, I’ve decided to play a game with my selections. Each successive film will feature a performer from the previous film. E.g. “The Big Heat” features Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. “Sudden Fear” features Grahame and Joan Crawford.

It is my hope that my final film of the month will link back to the first.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray conspicuously looking inconspicuous in the grocery store in Double Indemnity.

Click here to view my Noirvember Picks!