Tag Archives: classic film

Favorite Performers: Gene Kelly

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.


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.”


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.

Gene Kelly_Olivia Newton John_Xanadu-1980

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.


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?


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.

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.

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.





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


“I’m Daphne!”


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.


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.

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.


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.”



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!” 

Bette Davis Blogathon

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

bette davis

By 1962, Bette Davis’ days as a leading lady were long over.  After successes like Dangerous (1935), Jezebel (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), Now, Voyager (1942), and Mr. Skeffington (1944), Davis became unhappy with the assignments she was provided.  Almost all the films she made from 1946-1949 were either financial and/or professional disappointments.  Davis was also getting on in age (in Hollywood years anyway, she was only late 30s) and was not being cast in the romantic leading roles she had been given a decade earlier.  In 1949, she was cast in the film noir, Beyond the Forest.  At the time, Davis knew it was a clunker and the critics like Hedda Hopper provided the same assessment, even going as far to say, “If Bette had deliberately set out to wreck her career, she could not have picked a more appropriate vehicle.”  At the conclusion of the filming of Beyond the Forest, Davis was finally released from her contract, after eighteen years with Warner Brothers.

“Beyond the Forest” (1949) a film so bad, it’s good.  This film is hilarious, highly recommended.

By 1950, Davis was working as a freelancer.  After completing Payment on Demand, Davis was offered the leading role of Margo Channing in All About Eve.  ‘Eve’ provided Davis with one of her best known roles.  While Davis worked steadily after ‘Eve,’ she wasn’t able to recapture the success she achieved in the 1930s-1940s.  By the early 1960s, Davis’ career had segued into horror films.  She made many horror films during the 1960s-1980s, including: The Nanny (1965), Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973), Burnt Offerings (1976), and Watcher in the Woods (1980). Her most famous one however, is What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).  A film that is just as notorious for what went on behind the cameras as what went on in front of them.

In 1962, Davis was cast in Robert Aldrich’s psychological thriller/horror film, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? She was cast alongside longtime rival, Joan Crawford.  Davis’ character, “Baby Jane,” was a huge child star.  Crawford’s character, Blanche, spent her childhood in Jane’s shadow always standing in the wings watching her sister perform.  When the girls reached adulthood, Jane’s star was snuffed out.  She was too old to be “Baby Jane” and wasn’t talented enough to be an adult actress.  Blanche on the other hand, ended up becoming a famous actress and achieved the Hollywood stardom that Jane always wanted for herself.  The pre-credit scenes are a flashback showing the two women’s careers in Hollywood.  The sequence ends with one woman purposely hitting the other woman with her car and paralyzing her.  It is assumed that Jane is the one who paralyzed Blanche.


The contemporary part of the film depicts Jane and Blanche as they are today–two sisters, former stars, living in a decaying Hollywood mansion.  They are living off of Blanche’s money (which is quickly running out) and Jane is her caretaker.  Jane however, is insanely jealous of Blanche’s success and career and does what ever she can to torment her.  Jane is bonkers and the things she does to Blanche are terrifying.  When Jane discovers that Blanche is planning on selling the mansion, her mental health deteriorates even further.  She cuts the cord to Blanche’s telephone, essentially cutting her off from the world.  Jane also starts tampering with Blanche’s food, making her scared to eat.  On one occasion, there was a rat on the platter and on another, a dead bird.   Jane ends up catching Blanche on the phone trying to get outside help and she beats Blanche unconscious, gags and binds her and locks her in her bedroom.  When Blanche’s cleaning lady returns unexpectedly, Jane murders her.

The levity in the movie (if you can call it that) is when Jane decides that she is going to recapture the fame she experienced during her youth.  She dusts off her old sheet music, “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” and hires a pianist (Victor Buono) to accompany her singing.  Jane, a woman in her late 50s, still dresses like the 10-year old girl she was when she was superstar Baby Jane.  She even still wears her hair in blond ringlets, except for now they’re ringlets of dirty and greasy hair.  She also wears pounds of makeup which only highlights how haggard she is.  Apparently, Bette Davis designed her character’s makeup, by stating that Baby Jane seems like someone who would never take her makeup off, she’d just put more on.  Baby Jane looks like she’s wearing 30+ years of makeup, all at the same time.

Baby Jane practices “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy”

Davis and Crawford’s animosity toward one another during the filming of ‘Baby Jane,’ was well known and in the 55 years since then, their feud has evolved into one of the most notorious stories in Hollywood history.  There is even a new mini series, Feud: Bette & Joan, that is on right now that depicts the off screen shenanigans of Davis and Crawford.  There is no way to know the real truth, unless you happened to be on the set with Davis and Crawford, but their feud definitely makes the on-screen drama even more juicy.  Their feud was legendary and hard to place where and how it started.  Did these two ladies really dislike each other that much? Or was it played up for publicity for the film?  There are theories abound regarding professional rivalries (Crawford winning an Oscar for Mildred Pierce, a film Davis turned down), romantic rivalries (Davis’ crush Franchot Tone marrying Crawford), and even award rivalries (Crawford was upset that Davis was nominated for the Oscar for ‘Baby Jane’ and not her.  However, she got her revenge by accepting winner Anne Bancroft’s Oscar that year after Davis lost).

Two years later, Robert Aldrich tried to recapture the “magic” (if you want to call it that) of ‘Baby Jane,’ by re-casting Davis and Crawford in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. However, Crawford just couldn’t get through another period of drama with Davis and she feigned illness and eventually was replaced by Olivia de Havilland.  De Havilland and Davis were friends, so there would be no drama with the new casting decision.  ‘Hush, Hush’ shares many commonalities with ‘Baby Jane’ (except this time, Davis is the one being tormented). However, while it is entertaining, it isn’t as good as ‘Baby Jane.’ De Havilland, a wonderful actress in her own right, just doesn’t bring the right vibe to the film.  The palpable tension between Davis and Crawford just makes ‘Baby Jane’ the film it is–a film that is delightfully creepy, hilarious, campy, and macabre, all at the same time.

The Davis/Crawford re-teaming that never happened. On the set of Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte

Whatever the dynamic was between Davis and Crawford, it worked for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s a shame if their disdain of one another was all because of something petty or a misunderstanding.  Depending on the circumstances, this final line from the film could have been applicable to Davis and Crawford’s relationship:

“You mean all this time we could have been friends?” BABY JANE to BLANCHE




Great Moments in Movies- “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) Dorothy Enters ‘Oz’

Movies are made up of a series of moments.  Some moments are exciting, others are sweet.  Some moments are shocking, others are heartwarming.  It’s these moments that the audience remembers.  A film that contains a memorable moment (or multiple ones) is the one that audiences return to over and over again.  There are films that one loves to watch again and again, then there are others that one viewing is enough.  I love Classic films but I don’t instantly subscribe to the idea that just because it’s old, it’s instantly a classic.  A film has to be memorable.  A film has to be worthy of watching again and again without it being tiresome.  While a film may not have received critical acclaim, if it fulfills the aforementioned criteria, then for me, it’s a classic.

This series is about the memorable moments.  The moment in a film that sets the film apart from others.

Without further ado, here is a memorable moment:

Dorothy steps out of her crashed home into the wonderful world of Oz

The Wizard of Oz (1939).  This film features a series of memorable moments, but the scene in which Judy Garland (Dorothy) steps out of her sepia-toned home and into the colorful world of Oz is one of the most memorable and one of the best in cinema. The contrast between the drab brown of the beginning and the bright, almost too bright, world of The Munchkins is awe-inspiring and does a perfect job setting up the magic of Oz.  This scene also sets up one of the most famous lines in film: “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

No Dorothy, you are most definitely not in Kansas anymore.

City Lights (1931)


I’ll admit that silent movies are not among my favorite genre of film.  Recognizing that many of my favorite Golden Era performers came from the world of silent film, I try to watch some of their silent films, hoping that maybe I’ll find one that I like.  Honestly, I feel like many of the silent films I try to watch are too over the top and I find that the dramatics detract from whatever the storyline is.  I find myself getting bored and doing other things, or simply turning the film off because nothing “clicks” for me. Along with horror and science fiction (unless it’s of the cheesy B-movie variety), silent is among my bottom three favorite film genres.

However, with the recent TCM spotlight on Slapstick Comedy, I ended up catching The Circus (1928) with Charlie Chaplin.  Even though it was silent, Chaplin’s brand of storytelling, combined with his physical comedy made the film mesmerizing.  I ended up watching the subsequent silent film presented that evening–Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) with Buster Keaton and being equally enthralled.  Perhaps Chaplin and Keaton will serve as a positive introduction to silent film.

Prior to TCM’s spotlight, I had recorded three Charlie Chaplin films: The Kid (1921); The Gold Rush (1925); and City Lights (1931).  I recorded these films because: 1) Charlie Chaplin is a legend and I wanted to see his work; and 2) I wanted to give silent film another chance.  I don’t want to immediately discount hundreds of films because they’re part of a genre that isn’t my favorite.  With every film I watch, I go into it wanting it to become my next favorite film.  While nothing will ever usurp The Long Long Trailer (my favorite film), I’ve found numerous films over the years that rank among my favorites.  Surprisingly enough, one Charlie Chaplin film has now made it to my list of favorites–City Lights.

City Lights was released in 1931.  It was Chaplin’s first film made since the advent of
“talkies.” He was somewhat daring when he wrote, produced, directed and starred in this film.  And because he wasn’t busy enough, he also helped compose the score of this film as well.  While other studios were producing sound films, Chaplin stuck with silent.  He spent two years (1928-1930) working on City Lights.

City Lights has a very simple story: The Little Tramp falls in love with a blind Flower Girl and she falls in love with him, thinking he’s a millionaire.  The Little Tramp learns that she and her grandmother are facing eviction because they cannot come up with the $22 worth of back rent. He makes it his mission to raise the money to save his love’s home.  Among the many tactics he tries: a fixed boxing match, taking a job as a street sweeper, borrowing money from his millionaire “friend” (who only recognizes The Little Tramp when he’s inebriated) and finally in desperation, theft.

There are many great scenes in this film.  The scenes between The Little Tramp and his inebriated millionaire friend are hilarious.  At the beginning of the film, after The Little Tramp prevents the depressed, drunk Millionaire from committing suicide, he ends up not only getting a place to sleep that evening, but also a change of clothes.  The next morning, the sober Millionaire, upset about a stranger being in his bed, demands The Little Tramp to leave.  Later that evening, drunk again, the Millionaire sees his “friend,” The Little Tramp, out on the street and invites him in for a lavish party.  The next morning, while leaving for a cruise, the sober Millionaire again tosses his “friend” out.

My favorite parts of the film however, dealt with The Little Tramp and the blind Flower
Girl.  Their scenes together are so adorable.  The Little Tramp very much loves this girl and wants to do anything he can to help her.  He goes through great lengths to try and not only save the Flower Girl and her grandmother’s home, but he also wants to do something to improve the Flower Girl’s life–he wants nothing more than for her to be able to see.  The ending of the film, where The Little Tramp and the Flower Girl are reunited after months of not seeing each other is probably one of the best film endings of all time–and one of the most romantic.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s so simple and so sweet.


In City Lights, Chaplin’s fifth full-length film, he continues to demonstrate his ability to mix physical comedy (e.g. the boxing match and the scenes with the Millionaire) with the romantic (e.g. the beginning and ending scenes with the Flower Girl) and even at times, the sad (e.g. the scene where The Little Tramp goes to jail) is just one of the reasons he was such a legend and genius in film-making.  Straight slapstick shtick often gets tiring (e.g. The Three Stooges).  Chaplin manages to not only make The Little Tramp sympathetic, but he makes him funny.  The Little Tramp is a well-meaning, sweet man who just wants love.  He’s poor and has to do whatever it takes to survive, but he has a good heart and deserves more than he has.  Despite what he lacks in material possessions, The Little Tramp more than makes up for in kindness.

Finally, another reason why I enjoyed this film were the clever tactics that Chaplin used to convey plot points in his films without using sound.  For example, in the beginning of the film where The Little Tramp meets the Flower Girl for the first time, there are a few tricks that Chaplin employs to set up the characters.  The Little Tramp, traveling with the Millionaire, spies the Flower Girl selling flowers.  He asks the Millionaire for money to purchase all of the girl’s flowers.  The Little Tramp borrows the Millionaire’s Rolls Royce and returns to the Flower Girl’s vending spot.  She hears the car drive up and then The Little Tramp purchases all of her flowers.  Then, she drops one of flowers and doesn’t notice–this is when The Little Tramp realizes she is blind.  As she’s making his change, a man gets into a nearby car.  She hears the door slam and the car leave, and assumes that her wealthy customer has left.  This simple scene sets up the premise: The Little Tramp falls in love with a blind Flower Girl who mistakenly believes that he is wealthy.  Throughout the film, she believes that she has a wealthy suitor who is giving her money to save her home and saving her from eviction.  Little does she know that her admirer is homeless, destitute and disheveled–all she knows is that he is sweet, caring and really seems to like her.  This premise when combined with the wonderful ending, is what makes this film stand out from others.  It would be easy to make the ending corny and saccharine, but through Chaplin’s genius, he’s able to deliver the perfect ending.

Jailhouse Rock (1957)


In the past, I had unfairly dismissed the Elvis Presley movies, thinking that they would be silly and lightweight–mostly an excuse to showcase Elvis and his music.  And they probably are.  However, I’ve now seen two Elvis films: Viva Las Vegas and Jailhouse Rock.  I love Viva Las Vegas, it is such a fun movie.  Elvis and Ann-Margret’s chemistry is off the charts, I actually wish they’d made more films together.  In fact, I loved Viva Las Vegas so much, that I kept it on my DVR to watch over and over until I got my own copy.  I think I watched it about four times before I got my own DVD copy of it.  Anyway, Elvis definitely is no Spencer Tracy, Edward G. Robinson or even Fred Astaire, but he’s got enough personality and charisma that it makes up for what he’s lacking in the acting department.

Anyway… On to Jailhouse Rock.

I watched this movie last night.  I’d seen the famous scene where Elvis sings the title song in front of the cell doors, but that’s pretty much all I knew of the film.  Apparently, when viewing the “Jailhouse Rock” musical number, I never bothered to notice the fact that the “cells” have no walls, just the door.  I always assumed that Elvis sang this song while in jail–figuring that maybe he led some sort of crazy choreographed jailbreak or something.  I’m glad that this wasn’t the case.  For an Elvis film, this film actually had a somewhat dark storyline.

The plot involves Elvis, a young man who gets off to a rough start when he fights a drunk man in a bar and inadvertently kills him.  The man had been accosting a young woman in the bar and Elvis didn’t like it and punched him, which led to the brawl.  Anyway, Elvis ends up being convicted of manslaughter and is sentenced to 1-10 years in jail.  While in jail, he meets Mickey Shaughnessy (who I immediately recognized from Designing Woman), a has-been country singer who seems to have been in the clink for a while.  Shaughnessy hears Elvis sing and promises to teach him how to play the guitar. He later convinces Elvis to perform in an upcoming inmate variety show which is also televised. After the appearance, Elvis receives gobs of fan letters.  Jealous, Shaughnessy arranges to make sure Elvis doesn’t receive his fan letters.  He then convinces Elvis to sign a “contract” promising to cut him in for 50% of the profits if Elvis becomes a star.

After almost two years, Elvis is released from jail, he gets a job at a nightclub where he meets a beautiful young woman, Judy Tyler.  After hearing Elvis sing onstage (during an impromptu performance), she convinces him to record a demo for a local record studio.  Elvis’ song ends up being stolen by another artist and he and Tyler form their own record label to produce his music.  Elvis’ career takes off and his ego inflates with it.

I thought this was an entertaining film.  Elvis’ character seems to be a bit quick tempered as he hits people frequently throughout the film.  I thought that Tyler’s character somewhat evened out Elvis’ character.  If he had a tendency toward being impulsive, she was more level headed and rational.  I also really liked Tyler’s speaking voice.  It was very elegant and clear, much like Eleanor Parker’s. Shaughnessy’s character was also interesting as he was a bit of a sleaze but you also felt bad for him as well.

The songs in the film were good too, my favorite though being “Jailhouse Rock.”  Which actually isn’t performed in prison–it’s part of a prison-themed performance planned for the television special that Elvis is to appear in.  Elvis “The Pelvis” is shown in all his glory in this musical number.


Some trivia:

-Just days after completing production on this film, her first big role, Judy Tyler and her husband were killed in a gruesome car accident.  She was only 24.

-Elvis’ apartment (after he makes it big) is simply a redressed version of Lauren Bacall’s apartment from Designing Woman.

-Elvis was so distraught after Judy Tyler’s death, that he couldn’t bring himself to watch the completed version of Jailhouse Rock.


Picnic (1955)

In my first post, I lamented blogs being abandoned soon after being started.  I unfortunately temporarily fell victim to that phenomenon, because I didn’t know what to do next.  I wanted to start the blog, but felt overwhelmed.  I decided today (Labor Day) to try and get this thing going.  I thought I’d kick things off with the film I’m watching right now in honor of Labor Day–Picnic (1955).


(I’ve seen this film multiple times and never tire of it)

Picnic opens with star William Holden (Hal Carter) hitching a ride on a freight train headed through a small Kansas town.  He has an acquaintance (and former fraternity brother), Cliff Robertson (Alan Benson) who lives in this town.  Hal, who failed in his latest venture, Hollywood star, is hoping that Alan will set him up with a job at his wealthy father’s grain mill.  After disembarking from the train, Hal ends up meeting Verna Felton (Mrs. Potts), a kind elderly woman who not only dispenses kind advice to the young single mom next door, but she also is her mother’s (!) caretaker.  In exchange for breakfast, Hal offers to help her out with any work she needs done around her home.  Despite her protests (“It’s Labor Day.  Nobody works on Labor Day,” Mrs. Potts tells Hal), Hal insists on completing some yard work for her.  Mrs. Potts is hilarious because on at least two occasions (perhaps even three), she tries to get Hal to take his shirt off.  She succeeds in the first scene when she offers to wash his shirt while he does her yard work.

While Hal is working away in the yard, Susan Strasberg (Millie Owens), a soon to be high school senior, is sitting outside next door, reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.  She is a bookworm, a bit of a tomboy who very much resents being in the shadow of her 19 year-old sister, Kim Novak (Madge Owens).  Madge is considered one of the prettiest girls in town.  Betty Field (Flo Owens) portrays the single mother of the two girls.  It seems that Mr. Owens walked out on the family when Millie was a newborn, so Flo has been on her own for a long time.  Flo’s main goal for her daughters is that Millie will use her academic talents to attend college and Madge will use her beauty (it is alluded to that academics aren’t Madge’s specialty) to snag a rich husband, in this case, the intended target is Madge’s boyfriend, Alan.  Rosalind Russell portrays Rosemary, the local schoolteacher who also rents out a room in the Owens’ home.   She is also depressed because she’s unmarried and is hoping that her longtime beau, Arthur O’Connell (Howard Bevins), will marry her so she can lose the title of spinster.  All these characters end up at the annual Labor Day Picnic, which is where a bulk of the action takes place.

The main conflict in this film:

Flo wants Madge to be more committed to wealthy boyfriend Alan, who is really only interested in Madge because she looks good on his arm.  Madge, it seems isn’t really into Alan, she’s dating him because her mother wants her to.   There is some funny and icky (in the sense that it’s mother and daughter) dialogue between Flo and Madge about her relationship with Alan.

FLO: “If she (a pretty girl) loses her chance when she’s young, she might as well throw all her prettiness away.”
MADGE: “I’m only nineteen.”
FLO: “And next summer you’ll be 20, and then 21, and then 40!”
MADGE: “You don’t have to be morbid.”

Madge then later has to endure this awkward conversation with her mother, where her mother essentially tells her to put out in order to seal the deal with Alan and secure him as a husband:

FLO: “Madge, does Alan ever make love?”
MADGE: “Sometimes we park the car by the river.”
FLO: “Do you let him kiss you? After all, you’ve been going together all summer.”
MADGE: “Of course I let him!”
FLO: “Does…does he ever want to go beyond kissing?”
MADGE: “Oh mom!”
FLO: “Well I’m your mother for heaven’s sake…these things have to be talked about! Do you like it when he kisses you?”
MADGE: “Yes.”
FLO: “You don’t sound very enthusiastic.”
MADGE: “Well, what do you expect me to do? Pass out every time Alan puts his arms around me?”
FLO: “No. You don’t have to pass out. But there won’t be many more opportunities like the picnic tonight, and it seems to me you could at least–”
MADGE: “What?!”

At the picnic, Flo sees that Hal is crushing on Madge and Madge is reciprocating.  Madge and Hal’s attraction to one another is obvious when they dance to “Moonglow” at the picnic.  Flo is worried that Madge’s attraction to Hal will get in the way of Madge’s relationship with Alan which would move her family up on the social ladder.  Flo is also concerned about Hal’s influence on Millie.


(One of the most romantic scenes in film)

Some of the minor conflicts:

2. Millie resents Madge getting all the attention because of her beauty.  On the flip-side, Madge resents that Millie gets attention for being so smart and winning a full ride scholarship to college.

3. Rosemary is jealous that Hal is only paying attention to the younger Madge and not interested in her.

4. Alan is upset with Hal because his former fraternity buddy is obviously hot for his girlfriend.  Alan wants Madge because she would look good on his arm (i.e. “A trophy wife”).  Alan’s father doesn’t approve of Madge because her social standing is much lower then theirs.

All of these conflicts come to head at the annual Labor Day Picnic.

I love this film.  I am a sucker for the overwrought melodramas anyway and Picnic does not fail to deliver.  This film has everything: shirtless William Holden, romantic dancing, a sexy “did they? or didn’t they?” love scene, a drunken breakdown, over-the-top dramatic scenes and much more–everything you’d want in a melodramatic film. It also offers one of the corniest, albeit creepiest, pick up lines in film history:

ALAN (to MADGE): “I want to see if you look real in the moonlight.”

(Alan is obviously hinting to Madge that he wants to seal the deal too).

If you like any of the stars and/or melodramatic films, I highly recommend Picnic.