I have to admit that I don’t know a lot about Roger Corman. What I do know about him, is that he is very prolific and very influential. He was instrumental in producing and directing a lot of American International Pictures’ (AIP) best campy horror films, often starring Vincent Price. Other horror icons, such as Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone also turned up in AIP’s horror films, with Price in the lead and Corman at the helm. In the 1960s, Cormon and Price brought seven different Edgar Allan Poe tales to the big screen. One of these films, is the very campy adaptation of Poe’s 1845 poem, “The Raven.”
The film opens as Poe’s poem does:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary.
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping.
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door.
Only this and nothing more.”
Edgar Allan Poe “The Raven” (1845), recited by Vincent Price in “The Raven” (1963)
The film takes place at the turn of the 16th century in 1506. Vincent Price’s character, sorcerer Dr. Erasmus Craven is mourning the death of his wife Lenore. She has been gone for over two years, and Erasmus’ daughter, Estelle (Olive Sturgess) wishes that her father would move on. One evening, Erasmus is visited by Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre), a wizard, who has been transformed into a raven. Dr. Bedlo begs Erasmus to help him transform back into his normal form. He gives Erasmus a simple list of ingredients: dried bat’s blood, jellied spiders, chain links from a gallow’s bird, rabbit’s lard, dead man’s hair, just your normal run-of-the-mill pantry staples. Erasmus looks at Dr. Bedlo in disgust.
ERASMUS: “No, we don’t keep those things in the house. We’re vegetarians. DR. BEDLO: “And that calls himself a magician. Honestly, this is too much!”
Vincent Price as Dr. Erasmus Craven and Peter Lorre as Dr. Bedlo in “The Raven” (1963)
Erasmus ends up taking Dr. Bedlo down to his deceased father’s laboratory–a laboratory that has sat unused for over 20 years. As Dr. Bedlo waits patiently, Erasmus looks through his father’s old chemicals. This scene allows for the seemingly squeamish Erasmus to come across ingredients that are either repulsive (e.g. a box of eyeballs), and other funny ingredients that Dr. Bedlo scoffs at, as they don’t belong in his recipe. Eventually Erasmus ends up finding all the ingredients and concocts a very powerful looking potion. Dr. Bedlo, still in his raven-form, drinks the potion excitedly. However, Erasmus didn’t make enough and the potion only takes effect part-way. Dr. Bedlo only semi-transforms back into his normal form. It is in this scene where we get the delightful imagery of Peter Lorre wearing a raven costume. He has a human head and a bird body.
Dr. Bedlo implores Erasmus to make more potion so he can complete his transformation. However, the two men discover that they have run out of a crucial ingredient–dead man’s hair. There’s only one thing to do of course–go to the cemetery and get more hair. Eventually Dr. Bedlo is transformed into his normal form. He then explains to Erasmus that he was initially transformed by Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff) in an unfair duel. Dr. Bedlo also tells Erasmus that he saw the ghost of Lenore (Hazel Court). Intrigued, Erasmus and Dr. Bedlo set off for Scarabus’ castle, with Estelle and Bedlo’s son, Rexford (Jack Nicholson). It is at this point when we can laugh at the idea of Jack Nicholson being Peter Lorre’s son.
The gang arrive at Scarabus’ castle. After a variety of mishaps and revelations, the visit culminates with an amazing magic fight between Erasmus and Scarabus. The scene of Vincent Price and Boris Karloff fighting each other with magic, using 1963 special effects, makes the film worth the watch.
This film is so ridiculous. It is very funny and very campy. Do not go into this movie expecting something revelatory. Go into it expecting the absurd. Just go with whatever happens and you will not be disappointed. I absolutely love Vincent Price’s voice. He recites a few passages from Poe’s poem and it is mesmerizing. I wish he were around today to record audio books. He could make any story sound ominous and compelling. Can you imagine if Price had read something like “Little Women” or “The Great Gatsby” ? Peter Lorre also provides the dialogue for the raven. I love that it is just him talking and not someone trying to impersonate a bird’s voice. Lorre has some pretty funny lines.
ERASMUS: “Shall I ever see the rare and radiant Lenore again?” DR. BEDLO (in raven form): “How the hell should I know?”
Vincent Price as Dr. Erasmus Craven and Peter Lorre as Dr. Bedlo in “The Raven” (1963)
Boris Karloff was excellent as the villain, but I cannot help but think of The Grinch every time he speaks. He has an amazing speaking voice as well, as does Peter Lorre. These three would have made an amazing team recording audio books. It is absolutely fascinating seeing a young Jack Nicholson in this film. His trademark grin is present, but his voice is completely different. If I hadn’t known that this was Nicholson, I’m not sure that I would recognize him. He definitely evolved as an actor by the time that Chinatown (1974) rolled around.
I recommend this film to anyone who loves campy horror movies, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Edgar Allan Poe, and/or wants to see a 26-27 year old Jack Nicholson, pre-Easy Rider, pre-Chinatown… and my personal favorite, pre-Tommy.
I don’t normally blog two days in a row, but I couldn’t miss an opportunity to write about one of my favorite “bad” movies, Roller Boogie, made in 1979. I love the roller disco films, and own the trilogy–Roller Boogie (1979), Skatetown, USA (1979), and Xanadu (1980). These movies are national treasures and are very much a product of the time in which they were produced. Unfortunately, I was born too late for the roller disco fad, so I live vicariously through these movies. Roller Boogie is a particular favorite of mine. Yes, it’s considered bad; but compared to things that people consider “good” or “masterpieces,” e.g. Apocalypse Now, give me Roller Boogie any day of the week!
TERRY BARKLEY: If I’m old enough to be on my own; then, I’m old enough to make my own decisions. I do not want to play the flute. I do not want to go to Juilliard. I do not want to be paired off with Franklin Potter. He is a lecherous jackass! And I never want to hear another string quartet again in my life!
LILLIAN BARKLEY: Well, now that we know what you don’t want, what is it that you do?
TERRY BARKLEY: Now, I want to win a Roller Boogie contest down at the beach.
LILLIAN BARKLEY: A Roller Boogie contest?
Linda Blair as Theresa “Terry” Barkley and Beverly Garland as Lillian Barkley in “Roller Boogie” (1979)
And with that conversation, we have the basic premise of this film. Terry Barkley (Linda Blair) is a young woman whose parents dream of her using her musical talent to pursue a flautist scholarship at the prestigious Juilliard. We’ll overlook the fact that when Terry is seen playing the flute that she doesn’t appear to be very good. We’ll take Roller Boogie‘s word for it that she’s gifted. The point is, Terry doesn’t want to play the flute. She doesn’t want her college paid for. She wants to give all that up for a Roller Boogie contest that will be over before school starts. But that doesn’t even matter. TERRY WON’T BE CONTROLLED. SHE WILL BE A ROLLER BOOGIE CHAMPION.
The fly in the ointment however, is that the skating club, Jammer’s (which holds the annual Roller Boogie competition), is threatened by LA mobsters who want the land that the club is sitting on. They use some rough tactics to harass the proprietor, Jammer, into shutting down the club. Without Jammer’s, how will Terry become a roller boogie champion?
Much of rest of the plot involves Terry, her beau, Bobby (Jim Bray, who might be one of the worst actors I have ever seen) who has Olympic aspirations (last I checked, there was no roller skating event, but whatever), and the other skaters trying to band together to save Jammer’s. The mob of course, is there to try and thwart the skaters’ attempts at interfering with their plans. However, these are the most ineffective mobsters ever. They are forced to flee an altercation with the skaters when the skaters start throwing produce at their car. Later, they chase Terry and Bobby through the city streets. Apparently two teenagers on roller skates can move faster than a car. But whatever. Then there is tension between Terry and her parents, who don’t want to see their daughter give up her scholarship for something trivial, like roller boogie.
This film is absurd. There are so many things in this film that make absolutely zero sense. There are characters in the film who don’t really serve any purpose. Terry’s parents want her to get together with the wealthy Franklin Potter, but he’s a total sleaze, and Terry is not interested. At the beginning of the film, Franklin tries to put his hand up Terry’s skirt after her flute recital. Later, when she’s leaving to head down to Jammer’s, he “surprises” her by trying to trap her in the garage and force her to have sex with him. He’s ready to go, as he’s doffed his pants and underwear, keeping only a towel wrapped around his waist. Thankfully, Terry is able to not only rebuff his advances, but she is able to take off with the towel–leaving Franklin to show off his business to his and Terry’s mothers.
Jim Bray is an absolutely horrible actor. There is nothing redeeming to say about his performance. The only good thing about him is that he can skate. That’s all I have to say about him. There isn’t anything really remarkable about the other skaters in the film. I recognized Terry’s friend, Lana (Kimberly Beck), as one of Lucille Ball’s children from Yours, Mine and Ours. The best performance in the film was probably Linda Blair, as she was probably the most seasoned performer as well. Blair was Oscar-nominated for her role as Regan in The Exorcist (1973). I am not a fan of The Exorcist, but I am also not a fan of horror. Give me Linda in Roller Boogie any day of the week!
THINGS I LOVE ABOUT ROLLER BOOGIE:
The roller skating costumes. There are some crazy costumes in this movie. Some are more conservative than others. Linda Blair for the most part dresses fairly conservatively compared to some of the other women in this film. But I am here for the gold sequined leggings that I saw one woman wearing. I also loved Terry’s white fringe dress in the finale. I also loved her polka dot blouse that she wears during the roller skate chase scene.
The entire premise of the film. Terry wants to give up a scholarship to a prestigious school in favor of a contest that will be over before school starts.
The name of the club–Jammer’s. My husband’s name is James and one of my pet names for him is calling him “Jammers.” So that makes me laugh. Unfortunately, he told me that he did NOT want to form a roller disco dancing partnership with me, so that was disappointing.
Terry’s car. Terry drives a mint green Excalibur Phaeton car that looks reminiscent of a 1920s vehicle with running boards and the spare tire on the side. Researching this car led me to learning about “kit cars” of which I knew nothing about. Not being a car person (except to look at them and say if they’re cool or not), I researched them. I learned that this car was based on a 1928 Mercedes SSK. The manufacturer would take a contemporary car engine and chassis and fit a fiberglass body over the top.
The montage of Terry and Bobby’s skating lesson. Terry asks Bobby to teach her how to dance on skates so that she can enter the Roller Boogie competition. Their lessons last for approximately one day, where we don’t see Terry get any better, but supposedly, she learns enough to enter the competition and be considered a worthy opponent.
The LAPD cop who patrols the Venice Beach beat! He wears the standard police cap with police emblem, which is whatever. But then! He wears a white T-Shirt with a generic LAPD emblazoned across the front. BUT THEN, he wears navy blue hot pants and roller skates. YES! This is law enforcement in Roller Boogie-land.
Bobby wears a shirt with a glittery red “BJ” showcased in all its glory. I know that it’s his initials. But it’s still funny.
All of the skating scenes. This movie is about roller disco after all, so it wouldn’t even be half as good without good skating scenes. The opening scene of the chain of roller skaters moving throughout Venice Beach in California is awesome and makes you think that you really need to start roller skating to get into shape!
The dialogue in this movie. There are some real gems in this film when it comes to quotable lines. Some of the things that people say in this film would never be uttered by a real person. See my Favorite Quotes section below.
The mother’s disapproving of Terry’s Roller Boogie aspirations, while at the same time being hooked on a myriad of different pills. The woman’s purse is a mobile pharmacy. The parents in this film completely disapprove of Terry’s Roller Boogie dreams, with the dad going as far as to say: “It’s the skating isn’t it? It’s that insane disco music thing!” Then, the dad ends up being the lawyer to Jammer’s, then all of a sudden the parents are at the roller boogie contest and are only too eager to present the trophy.
LILLIAN BARKLEY: Lovey, you’re giving your mother a migraine. (She opens her purse and looks inside, pulling out various medicine vials) LILLIAN BARKLEY: Diet pills… sleeping pills…diuretics…quaaludes…valium! There you are.
Beverly Garland as “Lillian Barkley,” in Roller Boogie (1979)
FAVORITE QUOTES IN ROLLER BOOGIE:
TERRY BARKLEY to FRANKLIN: I swear you’ve got more hands than in a poker game!
TERRY BARKLEY: Franklin, I’m not in the mood for octopus rallies. FRANKLIN POTTER: Terry! I need you, your body is driving me crazy! TERRY BARKLEY: Franklin, Barbie dolls drive you crazy. You’re oversexed!
BOBBY JAMES: Hey Terry! Wait up! Hey, wait up! TERRY BARKLEY: Thanks for skatin’ with me kid. BOBBY JAMES: We still have 45 minutes left. And my name a’int kid, it’s Bobby. Bobby James. TERRY BARKLEY: Keep the change, Bobby James.
BOBBY JAMES: Take off your skirt! TERRY BARKLEY: Okay.
BOBBY JAMES: Look, you’re not no bimbo from the boardwalk.
TERRY BARKLEY: Hi. Remember me? LILLIAN BARKLEY: Oh, Theresa! Theresa! Oh! Now before I turn you over to your father, is there anything you want to tell me? Pregnant? TERRY BARKLEY: Mother! I’ve been gone over night. LILLIAN BARKLEY: Well, how long does it take these days?
When I saw this blogathon announced and saw that John Williams was mentioned as having scored Valley of the Dolls, I was intrigued. I love ‘Dolls’ and I hadn’t realized that John Williams who is famous for so many classic film scores (Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark,Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, just to name a few) also scored what I think might be the greatest movie of all time (okay, I kid. The greatest movie of all time is actually The Long, Long Trailer). I’ve seen ‘Dolls’ multiple times and hadn’t really thought of the score. I researched Williams’ participation in this film and learned that he was responsible for composing the film’s score and doing the arrangements of instrumental versions of Andre and Dory Previn’s songs. To write this blog entry, I popped my Criterion-edition blu ray into my player and focused on Williams’ score as I watched this soap opera unfold.
Valley of the Dolls opens with Dionne Warwick’s mournful rendition of “(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” playing as snow falls in slow-motion. The despondent sounding lyrics, combined with the snow, lull the viewer into some sort of trance. Warwick sings lyrics that hint at the levels of desperation our three heroines will reach during this film.
Gotta get off, gonna get Have to get off from this ride Gotta get hold, gonna get Need to get hold of my pride
“(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” written by Dory and Andre Previn, performed by Dionne Warwick
We watch Ann Welles (Barbara Parkins) arrive for her first day at work as a secretary at a theatrical agency in Manhattan. Despite some misgivings from her employer, Producer Henry Bellamy, Ann is given her first assignment: delivering contracts to Broadway star, Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) and having her sign them. As Ann arrives at the rehearsal hall, she sees up-and-comer Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) doing a show-stopping rendition of the song she is performing in Helen’s show. Ann makes her way to Helen’s dressing room and manages to get Helen’s signature on one contract. However, Ann’s visit is interrupted when Helen is made aware of Neely’s talent and how her song in the show should propel Neely to stardom. Helen is jealous and orders Neely’s song cut from her show. Nobody but Helen Lawson will be the star.
Neely is outraged that her song was cut from the show and quits. Convinced of her talent, Bellamy’s business partner, Lyon Burke, books her a gig on Joey Bishop’s variety show. Neely is a sensation and soon she’s on her way to Hollywood. Meanwhile, Ann is given a glamorous job modeling cosmetics in both television and print advertisements. Finally, another acquaintance of Ann and Neely’s, Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), a beautiful young actress with an abundance of looks, but limited talent, finds herself in a challenging situation. Jennifer falls in love with nightclub singer, Tony Polar, who lives with his sister/manager, Miriam (Lee Grant). On the surface, Miriam seems to be very controlling; but in reality, she is concealing a hereditary condition which Tony has. She is worried that 30-year old Tony’s illness, which has remained dormant until now, will soon emerge. Unfortunately, Tony’s illness is right on schedule. Soon, he is unable to walk. Jennifer and Miriam move Tony to a sanitarium so that he can receive proper care. To pay the bills, Jennifer starts making French “art films” or “nudies” as Neely snidely, calls them.
Ann and Jennifer’s storylines are fine. They have their moments, but truly the real star of this film is Neely. Neely is a complete disaster. She is my hero. After getting treated to a delightful 1960s montage of Neely getting ready for her Hollywood debut, we watch her quickly fall apart. She becomes swiftly addicted to “dolls” (i.e. barbiturates) and as an added bonus, also becomes an alcoholic. Neely cannot function without her dolls and booze. She needs them to wake up. She needs them to work. She needs them to sleep. Eventually, Neely is unemployable and finds herself divorced and walking down a seedy boulevard lamenting the constant presence of “boobies.” Neely truly hits the bottom of the barrel when she discovers that she had sex with a stranger who later steals from her.
“Boobies, Boobies, boobies. Nothin’ but boobies. Who needs ’em? I did great without ’em!”
Patty Duke as “Neely O’Hara” in “Valley of the Dolls” (1967)
“Who’s stoned? I am merely traveling incognito.”
Patty Duke as “Neely O’Hara” in “Valley of the Dolls” (1967)
Ann and Jennifer both have their misadventures with dolls as well; but neither of them have as spectacular a collapse as Neely. Ann’s battle with doll addiction lasts all of five minutes. Unfortunately for Jennifer, she receives some life-changing news and is unable to cope. Neely has an amazing scene toward the end of the film when she confronts Helen and Helen ends up with her wig in the toilet.
Throughout all of Ann, Neely, and Jennifer’s misadventures with dolls, John Williams’ score punctuates the action with the intense sound of strings. The score is somewhat jazzy to fit the vibe of the action and the era. The score used in Neely’s recollection of her treatment at the sanitarium has a horror movie vibe, which juxtaposed with the bleak surroundings, is like a horror movie within a camp classic. Jennifer’s “art film” has music which evokes visions of Paris, with its use of the stereotypical Parisian accordion type music (I am not sure how to describe it). Williams’ score in ‘Dolls’ features swelling strings and over the top arrangements that fit the soap opera that is Valley of the Dolls. Williams ended up being nominated for the 1968 Oscars for Best Scoring of Music–Adaptation or Treatment. He lost to Camelot, which I haven’t seen, but I’d like to go on the record to say that John Williams was robbed.
Gotta get off, gonna get Out of this merry-go-round Gotta get off, gonna get Need to get on where I’m bound When did I get, where did I Why am I lost as a lamb When will I know, where will I How will I learn who I am Is this a dream, am I here, where are you Tell me, when will I know, how will I know When will I know why?
“(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” written by Dory and Andre Previn, performed by Dionne Warwick
BARTENDER: “Should I call you a cab?” NEELY: “I don’t need it! I don’t need ANYBODY, I got talent, Edward. BIG talent.” NEELY: “They love me.”
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?
In the late 1920s, as a young twenty-something, Bette Davis attended the John Murray Anderson Dramatic School in New York and excelled in her courses. In fact, she was the star pupil of the school. One of Bette’s classmates was a young Lucille Ball, who was definitely NOT the school’s star pupil–in fact, the school wrote to Lucy’s mother stating that she was wasting her money and that her daughter had no future in acting (don’t worry about Lucy, she did okay for herself). Bette on the other hand, had a future in acting and soon moved from the school to Broadway.
In 1930, Bette and her mother, Harlow Morrell Davis, left New York and moved to Hollywood to screen test at Universal Studios. When Bette and her mother arrived at the train station, Bette was surprised that no one from the studio was there to meet her. It turned out that someone had been at the train station and had seen Bette, but left, because he didn’t see anyone who looked like an actress. Bette’s lack of conventional beauty would inhibit her career at first as studios didn’t view her as a glamorous leading lady. She was often cast as the leading lady’s sister, friend… any type of role that implied “not beautiful.” Bette failed her first few screen tests at Universal, but eventually made her screen debut in Bad Sister in 1931.
After appearing in a few unremarkable films at Universal and a film at Columbia (which she was loaned out for), Universal opted not to renew her contract in 1932. It looked like curtains for Bette, but fortunately, fate intervened. Actor George Arliss had seen Bette and had suggested her as his co-star for The Man Who Played God at Warner Brothers. Bette received good reviews for not only her performance but for her beauty (!) and Warner Brothers signed her to a five-year contract.
Bette was never known as a raving beauty. While actresses like Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Hedy Lamarr, Vivien Leigh, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, and Ginger Rogers (to name a few examples) were touted by their studios for their beauty and glamour, Bette represented the tough woman. While some Hollywood actresses were vain and did not want to sacrifice glamour, Bette was not. She would do whatever it took to portray the part to its fullest. Her breakthrough role was as a trashy waitress in Of Human Bondage in 1934. Via write-in ballot, Bette was nominated for an Oscar for her role. She lost, however, to Claudette Colbert for her performance in It Happened One Night. Bette won an Oscar in 1935 for playing a drunk has-been actress in Dangerous. It is thought by many that Bette’s 1935 Oscar was a consolation prize to losing the year before.
In 1938, Bette won another Oscar for her turn as a scandalous, rebellious Southern Belle. This film was the beginning of the most successful and highly acclaimed part of Bette’s career. A string of hits followed: Dark Victory, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Letter, Mr. Skeffington, Now Voyager, The Little Foxes, and A Stolen Life. By the late 1940s, Bette’s star was starting to wane. Bette’s films during the late 1940s were not as profitable or as acclaimed as her previous efforts. Personally, one of my favorite films of hers during this period is June Bride (1948). Bette should have made more comedies. Despite her diminishing popularity and box-office return, Bette managed to re-negotiate a new four-film contract with Warner Brothers in 1949.
After Bette’s new contract was signed, her first assignment was the amazing Beyond the Forest. Bette didn’t find the film “amazing” and did everything she could to try and get out of the film. She had requested script approval during contract negotiations but her request was declined. Bette loathed the Beyond the Forest script and tried to drop out of the film. Warner Brothers refused to release Bette and she was forced to complete the film. It might be Bette’s reluctance, or perhaps anger or irritation, about making Beyond the Forest which makes it so great. Whether it is intentional or it’s written in the script, Bette’s performance is so over-the-top, so absurd, that it elevates this film straight into the world of camp. From Bette’s immortal “what a dump!” line to her epic death scene, Beyond the Forest is captivating from beginning to end.
Beyond the Forest tells the story of Rosa Moline, the wife of the town doctor in a small Wisconsin town. Joseph Cotten portrays Rosa’s husband, Lewis. Lewis is well-liked by everyone in town. Since he is seemingly the town’s only doctor (think Dr. Baker in Little House on the Prairie), he is often out of the house on house calls or down at his office. Rosa feels neglected, bored, repressed and any other negative adjective she can use to describe her life in a small town. Rosa aspires to live in a big city, like nearby Chicago. Somewhere with some nightlife and perhaps less predictability and routine.
To escape boredom, Rosa ends up meeting a vacationing man from Chicago, Neil Latimer (David Brian). Latimer is renting a hunting cabin that is owned by a friend of Rosa and Lewis’. She and Neil end up engaging in a hot, adulterous affair. To continue the affair, Rosa decides that she needs to cook up excuses to travel to Chicago to see Neil. Rosa decides to talk to her husband and demands that he needs to confront his patients to pay their medical bills. Rosa justifies her demands by stating that she needs the money to fund a new wardrobe. Rosa travels back and forth to Chicago to see Neil, but eventually discovers that he’s engaged to another woman, a wealthy woman. Neil breaks off the relationship. Discouraged, Rosa returns home to her humdrum life.
Rosa discovers that she’s pregnant with her husband’s child. While at a party for Moose, the caretaker of the hunting cabin, Rosa is re-acquainted with Neil and discovers that he’s broken off his engagement. Rosa tries to concoct a scheme to dump Lewis and run off with Neil. Unfortunately, Moose overhears Rosa’s plans and threatens to tell Neil about her pregnancy if she leaves her husband.
Moose’s threat to Rosa sets up the main conflict of the story. At the beginning of the film, Rosa is on trial for murder. The storyline is constructed in an interesting format. It starts with the murder trial, moves into a flashback that shows how Rosa ended up in this predicament, then shows the verdict of the murder trial and then segues into what happens to Rosa after the murder trial. A la Leave Her to Heaven, Bette purposely gets herself in an accident to induce an abortion. It’s amazing how many studio era films contain scenes where the leading actress purposely falls down the stairs, falls down a hill, etc. in order to lose a pregnancy. It’s interesting that that type of scene would pass censors. I suppose in an era of back alley abortions, falling down the stairs may be a woman’s only option. At the risk of further spoiling the story, Bette has the most fabulous death scene in the film. It may be one of the longest, most drawn out death scenes ever. Whether that was in the script for dramatic effect, or whether Bette decided to drag it out, who knows? All that is important is that this scene exists on celluloid, somewhere.
Unfortunately for us, Beyond the Forest is unavailable on DVD/Blu Ray and cannot even be aired on TV. There is some type of copyright issue that is preventing this film from being available. I managed to see it during a one-night only showing a couple summers ago at the Northwest Film Center, a film program hosted by the Portland Art Museum. Bette’s performance in this film is truly something to behold. From her ridiculous black wig, to her sexpot wardrobe, Bette looks absurd and she plays the part of the town floozy to the hilt. She is obviously too old for the part and lookswise, while I’ve always thought Bette was beautiful in a unconventional way, she is not believable as the town sex-pot. However, this dissonance between Bette’s character and Bette herself only adds to the campiness of the film.
After Beyond the Forest, Bette successfully negotiated a release from her contract. After eighteen years at Warner Brothers, Bette was a freelance actor. She had her last major success (save 1962’s “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”) in 1950 at Fox studios with All About Eve, where she received an Oscar nomination playing the part of Margo Channing, a highly acclaimed theater actress who is feeling the pressure of age. Adding to her woes is the fact that a young ingenue, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), is slowly insinuating herself into Margo’s life and slowly turning her friends against her and taking over her career. All About Eve has many parallels with Bette’s life. Despite the many successes she experienced in Hollywood, Bette was not irreplaceable. As All About Eve illustrated, not once, but twice in the film, no matter how talented and acclaimed you are, there is always someone younger and more talented ready to take your place.