CMBA Spring Blogathon, “Fun in the Sun”–Sandra Dee

Sandra Dee in “Gidget”

If there was ever someone that I would associate with summer, it would be Sandra Dee as Francie “Gidget” Lawrence in Gidget. Gidget is the film that served as the catalyst for one of my personal favorite subgenres–the teen beach movie. While some teen beach movies like Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello’s Beach Party movies can be pretty silly, formulaic, and ridiculous (though I enjoy them), others such as Gidget and Where the Boys Are (1960) strike a nice balance between silly and more serious topics. At its core, Gidget is a coming-of-age story about a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, learning about life and love during the pivotal summer between her junior and senior year of high school.

At the start of Gidget, we meet 17-year old Francie. She along with her friends (including a pre-Batgirl Yvonne Craig), are going on a “man hunt” at the beach. Francie’s friends pressure her to go along with them, stating that she doesn’t want to go into her senior year still a virgin (obviously they aren’t explicit in this point). The girls try hard to attract the boys, resorting to strutting around in bathing suits (including Craig’s horribly unflattering white bikini complete with granny panty bottoms), and tossing a ball around (which looks pretty dull to me, btw) while “accidentally” overthrowing it in the boys’ direction. For their part, the boys are watching the girls’ antics more as amusement than being seduced by them. They even laugh at poor Francie, who 1) is obviously less buxom than her friends; and 2) is clumsy and seemingly more childlike. Francie is only half-heartedly participating, as she is more interested in snorkeling than doing dumb things to attract the surfer boys.

James Darren, Sandra Dee, and Cliff Robertson in “Gidget”

Eventually, Francie insinuates herself into the group of surfer boys. She is immediately crushing on a college boy, Moondoggie (James Darren). She teaches herself how to surf and soon is just one of the “guys” in the surf gang. The boys bestow Francie with a new nickname, “Gidget.” Gidget is a portmanteau of “girl” and “midget.” While I don’t know if that’s entirely the most flattering nickname, it does demonstrate that the boys have accepted Gidget into their group. Moondoggie is charmed by Gidget’s innocence and sweet demeanor and becomes protective over her. Eventually Moondoggie asks Gidget to wear his college pin–essentially asking her to be his girlfriend. At the end of the film, Gidget’s friends are still single and Gidget has been pinned, solely because she chose to be herself and let her relationship with Moondoggie evolve naturally. Her friends on the other hand, were trying too hard and were unsuccessful. And while I think it’s safe to say that Gidget and her friends are all still virgins at the end, Gidget is the one who has ultimately prevailed in the “man hunt” and she’ll be entering her senior year as the girlfriend to a college man.

Sandra Dee’s dark brown eyes were one of her biggest assets

Dee was perfect casting for the wide-eyed, somewhat awkward Gidget. Her large, dark brown eyes conveyed so much vulnerability and innocence. While Dee might not have been outwardly glamorous or sexy, a la peers like Tuesday Weld or Ann-Margret, she very much fits the girl next door aesthetic. She seems approachable and someone with whom you can easily identify. However, Dee’s innocent persona also led to her being labeled as virginal and a goody goody, thanks to a popular tune from Grease (1978), in which bad girl Rizzo croons, “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee
Lousy with virginity
Won’t go to bed, ’til I’m legally wed
I can’t, I’m Sandra Dee.”

Stockard Channing as “Rizzo” in Grease (1978)

However, these lyrics aren’t fair to Dee. Much like the older Doris Day who was also similarly labeled as “virginal,” she regularly stepped out of this persona. Even in Gidget, Gidget laments to her mother that she’s still “pure as the driven snow” after her attempt to hook up with Moondoggie at the luau aka “the orgy” fails–though they do kiss, for what it’s worth. I found it interesting that Gidget would openly lament her virginity with her mother, because really, who wants to discuss that with their mom? In 1963, four years after Gidget, audiences would see Dee again lament to her parents that she was still a virgin, in the very sunny Take Her, She’s Mine.

Sandra Dee in “Take Her She’s Mine.”

Take Her, She’s Mine co-stars Dee with James Stewart, who by this time had transitioned into my personal favorite era in his career, “the fussy dad period.” Stewart plays Dee’s father, Frank, who laments that his daughter, Mollie (Dee), has grown up and become “a dish.” We see Mollie strutting her stuff in a bikini, preparing to dive into the family pool in front of her co-ed group of friends. The film then segues into the main plot–Mollie is going away for college and Frank becomes concerned about the perceived “grown-up” activities that she’s getting herself involved in.

Mollie attends two different colleges in Take Her, She’s Mine. At the beginning of the film, she’s taken to the airport where she’s flying across the country to the East Coast where she’s starting college. College seemingly starts well for Mollie, except that she’s still a virgin after being at college for a few weeks. She laments her lack of “action” to her parents in a letter home. Because it’s 1962-1963, Mollie gets heavily involved in activism–participating in sit-ins, protests, and other activities which get her arrested more than once. Mollie ends up being expelled from the college, presumably because of her grades. She spends her summer at home, working on her true passion, painting. We see “the dish” Mollie, out in the sun, decked out in her bikini and sun hat, painting an abstract depiction of her family’s home. Mollie’s art talents ultimately lead to her being granted a scholarship to study art in Paris. There is an amusing scene where Mollie interviews with the representative from the college while in her bikini.

Sandra Dee is a dish in “Take Her, She’s Mine”

Again, Mollie is off to college, this time to Paris. While in Paris, Mollie falls in love with a hunky Parisian, Henri. Frank is highly concerned about his daughter’s relationship with a Frenchman. However, Mollie and Henri make a cute couple. We see Mollie on the banks of the Seine River, working on her painting while Henri looks on. Henri and Mollie are genuinely in love. In this relationship, it is unknown how far their relationship has gone, but it is easy to imagine that they could have already consummated their relationship, seeing that they have a few makeout sessions. They marry by the end of the film, so it’s safe to say that Mollie is “all grown-up” at the end.

While Take Her, She’s Mine might not feature the sun in the same way that Gidget does, in this film, Dee has such a bright, sunny personality and vivacious demeanor, that it’s easy to see why father Stewart would be so nervous. In this film, Dee is a little more mature than she was four years prior in Gidget. By 1963, Dee was 21 years old, and had been married to Bobby Darin for 3 years and was mother to a 2-year old child. She’s a little less vulnerable in this film, she seems more worldly, more confident. This film serves as a coming-of-age story for both Mollie and Frank, as Mollie learns how to live as an adult in the world and Frank learns how to let his daughter live her life and make her own decisions. Mollie can’t always be protected by Frank and Frank won’t always be there to protect Mollie.

Both Gidget and Take Her, She’s Mine feature Dee as a young woman who wants to grow up and sees losing her virginity as a sign that she’s grown. In both of these films, neither of Dee’s characters seem all that concerned about the possible repercussions of losing her virginity. While there doesn’t need to be a punishment, of course, both Gidget and Mollie see the loss of her virginity in a more positive light, a rite of passage. However, during the same year that Dee played the innocent Gidget, she also played another young woman dealing with sex, another character named Molly in A Summer Place.

Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue in “A Summer Place.”

A Summer Place is an amazing film. I love it for the sheer melodrama. This film has everything. The crux of the film though, is the relationship between Molly and Johnny (Troy Donahue), two teenagers who fall in love. Molly, bless her heart, comes from two very different parents–the easygoing and progressive Ken (Richard Egan), and the puritanical shrew, Helen (Constance Ford). Ken is realistic that his daughter is growing up and it is inevitable that she’ll start having sexual feelings. Helen on the other hand, wants to obscure her daughter’s growing figure with restrictive undergarments. She is obsessed with protecting her daughter’s virtue and even goes as far as to force her to submit to a humiliating physical examination. Johnny and Molly spend the night together (chastely) on an island after their row boat capsizes. Helen is convinced that they obviously had sex. She enlists her doctor to inspect Molly, presumably to ensure her hymen is still intact.

If the humiliating and incredibly invasive physical examination weren’t enough, Helen is constantly on everyone’s case about the teenagers’ burgeoning relationship and obsessive assertions that they’re sleeping together. Molly and Johnny are very much in love and struggle to be together in spite of Helen’s interference. Eventually, they do have sex and Molly ends up pregnant. And while it’s definitely not fair that Molly is punished for engaging in premarital sex, it definitely lends to the drama. Molly has to deal with the shame of being an unmarried, pregnant teenage mother–a shame instilled in her by her mother and society. Eventually, Molly and Johnny marry, saving Molly the stigma of being an unwed mother, and also giving her baby a name.

Sandra Dee’s amazing hat with built-in sunglasses in “A Summer Place.” I’ll never miss a chance to post this photo.

In A Summer Place, Dee’s deep brown eyes give her this vulnerability. She’s a little more worldly than Gidget, but not quite as mature as Mollie in Take Her, She’s Mine. Dee’s Molly in A Summer Place, wants to explore these new sexual feelings, but has to live in an environment where sex is both treated as a sin and as a natural human urge. Molly is conflicted, she wants to act on these feelings with Johnny, a boy whom she loves. But she also doesn’t want to have to deal with her mother who has drilled it into her that sex is bad. The summer setting in this film only adds to the conflict. For whatever reason, summer seems to be the perfect setting for a love story–the beautiful sunshine, the beautiful ocean setting, all in all a very romantic setting. Add in the teenage hormones and two beautiful teenagers, and you have the perfect setting for an intense melodrama.

Between Gidget, A Summer Place, and Take Her She’s Mine, Sandra Dee’s virginal status runs the gamut between wanting to lose her virginity as a rite of passage to still wanting to lose her virginity, but because she’s an adult. In between, Dee deals with the physical and social repercussions of actually acting upon losing her virginity. For an actress seemingly synonymous with being virginal, Dee spent a lot of summers preoccupied with sex.

Molly’s loving mother in “A Summer Place”

National Classic Movie Day! Four Favorite Film Noir

Tomorrow, May 16, is National Classic Movie Day. Even though for me, everyday is National Classic Movie Day, tomorrow is “official.” It would be wonderful if the spotlight on classic film brings about a new crop of fans. While classic films still seem to be a bit of a niche interest, at least on Twitter, it feels like new classic film fans are made every day. I have always loved classic film, and it makes up about 90% of my “new” movie viewing. After all, on TCM’s Private Screening series, Lauren Bacall was quoted as saying, “It’s not an old movie if you haven’t seen it.”

This year, the wonderful host at the Classic Film and TV Cafe, has asked bloggers to discuss four of their favorite film noir. Along with musicals, pre-code, and melodrama (“weepies” if you will), if there’s another type of movie I love, it’s film noir. While many film noir may have a formulaic plot, it is the combination of actors, director, cinematography, music, editing, etc. that can set one movie apart from another. It is always so satisfying to discover a “new” film noir, or any classic film really, and be surprised by a plot twist or ending. Narrowing my list down to four will be difficult; but I will try. I definitely have dozens of film noir that I absolutely love.

In no particular order:

#1 Detour (1945)
Starring: Tom Neal and Ann Savage
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Studio: PRC Pictures

Synopsis: The film opens with Al Roberts (Neal) hitchhiking. He ends up at a diner in Reno where he drowns his sorrows in a cup of coffee. It is obvious that something is bothering Al. Al’s disturbed mental state becomes further evident when another customer plays a song on the jukebox that reminds Al of his former life in New York City–a life that while not great, must have been better than whatever he is going through now. Al’s voiceover serves as the device that brings the audience back to the beginning of Al’s story.

In New York City, Al worked at a nightclub playing piano. He laments wasting his talents playing in a shabby club; however he puts up with it because he’s in love with the club’s singer, Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake). One evening, she announces that she’s quitting her job and moving to Hollywood to try and make it in Hollywood. Al is depressed about Sue’s departure and eventually decides to drive to California to propose to her. However, not having any money, Al has to resort to hitchhiking across the country.

While in Arizona, Al meets Charles Haskell, a bookie on his way to Los Angeles. On their way to the City of Angels, Haskell ends up dying. Not knowing what to do, Al ends up taking Haskell’s identification and car and continues his trip. After crossing over the California border, Al stops for gas. It is at the gas station when he meets the amazing Vera (Savage). At this point, Vera’s in charge and Al’s just along for the ride.

Why I Love Detour: I love Detour purely because of Ann Savage’s performance. Her performance is absolutely amazing. I love how she is onto Al from the get-go and she will make sure to take advantage of him every opportunity she gets. Al is complete mincemeat after Vera gets done with him. Another reason I love this film is because we really don’t know Al’s story. Is he truly innocent of all the events in the film? Or is he just trying to convince himself that he is? For a film that is barely over an hour long, it is a trip from start to finish. There is not a wasted moment. This film is also very low budget which I think adds to the entire aesthetic and feel to the movie.

If you are not familiar with Tom Neal, I highly recommend reading about him. He was 1/3 of the infamous love triangle involving girlfriend Barbara Payton and her fiance, actor Franchot Tone. Despite her relationship with Tone, Payton and Neal carried on their affair for months in the early 1950s. It came to an end briefly when Payton became engaged to Tone, but then she quickly resumed her affair with Neal. It all came to a head on September 14, 1951 when Neal and Tone got into an altercation over Payton. To say that Tone lost the fight would be a gross understatement. Neal pulverized Tone. Tone suffered a smashed cheekbone, a broken nose, and a concussion which resulted in his hospitalization. Despite this, Tone inexplicably still married Payton. Their union lasted a whole 53 days when Payton left Tone for Neal.

I feel like knowing this drama surrounding Tom Neal really lends to his performance as the unreliable narrator, Al Roberts, in Detour. I also really wish we had a prequel just about Vera. I would love to know about her life leading up to the events of Detour.

My queen, Ann Savage, and Tom Neal in Detour

Favorite Quote:

VERA: “Say, who do you think you’re talking to… a hick? Listen mister, I’ve been around, and I know a wrong guy when I see one. What’d you do, kiss him with a wrench?


#2 The Locket (1946)
Starring: Laraine Day, Brian Aherne, Robert Mitchum, Gene Raymond
Director: John Brahm
Studio: RKO

Synopsis: The Locket is a film with a very interesting flashback within a flashback within a flashback narrative structure. The film starts with a wedding. Nancy (Day) is set to marry her second husband, John Willis (Raymond). Before the ceremony starts, Dr. Harry Blair (Aherne) arrives at the Willis home, requesting to speak with John. John acquiesces and the two men retire to another room. Alone, Harry tells John that he is Nancy’s first husband. He warns John that his bride is a kleptomaniac, murderer, and chronic liar. She has never been punished for any of her crimes.

The film then segues into a flashback featuring Nancy as a child. As a child, Nancy lived with her mother in the Willis estate. Her mother worked as a maid for the Willis family. Nancy’s best friend, Karen Willis, has a birthday party one afternoon, and her snooty mother does not invite the “low class” Nancy. Karen, feeling bad for Nancy, opts to gift her a locket. Mrs. Willis is outraged, stating that the locket was expensive and it wasn’t Karen’s place to give it away. Mrs. Willis takes the locket back. Later, the locket goes missing and Nancy is accused of its theft. Insulted, Nancy’s mother sticks up for her daughter. This leads to Mrs. Willis firing Nancy’s mother. She and Nancy move out. This incident is a formative event in Nancy’s life. From here on out, she steals anything she wants, rationalizing that it doesn’t matter because she’ll be blamed regardless.

Subsequent flashbacks involve Nancy’s relationship with an artist, Norman Clyde, and her marriage to Harry, and the events leading up to her wedding to John.

Why I love The Locket. This film has such an unusual narrative structure. I’ve read complaints about the complicated plot, but I like it. It’s such a unique film and I love seeing Laraine Day as an absolute sociopath. I love the ending scene. I felt that this film was adept at showing how childhood trauma can affect a person well into adulthood. I also love the vibe of this movie. What’s also fascinating about this film is that Nancy is set to marry into the Willis family–the very same family that treated her so horribly when she was a child and were the root cause of her childhood trauma. It’s never explained in the film whether this was a calculated movie on Nancy’s part, or just a coincidence. It’s another interesting layer to the film’s plot line.

This screenshot perfectly captures the character of Nancy

Favorite Quote:

NANCY: How could I ever have liked you, Norman? Arrogant, suspicious, neurotic…
NORMAN: It isn’t neurotic to be jealous.
NANCY: It’s worse than neurotic to be jealous of a dead man.


#3 Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
Starring: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Ed Begley Sr., Shelley Winters, Gloria Grahame
Director: Robert Wise
Studio: United Artists

Synopsis: Burke (Begley Sr.) is a former policeman who was fired from his job when he refused to cooperate with state crime investigators. Desperate for money and wanting to stick it to his former employers, Burke comes up with a plan to rob a bank upstate (New York). If pulled off successfully, Burke stands to make a mint. To help him, he recruits ex-con and racist, Earle Slater (Ryan). Burke promises Slater $50,000 if he helps pull off the heist. Slater’s incentive for helping is his pride. He is unemployed and living with his girlfriend, Lorry (Winters). Lorry works as a waitress and is supporting herself and Slater financially. Living in the same apartment building as Slater and Lorry is Helen (Grahame), who tempts Slater in to a tryst while his girlfriend is out. Finally, in addition to Slater, Burke recruits Johnny Ingram (Belafonte), an African-American jazz musician who is also in hock to bookies for about $7,000. Despite being an all-around decent man, Ingram is desperate for money. It is explained that his wife divorced him and he lost custody of his daughter due to his gambling. Burke, Ingram and Slater work out the details for the heist. They work through every detail. However, threatening to undermine the entire venture is Slater’s absolute contempt and bigoted attitude toward Ingram.

Why I Love Odds Against Tomorrow: This film has an amazing message without being preachy. The ending is absolutely fantastic, I don’t want to say too much more about it, at the risk of ruining it. But it is well worth the 95-minute investment to get to this point. I also love the on-location cinematography. The grittiness of the New York City streets works perfectly with this very gritty film. Robert Ryan’s performance as the disgusting racist Earle Slater is fantastic. You absolutely despise him throughout the entire film. He is such a worm–even Shelley Winters (who plays a disgusting racist in A Patch of Blue) doesn’t deserve him. Gloria Grahame’s part isn’t really consequential to the overall plot, but she’s always a nice on-screen presence in a film noir. Harry Belafonte was fantastic in this film. I wish he’d made more movies. I especially love the cool jazz song that he performs. This film has an overall cool jazz score as well.

Robert Ryan, Ed Begley Sr., and Harry Belafonte during the COVID pandemic–err, pulling off the heist in Odds Against Tomorrow.

Favorite Quote:

SLATER: What you doin’ with such a big ol’ dog in New York?

BURKE: Never had a wife


#4 Jeopardy (1953)
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Ralph Meeker
Director: John Sturges
Studio: MGM

Synopsis: Doug (Sullivan) and Helen Stilwin (Stanwyck) and their son Bobby, are on a road trip driving to Baja California, Mexico. They are planning on traveling to a remote fishing spot on the coastline and will camp while there. Shortly after arriving, Bobby decides to venture out onto a derelict jetty that juts out into the water. His foot becomes caught in some of the planks and Doug rescues him. While walking back to the beach, the jetty collapses, causing the wood piling to fall on Doug’s leg. Making matters worse is that the tide is starting to come in. Doug will drown if he can’t free his leg. Helen and Bobby try a variety of tactics, including a car jack, to free Doug, but to no avail. Estimating that he has about four hours before the tide fully comes in, Doug sends Helen into town for some rope and/or help.

Helen leaves in the car, leaving Bobby and Doug on the beach. Helen finds the gas station that she and Doug passed earlier and tries to get help or a rope. She manages to get some rope. She also comes across a hunky man, Lawson (Meeker). She explains her predicament and he gets into the car. Thinking that he’s accompanying her to offer to help Doug, she has no qualms about letting this stranger, albeit a hunky stranger, into her vehicle. It quickly becomes clear that Lawson is a dangerous escaped convict and he’s using Helen as a means to escape. At one point during their “trip,” Helen tells Lawson that she’s willing to do anything to save Doug.

Why I Love Jeopardy: First off, Ralph Meeker is hot hot in this movie. I wouldn’t have blamed Barbara Stanwyck for one second if she’d abandoned Barry Sullivan to run off with Meeker. This isn’t as well known a film noir title, but it is well worth a watch. Stanwyck always plays the tough as nails woman so well. I actually really like Barry Sullivan, especially in film noir. He’s fantastic in Suspense (1946) and Tension (1949). Ralph Meeker is excellent in this film. I can’t describe what it is that I find so appealing about Meeker. He has this primal quality about him and he always sounds like such a thug when he talks. I loved him in Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

Barbara Stanwyck and Ralph Meeker in “Jeopardy.”

Favorite Quote:

HELEN: I’ll do anything to save my husband…anything!


10 Honorable Mentions (I know this is cheating, lol):

  • The Hitch-Hiker (1953) Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman. Dir. Ida Lupino
  • DOA (1950) Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton. Dir. Rudolph Mate
  • Angel Face (1952) Jean Simmons, Robert Mitchum, Mona Freeman. Dir. Otto Preminger
  • Phantom Lady (1944) Ella Raines, Franchot Tone, Elisha Cook Jr. Dir. Robert Siodmak
  • The Spiral Staircase (1946) Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore. Dir. Robert Siodmak
  • Lured (1947) Lucille Ball, George Sanders, Charles Coburn. Dir. Douglas Sirk
  • Deadline, USA (1952) Humphrey Bogart, Ethel Barrymore, Kim Hunter. Dir. Robert Brooks
  • In a Lonely Place (1950) Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy. Dir. Nicholas Ray
  • Too Late for Tears (1949) Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy. Dir. Byron Haskin
  • Cry Danger (1951) Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Erdman. Dir. Robert Parrish

William Holden Blogathon–“Force of Arms” (1951)

April 17th will mark the 104th anniversary of William Holden’s birth. Holden is someone who I first became acquainted with when he appeared as himself on my personal favorite episode of I Love Lucy, and perhaps the best episode (imo)–“L.A. at Last!” or “Hollywood at Last!” as it’s also known. Holden’s episode is hysterical. The expression on his face when Lucy turns around after “fixing” her putty nose (“The California sun certainly makes your skin soft,” Lucy says) is hilarious and still makes me laugh no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Throughout the rest of the Ricardo and Mertz’s trip in California and even later in the series, multiple celebrities make reference to Holden and his having warned them about Lucy’s antics. For whatever reason, the idea that William Holden was running around Hollywood warning people like John Wayne about Lucy Ricardo is hilarious. I Love Lucy and William Holden also brought about one of my favorite quotes from the series:

MAN (to ETHEL): Pardon me. Are you sitting on John Wayne?

ETHEL: Who, me? No!

MAN: Are you positive?

LUCY: Positive. She’s sitting on Bill Holden. She’s president of the Bill Holden Fan Club, and once a year she comes here to sit on his signature.

“Lucy Visits Graumans,” I Love Lucy. Season 5, Ep. 1. Originally aired October 3, 1955
William Holden’s face in this scene is one of the all-time funniest parts of the entire series. I will never miss an opportunity to post this screen grab.

Anyway, my point in saying all of this was that for the longest time, I was only aware of William Holden by his appearance on my favorite show, and the constant references to him in the episodes leading up to and after his episode aired. I’d never seen one of his films before. I only knew him from I Love Lucy. Having not heard much about him, in comparison to the *big* Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, etc. I figured he was one of those stars who was big in their time, such as Tennessee Ernie Ford, who made multiple appearances on I Love Lucy.

Oh how I was wrong.

After becoming fully obsessed with I Love Lucy as a middle schooler, I learned that Lucille Ball had appeared in a film with Holden–Miss Grant Takes Richmond. I borrowed the VHS from the library and watched it. I found that film pretty funny, especially Lucy’s role, but didn’t find anything remarkable about Holden. In the film, he played a character very similar to how Holden portrayed himself on I Love Lucy. Some time passed before I saw Holden in another film. He didn’t jump out to me as someone whose films I just had to watch.

William Holden and Nancy Olson in their first appearance together in Sunset Boulevard.

Then I saw Sunset Boulevard.

My opinion on William Holden did a complete 180. In ‘Sunset,’ Holden was cynical, sarcastic, romantic, conniving, weary, compassionate, etc. etc. His performance in this film was so fantastic that I was hooked. Soon I ended up watching a lot of Holden movies: The Country Girl (the film he was promoting on I Love Lucy), Sabrina, Picnic, The Moon is Blue, Apartment for Peggy, Paris When it Sizzles, Network, Born Yesterday, Executive Suite… But one film that I watched that I really loved was Force of Arms, which premiered in 1951.

(Woo! Finally I made it to the entire point of this whole post.)

Nancy Olson as Eleanor “Ellie” MacKay and William Holden as Joe “Pete” Peterson in “Force of Arms.”

Force of Arms reunites William Holden with his ‘Sunset’ co-star, Nancy Olson. This was the third film out of four films that they starred in together. One part of ‘Sunset’ that I really enjoy is the relationship between Holden and Olson’s characters. Holden’s cynical yet romantic Joe Gillis does not get off to a good start when he first meets Olson’s Betty Schaefer. Joe, a screenwriter, and Betty, a script reader both work for Paramount Pictures. Joe walks into the office of a producer just to overhear Betty harshly criticizing Joe’s script. Later the two reunite at a New Years Eve party, and start working together on a new screenplay after Betty pitches some ideas to Joe as to how they can salvage his story. Throughout much of the film, Joe meets in secret with Betty while his employer (and perhaps keeper), Norma Desmond, sleeps. Joe and Betty have a cute relationship. They laugh, they share stories, they appreciate each other’s intelligence, and eventually they fall in love. And while things don’t work out for Holden and Olson’s characters in ‘Sunset,’ they fare much better in Force of Arms.

You cannot help but root for these crazy kids to make it.

Force of Arms takes place during World War II in Italy. Holden plays another character named Joe, this time Lieutenant Joe “Pete” Peterson who is part of the American 36th Infantry Division. After a hard fought battle in San Pietro, Joe and his division are given five days’ rest in a small Italian town. One evening, while walking through a cemetery, Joe meets WAC Lieutenant Eleanor “Ellie” MacKay (Olson). Joe tries to better make Ellie’s acquaintance, but is rebuffed because she is in no mood to be picked up while in a cemetery. Later, Joe and Ellie are reunited when he and his friend go to the post office to see if they’d received any correspondence from back home. It turns out that Ellie works at the post office. Earlier in the day, Joe had received a promotion from sergeant to lieutenant, and Ellie offers to buy him a celebratory drink. He accepts.

Joe and Ellie begin to spend more and more time together and grow closer as the movie progresses. However, despite how much Joe wants to be with Ellie, she keeps him at arm’s length as she’s afraid to fall in love again. It seems that she was previously engaged to another soldier and was deeply in love, but then he was killed in the war. She is too scared to fall in love as she doesn’t want to experience heartbreak again. However, her mind is changed when Joe’s leave is cut short. Not wanting to lose him, she agrees to marry him when he returns on his next leave.

I read some criticisms online about how the love story seems to be contrived and shoehorned into the plot in place of some more battle or war scenes. But I don’t care about that. Make love, not war!

The film then transitions into a bunch of battle scenes which usually don’t interest me. I love World War II era movies (or in this film’s case, films that take place during the war), but I am more interested in the homefront aspect–or if it directly involves the war aspect, there needs to be another storyline interwoven with the battle scenes. Thankfully, Force of Arms has a romance that is intermingled between the gunfire and carnage. Despite being involved in the very serious situation that is war, Joe remains determined to see Ellie again. Even after falling into a deep depression after the death of a friend and not wanting to see anyone, even Ellie, we know that true love will prevail–Ellie and Joe will be together again. Otherwise, what was the point of this movie?

Nancy Olson was the perfect person for the part of Ellie. Her cherubic face, her sweet demeanor. She is what brings hope to Holden’s bitter, cynical Joe. Were a harsher woman cast, Joan Crawford, for example, or Ida Lupino, I don’t think this film would be nearly as heart wrenching. Ellie is the perfect compliment for Joe. She can provide sympathy and warmth to an angry man. Ellie represents hope and happiness for Joe. No matter how nasty he acts towards her, she remains in love with him. Ellie is what keeps Joe from giving up all hope. She makes him want to live. When Ellie receives some shocking news about Joe, she is in disbelief. She cannot believe what she is being told. Ellie’s anguish is palpable.

This scene could have easily become overly dramatic and ridiculous; but it didn’t.

William Holden plays the type of character he became best known for in this film. Joe is a handsome everyman, who is just angry at himself, angry at the world. However, despite his bitterness, he never once becomes mopey. Never is Joe mean. He isn’t an unbearable person. He’s just disappointed. Upset. Depressed. Tired. Despite how cynical and jaded Joe is, there’s always this glimmer of hope. He knows that things can get better. Joe just needs some luck or an opportunity. Holden always manages to bring a charm and vulnerability to his roles. You can’t hate Joe. You can’t hate Holden.

While this might not be the greatest World War II-set romantic drama ever made, I loved this film when I first saw it. But I’m always a sucker for a genuinely romantic film, free of most of the typical plot contrivances that malign the romance genre.

JOE: You mean you were a civilian once?
ELLIE: Oh, if you consider schoolteachers civilians.
JOE: You honest?
ELLIE: Mm-hmm
JOE: Well. And me without an apple!

Doris Day Centennial Blogathon- “Julie” (1956)

Doris Day would have turned 100 today. For years, I thought for sure she was going to make it, so I was very sad when she passed away in 2019 at the age of 97. Doris seemed eternal–one of the last remaining major figures of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Her sunny persona and girl next door looks I think led to her being unfairly labeled as “virginal” or goody goody. I even had this same perception of her until I actually started watching her films. Yes, she does have some sugary sweet roles, but those are only a tiny part of her overall body of work. One such departure from this image is Doris’ turn as the titular character in Julie, produced in 1956.

For years, when shopping the Warner Archive 4/$44 DVD sale, I would see Julie listed among the list of titles for purchase. Warner Archive for the most part, uses the original poster art for their film cover. The poster asks the question: What happened to Julie on her honeymoon? After seeing this film listed again and again during the sales, I just had to know: what did happen to Julie on her honeymoon? Eventually I purchased the movie to find out the answer. To put it simply, what happens to Julie on her honeymoon is that her husband tries to kill her.

Julie opens with a particularly haunting title track, with Doris singing the melody. Back-up singers continue to sing “Julie” in an eerie manner. Julie is an uncomfortable, tension-filled film noir–one of Doris’ few forays into this genre or style of filmmaking. The film opens with Julie (Doris, obviously) and her new husband Lyle (Louis Jourdan) arguing. The widowed Julie has just remarried the handsome and talented concert pianist Lyle, after her first husband commits suicide due to financial issues. The newlyweds had been attending a function at the country club when they got into a heated argument. Upset, Julie climbs into her car and drives off; but before she can get away, Lyle climbs into her car and continues the argument.

Doris and her bonkers husband, Louis Jourdan

To say that their marriage is not getting off to a good start would be an understatement. Lyle obviously has a screw loose which is indicative right off the bat when he slides over on the bench seat of the car and places his foot over Julie’s, causing her to continue to accelerate on the highway. She is careening all over the highway, nearly driving off the cliff on multiple occasions while trying to negotiate California’s curvy coastline. As Julie screams for him to stop and to not kill them both, Lyle finally relents by letting his foot off Julie’s, seizing control of the steering wheel, and bringing the car to a stop. Understandably, Julie is a complete wreck.

One of the few times that Doris is seen smoking on-screen in one of her films

Lyle continues to show himself for the abusive monster that he is, manipulating Julie into forgiving him for his actions. He says that he only did what he did out of love and that he needs her to help him get over his extreme jealousy. Lyle is a creep and things do not get better for Julie. Meanwhile, Julie has been speaking with her first husband’s cousin, Cliff (Barry Sullivan). Cliff is not convinced that his brother committed suicide, and if he had, it wouldn’t have been due to financial issues as Cliff had offered his brother money. Hearing this, Lyle at first plays it cool and actually seems sympathetic, but that soon goes by the wayside. He grows tired of repeatedly hearing Julie wonder outloud what could have triggered her husband’s suicide and tells her to leave her marriage to him in the past.

Doris takes control of the plane in the cockpit

Lyle continues to stalk Julie and Cliff throughout the film and eventually Cliff asks Julie, what if her husband hadn’t committed suicide? After all, Lyle was staying at their home when her husband died. The film culminates with a somewhat unbelievable scene in which flight attendant Julie is forced to take control of the plane’s cockpit to save the lives of the passengers onboard.

Overall, Julie is a very tense and interesting film. Louis Jourdan is terrifying. I like him much more in this film than I did in Gigi. What I find the scariest about Jourdan is that is portrayal of a jealous, hot-tempered spouse is that his portrayal is not too far off the mark. I could completely see someone acting in the way that he does in this film. Doris also found this movie nerve-wracking to make as the behavior of Jourdan was reminiscent of the abusive treatment she received at the hands of her first and second husbands. What I find fascinating about Jourdan and Doris’ performances in this film is that off-screen, they were friends and neighbors! I also like Barry Sullivan. He is never flashy, but he’s good and I find him interesting. He’s great in noir.

Doris and Barry Sullivan with the gorgeous Central California Coastline in the background

I wish that Doris had made more noir and grittier fare, because she was good in these types of roles. A year prior to Julie, Doris made Love Me or Leave Me where she played the real life Ruth Etting, a singer and dime-a-dance girl who just wants to make it in show business. She has to deal with her abusive manager/lover, James Cagney, who uses his position to make or break her career as a means to control her. Just before making Julie, Doris had appeared as a distraught mother whose son is kidnapped in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of his 1934 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much. This role was also a departure for Doris who had to spend much of the film frantically looking for her child, but it did bring us her signature song, “Que Sera Sera.” In 1960, Doris would make her last dramatic film, Midnight Lace, where she plays a woman being terrorized on the telephone.

While Julie may not be the greatest film noir, nor is it even the best Doris Day film, it demonstrates that Doris Day was more than just a lightweight romantic lead and singer. She is excellent as a young woman who marries the wrong man, but has to keep her cool to survive. Later, it’s her calm demeanor that is needed to save the lives of dozens of passengers. If there was one thing that Doris Day was always good at, in every role she had, was being a calming presence on screen. Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be.

Making “Julie” is when Doris Day was introduced to Carmel, California. Carmel is a beautiful coastal community on the Monterey Peninsula on California’s Central Coast. Day lived in this gorgeous yellow home from her retirement in the 1970s until her death in 2019.

Lucy and Desi (2022)

I lived and died by I Love Lucy on Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer in the 90s.

It’s no secret on my blog that I love Lucy. I love Desi too. I discovered Lucy and Desi in 1994 or 1995, when I was 10 or 11 years old. One evening, I stumbled upon I Love Lucy on Nick at Nite and was hooked. From then on, I had to watch “my show.” I made sure to have my homework done by 8pm, so I could watch ‘Lucy.’ On Saturdays, at 10pm, I watched Nick at Nite’s “Whole Lotta Lucy Saturday” with 2(!) episodes of I Love Lucy and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Nick at Nite’s “Block Party Summer” was even more exciting, because I Love Lucy always got a day–4 whole hours of I Love Lucy!

Growing up, my family also went to the library every month. I started checking out books about Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, I Love Lucy, and everything I Love Lucy-adjacent. Through these books, I learned about Lucille Ball’s movie career. I discovered that my library had a good selection of Lucille Ball’s films on VHS! I checked out every single one. It was through I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball that I developed my knowledge and love of classic film.

A scene from my favorite episode of “I Love Lucy.” William Holden’s face in this scene is one of the funniest scenes in the entire run of the show.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz have always held a special place in my heart. I Love Lucy is my absolute favorite show of all time. I have seen every episode dozens of times and never tire of it. I own the entire series on DVD. I own at least a dozen books about it. I saw the I Love Lucy colorized special in the theater. I have a dozen Lucy Ricardo Barbie Dolls. I have almost every Lucille Ball movie that’s available on DVD/Blu Ray. Lucy, Desi, and I Love Lucy is very important to me. I find it fascinating that an interest in Lucy and Desi seems to have revitalized in 2021. It’s very curious. Not that I’m unhappy about it, but why? Was the catalyst the 70th anniversary of the debut of I Love Lucy? In the past six months (give or take), we’ve had: A new Lucille Ball doll, Lucille Ball “Let’s Talk to Lucy” radio show/podcast on Sirius XM, TCM’s excellent Lucy podcast (highly recommended), and both a movie and documentary about Lucy and Desi. I hope more content is on the docket.

I don’t want to give “Being the Ricardos” a photo, so here is a picture of the ACTUAL Ricardos instead.

When I heard about Aaron Sorkin’s plan to dramatize a week in Lucy and Desi’s life, I was instantly turned off. For the record, I have not seen Being the Ricardos, nor do I plan to watch it. I saw Sorkin being interviewed on TCM, and I’m not even convinced that he’s ever seen an episode of I Love Lucy. I read about what the film is about, and he doesn’t even portray the correct episode being filmed when Lucy’s Communist allegations broke. They are filming a season 1 episode when this whole incident went down at the end of season 2/beginning of season 3. I’m not convinced about the casting of Lucy and Desi. I vehemently disagree with a quote by Sorkin stating that I Love Lucy isn’t a show that we’d find funny with a 21st century lens. I don’t know what planet Sorkin lives on, but I Love Lucy is still very popular.

Aside from the inaccuracies portrayed in Being the Ricardos, I do not want to see Lucy and Desi’s personal problems dramatized. I read Lucy’s memoir. I read Desi’s memoir. I have seen countless documentaries. I’ve read countless books. Lucy and Desi’s marital issues are well documented. Lucy and Desi fighting, Lucy and Desi divorcing, Desi’s drinking, Desi’s infidelity… these are not the things I want to think about when I think about Lucy and Desi. I want to think about the adorable couple I see in I Love Lucy. I want to think about the honeymooning couple in my favorite movie of all time: The Long, Long Trailer. I want to think about the photos of the ecstatic newlyweds after their 1940 elopement. Lucy and Desi are far more interesting than their divorce.

Thankfully, Amy Poehler came to the rescue with her new documentary, Lucy and Desi, that is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. I’m always game for a good documentary. However, because I’ve read/watched so much about Lucy and Desi, finding new programs and books that don’t simply rehash the same old stories again and again are hard to find. And while Lucy and Desi does cover some familiar ground, Poehler put a unique spin on sharing Lucy and Desi’s story. Following the same storytelling style present in TCM’s Lucy podcast, Poehler has archival audio clips of Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, and people close to Lucy and Desi telling the story. While there are some actual interviews featured by people like Lucie Arnaz, Carol Burnett, and my fave, Charo, much of the story is told by Lucy and Desi themselves. I also love how clips of I Love Lucy were used to tie pieces of Lucy and Desi’s story together. Poehler actually managed to find audio, video and photos that I’d never seen before! That was the absolute best part of watching this documentary.

I liked the narrative structure of the documentary. The events in the story unfold chronologically, with Lucy’s childhood, move to New York City as a teenager, and eventual opportunity to come to Hollywood being the key events of her life. Lucy and Desi, of course mentions the tragic accident that changed the course of Lucy and her family’s lives and how that incident motivated Lucy’s work ethic. Lucy’s family was financially devastated by the accident and Lucy was determined to never be in that situation again. It was interesting that the documentary did not mention Lucy’s bout with rheumatism, which derailed her life for two years in the late 1920s. Desi’s childhood of course was a riches to rags story, with his comfortable life ruined by the overthrowing of the Cuban government in 1933. Desi’s life story cannot be portrayed without mentioning this horrible event that completely ruined Desi and his family’s lives. It is asserted in the documentary that this was a formative event in Desi’s life and that it perhaps was the root cause of Desi’s personal problems later on in his life.

Lucy and Desi’s married life is depicted with countless home movies showing two people in love. The controversy over their interracial marriage is touched upon, but it’s obvious from the home movies that race was the furthest thing from Lucy and Desi’s minds. And of course, race again is a major player in the discussion regarding the genesis of I Love Lucy and how it almost didn’t happen because CBS didn’t think Americans would find Lucy and Desi’s marriage believable. Of course, CBS was wrong. Lucy and Desi were a sensation and I Love Lucy was and continues to be a massive hit. A bittersweet moment in the documentary is when Lucie Arnaz mentions that I Love Lucy only exists because Lucy and Desi wanted to be together, and they weren’t able to achieve that. The success of the show and their studio, Desilu, is partially what drove the couple apart.

I liked that Poehler didn’t opt to dwell on the latter part of Lucy and Desi’s lives. She mentions that both remarried and spends a little bit of time on Lucille Ball as President of Desilu, but really not much else is said. We don’t care about Gary Morton, Lucille Ball’s second husband. The documentary even says as much. We don’t care about Desi’s second wife, Edith Mack Hirsch. What we do care about is the fact that Lucy and Desi stayed in love after their divorce. They stayed friends. Lucy and Desi are known for having a very amicable divorce. They never fell out of love with one another. This is definitely proven by the ending scene showing Lucy being honored at the Kennedy Center.

The one thing I always hate about documentaries about my absolute favorite stars (almost all of whom are long deceased) is that the documentary has to mention their death. I can’t even watch my Errol Flynn documentary, because I love him so much I don’t want to be reminded of his death. Yes, I know logically, they have passed. I am not in denial about the fact. However, I want to think of Lucy and Desi (and Errol) as always being alive. And while Amy Poehler does devote some content of the documentary to Desi’s passing, it is included as a way to conclude their love story. Even then, we are treated to a very moving (and heartwrenching) epilogue to their story–Lucy and Desi’s love for one another never waned, even after death, Desi still loved Lucy.

I can take some solace in knowing that even if it was just for 2.5 short years, I was alive at the same time as Lucy and Desi, two people who have brought me almost three decades of happiness. Even during difficult days, I Love Lucy can always make me laugh.

I can highly recommend Amy Poehler’s Lucy and Desi documentary. I can only hope that it becomes available on Blu Ray.

“I Love Lucy,” episode “Redecorating.”
RICKY: “Lucy! What have you done with the windows?!”
I don’t know why, but that quote from Ricky always makes me laugh.

Kim Novak Blogathon- “Pal Joey” (1957)

On February 13, 2022 the fabulous Kim Novak turned 89 years young! I’ve always been a fan of Ms. Novak, especially since she lives in my home state of Oregon. It is somewhat exciting to think that an icon of Hollywood’s Golden Age lives a mere 4.5 hours away!

Kim Novak very well could have become a footnote in Hollywood history. She made her film debut in the film noir, Pushover, in 1954. Her co-star was Fred MacMurray. Kim made an indelible impression on audiences and her home studio, Columbia. Columbia went to work grooming Kim as a successor for their big star, Rita Hayworth, whose star was on the decline. The studio hoped that Kim’s blonde hair would bring them the same success as Marilyn Monroe had for Fox. However, what Columbia didn’t count on was that Kim had no desire to be a Monroe copycat.

Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak in “Pal Joey.” Kim’s purple gown is amazing. I love the color! I love the sparkles! And the dress looks fabulous on her.

Kim Novak’s most famous role is probably her dual role as both Madeleine Elster and Judy Barton in Vertigo. Right before Vertigo however, she appeared in the 1957 film, Pal Joey, where she was third billed after Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra. Kim was re-teamed with Sinatra after their triumph in 1955’s The Man With the Golden Arm. By the time Pal Joey was released, Kim had succeeded Rita as Columbia’s biggest box office draw. It is interesting that Rita received top billing over both Sinatra and Kim. Despite playing the title character, and having won an Oscar for his role in From Here to Eternity, Sinatra graciously ceded top billing to Rita, stating that she made Columbia what it was. Plus, he added, being “billed in between Rita and Kim was a sandwich he didn’t mind being stuck in the middle of.”

Pal Joey was a Broadway show which starred Gene Kelly in 1940. He was actually performing the titular role in this play when he was discovered. Gene made his way to Hollywood to appear in For Me and My Gal with Judy Garland in 1942. By 1944, Gene was a big star and made the film Cover Girl at Columbia, starring their biggest star, Rita Hayworth. Cover Girl was a sensation and Columbia boss, the infamous Harry Cohn, promised to adapt Pal Joey for the screen to re-team Gene and Rita. However, nothing came to fruition and by the time the story was ready for the big screen, Gene was contracted to MGM. Rita was also deemed too old (at 37, my age ::sniffle::) for the role of the younger woman and took over the part as the older woman who acts as a “keeper” for Joey. Columbia cast their biggest star, Kim Novak, in the role of the younger woman.

Kim Novak makes her entrance in “Pal Joey.”

Pal Joey takes place in San Francisco. Sinatra plays the titular role of Joey Evans, a so-so singer (we just have to take the film’s word for it), who is more interested in women than he is having a career. He ends up falling for a young chorus girl, Linda English (Kim Novak), and actually may feel real feelings for her! Joey tries all his old tricks to seduce Linda, but she seems impervious to Joey’s “charm.” She is also presented as being somewhat naive to the fact that Joey is interested in her romantically, but she eventually catches on.

Eventually, Joey manages to finagle his way into escorting Linda home after an evening together. After spotting a “For Rent” sign in the window, Joey is able to worm it out of the landlady, Mrs. Trumbull (Elizabeth Patterson), that the empty apartment (with a shared bathroom) is next door to Linda. Joey, excited, rents the apartment immediately, and he gets to share a bathroom with Linda. She gets sick of his constant advances towards her and ends up tricking him into adopting a dog, which he names “Snuffy.”

Kim Novak, Frank Sinatra, and Rita Hayworth in “Pal Joey.”

Later, Linda ends up taking Snuffy when she discovers Joey’s partnership with his ex-flame and ex-stripper, Vera Simpson (Rita Hayworth). It is obvious that Linda has developed feelings for Joey. Despite his budding romance with Linda, a girl whom he really likes, Joey ends up taking up with Vera, who has since hung up her “vanishing veils,” and settled into life as a society matron and widow. Joey’s ulterior motive for romancing Vera is that he wants her to finance “Chez Joey,” a nightclub that he can own and perform at. Eventually it becomes apparent that Vera is hoping for more than a business partnership with Joey as she treats him like a “kept man.” This is obvious after Vera finally shows up to Chez Joey, she and Joey share a passionate kiss, and in the next scene we see Vera grinning in a negligee. Joey has mad skills, he hooked up with Vera after singing “The Lady is a Tramp,” which was very blatantly about Vera.

Once Chez Joey opens, Vera’s holding all the power. Joey is forced to submit to her every whim and demand. Vera becomes insanely jealous when she observes Joey watching Linda’s rehearsal of “My Funny Valentine.” Joey intently watches Linda, unable to take his eyes off of her. Vera learns that Joey is planning on featuring Linda as the main attraction at Chez Joey. She demands that he fire Linda. Not wanting to hurt Linda, Joey tells Linda that he’s removing her from the “My Funny Valentine” number and assigning her to a strip tease. Linda, rightfully, is angry and tells Joey that he should rename the club “Chez Vera.” Eventually, a drunk Linda shows up to Joey’s yacht and accepts the number.

Kim Novak performs an awkward strip tease, that begins with a Marie Antoinette-esque gown.

The time comes for Linda to rehearse the strip tease. She starts the number dressed in a Marie Antoinette-type dress, sans the powdered wig. As she removes the skirt, then the crinoline, then other pieces of the costume, she looks absolutely mortified. Eventually, Joey cannot handle seeing all the men staring at Linda and demands that she stop performing before her remaining clothes come off. At this point, Joey has to make a decision. Does he stay with Linda, the woman he loves, and lose Chez Joey? Or does he keep the club and stay with Vera, a woman who he doesn’t love?

I read other reviews of this film online, specifically reviews that reference Kim Novak’s performance. Many carry the same complaints, that she’s stiff, awkward, etc. I can understand those complaints, however, I think that she performed her part very well. Linda is a young woman who is presumably new to the world of show business. She suddenly finds herself the object of affection of a man who is a known womanizer. He is/was involved with a more worldly woman who knows not only the ins and outs of show business, but the ins and outs of everything else too. In the scene when Linda is rehearsing the strip tease, she is very awkward and looks completely mortified. However, Linda didn’t want to do the strip tease, nor is she the type of person who’d want to do a strip tease! Of course, she would be awkward and mortified. Kudos to Joey for recognizing this and stopping it; however, his kudos are a moot point because he’s the one who put her into this position in the first place.

While I can understand some of the complaints about Novak, I find her completely fascinating. She fits the cool, blonde mold; but there’s more to her. She always seems to have a vulnerability about her, like a woman who is about to break. She also has the most gorgeous green eyes; but there’s something behind those eyes. Behind those eyes are a sensitivity, a yearning. Kim Novak is not just a replacement Rita Hayworth. She is not a Marilyn Monroe copy. She is a very unique screen presence. She wants to show the audience a piece of herself, the real Kim Novak, or rather the real Marilyn Pauline Novak (Kim’s birth name). While I don’t know Ms. Novak personally, I feel like she deeply identified with her character, Madge, in Picnic. All Madge wants in life is to be thought of as more than just being pretty.

LINDA: “You cook?”
JOEY: “Well, you can’t go through your life on Wheaties alone.”

The Umpteenth Blogathon- “Desk Set” (1957)

One of the hallmarks of a classic film (regardless of age) is its rewatchability factor. There are plenty of good films, but if it’s not something that I’d ever watch again, it’d be hard for me to consider it a “classic.” I have plenty of films in my collection that many people would not consider classics, or even good movies, but if I love them, then that’s all that matters and they’re “classics” to me. With that said, for this blogathon, we were asked to write about a film that we’ve seen an umpeenth amount of times. This is a film that we’ll watch no matter how many times we’ve seen it. We’ll watch it when it’s on TV, even if we own the DVD. This is a film that never gets old no matter how many times we’ve seen it.

My collection is made up of tons of films that I’ve seen a million times. What’s the point in developing a collection of films if you’re only going to watch them once? One of my films that I never tire of watching is Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s penultimate screen pairing, Desk Set. Hepburn and Tracy made a total of nine films together. Their first film, Woman of the Year, or their last, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner might have more name recognition, but for my money, Desk Set is their best and my personal favorite.

Left to Right: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Blondell, Sue Randall, and Dina Merrill in “Desk Set.”

I’ve seen Desk Set multiple times. It’s always one of my go-to Christmas films, due solely to the wild Christmas party featured in the film. This past Christmas season, I watched this film two days in a row. Desk Set has always been one of my favorite films, but up until recently, I’d always wondered about the title. What was a “desk set” ? And how does this title relate to the film? Well I finally looked up “desk set,” and unfortunately, the answer was anticlimactic. A “desk set” is literally a desk. So that answer was pretty boring and I decided that the title was meant to describe office life.

SYLVIA (answering a question over the phone): Reference department, Miss Blair. Oh yes, we’ve looked that up for you, and there are certain poisons which leave no trace, but it’s network policy not to mention them on our programs.

Dina Merrill as “Sylvia Blair” in “Desk Set” (1957)

In Desk Set, Hepburn stars as Bunny Watson, the head librarian in the reference library at the Federal Broadcasting Network (FBN) in Manhattan. The reference library is basically a manual version of the internet, where anyone can call in and request any sort of information, from baseball statistics, to bible passages, to entire poems. No question is too big or too small for the reference library. Also working in the library is Bunny’s best friend, Peg Costello (Joan Blondell), Sylvia Blair (Dina Merrill), and newbie Ruthie Saylor (Sue Randall aka Miss Landers from “Leave it to Beaver”). The women have a camaraderie and work well together. Bunny is also dating Mike Cutler (Gig Young), an executive at the network, but they’ve been dating for over seven years and the relationship is seemingly going nowhere.

(BUNNY is getting ready to meet MIKE)
BUNNY: How do I look?
PEG: Too good for him

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” and Joan Blondell as “Peg Costello” in “Desk Set” (1957)
Bunny and the dull Mike Cutler. I love her dress, but Mike has got to go!

One day, a methods engineer and efficiency expert, Richard Sumner (Tracy) comes to visit the employees at the FBN. He is the inventor of the Electromagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator, or EMERAC for short. EMERAC is one of my favorite things in movies, the large 1950s computer that fills up an entire room, has a lot of lights and sound effects, and shoots out pieces of paper. The head of FBN wants to possibly purchase an EMERAC and install it in the research library to help the librarians. However, as these things often go, rumors spread that Sumner is actually looking to replace the librarians with EMERAC and save FBN money over the long term.

RUTHIE: What do you suppose he’s (Richard) doing all that measuring for? Do you think we’re being redecorated?
SYLVIA: Does he look like an interior decorator to you?
PEG: No! He looks like one of those men who’s just suddenly switched to vodka!

Sue Randall as “Ruthie Saylor,” Dina Merrill as “Sylvia Blair,” and Joan Blondell as “Peg Costello” in “Desk Set” (1957)

At the same time, since this is a Hepburn/Tracy film, we anticipate Gig Young getting out of the picture so that they can be together. This happens when Bunny and Richard find themselves bonding over sandwiches in the cold, frigid air. Bunny impresses Richard with her ability to recall facts and use logic and previous experiences to solve the riddles he tries to stump her with. Later, the two are caught in a rainstorm and Bunny invites Richard to her home to dry off and warm up. One of my favorite parts of this scene is when Bunny, needing to find something for Richard to wear while his clothes dry, offers him one of Mike’s Christmas presents–a bathrobe with an “MC” monogram. Both Peg and Mike show up and are surprised to see Richard. They’ve even more surprised to see Richard in a bathrobe with Mike’s monogram. Oops.

BUNNY: I’ve read every New York newspaper backward and forward for the past 15 years. I don’t smoke. I only drink champagne when I’m lucky enough to get it, my hair is naturally natural, I live alone–and so do you.
RICHARD: How do you know that?
BUNNY: Because you’re wearing one brown sock and one black sock.

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” and Spencer Tracy as “Richard Sumner” in “Desk Set” (1957)
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in “Desk Set.”

Later, the employees at FBN have the greatest Christmas party. It ranks up there with the Christmas party in The Apartment. This party is absurd and could only happen in the 1950s when it was not only allowed, but encouraged to be drinking alcohol while at work. The champagne is seemingly flowing out of a faucet as the women in the reference library float around from department to department drinking and carousing. Obviously, no actual work gets done at FBN on Christmas Party Day. Poor Ruthie says, “But I don’t want to drink in the middle of the day!” but her pleas fall on deaf ears. It is at the Christmas party when Mike drops the bombshell that he and Bunny are moving to California and are going to marry. This is news to Bunny as Mike didn’t even formally propose to her. Bunny has to break it to Mike that she doesn’t want to move, and they end up breaking up–FINALLY.

BUNNY: Have some tequila, Peg
PEG: I don’t think I should. There are 85 calories in a glass of champagne.
BUNNY: I have a little place in my neighborhood where I can get it for 65.

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” and Joan Blondell as “Peg Costello” in “Desk Set” (1957)
The reference librarians attend the best work Christmas party

A few weeks later, EMERAC is delivered and put to work. Sumner’s prissy assistant, Miss Warringer, is there to demonstrate EMERAC. The women in the reference library have seemingly been compiling data on punch-cards to feed into the machine. Then payday arrives and the reference librarians expect the worst–pink slips. Unfortunately, their worst fears are confirmed when each woman pulls a pink slip out of their envelope. Then Sumner arrives to demonstrate EMERAC. Then the phone starts ringing off the hook with all kinds of crazy questions. The women in the reference library refuse to help due to their recent firing. Miss Warringer is forced to take the calls and the reference librarians look on in amusement as she struggles to even take the calls, let alone actually finding the answer.

BUNNY: Really, you girls kill me. I was here until ten o’clock last night and this morning at 9, I had to go to IBM to see a demonstration of the new electronic brain.

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” in “Desk Set” (1957)

Miss Warringer enters the wrong information into EMERAC and is unable to answer the question correctly. The reference librarians use their resources in the stacks to find the correct answer. This routine continues a few more moments with each successive question, with Miss Warringer getting more frustrated by the minute. EMERAC eventually malfunctions and starts going crazy just as Bunny starts reciting the “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight” poem to mock Miss Warringer’s misspelling of the name of the island of “Corfu.” Miss Warringer, knowing that she’s being made fun of, storms out in disgust.

EMERAC loses its mind

Sumner understandably wants to know why the reference librarians are being so rude to Miss Warringer and he learns of their firing. Then it comes out that an EMERAC was also installed in payroll, and that machine also went insane and issued pink slips to everyone in the building, including the president! Sumner then clears up the misunderstanding (which probably could have been cleared up a hour ago, but then we wouldn’t have a movie) and explains that EMERAC is only meant to assist, not replace. The women are relieved and Sumner then asks EMERAC if he should marry Bunny. Well duh, he designed the machine and it’s a Hepburn/Tracy film, so you can imagine the answer.

RICHARD (to BUNNY): Something about the way you wear that pencil in your hair spells money.

Spencer Tracy as “Richard Sumner” in “Desk Set” (1957)

The film ends with the FBN reference library intact and Bunny and Sumner are engaged.

I love this movie. I love the scenes of EMERAC. The big computers are always so much fun to watch (see Touch of Mink, 1962). I love poor Miss Warringer’s big tantrum. I love the scenes of Hepburn and Blondell together. Blondell always makes every film better. Hepburn and Tracy were charming together. I loved Hepburn’s wardrobe and her fabulous apartment. This entire film is so much fun to watch and it’s enjoyable to see a career woman actually succeeding in her career, wanting to keep her career, and finding a partner who finds her intelligence exciting and isn’t intimidated. Sumner finds Bunny’s encyclopedic knowledge a turn-on versus Mike who seemingly doesn’t think much of Bunny’s job if he thinks that she’s willing to follow him to the West Coast with no notice. I imagine that after this film, Sumner and Bunny marry, they’re happy, and together they make the reference library better and better.

Bunny hilariously mocks EMERAC

Despite being over sixty years old, Desk Set still feels modern. People are still worried about being replaced by machines and sadly, in many instances, their fears are well-founded. However, no amount of artificial intelligence will ever replace a person’s unique set of experiences, knowledge, and skill sets. Were FBN a real company that was still around today, I’m sure that the reference library would have long since been phased out once the internet became more accessible. However, I could see the reference librarians moving into the roles of fact checking, as those types of roles are always needed by television, movies, news outlets, etc. etc.

What grown woman, especially a woman like Bunny, would want a giant Bunny for Christmas? And, why would a woman named Bunny, want a Bunny stuffed animal? She probably gets bunny stuffed animals all the time! Come on Mike! No wonder she broke up with you.

Kayla’s Top 15 “New” Films of 2021

2021 is (finally) coming to a close. While the year wasn’t so hot as a whole, except for my fabulous trip to Southern California in October, it was another year of discovering new favorite films. One of the best thing about being a fan of film, especially classic film, is that you never run out of “new” movies to see. As Lauren Bacall says in an episode of Private Screenings with Robert Osborne, “It’s not an old movie, if you haven’t seen it,” and I couldn’t agree more. There is an entire world of movies to discover, a world of films just waiting to become someone’s favorite.

Without further adieu, in no particular order, here are some of my new favorites that I watched for the first time in 2021:

#1 Road House (1948) This was a fabulous film noir that I watched right at the start of the new year. It is the final volume in the Fox Film Noir DVD series (I own the entire collection). I decided to take a look at it, because I’m a big fan of Ida Lupino. In addition to Lupino, it also starred Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, and Celeste Holm. At first, it seems like Ida is going to be the femme fatale, but it is soon revealed that she is a woman who will not be made a pawn in the games of the men, Wilde and Widmark. Even though she was originally brought into the Road House by Widmark to be another of his fly by night floozies, she refuses to be used and becomes a big star and later saves the day. In a time when every woman who wasn’t Judy Garland or Doris Day was dubbed, Ida uses her own voice to warble out “One for my Baby (And One More For the Road)” and it was fabulous.

#2 Mrs. Miniver (1942). I know. This is a big Oscar winner. A major classic of the studio era, but I hadn’t seen it yet. I absolutely loved this movie and actually bought the blu-ray literally right after watching it. That’s how much I loved it. Greer Garson won an Oscar playing the titular Mrs. Miniver and infamously delivered the longest acceptance speech, a record which still stands today. Long-winded speech or not, Garson deserved her award. In Mrs. Miniver, Garson portrays a very stoic woman and mother who stays strong and protects her family even directly in the line of fire during the German invasion of Britain. She puts humanity above all else, even when directly threatened by an injured German pilot. The scene with Mrs. Miniver and her husband and children hiding in the shelter while bombs fall all around them is heartbreaking. This family does not know what they’ll find when they emerge, or whether their house will still be standing. Despite everything, Mrs. Miniver remains a calm influence even in the middle of a tumultuous event, like a World War. I cannot say enough good things about this film, it was fantastic.

#3 Girl Happy (1965). Like the esteemed Mrs. Miniver, this Elvis movie is another film that I purchased immediately after watching it. I loved it. For years, with the exception of Viva Las Vegas (my favorite Elvis movie), I wrote off Elvis’ movies as pure fluff, and not fluffy in a good way, and many of Elvis’ movies are ridiculous, like Girl Happy, but if you can suspend disbelief and just go along with whatever plot is presented, I’ve found that many of Elvis’ movies are enjoyable diversions. In Girl Happy, Elvis plays a musician (a premise setting up lots of opportunities for Elvis to sing) who, along with his band, is hired by his boss to indirectly chaperone his 18-year old daughter, Shelley Fabares. Shelley is traveling to Florida for Spring Break and her overprotective father is worried. Elvis happily agrees, because he gets an all expenses paid trip to Florida. Like how most movies with this plot go (see Too Many Girls), Elvis starts to fall in love with the girl whom he’s chaperoning, and the girl discovers that he was hired to watch her and gets upset. Regardless, this movie was charming, fun, and I loved it.

#4 History is Made at Night (1937) This was a movie that I’d never even heard of until I heard that Criterion was restoring it and releasing it as part of their esteemed (at least among the boutique label community) line of films. I first watched it on the Criterion Channel and must have seen a pre-restoration print, because it was pretty rough. After watching it, I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of it. It had one of my faves, Jean Arthur! And Charles “LUCY! RAWWWR” Boyer. How has this movie been hiding from me this entire time? In this movie, Jean Arthur plays Irene, a woman who leaves her husband, Bruce, (Colin Clive) after he falsely accuses her of having an affair. To prevent the divorce from being finalized, Bruce tries to manipulate a situation to frame Irene for infidelity. He hires his chauffeur to pretend to be Irene’s lover, so that a private detective walks in and catches them in a compromising position. While this is taking place, Paul (Charles Boyer) is walking by Irene’s window. He overhears the ruckus and comes to Irene’s rescue, pretending to be an armed burglar. It’s a weird set-up, but ultimately leads to a beautiful love story with an ending that I was not expecting.

#5 Naked Alibi (1954). This was another film noir that I’d never heard of until I was reading Sterling Hayden’s filmography and discovered that he’d made a film with one of my faves, Gloria Grahame. Fortunately, my library had this film available and I was able to borrow it. This was a great movie. Hayden plays a police chief who tails a suspect, Willis, to Mexico. Willis is suspected to be the mastermind behind a series of crimes in the small town from which he and Hayden hail. While in a border town on the Mexican border, Hayden meets Grahame, a singer with whom he becomes smitten. Unfortunately, Grahame is the girlfriend of Willis, despite the shoddy treatment she receives from him. Hayden and Grahame’s connection with one another continues to grow until the very end of the film. This was a wonderful film and I thought that Gloria Grahame looked absolutely gorgeous.

#6 Dead End (1937). Despite the appearance of the Dead End Kids, whom I cannot stand (I don’t get their appeal), I thought this was a great movie. This film is a story about social classes and the privileges that are afforded to those of a higher social standing. The neighborhood in the film is a “dead end” both figuratively and literally. The rich live in high rise apartments that overlook the slums and tenements. Those who are not privileged to live in the high rises literally have the rich looking down upon them. If you have the misfortune to be born into the slums, it is all you can do to get out. Some try to do so honorably, like Dave (Joel McCrea), who dreams of making a career as an architect. However, he can’t just seem to book the right gig, so he has to survive by doing odd jobs. Others, like Drina (Sylvia Sidney) have slightly less honorable means to get out of the tenement, she wants to marry a rich man. Then, there are those like Hugh “Baby Face” Martin (Humphrey Bogart), who did manage to get out of the slums, but he did so by becoming a big-time mobster. The Dead End Kids represent the next generation who most likely will remain in the slums, unless they can somehow be guided into making a better life for themselves. Marjorie Main has a heartbreaking role as Baby Face’s mother. Claire Trevor is fantastic as Baby Face’s old girlfriend, who was never able to get out of the slums.

#7 Klute (1971) This was the first film in Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy,” which unfortunately I watched all out of order. I don’t think the films in the trilogy have anything to do with one another, so I think I’m okay. Anyway, there’s just something about the 1970s thrillers that I find fascinating. There’s a grittiness, a seediness, combined with the earth tones aesthetic that I just love watching. Anyway, in this film, Jane Fonda gives an Oscar-winning performance as Bree Daniels, a prostitute who aids police detective, John Klute, in investigating a murder. After finding an obscene letter addressed to Bree in the murder victim’s office, Klute rents an apartment in Bree’s building and begins tracing her. Concurrently, Bree is working as a freelance call girl to support herself while she tries to make it as a model/actress. Bree is also trying to find meaning in her life through sessions with a psychiatrist. This was such a fantastic movie and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who was responsible for the murder.

#8 Thunder on the Hill (1951) I am a big fan of Ann Blyth and this was a film of hers that I hadn’t heard of until I purchased Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema box sets. Thunder on the Hill, by the way, is on the second collection in the series. In this film, Blyth plays Valerie, a young woman convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. However, on her way to the gallows, Valerie and the police officers accompanying her, are forced to spend the night in the hospital ward of a convent due to massive flooding. Running the hospital ward is Sister Mary (Claudette Colbert), a woman who is also battling with her own mental troubles involving her sister’s suicide. Valerie is understandably combative and angry, but confides to Sister Mary that she is innocent of the crime of which she was convicted. Sister Mary, who has been warned in the past about meddling in other people’s affairs, is convinced of Valerie’s innocence and sets to save her before she is executed. This was such a wonderful film. It was interesting to see Blyth in such a different role than that of Veda in Mildred Pierce or the mermaid in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. I loved the suspense of the story and the cinematography was gorgeous. I am also a big fan of Douglas Sirk, so this film fit the bill.

#9 King Creole (1958) A second Elvis film on the list? Yes! I watched a lot of Elvis movies this year according to LetterBoxd, so it was bound to happen. This was an excellent film. It was much higher brow fare than Elvis would be offered once he returned from his stint in the army. In this movie, Elvis plays super senior Danny, who has failed high school once and looks like he’ll fail it again due to his behavior. He is offered a chance to graduate if he agrees to take night classes, but Danny turns it down, much to the chagrin of his father, Dean Jagger. There is drama between Danny and his father, in that Jagger lost his job as a pharmacist after his wife died. The family is forced to leave their nice home outside of New Orleans for a much more modest flat in the French Quarter. To help make ends meet, Danny was working before and after school. Now with school out of the way, Danny starts working at a club. As how most Elvis movies go, he is coerced into singing and is offered a job performing at the club, much to the chagrin of the club’s main act. Danny is soon a sensation. Eventually his connection with the local gangs threaten to affect his family, his relationship with a young woman named Nellie (Dolores Hart), and his life. This was such a great movie with a stellar cast. Aside from Elvis, Dean Jagger and Dolores Hart, Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau, Vic Morrow, and Paul Stewart also star in this film… and it was directed by none other than Michael Curtiz!

#10 Private Lives (1931) This was a fabulous pre-code starring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery. In this film, Shearer and Montgomery play Amanda and Elyot, two ex-spouses who end up staying at the same hotel while honeymooning with their new respective spouses. Both honeymoons are NOT going well. Amanda and her new husband Victor (Reginald Denny) are already fighting due to Victor’s incessant need to talk about Elyot. Because yes, let’s talk about your new bride’s ex-husband on your honeymoon. Great idea, Victor. Elyot is dealing with the same thing from his new wife, Sybil (Una Merkel) who won’t stop asking about Amanda. Eventually, Amanda and Elyot find each other and begin to reminisce about “the old times.” They end up leaving the hotel together and head to a new place in St. Moritz. This was a fabulous pre-code that had plenty of racy moments. I am not as big a fan of Shearer in her production code movies like The Women, but I love her in pre-code. She and Montgomery also make a great pairing. Poor Una Merkel is wasted in her role, but she is wonderful in her scenes.

#11 Hold Back the Dawn (1941) This was an amazing movie. One that I’d always wanted to see but it seemed like it was never on TCM–then finally it was and the movie was everything I’d hoped it would be. In this film, Charles Boyer stars as Georges Iscovescu, a Romanian immigrant who is stuck in a Mexican border town. Per immigration laws, he is looking at up to an eight year wait to obtain a quota number for entry in the United States. Georges then runs into an old flame, Anita Dixon (Paulette Goddard), an Australian who married a US citizen purely to obtain US citizenship. As soon as she could, she divorced the man and retained her citizenship status. Anita suggests that Georges do the same thing, then he and she could be free to start a new life together in New York. Georges immediately goes to work and spots Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland), a California school teacher whose bus has broken down. The bus is set to be repaired shortly, but Georges manipulates the situation (by “losing” a vital piece of the bus’s machinery) and forces Emmy and her class to stay overnight. This gives Georges enough time to woo Emmy and they are married after a whirlwind romance. However, Georges is required to wait in Mexico a few weeks before he can join Emmy in California. Emmy returns unexpectedly and Georges takes her on a trip (under the guise of a honeymoon, but in reality he is trying to hide from an immigration officer who is looking for con artists like Georges and Anita). Georges’ plans are complicated when he finds himself falling in love with Emmy. This was such an amazing film. Even though we’re supposed to dislike Georges, it’s hard to do because it’s Charles-freaking-Boyer. It’s easy to see why Emmy falls for him. I love true, legitimate romantic films (with no contrived plot points), and this is one of the best that I’ve seen.

#12 Gaslight (1944) Another Charles Boyer film! Third one on the list! Surprisingly Boyer was not on my top 10 actors watched in 2021, per Letterboxd. This was an amazing film. I don’t know how I went so long without seeing it. This is the film that gave the name to a form of psychological abuse, where one partner mentally manipulates another into thinking that they’re losing their mind. In this film, Boyer plays Gregory Anton, a pianist who marries Alice Alquist (Ingrid Bergman), a famous opera singer. Gregory works as Alice’s accompanist. At first, Gregory seems sweet, he convinces Alice that they move into her deceased aunt’s old home #9 Thornton Square in London, seemingly under the guise that Alice loved her aunt so much and that her aunt would want her home to be lived in. However, Gregory has ulterior motives which are revealed throughout the film. To keep Alice from catching onto Gregory’s motives, he gaslights her by manipulating situations and then making her think she caused them. Alice begins to think she’s going insane. And while she begins to question Gregory’s actions, he’s gotten her mind so messed up that she can’t convince herself that she’s right. A young, 17-year old Angela Lansbury makes her film debut as Nancy, a tart of a maid who takes pleasure in observing Gregory’s manipulation of Alice. Nancy even plays along to exacerbate the situation. Ingrid Bergman’s performance was a tour-de-force and she deserved every piece of the Oscar that she received.

#13 I Want to Live! (1958) If there are two things I love, it’s classic film and true crime. I Want to Live! has both. This film is a biopic of Barbara Graham, a prostitute who was executed in California in 1955 for her part in the murder of a wealthy widow. Susan Hayward gives an Oscar-winning performance as the doomed woman who at the beginning of the film, works as a prostitute who is arrested for soliciting sex across state lines. She then receives jail time after providing a false alibi to two friends who committed crimes. Despite her growing rap sheet, Barbara continues to “make a living” by committing petty crimes and turning tricks. Eventually, she hits the big time when she gets a job working with a big time thief, Emmett Perkins. Her job is to lure men into his illegal gambling parlor. Meanwhile, her husband has a drug addiction and is unemployed–leaving Barbara as the breadwinner. Eventually Perkins ends up becoming involved with criminals, John Santo and Bruce King. Barbara returns to Perkins’ establishment which is soon raided by the police. Barbara surrenders to the police for her involvement in the gambling ring, but soon learns that she is being accused in being complicit with Santo and King’s murder of a wealthy widow. Barbara tries to give her alibi, saying that she was home with her husband and son, but her husband has skipped town. Unless he can be found, Barbara is toast. This was such an amazing film. I know that there was controversy regarding how Barbara Graham was portrayed in the film, versus the real life events. I can’t comment on that; but what I can say is that real facts or not, this was a great movie.

#14 Suspense (1946) I went into this film noir not knowing entirely what to expect. It starred Barry Sullivan whom I like and Albert Dekker who always turns in a good performance. Sullivan and Dekker’s co-star was British figure skater, Belita. Often when athletes are put into films, especially athletes whose sport is exploited on screen, the results can vary drastically–especially if the athlete has limited acting talent. Sometimes this is good, such as the case with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan series. Other times, it can be limiting like is the case with Belita in another film of hers that I’ve seen. However, in this film, I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not saying Belita was amazing; but she was asked to play a figure skater, and Belita delivers on that front. In this film, Sullivan plays schemer, Joe Morgan, a newcomer to New York City who ends up taking a job at a theater as a peanut vendor. Belita plays the star performer, figure skater, Roberta. Albert Dekker plays Leonard, the owner of the theater and Roberta’s husband. Joe ends up suggesting a new act for Roberta, which revitalizes the show–as a reward he is made a manager. When Leonard leaves for a business trip, he puts Joe in charge. Joe and Roberta end up striking up a romance which Leonard soon discovers. This was a fantastic film. I actually was in suspense and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

#15 The China Syndrome (1979) This was another 1970s thriller that I watched which I really enjoyed. In this film, Jane Fonda plays television reporter, Kimberly Wells, who keeps getting stuck with the fluff stories during the local news segments. There is chauvinism present at the station, as it is thought that she couldn’t possibly handle a serious story. Her cameraman is the hot-tempered Richard Adams (Michael Douglas). One day, Kimberly and Richard end up getting a plum gig: doing a report from the Ventana, CA nuclear power plant. While visiting, they witness a malfunction in the nuclear power plant turbine operation and emergency shutdown protocol. Richard, despite being asked not to film, covertly records the entire incident. The incident is played off as not a big deal, but it becomes clear that the plant was thisclose to a meltdown. Jack Lemmon gives a fantastic performance as Jack Godell, the supervisor of the plant. Wilford Brimley was also excellent as the long-time employee, Ted Spindler, who battles with knowing what is right and his resentment over being passed up for promotion opportunities. I loved this movie. This isn’t normally my type of thing, but as a fan of 1970s thrillers and Fonda and Lemmon, I gave it a try. I’m glad I did. I was captivated from beginning to end and I especially loved Lemmon’s performance in the second half of this movie.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. A Cry in the Night (1956). Raymond Burr, Natalie Wood, Edmond O’Brien.
  2. Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018). A fabulous documentary on HBO Max.
  3. The Caine Mutiny (1954). Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer.
  4. Once a Thief (1965). Alain Delon, Ann-Margret, Van Heflin.
  5. Walk on the Wild Side (1962). Laurence Harvey, Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter, Capucine.
  6. Moonrise (1948). Dane Clark, Lloyd Bridges, Gail Patrick.
  7. The Glass Wall (1953). Vittorio Gassman, Gloria Grahame.
  8. The Big Combo (1955). Richard Conte, Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace.
  9. Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021) The Great Gonzo, Pepe, Will Arnett.
  10. Die Hard (1988) Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson.
  11. Confession (1937) Kay Francis, Basil Rathbone, Ian Hunter.
  12. Three Days of the Condor (1975) Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson.
  13. I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) Susan Hayward, Richard Conte, Eddie Albert.
  14. Possessed (1947) Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey
  15. The Circus (1928) Charlie Chaplin.

What a Character! Blogathon–Elisha Cook Jr.

WILMER COOK: Keep on riding me and they’re gonna be picking iron out of your liver.

SAM SPADE: The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.

Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer Cook and Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon.”

HELEN: I must warn you though, liquor makes me nosy. I’ve been known to ask all sorts of personal questions after four cocktails.

MARTY: ‘s alright. I’ve been known to tell people to mind their own business. Cold sober too.

Claire Trevor as Helen and Elisha Cook Jr. as Marty in “Born to Kill.”

GEORGE PEATTY: This couple, sittin’ in front of me, oh, they weren’t young, exactly. I guess the woman was about your age.

SHERRY PEATTY: A little senile, you mean? With one foot and a big toe in the grave?

GEORGE PEATTY: You want to hear this or not? Do you or not, Sherry?

SHERRY PEATTY: I can’t wait. Go ahead and thrill me George.

Elisha Cook Jr. as George Peatty and Marie Windsor as Sherry Peatty in “The Killing.”
“Well Wilmer, I’m sorry indeed to lose you. But I want you to know I couldn’t be fonder of you if you were my own son. But well, if you lose a son, it’s possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon.”

Elisha Cook Jr. carved out a very unique niche for himself in Hollywood. He often played a villain, but never a outwardly scary villain. He was no Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in Kiss of Death or Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) in Cape Fear. Cook Jr.’s portrayal was much different. He was mild-mannered, timid even, but was still able to make the action of the film seem uncomfortable. To me, he comes across as someone who seems like they could crack any time now. In The Maltese Falcon, he trails Sam Spade all over San Francisco and makes threats along the way, but Spade never takes him seriously. Even at the end of the film, Cook Jr.’s boss, Kasper Gutman, sells him out and makes him the fall guy. Kasper does this to save his own neck.

When I first learned about Elisha Cook Jr., I did what I always do for every new film and new actor I discover: I looked up his Imdb and Wikipedia pages. I was astonished to learn that Cook Jr. was born in 1903! 1903! In ‘Falcon,’ he looks like a kid compared to Bogart and company. However, he was only four years younger than Bogart! Save for Sydney Greenstreet, Cook Jr., was older than the other members of his gang: Mary Astor and Peter Lorre. This was insane to me. He had such a baby face that it was astonishing that he was almost 40 when he appeared in ‘Falcon.’

It is partially Cook Jr.’s baby face that lends to his ability to play these meek, timid characters who provide a duplicitous nature to his characters. He didn’t always play the villain, but he often played someone who was pretty much on the up-and-up, but got in over his head due to his naiveté and inability to stand up against a stronger personality. In The Killing, Cook Jr., works at a large horse track as a cashier. He is married to the very domineering (physically and personality-wise) Marie Windsor, who treats him like garbage because he hasn’t provided her with the lifestyle to which she feels accustomed. To make his wife like him better, Cook Jr., gets involved with criminal Sterling Hayden who wants to pull off one last heist. Cook Jr., offers to use his position as an employee of the horse track to help Hayden pull off the heist. In exchange, he is supposed to receive a large sum of money. Unfortunately, Cook Jr. ends up paying for his involvement with his life.

Probably the most action Elisha Cook Jr. ever got in one of his films–Phantom Lady.

In contrast to his wimpy weaklings, Elisha Cook Jr., did turn in a very uncharacteristic (yet entirely typical) performance in Phantom Lady. In this film, Ella Raines is trying to prove the innocence of her boss who is sitting on death row for murdering his wife. He has an alibi, but the alibi cannot be located. Raines is trying to follow the clues to find the alibi and exonerate her boss before it’s too late. Nightclub drummer Cook Jr., is one of the people who can help lead her to the alibi. To convince him to give her the details, Raines tries to emulate the type of woman that a musician would be interested in. Donning fishnet stockings, a slinky dress, and stilettos, hepcat Raines’ ruse works. Cook Jr., invites her to this seedy private club away from the nightclub.

Here’s where Cook Jr.’s uncharacteristic performance comes in. Obviously wanting to seduce Raines and “make it” (as they say in old movies back then) with her, he presents the most erotic, sexually charged drum solo ever committed to celluloid. This is as close as filmmakers could get in having characters have sex on screen in 1944. Cook Jr.’s drumsticks hit the drumheads with such an intense, rhythmic beat. Close-ups of his sweaty face, eyes widening, smile tightening are juxtaposed with shots of the drumsticks. As the beat intensifies, so does the intensity in Cook Jr.’s face until the scene climaxes, and he and Raines slink out the door when she offers a come hither look. Like in most of his films, Cook Jr., doesn’t survive Phantom Lady, but at least he had some fun before his murder.

Elisha Cook Jr. is one of my favorite character actors. He brings such a unique presence to screen and you never know what you’re going to get, while knowing exactly what you’re going to get when he’s on screen.

My favorite Elisha Cook Jr. performances:

  • The Maltese Falcon
  • The Killing
  • Born to Kill
  • Phantom Lady
  • House on Haunted Hill
  • The Big Sleep
  • The Gangster
  • Don’t Bother to Knock
  • Love Crazy
  • I Wake Up Screaming
  • Ball of Fire

WATSON PRITCHARD: They’re coming for me now… and then they’ll come for you.

Elisha Cook Jr. as Watson Pritchard in House on Haunted Hill

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!”