The Wilhelm Scream Blogathon- “Spaceballs” (1987)

I am getting this post written just under the wire. I signed up for so many events that all took place in the same week. I didn’t realize that this event was coming up so quickly. Oops. It’s only 10:00pm here on the West Coast, so I will just about make it.

The “Wilhelm Scream” is a famous sound effect, that is used so much at this point that it’s cliche. The Wilhelm Scream was first heard in the 1951 film, Distant Drums, directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Gary Cooper. The scream usually used when someone is shot and falls from a great height, or is thrown via an explosion. This sound effect has been in circulation ever since its debut in the 1950s and has been utilized in countless films and television shows. One such film that the Wilhelm Scream can be heard in is the 1980s classic, Spaceballs.

Spaceballs is Mel Brooks’ parody of primarily Star Wars, but he manages to also parody Star Trek, Alien, The Wizard of Oz, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Planet of the Apes. However, the main focus of the parody is on the original Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas in fact, loved Brooks’ screenplay so much that he helped with the film’s storyline and production. Lucas’ involvement with the project had a caveat however, no Spaceballs merchandise could be produced as it would look too similar to Lucas’ Star Wars merch. Brooks agreed. He was then inspired to add the running Spaceballs merchandise gag–which is hilarious. The Spaceballs merchandise features a wide array of products–products that usually aren’t even considered when developing movie merchandise.

The following merchandise is featured in Spaceballs:

  • Spaceballs: The T-Shirt
  • Spaceballs: The Coloring Book
  • Spaceballs: The Lunchbox
  • Spaceballs: The Breakfast Cereal (with 100% sugar!)
  • Spaceballs: The Flamethrower, “A Children’s Toy” (“Children love this toy,” Yogurt says).
  • Spaceballs: The Doll (which is a doll of Yogurt)
  • Spaceballs: The Towel
  • Spaceballs: The Plate
  • Spaceballs: The Shaving Cream
  • Spaceballs: The Toilet Paper
  • Spaceballs: The Sheet
  • Spaceballs: The Placemat
  • Spaceballs: The Wallet

Dark Helmet is also seen playing with Spaceballs action figures. It is unknown where these were procured, as Spaceballs: The Action Figures were never seen.

This part always makes me laugh. President Skroob says “Beam me up, Snotty” and when he emerges from the transporter, his head is backwards. Looking at his butt, now on his front, he says: “Why didn’t somebody tell me my ass was so big?” Lol.

Anyway, this film follows a similar plot to the original Star Wars trilogy. I am not the biggest Star Wars fan (though I inexplicably own 3 Star Wars T-Shirts), but I have seen each film in the original trilogy. While I was able to draw parallels between the main characters in Star Wars and Spaceballs, I am not even going to attempt to identify some of the more subtle homages that Mel Brooks might have included. The basic plot of Spaceballs is that planet Spaceball, led by Dark Helmet (a Darth Vader parody, played by Rick Moranis), is planning on stealing all the fresh air from the nearby planet, Druidia. It seems that President Skroob (Mel Brooks) has squandered all of planet Spaceball’s fresh air.

“What?! You went over my helmet?!”

President Skroob tells Dark Helmet to kidnap the princess of Druidia, Princess Vespa (a Princess Leia parody, portrayed by Daphne Zuniga) on her wedding day. She is planning to marry the very sleepy and dull, Prince Valium, who is always yawning and sports an unfortunate Prince Valiant haircut. With the people of Druidia distracted by the kidnapping of their princess, Dark Helmet will be able to swoop in and steal their air. The captain of Dark Helmet’s enormous ship named Spaceball One (which later changes shape into that of an enormous maid with a vacuum) is Colonel Sandurz. Dark Helmet’s plans are thwarted however, when Princess Vespa bails on her own wedding, not able to accept the idea of marrying Prince Valium. She escapes in her Mercedes spaceship with her droid assistant, Dot Matrix (a C3PO homage, voiced by Joan Rivers).

Later, Vespa’s father, King Roland (Dick Van Patten) contacts a mercenary, Lone Starr (A Hans Solo-esque Bill Pullman). Lone Starr is traveling with his “mog” (half man/half dog) companion, Barf (A Chewbacca parody played by John Candy). They drive a spaceship that looks like a Winnebago with wings. Roland offers Lone Starr and Barf money to find his daughter and return her to Druidia safely. Being a million dollars in debt to gangster Pizza the Hut (obviously Jabba the Hut or Madame Trash Heap from “Fraggle Rock” ?) and his henchman, Vinnie, Lone Starr accepts the job. Roland agrees to pay Lone Starr the million dollars if he finds Vespa.

Bill Pullman and John Candy as Lone Starr and Barf.

BARF: “I’m a mog: half man, half dog. I’m my own best friend.”

Lone Starr and Mawg quickly find Vespa and Dot Matrix and bring them aboard their ship. Of course, Vespa is a snob at the beginning, and Dot Matrix is there with her “virginity alarm” to ensure that Vespa’s virtue remains intact. It soon becomes obvious however, that Vespa and Lone Starr will end up falling for one another. The Winnebago gang are eventually forced to land on the desert planet of Vega, after running out of fuel. They try to make their way across the desert, but eventually collapse due to dehydration. They are soon rescued by the Dinks, who whistle the “Colonel Bogey” march, which I remember playing in band in the eighth grade. The group is eventually led to a large corridor. In a scene reminiscent of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the group meets The Wizard, the leader of planet Vega, a Yoda-like creature by the name of Yogurt (Mel Brooks) is revealed. He soon lets the group in on his merchandising plan for Spaceballs.

The famous Wilhelm Scream is heard in this scene.

While meeting with Yogurt, Vespa and Dot Matrix are tricked by Dark Helmet and brought to the Spaceball prison complex via the Spaceball One. To save Vespa and Dot Matrix, Lone Starr and Barf beat up a couple guards (similar to the Stormtroopers except with big round helmets) and steal their uniforms. They are able to break into the prison and rescue Vespa and Dot Matrix. On the way out, Barf finds himself in combat with the guards. This is where our Wilhelm Scream can be found. In this scene, Barf runs out of ammo and removes some piping from the wall of the ship. Using the piping, Barf reflects the gun shots back at the guards, hitting them. When the fourth guard is hit, he is thrown backward and lets out the famous Wilhelm Scream.

This film is hilarious. It doesn’t even matter if you aren’t a big sci-fi film fan (I’m not). Most people will get the film references. There are even random references to things that aren’t sci-fi. Mel Brooks has the alien from Alien singing and dancing a la Michigan J. Frog from one of my favorite Looney Tunes shorts, “One Froggy Evening.” I can see if Mel Brooks’ humor isn’t for everyone. There are parts of the film that are very crass and could be considered un-PC. I don’t care, because I love Mel Brooks. I read the reviews on Spaceballs, and there are many unfavorable opinions of this film. It just confirms what I’ve always thought: don’t let another person’s opinion influence your opinion on a film. If you like it, that’s all that matters.

This is so ridiculous, but it always makes me laugh. The alien from “Alien” pays tribute to the inimitable Michigan J. Frog.

Hello, my baby, Hello my honey, Hello my ragtime gal.
Send me a kiss by wire, baby, my heart’s on fire.
If you refuse me, honey you’ll lose me, then you’ll be left alone.
Oh baby telephone, and tell me I’m your own…..

Kayla’s Top 15 “New” Films of 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions:

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

Double Feature: Where the Boys Are (1960) & Shag (1989)

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.

Left to Right: Page Hannah, Bridget Fonda, Phoebe Cates, Annabeth Gish in “Shag”

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.

Left to Right: Paula Prentiss, Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux, and Connie Francis in “Where the Boys Are” (1960)

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.

CHARACTERS:

Merritt (Dolores Hart) ‘Boys’ & Carson (Phoebe Cates) Shag

Dolores Hart (Merritt) in “Where the Boys Are”

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.

Phoebe Cates (Carson) in “Shag.”

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

Yvette Mimieux (Melanie) in “Where the Boys Are”

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.

Bridget Fonda (Melaina) in “Shag”

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

Paula Prentiss (Tuggle) and Jim Hutton (TV) in “Where the Boys Are”

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.

Page Hannah (Luanne) & Bridget Fonda (Melaina) in “Shag.” Look at Luanne’s amazing glasses!

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

Connie Francis (Angie) in “Where the Boys Are”

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.

Annabeth Gish (Pudge) in “Shag”

“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 just like this poster, I had to work it in somehow.

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.

In Memoriam: Dame Olivia de Havilland 1916-2020

Olivia, looking amazing

Just a few weeks ago, I participated in the Olivia de Havilland blogathon, celebrating her 104th birthday on July 1. In that post, I discussed her nine films with her most frequent co-star, the gorgeous Errol Flynn. It brings me great sadness to have to write a memorial post about Olivia. Last weekend, she passed away in her sleep of natural causes in her Paris townhouse at the age of 104.

While this news is not unexpected, I cannot help but feel sorrow over Olivia’s passing. She was the last surviving major Hollywood star from the golden age. When I was growing up in the mid-80s through early-00s, many of the classic Hollywood stars were still alive. Some were even still working! While I am too young to remember the passings of Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in 1987 (I was in preschool then), and thank god I wasn’t aware of Lucille Ball at the age of 5 when she passed in 1989 (if that had happened just a few years later, or even now, I would have been devastated). I remember being in middle school when Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, Robert Mitchum, and James Stewart passed.

Olivia and sister Joan Fontaine

People like Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope were old when I was born, they were still old throughout all of my formative years. When they both died within a month of one another, I was sad as they were enduring symbols of old Hollywood, immortal as far as I was concerned. Kirk Douglas was always there. Doris Day was too. Joan Fontaine seemed like she would last forever. Shirley Temple was just a child! Surely she would be around forever. Then, there was my queen, Olivia de Havilland.

Now, they’re all gone.

It is moments like this when people start making lists of people from the Golden Age who are still alive. I cannot bring myself to make such a list. To me, that seems like bad luck. It seems like chronicling those who are blessed with longevity is just asking to have a hex placed on them. So I will refrain.

Olivia, looking fierce

Olivia de Havilland’s death represents the final door closing on the Golden Era. She was the last tangible link to this amazing period of filmmaking where everything was in its infancy, numerous techniques, camera angles, acting styles, etc. were pioneered every day during this period of great innovation. Olivia de Havilland was a woman who could recall working with people like: my boyfriend Errol Flynn, Montgomery Clift, Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, the amazing Hattie McDaniel, James Cagney, Rita Hayworth, Rosalind Russell, Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, Bette Davis… legendary Hollywood personalities who had long since passed.

Olivia had an infamous feud with her sister, Joan Fontaine. It’s a shame that the two ladies could not get along and share their respective good fortunes with one another, but that isn’t anyone’s business but Olivia and Joan’s. What was the feud about? Who knows? Both ladies must have had their reasons.

Can you imagine if What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? had been made with Olivia and Joan instead?

Olivia was also not afraid to put herself on the line to speak out about perceived injustices both she and her peers faced. In 1943, Olivia sued Warner Brothers for violating California Labor Codes. During the early days of the studio system, contract players were signed to seven-year contracts. The studios viewed actors as employees, they were no different than the cameraman, the set designer, the electricians, or the propmen. The actors would be assigned to specific projects and were expected to fulfill their end of the contract and make the film.

L to R: Hattie McDaniel, Olivia, Vivien Leigh in “Gone with the Wind.”

However, many of the performers believed that they should have a say over their projects–especially if their appearance in a film was proven to make money for the studio. Many actors, such as Bette Davis, were trying to hone their craft and also take on challenging parts. These performers didn’t want to hurt their box office clout and essentially, their marketability by taking on crappy parts. The studios believed that they were allowed to suspend actors for refusing parts. Then, after the film was completed with a different actor, the length of the production time would be added to the actor’s existing contract.

In 1943, Olivia reached the end of her 7-year contract at Warner Brothers. She was then informed that she owed them an additional 6 months time to make up for the parts she refused. Olivia sued Warner Brothers to be released from her contract and won the lawsuit! Warner Brothers tried to appeal, but lost. The California Superior Court upheld the “seven-year contract” labor ruling and named this law the “de Havilland Law,” a law that is still in place today. Even sister Joan Fontaine gave Olivia kudos stating “Hollywood owes Olivia a great deal.”

Of course, Warner Brothers, being petty, managed to get Olivia blacklisted in Hollywood for two years.

In 1945, Olivia signed a two-picture deal with Paramount. She immediately went to work on To Each Her Own.

She won the Best Actress Oscar.

Olivia as Catherine Sloper in “The Heiress.”

In 1949, Olivia made The Heiress with Montgomery Clift. I just watched this film the other day. I’d seen it once prior, but didn’t really remember much about it, except for the ending. Olivia’s performance in this film is nothing but fantastic. Her transformation from meek, proper, shy Catherine to a cynical, bitter, hardened woman is nothing short of remarkable. Not only does Olivia’s portrayal change, but her entire look, her voice, the way she carries herself, everything changes. I absolutely loved it.

Olivia won a second Best Actress Oscar for her performance in The Heiress.

In the 1950s, Olivia moved to Paris, married, had two children, and continued her film career and started appearing in the theater and on television. Her career continued until 1988 when she retired. From then on, Olivia stayed active appearing in various career and film retrospectives. As the last surviving major cast member (since 1967, with the death of Vivien Leigh) of Gone With the Wind, Olivia served as an ambassador for that film. She also received numerous accolades and honors, including being appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

Goodbye Olivia. We will miss you.

I will miss Olivia immensely. Knowing that she was still alive, healthy, and active was such a consolation–the Golden Age of Hollywood was alive and well. Now, another piece of it is gone. However, Olivia has achieved immortality. Her films, along with everyone else’s, will live on forever.

We’ll always have Paris.

The “Free For All” Blogathon–“Birds in Film”

blogathon

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

Birds Film
Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchock’s “The Birds” (1963). Don’t even get me started on why they chose to run out of the school when the birds started congregating on the jungle gym.  Stay inside! I like to think that the birds attacked the children because they were singing that annoying song.

Alfred Hitchock’s 1963 masterpiece, The Birds, tells the story of Bodega Bay, a small town near San Francisco, California that is dealing with violent and random bird attacks.  Crows are inexplicably attacking people in their homes, in phone booths, outside, anywhere.  The film never explains why the birds are attacking.  Hitchock purposely eschewed the use of music in the film.  The only sounds we hear aside from dialogue and natural sounds from the actions in the film are the sounds of the birds crowing.  Each time the birds appear onscreen, we know that another attack is about to happen.  The film ends with no resolution.  In Bodega Bay, the birds are still out there and are to be feared.

In The Birds, there are two birds featured in the film who are not to be feared–the lovebirds that Rob Taylor wants to purchase from Tippi Hedren (who doesn’t actually work at the bird shop, but is shopping for a cage for her myna bird).  People who own lovebirds typically purchase them in pairs, as a pair of lovebirds will bond for life.  A solitary lovebird who doesn’t have a constant companion will be very sad.  Owners can own just one lovebird, but they should be prepared to spend a lot of time with their bird.  In The Birds, I believe that these lovebirds represent Taylor and Hedren’s characters.

Hedren’s character is a bit of a wild woman who somewhat lives in a gilded cage.  She’s basically a rich socialite with little regard for others.  Due to her behavior and attitude, she’s somewhat trapped by her lifestyle.  The only reason she goes to Bodega Bay initially, is to use the lovebirds as a means to pursue Taylor.  She’s rich and isn’t used to not getting what she wants.  Taylor makes it clear to Hedren in the pet shop that she’s not interested in people of her type.

Lovebirds may represent the antithesis to the other birds in the film.  Birds don’t have to be evil or be killers–they can be sweet, wonderful companions for humans and other birds.  The lovebirds in The Birds demonstrate that maybe humanity and nature can restore harmony soon.

lovebirds
The lovebirds in “The Birds.” I believe these are “rosy-faced lovebirds.”

Aside from the birds in The Birds, there are other ways birds are represented in film:

COMPANIONS

  1. Iago the Scarlet Macaw parrot in Aladdin, while an evil bird, he is a wiseacre and says what’s on his mind regardless of whether he’s talking to his master, Jafar, or mocking the Sultan.
  2. Kevin in Up is a goofy bird and the comic relief of the film.  Kevin is a made-up tropical bird who helps Carl and Russell make it to Victoria Falls.  Kevin also provides the conflict of the film.  Famed aviator Charles Muntz has been looking for Kevin’s species for years.  Kevin is like many real birds in that when she (yes “she”) feels that someone is a friend, she will be kind and loyal.  However, if she senses someone is a threat, or that person was mean to her, she’ll be hostile and combative.  Also, like real birds, Kevin is very curious and gets into everything.
  3. Hedwig in the Harry Potter series is Harry Potter’s loyal owl.  She is a constant companion for Harry through all of his adventures. She would deliver Harry’s mail, but was also a faithful friend. Hedwig also demonstrated how smart and clever birds can be.
  4. Zazu in The Lion King.  Zazu is a hornbill who is not only Mufasa’s personal assistant and adviser, but he also takes care of Simba after Mufasa’s tragic death.  Zazu’s allegiance is partially out of duty to the kingdom, but I also feel that he feels a sense of loyalty to the deceased Mufasa.  Zazu also doesn’t want to see Scar in charge.
  5. Maleficent’s black crow, who I don’t believe has a name, is as evil as evil gets.  He keeps Maleficent informed on the goings on in the fairies’ cottage and is the first one to inform Maleficent of Princess Aurora’s location when he spies magic coming up through the fairies’ chimney.

iago
Iago from “Aladdin” (1992)

WISDOM

  1. Owl in Winnie the Pooh dispenses advise to Winnie the Pooh and the other residents of the Hundred Acre Woods.
  2. Scuttle in The Little Mermaid, while definitely not smart like Owl, he lives above the sea and regularly watches and interacts with the humans.  Mermaid Ariel, who desperately wants to live out of the sea meets up with Scuttle, often bringing objects from the ocean floor that she has found.  She asks Scuttle as to what the objects are.  While Scuttle is usually wrong (e.g. telling Ariel that a dinner fork is a “dinglehopper” and is used to comb her hair), he is very kind and tries to keep Ariel informed about what’s going on above the sea.

owl
“Owl” from “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”  (1977)

SYMBOLISM

  1. In The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Huston’s directorial debut and the first film noir, stars Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade.  While investigating the murder of his partner, Miles Archer, Bogart gets involved with a cast of characters who not only have something to do with Archer’s death, but who are searching for the elusive Maltese Falcon statue.  This bejeweled statue has traveled the world and is apparently worth tens of thousands of dollars.  When the statue is finally found, it is determined to be a fake.  The criminals are angry and frustrated, but seek to continue looking for it.  While holding the fake statue, a detective asks Bogart, “Heavy? What is it?” Bogart says, “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”  This faux bird represents the lack of loyalty the criminals displayed to one another during their journey.  A bird, when treated with love and kindness, can be a loyal and generous friend.  They’ll be by your side constantly and will give affection. They’ll also give you their dinner if you don’t pay attention, they want to make sure you eat.  The criminals are so shady in this film, that they don’t deserve to succeed at the end.
  2. There is much bird imagery in Psycho.  It is mostly used in the scene between Norman (Anthony Perkins) and Marion (Janet Leigh) in the motel office. The birds in these scenes foreshadow Norman’s psyche and Marion’s eventual fate. Norman has a variety of stuffed birds: everything from the predator hawk to a small songbird.  Norman mentions to Marion Crane (his eventual victim) that one of his hobbies is “stuffing things” i.e. taxidermy.  This foreshadows the fact that he’s been perhaps practicing his taxidermy skills elsewhere, like on his mother’s corpse, for example (granted she is a skeleton, but he’s been preserving her).  The birds are creepy as there are a lot of them. One could argue that the different types of birds are representative of the  characters in the film.  There is an owl and hawk, two predator birds, that are featured prominently on the wall.  Norman’s mother is a predator, her personality has completely consumed Norman’s.  There are also some small songbirds who represent Marion.  These birds would be consumed in no second flat by a predator, just like it doesn’t take long for Marion’s demise at the Bates Motel.  Birds are very fragile, just like Norman Bates’ psyche.  Women are often presented as fragile and delicate, in which a bird could represent Marion.  Norman even tells Marion that she “eats like a bird” as she picks at the bread on her sandwich.  Birds actually eat a lot, a fact which Norman even mentions to Marion.  There is so much going on in this scene that it would probably warrant its own blog entry.
  3. Birds can also represent a variety of other themes: freedom, the feeling of being trapped, evil, arrogance, and mischievousness.

psycho
Norman Bates’ office in the Bates Motel in “Psycho” (1960)

Other favorite birds of mine:

  1. Donald Duck.  Look for him in Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land (1959).  Perhaps the only good math-related movie ever made.
  2. Daffy Duck.  His “Duck Amuck” (1953) cartoon is hilarious.
  3. Woodstock from Peanuts.  He doesn’t do much except be Snoopy’s companion, but he has his moments.
  4. Roadrunner.  He says so much by saying so little “beep beep” which roughly translates to “ha ha” when said to Wile E. Coyote after successfully evading yet another trap. Why does Wile E. Coyote want to eat him so much anyway? I doubt he’s got that much meat on him.
  5. Piper from the Pixar short.  This bird is just so cute!

piper
Piper from Piper (2016) Pixar’s short film. Look at his face!

This post was inspired by my bird, Buddy, a yellow-sided green cheek conure:

buddy1
Buddy the bird, enjoying some mango!