On April 19th in 1956, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier the sovereign ruler of Monaco. Grace had met Prince Rainier a little less than a year prior, in May of 1955. By saying “I do,” Grace gave up her successful, Oscar-winning Hollywood career and assumed her duties as Princess Grace of Monaco. She didn’t plan to give up her career after the wedding, but was pressured to do so by her new husband. As a result, the last film that Grace made was High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story.
The Philadelphia Story was released in 1940 and was the film that saved Katharine Hepburn’s career. In the original film, Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, an affluent young woman who is marrying for the second time to George Kittredge (John Howard). Tracy is part of the Philadelphia upper-crust. Her first husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) re-enters her life after arranging for Spy Magazine to cover Tracy’s wedding. Two years prior, Tracy had divorced C.K. due to him not meeting the impossible standards that Tracy sets for her friends and family. She also thought he drank too much and her critical opinion of his drinking caused him to imbibe even more.
On the same day, Macaulay “Mike” Connor (James Stewart) and Elizabeth “Liz” Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) a reporter and photographer, respectively for Spy Magazine arrive at the Lord estate. They are planning on covering Tracy’s wedding for their magazine. Complications ensue when Mike starts falling in love with Tracy, much to Liz’s chagrin. Liz harbors an unrequited crush on Mike. Meanwhile, Tracy is irritated with her ex-husband, C.K.’s constant presence. However, he helps her to realize that she needs to relax and stop being so judgemental of the people in her life. She is not perfect herself, so it is unfair to hold others to such a high standard.
In the musical remake of High Society, the action is moved from Philadelphia to Newport, Rhode Island. Grace Kelly assumes the role of Tracy and plays the role very well. She plays a haughty socialite just as well as Katharine Hepburn. Both women have a similar way of speaking, with a very pronounced mid-Atlantic accent. Interestingly enough, Grace herself is from Philadelphia and hails from the very same world depicted in The Philadelphia Story. However, I think I prefer the shift to the Newport locale. I love that the famous Newport Jazz Festival is used as a backdrop for High Society. The jazz music is also an excellent addition to the story, as Bing Crosby stars as C.K. Dexter Haven, Cary Grant’s role from the original film. Throughout the film, C.K. is busy organizing the festival, with Louis Armstrong and his band serving as the Greek chorus for the events in this film. C.K. also happens to live next door to the Lord estate, making his constant presence believable.
In High Society, it is Tracy’s father, Seth Lord, who has invited Spy Magazine to cover his daughter’s nuptials. The magazine has obtained some unflattering details about Seth’s various infidelities. Seth makes a bargain with Spy Magazine and allows them to send over a couple employees to cover the wedding. Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra) and Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm), a reporter and photographer respectively, arrive and are invited to stay at the Lords’ home. The scene where Mike and Liz arrive plays out in a similar fashion in both High Society and The Philadelphia Story. Tracy resents their intrusion and carries out an elaborate farce, including speaking French with her little sister and having her sister make an entrance dancing en pointe and then performing a song while playing piano. For her part, Tracy acts like a complete ditz, figuring that she needs to fit the image that the tabloids have of her. For the record, I find Virginia Weidler’s “Dinah” really annoying in The Philadelphia Story and prefer Lydia Reed as little sister, “Caroline,” in High Society. Weidler is the more talented performer, but there’s just something about her that makes me want to smack her.
What I love about High Society is that there are more scenes between Tracy and C.K., giving us an idea as to why they fell in love in the first place. The Philadelphia Story hints at that, such as when C.K. gifts Tracy a miniature replica of their yacht, “True Love,” that they sailed around in during their honeymoon. In High Society, not only does C.K. gift Tracy the miniature replica of the “True Love,” but we’re treated to a flashback sequence of C.K. and Tracy singing “True Love” on their boat. I love any singing scene that involves characters playing a small accordion. This was also a fun scene where we actually hear Grace singing with her own voice. Thank goodness they did not dub her with someone like Marni Nixon. Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Nixon was an excellent singer, but her voice is so out of place in so many of the films where it is heard (case in point, Natalie Wood’s voice in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn’s in My Fair Lady).
I also love Grace Kelly’s costumes in this film. Her costumes are gorgeous, especially the blue chiffon dress with silver embroidery she wears during the party Tracy holds on the eve of her wedding. Katharine Hepburn’s dress in the same part of the film is incredible, but I think Grace has the edge. Grace also gets to wear a much better wedding dress during the film’s finale. I am not a fan of Katharine’s gown with the big girdle like thing across her waist. At the beginning of the film, Grace wears a simple beige blouse with beige slacks and red flats and she looks amazing. The woman could wear a stained sweatsuit and look fabulous.
One of the highlights of High Society is the duet between Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. This scene replaces the drunk scene between James Stewart and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story. The original scene is very funny, as Mike cannot stop hiccuping as he talks to C.K. However, with both Sinatra and Crosby in the cast, it is a no-brainer that a duet between the two men would have to take place. Sinatra and Crosby were often pitted against one another, with Sinatra being viewed as the crooner who would take the elder Crosby’s place. However, nothing could be further from the truth and the two men were lifelong friends. Their duet, “Well, Did You Evah!” is one of the highlights of the film.
It would also be remiss of me to not mention the amazing Louis Armstrong. He and his band serve as the Greek chorus, setting the scene for the film and then commenting on the action throughout. He provides a fun presence to the action and of course, since he’s performing at the Newport Jazz Festival, which is being planned by C.K., we are treated to a wonderful performance by Louis and Bing Crosby. The two men perform “Now You Has Jazz” and it is amazing. I would have loved if Louis Armstrong and his band had been hired as the entertainment at Tracy’s party on the eve of her wedding.
The ending of High Society plays out exactly the same as it does in The Philadelphia Story, the dialogue is almost repeated word-for-word. However, for whatever reason I find Tracy and C.K.’s quick decision to remarry more believable in High Society, even if I’m not totally sure on the coupling of Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby. However, the two actors did date in real life, so I guess it is plausible!
While The Philadelphia Story is regarded as the “better” film, I have perhaps the controversial opinion that I find High Society more entertaining. I love the casts of both films equally. I do enjoy The Philadelphia Story, at one point owning four copies. However, given the choice between the two, I would watch High Society. The jazz music and more “fun” feel make the film for me. I love all the Bing and Sinatra performances. Louis Armstrong is amazing. Grace Kelly is gorgeous. I just love it. It was amazing to see High Society in the theater last year.
(Singing) MIKE: Have you heard that Mimsie Starr C.K. Oh, what now? MIKE: She got pinched in the Astor bar C.K. Sauced again, eh? MIKE: She was stoned C.K. Well, did you ever?
Frank Sinatra as “Mike Connor” and Bing Crosby as “C.K. Dexter Haven” performing “Did You Evah?” written by Cole Porter in High Society (1956).
2021 is (finally) coming to a close. While the year wasn’t so hot as a whole, except for my fabulous trip to Southern California in October, it was another year of discovering new favorite films. One of the best thing about being a fan of film, especially classic film, is that you never run out of “new” movies to see. As Lauren Bacall says in an episode of Private Screenings with Robert Osborne, “It’s not an old movie, if you haven’t seen it,” and I couldn’t agree more. There is an entire world of movies to discover, a world of films just waiting to become someone’s favorite.
Without further adieu, in no particular order, here are some of my new favorites that I watched for the first time in 2021:
#1 Road House (1948) This was a fabulous film noir that I watched right at the start of the new year. It is the final volume in the Fox Film Noir DVD series (I own the entire collection). I decided to take a look at it, because I’m a big fan of Ida Lupino. In addition to Lupino, it also starred Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, and Celeste Holm. At first, it seems like Ida is going to be the femme fatale, but it is soon revealed that she is a woman who will not be made a pawn in the games of the men, Wilde and Widmark. Even though she was originally brought into the Road House by Widmark to be another of his fly by night floozies, she refuses to be used and becomes a big star and later saves the day. In a time when every woman who wasn’t Judy Garland or Doris Day was dubbed, Ida uses her own voice to warble out “One for my Baby (And One More For the Road)” and it was fabulous.
#2 Mrs. Miniver (1942). I know. This is a big Oscar winner. A major classic of the studio era, but I hadn’t seen it yet. I absolutely loved this movie and actually bought the blu-ray literally right after watching it. That’s how much I loved it. Greer Garson won an Oscar playing the titular Mrs. Miniver and infamously delivered the longest acceptance speech, a record which still stands today. Long-winded speech or not, Garson deserved her award. In Mrs. Miniver, Garson portrays a very stoic woman and mother who stays strong and protects her family even directly in the line of fire during the German invasion of Britain. She puts humanity above all else, even when directly threatened by an injured German pilot. The scene with Mrs. Miniver and her husband and children hiding in the shelter while bombs fall all around them is heartbreaking. This family does not know what they’ll find when they emerge, or whether their house will still be standing. Despite everything, Mrs. Miniver remains a calm influence even in the middle of a tumultuous event, like a World War. I cannot say enough good things about this film, it was fantastic.
#3 Girl Happy (1965). Like the esteemed Mrs. Miniver, this Elvis movie is another film that I purchased immediately after watching it. I loved it. For years, with the exception of Viva Las Vegas (my favorite Elvis movie), I wrote off Elvis’ movies as pure fluff, and not fluffy in a good way, and many of Elvis’ movies are ridiculous, like Girl Happy, but if you can suspend disbelief and just go along with whatever plot is presented, I’ve found that many of Elvis’ movies are enjoyable diversions. In Girl Happy, Elvis plays a musician (a premise setting up lots of opportunities for Elvis to sing) who, along with his band, is hired by his boss to indirectly chaperone his 18-year old daughter, Shelley Fabares. Shelley is traveling to Florida for Spring Break and her overprotective father is worried. Elvis happily agrees, because he gets an all expenses paid trip to Florida. Like how most movies with this plot go (see Too Many Girls), Elvis starts to fall in love with the girl whom he’s chaperoning, and the girl discovers that he was hired to watch her and gets upset. Regardless, this movie was charming, fun, and I loved it.
#4 History is Made at Night (1937) This was a movie that I’d never even heard of until I heard that Criterion was restoring it and releasing it as part of their esteemed (at least among the boutique label community) line of films. I first watched it on the Criterion Channel and must have seen a pre-restoration print, because it was pretty rough. After watching it, I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of it. It had one of my faves, Jean Arthur! And Charles “LUCY! RAWWWR” Boyer. How has this movie been hiding from me this entire time? In this movie, Jean Arthur plays Irene, a woman who leaves her husband, Bruce, (Colin Clive) after he falsely accuses her of having an affair. To prevent the divorce from being finalized, Bruce tries to manipulate a situation to frame Irene for infidelity. He hires his chauffeur to pretend to be Irene’s lover, so that a private detective walks in and catches them in a compromising position. While this is taking place, Paul (Charles Boyer) is walking by Irene’s window. He overhears the ruckus and comes to Irene’s rescue, pretending to be an armed burglar. It’s a weird set-up, but ultimately leads to a beautiful love story with an ending that I was not expecting.
#5 Naked Alibi (1954). This was another film noir that I’d never heard of until I was reading Sterling Hayden’s filmography and discovered that he’d made a film with one of my faves, Gloria Grahame. Fortunately, my library had this film available and I was able to borrow it. This was a great movie. Hayden plays a police chief who tails a suspect, Willis, to Mexico. Willis is suspected to be the mastermind behind a series of crimes in the small town from which he and Hayden hail. While in a border town on the Mexican border, Hayden meets Grahame, a singer with whom he becomes smitten. Unfortunately, Grahame is the girlfriend of Willis, despite the shoddy treatment she receives from him. Hayden and Grahame’s connection with one another continues to grow until the very end of the film. This was a wonderful film and I thought that Gloria Grahame looked absolutely gorgeous.
#6 Dead End (1937). Despite the appearance of the Dead End Kids, whom I cannot stand (I don’t get their appeal), I thought this was a great movie. This film is a story about social classes and the privileges that are afforded to those of a higher social standing. The neighborhood in the film is a “dead end” both figuratively and literally. The rich live in high rise apartments that overlook the slums and tenements. Those who are not privileged to live in the high rises literally have the rich looking down upon them. If you have the misfortune to be born into the slums, it is all you can do to get out. Some try to do so honorably, like Dave (Joel McCrea), who dreams of making a career as an architect. However, he can’t just seem to book the right gig, so he has to survive by doing odd jobs. Others, like Drina (Sylvia Sidney) have slightly less honorable means to get out of the tenement, she wants to marry a rich man. Then, there are those like Hugh “Baby Face” Martin (Humphrey Bogart), who did manage to get out of the slums, but he did so by becoming a big-time mobster. The Dead End Kids represent the next generation who most likely will remain in the slums, unless they can somehow be guided into making a better life for themselves. Marjorie Main has a heartbreaking role as Baby Face’s mother. Claire Trevor is fantastic as Baby Face’s old girlfriend, who was never able to get out of the slums.
#7 Klute (1971) This was the first film in Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy,” which unfortunately I watched all out of order. I don’t think the films in the trilogy have anything to do with one another, so I think I’m okay. Anyway, there’s just something about the 1970s thrillers that I find fascinating. There’s a grittiness, a seediness, combined with the earth tones aesthetic that I just love watching. Anyway, in this film, Jane Fonda gives an Oscar-winning performance as Bree Daniels, a prostitute who aids police detective, John Klute, in investigating a murder. After finding an obscene letter addressed to Bree in the murder victim’s office, Klute rents an apartment in Bree’s building and begins tracing her. Concurrently, Bree is working as a freelance call girl to support herself while she tries to make it as a model/actress. Bree is also trying to find meaning in her life through sessions with a psychiatrist. This was such a fantastic movie and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who was responsible for the murder.
#8 Thunder on the Hill (1951) I am a big fan of Ann Blyth and this was a film of hers that I hadn’t heard of until I purchased Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema box sets. Thunder on the Hill, by the way, is on the second collection in the series. In this film, Blyth plays Valerie, a young woman convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. However, on her way to the gallows, Valerie and the police officers accompanying her, are forced to spend the night in the hospital ward of a convent due to massive flooding. Running the hospital ward is Sister Mary (Claudette Colbert), a woman who is also battling with her own mental troubles involving her sister’s suicide. Valerie is understandably combative and angry, but confides to Sister Mary that she is innocent of the crime of which she was convicted. Sister Mary, who has been warned in the past about meddling in other people’s affairs, is convinced of Valerie’s innocence and sets to save her before she is executed. This was such a wonderful film. It was interesting to see Blyth in such a different role than that of Veda in Mildred Pierce or the mermaid in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. I loved the suspense of the story and the cinematography was gorgeous. I am also a big fan of Douglas Sirk, so this film fit the bill.
#9 King Creole (1958) A second Elvis film on the list? Yes! I watched a lot of Elvis movies this year according to LetterBoxd, so it was bound to happen. This was an excellent film. It was much higher brow fare than Elvis would be offered once he returned from his stint in the army. In this movie, Elvis plays super senior Danny, who has failed high school once and looks like he’ll fail it again due to his behavior. He is offered a chance to graduate if he agrees to take night classes, but Danny turns it down, much to the chagrin of his father, Dean Jagger. There is drama between Danny and his father, in that Jagger lost his job as a pharmacist after his wife died. The family is forced to leave their nice home outside of New Orleans for a much more modest flat in the French Quarter. To help make ends meet, Danny was working before and after school. Now with school out of the way, Danny starts working at a club. As how most Elvis movies go, he is coerced into singing and is offered a job performing at the club, much to the chagrin of the club’s main act. Danny is soon a sensation. Eventually his connection with the local gangs threaten to affect his family, his relationship with a young woman named Nellie (Dolores Hart), and his life. This was such a great movie with a stellar cast. Aside from Elvis, Dean Jagger and Dolores Hart, Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau, Vic Morrow, and Paul Stewart also star in this film… and it was directed by none other than Michael Curtiz!
#10 Private Lives (1931) This was a fabulous pre-code starring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery. In this film, Shearer and Montgomery play Amanda and Elyot, two ex-spouses who end up staying at the same hotel while honeymooning with their new respective spouses. Both honeymoons are NOT going well. Amanda and her new husband Victor (Reginald Denny) are already fighting due to Victor’s incessant need to talk about Elyot. Because yes, let’s talk about your new bride’s ex-husband on your honeymoon. Great idea, Victor. Elyot is dealing with the same thing from his new wife, Sybil (Una Merkel) who won’t stop asking about Amanda. Eventually, Amanda and Elyot find each other and begin to reminisce about “the old times.” They end up leaving the hotel together and head to a new place in St. Moritz. This was a fabulous pre-code that had plenty of racy moments. I am not as big a fan of Shearer in her production code movies like The Women, but I love her in pre-code. She and Montgomery also make a great pairing. Poor Una Merkel is wasted in her role, but she is wonderful in her scenes.
#11 Hold Back the Dawn (1941) This was an amazing movie. One that I’d always wanted to see but it seemed like it was never on TCM–then finally it was and the movie was everything I’d hoped it would be. In this film, Charles Boyer stars as Georges Iscovescu, a Romanian immigrant who is stuck in a Mexican border town. Per immigration laws, he is looking at up to an eight year wait to obtain a quota number for entry in the United States. Georges then runs into an old flame, Anita Dixon (Paulette Goddard), an Australian who married a US citizen purely to obtain US citizenship. As soon as she could, she divorced the man and retained her citizenship status. Anita suggests that Georges do the same thing, then he and she could be free to start a new life together in New York. Georges immediately goes to work and spots Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland), a California school teacher whose bus has broken down. The bus is set to be repaired shortly, but Georges manipulates the situation (by “losing” a vital piece of the bus’s machinery) and forces Emmy and her class to stay overnight. This gives Georges enough time to woo Emmy and they are married after a whirlwind romance. However, Georges is required to wait in Mexico a few weeks before he can join Emmy in California. Emmy returns unexpectedly and Georges takes her on a trip (under the guise of a honeymoon, but in reality he is trying to hide from an immigration officer who is looking for con artists like Georges and Anita). Georges’ plans are complicated when he finds himself falling in love with Emmy. This was such an amazing film. Even though we’re supposed to dislike Georges, it’s hard to do because it’s Charles-freaking-Boyer. It’s easy to see why Emmy falls for him. I love true, legitimate romantic films (with no contrived plot points), and this is one of the best that I’ve seen.
#12 Gaslight (1944) Another Charles Boyer film! Third one on the list! Surprisingly Boyer was not on my top 10 actors watched in 2021, per Letterboxd. This was an amazing film. I don’t know how I went so long without seeing it. This is the film that gave the name to a form of psychological abuse, where one partner mentally manipulates another into thinking that they’re losing their mind. In this film, Boyer plays Gregory Anton, a pianist who marries Alice Alquist (Ingrid Bergman), a famous opera singer. Gregory works as Alice’s accompanist. At first, Gregory seems sweet, he convinces Alice that they move into her deceased aunt’s old home #9 Thornton Square in London, seemingly under the guise that Alice loved her aunt so much and that her aunt would want her home to be lived in. However, Gregory has ulterior motives which are revealed throughout the film. To keep Alice from catching onto Gregory’s motives, he gaslights her by manipulating situations and then making her think she caused them. Alice begins to think she’s going insane. And while she begins to question Gregory’s actions, he’s gotten her mind so messed up that she can’t convince herself that she’s right. A young, 17-year old Angela Lansbury makes her film debut as Nancy, a tart of a maid who takes pleasure in observing Gregory’s manipulation of Alice. Nancy even plays along to exacerbate the situation. Ingrid Bergman’s performance was a tour-de-force and she deserved every piece of the Oscar that she received.
#13 I Want to Live! (1958) If there are two things I love, it’s classic film and true crime. I Want to Live! has both. This film is a biopic of Barbara Graham, a prostitute who was executed in California in 1955 for her part in the murder of a wealthy widow. Susan Hayward gives an Oscar-winning performance as the doomed woman who at the beginning of the film, works as a prostitute who is arrested for soliciting sex across state lines. She then receives jail time after providing a false alibi to two friends who committed crimes. Despite her growing rap sheet, Barbara continues to “make a living” by committing petty crimes and turning tricks. Eventually, she hits the big time when she gets a job working with a big time thief, Emmett Perkins. Her job is to lure men into his illegal gambling parlor. Meanwhile, her husband has a drug addiction and is unemployed–leaving Barbara as the breadwinner. Eventually Perkins ends up becoming involved with criminals, John Santo and Bruce King. Barbara returns to Perkins’ establishment which is soon raided by the police. Barbara surrenders to the police for her involvement in the gambling ring, but soon learns that she is being accused in being complicit with Santo and King’s murder of a wealthy widow. Barbara tries to give her alibi, saying that she was home with her husband and son, but her husband has skipped town. Unless he can be found, Barbara is toast. This was such an amazing film. I know that there was controversy regarding how Barbara Graham was portrayed in the film, versus the real life events. I can’t comment on that; but what I can say is that real facts or not, this was a great movie.
#14 Suspense (1946) I went into this film noir not knowing entirely what to expect. It starred Barry Sullivan whom I like and Albert Dekker who always turns in a good performance. Sullivan and Dekker’s co-star was British figure skater, Belita. Often when athletes are put into films, especially athletes whose sport is exploited on screen, the results can vary drastically–especially if the athlete has limited acting talent. Sometimes this is good, such as the case with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan series. Other times, it can be limiting like is the case with Belita in another film of hers that I’ve seen. However, in this film, I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not saying Belita was amazing; but she was asked to play a figure skater, and Belita delivers on that front. In this film, Sullivan plays schemer, Joe Morgan, a newcomer to New York City who ends up taking a job at a theater as a peanut vendor. Belita plays the star performer, figure skater, Roberta. Albert Dekker plays Leonard, the owner of the theater and Roberta’s husband. Joe ends up suggesting a new act for Roberta, which revitalizes the show–as a reward he is made a manager. When Leonard leaves for a business trip, he puts Joe in charge. Joe and Roberta end up striking up a romance which Leonard soon discovers. This was a fantastic film. I actually was in suspense and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
#15 The China Syndrome (1979) This was another 1970s thriller that I watched which I really enjoyed. In this film, Jane Fonda plays television reporter, Kimberly Wells, who keeps getting stuck with the fluff stories during the local news segments. There is chauvinism present at the station, as it is thought that she couldn’t possibly handle a serious story. Her cameraman is the hot-tempered Richard Adams (Michael Douglas). One day, Kimberly and Richard end up getting a plum gig: doing a report from the Ventana, CA nuclear power plant. While visiting, they witness a malfunction in the nuclear power plant turbine operation and emergency shutdown protocol. Richard, despite being asked not to film, covertly records the entire incident. The incident is played off as not a big deal, but it becomes clear that the plant was thisclose to a meltdown. Jack Lemmon gives a fantastic performance as Jack Godell, the supervisor of the plant. Wilford Brimley was also excellent as the long-time employee, Ted Spindler, who battles with knowing what is right and his resentment over being passed up for promotion opportunities. I loved this movie. This isn’t normally my type of thing, but as a fan of 1970s thrillers and Fonda and Lemmon, I gave it a try. I’m glad I did. I was captivated from beginning to end and I especially loved Lemmon’s performance in the second half of this movie.
A Cry in the Night (1956). Raymond Burr, Natalie Wood, Edmond O’Brien.
Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018). A fabulous documentary on HBO Max.
The Caine Mutiny (1954). Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer.
Once a Thief (1965). Alain Delon, Ann-Margret, Van Heflin.
Walk on the Wild Side (1962). Laurence Harvey, Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter, Capucine.
Moonrise (1948). Dane Clark, Lloyd Bridges, Gail Patrick.
The Glass Wall (1953). Vittorio Gassman, Gloria Grahame.
The Big Combo (1955). Richard Conte, Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace.
Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021) The Great Gonzo, Pepe, Will Arnett.
Die Hard (1988) Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson.
Confession (1937) Kay Francis, Basil Rathbone, Ian Hunter.
Three Days of the Condor (1975) Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson.
I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) Susan Hayward, Richard Conte, Eddie Albert.
Possessed (1947) Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey
My “Noirvember” picks will be continually updated as the month wears on and I make my next choice!
Noirvember is upon us. I love film noir, so every month is “Noirvember” for me, but I thought I’d try to actively participate in the event this year. Previously, I lurked in conversations and posts and read about it, but didn’t actually contribute.
For those who are unfamiliar with “Noirvember,” it is simply a portmanteau of the words “Noir” and “November.” It is a term used to describe what is essentially a month-long celebration of film noir. Noirvember was invented by a poster (@oldfilmsflicker on Twitter) who just wanted an excuse to catch-up on film noir. It has since evolved and become a full-fledged event.
I have seen a lot of film noir and have a lot of favorite films and performers. While I definitely want to revisit some old favorites, I also want to watch some “new to me” film noir. I don’t have a particular list of 30 film noir to watch, as I wanted my list to flow organically. However, so that I had some semblance of organization and didn’t spend my entire evening trying to decide what to watch, I’ve decided to play a game with my selections. Each successive film will feature a performer from the previous film. E.g. “The Big Heat” features Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. “Sudden Fear” features Grahame and Joan Crawford.
It is my hope that my final film of the month will link back to the first.
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.
All About Eve, the showbiz drama to end all showbiz dramas, starts in the present time at an annual theater award banquet. Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), the evening’s recipient of the most prestigious award–The Sarah Siddons Award (for distinguished achievement), is set to take the stage. The evening seems like a pleasant affair, but the narrator Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), quickly informs us that all is not what it seems. As Eve ascends the steps and is about to take the award from the presenter, the picture freezes. In a knowing and almost sarcastic tone, we are advised that we will “learn all about Eve” shortly. The film quickly segues into a flashback, where we, as the viewer, assume that we will be taken on a journey to find out how Eve earned herself the prized Sarah Siddons Award trophy. When I first saw this film, I knew that Eve had to have done something scandalous or nefarious to get there–and if you’re like me, this premonition will only hook you into wanting to take the ride to learn ALL ABOUT EVE.
Trust me. It’s worth it. That Eve is a real piece of work.
We first meet Eve outside of a theater on a dreary evening in New York City. It is pouring outside and Eve, wearing a raincoat and bucket hat is huddled next to one of the side doors. She has just come from seeing her idol, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), perform in her latest play, “Aged in Wood.” Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), a friend of Margo’s and wife of the play’s author, Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe), spots Eve outside. Karen remarks to Eve that she’s seen her outside of the theater every evening after a performance. Eve (who at this point seems like a genuine, starstruck young woman), comments that she loves Margo Channing and has seen every performance of this play. She even remarks that she’d first seen Margo perform in San Francisco, where she became an instant fan. Karen invites Eve inside to meet her idol.
The wheels are in motion…
Inside the theater, we meet Margo and all of her other theater friends and colleagues. Aside from Karen and husband Lloyd, there’s Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) (Margo’s boyfriend and director of the play) and Margo’s assistant Birdie (Thelma Ritter) (also a former vaudevillian). They’re laughing about an interview Margo gave and Karen introduces Eve to Margo and appeases to her ego by gushing over her. After prompting her to tell the group how she found Margo and ended up in New York City, Eve gives her first of many excellent performances. Eve tells a sob story about how she came from Milwaukee, WI and worked in a dead end career as a secretary in a brewery.
EVE: “When you’re a secretary in a brewery, it’s pretty hard to make believe you’re anything else.”
She then discusses how she dabbled in theater in her town, but of course, Eve with her fake humility, says she was awful. It was at this theater where she met “Eddie” who was a radio technician, but was also in the Air Force. Then Eddie was sent into combat when “The War” came. Eve went back to work at the brewery and lived for Eddie’s once a week letters. She saved her vacation time and money to be able to meet Eddie in San Francisco for a vacation. Eddie never showed up. He was killed in combat. Now in San Francisco, Eve decided to look stay in town and look for work. One night, Margo Channing came to town to perform “Remembrance” at the Shubert Theater, which Eve attended, and ultimately led to her following Margo back to New York and brings us to the current events. The group is sympathetic to Eve’s story and instantly feel compassionate toward her plight. The only person who is not convinced is Birdie.
BIRDIE: “What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end”
After accompanying Margo and Bill to the airport so he can catch his flight to Hollywood, Eve ends up being invited to live in Margo’s home and work as her assistant. For awhile, Eve dotes on Margo and Margo is in bliss. However, Eve has an ulterior motive. By taking care of Margo and all her affairs for a few weeks, she can learn all there is to learn about Margo Channing and her friends and colleagues. At the theater, Margo catches Eve on the theater stage, modeling Margo’s costume and pretending to bow and accept applause from an invisible audience. When Eve realizes that she’s been caught, she has a look of terror on her face, but Margo chalks up Eve’s reaction to embarrassment and assumes that Eve’s actions are those of a wannabe theater actress.
Later that evening, Margo receives a phone call at 3:00AM. Apparently, she had placed a call from New York to California at 12AM (Pacific Time) to wish Bill a Happy Birthday. Margo assumes that Eve placed the call on her behalf. It is apparent that Margo is confused and not sure if Eve’s intentions were pure or if there was some underlying motive. The next morning, Margo and Birdie discuss Eve and Birdie’s instinctive dislike of her.
MARGO: She (Eve) thinks only of me, doesn’t she?
BIRDIE: Well let’s say she thinks only about you, anyway.
MARGO: How do you mean that?
BIRDIE: I’ll tell you how: like…like she’s studying you, like you was a play or a book or a set of blueprints–how you walk, talk, eat, think, sleep…
MARGO: I’m sure that’s flattering. There’s nothing wrong with it.
Margo asks Eve about the phone call. Eve admits that she forgot to tell Margo about the phone call. She then nonchalantly mentions that she also sent a telegram to Bill for his birthday and smirks as she leaves and closes the door. The musical score then pops in with its wonderful shrieking violins and loud crescendos. This music is a continual theme and is heard throughout the film each time Eve does something else nefarious.
From this point on, Eve’s behavior just gets more brazen as she works to take over Margo’s career. Some of the things she does:
Eve finds out Margo’s understudy is pregnant and under the guise of humility, manages to manipulate Karen into asking Max into giving the role of Margo’s understudy to her.
Margo arrives late for an audition with another Addison DeWitt protegee, Miss Caswell (Marilyn Monroe). Eve, Margo’s understudy, auditions with Miss Caswell instead. She gives a brilliant performance (according to Addison). Later, after Margo feuds with Lloyd about Eve (and Lloyd vents to Karen), Karen decides to play a joke on Margo to teach her a lesson and cause her to miss a performance (and help out Eve at the same time). This will later backfire on Karen big time.
Eve goes on stage in Margo’s place and wins rave reviews. Just by “sheer coincidence,” Addison and all the other top theater critics in town just happened to be in the audience when Eve made her stage debut. Hmm. Isn’t that curious?
Having taken over Margo’s role, Eve tries to take over Margo’s boyfriend Bill, the director of “Footsteps on the Ceiling.” It doesn’t work. “Just score it as an incomplete forward pass,” he tells her. From here on, Bill is suspicious of Eve. Addison also witnesses Eve’s attempt to seduce Bill.
Eve then has a friend call Lloyd in the middle of the night to tell him that Eve is having some sort of emotional breakdown and that he needs to come over right away. He comes to her hotel. Eve then presents this as Lloyd leaving Karen in the middle of the night and coming to her. She is convinced that she will marry Lloyd and he will write plays and she’ll star in them.
Addison, under the pretense to find out more about Eve’s background, states that he is going to write a column about her. Actually performing a fact-checking mission, Addison asks Eve about her backstory. He also does end up writing a column about his interview with Eve where he (and Eve) tear Margo apart.
Eve blackmails Karen into convincing Lloyd to give her the coveted role of Cora (the role written for Margo) in “Footsteps on the Ceiling.” Eve threatens to expose Karen’s scheme and how it caused Margo to miss the performance that allowed Eve to be “discovered.”
Margo however, has the last laugh. During Bill’s welcome home party, already feeling irritated and upset with Eve, Margo introduces Eve to Addison, the acerbic theater critic who writes very blunt and sometimes scathing newspaper columns about the theater world. Margo knows that if there is anything to find out about Eve’s true intentions, Addison will find out.
At first Addison appears to have been taken in by Eve. He takes her under his wing (along with Miss Caswell) as a protegee. He’s present for her audition with Miss Caswell and he is present when Eve goes on in Margo’s place. It is assumed that he probably helped to arrange for all the local critics to be present. However, Addison catches on to Eve and works to expose her for the fraud and sociopath she really is (takes one to know one, right?).
Then comes one of the best, most delicious scenes in the film. Eve, after all her backstabbing, lying, selfishness, etc. is finally exposed for the fraud she is and Addison uses her manipulation tactics against her. He exposes the fact that Eve didn’t leave Milwaukee willingly. She was having an affair with the boss and the boss’ wife had her husband followed by detectives. Eve and the boss’ affair wasn’t proven–but she was given $500 to get out of town. She never went to San Francisco. She used the $500 to go to New York. There was no Eddie. No Shubert Theater (it doesn’t even exist in San Francisco!). He exposes her real name. It’s not Eve. It’s Gertrude. She has parents whom she hasn’t seen or talked to for three years.
Then Addison delivers the gut punch:
ADDISON: “That I should want you at all suddenly strikes me as the height of improbability. But that, in itself, is probably the reason. You’re an improbable person Eve and so am I. We have that in common. Also a contempt for humanity, an inability to love or be loved, insatiable ambition–and talent. We deserve each other.”
Addison blackmails Eve and states that she now belongs to him. She has no choice but to acquiesce, otherwise, she’ll lose the theater career she worked so hard for (worked hard in a different way, but it was probably hard work nonetheless).
Back in the present day, the screen unfreezes, and Eve accepts her award. She gives some fake praise to her “friends” and colleagues thanking them for helping her get the Sarah Siddons Award. After the ceremony, Margo gives Eve a pretty good burn and pretty much tells her exactly what she thinks of her. This is also one of my favorite parts of the movie.
MARGO: “Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.”
Yikes. You go, Margo.
Finally, it’s karma’s turn.
Eve returns home from the ceremony to discover a young girl asleep in her room. The girl wakes, introduces herself as “Phoebe,” and informs Eve that she’s president of the “Eve Harrington Fan Club” at her high school. She idolizes Eve and wants to be a theater actress. Hmm… sound familiar? Phoebe continues to appeal to Eve’s ego and soon finds herself working as Eve’s assistant in the hotel room. Hmm… Addison quickly stops by to bring Eve back her award that she left in the back of the limo. Eve has Phoebe answer the door.
ADDISON (to Phoebe): “Hello there. Who are you?”
PHOEBE: “Miss Harrington’s resting, Mr. DeWitt. She asked me to see who it was.”
ADDISON: “We won’t disturb her rest. It seems she left her award in the taxicab. Will you give it to her?”
(Phoebe holds the award and looks at it with the awe of a stage struck fan girl. Addison knows this look)
ADDISON: “How do you know my name?”
PHOEBE: “It’s a very famous name, Mr. DeWitt.”
ADDISON: “And what is your name?”
PHOEBE: “I call myself Phoebe.”
ADDISON: “Why not? Tell me Phoebe, do you want some day to have an award like that of your own?”
PHOEBE: “More than anything else in the world”
ADDISON: “Then you must ask Mrs. Harrington how to get one. Miss Harrington knows all about it.”
(Addison closes the door with a smirk on his face, knowing the fate that awaits Eve).
Game. Set. Match.
Phoebe takes Eve’s award to the bedroom to pack it in Eve’s trunk (per Eve’s request) and spots Eve’s rhinestone studded cape draped across the trunk. She puts it on, grabs the award and practices accepting the award in Eve’s three-way mirror. In the closing scene, the mirror’s reflection shows a bunch of Phoebes. This is a very effective scene and provides the film’s motif: “There is always someone smarter, more attractive, funnier, etc. waiting in the wings.”
Unrelated to Eve:
What happens to Birdie? She goes to deliver the sable coat to the owner and never returns. One can assume that perhaps Eve was so efficient that Birdie wasn’t needed and lost her position. However, she appears to have been a good friend of Margo’s, so that seems unlikely. Thelma Ritter, where did you go?