Tag Archives: classic film

1961 Blogathon- “The Parent Trap”

1961

Let’s get together, yeah yeah yeah
Why don’t you and I comb-ine?
Let’s get together, what do you say?
We can have a swingin’ ti-me
We’d be a cra-a-zy team
Why don’t we ma-a-ake a scene…

This verse from “Let’s Get Together” pretty much sums up the premise of The Parent Trap.  Sharon and Susan end up meeting and getting together in a joint effort to reunite their parents.  They want to stay together, they want their parents to get together and they don’t want their dad to get together with a young gold digger named Vicky.

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The estranged parents caught in an embarrassing situation in the pool changing room! From the opening credits of “The Parent Trap.”

After a kicky stop motion animation puppetry sequence which, combined with Tommy Sands and Annette Funicello’s rendition of the title song, “The Parent Trap,” the audience is fully aware of the premise of the film.  Through animation and song, it is illustrated and explained that two sisters meet and scheme to reunite their divorced parents–so that they can be a complete family.

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Susan and Sharon first meet at camp

At the beginning of the film, Sharon (Hayley Mills) is being dropped off by her chauffeur.  She quickly befriends two other girls and they become a clique of sorts.  During her first few hours at camp, Sharon comes across another girl, Susan (Hayley Mills), who bares a remarkable resemblance to her.  They look identical, except Susan has short hair whereas Sharon’s hair is long.  To put it mildly, the two girls do not get along.

SUSAN’S ROOMMATE (about Sharon): “The nerve of her (Sharon), coming here with your face!”
SUSAN’S OTHER ROOMMATE: “What are you gonna do about it?”
SUSAN: Do? What in heaven’s sake can I do, silly?”
SUSAN’S OTHER ROOMMATE: “I’d bite off her nose, then she wouldn’t look like you.”

Susan has her own group of friends that she pals around with and the two groups of girls take turns terrorizing each other.

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How does nobody wake up when this booby trap is installed? Talk about being a sound sleeper!

Sharon and her friends (one of which is LaRue from Sally Field’s Gidget TV series!) flip Susan and her friends’ canoe.  In retaliation, Susan and her friends booby trap Sharon and her friends’ cabin–complete with honey, string, straw, the works.  It makes a massive mess.  While Sharon and her friends try to clean up, Camp Director Miss Inch and her assistant Miss Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies, come around for cabin inspection.  Of course, Sharon & Co.’s cabin is a disaster.  As a punishment, the girls are prohibited from attending the co-ed dance that is being held that evening.  Sharon and Susan’s disdain for one another comes to a head at the dance.

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Susan is caught in an awkward predicament at the co-ed dance–thanks to Sharon!

Banished from the dance because of Susan, Sharon waits for Susan to come outside with her date.  As Susan leans up against the deck railing, Sharon and her friend cut the back of Susan’s skirt off.  When Susan returns to the dance, the back of her panties are exposed to everyone at the dance.  For whatever reason, Susan doesn’t notice until her friends come to her aid and tell her that her panties are showing.  Mortified, Susan goes outside and ends up confronting Sharon.  The two girls end up brawling and ruining the dance and Miss Inch’s cake.

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Hey, at least you don’t have anyone bothering you while you’re trying to eat your lunch!

Sharon and Susan are punished for their unladylike behavior and are banished to the “Serendipity Cabin.”  This cabin is still in camp, but is secluded from the other cabins.  Miss Inch, tells the girls that they will: “eat together, sleep together and play together.”  Susan and Sharon eat meals together at the “Isolation Table.”  It begins to seem like Susan and Sharon are fated to be miserable for the rest of the summer until a fateful afternoon rainstorm.

After a funny scene involving Susan hanging up her Ricky Nelson photos:

SHARON: “Who’s that?”
SUSAN: “Are you kidding? Ricky Nelson?”
SHARON: “Oh your boyfriend.”
SUSAN: “I wish he was! You mean you’ve never heard of him? Where do ya come from? Outer Space?!”

A gust of wind and rain sweeps into the girls’ cabin and blows all the photos of Ricky Nelson around.  Sharon rushes to Susan’s aid and helps her batten down the hatches and try to salvage the photos.  After getting to talking and discovering that both only have one parent (Sharon lives with her mother and Susan with her father) and have the same birthday, Sharon begins to think there is more to this series of coincidences and perhaps it’s a stroke of serendipity (hence, the name of the cabin).  Susan doesn’t get it until Sharon shows her a picture of her mother, Maggie (Maureen O’Hara).  Susan tells Sharon that that is her mother too.  Ding! Ding! Ding! The girls have figured out that they are actually twins, split up at birth.

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Susan is a great hairdresser! Not sure if Sharon is as convinced.

The rest of camp is spent scheming.  The girls decide that they cannot be separated again and want more than ever to get their parents back together, so they can be a complete family unit.  Their plan is simple: they will switch places.  Sharon will travel to Susan’s home in Carmel, California to meet her father, Mitch (Brian Keith) and Susan will travel to Boston to meet Maggie.  Susan practices her diction (“Shan’t, can’t, aunt”) and tries to learn the blueprint of Sharon’s home.  Sharon tries to learn Susan’s housekeeper Verbena’s laundry schedule and the names of her animals.  Camp finally ends and the girls’ plan goes off with a hitch.

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“Well bust it up for heaven’s sake!”

While in their new homes, Susan and Sharon try to get used to their new lifestyles while trying to keep up the facade of being the other twin.  When Sharon’s grandfather (Charles Ruggles) overhears some suspicious phone conversations and Susan’s housekeeper Verbena (Una Merkel) observes the dog, Andrometer, acting weird around Susan, they begin to become suspicious.  Grandpa and Verbena might not know what is going on, but they are aware that something is “off.” The jig is finally up when Grandpa overhears a phone conversation between Susan and Sharon on the phone and Sharon confides in Verbena and tells her the truth.

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“I’m not sayin’ a word, not one word!” Verbena, who says so much without saying a word.

In Boston, Susan is struggling to keep up with Sharon’s piano lessons and the rigidity of her schedule.  She is also trying to talk to Maggie to find out the truth about the relationship between her and Susan’s father.  Meanwhile, in California, Sharon is in crisis mode because Mitch has announced that he is getting remarried to a young woman named Vicky.  Verbena dislikes Vicky and makes it known without “sayin’ a word.  Not one single word.” Verbena, while “not saying a word,” tells Sharon that she suspects Vicky of being a gold digger.  Sharon calls Susan in a panic about Mitch’s impending marriage and begs her to tell Maggie the truth so that they can get the show on the road.

After the phone call between Sharon and Susan, Grandpa who overheard it, pressures Susan to tell Maggie the truth.  Maggie and Susan are soon planning a trip to California, but not before this hilarious scene in the bedroom when Grandpa essentially tells his daughter, Maggie, that she looks old:

GRANDPA (after questioning Maggie’s hair and clothing and basically telling her that her style is outdated and matronly and fake encouraging Maggie’s stubbornness about updating her look):
“Stay the way you are… a nice, reliable, settled, comfortable woman, who accepts the coming of age with grace and dignity.”
MAGGIE: “That’s the most horrible thing anybody could say!”

Despite being upset with her father’s criticism of her appearance, Maggie takes his words to heart.  After a short layover in New York City, Maggie and Susan are at Mitch’s glorious doorstep in California.

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Mitch’s amazing living room in his gorgeous ranch house

Mitch’s California ranch home is probably one of the greatest houses in all of movies.  His house is gorgeous. The amazing stone work, the dark stained finishes, the great open areas (that you could only have in California.  It wouldn’t work here in Oregon), the gorgeous stained glass, the great tile, the beautiful mid-century modern furniture, I love this house.  It is much better than Maggie’s stuffy Boston townhouse.  His kitchen has amazing windows that extend the entire width of the room in front of the sink.  There’s also an amazing courtyard where Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills perform their “Let’s Together” song.

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“That plotz-faced child bride and her electric hips!” aka Vicky

Back to the movie,  Maggie and Susan show up at Mitch’s home, right as Mitch is entertaining his fiancee Vicky, her mother and the Reverend who is supposed to officiate the wedding–perfect time for the ex-wife to show up.  The Reverend, whom I sense is not a big fan of Vicky and her mother, catches Mitch and Maggie in a compromising position and is amused by the entire situation.  Maggie is dressed in Mitch’s bathrobe as she had just finished showering.  Mitch is chasing her around the house trying to catch her just as the Reverend walks in.  Vicky is understandably upset, but since she’s the villain and we don’t want her and Mitch to marry, we don’t care.  Maggie has the best lines at the end of this scene:

MAGGIE (to VICKY & VICKY’S MOTHER): “What a shame you can’t stay for dinner with us.”
VICKY’S MOTHER: “Yes. Vicky and I have a million things to do–fittings and odds and ends to buy.”
MAGGIE: “Just charge it all to Mitch–he’s loaded.”
VICKY’S MOTHER: “Oh? I didn’t know.”
MAGGIE: “Didn’t you?”

Boom! Maggie’s got Vicky and Vicky’s mother’s number.  After this point, Sharon and Susan go to work setting their “parent trap.”  First they try recreating Maggie and Mitch’s first date, based on information Susan got from Maggie earlier in the film.  They enlist ranch hand Hecky to serenade Mitch and Maggie like a gypsy.  Verbena cooks up a batch of veal parmesan for the meal.  Sharon and Susan come out on stage with something that slightly resembles a vaudeville act, based on the theme of “getting together.”

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“Let’s Get Together”

Sharon plays a concert pianist who is in the middle of a concert, performing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  Susan comes out in a big suede vest strumming a guitar.  My husband likes to point out how Susan is most definitely NOT playing the guitar each and every time we watch this.  And really, he’s right. Hayley Mills isn’t even pretending to play the guitar properly.  But all that doesn’t matter.  Maggie and Mitch are thoroughly entertained by their daughter’s shenanigans and are touched by the lengths they went through to set up this big date…. then they start arguing and all hints of possible romance are gone.

The next morning, the morning when Sharon and Maggie are supposed to return to Boston, the twins are desperate.  They decided to dress exactly alike and blackmail their parents into taking them on a camping trip.  At the conclusion of the camping trip, the girls will reveal their true identities.  This seems like a lame plan in that you’d think two parents who’d raised their daughters for 13 years would know who’s who, but Mitch admits that even he is not sure which twin is Susan.  The plan is set into motion… then Vicky shows up.

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Maggie, knowing that Vicky will hate camping, cunningly invites her to go along…then dips out at the last minute.

Maggie, knowing Vicky will be completely out of her element on a camping trip, hilariously tricks her into going camping with Mitch, Hecky, and the girls instead.  Vicky agrees to go, not knowing that she’s been bamboozled.  While on a hike through the woods to their camp, the girls concoct multiple schemes to drive Vicky bananas.  They give her sugar water stating that it’s mosquito repellent, they place a lizard on her canteen knowing she’ll freak out and they plant a fake idea in her mind that hitting two sticks together will scare away mountain lions.  While at camp, the girls trick Vicky into falling into the lake by having one twin stand on the other’s shoulders and pretending that the water was shallow.

(As a side note, it seems interesting to me that Sharon is so comfortable camping as she seems to be from a pretty stuffy household in Boston.  Though she did attend that summer camp, so what do I know?)

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The twins not at all stifling their amusement of Vicky’s traumatic camping adventure.

That evening, Vicky is beginning to crack.  She’s disgusted by the trout dinner (and the upcoming trout breakfast).  Mitch breaks the news to her that her mosquito repellent is bogus and that she’s basically inviting them to feast on her.   Mitch and Hecky laugh at her when she starts trying to keep the mountain lions away by hitting the sticks together.  In disgust, she goes to bed.  During the evening, Susan plays her famous “let’s booby trap the tent” trick that she employed in the beginning of the film, except this time Sharon is a co-conspirator rather than victim.

The next morning, Vicky wakes up to a baby bear licking honey off her feet.  Freaked out, she rushes out of the tent, no doubt getting pine needles stuck to her feet, trashes the camp and pushes Mitch into the tent.  Hecky grabs Vicky her boots and she screams out this immortal line:

“Get me out of this stinking fresh air!”

Vicky flounces off into the woods, with Hecky in tow, never to be seen again.

Back at the ranch, Maggie is whipping up some beef stew.  She has given Verbena the night off.  As for Hecky, who knows where he is.  Maybe Vicky has killed him.  Maybe she forced him to drive her far from Carmel.  Regardless, he’s not home.  The twins are up in Susan’s room.  They have apologized to Mitch for “submarining” Vicky and all is forgiven.  Which is good, because nobody liked her anyway.

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And the twins’ scheming finally pays off!

Mitch observes Maggie in the kitchen for awhile and decides to go gussy himself up.  He showers, shaves and combs his hair.  He turns some music on on the hi-fi for ambiance and also breaks out a bottle of red wine.  As Mitch and Maggie talk in the kitchen, they begin to reminisce about the times they spent with one another.  Soon, it is apparent that they really do still love each other, especially when they give each other a romantic kiss.

Now in bed, Sharon wakes up after having a dream about her father and mother remarrying.  Remember, she’s psychic.  She says as much at the beginning of the film.   I choose to believe that this scene implies that the trap has worked.  Maggie and Mitch are together again and the twins won’t have to endure “the six month split.”

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I choose to believe that Sharon’s dream was predicting the inevitable and Mitch and Maggie remarried. And they all lived happily ever after.

If it isn’t already obvious, I love this movie.  I just can’t with the Lindsay Lohan one.  Lohan will always be a “Mean Girl” to me.  She cannot fill Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills’ shoes.

 

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The Golden Boy Blogathon–“Miss Grant Takes Richmond” (1949)

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William Holden was born 100 years ago today.  He made his film debut in Golden Boy (1939) co-starring Barbara Stanwyck.  Holden was only 21 when he was cast in his first film and it was apparent to everyone that he was inexperienced.  Holden was almost fired from his first part; but veteran film star Stanwyck took him under her wing and coached and encouraged him, often on her own time.  Under Stanwyck’s tutelage, Holden was able to keep his job and turned in a serviceable performance.  After the filming on Golden Boy ended, Holden and Stanwyck remained lifelong friends.

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William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck at the 1978 Academy Award ceremony

In 1978, the two friends appeared together as presenters at the annual Academy Awards ceremony.  Holden deviated from reading the list of nominees to publicly thank Stanwyck for her helping and supporting his career when he was first starting out.  Four years later, Stanwyck appeared at the Academy Awards to accept an Honorary Oscar.  Holden had passed away a few months prior.  After her very genuine and humble speech, Stanwyck paid tribute to her friend stating: “I loved him very much and I miss him.  He always wished I would get an Oscar.  And so tonight, my golden boy, you got your wish.”  It was a very sweet and emotional tribute.  I highly recommend looking up both Holden’s tribute to Stanwyck and Stanwyck’s tribute to Holden on You Tube.

Whether or not Holden would have still become a star without Stanwyck’s help, it is unknown, but being fired from his first big part could have definitely curtailed his career.  Stanwyck should definitely be given credit for being kind and generous and helping out a young man who wanted a film career.  She could have been a diva and demanded a more experienced co-star (and could have probably gotten one), but she saw something in her young 21 year old co-star and opted to provide her knowledge and advice instead.  For the next eleven or so years after Golden Boy, Holden continued in small parts and small films and continued to grow his skills and gain experience.  During this period, Holden appeared in many B-list films including one with RKO’s former “Queen of the Bs,” Lucille Ball.

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William Holden and Lucille Ball in “Miss Grant Takes Richmond”

In 1949, Holden and Ball appeared in the comedy, Miss Grant Takes Richmond.  Ball had just been signed to Columbia Pictures after a recommendation from Buster Keaton to Columbia studio-head, the irascible Harry Cohn.  Keaton suggested to Cohn that Ball would be perfect for comedic parts.  Miss Grant Takes Richmond was the first film Ball made under her new contract.  This film is mainly a vehicle for Ball and her physical comedy talents, but Holden provides excellent support as her straight-man.  His worldly, but weary, everyday man persona had emerged by this time and also provides Ball with a handsome and worthy love interest.  Reliable character actors, James Gleason and Frank McHugh, provide excellent support.

In Miss Grant Takes Richmond, Ball plays Ellen Grant, an aspiring secretary.  She attends secretary school and is the worst student in the class.  She can’t type, has to make constant corrections, pulls the ribbon out of the typewriter and manages to get ink everywhere.  She seems hopeless as a secretary–a sentiment echoed by her aunt and uncle and fiance who cannot understand why she’d want a career when she could just get married and be a housewife.  One day at the secretary school, Dick Richmond (Holden), comes in looking for a secretary for his real estate office.  Much to everyone’s surprise, including Ellen’s, Dick selects her.

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Left to Right: Frank McHugh, William Holden, Lucille Ball and James Gleason in “Miss Grant Takes Richmond.”

At the office, it seems that there is more going on between Dick and his associates, Gleason (James Gleason) and Kilcoyne (Frank McHugh).  Ellen constantly takes calls from people seemingly wanting to put down-payments down on various properties in various neighborhoods.  In reality, Dick and his cronies are actually running a bookmaking operation.  The calls and payments that Ellen is accepting are actually bets being placed on horses at various racetracks.  The real estate office and Ellen are just a front to fool authorities.  To keep up the charade, Dick mentions that there is some land available for a housing development, but the owner wants $60,000.  He mentions that this is too expensive, but he’d be willing to pay $55,000.  Without his knowledge, Ellen goes down to the owners of the property and manages to negotiate the price down to $50,000.

Ellen, her fiance (who is also a District Attorney), and the owner of the property all go down to Dick’s real estate office to let him know of the deal to purchase the land.  Ellen explains that Dick’s office will now be able to build a housing development of affordable housing.  Dick knows that this deal will cause financial trouble for his operation, but has to play along.  He then decides to try and scare Ellen away from the organization by being aggressively romantic with her, but that backfires when he finds out that he’s fallen for her.

Dick’s ex-girlfriend, Peggy Donato comes to visit her old flame and to also place a large bet ($50,000) on a race.  Ellen accepts the bet, not knowing that a) Donato is placing a bet on a horse race and b) That the race that Donato is betting on is fixed, in her favor.  Dick cannot afford to pay $50,000 to Donato.  Dick tries to explain his predicament to Donato who is not sympathetic in the slightest.  Donato, who still has feelings for Dick, tells him that he can either run away with her or she’ll have her goons take care of him.

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Lucille Ball tries to fix the cement after the foundation fiasco at the housing development

Back at the housing development, Dick has put Ellen in charge.  He has also embezzled funds from the down-payments he received for the houses in the development.  There is a funny scene at the construction site where Ellen and the female customers decide to adjust the foundation outlines (by moving the ropes) of their respective homes.  When they’re done, the size of the rooms are wildly out of proportion.  The construction crews start pouring the cement foundations, per the rope guidelines and soon realize something is horribly wrong.  There is a funny scene where the foreman rants about the crazy foundations.  People’s homes are overlapping, some rooms are enormous while others are tiny, there are random triangular shaped rooms that are too small to use, you name it, it’s a problem.  However, the project now has a larger problem, it’s out of money.

Dick, feeling guilty about scamming innocent people and Ellen, decides to run off with Donato and pay all his customers back.  Ellen finally figures out that the whole operation was a scam and that Dick took the money from the housing development.  She is upset, but decides that she still cares about her former employer and opts to scheme to get rid of Donato.  In a scene reminiscent of the 1957 I Love Lucy episode, “Lucy Wants to Move to the Country,” Ellen decides to dress up like a gangster and pass herself off as the real brains of the bookmaking operation.  She cobbles together her own “gang” and tries to intimidate Donato’s gang.  That plan backfires when Donato’s gang proves to be too strong.  At that time, Gleason and Kilcoyne show up with $50,000 that they won in a bet placed with Donato’s operation–which can be repaid to the people who purchased the homes at the development (or can be used to actually complete the homes).

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William Holden’s facial expression when he sees Lucy’s nose after she “fixes” it is the funniest part of the entire episode. “This California sun certainly makes your skin soft,” Lucy says. If I could find a picture that also captures the look on Desi Arnaz’ face, that would be the ultimate. (“L.A. at Last!” “I Love Lucy” episode #114)

This is a fun film that shows off both Ball and Holden’s strengths.  Two years later, Ball would be starring in her groundbreaking sitcom I Love Lucy.  In 1954, five years after their film together, Holden would be reunited with Ball when he made an appearance as himself on her show.  “L.A. at Last!” was the first episode of the Hollywood story arc of I Love Lucy.  Holden has his first encounter with the star-struck Lucy at the fabled Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood.  Later, he meets Lucy again in the Ricardos’ hotel room where she attempts to disguise her appearance with a putty nose.  My favorite thing about Holden’s entire appearance is the fact that this sets up the idea that Holden is a gossip.  There are multiple episodes featuring other celebrities where the celebrity alludes to Holden giving them the low down on Lucy.

By the time Holden makes his appearance on I Love Lucy, his star had risen exponentially since Miss Grant Takes Richmond, much like Ball’s had.  In 1950, a year after ‘Richmond,’ Holden got the plum role of Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd.  This film catapulted Holden into stardom.  He received an Oscar nomination for his part as the weary and cynical screenwriter who allows himself to be a “kept man” by the delusional and absurd former silent screen star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).  After Sunset Blvd., Holden appeared in a string of hits: Born Yesterday (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), The Moon is Blue (1953), Executive Suite (1954), Sabrina (1954), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), The Country Girl (1954), Picnic (1955), Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955), and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1955).  Holden took home the 1953 Best Actor Oscar for Stalag 17.  Holden’s string of hit films during just this five year period is remarkable and a feat which is rarely repeated.

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Hubba Hubba!

Favorite Performers: Kim Novak

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Kim Novak is someone who I discovered when I saw Picnic (1955) for the first time.  I had heard of her and knew what she looked like, but I had never actually seen any of her films until I saw Picnic.  She wasn’t my original draw to the film either.  I originally recorded it because I was a fan of co-star William Holden and I also love the overwrought melodramas of the 1950s.  My initial impression of Novak was that she was very pretty but she seemed somewhat stiff.  I began wondering if it was all style and no substance when it came to Novak.  However, as I kept watching her in Picnic, I noticed that she didn’t seem as stiff as she had in the opening scene.  I found myself warming up to her.

In Picnic, the crux of Novak’s character, Madge, is that she feels that she is only wanted and appreciated for her looks.  Her mother insists that Madge seal the deal with her rich upper crust boyfriend Alan, before her looks begin to fade.  Madge is 19, by the way.  Alan talks about and treats Madge like she’s a trophy on his arm.  Madge begins to resent everyone only focusing on her looks and not showing any regard for her wants, needs and desires.  Novak was very skilled in bringing the conflicted Madge to life.  On one hand, Madge doesn’t want to disappoint her mother; but on the other hand, she wants to live her own life and not skate by on her looks, even if that path looks uncertain.  Madge spends much of the film battling with her own wants and needs, versus those of her mother, boyfriend and the hot, mysterious, and exciting drifter William Holden.

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Kim Novak and William Holden dance in “Picnic”

After Picnic, I remember making a point of seeing Novak in some of her other films.  I saw Bell, Book and Candle co-starring James Stewart.  This film allowed the audience to see Novak as another type of character–a beautiful woman afraid to fall in love.  In this film, Novak plays a beautiful witch who lives in Greenwich Village in New York City.  Novak develops a crush on Stewart and ends up casting a love spell on him when she discovers he’s engaged to marry another woman.  The love spell causes Stewart to fall in love with Novak instead.  Soon Novak finds herself falling in love with Stewart and she’s faced with a choice to make: Fall in love with Stewart and lose her magical powers or keep her powers and let Stewart go.  Novak plays it cool in this film and is very adept at showing the progression of her character falling in love.  Despite being very beautiful and being labeled as one of the 1950s sex symbols of Hollywood, Novak’s characters are never overt in their sexuality, unlike someone like Marilyn Monroe.

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Kim Novak as “Madeline” in “Vertigo”

One of Novak’s most famous films is her turn in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  Novak is cast as one of Hitchcock’s typical icy blondes, but she brings so much to her complicated, somewhat dual role.  In this film, Novak must portray the beautiful and tragic Madeline who Stewart meets and falls in love with.  Later, she portrays the small-town girl, Judy, who of course resembles Madeline, and agrees to allow Stewart to transform her into his lost love.  As Madeline, Novak plays the wispy blonde, who is so beautiful but with an underlying vulnerability.  As Judy, Novak plays a more average looking woman (more like a gorgeous woman wearing too much heavy makeup) from Kansas who is trying to make it in big city San Francisco.  She is brassier and more no-nonsense than Madeline. Of course there is more to the story than meets the eye and Novak was fascinating to watch.

Novak is a highly underrated actress who I believe wasn’t taken seriously because she was so beautiful.  In all her films, she brings charm and also an underlying vulnerability that makes her a joy to watch on screen.  Today, Kim Novak lives on a ranch in a small town in Southern Oregon.  It’s exciting to think that one of my favorite Classic Hollywood stars is still alive and thriving in a town only about 3.5 hours south of me.  Maybe someday, I’ll make it back down there and maybe run into Kim Novak on the street or something.  I can always hope!

My favorite Kim Novak films:

-Picnic (1955).  I already talked about this film above; but this film deals with a drifter (William Holden) who interrupts the tranquility in a small Kansas town.  Most of the action occurs at the town’s annual Labor Day picnic.  Novak portrays Madge, a beautiful nineteen year old woman who is dating Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson), one of the town’s most eligible bachelors.  Novak falls for Holden, much to the chagrin of Robertson and her mother (Betty Field).

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Kim Novak and her cat, Pyewacket in “Bell, Book and Candle.”

Bell, Book and Candle (1958).  Described above as well.  This film depicts the story of a beautiful witch (Novak) who casts a spell on a man (James Stewart) whom she’s been admiring from afar.  Soon, she must decide whether to fall in love with Stewart and give up her magical powers, or let Stewart go in order to retain her powers.

Vertigo (1958).  Mentioned briefly above.  This film is so complex that it would be hard to describe it and do it any justice.  This is a film that has to be watched and watched intently, not casually.  A couple weeks ago, I watched this film in the theater and was fascinated by how much of the film I had forgotten or hadn’t pieced together the pieces of the story.  Once I had the story figured out, I found it amazing and captivating.  In a nutshell, this film tells the story of a man, James Stewart, who falls in love with a mysterious blonde and loses her in a tragic accident.  He meets another woman, Kim Novak, who resembles his lost love.  Stewart goes to work transforming his new girl into the girl he lost.

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Howard Duff and Kim Novak in “Boys’ Night Out”

Boys’ Night Out (1962).  This 1962 comedy is silly and definitely not worthy of any sort of award, but I love it.  There’s just something about early 1960s comedies.  In this film, Novak plays a college student who rents an apartment from a group of men (James Garner, Tony Randall, Howard Morris and Howard Duff).  The men are all married, except for Garner.  The husbands are bored with their wives and their day-to-day routine and want to set up an apartment to have a fling.  They base their plan on the same tactics their boss uses to have his fling.  Novak rents the apartment not knowing of their plan to commit adultery and the men don’t know that Novak is pretending to romance them as a means to gather material for her college thesis on the sexual life of the middle class male. Hilarity ensues.

-Pushover (1954).  This is a really great noir and is Novak’s film debut.  Novak portrays the beautiful girlfriend of a man who robs a bank and both of them are now on the lam.  Fred MacMurray co-stars as an undercover cop who is tasked with setting up a stakeout in an apartment across the street from Novak’s.  While watching her, MacMurray ends up falling in love with Novak.  Soon Novak is trying to corrupt him to join her side and MacMurray is conflicted between his love for Novak and his duty to his job and the police department.

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Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in “Pushover.”  She’s only 20 here!

Pal Joey (1957).  This is a musical starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Novak.  Sinatra portrays Joey, a singer and charmer who can make pretty much any woman fall for him.  The only problem is that he’s a complete cad.  Sinatra meets Novak, a chorus girl in one of his shows.  He genuinely seems to have real feelings for her. Sinatra dreams of opening his own nightclub but needs money.  He appeals to an old flame, Hayworth, who used to also work as a stripper.  She married a wealthy man and is now widowed.  Sinatra decides to romance Hayworth in order to convince her to give him money for his nightclub.  Throughout the film, Sinatra and Hayworth use each other and continues to romance Novak.  The love-triangle continues throughout the film until Sinatra is forced to make a decision.

 

The Bette Davis Blogathon–“Beyond the Forest”

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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.

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Bette Davis in “Bad Sister”

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.

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I love the tagline on this poster!

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.

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Bette as “Rosa”

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.

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Rosa’s epic death scene

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.

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Bette Davis as “Margo Channing” in “All About Eve.”

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.

Doris Day Birthday Blogathon–“With Six You Get Eggroll”

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Doris Day made her film debut in 1948 in the musical, Romance on the High Seas.  Many of Day’s films throughout the 1940s and 1950s cemented her role as one of Warner Brothers’ top musical stars.  Some of Day’s best known films during this period are: Tea for Two, I’ll See You in My Dreams, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, The Pajama Game and Calamity Jane.  During the 1950s, Day also demonstrated that she was a capable dramatic actress and appeared in non-musical films like The Man Who Knew Too Much, Julie, and Love Me or Leave Me.  Day ended the 1950s starring in Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson.  This film proved that in addition to musicals and dramatic roles, Day was also comfortable in sophisticated romantic comedies.  In 1960, Day starred in one more thriller, Midnight Lace.

The filming of ‘Lace’ proved to be so traumatic for Day that she refused to make another film of this type ever again.  ‘Lace’ depicts a woman terrified that someone is trying to murder her.  The intensity of Day’s fear conjured up old memories of her abusive first husband.  She was so traumatized by the filming of ‘Lace’ that she vowed to not make another thriller again.  Day kept her promise.  During the 1960s, Day made two more romantic comedies with Hudson and then appeared in other romantic comedies with the likes of Rod Taylor, Cary Grant and James Garner.  Day also appeared in family comedies like Please Don’t Eat the Daisies with David Niven and her final film, With Six You Get Eggroll co-starring Brian Keith.

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I love the caption for this poster: “Does this look like a movie that could give you bad dreams?”

With Six You Get Eggroll was one of Day’s top money-making films.  This film, much in the same vein as Yours, Mine and Ours (1968) and The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), dealt with the blending of two families and the issues that can arise.  Day portrays Abby McClure a widowed, single mom who supports her three sons as the boss of a lumberyard.  Abby’s sister, Maxine, played by Pat Carroll (aka Ursula from The Little Mermaid), is constantly trying to fix Abby up with men.  In this particular case, Maxine wants to hook her sister up with Brian Keith, who portrays widower Jake Iverson.  Iverson is the father to a teenage daughter, Stacey, portrayed by Barbara Hershey.  Abby’s oldest son Flip (John Findlater) and Jake’s daughter are classmates.  In true classic film fashion, Abby’s youngest kids are at least ten-plus years younger than their brother, Flip.  Abby’s one son, Jason, looks like a mini Mo Rocca from The Daily Show.

When we first meet Abby,  we see her committing a major OSHA violation by standing on the forks of a moving forklift in her lumberyard.  I really enjoy the fact that Abby is the boss of a male-dominated field and appears to be running it efficiently and effectively and has the respect of her subordinates.  Next, Abby’s sister Maxine shows up and convinces Abby that she needs to invite a date to the dinner party that she’s having that evening.  Abby ends up taking her sister’s advice and invites Jake to the party.

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Doris Day’s amazing shower cap!

While getting ready for the party, everything that could go wrong for Abby, does.  Her dog, Calico, gets a hold of her wig and ruins the hairstyle.  Abby is forced to re-curl her wig.  Her “hair” is soaking wet by the time she is finished, and she resorts to cooking her wig in the oven at 200F in an attempt to dry it out and set the style before the party.  Meanwhile, while Abby is “putting her face on,” the kids are taking a bath.  Abby hears a bunch of noise coming from the bathroom that is most definitely not kids bathing.  When she walks in, she sees that the kids have somehow spilled yellow paint into the tub.  With children that now resemble The Simpsons and a golden-hued arm, Abby comes across her dinner party guests who’ve let themselves in.  With her yellow-dyed skin, yellow and white splotchy robe, amazing flowered shower cap and a face covered in cold cream, Abby looks a fright, but soon manages to get it together and have her party.

Sister Maxine and her husband are all over Jake from the second he walks in.  When Abby finally enters the room, they go to work trying to convince Jake and Abby that they’re perfect for one another and should get together.  Both Jake and Abby are uncomfortable and try their best to keep their cool.  Jake finally has had enough and makes up a bogus excuse about having to meet clients at the airport in a couple hours.  Later, Abby and Jake run into one another at the supermarket and end up having coffee at the drive-in, which is run by Herbie Fleck, portrayed by George Carlin (!).

Throughout multiple dates and outings to the drive-in to escape their children, Abby and Jake end up falling in love.  While I suppose it’s understandable, I don’t enjoy the behavior of the oldest two children, Flip and Stacey.  Flip is worse than Stacey.  When Abby comes home late one night after stating that she was running to the market for pumpernickel, Flip rips his mother a new one as if she were a teenager breaking curfew.   He is particularly patronizing to Abby and I wish she would have chewed him out right then and there, but perhaps that isn’t Abby’s style.  Flip repeatedly treats his mother like a misbehaving child and treats Jake as if he were some deviant.  Stacey isn’t as bad, but does treat her father and Abby pretty poorly until she finally comes around.  I understand that Flip and Stacey are having trouble adjusting to their parents having new romantic relationships, but seriously.  They graduate from high school during the film and presumably will be going to college.  Does it really matter?

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 A young George Carlin takes Doris Day & Brian Keith’s coffee order at their drive-in rendezvous spot.  

After a few months of sneaking around and drinking copious amounts of coffee and champagne at the drive-in, Abby and Jake decide that they should just get it over with and marry, much to the chagrin of the oldest children.  After marrying, Abby and Jake try to figure out how their family will live together in one house.  Day’s house is larger, but needs at least one more bedroom for Stacey.  Jake’s house is much smaller.  The newly blended family tries to bounce back and forth between houses, but logistically, it becomes a nightmare.  They eventually decide that they’ll buy a larger house.  Until their respective homes sell, Abby and Jake purchase a camper trailer that will serve as an extra bedroom.  After fighting over who gets to sleep in the camper, Abby and Jake move in–much to Abby’s chagrin.

Up until the camper fiasco, much of this film resembles one of day’s more sophisticated comedies.  There are multiple discussions about sex and there are quite a few “did they or didn’t they?” scenes between Abby and Jake.  In a scene where Abby and Jake have just endured watching television with the younger children, they look forward to having time to themselves to (presumably) make out on the couch.  Flip, however, senses this and makes a point of staying in the room, effectively ending any makeout sessions.  The tension, both sexual and not, in this scene is palpable, with Flip very smug, knowing exactly what he’s doing.  If With Six You Get Eggroll had been made when the production code was in full swing, I do not believe that Abby and Jake could have been portrayed as being home alone, canoodling with champagne in front of the fire, especially since they fall asleep in front of the fire.  Finally, Abby’s maid, Molly, played by Alice Ghostley (aka Aunt Esmeralda from Bewitched) expresses her annoyance when Abby and Jake show up at Jake’s house unannounced, looking for a place to rendezvous away from everyone.  It seems that Molly was promised the use of Jake’s house for the same reason.

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  Doris Day in the family camper trailer.  

Another feature of this film that sets it apart from other family comedies of the same time is the look and portrayal of the leading man.  Jake uses fairly strong language (for a family film) with multiple instances of “hell” and “damn.”  He seems quick-tempered (though not violent) and stubborn.  It’s also interesting that he has a pretty rough looking tattoo on his arm, which is prominently displayed when the kids walk in on Abby and Jake the morning after they eloped.  Good on Abby and Jake for getting dressed again! We have to assume SOMETHING went on on their wedding night.

One of the best scenes in the film is when Stacey exerts her “lady of the house” attitude one too many times for Abby’s liking and Abby decides to show Stacey what it means to be in charge of the home.  She writes up a very long and difficult list of household chores (ironing, vacuuming, waxing floors, silver polishing, etc.) for her to complete.  After working all morning and day, Stacey completes the list.  Abby gives her a new list for the next day, a list consisting of going to the movies and visiting with friends.  Stacey has a new appreciation for her new step-mother and they have a very sweet bonding moment.  Of course father Jake comes in and sees the list and completely misunderstands the point Abby was trying to make.  This misunderstanding evolves into a very heated argument, which serves as the catalyst for the camper mayhem at the end of the film.  The ending of the film features Jamie Farr (Klinger from M*A*S*H) and Allen Melvin (Sam the Butcher from The Brady Bunch).

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 The crazy cast of characters that join Brian Keith and Doris Day at the jail. 

One of my favorite things about 1960s comedies, is that there is almost always a scene taking place in a club with some crazy music playing.  The music is never identifiable and I imagine that it’s just being performed for the film.  With Six You Get Eggroll features a wild dance club with some music that sounds like they sampled the marimba track from The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” What’s also amazing about these scenes is the dancing.  As someone who is rhythmically challenged, the dancing that appears in these 1960s movies or the Beach Party movies looks like something I could do.  Cactus Flower, Yours Mine and Ours, and Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice all feature amazing club scenes.  I also think it’s funny that the music is pretty much the same throughout the entire duration of the club scene–it never changes.

With Six You Get Eggroll was released in 1968. At this time, the sexual attitudes in the United States were greatly evolving and Day’s brand of clean comedy was falling out of style.  Day was offered the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, but her manager/husband, Marty Melcher, turned the role down on her behalf.  Both Day and Melcher felt that the script was vulgar.  While Day’s films still attracted an audience, they were not turning the type of profit that they had prior.  During filming of ‘Eggroll,’ Melcher unexpectedly died.  Doris was devastated in more ways than one.  Of course, she was devastated that her husband had died; but she also discovered that her husband and his business partner had squandered all her earnings, leaving her deeply in debt.  She also discovered that her husband had signed her up for a weekly sitcom on CBS.  Day did not want to do a television show, but she had no other option.  She was obligated and also needed to repay her debts.  The Doris Day Show which aired from 1968 to 1973 essentially ended Day’s film career.

After the end of Day’s sitcom, she appeared on a few more variety shows and talk show interviews, but she was all but retired by the 1980s.  In 1989, she came out of seclusion to attend the Golden Globe Awards and accept the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award.  Since her retirement, Day has dedicated herself to animal rights and welfare.  She continues to keep busy at her home in Carmel, CA and tomorrow, on April 3, she will celebrate her 96th birthday–you go Doris!

 

 

Favorite Performers: Gene Kelly

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Even with the scar, Gene is pretty cute!

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of Gene Kelly’s passing at the age of 83.  I remember hearing of his death in the sixth grade and feeling so sad.  I was a few months shy of twelve at the time.  I had just discovered Nick at Nite the year prior and had just discovered Gene Kelly by way of his appearance with Lucille Ball in DuBarry Was a Lady (1943). While ‘DuBarry’ wasn’t his best film, I liked Gene.  He just had that je ne sois quoi about him.  After seeing him with Lucy, I was hooked.  I religiously checked the TCM listings (then in its infancy) for Gene’s movies and tried to set the VCR to record them.  With each recording, I’d cross my fingers hoping that I’d set up the recording correctly and that the tape wouldn’t run out before my recording was complete.  Between TCM and the ever reliable Hollywood Video, I managed to see a few of Gene’s films.  When I heard that he had died, I remember watching Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The Pirate (1948) with my friend who also loved him.

While I love Fred Astaire, I would never compare him with Gene.  Honestly, they’re like apples and oranges.  Sure, they’re both dancers and both men, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.  In the end though, I think I have to give Gene the edge–if only because I love the fabulous elaborate dance numbers he put together in his films.  Astaire, to his credit, did do some pretty fantastic numbers in his post-Ginger Rogers films.  However, Astaire never put together such productions like the ballet in An American in Paris (1951) and the “Broadway Melody” number in Singin’ in the Rain–two of my favorite numbers of any musical ever made.   Gene was a pioneer and an innovator not only in musicals but in the world of film itself.

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Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in “Ziegfeld Follies (1945)”  Two fantastic, yet very different dancers.

Gene was born in Pittsburgh in 1912.  As a child, he was reluctantly enrolled in dance classes with his brothers.  Gene dreamed of playing shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team–not being a world renowned movie star, dancer, choreographer and director.  At some point, Gene had a change of heart and gave up on his dream of being a professional baseball player.  Lucky for us, he decided to dedicate himself to dancing. By the early 1930s, Gene was a teacher at his own dancing school. By the late 1930s, Gene had established a very successful dance studio and decided to move to New York City to find work as a choreographer.  He didn’t find much success during his first stint in New York.  By 1940, he was back in his hometown starring in and choreographing local theater productions.  It was in one of these productions where he was discovered and given a larger part.  That part led to an even larger part in a bigger production and so on.

By 1940, Gene was back in New York appearing on Broadway in Pal Joey–a play which was later made into a 1957 film starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak. During Gene’s appearance in Pal Joey, he was approached by Hollywood mogul David O.Selznick for a Hollywood contract.  By the time Gene made his film debut in 1942 in For Me and My Gal with Judy Garland, Selznick had sold Gene’s contract to MGM.  During the next couple of years, Gene appeared in a few dramatic films and even appeared in a musical with Lucille Ball who had recently signed with MGM after a long stint at RKO as “The Queen of the Bs.”

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Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien, Tommy Dorsey, Rags Ragland and Zero Mostrel in “DuBarry Was a Lady.”

Gene’s big big break was when he was loaned to Columbia to appear with Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl (1944).  It was this film where he finally started to show glimpses of what he would achieve later.  One of the best dance numbers in this film is when Gene dances with his own reflection.  For the next decade or so, Gene appeared in a remarkable series of films that gradually built upon one another and showcased the innovative film and storytelling techniques and dance routines that Gene would become known for.  Gene was lucky to come around at just the right time–the Golden Era of the Hollywood musical from the mid-1940s through the mid to late 1950s.

By the late 1950s, the public’s tastes had changed and intense dramas and issue driven films were more popular.  The musicals of the 1960s and beyond definitely have a different feel about them and feel gritty and grim–which is a definite contrast to the glamorous and sparkly looks of their predecessors.  By this point in his career, Gene had mostly retired from dancing and turned into a director.  One his biggest films was 1969’s Hello, Dolly! which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning three. In 1980, Gene returned to the big screen in the musical Xanadu.

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Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John in that cinematic classic, “Xanadu.”

Despite its reputation as one of those “so bad, its good” movies, I love Xanadu.  It has everything you’d want in a film: Gene Kelly, Gene Kelly roller skating, Gene Kelly playing the clarinet, Olivia Newton-John singing catchy 80s pop songs, a big roller skating dance number, flashbacks, Greek Gods, magic, neon… This film has everything.  When asked about why he made this film, Gene stated that the film had a great concept, it just didn’t quite turn out.  I think it turned out great.  This is truly one of the gems from 1980.  After Xanadu, Gene was pretty much retired and spent the remainder of his life making the award show circuits (picking up a Cecil B. DeMille award in 1981, Kennedy Center Honors in 1982, AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 1989, just to name a few of the honors he received).  By the late 1980s-early 1990s, Gene’s health steadily declined until his passing in 1996.

My favorite Gene Kelly movies:

Words and Music (1948),”Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.” Gene and Vera-Ellen only appeared in a segment of this musical biopic starring Mickey Rooney and Tom Drake, however, they are definitely the highlight.  “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” is definitely a sexy number, a trait that is unusual in the goody two shoes MGM movies of the 1940s.  Vera-Ellen’s character is killed and she dies on the staircase, on her back, right in front of the camera.  All we see of Vera-Ellen’s character is her chest and legs.  This number also has great music that I really like.

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Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen in “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” in “Words and Music.”

On the Town (1949). This film is the final film that Gene made with Frank Sinatra and I feel that it is their best.  I like Anchors Aweigh but cannot stand Kathryn Grayson, so that film pales a little bit in comparison with ‘Town.’  I thought Gene had a great rapport with not only Frank but love interest Vera-Ellen.  My favorite number in this film is actually the “Prehistoric Man” number that mainly features Ann Miller, but Gene provides some amusing backup.  However, for Gene’s best number in this film, that honor would have to go to “A Day in New York” where all his co-stars, save for Vera-Ellen (who had ballet training, which non of the actor cast members had).  Vera-Ellen and Gene make a great duo–which is interesting because I don’t typically think of Gene as being part of a dancing team.


An American in Paris
.  This film is widely considered Gene’s masterpiece and won the 1951 Oscar for Best Picture over the likes of A Streetcar Named Desire and A Place in the Sun.  While I like ‘Desire,’ and ‘Sun,’ give me ‘Paris,’ any day.  This film is so much fun and such a delight to both the eyes and ears that it makes an enjoyable experience each time I see it.  The best number in this film is of course the seventeen minute ballet at the end of the film.  This was a huge gamble for Kelly, director Vincente Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed.  Not only was the ballet expensive to produce, but it was unknown whether the audience would respond to it.  Well the audience did and the film was a huge hit, winning six Oscars, including the aforementioned “Best Picture” Oscar.  Gene was also given an Honorary Oscar for his versatility and achievement in choreography on film. My favorite part of the entire ballet is the Toulouse Lautrec part.  Could anyone else but Gene Kelly wear a flesh colored leotard?

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Gene Kelly’s flesh colored leotard in the Toulouse Lautrec part of the ballet in “An American in Paris.”  I’m not going to lie, this gif was the whole reason for this post.

Singin’ in the Rain.  This is probably Gene’s best known film and honestly, it is probably the best musical ever made.  I love this movie.  From the amazing cast (Gene, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen) to the great music, fun storyline, great costumes, everything.  This film is almost perfect.  The only thing marring this fabulous film, in my opinion, is the fact that Debbie Reynolds’ character has three different singing voices.  O’Connor is hilarious and has his amazing “Make ‘Em Laugh” dance routine.  Has there ever been a dance that looked so physically exhausting? Jean Hagen is hilarious as Lina Lamont, Gene’s delusional co-star and Hollywood-manufactured love interest.  Lina has a horrendous voice that is fine in silent film (because obviously you can’t hear her), but in a talkie… ugh.  And Debbie is just adorable as Gene’s love interest and the studio’s new discovery, threatening to supplant Lina’s status as top female star at the studio.  Pretty much every number in this film is fantastic, but my favorite would be the “Broadway Melody” number toward the end of the film.  It is colorful, has great dancing, a storyline, and fun music.  My favorite part of it is the part where Gene dances with Cyd Charisse, who is wearing a fringed and beaded green flapper dress.  The music is fantastic and Gene and Cyd just sizzle on screen.  This is one of the sexier musical numbers during the production code era.  The best part is when Gene lifts Cyd up with just one arm.

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The most famous moment in Gene Kelly’s entire career, singing (and dancing) the title song from “Singin in the Rain”

Other favorite Gene Kelly films:

Summer Stock (1950). “Get Happy” is probably one of the best numbers in Judy Garland’s career.  On the flipside, “Heavenly Music” is probably one of the absolute worst numbers in Gene’s career.  I loathe that number.  The only good part is when the dogs run out on stage.

The Pirate.  This film failed at the box office in 1948, but it’s a great film.  Perhaps it was ahead of its time.  Gene has all kinds of great athletic numbers, including one where he dons shorty shorts and dances with fire.  Judy is great and looks gorgeous and there is a fantastic number at the end where Gene dances with the amazing Nicholas Brothers.  They sing “Be a Clown” which suspiciously sounds like “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain.  Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown” came before Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed’s “Make ‘Em Laugh.”  However, both The Pirate and Singin’ in the Rain were produced by Arthur Freed. Hmm…

-Les Girls (1957).  Gene dances with Mitzi Gaynor in a fantastic number called “Why Am I So Gone (About That Gal?).”  Mitzi looks great and she and Gene have a great dancing chemistry.

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Gene Kelly and Shirley MacLaine spoofing the big 1940s musicals in “What a Way to Go!”

What a Way to Go! (1964) This film stars Shirley MacLaine as an inadvertent black widow who just wants to live a simple life, free of material possessions.  The present day part of the film features her telling the story of how she met and married each of her husbands and how money led her husband to his eventual death–the kicker being that it was Shirley who in trying to help her husband’s psyche, ends up leading him to riches.  With each death, Shirley inherited her husband’s fortune.  She’s worth millions upon millions of dollars and just wants to give it all away.  She’s sent to a psychologist (Robert Cummings) because who wouldn’t want all that money? In this film, Gene plays Shirley’s fourth husband, Pinky Benson.

When Shirley meets Gene, he is working as a two-bit clown in a small club. His act is lame and nobody in the club pays attention to him.  She feels sorry for Gene because he’s a very nice man and she senses that underneath the clown getup, he does have some talent.  One night, Gene is running late and doesn’t have time to put on the clown costume.  She convinces him to go out without the costume and just perform his act.  Well, Gene’s simple soft-shoe routine is a sensation and soon he’s off to Hollywood.  We are then treated to a send up of the big flashy MGM musicals as Shirley describes her life with Gene to the psychologist (each of her stories about her different husbands is a spoof of a different genre of film).  Shirley is up to the task of dancing with Gene and they do a really great and funny number together.  Gene’s character eventually becomes a huge, egotistical star who lives in an all-pink mansion (his character’s name is “Pinky” after all), and by all-pink, I mean ALL-PINK.  He eventually meets his fate when he is crushed to death by a stampede of adoring fans.

KELLY, GENE

 

 

Jack Lemmon Blogathon–“Some Like it Hot” (1959)

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“I’m Daphne!”

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And thus begins one of the all-time funniest screen performances.  Jack Lemmon, who landed the role of Jerry/Daphne in Some Like it Hot after Jerry Lewis turned it down (thank goodness), delivers an Oscar-nominated performance and frankly, just one of the best portrayals ever to grace the silver screen.  His little cackles, facial expressions, mannerisms, everything he implements to create “Daphne,” are fantastic.  He makes the film.  Without him, it might have been funny, but not hysterical.  Don’t get me wrong, co-stars Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Joe E. Brown had their moments, but Some Like it Hot belongs to Jack Lemmon.

In other hands, like original choice Jerry Lewis’ for example, the role of Daphne could have easily evolved into something absurd and obnoxious.  Lemmon’s portrayal is absurd, but in a good way.  What makes his portrayal so successful is that he commits to the role.  He is in no way self conscious about dressing in drag.  What makes his introduction of Daphne so funny is how he suddenly embraces his persona while being introduced to Sweet Sue.  Jerry and Joe had already agreed that they would be Geraldine and Josephine, respectively, and suddenly Jerry blurts out “Daphne.” “I never did like the name Geraldine,” he says.  His enthusiasm is a contrast to the scene just a minute prior where complains about his outfit and shoes and then sees lead singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), walk down the train platform and is disillusioned that their charade is even going to work.

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JERRY: “Look at that. Look how she moves. That’s just like Jell-O on springs.  They must have some sort of built-in motor or something. I tell ya, it’s a whole different sex.”

The train ride from Chicago to Miami is one of the funniest scenes in the film.  Jerry is painfully aware that he’s supposed to be a woman–an awareness that only gets more cumbersome when he’s partying with a dozen girls inside his upper berth.  When Sugar invites herself into his “room” (if you can call it that), he has to remind himself “I’m a girl. I’m a girl” only to lament, “I wish I were dead.”

Another of my favorite scenes is when Sweet Sue (the band manager) emphatically states “There are two things I will not put up with during working hours: liquor and men!” To which Jerry (as Daphne), who has completely embraced his female alter ego (and is bordering on trying too hard to be believable as a woman), says:

JERRY: “We wouldn’t be caught dead with men! Rough, hairy beasts with eight hands. And they all just want one thing from a girl!”

The funniest part of that exchange is the disgusted look he makes afterward. Pretty much everything “Daphne” says is hilarious.

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Daphne’s feeling about men

The best part of Some Like it Hot is Daphne’s budding romance with Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), the oft-married (and oft-divorced) mama’s boy millionaire, who spends his time hanging out at the Seminole Ritz Hotel in Miami, always looking for his next ex-wife.  When Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters enter the hotel lobby, Osgood immediately has his sights set for Daphne.  While the subplot featuring the budding romance between Shell Oil-heir “Junior” (Tony Curtis doing his Cary Grant impression) and Sugar is amusing, the Daphne/Osgood courtship is comedy gold.

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While the audience and Jerry know that this relationship has no future, watching the millionaire become more and more enamored with Daphne is hysterical.  The tango scene where they literally tango until dawn (originally meant as a scheme for Joe bring Sugar to rendezvous in Osgood’s yacht, without Osgood being present, of course).  Jerry is really into their dancing and is having the time of his life.  The tango night leads to Osgood proposing to Jerry and giving him a diamond bracelet as an engagement present.  The scene where Jerry announces his engagement is one of the best parts of the film:

JOE: “What happened?”
JERRY: “I’m engaged.”
JOE: “Congratulations. Who’s the lucky girl?”
JERRY: “I am!”
JOE: “What?”
JERRY: “Osgood proposed to me. We’re planning a June wedding.”
JOE: “What are you talking about? You can’t marry Osgood.”
JERRY: “Do you think he’s too old for me?”

When Joe tries to talk some sense into Jerry by asking the obvious question (well obvious in 1959 that is), “why would a guy want to marry a guy?” Jerry answers, “Security.” Then goes on to say:

JERRY: “I don’t expect it to last.  I’ll tell him the truth when the time comes.”
JOE: “Like when?”
JERRY: “Like right after the ceremony. Then we get a quick annulment, he makes a nice settlement on me and I keep gettin’ those alimony checks every month.”

Throughout this entire scene, Jerry is shaking maracas and humming the tango.  He is excited about his proposal, even though he knows that he can’t really marry Osgood. Though as someone who hocked his overcoat to gamble money on a dog at the track (and lost), the prospect of being financially secure is probably an enticing one and he’s probably considering it, even though realistically, it can’t happen. Jerry’s maracas weren’t originally in the script; however, they were added after preview audiences laughed so hard that much of Jerry’s dialogue was lost.  Director Billy Wilder added the pauses and maracas and re-shot the scene so that the humor and the dialogue would remain intact.

The ending scene between Jerry and Osgood is one of the funniest (and most perfect endings) in film.  The moment has come when Jerry really needs to come clean about his true identity and call off the engagement.  He tries to hint to Osgood the reason why he can’t marry him:

Osgood wants Jerry to wear his mother’s wedding gown:

JERRY: “I can’t get married in your mother’s dress…she and I, we are not built the same way.”
OSGOOD: “We can have it altered.”

Jerry tries again:

JERRY: “I’m not a natural blonde.”
OSGOOD: “Doesn’t matter.”
JERRY: “I smoke. I smoke all the time!”
OSGOOD: “I don’t care.”
JERRY: “I have a terrible past. For three years, I’ve been living with a saxophone player.”
OSGOOD: “I forgive you.”
JERRY: “I can never have children.”
OSGOOD: “We can adopt some.”

Exasperated, Jerry finally lays it all out on the table:

JERRY: “I’m a man”

Then, one of the greatest lines and endings of all time:

OSGOOD: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

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How will Jerry ever get out of this mess?

Nothing to do with Jack Lemmon, but this is one of my favorite lines from “Some Like it Hot,”

DOLORES: Have you heard the one about the one-legged jockey? 
…then later, we hear the punchline…
DOLORES: “Don’t worry about me baby, I ride side-saddle!”