Joan Fontaine as “Mrs. DeWinter” in Rebecca (1940)
Rebecca, based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novel of the same title, is the devastating gothic thriller that served as Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film. At the beginning of the film, a young woman (Joan Fontaine) whose first name is never learned, stops the wealthy Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) from jumping off a cliff. de Winter is a widower whose wife Rebecca perished some time earlier. Later, the young woman and Maxim meet again in the lobby of a hotel. It turns out that the young woman is a companion to an acquaintance of Maxim’s, Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates). While Mrs. Van Hopper chastises the young woman for not being more grateful of her surroundings, she and Maxim steal glances at one another. Eventually the young woman and Maxim enter a courtship and marry. Maxim brings his new bride, the new Mrs. de Winter, to his estate titled, Manderley.
Throughout the film, the new Mrs. de Winter never seems to be able to live up to the standard set by her predecessor. Rebecca de Winter was a prominent member of society, always the perfect hostess, giving the perfect party in her immaculate, ornate home. Despite having just married and presumably still in the throes of newlywed bliss, Maxim is cold to his new wife. He is condescending, such as when he tells her to “eat up, like a good girl” at dinner (ick) and makes a point of telling her what they’re doing, versus asking her if she’d like to do whatever. Mrs. de Winter always seems like a wide-eyed fish out of water in this story, never seeming confident as to what her place is in the household.
Another person in the Manderley estate who makes things difficult for Mrs. de Winter is Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), the housekeeper who took care of the home when Rebecca lived there. Mrs. Danvers almost has a fanatical obsession with Rebecca. It makes you wonder if she was actually in love with Rebecca, versus highly devoted. Mrs. Danvers is terrifying in this film. During filming, Alfred Hitchcock instructed Judith Anderson to refrain from blinking during her scenes. Her continual eye contact, combined with her black Victorian high-necked gown makes Mrs. Danvers an intimidating and frightening villain in the film.
Mrs. de Winter is portrayed as mousy and somewhat plain–a far cry from the glamorous and elegant Rebecca de Winter. Mrs. Danvers makes a point of telling her new boss about Rebecca and how she could not possibly compare. Rebecca de Winter was beautiful, accomplished in everything, popular, intelligent, basically everything that anyone could want in a person. Mrs. Danvers doesn’t hide the fact that she doesn’t think much of the new Mrs. de Winter. At one point in the film, she convinces Mrs. de Winter to dress in a replica of the last dress Rebecca wore at the last costume party she attended before her untimely death. Maxim is absolutely horrified. Oof.
Eventually, we learn the truth about Rebecca and Maxim’s relationship and it makes it even more confusing as to why Maxim is so devoted to this woman. I have to assume that part of his devotion is a response to trauma and sheer heartbreak. That’s the only explanation.
The set decoration of Manderley is fantastic. The set is a massive, cavernous, empty house. As Mrs. de Winter ambles about inside, she looks small and lost. The large set lends to her feelings of isolation and loneliness as she moves room to room and sees no one. The fireplace is larger than she is. The breakfast table looks like it’ll seat 50 people and Mrs. de Winter sits there alone. Many of the exterior shots were just models and many of the unused, but seen portions of the home are matte paintings. The cinematography and use of the matte paintings gives Manderley an eerie, yet ethereal quality. As if Mrs. de Winter is forever in a dream state.
Rebecca was Joan Fontaine’s first starring role and she is excellent. When I first saw her for the first time in The Women, I wasn’t impressed. I thought she was just this namby pampy simpering woman. Then I saw her in Rebecca where her meekness and mousy quality worked to their advantage. Mrs. de Winter is terrified of her new life. She used to be a commoner, working as an assistant to the rich, and suddenly she’s thrust into high society, expected to fill the shoes of a woman who was beloved by her society peers and who seemed to do everything perfectly. Mrs. De Winter is constantly seen with a wide-eyed look of terror, sitting with hunched shoulders, as she tries to absorb her surroundings and her new life. Her feelings of self-consciousness and anxiety leap off the screen. I feel uncomfortable on Mrs. de Winter’s behalf when she has to deal with Maxim and Mrs. Danvers. After seeing Fontaine in Rebecca, she’s now one of my favorites, especially when she plays against type in films like Ivy (1947) and Born to be Bad (1950).
During the making of Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock wanted his heroine, Mrs. de Winter, to exhibit those same uneasy qualities described above. Prior to filming, Laurence Olivier campaigned hard for his wife, Vivien Leigh, to receive the co-starring role. However, David O. Selznick didn’t think that Leigh was right for the part and refused to give her the role, instead offering it to Joan Fontaine. Olivier, apparently not above throwing a passive aggressive hissy fit, making it very clear to Fontaine that he preferred his wife for the role. Fontaine was very nervous throughout filming, partially because of Olivier’s cold treatment of her throughout filming. Hitchcock, always one to sense an opportunity, opted to use Olivier’s treatment to make Fontaine even more insecure. Hitchcock made sure to remind her of her inexperience, how much less she was being paid than the other actors, and told her that nobody liked her. Despite this treatment (or maybe because of this treatment), Fontaine ended up turning in an Oscar-nominated performance.
Rebecca has an eeriness about it. The entire film feels like a bad, yet beautiful dream. The set is exquisite as are the performances. I’ve always enjoyed the Gothic thrillers. There is something about the ornate, yet ghostly setting of Manderley, the creepy Mrs. Danvers, and the omnipresent spirit of Rebecca that gives the film a spooky, yet beautiful quality. The black and white cinematography is gorgeous and lends to the creepiness of the film.
Alfred Hitchcock is primarily known for his Hollywood films starring many of the golden age’s biggest stars. He made his American film debut in 1940 with Rebecca starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, and Judith Anderson. Rebecca was a huge success and set the tone for the next few decades. However, prior to this, Hitchcock had made a name for himself as a filmmaker in his native England.
From 1929 through 1939, Hitchcock made many remarkable and brilliant films, starring many of the era’s biggest British stars. One of his best films is The Lady Vanishes (1938), starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, and Dame Mae Whitty.
In The Lady Vanishes, Margaret Lockwood stars as Iris Henderson, a young British tourist who is vacationing in the fictional European country of Bandrika. Iris is with friends, celebrating her upcoming marriage. In fact, she is on her way back to England to marry her fiance. However, an avalanche has occurred and is blocking the railway line. Iris and all the other passengers are forced to spend the night in the hotel.
Also staying at the hotel are English cricket enthusiasts, Charters (Nauton Wayne) and Caldicott (Basil Radford), and Miss Froy (Dame Mae Whitty), a governess and music teacher who is on her way home. As Miss Froy listens to a folk singer in the street, he is strangled to death by an unknown assailant.
Later that evening, Iris hears loud, obnoxious noise coming from the room above hers. She complains to the hotel manager who investigates the loud noise. He discovers Gilbert Redman (Michael Redgrave), a musician playing a clarinet and working on transcribing the local music. Adding to the noise are the three locals who are dancing to the music that Gilbert is playing. The hotel manager throws Gilbert out of his room. To retaliate, Gilbert forces himself into Iris’ room and refuses to leave. Eventually Iris relents and asks the hotel manager to allow Gilbert back into his room.
There is an interesting scene in the hotel where Charters and Caldicott share a pair of pajamas. One man dons the pants, while the other wears the top, and the two men share a bed! This is very risque for a 1930s movie and implies a gay relationship between the two men.
The next morning, the railway is cleared and the passengers are ready to depart. As Iris walks to the train, she is hit on the head by a planter. Miss Froy, who was nearby and witnessed the incident helps Iris onto the train. On board, Iris and Miss Froy come across Charters and Caldicott, Eric Todhunter (a lawyer) and his mistress who is pretending to be “Mrs. Todhunter.” Iris ends up fainting from the concussion she probably suffered.
When Iris comes to, she finds herself sharing a compartment with Miss Froy and several strangers. Later, Iris and Miss Froy have tea together and return to the compartment. Iris ends up falling asleep. When she wakes up, Miss Froy is nowhere to be found. Iris begins asking the other passengers in the compartment as to Miss Froy’s whereabouts. The passengers deny ever having seen her.
Iris speaks with Eric Todhunter and “Mrs. Todhunter” about Miss Froy, and Eric, not wanting to draw attention to his illicit relationship with his mistress, denies having ever interacted or seen Miss Froy. Iris then ends up coming across Gilbert, who volunteers to help her find Miss Froy. Other potential witnesses, such as Charters and Caldicott, also deny having seen Miss Froy because they don’t want to miss their cricket match and fear that any acknowledgement of the woman’s existence would cause them to be late or miss the match. A brain surgeon on board, Dr. Hartz, suggests that Iris’ possible concussion might be causing her to hallucinate Miss Froy’s existence.
Despite all the gaslighting attempts, Iris is determined that something bad has happened to Miss Froy. She and Gilbert continue to investigate the train. As they get more into the mystery of Miss Froy’s whereabouts, it is obvious that something is up as they come across a bandaged man, a nun, a knife-wielding magician, and another Miss Froy!
Where did Miss Froy go? She couldn’t have just vanished!
This is such a great movie. When I saw it the first time, I was glued to the edge of my seat. What did happen to Miss Froy? What is going on. I also really liked Michael Redgrave. He reminded me very much of Errol Flynn. In fact, I could hear Errol Flynn’s voice reciting Redgrave’s dialogue. Margaret Lockwood was gorgeous and I am interested in seeing her films. She had a very short career in American films, preferring to stay in her native England. I was also very surprised that both the words “damn” and “hell” are used in their modern context in this film.
Lately, I’ve been on a Joel McCrea kick. It started when I decided to watch a Criterion that I had purchased a while back–it was a blind buy. The film? Foreign Correspondent.
Joel McCrea stars in Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940) as Johnny Jones, aka “Huntley Haverstock.” It’s 1939 and Johnny is a crime reporter at the local New York Morning Globe. His employer, Mr. Powers (Harry Davenport) is concerned about the situation in Europe and Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime’s growing power. He is searching for someone who is tough and could report the situation in Europe with a fresh take.
When Johnny arrives in London, his first assignment is to interview Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), the leader of the Universal Peace Party. He is supposed to interview Fisher at an event honoring the Dutch diplomat, Van Meer (Albert Bassermann). At the event, Johnny meets Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day).
At first, Johnny and Carol don’t get along, but as the film progresses, they fall in love. Johnny meets Van Meer through a chance encounter, enroute to the event. While at the event, Van Meer disappears and does not make his planned appearance. Later, Johnny witnesses Van Meer’s assassination and commandeers a car and chases the culprit to a windmill farm outside of Amsterdam. The car he commandeers just happens to have another reporter inside–Scott ffolliott (George Sanders).
The remainder of the film involves Johnny trying to find out the truth about Van Meer and later, trying to figure out Stephen Fisher–as it becomes clear that he isn’t what he seems.
This was a fantastic film. I absolutely loved it. It definitely was worth the blind buy. Joel McCrea is fantastic at playing an everyday guy who just seems to be fed up with everyone. He’s a very attractive man as well, which makes him even more fun to watch.
May 16th is National Classic Movie Day. And what would be better to watch during these trying times than a classic film? This year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe’s annual blogathon is devoted to the 1960s. All participants have been asked to list their favorite films of this decade.
The 1960s are an interesting time for classic film as the Production Code and Studio System were all but gone. Sandra Dee, 50s/60s teen queen, was Universal Studios’ last contract star. Most of the classic film stars of the studio system were either retired, and unfortunately, many were deceased. Some of the younger stars of that era, e.g. Doris Day and Lauren Bacall, to name a couple, were still active, but even then their stars were waning. The 1960s brought a new crop of stars: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, to name a few. Some child stars, like Natalie Wood, had successfully transitioned out of juvenile roles and into ones for adults.
This year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe has asked bloggers to name their six favorite films of the 1960s.
Without further ado:
I’m sure everyone is familiar with this film. The violent shower scene where Janet Leigh meets her demise is iconic. Norman Bates’ name is synonymous with “mommy issues.” The fictional Bates Motel is infamous. I love Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. This is probably my second favorite Hitchcock film after Rear Window. I am not a big horror movie fan, but this film is more psychological than slasher and in true Hitchcock fashion, there are even some funny, albeit, macabre parts as well.
Janet Leigh stars as Marion Crane, a secretary for a local real estate company in Phoenix. On a Friday afternoon, she meets with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), for a quickie during lunch. Their rendezvous is complicated when Sam announces that he cannot marry Marion because of debts he incurred after divorcing his first wife. Marion, disappointed, returns to work. When she arrives, her employer is in the middle of settling a large real estate deal. The client ends up giving Marion’s boss $40,000 cash as a down payment. Marion, seeing an opportunity to solve Sam’s money woes, so that they can marry, feigns a headache. Her boss, not wanting such a large sum of cash in the office over the weekend, asks Marion to deposit the cash on her way home. Marion absconds with the money instead and drives to California where Sam lives.
While enroute, there’s a fantastic scene (with Bernard Hermann’s amazing score) where Marion is driving and she imagines her boss’ conversation after he discovers that she’s stolen the money. Marion trades in her vehicle after a weird encounter with a police officer who keeps questioning her when she acts odd and suspicious after he wakes her up from a roadside nap. During a heavy rainstorm, Marion comes across a motel off the beaten path– The Bates Motel. The proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), is a little odd, but seems harmless.
Unfortunately, Marion is never seen again.
The remainder of the film deals with her sister, Lila (Vera Miles), Sam, and Detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam), trying to find out what happened to Marion. It becomes clear to all involved that Norman has a weird relationship with his mother. Lila and Arbogast decide that Mrs. Bates might hold the key to the whole mystery.
***SPOILER*** These are my favorite scenes:
Marion’s infamous shower scene
Lila tapping on the shoulder of “Mrs. Bates” and having the chair spin around only to see a skeleton wearing a wig.
“Mrs. Bates” stabbing Arbogast and him falling down the stairs.
Norman Bates’ reveal as “Mrs. Bates” That scene is funny, if anything.
The last scene featuring a close-up of Norman Bates’ face with “Mrs. Bates” providing the internal monologue. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Cape Fear (1962)
I saw this film for the first time a couple years ago. Prior to that, my only experience with Cape Fear was the Simpsons parody with Sideshow Bob assuming the Robert Mitchum role. I saw Scorsese’s 1991 remake last year and while it was okay, I preferred the original. Scorsese’s version was too graphic and gross. I liked the subtlety of the original. Cape Fear, in my opinion, is very progressive for 1962. It might be one of the first sexual thrillers. This film is terrifying and Robert Mitchum deserves all the credit for imbuing the film with the creepy and uncomfortable atmosphere present through the entire film. In Scorsese’s 1991 remake, Robert DeNiro assumes Mitchum’s role, and in my opinion, Mitchum was much more effective. DeNiro was just creepy, gross, and a complete psychopath. Mitchum, on the other hand, was creepy, but also possessed that dreamy quality (which also makes him excel in romantic roles). He was believable as a man who could charm a potential victim into spending time with him–only for her to realize his true character when it was too late. DeNiro is just a creep from the start.
The original Cape Fear takes place in contemporary 1962 Georgia. Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), has just been released from prison. He has just completed an 8-year stint after being convicted of rape. What’s interesting in this film is that Max’s crime is never explicitly stated, but is implied. After leaving prison, Max travels to the hometown of Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), a lawyer who assisted in delivering the eyewitness testimony that sealed Max’s case and got him convicted and incarcerated. Max is determined to get revenge on Sam. He promptly discovers where he lives. The remainder of the film deals with Max stalking both Sam and his family. It gets even worse when Max sets his sights on Sam’s 14-year old daughter, Nancy.
There is a terrifying scene between Max and a woman he picks up at a bar, Diane Taylor (Barrie Chase). This scene is made even more disturbing in the 1991 Scorsese version.
The highlight (and scariest part) of the film is the famous houseboat scene–parodied perfectly on The Simpsons. Sam’s family heads to their houseboat in Cape Fear, North Carolina, in an effort to lure Max. The scene between Max and Sam’s wife, Peggy (Polly Bergen) on the houseboat is so disturbing– it just gives me the willies thinking about it.
This film is fantastic and highly worth watching. I recommend watching it in the dark to get the full effect. In fact, I may watch this movie tonight in honor of National Classic Film Day.
Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968)
Full disclosure: I love The Brady Bunch. I can watch it all day long and I never tire of it. However, other family sitcoms, e.g. Full House, I can only take an episode or two at a time. Both sitcoms have overly sappy moments, both can be saccharine at times, there are lessons to be learned in each episode… so what’s the difference between the two shows? I have no idea, except the The Brady Bunch is superior.
In 1968, when Sherwood Schwartz was looking for a new project, he came across a newspaper column offering the statistic that 30% of marriages involve children from a previous marriage. He created a pilot for a series involving Mike Brady, a widower with three children, falling in love with and marrying Carol Martin, a divorcee with three children. Due to objections from the network, Carol’s marital status was made more ambiguous. Schwartz presented his pilot to all the major networks. Each network liked the project, but requested multiple changes. Then, two films about mixed families premiered– With Six You Get Eggroll (Doris Day & Brian Keith), and Yours, Mine and Ours (Lucille Ball & Henry Fonda), the latter film turning a major profit. The success of ‘Yours,’ served as the impetus for one network, ABC, to take a chance and greenlight The Brady Bunch.
Yours, Mine and Ours is based on the true story of Frank Beardsley and Helen North, two widowers who, between the two of them, have enough children to play an entire baseball game–defense and offense. They meet and marry and then try to unite their families and manage their massive household. Lucille Ball’s production company, Desilu, purchased the rights to Helen Beardsley’s (nee North) autobiography, Who Gets the Drumstick? Ball enlisted her I Love Lucy writing dream team, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh to write the screenplay. Ball, of course, would play the role of Helen North. She enlisted her friend (and former beau), Henry Fonda, to play her husband, Frank Beardsley.
Frank works in the Navy and has recently left his post on the USS Enterprise. He has taken on a new role (one that presumably keeps him at home) working as a project officer. One day, at the commissary, he meets Helen North, a nurse on the base. They have a friendly, cordial meeting. But nothing comes of it. Later, Frank and Helen reunite when Frank has to bring 12-year old daughter Louise in for an exam. Frank and Helen hit it off and decide to go out on a date. The trouble? Frank and Helen are both single parents to a large number of children. Frank has 10 children, Helen has 8.
While on the date (at a VERY crowded club), there’s a funny scene where Helen practices nonchalantly telling Frank about her 8 children. Since she’s practicing out-loud, the men around her think that she’s coming onto them. Later, there is another funny scene where her fake eyelashes (courtesy of her daughters) keep falling off and later her pinned up slip falls down (her girls also shortened her dress, making her slip too long).
Finally, the truth comes out when Frank and Helen make their respective broods known to one another. After some funny scenes with the children including a manic Lucille Ball crying/drunk scene, and a near break-up, Helen and Frank marry and then work on combining their respective households–but not without help from Frank’s buddy, Darrel (Van Johnson).
My favorite scene is when Frank is doling out bedroom and bathroom assignments. Each bedroom is assigned a letter. The bathrooms are assigned a color. The children are assigned a number, based on their position within the group of children. There’s a funny quote when one of the younger children (11/18) walks down the hallway, repeating the mantra over and over: “I’m 11, red, A.” For the record, in my house, I’m 1, red, A. My husband is 2, red, A. My sister/boarder, is 3, red, B.
I’m not usually a big fan of children-centric movies/shows or actors (which probably makes my love of The Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours, even more bewildering)–but both The Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours are free of the annoying, precocious child with a catch phrase–so that’s probably why I like them. For the record: My favorite Brady kid is Marcia (close second: Greg), and my favorite Yours, Mine and Ours child is Phillip (perhaps the Jan Brady of the Beardsley household), close second: Veronica)
For the record, these are the children in their order of rank:
Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)
I know that this is not the best movie in the world. It’s not even the best of the Gidget franchise. However, I love this movie. It’s so ridiculous in the best possible way. First of all, we’re supposed to believe that this is a continuation of 1959’s Gidget–just look past the fact that Deborah Walley (Gidget in Gidget Goes Hawaiian) looks absolutely nothing like Sandra Dee (the original Gidget in Gidget). The sequel even went as far as to film “flashbacks” of scenes from the first film, with Walley wearing some of Dee’s costumes! Gidget’s parents in the second film–Carl Reiner as Russ and Jeff Donnell as Dorothy, are completely different. Arthur O’Connell and Mary LaRoche assumed the roles in the Dee film. In the first film, only the surfer boys refer to Gidget by her nickname. Gidget’s parents refer to her by another nickname, “Francie,” based on her real name: Frances. In the second film, everyone calls Gidget by her nickname. The one constant in both films? And really the only constant that even matters? James Darren’s Jeff “Moondoggie” Matthews.
In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Gidget and Jeff are still together. At the end of the first film, Gidget turns 17 and is entering her senior year of high school. Jeff is a college student, who is on summer break and planning to return to school in the fall. We can assume that Jeff is either a year or two older than Gidget. In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, the timeline is a little fuzzy. Presumably, this is a year or so after Gidget, based on the fact that Jeff is on summer vacation, returning to college again in the fall. At this point, Gidget is presumably at least 18, and perhaps Jeff is 20-21 (He’s still in college in 1963’s Gidget Goes to Rome. Super senior? Pursuing a MA?) He gives Gidget his pin at the beginning of the film, something that he did at the end of the Dee film. Is this a continuity error? I’m not sure. I choose to believe that perhaps Jeff got another pin and is giving it to Gidget. I really don’t know. Regardless, in Gidget’s world, Jeff has just proposed marriage, and they’re basically engaged now.
After an idyllic summer of surfing, bonfires on the beach and romantic dates, Gidget and Jeff reach their last two weeks of vacation together, before Jeff has to leave for school. Then Gidget’s dad drops a bombshell–he’s booked a two-week trip to Hawaii for the family. Most people would be ecstatic at this news, but not Gidget. She’s devastated, as two weeks is all she and Jeff have left together until he leaves for school. Her father is understandably both upset and bewildered at Gidget’s unhappiness. Gidget tries to get sympathy from Jeff, and he tells her that this trip is an opportunity of a lifetime (because it is) and that she’d be nuts not to go. Gidget, because she’s bonkers, takes Jeff’s encouragement as a sign that he’s indifferent to her leaving or not, gets mad, and breaks up with him. Meanwhile, Gidget’s parents have decided to turn their family trip into a romantic trip and cancel Gidget’s adjoining room. Gidget then announces that she’s coming on the trip after all, and her parents scramble to re-book her room. Her adjoining room is gone, but they’re able to book her a single room down the hall. Gidget and her family are on their way to Hawaii.
While on the plane, Gidget and her parents become acquainted with another family on board–Monty (Eddie Foy, Jr.) and Mitzi (Peggy Cass) Stewart and their daughter Abby (Vicki Trickett). Abby and Gidget are the same age. While seated on the plane together, Gidget and Abby get to talking. Gidget bares her soul to Abby about Jeff and how lost she is without him. The whole group is staying at the same Hawaiian hotel together. While at the hotel, Gidget and Abby meet Eddie Horner (Michael Callan), a dancer who is appearing at the hotel. The girls, Eddie and his friends all spend time together during the trip.
Gidget is miserable during the beginning of the trip. She just sits and mopes in the hotel, refusing to take in the sights of Hawaii. Her parents are understandably concerned. Gidget’s dad arranges to have Jeff fly to Hawaii as a surprise for Gidget. Between Gidget’s moping and Jeff’s arrival in Hawaii, she comes out of her shell and quickly wins over Eddie and the guys. Abby is jealous of Gidget’s popularity and appeal to the boys and quickly resents her.
I really like this film because it’s fun and has amusing moments. I do feel bad for Deborah Walley–only because I feel the costume team did her a real disservice. Gidget is presumably at least 18, but is dressed like she’s 12. Walley is not chubby by any means, but her tight, short waisted, twee dresses greatly undermine her figure. She looks best in her swimwear and when Gidget imagines that she’s a streetwalker. I also don’t know what’s up with the half up, half down hairstyle she sports–it’s not appealing. But I’ve seen it on other women during the early 60s, so I’ll assume that it was the style.
Where the Boys Are (1960)
If there’s one thing I love, it’s teen beach movies. I love all of them: Gidget, Beach Party, everything. One of the best films of this genre is Where the Boys Are. This film has more in common with the coming of age story in Gidget (1959) and less with the wackniess of the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies. Much like Gidget, this film is progressive in its discussion of not only teenage sexuality, but the sexuality of young, unmarried, women. Where the Boys Are tells the story of four young college women (Freshmen) who travel to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a two week spring vacation.
Merritt Andrews (Dolores Hart) is a young woman who talks a good game when it comes to young women being free to date, makeout and have sex (aka “backseat bingo”) with whomever she wants. This progressive attitude of course scandalizes the professor of the “Courtship and Marriage” class. It is obvious that the four main characters in the film attend an all-female university. Merritt’s outspoken views have her kept under close watch by the school’s dean. At the conclusion of the school day, Merritt and her friends Melanie Tolman (Yvette Mimimeux), Tuggle Carpenter (Paula Prentiss), and Angie NoLastName (Connie Francis) set off for Fort Lauderdale.
While on the road, the girls come across TV Thompson (Jim Hutton) who is looking to hitch a ride to Florida. After being impressed by his height and shoe size, Tuggle (who stands 5’10.5 and desperately seeks a taller man) invites him into the car. They arrive in Florida and check into their apartment. As the events of the film unfold, it becomes apparent that each girl has a different viewpoint when it comes to sex.
MERRITT: Outspoken advocate of pre-marital sex. Talks a good game, but might not be as experienced and confident as she lets on. She meets Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), a senior at Brown University. He’s wealthy and his intelligence is on-par with Merritt’s. It becomes clear that he probably actually has the experience that Merritt talks about and it seems that he may have been led on by her at first.
TUGGLE: Strives to become a wife and mother “the chaste way,” she says. Tuggle believes that her height and build has her destined to become the mother to multiple children. She is more traditional and doesn’t particularly share Merritt’s opinion about sex. She wants to meet a man, marry and then have sex after marriage. TV ends up becoming her beau throughout the film and at first seems to be upset about her wanting to be a “good girl.” However, TV seems like a good guy.
MELANIE: She’s insecure about her lack of experience and takes Merritt’s outspoken views to heart. Her main goal while in Florida is to meet a “Yale-ie” and lose her virginity. Unfortunately for Melanie, she might be dealt the worst hand in this film. She meets a couple Yale-ies in the film.
ANGIE: Angie is your classic tomboy. She’s a pretty girl, but isn’t tall like Tuggle, or blonde like Melanie and Merritt. She’s short and brunette and a little curvier than the other girls. Angie is the captain of her school’s field hockey team. Nobody worries what Angie is doing on vacation or while at school. It is implied that everyone just assumes that Angie won’t have to worry about pressure to have premarital sex. The one asset Angie does have is that she has a killer voice. Her voice attracts the attention of Basil (Frank Gorshin) a didactic jazz musician.
This film has some very funny scenes such as at the club when the gang watches Lola Fandango (Barbara Nichols) perform an Esther Williams-esque underwater number; and when Angie and Merritt attempt to save money by ordering hot water (and dipping in their own contraband tea bag) at a restaurant. I also love the scenes showing the mob at the beach and in their hotel room (the girls end up sharing their 2-bed room with 7 other girls). There are also some very serious scenes as well as some sweet ones.
This is an excellent film for anyone who loves coming of age stories, teen beach movies, or movies with killer title theme songs.
Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Last but not least, one of my other favorite films of the 1960s is the cult classic, Valley of the Dolls. This film is so ridiculous in all the best ways possible. Prior to watching this film, I was unaware that “dolls” was a term for pills. I always thought that the “dolls” in the title referred to the women in the film. Oh how I was wrong.
This movie is amazing. Everyone in this film has a million problems. The most sane person is probably Susan Hayward’s Helen Lawson, and even she’s a piece of work. Based on Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 novel of the same name, this film tells the story of Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) a recent college graduate who takes a job as a secretary at a theatrical agency. Their number one client is Helen Lawson–an aging, and cutthroat Broadway star. Helen is appearing in a new show, which is featuring a young ingenue, Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke). Neely is very talented and Helen fears that Neely will overshadow her performance. In an effort to get Neely to quit the show, Helen orders for all of Neely’s best scenes, including her big musical number, cut. The ruse works and Neely is out. Anne is immediately disheartened with show-biz after witnessing Helen’s cruel behavior toward Neely, but is convinced by her employer to not quit and stay with the company.
Anne and Neely befriend another young woman, Jennifer North (Sharon Tate). Jennifer is gorgeous, but her talent is limited. Neely’s agent at the theatrical agency (which employs Anne) lands her an appearance on a telethon, which leads to a nightclub gig, and so-on. The audience is treated to an amazing 1960s montage of Neely’s rise to success. Neely is offered a Hollywood contract and off she goes. Unfortunately, the pressure of the business and instant success gets the best of Neely and soon she’s a glorious, alcoholic, doll-addicted disaster. In all honesty, Neely’s complete collapse and self-destruction is the highlight of the film. I know it’s campy, over-the-top, and absolutely absurd, but I love it. Neely O’Hara was my hero in this film. One particular highlight is when a drunk, drugged out of her gourd Neely goes to a bar. She plays her own song on the jukebox and plays the “don’t you know who I am?” card. Nobody knows who she is because she’s a shell of her former self.
Unfortunately, the other two ladies, Anne and Jennifer, don’t fare much better, though Anne’s plight lasts all of 5 minutes. I wish she’d self-destructed a little bit more.
The absolute best part of the entire film is the showdown between Neely and Helen. It is amazing and one of my all-time favorite movie scenes. I absolutely love this movie from start to finish. It is worthy of its status as one of the all-time best campy, cult films. Lee Grant has an appearance as the sister to Jennifer’s beau. Dionne Warwick sings the very melancholy theme song.
Now I want to watch this movie. Valley of the Dolls / Cape Fear double feature? Is that weird?
Once again I’ve fallen off the posting train. I need to make it more of a habit, but I struggle to find time. Then, I had trouble with my WordPress account and I couldn’t post. I finally got that fixed. I didn’t want to miss posting on National Classic Movie Day. I also plan to post about the late, great Doris Day soon.
For this year’s National Classic Movie Day, the Classic Film and TV Cafe are asking participants to post his or her top 5 favorite films from the 1950s.
Without further adieu, here are mine:
The Long, Long Trailer (1954)
This is my absolute favorite movie of all time. I have probably seen it a hundred times (no exaggeration). I’m a big fan of I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball. The Long, Long Trailer is basically a 90-minute I Love Lucy episode. Ball and Desi Arnaz’ (aka Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy)character’s first names in ‘Trailer’ are very similar to those of their Ricardo counterparts– Tacy and Nicky, respectively. This MGM comedy is hilarious and I never tire of it, even though I’m at the point where I can recite the dialogue. Quotes from this film regularly make it into everyday conversations I have with friends and family (only those who have seen this film of course). My favorite quote to use, while driving, is “Turn right here, left.”
The Long, Long Trailer tells the story of Tacy and Nicky Collini, newlyweds who are embarking on a road-trip for their honeymoon: Los Angeles to Colorado. The Collinis decide to purchase a 40′ New Moon trailer for their journey. The film depicts the Collinis trying to handle trailer life and all the trials and tribulations that come with it: noisy trailer parks, parking on uneven surfaces, getting stuck in the mud, spending the night on a noisy highway, weight limits, cooking, parking, backing in, and more. Will the newlyweds’ marriage survive the trip?
My favorite part of the movie is when Tacy and Nicky decide to go off-roading and end up stuck in the mud. The trailer is all whopperjawed. Tacy and Nicky get through dinner and go to bed. Nicky is on the downhill side. He has no issues getting into bed. Tacy on the other hand, is on the uphill side and can’t stay in bed. One may ask why she doesn’t make her husband move over and she can share his bed. Well that would be the logical solution, but since this is Lucy, that isn’t going to happen. After a couple of feeble attempts to get into bed, the jack holding the trailer up (kind of) collapses in the mud and Tacy goes flying out the door. Nicky, awoken by his wife’s blood-curdling scream, comes to the door and says: “What’s the matter honey? Can’t you sleep?” While sitting in a 5′ deep mud puddle, Tacy gives him a look that could only convey “[expletive] you.”
I’ve mentioned Gidget many times on this blog, but it’s worth mentioning again. I love this movie. I’ve seen it dozens of times and I never tire of it. Sandra Dee is adorable. James Darren is hunky. The story is relatable. Gidget was the start of the 1950s-1960s teen surf movie craze and I’m all in for teen surf movies. Of all the teen surf movies (the ‘Beach Party’ films, For Those Who Think Young, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, etc.) the original Gidget film is the best.
In this coming of age story, Sandra Dee plays the titular character, Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, a seventeen year old tomboy who is uneasy about her girlfriends’ new hobby: manhunting. Frances is more interested in snorkeling than finding a boyfriend. Her friends on the other hand, act like they’ll be old maids if they aren’t “pinned” by the end of the summer aka the beginning of their senior year of high school. The girls (except Frances) try posturing and flaunting themselves in front of a group of male surfers, but fail to catch their attention. Frances clumsily tries to play along, but gets frustrated and goes snorkeling instead. Her friends ditch her. Frances, swimming in the ocean, gets stuck in kelp.
In the first of a couple kelp episodes, Frances is saved by one of the surfer boys, “Moondoggie,” played by James Darren. Frances is infatuated with him from the get-go. And frankly, who wouldn’t be? Frances is nicknamed “Gidget” by the boys (a portmanteau of “girl” and “midget”). She also takes an interest in surfing and is soon hanging out with the boys everyday. Her surfing skills steadily improve and pretty soon, she’s good enough to really “hang” with the boys. Throughout all the surfing scenes, Gidget and Moondoggie grow closer, culminating with a kiss at the luau. However, Gidget’s awkwardness threatens to keep them apart.
My favorite part of this film is probably Moondoggie serenading Gidget at the luau and planting the kiss on her. I also love the scene with the fight at Kahuna’s beach shack and the elderly neighbor’s witness statement to the police: “When I saw that other one (Moondoggie) run in there (the beach shack). I knew there’d be trouble. I can spot trouble through a crack in the blinds.”
All About Eve (1950)
One of the best known classics in Hollywood, I never tire of this film. The cast. The dialogue. The story. Everything about this film is perfect–except Thelma Ritter’s abrupt exit during the first half of the film. What happened to Birdie? She went to get the guest’s coat and never came back! This story is timeless, even in real life. No matter how great and indispensable you think you may be, there’s always someone waiting in the wings who is better than you are.
All About Eve begins at the Sarah Siddons Award ceremony. Rising star Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is slated to receive the prestigious Sarah Siddons award, the highest honor given to persons in the theater community. As acerbic critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) introduces the cast of characters, us as the audience knows that there is a story behind Eve’s rise to stardom. Huge star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) looks like she wants to shoot Eve. The playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) and director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) of Eve’s award-winning play do not look proud or happy in the slightest. Lloyd’s wife, Karen (Celeste Holm) takes over the narration and lets the audience in on the true story about Eve Harrington.
On a rainy night, after another performance of Margo’s hit play, “Aged in Wood,” Karen comes across Eve, a young woman she’s repeatedly spotted waiting outside the backstage exit. Thinking she’s doing the young woman a favor, Karen invites the young woman inside to meet her idol, Margo Channing. Little does Karen know what lurks ahead. As the story progresses, we see Eve slowly insinuate herself into Margo’s personal and professional life. Perhaps this is why Birdie disappears! Eve’s goal is to star in Lloyd’s next play, Footsteps on the Ceiling.
What I love about this film is how slowly Eve’s scheme unfolds. It is not obvious that Eve is taking over Margo’s life. It’s only through the music, Birdie’s “I told you so” face, and Margo’s growing frustration that we figure out what Eve is doing. As Eve gets away with more and more, the more brazen she becomes–such as calling Lloyd to her apartment in the middle of the night. My favorite part of the film is Addison’s take-down of Eve and Eve’s comeuppance at the end when she meets #1 fan, Phoebe (Barbara Bates).
Pillow Talk (1959)
Starring the recently departed Doris Day, this film is her first of three films with co-star Rock Hudson. Of their three films together, the others being Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964), Pillow Talk is my favorite. I love the catchy theme song, Doris and Rock’s undeniable chemistry, Tony Randall, and Doris’ gorgeous wardrobe. The film is funny, romantic and a little sexy.
In Pillow Talk, Doris stars as Jan Morrow, an interior decorator. She’s a successful career woman who’s driven up the wall by the romantic escapades of her party line partner Brad Allen, played by Rock Hudson. Tony Randall portrays Jonathan Forbes, a mutual friend of Jan and Brad’s. Jan and Brad bicker constantly on the party line. Jan tries to offer a compromise over the use of the line, but Brad is unwilling to participate. Jan ends up (unsuccessfully) filing a complaint against Brad with the phone company.
One night, Brad and Jan just happen to be at the same nightclub. Brad sees her and learns her name, figuring out that she’s the one who he bickers with on the party line. He concocts the fake persona of “Rex Stetson” a Texas cattle rancher. Using a Texas drawl, Rex successfully picks up Jan and takes her home. Soon they are seeing each other regularly. Jan finds herself falling for “Rex.” Brad/Rex finds himself falling for Jan.
My favorite part of this film is watching 6’5 Rock Hudson try to squeeze himself into a tiny sports car, Jan’s maid Alma (Thelma Ritter) drinking Hudson under the table, and every scene with Tony Randall. He is hilarious. Pillow Talk set the pace for the sexy 1960s sex comedies. Watch 2003’s Down With Love (with Renee Zelwegger and Ewan McGregor) for a fun send-up of Pillow Talk and the other sex comedy tropes.
Rear Window (1954)
This is my favorite Hitchock film. Everything about this film is fantastic: the story, the dialogue, the cast, the sets, everything. I absolutely love the set of this film. Hitchcock’s courtyard set is amazing. The attention to detail is fantastic. I love how the other neighbors all have storylines, even though they never set foot in James Stewart’s apartment. Miss Torso, Miss Lonelyhearts, The Songwriter, all the neighbors are fantastic. The only fault in this film is the cheesy way the ending looks, but I’ll chalk that up to 1950s technology.
In Rear Window, James Stewart plays photographer LB “Jeff” Jeffries, who is homebound after breaking his leg. He is bored and spends most of his days watching the goings on of his neighbors in the courtyard. He devises names for the neighbors and keeps up on their lives. One neighbor in particular, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), catches his attention. It seems that Thorwald had an invalid wife, until all of a sudden, he didn’t. Curious about what happened to Mrs. Thorwald, Jeff begins watching him more intently with a large telephoto lens.
Jeff sees Thorwald engaged in all kinds of suspicious activity and is determined that he was behind his wife’s disappearance. Using his binoculars and camera lenses, Jeff basically engages in a stakeout. Throughout all his investigation work, Jeff’s girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly, and his nurse Stella, played by Thelma Ritter come and go. At first the ladies are dismissive of Jeff’s interest in Thorwald and his determination to prove him a murderer. However, after seeing Thorwald’s behavior first-hand, the ladies are hooked and soon join Jeff in his stakeout. Lisa and Stella become further involved in Jeff’s independent investigation when they leave the apartment to gather evidence from Thorwald’s garden and home.
My favorite part of this film is the scene with Jeff, Lisa and Stella watching Thorwald scrub his walls. “Must’ve splattered a lot,” Stella says matter of factly. Lisa and Jeff look at her disgusted. She then defends her position, saying “Come on. That’s what we’re all thinkin’. He killed her in there, now he has to clean up those stains before he leaves.” I also love Grace Kelly’s wardrobe. If there was ever an actress who epitomized Hollywood glamor, it’s Grace Kelly.