On May 2, 1955, Van Johnson appeared as himself in “The Dancing Star,” an episode of I Love Lucy. I Love Lucy was the pioneering and now-iconic television sitcom starring his old friends, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. In this episode, Lucy’s character, Lucy Ricardo, finally realizes her dream of show business success. Van Johnson is appearing in a show at the hotel where the Ricardos and Mertzes are staying while Ricky (Desi) makes his film debut. Van’s partner is sick and Lucy ends up getting the chance to fill in. In this episode, Lucy Ricardo is finally given the opportunity to perform in a musical number where she doesn’t screw it up, whether purposefully or inadvertently. For a more detailed synopsis about “The Dancing Star,” click here.
Van Johnson’s relationship with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz did not start with I Love Lucy. He actually made Desi’s acquaintance first back in 1939 on Broadway. Desi had recently arrived in New York City as part of Xavier Cugat’s touring orchestra. Previously, he’d lived in Miami after emigrating there from his birthplace of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Desi had been performing as part of the Siboney Septet. He was discovered by Cugat and hired as a singer and conga drum player. Desi’s natural charisma and talent as a showman led to him forming his own orchestra. He was discovered by director George Abbott who wanted to cast Desi as Manuelito, the Argentinian football player. Van was cast in the same play as a college student and also as an understudy for the three male leads. He later understudied Gene Kelly in the Broadway production of Pal Joey which eventually led to Kelly’s discovery and subsequent Hollywood stardom.
In 1940, Van came out to Hollywood to appear in the film adaptation of Too Many Girls. Van’s role is very small. He has an uncredited role as a fellow college student and appears as part of the chorus in some of the musical numbers. Van is near Lucille Ball in the big celebratory conga number (led by Desi Arnaz and Ann Miller) at the end of the film when Pottawatomie wins the big game. Watch Lucy screw up the choreography, she very noticeably comes in early or late in every single one of the moves. However, Van’s role in Too Many Girls did not lead to any big breaks. Disenchanted, he was ready to return to New York and back to Broadway where he had experienced more success.
However, before Van left for New York City, he had lunch with Lucy at Los Angeles’ famed Chasen restaurant. She introduced him to MGM’s casting director who just happened to be sitting at a nearby table. This led to a series of screen tests at many of the big studios. He ended up scoring a $300/week ($5452/week in 2022) contract at Warner Brothers. Van made his debut as a leading man in 1942’s Murder in the Big House opposite Faye Emerson. Unfortunately for Van, this contract did not lead to big success at Warner Brothers and his contract was dropped after six months.
Eventually Van was signed to MGM where his friend, Lucille Ball, had recently signed with after leaving RKO. Van’s big break was in the 1943 film, A Guy Named Joe, which starred Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne. During production, Van was in a car accident which left him with a metal plate in his forehead and numerous scars on his face. For most of his career, Van would hide his scars under heavy makeup. However, in 1954’s The Caine Mutiny, he opted to not wear the heavy makeup. His large forehead scar is prominently displayed in that film. MGM wanted to replace Van in A Guy Named Joe, but Tracy advocated for him. Thanks to Tracy, Van became a star after their film was a big success at the box office.
Van continued to appear in one hit film after another. In 1946, Van appeared with his friend Lucy in Easy to Wed, a remake of the 1936 hit, Libeled Lady. Van took on the role of Bill Chandler, which was played by William Powell in the original film. Keenan Wynn, Lucille Ball and Esther Williams take on the roles played by Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, and Myrna Loy, respectively. Bill Chandler is hired by Warren Haggerty (Wynn) to marry his girlfriend Gladys (Lucy) and then romance and woo Connie Allenbury (Williams), a socialite who is suing Warren’s newspaper for a large sum of money after they publish a false story about Connie being a homewrecker. To save the newspaper from financial ruin, Warren wants Gladys to charge Connie with alienation of affection after word gets about Connie’s romance with her husband, Bill. Curiously enough, perhaps in an instance of life imitating art, Keenan Wynn’s wife, Evie, married Van Johnson on THE DAY (!) of their divorce.
Easy to Wed is not nearly as good as Libeled Lady, but it is amusing. Lucille Ball is definitely the highlight and steps into Harlow’s shoes very well. Van asserts himself nicely as the straight man and is good at portraying the All-American young man. In the late 1940s and 1950s, Van continued to appear in films in every genre from war to film noir to musicals to comedy. At the time of his 1955 appearance in I Love Lucy, Van was at the height of his fame. In one of the episodes of I Love Lucy leading up to the big cross-country drive, Lucy asks her friend Marion Strong if she’d like Lucy to give a message to “the gang.” “The Gang” being Clark (Gable), Cary (Grant), or Van (Johnson), or Marlon (Brando)?” Later while the Ricardos are celebrating their wedding anniversary in Hollywood, Ricky name-drops Van and his wife Evie to a Hollywood newspaper about a (fake) party he’s throwing at the Mocambo. Van continued to appear in films and television. In 1968, he appeared in another film with Lucille Ball, Yours, Mine and Ours. Desilu had purchased the rights to the story in 1967, right before Lucy sold the studio to Paramount. Desilu had been founded in 1950 by Lucy and Desi. Desi retired in 1962 and sold his shares to Lucy.
Van’s role in Yours, Mine and Ours is fun. He appears as Darrell Harrison, a fellow officer who works with and is friends with Frank Beardsley, played by Henry Fonda. Lucy appears as Helen North, a nurse who works in the dispensary at the base. Darrell thinks that Frank and Helen are perfect for one another, the only hitch being that Frank has 10 children and Helen has 8. To prove his point, he fixes Frank up with a young Hippie woman who is half Frank’s age and is very sexually aggressive. Frank is more modest and finds her sexual appetite off-putting. Darrell then fixes Helen up with a doctor who specializes in obstetrics and is at least half a foot shorter than she is. Darrell effortlessly brings the two characters together. For much of the rest of the film, he is used for comic relief and is delightful.
Van continued to work with Lucy. He appeared as himself during the first season of her third sitcom, Here’s Lucy, in 1968. In the episode, Van plays himself and plays a Van Johnson doppelganger. In the episode, the Van Johnson doppelganger and Lucy (as Lucy Carter), talk about Yours, Mine and Ours. The fake Van Johnson, imitating the real Van Johnson, says that he loved working with the “kooky redhead.” Lucy Carter says that she thought that she (Lucille Ball) was much too young for Henry Fonda. Later, Lucy Carter compliments the real Van Johnson on his appearance in The Romance of Rosy Ridge, which was the film debut of Janet Leigh. Eventually, Lucy remarks that she was glad Van was court-martialed in The Caine Mutiny after he refuses to go along with her schemes.
Van and Lucy continued to appear in various specials together and remained friends. After Ball’s passing in 1989, Van continued to give interviews and appear in various documentaries and retrospectives about Lucy and Desi. He was one of the interviewees in PBS’ American Masters episode about Lucille Ball, “Finding Lucy.” It is apparent that Lucy, Desi, and Van all held each other in great esteem. It is obvious through their professional and personal collaborations and the way in which Van continued to talk about his friends long after their respective passings. Van Johnson passed away in 2008 and it is nice to think that he is now back with his friends.
“They (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) were soulmates. They knew it. The whole world did.”
“I am the luckiest guy in the world. All my dreams came true. I was in a wonderful business and I met a lot of great people all over the world.”
I have to admit that I don’t know a lot about Roger Corman. What I do know about him, is that he is very prolific and very influential. He was instrumental in producing and directing a lot of American International Pictures’ (AIP) best campy horror films, often starring Vincent Price. Other horror icons, such as Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone also turned up in AIP’s horror films, with Price in the lead and Corman at the helm. In the 1960s, Cormon and Price brought seven different Edgar Allan Poe tales to the big screen. One of these films, is the very campy adaptation of Poe’s 1845 poem, “The Raven.”
The film opens as Poe’s poem does:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary.
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping.
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door.
Only this and nothing more.”
Edgar Allan Poe “The Raven” (1845), recited by Vincent Price in “The Raven” (1963)
The film takes place at the turn of the 16th century in 1506. Vincent Price’s character, sorcerer Dr. Erasmus Craven is mourning the death of his wife Lenore. She has been gone for over two years, and Erasmus’ daughter, Estelle (Olive Sturgess) wishes that her father would move on. One evening, Erasmus is visited by Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre), a wizard, who has been transformed into a raven. Dr. Bedlo begs Erasmus to help him transform back into his normal form. He gives Erasmus a simple list of ingredients: dried bat’s blood, jellied spiders, chain links from a gallow’s bird, rabbit’s lard, dead man’s hair, just your normal run-of-the-mill pantry staples. Erasmus looks at Dr. Bedlo in disgust.
ERASMUS: “No, we don’t keep those things in the house. We’re vegetarians. DR. BEDLO: “And that calls himself a magician. Honestly, this is too much!”
Vincent Price as Dr. Erasmus Craven and Peter Lorre as Dr. Bedlo in “The Raven” (1963)
Erasmus ends up taking Dr. Bedlo down to his deceased father’s laboratory–a laboratory that has sat unused for over 20 years. As Dr. Bedlo waits patiently, Erasmus looks through his father’s old chemicals. This scene allows for the seemingly squeamish Erasmus to come across ingredients that are either repulsive (e.g. a box of eyeballs), and other funny ingredients that Dr. Bedlo scoffs at, as they don’t belong in his recipe. Eventually Erasmus ends up finding all the ingredients and concocts a very powerful looking potion. Dr. Bedlo, still in his raven-form, drinks the potion excitedly. However, Erasmus didn’t make enough and the potion only takes effect part-way. Dr. Bedlo only semi-transforms back into his normal form. It is in this scene where we get the delightful imagery of Peter Lorre wearing a raven costume. He has a human head and a bird body.
Dr. Bedlo implores Erasmus to make more potion so he can complete his transformation. However, the two men discover that they have run out of a crucial ingredient–dead man’s hair. There’s only one thing to do of course–go to the cemetery and get more hair. Eventually Dr. Bedlo is transformed into his normal form. He then explains to Erasmus that he was initially transformed by Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff) in an unfair duel. Dr. Bedlo also tells Erasmus that he saw the ghost of Lenore (Hazel Court). Intrigued, Erasmus and Dr. Bedlo set off for Scarabus’ castle, with Estelle and Bedlo’s son, Rexford (Jack Nicholson). It is at this point when we can laugh at the idea of Jack Nicholson being Peter Lorre’s son.
The gang arrive at Scarabus’ castle. After a variety of mishaps and revelations, the visit culminates with an amazing magic fight between Erasmus and Scarabus. The scene of Vincent Price and Boris Karloff fighting each other with magic, using 1963 special effects, makes the film worth the watch.
This film is so ridiculous. It is very funny and very campy. Do not go into this movie expecting something revelatory. Go into it expecting the absurd. Just go with whatever happens and you will not be disappointed. I absolutely love Vincent Price’s voice. He recites a few passages from Poe’s poem and it is mesmerizing. I wish he were around today to record audio books. He could make any story sound ominous and compelling. Can you imagine if Price had read something like “Little Women” or “The Great Gatsby” ? Peter Lorre also provides the dialogue for the raven. I love that it is just him talking and not someone trying to impersonate a bird’s voice. Lorre has some pretty funny lines.
ERASMUS: “Shall I ever see the rare and radiant Lenore again?” DR. BEDLO (in raven form): “How the hell should I know?”
Vincent Price as Dr. Erasmus Craven and Peter Lorre as Dr. Bedlo in “The Raven” (1963)
Boris Karloff was excellent as the villain, but I cannot help but think of The Grinch every time he speaks. He has an amazing speaking voice as well, as does Peter Lorre. These three would have made an amazing team recording audio books. It is absolutely fascinating seeing a young Jack Nicholson in this film. His trademark grin is present, but his voice is completely different. If I hadn’t known that this was Nicholson, I’m not sure that I would recognize him. He definitely evolved as an actor by the time that Chinatown (1974) rolled around.
I recommend this film to anyone who loves campy horror movies, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Edgar Allan Poe, and/or wants to see a 26-27 year old Jack Nicholson, pre-Easy Rider, pre-Chinatown… and my personal favorite, pre-Tommy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I saw this blogathon announced and saw that John Williams was mentioned as having scored Valley of the Dolls, I was intrigued. I love ‘Dolls’ and I hadn’t realized that John Williams who is famous for so many classic film scores (Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark,Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, just to name a few) also scored what I think might be the greatest movie of all time (okay, I kid. The greatest movie of all time is actually The Long, Long Trailer). I’ve seen ‘Dolls’ multiple times and hadn’t really thought of the score. I researched Williams’ participation in this film and learned that he was responsible for composing the film’s score and doing the arrangements of instrumental versions of Andre and Dory Previn’s songs. To write this blog entry, I popped my Criterion-edition blu ray into my player and focused on Williams’ score as I watched this soap opera unfold.
Valley of the Dolls opens with Dionne Warwick’s mournful rendition of “(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” playing as snow falls in slow-motion. The despondent sounding lyrics, combined with the snow, lull the viewer into some sort of trance. Warwick sings lyrics that hint at the levels of desperation our three heroines will reach during this film.
Gotta get off, gonna get Have to get off from this ride Gotta get hold, gonna get Need to get hold of my pride
“(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” written by Dory and Andre Previn, performed by Dionne Warwick
We watch Ann Welles (Barbara Parkins) arrive for her first day at work as a secretary at a theatrical agency in Manhattan. Despite some misgivings from her employer, Producer Henry Bellamy, Ann is given her first assignment: delivering contracts to Broadway star, Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) and having her sign them. As Ann arrives at the rehearsal hall, she sees up-and-comer Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) doing a show-stopping rendition of the song she is performing in Helen’s show. Ann makes her way to Helen’s dressing room and manages to get Helen’s signature on one contract. However, Ann’s visit is interrupted when Helen is made aware of Neely’s talent and how her song in the show should propel Neely to stardom. Helen is jealous and orders Neely’s song cut from her show. Nobody but Helen Lawson will be the star.
Neely is outraged that her song was cut from the show and quits. Convinced of her talent, Bellamy’s business partner, Lyon Burke, books her a gig on Joey Bishop’s variety show. Neely is a sensation and soon she’s on her way to Hollywood. Meanwhile, Ann is given a glamorous job modeling cosmetics in both television and print advertisements. Finally, another acquaintance of Ann and Neely’s, Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), a beautiful young actress with an abundance of looks, but limited talent, finds herself in a challenging situation. Jennifer falls in love with nightclub singer, Tony Polar, who lives with his sister/manager, Miriam (Lee Grant). On the surface, Miriam seems to be very controlling; but in reality, she is concealing a hereditary condition which Tony has. She is worried that 30-year old Tony’s illness, which has remained dormant until now, will soon emerge. Unfortunately, Tony’s illness is right on schedule. Soon, he is unable to walk. Jennifer and Miriam move Tony to a sanitarium so that he can receive proper care. To pay the bills, Jennifer starts making French “art films” or “nudies” as Neely snidely, calls them.
Ann and Jennifer’s storylines are fine. They have their moments, but truly the real star of this film is Neely. Neely is a complete disaster. She is my hero. After getting treated to a delightful 1960s montage of Neely getting ready for her Hollywood debut, we watch her quickly fall apart. She becomes swiftly addicted to “dolls” (i.e. barbiturates) and as an added bonus, also becomes an alcoholic. Neely cannot function without her dolls and booze. She needs them to wake up. She needs them to work. She needs them to sleep. Eventually, Neely is unemployable and finds herself divorced and walking down a seedy boulevard lamenting the constant presence of “boobies.” Neely truly hits the bottom of the barrel when she discovers that she had sex with a stranger who later steals from her.
“Boobies, Boobies, boobies. Nothin’ but boobies. Who needs ’em? I did great without ’em!”
Patty Duke as “Neely O’Hara” in “Valley of the Dolls” (1967)
“Who’s stoned? I am merely traveling incognito.”
Patty Duke as “Neely O’Hara” in “Valley of the Dolls” (1967)
Ann and Jennifer both have their misadventures with dolls as well; but neither of them have as spectacular a collapse as Neely. Ann’s battle with doll addiction lasts all of five minutes. Unfortunately for Jennifer, she receives some life-changing news and is unable to cope. Neely has an amazing scene toward the end of the film when she confronts Helen and Helen ends up with her wig in the toilet.
Throughout all of Ann, Neely, and Jennifer’s misadventures with dolls, John Williams’ score punctuates the action with the intense sound of strings. The score is somewhat jazzy to fit the vibe of the action and the era. The score used in Neely’s recollection of her treatment at the sanitarium has a horror movie vibe, which juxtaposed with the bleak surroundings, is like a horror movie within a camp classic. Jennifer’s “art film” has music which evokes visions of Paris, with its use of the stereotypical Parisian accordion type music (I am not sure how to describe it). Williams’ score in ‘Dolls’ features swelling strings and over the top arrangements that fit the soap opera that is Valley of the Dolls. Williams ended up being nominated for the 1968 Oscars for Best Scoring of Music–Adaptation or Treatment. He lost to Camelot, which I haven’t seen, but I’d like to go on the record to say that John Williams was robbed.
Gotta get off, gonna get Out of this merry-go-round Gotta get off, gonna get Need to get on where I’m bound When did I get, where did I Why am I lost as a lamb When will I know, where will I How will I learn who I am Is this a dream, am I here, where are you Tell me, when will I know, how will I know When will I know why?
“(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” written by Dory and Andre Previn, performed by Dionne Warwick
BARTENDER: “Should I call you a cab?” NEELY: “I don’t need it! I don’t need ANYBODY, I got talent, Edward. BIG talent.” NEELY: “They love me.”
With this blogathon, we had to provide the option of two films, one film produced in a year ending in an even number and another ending in an odd number. The blogathon host would then flip a coin and decide which option to assign to the author. My two films were: Walk on the Wild Side (1962) and Once a Thief (1965). I was told to write about my “even” choice. Stay tuned for my eventual entry about Once a Thief, with the beautiful Alain Delon whom I just discovered last year, thanks to guest programmer, Dana Delany on TCM!
Everyone’s favorite critic, Bosley Crowther, described Walk on the Wild Side as a “lurid, tawdry, and sleazy melodrama.” With this ringing endorsement, I knew I had to see this film! Plus, it also featured two of my faves, Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Fonda! With these two powerhouse actresses in the cast, I figured that Walk on the Wild Side, if anything, would be entertaining. I first tried to watch this film in February 2019 when my husband was in the hospital. I discovered that it was streaming on Amazon Prime. But between being tired due to trying to sleep in the uncomfortable hospital chair and then being constantly bothered by the hospital staff, and then falling asleep while trying to watch the movie, I had to give up trying to watch it. Sadly, the film dropped off Prime and I didn’t get to see it.
I finally got to see Walk on the Wild Side last year when Criterion Channel featured the film during a series they had on Jane Fonda. I was so excited to see it.
It was worth the wait.
Walk on the WildSide opens with some awesome Saul Bass-produced opening and closing credit sequences. As the opening credits are displayed, a black cat slinks its way through an urban landscape as an exciting jazz-inspired score plays. The black cat walks through the grimy neighborhood, passing broken fences, old cement pipes, rusted out plumbing and chain link. Eventually the black cat spots a white cat and picks a fight. This opening sequence is the perfect metaphor for the events that unfold in Walk on the Wild Side. The closing credits are just as fun with the black cat seen walking over a newspaper headline providing an update to the characters’ fate whom we just saw at the conclusion of the film.
Walk on the Wild Side takes place during the Great Depression. It opens with Kitty Twist (Jane Fonda) sleeping inside of a large, cement tube somewhere in rural Texas. Dove Linkhorn (Laurence Harvey), a cowboy, spots her and wakes her up. Kitty is a young woman who has spent many years as a bit of a vagabond, doing what she needs to get by. The filmmakers try to make Jane Fonda look a little rough around the edges, but despite some messy hair and baggy clothes, she still looks great. Fonda also affects a Southern drawl, much better than the one she uses in Period of Adjustment. Dove tells Kitty that he’s on his way to New Orleans. His father has died and Dove decides that this is the time to find and reunite with his lost love Hallie. He gets wind that she’s in New Orleans.
(DOVE has this completely absurd and ridiculous reminiscence about his time with Hallie. Seriously nobody would ever say this)
DOVE: “I’ll never forget the first time I met her. We went swimming together. It was at night. The way she moved in the water, like a kind of white flash. It was then I kissed her for the very first time. She gave me something I’d never known before. Something I a’int experienced since. Afterwards in the moonlight, we danced like we were celebrating a miracle. Crazy kind of dancing. We sang and shouted like it wasn’t real, as if we were in another world. Sometimes I think it never really happened to us.”
Laurence Harvey as “Dove Linkhorn” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
Kitty, not really having anywhere else to go or having anything else to do, decides to travel with Dove to New Orleans. Along the way, she shows him the ropes on hitchhiking and hopping freighters. Kitty also shows Dove the tools that women have at their disposal to get by in the world when she trades her baggy clothes in for a tight, form-hugging dress that shows off her assets to their highest potential. The ruse works and Kitty is able to get them a ride in the back of a box truck to complete the final leg of their trip. It’s obvious by this point that Kitty wants to get into Dove’s pants, but he rebuffs her every advance.
(KITTY is trying to seduce DOVE)
DOVE: “Sure I like you Kitty, but I don’t feel like foolin’.”
KITTY: “I’ll make you feel like foolin’.”
DOVE: “When I want something, I’ll ask for it!”
KITTY: “Who are you savin’ it for Dove? What’s her name?”
DOVE: “Hallie. Her name is Hallie.”
KITTY: “She’s in New Orleans?”
DOVE: “Hope so. I a’int seen her in three years.”
Jane Fonda as “Kitty Twist” and Laurence Harvey as “Dove Linkhorn” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
Upon arriving in New Orleans, Kitty and Dove stop at a small diner run by a kind Latina woman, Teresina (Anne Baxter. Yes, really. We’ll look past this for now). Kitty senses an opportunity to take advantage of Teresina’s hospitality and feigns illness after eating her meal. Teresina takes Kitty into the small bedroom behind her cafe to rest. As soon as Teresina is out of sight, Kitty loots her drawers, looking for something of value to steal. She eventually settles on Teresina’s beautiful rosary. Kitty emerges from the bedroom and she is very rude to Teresina, threatening to sue her for “poisoning” her.
(After TERESINA implies that KITTY was feigning illness while KITTY pitches a fit about being “poisoned” by TERESINA’S cooking)
KITTY: “Imagine, an innocent person walkin–“
TERESINA: “And of course, you make your living by walking.”
Jane Fonda as “Kitty Twist” and Anne Baxter as “Teresina” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
Me-ow! Kitty’s behavior at Teresina’s restaurant leads to a fight between her and Dove. As they’re leaving, Dove discovers the rosary in Kitty’s pocket and forces her to return it. They return to Teresina’s cafe and return the rosary. Kitty storms off and disappears for about half the film. As the action of the film progresses, it becomes obvious where Kitty will re-emerge. Dove’s honesty appeals to Teresina and she gives him a job at her cafe. With a place to stay and some income, Dove continues to search for Hallie. He ends up discovering that she works works at “The Doll House,” a brothel in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Now for the best part of the film–Barbara Stanwyck. My queen, Barbara Stanwyck, plays Jo, the proprietor of The Doll House. It seems that Jo discovered Hallie in New York City and brought her back to New Orleans. When Dove finds Hallie, she tells him how she came to live at The Doll House. Hallie’s story implies that she and Jo became lovers, which Hallie was receptive to because she was so lonely. Jo is very protective of Hallie, both out of a personal interest and a business interest, because Hallie is the #1 girl at The Doll House. Dove and Hallie reunite and resume their relationship, much to Jo’s chagrin.
Eventually, Kitty re-joins the film (looking amazing I might add) when she’s picked up on vagrancy charges. Jo apparently bailed her out and perhaps in repayment, Kitty becomes an employee at The Doll House. Jo then figures out that Kitty and Dove are acquainted with one another which is where Jo finds her ace in the hole. Kitty is apparently underage (which we wouldn’t know looking at her). Dove and Kitty traveled together from Texas to Louisiana. Jo sees this as an opportunity to threaten Dove, stating that she will tell authorities that he transported a minor over state lines for the purposes of immoral activity and statutory rape. However, she’ll keep quiet if Dove leaves, without Hallie. However, Jo isn’t the type to just let things go.
JO to HALLIE: “I want to know what’s going on between you and that boy. Are you in love with that Texas dirt farmer?
(After further arguing between JO and HALLIE)
JO: You may be weak, but I’m not. I’ll find your dirt farmer and that will be the end of that.”
Barbara Stanwyck as “Jo” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
This film is kind of trashy, but in all the right ways. It is not quite as trashy as one of my other faves, Valley of the Dolls, but it’s up there. Laurence Harvey has the personality of a wet mop, so there isn’t much to say about him, except that he’s miscast. Harvey is British playing a cowboy. Capucine isn’t much better. She epitomizes ice queen, which does not seem like the ideal quality for a prostitute. She seems like she’d be the type of prostitute who’d come with a big laundry list of things that they “won’t do.” Anne Baxter’s casting as a Latina is baffling. Her affected “Mexican” accent is even worse. The filmmakers could have cast someone else, like Katy Jurado, if they wanted a Latina accent. If they really wanted Baxter, I don’t think changing the character’s nationality would have made much of a difference. While I love Baxter, she has such a deliberate way of speaking, with. each. and. ev-ery. syl-a-ble. so. clear-ly. em-pha-sized. Regardless, Baxter’s miscasting just lends to the fun. That’s how I look at it.
The real stars of this film, in my opinion, are Fonda and Stanwyck–the two actresses for whom I watched this film. Fonda is excellent as the conniving young woman who does whatever she wants, takes whatever (or whomever) she wants. She doesn’t care who she hurts as long as she gets what she wants. Fonda brings a spark to her scenes with Harvey, which is desperately needed since he’s so boring. I love that she’s allowed to be a little more loose in this film as she was a bit too stiff in her earlier films like Period of Adjustment. Stanwyck is amazing and she did an excellent job as the villain of the story. She is so cruel and ruthless. Jo is a woman who is so clearly in love with her star girl, that no man, and especially not a drip like Laurence Harvey, are going to come between her and the woman she loves. Poor Barbara Stanwyck’s legless husband. He doesn’t stand a chance.
This film also features gorgeous 1960s gowns, except, oops. This movie takes place during The Great Depression. But hey, if Anne Baxter can be Mexican, then Capucine can wear 1960s Pierre Cardin couture. Sartorial anachronisms aside, Walk on the Wild Side is a great film if you enjoy a slightly trashy film. The early 1960s black and white, gritty aesthetic really makes the film. It’s a fun film to watch if you don’t take it too seriously and just go with whatever is presented on screen. I was so happy when Sony saved this film from out of print oblivion by releasing a new blu ray of the movie this past September. You better believe that I bought it.
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.
A Cry in the Night (1956). Raymond Burr, Natalie Wood, Edmond O’Brien.
Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018). A fabulous documentary on HBO Max.
The Caine Mutiny (1954). Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer.
Once a Thief (1965). Alain Delon, Ann-Margret, Van Heflin.
Walk on the Wild Side (1962). Laurence Harvey, Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter, Capucine.
Moonrise (1948). Dane Clark, Lloyd Bridges, Gail Patrick.
The Glass Wall (1953). Vittorio Gassman, Gloria Grahame.
The Big Combo (1955). Richard Conte, Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace.
Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021) The Great Gonzo, Pepe, Will Arnett.
Die Hard (1988) Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson.
Confession (1937) Kay Francis, Basil Rathbone, Ian Hunter.
Three Days of the Condor (1975) Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson.
I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) Susan Hayward, Richard Conte, Eddie Albert.
Possessed (1947) Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey
May 16th is upon us again. It’s National Classic Movie Day. Though honestly, I’m sure for many of us, EVERYDAY is National Classic Movie Day. For this year’s event, Classic Film and TV Cafe has asked us to list six favorite films, each from a different decade–starting with the 1920s through the 1970s. We were also given another option of the 1930s-1980s, but since my husband I have been trying to watch more silent films, I’m going to take the original challenge. To ease ourselves into silent films, we’ve started with the classic comedians–an obvious and easy jumping off point. Good comedy is universal and timeless. Since I’ve written about a lot of my favorite films over the years and have a tendency to be verbose and not wanting to bore everyone with yet another dissertation detailing my love for The Long Long Trailer, I’m going to try and change things up a bit by selecting some favorites that I don’t *think* I’ve talked about yet.
1920s- The Freshman (1925)
Starring: Harold Lloyd & Jobyna Ralston
Plot: Lloyd stars as “Harold Lamb,” an incoming freshman who is eager to begin his studies at Tate University. He has saved up quite a tidy sum, $485 ($7400 in 2021 dollars), to use as spending money while enrolled in college. While on the train, Harold meets Peggy (Ralston) and the two are smitten with one another. While at Tate, Harold decides that the best way to fit in is to emulate his favorite movie star, known as “The College Hero” in a series of films. Upon introducing himself to a potential friend, Harold performs The College Hero’s jig and adopting the nickname, “Speedy.” However, unbeknownst to Harold, his attempts to be cool and fit in make him the object of everyone’s jokes, especially the college bully. The students’ laughter makes Harold think that he’s fitting in and he’s unaware that he is the school laughing stock. His only true friend in the film is Peggy, his landlady’s daughter. Harold ends up trying out for the football team, but his obvious lack of athleticism does not impress the coach. The star football player, wanting to continue to make fun of Harold, convinces the coach to hire Harold as the waterboy, hereby making Harold think that he’s made the team. The star football player’s ruse may end up haunting him and the team later.
My Favorite Part: My favorite part of this film is when Harold is at the Fall Frolic in an unfinished suit. His tailor has all the pieces of the suit attached with some very loose stitches. Harold opts to wear the suit while the tailor hides behind a curtain, hoping to casually finishing sewing Harold’s suit. While Harold tries to partake in the Fall Frolic activities, his suit starts falling apart.
1930s- Alice Adams (1935)
Starring: Katharine Hepburn & Fred MacMurray
Plot: Hepburn stars as the titular Alice Adams, a young woman from the “wrong side of the tracks,” at least from Alice’s perception. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with the Adams’ home. It is a nice, clean home. It’s not fancy, but it’s functional and well-maintained. However, it is obvious that the Adamses are unhappy with their lot in life. Mr. Adams (Fred Stone) is an invalid and works as a clerk at Mr. Lamb’s (Charley Grapewin) glue factory. Mr. Lamb as been very nice and patient with Mr. Adams and his illness. However, Mrs. Adams (Ann Shoemaker) is frustrated with her husband’s lack of motivation or ambition to do anything to improve their financial situation. Alice’s brother, Walter (Frank Albertson), is a gambling addict and is unable to hold down a job. He also fraternizes with African-Americans, which at the time, was seen as unseemly (and embarrassing) behavior.
Alice is invited to a dance hosted by a wealthy peer of hers, Mildred Palmer (Evelyn Venable). Alice tries to put on airs, despite being escorted by her brother and carrying a bouquet of violets that she harvested outside. In an attempt to prove herself worthy of attending this party, she tries to impress her peers with haughty behavior and conversation, but they are not impressed and she is essentially shunned. While at the dance, she meets the wealthy Arthur Russell (MacMurray) who sees through her shtick but is nonetheless charmed. He makes it known that he wishes to see her more often and Alice, worried that he won’t be interested in her if he knew her true social standing (though he already does), tries to continue her charade.
My Favorite Part: The family dinner is hilarious and heartbreaking all at once. Alice invites Arthur to have dinner with her family. Alice hires a maid, Malena (Hattie McDaniel), to keep up the charade. Despite being blistering hot outside, the entire family dresses in formal attire. Alice plans this absurd (and very hot and heavy) meal made up of fancy delicacies, but Malena’s poor cooking skills are not up to par with the food Alice wants to serve. Malena provides the comic relief of the dinner with her unimpressed facial expressions and genuinely uncouth behavior. Poor Alice is collapsing emotionally with each and everything that goes wrong. Arthur, bless his heart, stoically carries on despite the disastrous evening.
1940s- Gilda (1946)
Starring: Rita Hayworth & Glenn Ford
Plot: Johnny Farrell (Ford) is an American gambler, newly arrived to Buenos Aires, Argentina. When the film opens, Johnny is hustling some gangsters outside during a game of craps. Johnny wins a large sum of money using loaded dice. When the gangsters discover Johnny’s ruse they are about to beat him up when Ballin Mundson (George Macready), a stranger, steps in and rescues Johnny. Ballin owns a fancy casino and brings Johnny there, but warns him not to cheat. However, once a cheater, always a cheater and Johnny is caught cheating at blackjack. After Ballin catches him cheating again, Johnny convinces him to give him a job and soon becomes the manager.
One day, Ballin comes back from a trip announcing that he’s taken a new wife, despite having only known her for a day. He takes Johnny to meet his new wife, Gilda (Hayworth), and Johnny is shocked. The smile on Gilda’s face quickly fades. It is obvious that these two know each other and have a past. What kind of past remains to be seen. Ballin assigns Johnny to be Gilda’s keeper of sorts. Gilda and Johnny have a very intense love/hate relationship. Gilda at one point says to Johnny: “I hate you so much, that I would destroy myself to take you down with me.” However, in spite of how much they say they hate each other, they’re also always about 5 minutes away from jumping into the sack with one another. To irritate Johnny and get his goat, Gilda begins cavorting with various men at all hours of the evening. Johnny has to keep intervening out of loyalty to Ballin. However, at some point, the tension between Gilda and Johnny begins to take over and they’re unable to contain themselves. Ballin observes his manager and wife’s lust for each other and takes matters into his own hands.
My Favorite Part: My absolute favorite part is Gilda’s floor-length sequin coat. But plot wise, the classic “Put the Blame on Mame” song is definitely a highlight. I also really love the scenes at Carnival. Gilda’s gaucho outfit is amazing.
1950s- His Kind of Woman (1951)
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price & Raymond Burr
Plot: Robert Mitchum plays Dan Millner, a professional gambler. At the beginning of the film, he is very much down on his luck. One night, after being ambushed by a group of thugs, he is brought to one of the more senior thugs and is offered a “too good to be true” job. For $50k, Dan has to spend a year in Mexico. Figuring that there’s got to be a catch, but also figuring that he has nothing to lose, Dan accepts a $5k advance and takes a chartered flight to the isolated Morro’s Lodge in Mexico. While on his flight, Dan meets Lenore Brent (Russell). Lenore very matter-of-factly tells Dan that she has a million dollars. Dan is attracted to her but disappointed to learn that she’s involved with another guest at the resort, famous actor Mark Cardigan (Price). While milling around the resort, Dan overhears two guests: Martin Kraft and a man by the name of Thompson (Jim “Thurston Howell III” Backus) discussing a plot that Dan suspects is related to the $50k he was offered. The two men give Dan $10k hush money and tell him that someone will be arriving soon to go over the plan with him.
Around the same time, an undercover agent from the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service shows up stating that underworld boss, Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr) is scheming to try and get back into the US. Four years prior, he’d been deported to Italy. At this point, as far as I can tell, Ferraro is planning a “Face/Off” situation where he and Dan, supposedly of similar height and build, will literally switch faces. It seems that Martin Kraft is a plastic surgeon, who is armed with some sort of anesthesia that will allow him to perform the face switching procedure. At some point, Dan is kidnapped and under duress on Ferraro’s boat and it becomes up to Mark Cardigan to head an expedition to save Dan.
My Favorite Part: The entire scene involving Mark Cardigan heading up the rescue mission. Vincent Price’s hamminess makes the scene and it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as interesting or funny without Price. Price brings some much wanted levity to the film, especially while Robert Mitchum faces the idea of having to literally have his face ripped off and switched with Raymond Burr’s. I love the scene where Mark valiantly boards a small boat, only to have it sink immediately because it’s overloaded. I love the hilarious super long (and I imagine, heavy, especially water-logged) cape that he wears while he mans the (larger) rescue boat.
1960s- Girl Happy (1965)
Starring: Elvis Presley & Shelley Fabares
Plot: Elvis plays Rusty Wells, a nightclub singer (duh) who along with the other three members of his quartet have just ended their gig at a nightclub in Chicago. They plan to travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for Spring Break before moving onto their next job. However, the nightclub owner, “Big Frank,” messes up their plans when he extends their contract and they have to cancel their trip.
At the same time, Big Frank’s 18-year old college-aged daughter, Valerie (Fabares), is also planning on traveling to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. Despite his daughter’s legal adult status, Big Frank is terrified at the idea of letting his daughter travel so far away with just her friends in tow. Rusty sees his boss’ worry, and still wanting to go to Florida, comes up with the brilliant idea of offering to chaperone Valerie. Big Frank likes the idea and offers to bankroll Rusty and his friends’ trip. While in Fort Lauderdale, Rusty struggles with keeping an Italian playboy from lusting after Valerie and maintaining a semblance of a relationship with a “good time girl” (i.e. loose girl) Deena (Mary Ann Mobley). Rusty has to keep bailing on Deena when duty calls and she quickly grows tired of him. But because it’s an Elvis movie and he has to find himself in some sort of love triangle, Deena continues to maintain an interest in Rusty throughout the entire film.
And because this is an Elvis movie and because it’s a tried and true plot with one party being hired to chaperone or hang out with (or what have you) the other. You know that they’ll fall in love and you know that the person being chaperoned will find out. Despite the formulaic Elvis movies and plotlines, I still love it. His movies are fluffy, but they’re fun. And sometimes a fun movie is all that is needed.
My Favorite Part: I love the part when Elvis dresses up in Nina Talbot’s dress to escape from Officer Jackie Coogan’s jail. Elvis had dug a large hole and burrowed himself into the jail cell so that he could save Valerie and the other women.
1970s- The Muppet Movie (1979)
Starring: Kermit the Frog & Fozzie Bear
Plot: The film opens with all of the Muppets sitting together in an auditorium, waiting to watch their film. This film shows how all the Muppets met. We meet Kermit the Frog sitting in a boat in a pond, singing “Rainbow Connection” while strumming his banjo. A talent agent (Dom Deluise) who just happens to be at the same pond, hears Kermit’s song and says that he could be a Hollywood star. I mean obviously, it’s a singing frog playing the banjo! What more could anyone want? Kermit loves the idea of making millions of people happy and sets off for Hollywood. Along the way, he meets a terrible (but awesome) stand-up comedian, Fozzie Bear. Kermit invites Fozzie to Hollywood and the two set off in Fozzie’s Studebaker. This brings about my favorite quote from the film, “A frog and a bear, seeing America.”
Along the way, Kermit and Fozzie meet Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (which includes Animal), the band’s manager, Scooter, Gonzo and his girlfriend (Camilla the Chicken), Sweetums, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, Bunsen Honeydew, and Beaker. There are a million of celebrity cameos: James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, Telly Savalas, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, and perhaps the greatest cameo of them all… ORSON WELLES.
My Favorite Part: This entire film is hilarious. But I really love the part where Kermit the Frog and Miss Peggy go out for a romantic dinner. They are greeted by a snarky and rude waiter (Steve Martin) who wears shorty shorts, offers them a straw for their bottle-capped Idaho champagne (after offering to let them smell the bottlecap, of course).
I know that I’m a couple weeks late with this one and missed the event. I also missed the Buster Keaton event. This was a very busy week/weekend for me and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the time to write this article. I had to prioritize some writing for my job (I write work procedures and other technical documentation) over my hobby writing. But I wanted to get caught up on this and my other blogathons–including finishing my Doris Day article on-time. I also have an article I want to write about an event going on amongst the Classic Film community on Twitter–PreCode April.
For the Favorite TV Show episode blogathon, I wanted to pay tribute to the late Dawn Wells. Wells passed away on December 30, 2020 from complications from COVID-19 (curse you COVID!) at the age of 82. Wells is best known as Mary Ann Summers, the young, perky Kansas farm girl castaway on Gilligan’s Island. Mary Ann was also my favorite castaway. At the beginning of the series, Mary Ann (along with The Professor) was relegated to the “And the Rest” part of the credits. Fortunately, at the behest of star, Bob Denver (Gilligan), Mary Ann and The Professor were added to the credits sequence in season two, where they remained until the end of the series. AUTHOR SIDENOTE: Seriously Gilligan’s Island theme song writers? You named 5/7 castaways by name, what’s two more castaways?
Anyway, as everyone recalls, almost every episode of Gilligan’s Island involved the castaways tying to get off the island. They often got their hopes up when a random celebrity/lookalike/character would show up on the allegedly uncharted island. Seriously, for an uncharted island, EVERYONE seemed to know where it was. I would imagine that the news of the SS Minnow’s passengers failing to return from their three-hour tour would have been Hawaiian news, if not national United States news. The passenger list includes a movie star, two multi-millionaires, and a prominent college professor. And if anything, the Skipper and Gilligan’s employer would be looking for them. And presumably, Mary Ann’s family and boyfriend, Horace Higgenbotham, would be looking for her. With all these random people coming across the uncharted island, why didn’t word get back to Hawaii?
But I digress. It’s Gilligan’s Island. It’s not supposed to make any sense. And don’t even get me started on that radio!
One such random visitor to find the uncharted island, were the Beatles-esque rock band, The Mosquitos. Apparently The Mosquitos traveled to the uncharted island to escape their fans and get some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, the island isn’t deserted like they’d hoped and they find more fans in the form of Gilligan and Mary Ann. The castaways then learn that The Mosquitos aren’t planning on leaving the island for a month. To try and force the band to leave sooner, the castaways work to make life stressful for the band, so that they’ll want to leave. The Mosquitos do leave… but merely move to the other side of the island. They’re quickly discovered by the castaways. The band then informs the gang that they’re not planning on leaving for two months.
In order to make sure that The Mosquitos don’t depart without them, the male castaways form their own band, The Gnats. They are terrible. Then, the women make their own band, The Honeybees. As is to be expected, a band featuring Ginger is much better, and Mary Ann and even Mrs. Howell (!) are adorable. The Mosquitos are charmed by the ladies. However, this plan backfires as The Mosquitos leave in a hurry and without the castaways, because they don’t want competition from The Honeybees.
Does this plot make sense? No not really. But it doesn’t matter. The Honeybees’ song, “You Need Us” is completely charming, from beginning to end. The girls look great. Ginger looks gorgeous and shows off her dancing ability. Mary Ann is adorable. Mrs. Howell is a great sport and is much better than Mr. Howell at dancing and singing.
We just won’t think about how the record player is powered, why the castaways have a record player, and why do they have so many records to play? Why do they have three matching Honeybees’ costumes? Or Mrs. Howell’s wig?
Here’s the story of a lovely lady. Who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had hair of gold, like their mother. The youngest one in curls.
It’s the story of a man named Brady, who was busy with three boys of his own. They were four men, living all together. Yet they were all alone.
Till the one day, when the lady met this fellow and they knew it was much more than a hunch. That this group must somehow form a family.
And that’s the way [they] became:
So goes the iconic opening theme song and credits sequence that not only introduces the characters, but also provides the audience with all the information they need to enjoy the show. I love The Brady Bunch. Yes, it can be corny at times and overly sappy, but for me, it treads the fine line between being charmingly sappy and obnoxiously saccharine (looking at you Full House) that purposely manipulates its audience. Yes, episodes of the Brady Bunch can have lessons, but more often than not, there are repeating motifs that “kids” of all ages (yes, adults too) can identify with. Some common motifs are: boys/men against girls/women, younger versus older, big-head syndrome, and puppy love. Despite what setbacks and challenges the characters may face, the audience knows that all will be resolved by the end of the episode.
Much of the action of the series unfolds inside the Brady residence at 4222 Clinton Way in an unnamed city. However, based on references made throughout the series, we can safely assume that the Bradys live somewhere in the sprawling Los Angeles area. It is also established that the oldest son, Greg Brady, is the “Casanova of Clinton Avenue.” The Brady Bunch’s house is a character in and of itself. Their house, both the exterior and interior is iconic. Even the layman Brady Bunch fan, even someone only remotely aware of the Brady Bunch’s existence, knows what the house looks like.
Mike Brady, the patriarch of the Brady clan, and an architect, designed the Brady’s home. Despite popular belief, they have more than one bathroom in the house. Aside from the kids’ famous Jack-and-Jill bathroom, Mike and Carol also have a bathroom in their master bedroom. Where else would Carol hang her purple shower curtain that Greg and “Raquel,” Coolidge High School’s goat mascot, rip down? Finally, I think it is safe to assume that Alice has her own bathroom attached to her bedroom. Based on the amount of Brady Bunch that I’ve watched (and it’s a lot), I believe that Alice’s room is behind the kitchen nearby the service porch.
The Brady house is well-designed and decorated. The multi-level home has a small foyer that brings guests into the Brady’s living room and dining room. The living room seems to be a more formal space as this is frequently where Mike entertains his clients, like Senor and Senorita Calderon, who later see Peter aka “Phil Packer” and Greg entertaining some girlfriends in a supposed X-rated manner at Marioni’s Pizza. This room is where Marcia entertains Davy Jones who stops by to bring Marcia a copy of his new album after he overhears her lamenting to his manager that she promised to get Davy to appear at her prom. The living room is also where Marcia meets her “dream of dreams,” Desi Arnaz Jr. The living room is not without its drama however, this is also the room where Peter accidentally breaks “mom’s favorite vase” with a basketball, despite mom having said: “don’t play ball in the house.” The living room is also where Marcia holds slumber parties until they’re disrupted by itching powder, and where kids hold their parties. It is at one of these parties when Peter learns that he does have a personality after all, and that personality is “lady killer.” This room is not without heartbreak however, aside from the sad demise of “mom’s favorite vase,” this is the room where Marcia starts bawling after the boys completely ignore her speech when she runs for Class President (against Greg).
Later, in the dining room, mom’s favorite vase endures yet another humiliation when it starts leaking all over the table after having been filled with water for some flowers. It seems that the kids’ glue job wasn’t up to snuff. The dining room also serves as the location for the kids’ house of cards contest that would determine whether the boys or the girls would receive Alice’s bounty of trading stamps. The boys wanted to use their stamps to buy a rowboat, and the girls wanted a sewing machine. In the end, Tiger runs into Greg, causing him to fall into the house of cards. The girls make good though and use the stamps to get a color television set. Presumably, this is the set that goes into the family room. Poor Alice, despite doting on the family day in and day out, never gets to eat dinner with the family. She finally gets to eat dinner with them when Mike announces that he will be making a gourmet dinner for the family. The dining room also features an entrance to the Brady’s backyard with the famous, low-maintenance (though we see Marcia cutting it with scissors in an episode) Astro-Turf lawn.
The dining room is adjacent to the Brady’s kitchen. The Brady kitchen is iconic with its orange formica countertops and avocado green appliances. There is also an awesome double oven built into a brick column. There’s also a stovetop built into the counter. Over the years, much cooking goes on in the Brady kitchen, including, but not limited to: meatloaf, the girls’ horrible breakfast, pork chops and applesauce, strawberry preserves, Mike’s gourmet dinner, Marcia’s merit badge meal, spaghetti that tastes like metal when eaten with Marcia’s one-episode braces, Brady Kid lunch assembly line, Peter’s “Straw Split Fudge Short,” and countless other meals. This room is where Alice has the last apple, the last peach, and the last banana hidden. The tulip table and chairs (that I love, by the way) is where Marcia and Greg fight over Marcia’s date with Warren Mulaney and where Jan pretends to be an only child. This is where Mike, Carol and Alice sit over coffee at the table and discuss issues regarding the children. The kitchen also features an entrance to the backyard.
Through the saloon doors and passthrough of the kitchen is the Brady den. The den is where the family watch the latest sports game, movie, or family member(s) on television. This is where the kids “Can make the World A Whole Lot Brighter” with their Brady Six act. This is the room where Alice irons and listens to her soap opera. This is also the room where the kids, seated on the plaid couches, sometimes receive lectures. One such lecture they received involved the high phone bills they were racking up. To remedy the situation (or so he thought), Mike installed a payphone in the family room. This somewhat worked until Mike found himself without a phone and without a dime needing to take a call from an important client. In the den, Marcia practices her yoga for one of the dozen clubs she joins when she starts at Westdale High. The den has the most-used entrance to the Brady’s backyard.
The backyard is where Bobby and Cindy try to break the record for longest time teeter-tottering. This is where the kids, sans Jan, practice for the potato sack race. This is where Mike and the kids refurbish and paint the “S.S. Brady” a row-boat too small for the whole family to enjoy. The backyard provides room for all the kids’ school pursuits, such as a working full-size dunking booth (you can’t say Mike and Carol don’t go all-in for their kids and their kids’ educations. Money and time are no object, apparently) Greg’s re-creation of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, and where the family puts on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” as a benefit to pay for a gift for Mrs. Whitfield, a beloved teacher who is retiring. Later, in The Brady Bunch Movie, we will again see Mrs. Whitfield who has returned to teaching, but has apparently fallen on hard times in the 1990s and is busted for stealing school supplies. The backyard is where Bobby receives his first kiss, courtesy of the potentially mumps-infested Millicent. The backyard is not completely full of mirth and whimsy however, It is also the where Jan, not wearing her glasses (they make her look “positively goofy” she says), crashes into Mike’s anniversary gift for Carol, Peter risks potential murder (via Alice) for getting mud all over the patio, Greg brings home his lemon of a car, Peter is nearly killed by a falling ladder, but pushed out of the way by Bobby (who is covered in green paint in the process), Greg loses the pull-up contest to Bobby and has to become his slave, Greg announces to his parents that he will not attend college and will instead focus on becoming “Johnny Bravo,” and finally, poor Tiger’s vacant dog-house still stands as a reminder that Tiger hasn’t been seen since Season 2.
Above the backyard are the bedrooms. The girls’ room is the room that had the shutter Greg was painting before he dangerously climbs through the window from the ladder (that comes crashing down towards Peter’s head, before Bobby pushes him out of the way and is doused with green paint) to answer the phone. The girls’ room is where a lot of tears were shed: Marcia when she was removed as Juliet from her school’s rendition of “Romeo and Juliet,” Marcia when she has to get braces, Jan when she thinks she’s ugly, and poor Cindy when she endures frequent bullying by Buddy Hinton who mocks her for having a lisp. Buddy Hinton was such a loser, aside from being a bully, he’s obviously at least a 5th-6th grader picking on a 1st grader. But looking at his parents, especially his doormat of a mother, it’s no wonder. However, the girls’ room is also one of much happiness, this is where Marcia displays all her awards, where Jan finds her lost locket after looking for “The Little Bear” and where Cindy keeps her life savings (inside her doll’s head of course) that she happily contributes when the kids decide to form a singing group.
Adjacent to the girls’ bedroom, is the famous blue Jack-and-Jill bathroom. This room causes a lot of tension between the children, definitely fueling the misconception that it is the only bathroom in the house. The girls scatter their hair ribbons all over the place, much to the boys’ chagrin. Jan locks herself in the bathroom to scrub her freckles off with a lemon. Marcia tries to impress Cindy with her beauty routine only to have Cindy inquire about brushing her teeth with braces. Jan locks herself in the bathroom to try out the wig she purchased when she decides to change her whole look–“The New Jan Brady.” The drama over the bathroom reaches a boiling point in one episode, when Mike and Carol actually consider moving to a larger house with additional bathrooms. Thankfully, they reconsider after the kids proclaim their love for the house (and haunt it for good measure) when a potential buyer comes to look at the home.
On the other side of the bathroom is the boys’ room. Peter and Bobby share a bunk bed with Greg in a single bed on the other side of the room. Unlike the girls’ room which was re-decorated at least three times, the boys’ room stayed pretty much the same (can’t lose those scary clown paintings), except when Greg moves into the attic. The boys’ room is pretty basic however. This is where Peter locks Bobby in the closet after he tires of being his slave. Greg croons “Clowns never laughed before, beanstalks never grew,” lyrics from a song he’d written during happier times before he was busted for smoking. Greg has a reality-check when he realizes that he may never be as great a pitcher as baseball great, Don Dysdale, whom he’d met earlier in the backyard. This is also where Bobby meets Joe Namath, who comes to visit the “ailing” Bobby after Cindy writes him a letter talking about her brother’s illness. This is the room where Greg wants to talk to Mike “man-to-man, not kid-to-man man-to-man but man-to-man man-to man.” This is where both Greg and Peter start shaving their one whisker.
The hallway isn’t that exciting except that it features Carol’s favorite feature: a walk-in linen closet, that she shows off briefly when giving an impromptu tour of her home to her fellow Westdale High PTA members. This closet is also located directly below Greg’s attic bedroom and the kids can hear all his secrets: such as him stashing “Raquel” in his bedroom. The hallway also has two random chairs that I don’t understand. Who is going to just sit in the hallway randomly? Get these out of here, Carol! These are taking up precious walking room.
At another end of the hall, we have Mike and Carol’s master bedroom. This room was supposedly redecorated, when a decision was being made between striped or floral wallpaper. In the end though, they painted the room teal and it seemingly looked the same as it did before? I loved the floral architectural piece behind Mike and Carol’s bed. I also loved that this show actually featured parents who seemingly had a life and some romance outside of their six children. The more “romantic” side of their relationship is hinted to when the kids make Mike and Carol a “Do Not Disturb” sign for their bedroom. Mike and Carol’s closet, supposedly divided 50/50, but probably more 70/30 in Carol’s favor, is full of Carol’s frilly nightgowns, bags to match her shoes, and the different outfits she buys (skiing outfit for the mountains, bikini for the beach, cowboy outfit for the dude ranch, red flapper dress for the Charleston contest, country dress for the square dance). Nobody can accuse this woman for not dressing appropriately for the occasion.
Upstairs, in the attic (that Mike must have somehow retrofitted from its 2′ height clearance in season 2 to being at least 7′ if not 9′ at the end of season 4), is Greg’s bedroom. Greg’s moving into the room was a contentious affair, with Marcia wanting the room as well, but ultimately Greg won out. His “bachelor pad” so to speak, is pretty sweet. Greg has a patchwork carpet, a larger bed, an old-time radio, a coat rack, a dartboard, a beaded curtain that separated a sink from his bedroom, and a globe! Greg’s room looks like what a kid might decorate his own room with if he had unlimited access to random stuff in his parents’ attic. I only wish Greg had incorporated some of the things from his previous bachelor’s pad in Mike’s den, such as the plastic flowers, the lava lamps and the mattress on the floor. The most exciting thing to happen in Greg’s attic room is when he stole Raquel the goat mascot from his rival, Coolidge High. Greg then tried to keep Raquel a secret, but everyone quickly found out.
The famous Brady stairs were the focal point for many scenes. There are many moments with kids rushing excitedly up or down the stairs. Kids hid at the top of the stairs to spy, such as the kids spying on Marcia when she meets both Davy Jones and Desi Arnaz Jr. The Kids used the stairs to scare Alice when they send a “ghost” down a zipline to scare her when she walks in the door. Bobby slides down the stair railing in an episode. The Brady cast members regularly posed on the stairs, the kids in order by age, then the adults at the end. Then, of course, lest we forget, the stairs served as the vehicle in which Peter’s basketball traveled to take out mom’s favorite vase.
At the base of the stairwell is Mike’s den. For the most part, this room remained quiet and professional (except when Greg redecorated it) as this is where Mike often worked when a deadline was looming, or when he had to re-create plans, such as when delivery boy, Greg, lost Mike’s plans after setting them down to peruse a car magazine. This room was strictly forboden to the kids, as Marcia learned when she spilled correction fluid all over the plans, during some horseplay with Jan and Cindy. Marcia was in the office writing her article for “Father of the Year.” Carol was really the only other person Mike allowed to be in the den while he was working. Alice came into the den to clean and talk to Mike and Carol. The kids only seemed to come into the den to seek some advice, like Jan did when she was stressed out about Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. Mike’s den is very classic in its decoration and lacks some of the more dated decor of the 1970s.
Behind the stairwell, I believe is Alice’s room. Her room isn’t seen often in the series, but she is seen emerging from somewhere behind the kitchen. As a live-in maid, and someone whom the Brady’s value enough to take to the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Cincinnati, and camping at Mount Claymore, it seems reasonable that she would have her own bedroom and bathroom. In the episode where Alice sprains her ankle tripping on Bobby’s Chinese Checkers (lying on the floor of the dining room), we see her in bed reading a book, All My Loves. Alice’s bedroom seems to be off-limits to the kids, except when they see her packing up her bedroom. After Mike and Carol’s marriage, Alice feels that her job is redundant, because Mike won’t need her after marrying Carol. The family puts on an elaborate ruse to show Alice how much she is needed.
Just off of Alice’s bedroom is the laundry room, or service porch. No doubt Alice’s room suffered water damage when Bobby decided to wash his suit (dirty after rescuing “Pandora,” a cat owned by the world’s worst child actress) with an entire box of Safe detergent. Speaking of Safe, the service porch must be where Carol is storing the 2000 boxes of Safe they received as payment for the commercial they filmed. The service porch isn’t seen much, but it does serve as the opulent entrance to Alice’s bedroom!
The Brady home is iconic. For fans like me, every room of the house featured some memorable moment. We experience these moments as if we also lived in the home with the family. As an oldest child (though definitely not of six), I always identified with Marcia and Greg. They were my favorite of the kids. I also could identify with the third oldest, Peter, to an extent. I loved that the kids weren’t overly goody goody like Wally and Beaver in Leave it to Beaver, and I liked that the parents were portrayed as intelligent people with lives independent of their children. Carol, while she didn’t work outside the home (though she’s a relator in A Very Brady Christmas made-for-TV movie), was shown as being part of different clubs and charities. She also had hobbies like embroidery and sculpture. I felt like the kids were well-rounded and realistic. They didn’t have annoying catchphrases like kids on 90s sitcoms had. Even if their problems were solved in 30 minutes, so what? Who wants to watch Marcia’s over-inflated ego over playing Juliet play out over multiple episodes? I would welcome an extension of the Family Night Frolics. Or any of the episodes where the kids sing. “Good Time Music,” indeed.
The Brady Bunch has always been one of my absolute favorite shows. It’s right up there with I Love Lucy and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I have seen every episode, multiple times. I own the entire series on DVD and I have the two satire films: The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel. It’s quotable, I can recognize the episodes within seconds, I love their clothes (well most of them), and I really love their house. I would live in that house today, orange formica and all. Long live The Brady Bunch!
And remember: “Mom always said, don’t play ball in the house!”
I always love to come up with ideas for Double Features. I like to pair double features with common actors, directors, genres, themes–something that ties the two films together.
TCM recently aired Shag (1989) as part of their “Women in Film” series. I’d heard of this film, but didn’t know anything about it. Being a native of the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t know that “Shag” was a dance style, native to South Carolina. After watching this film, I can say that Shag is like a polite form of dirty dancing. Lol.
After having read the synopsis of Shag, I determined that it sounded very similar to Where the Boys Are (1960), one of my favorite teen beach movies. Both films are a coming of age story for four young women traveling to the beach for vacation where they learn about love and sex. In this blog entry, I’m going to compare and contrast the two films and try to draw parallels between the two.
SETTING: 1960s American South. Where the Boys Are is contemporary 1960 America in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The southern setting isn’t as explicit as these are girls traveling south from a snowy, Northern climate. Shag takes place in 1963 in Myrtle Beach, SC. The southern culture is highly emphasized with the accents, focus on propriety, and other symbols of the South.
PLOT: The plots are similar. In both films, a group of young women are traveling to a more “fun” environment for spring break. The girls in ‘Boys’ are about a year or two older than the women in Shag. They are 19 and already in college. In Shag, the ladies are high school seniors, putting them at 17-18 years old. The ladies in ‘Boys’ are on vacation for two weeks, so they have more time to explore the beach…and the boys. There is more time for the girls in ‘Boys’ to establish a relationship with the opposite sex so that their infatuation and “love” kind of makes sense. In Shag, the ladies are on a long weekend trip and are already proclaiming their love for these boys whom they’ve just met. The girls pack a lot of action into the three days of their trip.
‘Boys’ is a little more serious, as there are no wild parties, love triangles, or dance contests. Their humorous scene at the nightclub is probably the equivalent to the wild party in Shag. Both films feature the idea of sex and whether it is okay to have sex outside of marriage. Characters in both films present opposing viewpoints on the subject. Characters in both films also have sex, but it is presented in very different environments with varying levels of consent.
However, in both films, their respective vacations prove to be pivotal experiences in their lives which will inevitably shape them for years to come.
Merritt is nearly suspended from her college for scandalizing the professor in her “Courtship & Marriage” course by offering her support for sex before marriage or “backseat bingo” as she calls it. She talks a big game about sexual freedom and not necessarily following the expected life plan for women. However, as the movie continues, it becomes apparent that Merritt might be all talk.
Carson, on the other hand, isn’t prissy or uptight, per se, she’s more concerned about doing what’s right according to society’s expectations for young women in 1963. She’s engaged to be married (I know, a high schooler engaged, but hey it happened in “Boy Meets World”) to Harley (Tyrone Power Jr.). Harley is kind of dull or as Melaina says: “A square with corners” which doesn’t really make any sense, because the very essence of a square are corners, otherwise it’d be a circle, but we get the point. Harley is dull with a capital D. However, he’s the son of a tobacco executive, so he’s loaded. Marrying Harley would ensure that Carson would be financially stable.
Harley is comparable to Merritt’s beau, Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), as he is also rich and could provide Merritt with everything she’d ever need. Ryder seems to be a little more hip than Harley however.
Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) in ‘Boys’ & Melaina (Bridget Fonda) in Shag
Melanie is Merritt’s classmate at college and has been listening to Merritt preach about pre-marital sex. She is inexperienced, but willing (to put it mildly). Merritt is Melanie’s closest friend and confidant. Melanie gets into trouble when she lets her dream of hooking up with a “Yale-ie” cloud her better judgement. Believing that a boy from Yale is somehow a better catch and that she’d somehow end up with an amazing boyfriend (maybe even husband), she realizes too late that he’s only after what she seems to be after, but isn’t really.
Melaina (Bridget Fonda) is the stereotypical promiscuous (a la Ariel in “Footloose”) preacher’s daughter. She wants nothing more than to leave their dinky town of Spartanburg, SC and move to Hollywood. Melaina is a little more wordly and experienced than Melanie, but her brazen behavior gets her into a bad situation. Melaina ultimately has her sights set on Jimmy Valentine, a local wannabe Elvis celebrity, who has connections to Hollywood that Melaina could use. When she realizes that Jimmy’s agent is the one with the REAL connections, she kicks Jimmy to the curb.
Tuggle (Paula Prentiss) in ‘Boys’ and Luanne (Page Hannah) in Shag
Tuggle makes it very clear that she’s a proper girl who does not want to have sex outside of marriage. She says she’ll remain chaste even if she has to have the local blacksmith weld her a belt. She wants to fulfill her destined female role: being married and having children. She is easily able to resist the charms of TV (Jim Hutton) and keeps him at arm’s length.
Luanne is also very prim and proper, but not so prim and proper that she’s not above lying to her parents about her and her friend’s plans for the weekend. She convinces Melaina to ditch her bikini and pseudo-strip tease (i.e. “Modern Ballet” as Melaina calls it) routine for the beauty pageant and recite Scarlett O’Hara’s famous monologue from Gone With the Wind instead. Luanne is so worried about getting caught that she’s prepared a very lengthy web of lies to cover her tracks.
However, Luanne is not above getting herself a boyfriend, even if it’s her friend’s. Thus becoming part of two interlocking love triangles.
Angie (Connie Francis) in ‘Boys’ & Caroline aka “Pudge” (Annabeth Gish) in Shag
Angie is not fat by any means (and she’s not, look at her tiny waist), but she’s curvier than her friends. She’s not ugly by any means either, but she doesn’t instantly catch the boys’ attention. Angie says that she doesn’t even have to bother lying to her parents about anything, because they just assume that she’s fine and staying out of trouble. Angie ends up attracting a young musician (Frank Gorshin), who is nice, but dense.
“Pudge” is very pretty but was an overweight teen, hence the nickname. She’s recently lost the weight, but she’s still not as svelte as her friends. It doesn’t help that they persist in calling her “Pudge.” Even Luanne’s parents refer to her as “Pudge.” So obviously this is a nickname that Caroline’s had for quite some time. Anyway, despite her weight loss, Caroline is self-conscious about her size and finds it hard to believe that anyone would be interested in her romantically.
Caroline meets a local Myrtle Beach boy, Chip. He is very nice to her and even knows how to do the Shag dance, but he friendzones her–which is a huge blow to her self esteem. Caroline and Chip also participate in one of my favorite movie themes– The dance contest.
I love 1950s-1960s teen beach movies and Where the Boys Are definitely fits the bill. It has a great cast, great setting, humorous situations, poignant situations, and it doesn’t rely on cheesy cliches. Shag, while not a 1950s-1960s teen beach movie, per se, it takes place in the 60s, so it is a more modern look at that subgenre. There aren’t really many beach scenes, but there is an amusement park scene and a dancing at the drive-thru on rollerskates scene, so what more could you want? There are also two love triangles that interlock, which I also love. And, Shag features one of my favorite teen comedy tropes: The wild forbidden teenage party featuring total destruction of the house by strangers, jungle juice, and awkward situations.
I highly recommend both Where the Boys Are and Shag. Both are guaranteed to be a fun time and a nice respite from the weariness of the day to day drudgery of life.