CMBA Spring Blogathon, “Fun in the Sun”–Sandra Dee

Sandra Dee in “Gidget”

If there was ever someone that I would associate with summer, it would be Sandra Dee as Francie “Gidget” Lawrence in Gidget. Gidget is the film that served as the catalyst for one of my personal favorite subgenres–the teen beach movie. While some teen beach movies like Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello’s Beach Party movies can be pretty silly, formulaic, and ridiculous (though I enjoy them), others such as Gidget and Where the Boys Are (1960) strike a nice balance between silly and more serious topics. At its core, Gidget is a coming-of-age story about a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, learning about life and love during the pivotal summer between her junior and senior year of high school.

At the start of Gidget, we meet 17-year old Francie. She along with her friends (including a pre-Batgirl Yvonne Craig), are going on a “man hunt” at the beach. Francie’s friends pressure her to go along with them, stating that she doesn’t want to go into her senior year still a virgin (obviously they aren’t explicit in this point). The girls try hard to attract the boys, resorting to strutting around in bathing suits (including Craig’s horribly unflattering white bikini complete with granny panty bottoms), and tossing a ball around (which looks pretty dull to me, btw) while “accidentally” overthrowing it in the boys’ direction. For their part, the boys are watching the girls’ antics more as amusement than being seduced by them. They even laugh at poor Francie, who 1) is obviously less buxom than her friends; and 2) is clumsy and seemingly more childlike. Francie is only half-heartedly participating, as she is more interested in snorkeling than doing dumb things to attract the surfer boys.

James Darren, Sandra Dee, and Cliff Robertson in “Gidget”

Eventually, Francie insinuates herself into the group of surfer boys. She is immediately crushing on a college boy, Moondoggie (James Darren). She teaches herself how to surf and soon is just one of the “guys” in the surf gang. The boys bestow Francie with a new nickname, “Gidget.” Gidget is a portmanteau of “girl” and “midget.” While I don’t know if that’s entirely the most flattering nickname, it does demonstrate that the boys have accepted Gidget into their group. Moondoggie is charmed by Gidget’s innocence and sweet demeanor and becomes protective over her. Eventually Moondoggie asks Gidget to wear his college pin–essentially asking her to be his girlfriend. At the end of the film, Gidget’s friends are still single and Gidget has been pinned, solely because she chose to be herself and let her relationship with Moondoggie evolve naturally. Her friends on the other hand, were trying too hard and were unsuccessful. And while I think it’s safe to say that Gidget and her friends are all still virgins at the end, Gidget is the one who has ultimately prevailed in the “man hunt” and she’ll be entering her senior year as the girlfriend to a college man.

Sandra Dee’s dark brown eyes were one of her biggest assets

Dee was perfect casting for the wide-eyed, somewhat awkward Gidget. Her large, dark brown eyes conveyed so much vulnerability and innocence. While Dee might not have been outwardly glamorous or sexy, a la peers like Tuesday Weld or Ann-Margret, she very much fits the girl next door aesthetic. She seems approachable and someone with whom you can easily identify. However, Dee’s innocent persona also led to her being labeled as virginal and a goody goody, thanks to a popular tune from Grease (1978), in which bad girl Rizzo croons, “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee
Lousy with virginity
Won’t go to bed, ’til I’m legally wed
I can’t, I’m Sandra Dee.”

Stockard Channing as “Rizzo” in Grease (1978)

However, these lyrics aren’t fair to Dee. Much like the older Doris Day who was also similarly labeled as “virginal,” she regularly stepped out of this persona. Even in Gidget, Gidget laments to her mother that she’s still “pure as the driven snow” after her attempt to hook up with Moondoggie at the luau aka “the orgy” fails–though they do kiss, for what it’s worth. I found it interesting that Gidget would openly lament her virginity with her mother, because really, who wants to discuss that with their mom? In 1963, four years after Gidget, audiences would see Dee again lament to her parents that she was still a virgin, in the very sunny Take Her, She’s Mine.

Sandra Dee in “Take Her She’s Mine.”

Take Her, She’s Mine co-stars Dee with James Stewart, who by this time had transitioned into my personal favorite era in his career, “the fussy dad period.” Stewart plays Dee’s father, Frank, who laments that his daughter, Mollie (Dee), has grown up and become “a dish.” We see Mollie strutting her stuff in a bikini, preparing to dive into the family pool in front of her co-ed group of friends. The film then segues into the main plot–Mollie is going away for college and Frank becomes concerned about the perceived “grown-up” activities that she’s getting herself involved in.

Mollie attends two different colleges in Take Her, She’s Mine. At the beginning of the film, she’s taken to the airport where she’s flying across the country to the East Coast where she’s starting college. College seemingly starts well for Mollie, except that she’s still a virgin after being at college for a few weeks. She laments her lack of “action” to her parents in a letter home. Because it’s 1962-1963, Mollie gets heavily involved in activism–participating in sit-ins, protests, and other activities which get her arrested more than once. Mollie ends up being expelled from the college, presumably because of her grades. She spends her summer at home, working on her true passion, painting. We see “the dish” Mollie, out in the sun, decked out in her bikini and sun hat, painting an abstract depiction of her family’s home. Mollie’s art talents ultimately lead to her being granted a scholarship to study art in Paris. There is an amusing scene where Mollie interviews with the representative from the college while in her bikini.

Sandra Dee is a dish in “Take Her, She’s Mine”

Again, Mollie is off to college, this time to Paris. While in Paris, Mollie falls in love with a hunky Parisian, Henri. Frank is highly concerned about his daughter’s relationship with a Frenchman. However, Mollie and Henri make a cute couple. We see Mollie on the banks of the Seine River, working on her painting while Henri looks on. Henri and Mollie are genuinely in love. In this relationship, it is unknown how far their relationship has gone, but it is easy to imagine that they could have already consummated their relationship, seeing that they have a few makeout sessions. They marry by the end of the film, so it’s safe to say that Mollie is “all grown-up” at the end.

While Take Her, She’s Mine might not feature the sun in the same way that Gidget does, in this film, Dee has such a bright, sunny personality and vivacious demeanor, that it’s easy to see why father Stewart would be so nervous. In this film, Dee is a little more mature than she was four years prior in Gidget. By 1963, Dee was 21 years old, and had been married to Bobby Darin for 3 years and was mother to a 2-year old child. She’s a little less vulnerable in this film, she seems more worldly, more confident. This film serves as a coming-of-age story for both Mollie and Frank, as Mollie learns how to live as an adult in the world and Frank learns how to let his daughter live her life and make her own decisions. Mollie can’t always be protected by Frank and Frank won’t always be there to protect Mollie.

Both Gidget and Take Her, She’s Mine feature Dee as a young woman who wants to grow up and sees losing her virginity as a sign that she’s grown. In both of these films, neither of Dee’s characters seem all that concerned about the possible repercussions of losing her virginity. While there doesn’t need to be a punishment, of course, both Gidget and Mollie see the loss of her virginity in a more positive light, a rite of passage. However, during the same year that Dee played the innocent Gidget, she also played another young woman dealing with sex, another character named Molly in A Summer Place.

Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue in “A Summer Place.”

A Summer Place is an amazing film. I love it for the sheer melodrama. This film has everything. The crux of the film though, is the relationship between Molly and Johnny (Troy Donahue), two teenagers who fall in love. Molly, bless her heart, comes from two very different parents–the easygoing and progressive Ken (Richard Egan), and the puritanical shrew, Helen (Constance Ford). Ken is realistic that his daughter is growing up and it is inevitable that she’ll start having sexual feelings. Helen on the other hand, wants to obscure her daughter’s growing figure with restrictive undergarments. She is obsessed with protecting her daughter’s virtue and even goes as far as to force her to submit to a humiliating physical examination. Johnny and Molly spend the night together (chastely) on an island after their row boat capsizes. Helen is convinced that they obviously had sex. She enlists her doctor to inspect Molly, presumably to ensure her hymen is still intact.

If the humiliating and incredibly invasive physical examination weren’t enough, Helen is constantly on everyone’s case about the teenagers’ burgeoning relationship and obsessive assertions that they’re sleeping together. Molly and Johnny are very much in love and struggle to be together in spite of Helen’s interference. Eventually, they do have sex and Molly ends up pregnant. And while it’s definitely not fair that Molly is punished for engaging in premarital sex, it definitely lends to the drama. Molly has to deal with the shame of being an unmarried, pregnant teenage mother–a shame instilled in her by her mother and society. Eventually, Molly and Johnny marry, saving Molly the stigma of being an unwed mother, and also giving her baby a name.

Sandra Dee’s amazing hat with built-in sunglasses in “A Summer Place.” I’ll never miss a chance to post this photo.

In A Summer Place, Dee’s deep brown eyes give her this vulnerability. She’s a little more worldly than Gidget, but not quite as mature as Mollie in Take Her, She’s Mine. Dee’s Molly in A Summer Place, wants to explore these new sexual feelings, but has to live in an environment where sex is both treated as a sin and as a natural human urge. Molly is conflicted, she wants to act on these feelings with Johnny, a boy whom she loves. But she also doesn’t want to have to deal with her mother who has drilled it into her that sex is bad. The summer setting in this film only adds to the conflict. For whatever reason, summer seems to be the perfect setting for a love story–the beautiful sunshine, the beautiful ocean setting, all in all a very romantic setting. Add in the teenage hormones and two beautiful teenagers, and you have the perfect setting for an intense melodrama.

Between Gidget, A Summer Place, and Take Her She’s Mine, Sandra Dee’s virginal status runs the gamut between wanting to lose her virginity as a rite of passage to still wanting to lose her virginity, but because she’s an adult. In between, Dee deals with the physical and social repercussions of actually acting upon losing her virginity. For an actress seemingly synonymous with being virginal, Dee spent a lot of summers preoccupied with sex.

Molly’s loving mother in “A Summer Place”

#PreCodeApril2022 Film #2: Blonde Crazy (1931)

I followed up The Public Enemy with another James Cagney/Joan Blondell feature. These two make a good pairing. This was also a very entertaining film–and it made one thing clear, Joan Blondell knew how to slap!

Blonde Crazy, 1931
Starring: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Louis Calhern, Ray Milland, Guy Kibbee
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Studio: Warner Brothers

SYNOPSIS: At the beginning of Blonde Crazy, we meet Bert Harris (Cagney), a bellboy who works at a midwestern hotel. One day, a young woman, Anne Roberts (Blondell) applies for a job at the hotel as a chambermaid. Bert takes an instant liking to Anne, and after some finangling, he scores her the job. Anne excels at her work as the chambermaid, but between Bert’s constant advances, and the other creepy male patrons of the hotel, she learns that there is more expected of her than just bringing more towels. This is where we see Blondell show off her considerable slapping skills.

After one particular heinous encounter with a wealthy patron, A. Rupert Johnson (Kibbee), which culminated in him groping Anne. Because he has taken a fancy to Anne and because he is a con artist, Bert suggests to Anne that they get back at Johnson by scamming him. They can extort money out of him and pay him back for harassing Anne. Anne is reluctant at first, but ultimately goes along with the plan. She and Johnson go out on a date. Bert pays a pal to pretend to be a cop and “catch” Johnson and Anne in a compromising position. In an effort to protect his reputation and keep from going to jail, Johnson pays the cop $5,000. The $5,000 goes to Bert and Anne, which they split 50/50.

Blondell in the bathtub

Anne and Bert decide to move to the more glamorous New York City, where they live the high life. One evening, they meet Dan Barker (Calhern) and his date. After getting to talking, Dan takes a liking to Bert and offers to cut him in on his counterfeiting scheme. All Dan needs is a $5,000 investment from Bert. Bert ends up giving Dan his and Anne’s money. Meanwhile, Anne has fallen in love with Bert, but is turned off by his constant desire to scam people instead of earning money legitimately. She ends up meeting and falling in love with an Englishman, Joe Reynolds (Milland).

MY THOUGHTS: I loved this movie. It was fun to see Cagney playing such a wacky character, though his “Honnnnnn-ey” catchphrase got a little tiring after a while. This was a very precode precode. There is a pretty sexy scene of Blondell bathing. And there was a funny scene of Cagney looking for money in Blondell’s bra. The scene culminates with him putting her bra over his eyes like a big pair of lacy glasses. This was a very funny film and I liked the plot with Cagney and Calhern. Milland was kind of dull, but his character was needed for the third act of the film.

Blondell really knew how to slap


Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon- “Rhoda the Beautiful,” The Mary Tyler Moore Show

I love Mary Tyler Moore and her self-titled, groundbreaking sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (TMTMS). It is my second favorite show after I Love Lucy. TMTMS is one of the best written sitcoms of all times. Usually shows with such large ensemble casts have at least 1-2 characters that are kind of lame, or irritating, or what have you. However, TMTMS is so well-written, so well-cast, that every character in the show is worthwhile. Every character is important. Even scenes not involving Mary Richards (Moore), the central character in the series, are worth watching. One of the best parts of TMTMS in my opinion, is the friendship between Mary and Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper).

Mary and Rhoda in “Today, I am a Ma’am.”

Mary and Rhoda are such opposites personality-wise, that they don’t even seem like they should be acquaintances, let alone friends. In the 1970 pilot episode, “Love is All Around,” Rhoda is first introduced to viewers as a potential enemy of Mary Richards. Throughout the entire episode, Rhoda is contentious towards Mary, as she thinks that Mary has usurped her apartment. Thankfully, by the second episode, the writing staff had given up on the idea of Mary and Rhoda being enemies. Rhoda’s character was changed into being Mary’s new neighbor and new friend.

It is in the second episode, “Today I am a Ma’am” where we are first introduced to Rhoda’s self image issues. After Mary is called a “ma’am” in the office, she begins to feel self-conscious about being 30. Both Rhoda and Mary begin to commiserate with one another about being 30 and still being single. To make themselves feel better, Rhoda suggests that she and Mary invite someone over to the house for a small gathering. Mary invites over the suffocating Howard Arnell. Rhoda takes a different approach and invites over Armond Linton, a man she ran over with her car. When the guests show up, we’re treated to a classic Rhoda line:

RHODA (to MARY): “How can you gorge yourself and stay so skinny? I’m hungry and I can’t stand it.”

MARY: “Why don’t you eat something?”

RHODA: “I can’t. I’ve got to lose 10 pounds by 8:30.”

Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern and Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards in “Today, I am a Ma’am” in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970).

Throughout the rest of the first season and all of the second, Rhoda continues to be self-deprecating about her body and general attractiveness. Many of Rhoda’s lines allude to her being envious towards the tall, svelte Mary Richards. For the record, while Mary is very pretty and definitely has a good figure, there was absolutely nothing wrong with Rhoda’s appearance. Rhoda is a very beautiful woman. Thankfully, in the season three episode, “Rhoda the Beautiful,” Rhoda finally accepts the fact that she is an attractive woman.

Mary helps Rhoda see how great her new figure looks.

“Rhoda the Beautiful” opens as many episodes do, with Rhoda walking into Mary’s apartment while Mary is doing some sort of household task. In this particular episode, Mary is washing dishes. She wonders aloud whether a pot that was only used to boil water needs to be washed. Rhoda, in her usual style says that she only uses paper pots. Rhoda announces to Mary that she learned that during her recent “Calorie Cutters” meeting, she had successfully met her 20-lb weight loss goal. Mary is ecstatic for Rhoda, but Rhoda in her usual self-deprecating way, won’t accept Mary’s compliments. Mary is frustrated that Rhoda will not allow herself to be happy and proud of herself for meeting her goal. To further compound Rhoda’s frustrations about her appearance, even her frenemy, Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), says that Rhoda looks fantastic. And Phyllis is being genuine.

Rhoda’s headshot for the Ms. Hempel Beauty Pageant.

In the second act, Rhoda visits her Calorie Cutter colleague, Murray (Gavin McLeod) for a healthy lunch. Murray compliments Rhoda and says she looks great. Rhoda reveals to Mary and Murray1 that she has entered the employees-only Ms. Hempel Beauty Pageant. Per usual, Mary and Murray are very supportive of Rhoda and are excited that she’s taking this chance. As an aside, I love how seamlessly the writers were able to integrate Mary’s home life (Rhoda and Phyllis) into Mary’s work life (Lou, Ted, and Murray). It is logical that Mary’s friends and co-workers would interact at Mary’s various infamously bad parties and become friends. Rhoda fits in perfectly with the WJM gang, even with Ted who thinks she’s Israeli and named Rita.

Murray and Rhoda compare their weight loss “maintenance” lunches

The third act opens with Rhoda, Mary and Phyllis trying to help Rhoda find a dress to wear in the pageant. We get to hear Rhoda express another semi-envious sentiment about Mary’s figure when she rebuffs Mary, who is offering her wardrobe. “Mary, you weigh three pounds,” Rhoda says. We also get to watch and listen to Phyllis deliver a hilarious rendition of “Ten Cents a Dance” while wearing an “endangered” Orlon coat. Mary and Rhoda are wandering in the background, looking for a dress for Rhoda. In one of my favorite parts, Mary and Rhoda imitate the contestant interviews during the Miss America pageant. Mary recalls the contestants always having a multi-part name. She re-christens Rhoda as “Miss Mary Jo Beth Ann Lou” and asks her some probing questions:

MARY (to RHODA aka MISS MARY JO BETH ANN LOU): “What are some of your favorite hobbies?”

RHODA (affecting a demure, beauty pageant contestant voice): “My favorite hobbies are cheerleading, liking people, and living in America.”

MARY: “And, uh, what…is your goal…in life?”

RHODA: “After I graduate from high school, I would like to become a brain surgeon… or a model!”

Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards and Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern in “Rhoda in the Beautiful,” in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1972).

At the end of the third act, we see the dress that Rhoda finally settled on. Rhoda wears a black halter dress with a white scarf that drapes across her back. She looks fantastic. As an aside, Valerie Harper wore this same dress to accept her Emmy Award in 1971 and she looks fabulous there too. Rhoda announces to Mary and Phyllis that she placed a respectable third place. Mary and Phyllis congratulate her and the episode seems to come to an end. However, as Rhoda leaves, she somewhat lingers. Mary probes and Rhoda announces that she actually won the contest. This next moment is what I think is the most important part of the episode and is the catalyst for Rhoda’s character development. This is the moment when Rhoda finally accepts that she is an attractive woman. She no longer has the weight issue that she can hide behind and blame for her own perceived shortcomings.

RHODA (to MARY): “I sort of heard my name called, and uh… they were all applauding…for me. I couldn’t believe it.”

MARY: “Oh Rhoda. That’s so great.”

RHODA: “Me.”

MARY: “And you deserved it.”

RHODA: “Well… they gave it to me, and I, uh, took it. So I guess I really won it. How do you like that? I won! After 32 years! Me! Mary Jo Beth Lou Ann Morgenstern!”

Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern and Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards in “Rhoda the Beautiful,” The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1972).

This is such an amazing moment. Then we see Rhoda in her full pageant winner regalia, crown, cape, scepter and all. She looks silly but gorgeous. Phyllis, of course still doesn’t know the truth about Rhoda’s win:

PHYLLIS (looking at Rhoda’s crown and cape): “Boy, they sure make a big fuss over third place.”

RHODA: “I won, Cookie!”

Cloris Leachman as Phyllis Lindstrom and Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern in “Rhoda the Beautiful” Mary Tyler Moore Show (1972).

1 One thing I have always wondered about this show: Why did they give so many characters similar sounding names? This show has a Mary, Murray and Marie!

The Buster Keaton Blogathon- “The Great Buster” (2018)

Peter Bogdanovich passed away at the age of 82 this past January. Aside from directing such amazing classic films like The Last Picture Show (1971), What’s Up Doc? (1972) and Paper Moon (1973), Bogdanovich was known for being a fan of Classic Hollywood. In the TCM podcast, I’m Still Peter Bogdanovich, he talks about how he was a fan of the Golden Age from a young age, having been introduced to the silent comedians: Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton from a very young age. This love of movies eventually led to Bogdanovich keeping a file of 4″ x 6″ index cards where he’d record his thoughts about the movies he’d seen. When he was a young adult, he worked as a programmer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City where he’d schedule film retrospectives of Old Hollywood directors like Orson Welles, John Ford, and Alfred Hitchcock. He eventually developed a friendship with Welles.

Throughout Bogdanovich’s sometimes tumultuous career, he always maintained a love of Classic Hollywood. He was considered a film historian, having written multiple books and conducted many interviews with prominent figures in Classic Hollywood. One of his best documentaries is the one he finished toward the end of his career– The Great Buster: A Celebration, which premiered in 2018 and was distributed on blu ray by Cohen Media Group.

The Great Buster: A Celebration is a fantastic documentary. Bogdanovich’s narration is perfect for the subject. It is obvious that he loves Buster Keaton as much as we do. He also includes some wonderful interviews with people like Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and Dick Van Dyke. There are countless other interviews included, but the three I mentioned are my favorites. The documentary has a somewhat conventional narrative, the film starts with Buster’s birth on October 4, 1895 and concludes Buster’s story with his passing on February 1, 1966. However, Bogdanovich manages to change things up a bit by devoting a large portion of the documentary on the ten films considered to be Buster’s masterpieces.

I appreciate that Bogdanovich presented a balanced look at Buster’s life. He didn’t choose to only focus on the good, nor did he only focus on the bad. Buster’s rise to fame is covered, as well as the monumental career mistake he made in the late 1920s when he agreed to sign with MGM—against the advice of his contemporaries like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. This decision killed Buster’s career because he lost his autonomy. The Cameraman (1928) is the first film that Buster made under his new MGM contract, and while it is funny and has its moments (I like it, I own the Criterion), and Buster was able to direct, it is nothing like the films he made previously. Bogdanovich gives some space to Buster’s subsequent alcohol issue; but doesn’t dwell on it. I loved that a fair amount of time was devoted to Buster’s childhood. The idea that Buster’s parents were big successes on the vaudeville circuit because their act literally involved throwing their child (Buster) around the stage is hysterical. Buster’s parents had a suitcase handle sewn into Buster’s shirt so he’d be easier to throw.

Buster in “Sherlock Jr.”

I loved seeing the footage of Buster’s later career–especially his appearances in commercials and on Candid Camera. I could watch Buster Keaton on Candid Camera all day. He was hilarious. I was happy to see that even late in life, Buster was going through a renaissance. His services were still in demand and people still found his work funny. Even now, almost 100 years after Buster’s films, he is still funny. I just saw The General in the theater a few months ago with a live organ accompaniment, and the theater was packed. The jokes in The General were still funny now as they were then. It was wonderful to see how many people still had an interest in not only classic film, but silent film, but most of all, wanted to see Buster Keaton. The fact that The General was filmed in my home state of Oregon and I saw the film at a theater in Oregon probably helped too.

I highly recommend Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary, The Great Buster: A Celebration to anyone who loves Buster Keaton, or loves a great documentary in general. It is funny, it is poignant, it is inspirational, and it’s just plain entertaining. Bogdanovich includes lots of great scenes of all of Buster’s funniest gags and even some funny pictures of Buster when he was a child in vaudeville. It is obvious from watching this documentary that it was made by someone who loves Buster Keaton and appreciates his brand of comedy.

Bogdanovich asserts that the 10 films that Buster made in the 1920s when he was his own production studio (Buster Keaton Productions) were his masterpieces. These 10 films are:

  1. Three Ages (1923)
  2. Our Hospitality (1923)
  3. Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
  4. The Navigator (1924)
  5. Seven Chances (1925)
  6. Go West (1925)
  7. Battling Butler (1926)
  8. The General (1926)
  9. College (1927)
  10. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

I haven’t seen all of Buster’s masterpieces, but I can say that of the ones I have seen: Our Hospitality, Sherlock Jr., The General, and Steamboat Bill, Jr., Buster Keaton’s films fully deserve the adjective “masterpieces.” Sherlock Jr., in particular is fascinating for the amount of practical special effects used in this film. Some of the special effects are still fascinating now, and it’s been almost 98 years!

The famous falling wall gag in “Steamboat Bill Jr.” How Buster Keaton didn’t get hurt is fascinating to me.

The Wilhelm Scream Blogathon- “Spaceballs” (1987)

I am getting this post written just under the wire. I signed up for so many events that all took place in the same week. I didn’t realize that this event was coming up so quickly. Oops. It’s only 10:00pm here on the West Coast, so I will just about make it.

The “Wilhelm Scream” is a famous sound effect, that is used so much at this point that it’s cliche. The Wilhelm Scream was first heard in the 1951 film, Distant Drums, directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Gary Cooper. The scream usually used when someone is shot and falls from a great height, or is thrown via an explosion. This sound effect has been in circulation ever since its debut in the 1950s and has been utilized in countless films and television shows. One such film that the Wilhelm Scream can be heard in is the 1980s classic, Spaceballs.

Spaceballs is Mel Brooks’ parody of primarily Star Wars, but he manages to also parody Star Trek, Alien, The Wizard of Oz, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Planet of the Apes. However, the main focus of the parody is on the original Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas in fact, loved Brooks’ screenplay so much that he helped with the film’s storyline and production. Lucas’ involvement with the project had a caveat however, no Spaceballs merchandise could be produced as it would look too similar to Lucas’ Star Wars merch. Brooks agreed. He was then inspired to add the running Spaceballs merchandise gag–which is hilarious. The Spaceballs merchandise features a wide array of products–products that usually aren’t even considered when developing movie merchandise.

The following merchandise is featured in Spaceballs:

  • Spaceballs: The T-Shirt
  • Spaceballs: The Coloring Book
  • Spaceballs: The Lunchbox
  • Spaceballs: The Breakfast Cereal (with 100% sugar!)
  • Spaceballs: The Flamethrower, “A Children’s Toy” (“Children love this toy,” Yogurt says).
  • Spaceballs: The Doll (which is a doll of Yogurt)
  • Spaceballs: The Towel
  • Spaceballs: The Plate
  • Spaceballs: The Shaving Cream
  • Spaceballs: The Toilet Paper
  • Spaceballs: The Sheet
  • Spaceballs: The Placemat
  • Spaceballs: The Wallet

Dark Helmet is also seen playing with Spaceballs action figures. It is unknown where these were procured, as Spaceballs: The Action Figures were never seen.

This part always makes me laugh. President Skroob says “Beam me up, Snotty” and when he emerges from the transporter, his head is backwards. Looking at his butt, now on his front, he says: “Why didn’t somebody tell me my ass was so big?” Lol.

Anyway, this film follows a similar plot to the original Star Wars trilogy. I am not the biggest Star Wars fan (though I inexplicably own 3 Star Wars T-Shirts), but I have seen each film in the original trilogy. While I was able to draw parallels between the main characters in Star Wars and Spaceballs, I am not even going to attempt to identify some of the more subtle homages that Mel Brooks might have included. The basic plot of Spaceballs is that planet Spaceball, led by Dark Helmet (a Darth Vader parody, played by Rick Moranis), is planning on stealing all the fresh air from the nearby planet, Druidia. It seems that President Skroob (Mel Brooks) has squandered all of planet Spaceball’s fresh air.

“What?! You went over my helmet?!”

President Skroob tells Dark Helmet to kidnap the princess of Druidia, Princess Vespa (a Princess Leia parody, portrayed by Daphne Zuniga) on her wedding day. She is planning to marry the very sleepy and dull, Prince Valium, who is always yawning and sports an unfortunate Prince Valiant haircut. With the people of Druidia distracted by the kidnapping of their princess, Dark Helmet will be able to swoop in and steal their air. The captain of Dark Helmet’s enormous ship named Spaceball One (which later changes shape into that of an enormous maid with a vacuum) is Colonel Sandurz. Dark Helmet’s plans are thwarted however, when Princess Vespa bails on her own wedding, not able to accept the idea of marrying Prince Valium. She escapes in her Mercedes spaceship with her droid assistant, Dot Matrix (a C3PO homage, voiced by Joan Rivers).

Later, Vespa’s father, King Roland (Dick Van Patten) contacts a mercenary, Lone Starr (A Hans Solo-esque Bill Pullman). Lone Starr is traveling with his “mog” (half man/half dog) companion, Barf (A Chewbacca parody played by John Candy). They drive a spaceship that looks like a Winnebago with wings. Roland offers Lone Starr and Barf money to find his daughter and return her to Druidia safely. Being a million dollars in debt to gangster Pizza the Hut (obviously Jabba the Hut or Madame Trash Heap from “Fraggle Rock” ?) and his henchman, Vinnie, Lone Starr accepts the job. Roland agrees to pay Lone Starr the million dollars if he finds Vespa.

Bill Pullman and John Candy as Lone Starr and Barf.

BARF: “I’m a mog: half man, half dog. I’m my own best friend.”

Lone Starr and Mawg quickly find Vespa and Dot Matrix and bring them aboard their ship. Of course, Vespa is a snob at the beginning, and Dot Matrix is there with her “virginity alarm” to ensure that Vespa’s virtue remains intact. It soon becomes obvious however, that Vespa and Lone Starr will end up falling for one another. The Winnebago gang are eventually forced to land on the desert planet of Vega, after running out of fuel. They try to make their way across the desert, but eventually collapse due to dehydration. They are soon rescued by the Dinks, who whistle the “Colonel Bogey” march, which I remember playing in band in the eighth grade. The group is eventually led to a large corridor. In a scene reminiscent of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the group meets The Wizard, the leader of planet Vega, a Yoda-like creature by the name of Yogurt (Mel Brooks) is revealed. He soon lets the group in on his merchandising plan for Spaceballs.

The famous Wilhelm Scream is heard in this scene.

While meeting with Yogurt, Vespa and Dot Matrix are tricked by Dark Helmet and brought to the Spaceball prison complex via the Spaceball One. To save Vespa and Dot Matrix, Lone Starr and Barf beat up a couple guards (similar to the Stormtroopers except with big round helmets) and steal their uniforms. They are able to break into the prison and rescue Vespa and Dot Matrix. On the way out, Barf finds himself in combat with the guards. This is where our Wilhelm Scream can be found. In this scene, Barf runs out of ammo and removes some piping from the wall of the ship. Using the piping, Barf reflects the gun shots back at the guards, hitting them. When the fourth guard is hit, he is thrown backward and lets out the famous Wilhelm Scream.

This film is hilarious. It doesn’t even matter if you aren’t a big sci-fi film fan (I’m not). Most people will get the film references. There are even random references to things that aren’t sci-fi. Mel Brooks has the alien from Alien singing and dancing a la Michigan J. Frog from one of my favorite Looney Tunes shorts, “One Froggy Evening.” I can see if Mel Brooks’ humor isn’t for everyone. There are parts of the film that are very crass and could be considered un-PC. I don’t care, because I love Mel Brooks. I read the reviews on Spaceballs, and there are many unfavorable opinions of this film. It just confirms what I’ve always thought: don’t let another person’s opinion influence your opinion on a film. If you like it, that’s all that matters.

This is so ridiculous, but it always makes me laugh. The alien from “Alien” pays tribute to the inimitable Michigan J. Frog.

Hello, my baby, Hello my honey, Hello my ragtime gal.
Send me a kiss by wire, baby, my heart’s on fire.
If you refuse me, honey you’ll lose me, then you’ll be left alone.
Oh baby telephone, and tell me I’m your own…..

Kim Novak Blogathon- “Pal Joey” (1957)

On February 13, 2022 the fabulous Kim Novak turned 89 years young! I’ve always been a fan of Ms. Novak, especially since she lives in my home state of Oregon. It is somewhat exciting to think that an icon of Hollywood’s Golden Age lives a mere 4.5 hours away!

Kim Novak very well could have become a footnote in Hollywood history. She made her film debut in the film noir, Pushover, in 1954. Her co-star was Fred MacMurray. Kim made an indelible impression on audiences and her home studio, Columbia. Columbia went to work grooming Kim as a successor for their big star, Rita Hayworth, whose star was on the decline. The studio hoped that Kim’s blonde hair would bring them the same success as Marilyn Monroe had for Fox. However, what Columbia didn’t count on was that Kim had no desire to be a Monroe copycat.

Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak in “Pal Joey.” Kim’s purple gown is amazing. I love the color! I love the sparkles! And the dress looks fabulous on her.

Kim Novak’s most famous role is probably her dual role as both Madeleine Elster and Judy Barton in Vertigo. Right before Vertigo however, she appeared in the 1957 film, Pal Joey, where she was third billed after Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra. Kim was re-teamed with Sinatra after their triumph in 1955’s The Man With the Golden Arm. By the time Pal Joey was released, Kim had succeeded Rita as Columbia’s biggest box office draw. It is interesting that Rita received top billing over both Sinatra and Kim. Despite playing the title character, and having won an Oscar for his role in From Here to Eternity, Sinatra graciously ceded top billing to Rita, stating that she made Columbia what it was. Plus, he added, being “billed in between Rita and Kim was a sandwich he didn’t mind being stuck in the middle of.”

Pal Joey was a Broadway show which starred Gene Kelly in 1940. He was actually performing the titular role in this play when he was discovered. Gene made his way to Hollywood to appear in For Me and My Gal with Judy Garland in 1942. By 1944, Gene was a big star and made the film Cover Girl at Columbia, starring their biggest star, Rita Hayworth. Cover Girl was a sensation and Columbia boss, the infamous Harry Cohn, promised to adapt Pal Joey for the screen to re-team Gene and Rita. However, nothing came to fruition and by the time the story was ready for the big screen, Gene was contracted to MGM. Rita was also deemed too old (at 37, my age ::sniffle::) for the role of the younger woman and took over the part as the older woman who acts as a “keeper” for Joey. Columbia cast their biggest star, Kim Novak, in the role of the younger woman.

Kim Novak makes her entrance in “Pal Joey.”

Pal Joey takes place in San Francisco. Sinatra plays the titular role of Joey Evans, a so-so singer (we just have to take the film’s word for it), who is more interested in women than he is having a career. He ends up falling for a young chorus girl, Linda English (Kim Novak), and actually may feel real feelings for her! Joey tries all his old tricks to seduce Linda, but she seems impervious to Joey’s “charm.” She is also presented as being somewhat naive to the fact that Joey is interested in her romantically, but she eventually catches on.

Eventually, Joey manages to finagle his way into escorting Linda home after an evening together. After spotting a “For Rent” sign in the window, Joey is able to worm it out of the landlady, Mrs. Trumbull (Elizabeth Patterson), that the empty apartment (with a shared bathroom) is next door to Linda. Joey, excited, rents the apartment immediately, and he gets to share a bathroom with Linda. She gets sick of his constant advances towards her and ends up tricking him into adopting a dog, which he names “Snuffy.”

Kim Novak, Frank Sinatra, and Rita Hayworth in “Pal Joey.”

Later, Linda ends up taking Snuffy when she discovers Joey’s partnership with his ex-flame and ex-stripper, Vera Simpson (Rita Hayworth). It is obvious that Linda has developed feelings for Joey. Despite his budding romance with Linda, a girl whom he really likes, Joey ends up taking up with Vera, who has since hung up her “vanishing veils,” and settled into life as a society matron and widow. Joey’s ulterior motive for romancing Vera is that he wants her to finance “Chez Joey,” a nightclub that he can own and perform at. Eventually it becomes apparent that Vera is hoping for more than a business partnership with Joey as she treats him like a “kept man.” This is obvious after Vera finally shows up to Chez Joey, she and Joey share a passionate kiss, and in the next scene we see Vera grinning in a negligee. Joey has mad skills, he hooked up with Vera after singing “The Lady is a Tramp,” which was very blatantly about Vera.

Once Chez Joey opens, Vera’s holding all the power. Joey is forced to submit to her every whim and demand. Vera becomes insanely jealous when she observes Joey watching Linda’s rehearsal of “My Funny Valentine.” Joey intently watches Linda, unable to take his eyes off of her. Vera learns that Joey is planning on featuring Linda as the main attraction at Chez Joey. She demands that he fire Linda. Not wanting to hurt Linda, Joey tells Linda that he’s removing her from the “My Funny Valentine” number and assigning her to a strip tease. Linda, rightfully, is angry and tells Joey that he should rename the club “Chez Vera.” Eventually, a drunk Linda shows up to Joey’s yacht and accepts the number.

Kim Novak performs an awkward strip tease, that begins with a Marie Antoinette-esque gown.

The time comes for Linda to rehearse the strip tease. She starts the number dressed in a Marie Antoinette-type dress, sans the powdered wig. As she removes the skirt, then the crinoline, then other pieces of the costume, she looks absolutely mortified. Eventually, Joey cannot handle seeing all the men staring at Linda and demands that she stop performing before her remaining clothes come off. At this point, Joey has to make a decision. Does he stay with Linda, the woman he loves, and lose Chez Joey? Or does he keep the club and stay with Vera, a woman who he doesn’t love?

I read other reviews of this film online, specifically reviews that reference Kim Novak’s performance. Many carry the same complaints, that she’s stiff, awkward, etc. I can understand those complaints, however, I think that she performed her part very well. Linda is a young woman who is presumably new to the world of show business. She suddenly finds herself the object of affection of a man who is a known womanizer. He is/was involved with a more worldly woman who knows not only the ins and outs of show business, but the ins and outs of everything else too. In the scene when Linda is rehearsing the strip tease, she is very awkward and looks completely mortified. However, Linda didn’t want to do the strip tease, nor is she the type of person who’d want to do a strip tease! Of course, she would be awkward and mortified. Kudos to Joey for recognizing this and stopping it; however, his kudos are a moot point because he’s the one who put her into this position in the first place.

While I can understand some of the complaints about Novak, I find her completely fascinating. She fits the cool, blonde mold; but there’s more to her. She always seems to have a vulnerability about her, like a woman who is about to break. She also has the most gorgeous green eyes; but there’s something behind those eyes. Behind those eyes are a sensitivity, a yearning. Kim Novak is not just a replacement Rita Hayworth. She is not a Marilyn Monroe copy. She is a very unique screen presence. She wants to show the audience a piece of herself, the real Kim Novak, or rather the real Marilyn Pauline Novak (Kim’s birth name). While I don’t know Ms. Novak personally, I feel like she deeply identified with her character, Madge, in Picnic. All Madge wants in life is to be thought of as more than just being pretty.

LINDA: “You cook?”
JOEY: “Well, you can’t go through your life on Wheaties alone.”

The Umpteenth Blogathon- “Desk Set” (1957)

One of the hallmarks of a classic film (regardless of age) is its rewatchability factor. There are plenty of good films, but if it’s not something that I’d ever watch again, it’d be hard for me to consider it a “classic.” I have plenty of films in my collection that many people would not consider classics, or even good movies, but if I love them, then that’s all that matters and they’re “classics” to me. With that said, for this blogathon, we were asked to write about a film that we’ve seen an umpeenth amount of times. This is a film that we’ll watch no matter how many times we’ve seen it. We’ll watch it when it’s on TV, even if we own the DVD. This is a film that never gets old no matter how many times we’ve seen it.

My collection is made up of tons of films that I’ve seen a million times. What’s the point in developing a collection of films if you’re only going to watch them once? One of my films that I never tire of watching is Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s penultimate screen pairing, Desk Set. Hepburn and Tracy made a total of nine films together. Their first film, Woman of the Year, or their last, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner might have more name recognition, but for my money, Desk Set is their best and my personal favorite.

Left to Right: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Blondell, Sue Randall, and Dina Merrill in “Desk Set.”

I’ve seen Desk Set multiple times. It’s always one of my go-to Christmas films, due solely to the wild Christmas party featured in the film. This past Christmas season, I watched this film two days in a row. Desk Set has always been one of my favorite films, but up until recently, I’d always wondered about the title. What was a “desk set” ? And how does this title relate to the film? Well I finally looked up “desk set,” and unfortunately, the answer was anticlimactic. A “desk set” is literally a desk. So that answer was pretty boring and I decided that the title was meant to describe office life.

SYLVIA (answering a question over the phone): Reference department, Miss Blair. Oh yes, we’ve looked that up for you, and there are certain poisons which leave no trace, but it’s network policy not to mention them on our programs.

Dina Merrill as “Sylvia Blair” in “Desk Set” (1957)

In Desk Set, Hepburn stars as Bunny Watson, the head librarian in the reference library at the Federal Broadcasting Network (FBN) in Manhattan. The reference library is basically a manual version of the internet, where anyone can call in and request any sort of information, from baseball statistics, to bible passages, to entire poems. No question is too big or too small for the reference library. Also working in the library is Bunny’s best friend, Peg Costello (Joan Blondell), Sylvia Blair (Dina Merrill), and newbie Ruthie Saylor (Sue Randall aka Miss Landers from “Leave it to Beaver”). The women have a camaraderie and work well together. Bunny is also dating Mike Cutler (Gig Young), an executive at the network, but they’ve been dating for over seven years and the relationship is seemingly going nowhere.

(BUNNY is getting ready to meet MIKE)
BUNNY: How do I look?
PEG: Too good for him

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” and Joan Blondell as “Peg Costello” in “Desk Set” (1957)
Bunny and the dull Mike Cutler. I love her dress, but Mike has got to go!

One day, a methods engineer and efficiency expert, Richard Sumner (Tracy) comes to visit the employees at the FBN. He is the inventor of the Electromagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator, or EMERAC for short. EMERAC is one of my favorite things in movies, the large 1950s computer that fills up an entire room, has a lot of lights and sound effects, and shoots out pieces of paper. The head of FBN wants to possibly purchase an EMERAC and install it in the research library to help the librarians. However, as these things often go, rumors spread that Sumner is actually looking to replace the librarians with EMERAC and save FBN money over the long term.

RUTHIE: What do you suppose he’s (Richard) doing all that measuring for? Do you think we’re being redecorated?
SYLVIA: Does he look like an interior decorator to you?
PEG: No! He looks like one of those men who’s just suddenly switched to vodka!

Sue Randall as “Ruthie Saylor,” Dina Merrill as “Sylvia Blair,” and Joan Blondell as “Peg Costello” in “Desk Set” (1957)

At the same time, since this is a Hepburn/Tracy film, we anticipate Gig Young getting out of the picture so that they can be together. This happens when Bunny and Richard find themselves bonding over sandwiches in the cold, frigid air. Bunny impresses Richard with her ability to recall facts and use logic and previous experiences to solve the riddles he tries to stump her with. Later, the two are caught in a rainstorm and Bunny invites Richard to her home to dry off and warm up. One of my favorite parts of this scene is when Bunny, needing to find something for Richard to wear while his clothes dry, offers him one of Mike’s Christmas presents–a bathrobe with an “MC” monogram. Both Peg and Mike show up and are surprised to see Richard. They’ve even more surprised to see Richard in a bathrobe with Mike’s monogram. Oops.

BUNNY: I’ve read every New York newspaper backward and forward for the past 15 years. I don’t smoke. I only drink champagne when I’m lucky enough to get it, my hair is naturally natural, I live alone–and so do you.
RICHARD: How do you know that?
BUNNY: Because you’re wearing one brown sock and one black sock.

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” and Spencer Tracy as “Richard Sumner” in “Desk Set” (1957)
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in “Desk Set.”

Later, the employees at FBN have the greatest Christmas party. It ranks up there with the Christmas party in The Apartment. This party is absurd and could only happen in the 1950s when it was not only allowed, but encouraged to be drinking alcohol while at work. The champagne is seemingly flowing out of a faucet as the women in the reference library float around from department to department drinking and carousing. Obviously, no actual work gets done at FBN on Christmas Party Day. Poor Ruthie says, “But I don’t want to drink in the middle of the day!” but her pleas fall on deaf ears. It is at the Christmas party when Mike drops the bombshell that he and Bunny are moving to California and are going to marry. This is news to Bunny as Mike didn’t even formally propose to her. Bunny has to break it to Mike that she doesn’t want to move, and they end up breaking up–FINALLY.

BUNNY: Have some tequila, Peg
PEG: I don’t think I should. There are 85 calories in a glass of champagne.
BUNNY: I have a little place in my neighborhood where I can get it for 65.

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” and Joan Blondell as “Peg Costello” in “Desk Set” (1957)
The reference librarians attend the best work Christmas party

A few weeks later, EMERAC is delivered and put to work. Sumner’s prissy assistant, Miss Warringer, is there to demonstrate EMERAC. The women in the reference library have seemingly been compiling data on punch-cards to feed into the machine. Then payday arrives and the reference librarians expect the worst–pink slips. Unfortunately, their worst fears are confirmed when each woman pulls a pink slip out of their envelope. Then Sumner arrives to demonstrate EMERAC. Then the phone starts ringing off the hook with all kinds of crazy questions. The women in the reference library refuse to help due to their recent firing. Miss Warringer is forced to take the calls and the reference librarians look on in amusement as she struggles to even take the calls, let alone actually finding the answer.

BUNNY: Really, you girls kill me. I was here until ten o’clock last night and this morning at 9, I had to go to IBM to see a demonstration of the new electronic brain.

Katharine Hepburn as “Bunny Watson” in “Desk Set” (1957)

Miss Warringer enters the wrong information into EMERAC and is unable to answer the question correctly. The reference librarians use their resources in the stacks to find the correct answer. This routine continues a few more moments with each successive question, with Miss Warringer getting more frustrated by the minute. EMERAC eventually malfunctions and starts going crazy just as Bunny starts reciting the “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight” poem to mock Miss Warringer’s misspelling of the name of the island of “Corfu.” Miss Warringer, knowing that she’s being made fun of, storms out in disgust.

EMERAC loses its mind

Sumner understandably wants to know why the reference librarians are being so rude to Miss Warringer and he learns of their firing. Then it comes out that an EMERAC was also installed in payroll, and that machine also went insane and issued pink slips to everyone in the building, including the president! Sumner then clears up the misunderstanding (which probably could have been cleared up a hour ago, but then we wouldn’t have a movie) and explains that EMERAC is only meant to assist, not replace. The women are relieved and Sumner then asks EMERAC if he should marry Bunny. Well duh, he designed the machine and it’s a Hepburn/Tracy film, so you can imagine the answer.

RICHARD (to BUNNY): Something about the way you wear that pencil in your hair spells money.

Spencer Tracy as “Richard Sumner” in “Desk Set” (1957)

The film ends with the FBN reference library intact and Bunny and Sumner are engaged.

I love this movie. I love the scenes of EMERAC. The big computers are always so much fun to watch (see Touch of Mink, 1962). I love poor Miss Warringer’s big tantrum. I love the scenes of Hepburn and Blondell together. Blondell always makes every film better. Hepburn and Tracy were charming together. I loved Hepburn’s wardrobe and her fabulous apartment. This entire film is so much fun to watch and it’s enjoyable to see a career woman actually succeeding in her career, wanting to keep her career, and finding a partner who finds her intelligence exciting and isn’t intimidated. Sumner finds Bunny’s encyclopedic knowledge a turn-on versus Mike who seemingly doesn’t think much of Bunny’s job if he thinks that she’s willing to follow him to the West Coast with no notice. I imagine that after this film, Sumner and Bunny marry, they’re happy, and together they make the reference library better and better.

Bunny hilariously mocks EMERAC

Despite being over sixty years old, Desk Set still feels modern. People are still worried about being replaced by machines and sadly, in many instances, their fears are well-founded. However, no amount of artificial intelligence will ever replace a person’s unique set of experiences, knowledge, and skill sets. Were FBN a real company that was still around today, I’m sure that the reference library would have long since been phased out once the internet became more accessible. However, I could see the reference librarians moving into the roles of fact checking, as those types of roles are always needed by television, movies, news outlets, etc. etc.

What grown woman, especially a woman like Bunny, would want a giant Bunny for Christmas? And, why would a woman named Bunny, want a Bunny stuffed animal? She probably gets bunny stuffed animals all the time! Come on Mike! No wonder she broke up with you.

Kayla’s Top 15 “New” Films of 2021

2021 is (finally) coming to a close. While the year wasn’t so hot as a whole, except for my fabulous trip to Southern California in October, it was another year of discovering new favorite films. One of the best thing about being a fan of film, especially classic film, is that you never run out of “new” movies to see. As Lauren Bacall says in an episode of Private Screenings with Robert Osborne, “It’s not an old movie, if you haven’t seen it,” and I couldn’t agree more. There is an entire world of movies to discover, a world of films just waiting to become someone’s favorite.

Without further adieu, in no particular order, here are some of my new favorites that I watched for the first time in 2021:

#1 Road House (1948) This was a fabulous film noir that I watched right at the start of the new year. It is the final volume in the Fox Film Noir DVD series (I own the entire collection). I decided to take a look at it, because I’m a big fan of Ida Lupino. In addition to Lupino, it also starred Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, and Celeste Holm. At first, it seems like Ida is going to be the femme fatale, but it is soon revealed that she is a woman who will not be made a pawn in the games of the men, Wilde and Widmark. Even though she was originally brought into the Road House by Widmark to be another of his fly by night floozies, she refuses to be used and becomes a big star and later saves the day. In a time when every woman who wasn’t Judy Garland or Doris Day was dubbed, Ida uses her own voice to warble out “One for my Baby (And One More For the Road)” and it was fabulous.

#2 Mrs. Miniver (1942). I know. This is a big Oscar winner. A major classic of the studio era, but I hadn’t seen it yet. I absolutely loved this movie and actually bought the blu-ray literally right after watching it. That’s how much I loved it. Greer Garson won an Oscar playing the titular Mrs. Miniver and infamously delivered the longest acceptance speech, a record which still stands today. Long-winded speech or not, Garson deserved her award. In Mrs. Miniver, Garson portrays a very stoic woman and mother who stays strong and protects her family even directly in the line of fire during the German invasion of Britain. She puts humanity above all else, even when directly threatened by an injured German pilot. The scene with Mrs. Miniver and her husband and children hiding in the shelter while bombs fall all around them is heartbreaking. This family does not know what they’ll find when they emerge, or whether their house will still be standing. Despite everything, Mrs. Miniver remains a calm influence even in the middle of a tumultuous event, like a World War. I cannot say enough good things about this film, it was fantastic.

#3 Girl Happy (1965). Like the esteemed Mrs. Miniver, this Elvis movie is another film that I purchased immediately after watching it. I loved it. For years, with the exception of Viva Las Vegas (my favorite Elvis movie), I wrote off Elvis’ movies as pure fluff, and not fluffy in a good way, and many of Elvis’ movies are ridiculous, like Girl Happy, but if you can suspend disbelief and just go along with whatever plot is presented, I’ve found that many of Elvis’ movies are enjoyable diversions. In Girl Happy, Elvis plays a musician (a premise setting up lots of opportunities for Elvis to sing) who, along with his band, is hired by his boss to indirectly chaperone his 18-year old daughter, Shelley Fabares. Shelley is traveling to Florida for Spring Break and her overprotective father is worried. Elvis happily agrees, because he gets an all expenses paid trip to Florida. Like how most movies with this plot go (see Too Many Girls), Elvis starts to fall in love with the girl whom he’s chaperoning, and the girl discovers that he was hired to watch her and gets upset. Regardless, this movie was charming, fun, and I loved it.

#4 History is Made at Night (1937) This was a movie that I’d never even heard of until I heard that Criterion was restoring it and releasing it as part of their esteemed (at least among the boutique label community) line of films. I first watched it on the Criterion Channel and must have seen a pre-restoration print, because it was pretty rough. After watching it, I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of it. It had one of my faves, Jean Arthur! And Charles “LUCY! RAWWWR” Boyer. How has this movie been hiding from me this entire time? In this movie, Jean Arthur plays Irene, a woman who leaves her husband, Bruce, (Colin Clive) after he falsely accuses her of having an affair. To prevent the divorce from being finalized, Bruce tries to manipulate a situation to frame Irene for infidelity. He hires his chauffeur to pretend to be Irene’s lover, so that a private detective walks in and catches them in a compromising position. While this is taking place, Paul (Charles Boyer) is walking by Irene’s window. He overhears the ruckus and comes to Irene’s rescue, pretending to be an armed burglar. It’s a weird set-up, but ultimately leads to a beautiful love story with an ending that I was not expecting.

#5 Naked Alibi (1954). This was another film noir that I’d never heard of until I was reading Sterling Hayden’s filmography and discovered that he’d made a film with one of my faves, Gloria Grahame. Fortunately, my library had this film available and I was able to borrow it. This was a great movie. Hayden plays a police chief who tails a suspect, Willis, to Mexico. Willis is suspected to be the mastermind behind a series of crimes in the small town from which he and Hayden hail. While in a border town on the Mexican border, Hayden meets Grahame, a singer with whom he becomes smitten. Unfortunately, Grahame is the girlfriend of Willis, despite the shoddy treatment she receives from him. Hayden and Grahame’s connection with one another continues to grow until the very end of the film. This was a wonderful film and I thought that Gloria Grahame looked absolutely gorgeous.

#6 Dead End (1937). Despite the appearance of the Dead End Kids, whom I cannot stand (I don’t get their appeal), I thought this was a great movie. This film is a story about social classes and the privileges that are afforded to those of a higher social standing. The neighborhood in the film is a “dead end” both figuratively and literally. The rich live in high rise apartments that overlook the slums and tenements. Those who are not privileged to live in the high rises literally have the rich looking down upon them. If you have the misfortune to be born into the slums, it is all you can do to get out. Some try to do so honorably, like Dave (Joel McCrea), who dreams of making a career as an architect. However, he can’t just seem to book the right gig, so he has to survive by doing odd jobs. Others, like Drina (Sylvia Sidney) have slightly less honorable means to get out of the tenement, she wants to marry a rich man. Then, there are those like Hugh “Baby Face” Martin (Humphrey Bogart), who did manage to get out of the slums, but he did so by becoming a big-time mobster. The Dead End Kids represent the next generation who most likely will remain in the slums, unless they can somehow be guided into making a better life for themselves. Marjorie Main has a heartbreaking role as Baby Face’s mother. Claire Trevor is fantastic as Baby Face’s old girlfriend, who was never able to get out of the slums.

#7 Klute (1971) This was the first film in Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy,” which unfortunately I watched all out of order. I don’t think the films in the trilogy have anything to do with one another, so I think I’m okay. Anyway, there’s just something about the 1970s thrillers that I find fascinating. There’s a grittiness, a seediness, combined with the earth tones aesthetic that I just love watching. Anyway, in this film, Jane Fonda gives an Oscar-winning performance as Bree Daniels, a prostitute who aids police detective, John Klute, in investigating a murder. After finding an obscene letter addressed to Bree in the murder victim’s office, Klute rents an apartment in Bree’s building and begins tracing her. Concurrently, Bree is working as a freelance call girl to support herself while she tries to make it as a model/actress. Bree is also trying to find meaning in her life through sessions with a psychiatrist. This was such a fantastic movie and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who was responsible for the murder.

#8 Thunder on the Hill (1951) I am a big fan of Ann Blyth and this was a film of hers that I hadn’t heard of until I purchased Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema box sets. Thunder on the Hill, by the way, is on the second collection in the series. In this film, Blyth plays Valerie, a young woman convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. However, on her way to the gallows, Valerie and the police officers accompanying her, are forced to spend the night in the hospital ward of a convent due to massive flooding. Running the hospital ward is Sister Mary (Claudette Colbert), a woman who is also battling with her own mental troubles involving her sister’s suicide. Valerie is understandably combative and angry, but confides to Sister Mary that she is innocent of the crime of which she was convicted. Sister Mary, who has been warned in the past about meddling in other people’s affairs, is convinced of Valerie’s innocence and sets to save her before she is executed. This was such a wonderful film. It was interesting to see Blyth in such a different role than that of Veda in Mildred Pierce or the mermaid in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. I loved the suspense of the story and the cinematography was gorgeous. I am also a big fan of Douglas Sirk, so this film fit the bill.

#9 King Creole (1958) A second Elvis film on the list? Yes! I watched a lot of Elvis movies this year according to LetterBoxd, so it was bound to happen. This was an excellent film. It was much higher brow fare than Elvis would be offered once he returned from his stint in the army. In this movie, Elvis plays super senior Danny, who has failed high school once and looks like he’ll fail it again due to his behavior. He is offered a chance to graduate if he agrees to take night classes, but Danny turns it down, much to the chagrin of his father, Dean Jagger. There is drama between Danny and his father, in that Jagger lost his job as a pharmacist after his wife died. The family is forced to leave their nice home outside of New Orleans for a much more modest flat in the French Quarter. To help make ends meet, Danny was working before and after school. Now with school out of the way, Danny starts working at a club. As how most Elvis movies go, he is coerced into singing and is offered a job performing at the club, much to the chagrin of the club’s main act. Danny is soon a sensation. Eventually his connection with the local gangs threaten to affect his family, his relationship with a young woman named Nellie (Dolores Hart), and his life. This was such a great movie with a stellar cast. Aside from Elvis, Dean Jagger and Dolores Hart, Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau, Vic Morrow, and Paul Stewart also star in this film… and it was directed by none other than Michael Curtiz!

#10 Private Lives (1931) This was a fabulous pre-code starring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery. In this film, Shearer and Montgomery play Amanda and Elyot, two ex-spouses who end up staying at the same hotel while honeymooning with their new respective spouses. Both honeymoons are NOT going well. Amanda and her new husband Victor (Reginald Denny) are already fighting due to Victor’s incessant need to talk about Elyot. Because yes, let’s talk about your new bride’s ex-husband on your honeymoon. Great idea, Victor. Elyot is dealing with the same thing from his new wife, Sybil (Una Merkel) who won’t stop asking about Amanda. Eventually, Amanda and Elyot find each other and begin to reminisce about “the old times.” They end up leaving the hotel together and head to a new place in St. Moritz. This was a fabulous pre-code that had plenty of racy moments. I am not as big a fan of Shearer in her production code movies like The Women, but I love her in pre-code. She and Montgomery also make a great pairing. Poor Una Merkel is wasted in her role, but she is wonderful in her scenes.

#11 Hold Back the Dawn (1941) This was an amazing movie. One that I’d always wanted to see but it seemed like it was never on TCM–then finally it was and the movie was everything I’d hoped it would be. In this film, Charles Boyer stars as Georges Iscovescu, a Romanian immigrant who is stuck in a Mexican border town. Per immigration laws, he is looking at up to an eight year wait to obtain a quota number for entry in the United States. Georges then runs into an old flame, Anita Dixon (Paulette Goddard), an Australian who married a US citizen purely to obtain US citizenship. As soon as she could, she divorced the man and retained her citizenship status. Anita suggests that Georges do the same thing, then he and she could be free to start a new life together in New York. Georges immediately goes to work and spots Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland), a California school teacher whose bus has broken down. The bus is set to be repaired shortly, but Georges manipulates the situation (by “losing” a vital piece of the bus’s machinery) and forces Emmy and her class to stay overnight. This gives Georges enough time to woo Emmy and they are married after a whirlwind romance. However, Georges is required to wait in Mexico a few weeks before he can join Emmy in California. Emmy returns unexpectedly and Georges takes her on a trip (under the guise of a honeymoon, but in reality he is trying to hide from an immigration officer who is looking for con artists like Georges and Anita). Georges’ plans are complicated when he finds himself falling in love with Emmy. This was such an amazing film. Even though we’re supposed to dislike Georges, it’s hard to do because it’s Charles-freaking-Boyer. It’s easy to see why Emmy falls for him. I love true, legitimate romantic films (with no contrived plot points), and this is one of the best that I’ve seen.

#12 Gaslight (1944) Another Charles Boyer film! Third one on the list! Surprisingly Boyer was not on my top 10 actors watched in 2021, per Letterboxd. This was an amazing film. I don’t know how I went so long without seeing it. This is the film that gave the name to a form of psychological abuse, where one partner mentally manipulates another into thinking that they’re losing their mind. In this film, Boyer plays Gregory Anton, a pianist who marries Alice Alquist (Ingrid Bergman), a famous opera singer. Gregory works as Alice’s accompanist. At first, Gregory seems sweet, he convinces Alice that they move into her deceased aunt’s old home #9 Thornton Square in London, seemingly under the guise that Alice loved her aunt so much and that her aunt would want her home to be lived in. However, Gregory has ulterior motives which are revealed throughout the film. To keep Alice from catching onto Gregory’s motives, he gaslights her by manipulating situations and then making her think she caused them. Alice begins to think she’s going insane. And while she begins to question Gregory’s actions, he’s gotten her mind so messed up that she can’t convince herself that she’s right. A young, 17-year old Angela Lansbury makes her film debut as Nancy, a tart of a maid who takes pleasure in observing Gregory’s manipulation of Alice. Nancy even plays along to exacerbate the situation. Ingrid Bergman’s performance was a tour-de-force and she deserved every piece of the Oscar that she received.

#13 I Want to Live! (1958) If there are two things I love, it’s classic film and true crime. I Want to Live! has both. This film is a biopic of Barbara Graham, a prostitute who was executed in California in 1955 for her part in the murder of a wealthy widow. Susan Hayward gives an Oscar-winning performance as the doomed woman who at the beginning of the film, works as a prostitute who is arrested for soliciting sex across state lines. She then receives jail time after providing a false alibi to two friends who committed crimes. Despite her growing rap sheet, Barbara continues to “make a living” by committing petty crimes and turning tricks. Eventually, she hits the big time when she gets a job working with a big time thief, Emmett Perkins. Her job is to lure men into his illegal gambling parlor. Meanwhile, her husband has a drug addiction and is unemployed–leaving Barbara as the breadwinner. Eventually Perkins ends up becoming involved with criminals, John Santo and Bruce King. Barbara returns to Perkins’ establishment which is soon raided by the police. Barbara surrenders to the police for her involvement in the gambling ring, but soon learns that she is being accused in being complicit with Santo and King’s murder of a wealthy widow. Barbara tries to give her alibi, saying that she was home with her husband and son, but her husband has skipped town. Unless he can be found, Barbara is toast. This was such an amazing film. I know that there was controversy regarding how Barbara Graham was portrayed in the film, versus the real life events. I can’t comment on that; but what I can say is that real facts or not, this was a great movie.

#14 Suspense (1946) I went into this film noir not knowing entirely what to expect. It starred Barry Sullivan whom I like and Albert Dekker who always turns in a good performance. Sullivan and Dekker’s co-star was British figure skater, Belita. Often when athletes are put into films, especially athletes whose sport is exploited on screen, the results can vary drastically–especially if the athlete has limited acting talent. Sometimes this is good, such as the case with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan series. Other times, it can be limiting like is the case with Belita in another film of hers that I’ve seen. However, in this film, I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not saying Belita was amazing; but she was asked to play a figure skater, and Belita delivers on that front. In this film, Sullivan plays schemer, Joe Morgan, a newcomer to New York City who ends up taking a job at a theater as a peanut vendor. Belita plays the star performer, figure skater, Roberta. Albert Dekker plays Leonard, the owner of the theater and Roberta’s husband. Joe ends up suggesting a new act for Roberta, which revitalizes the show–as a reward he is made a manager. When Leonard leaves for a business trip, he puts Joe in charge. Joe and Roberta end up striking up a romance which Leonard soon discovers. This was a fantastic film. I actually was in suspense and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

#15 The China Syndrome (1979) This was another 1970s thriller that I watched which I really enjoyed. In this film, Jane Fonda plays television reporter, Kimberly Wells, who keeps getting stuck with the fluff stories during the local news segments. There is chauvinism present at the station, as it is thought that she couldn’t possibly handle a serious story. Her cameraman is the hot-tempered Richard Adams (Michael Douglas). One day, Kimberly and Richard end up getting a plum gig: doing a report from the Ventana, CA nuclear power plant. While visiting, they witness a malfunction in the nuclear power plant turbine operation and emergency shutdown protocol. Richard, despite being asked not to film, covertly records the entire incident. The incident is played off as not a big deal, but it becomes clear that the plant was thisclose to a meltdown. Jack Lemmon gives a fantastic performance as Jack Godell, the supervisor of the plant. Wilford Brimley was also excellent as the long-time employee, Ted Spindler, who battles with knowing what is right and his resentment over being passed up for promotion opportunities. I loved this movie. This isn’t normally my type of thing, but as a fan of 1970s thrillers and Fonda and Lemmon, I gave it a try. I’m glad I did. I was captivated from beginning to end and I especially loved Lemmon’s performance in the second half of this movie.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. A Cry in the Night (1956). Raymond Burr, Natalie Wood, Edmond O’Brien.
  2. Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018). A fabulous documentary on HBO Max.
  3. The Caine Mutiny (1954). Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer.
  4. Once a Thief (1965). Alain Delon, Ann-Margret, Van Heflin.
  5. Walk on the Wild Side (1962). Laurence Harvey, Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter, Capucine.
  6. Moonrise (1948). Dane Clark, Lloyd Bridges, Gail Patrick.
  7. The Glass Wall (1953). Vittorio Gassman, Gloria Grahame.
  8. The Big Combo (1955). Richard Conte, Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace.
  9. Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021) The Great Gonzo, Pepe, Will Arnett.
  10. Die Hard (1988) Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson.
  11. Confession (1937) Kay Francis, Basil Rathbone, Ian Hunter.
  12. Three Days of the Condor (1975) Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson.
  13. I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) Susan Hayward, Richard Conte, Eddie Albert.
  14. Possessed (1947) Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey
  15. The Circus (1928) Charlie Chaplin.

You Knew My Name: The Bond, Not Bond Blogathon- Pierce Brosnan in “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993)

I will admit that I’m not the biggest James Bond person. Not that I don’t like the films, but they’re just okay for me. It might be because I’m not a big action person. However, I have seen some of the Bond films, in fact, I’ve seen all of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond films. I remember “Goldeneye” being a big thing in 1995, especially when it came to the Nintendo 64, the hot video game system of middle school. But I digress. My first introduction to Pierce was not James Bond. My first introduction to Pierce was when he played Sally Field’s new beau in Mrs. Doubtfire. I remember thinking how Sally was a lucky woman–her new boyfriend was hot!

Robin Williams, Sally Field, and Pierce Brosnan in “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

In Mrs. Doubtfire, Sally Field plays Miranda Hillard, a successful San Francisco-based interior decorator. She is married to Daniel Hillard, a freelance-voice actor, played by the late Robin Williams. At the beginning of the film, Miranda and Daniel separate after he goes way over the top in a birthday celebration for their son. It’s the last straw for Miranda, who needs a responsible, reliable husband–not another, larger, child. She and Daniel separate and Miranda files for divorce. Daniel’s hopes for shared custody is based on his finding a suitable home and reliable employment within three months.

Needing someone to help keep the house in order and to watch the children, Miranda decides that she is going to hire a housekeeper/nanny. Daniel gets wind of this and concocts a scheme to put his voice acting skills to work and apply for the position. He gets his brother Frank, a makeup artist, to create a prosthetic mask and padding to bring “Mrs. Doubtfire” (Daniel’s female alter ego) to life. Mrs. Doubtfire applies for the position, wins over Miranda, and has the job. After a couple rough days, Mrs. Doubtfire hits her stride and is soon an irreplaceable member of the family.

“It was a run-by fruiting!”

Unfortunately for Daniel, Miranda has moved onto a new beau, Stuart “Stu” Dunmeyer, played by the super hot Pierce Brosnan. Sorry Robin Williams fans, as awesome as he was, he does not compete with Pierce Brosnan in the looks department–get it, Sally Field! There is a funny scene where Stu takes Miranda and the kids to the country club to swim. Depressed at the sight of seeing another man romancing his estranged wife and children, Mrs. Doubtfire downs drinks at the bar. At one point, after hearing a rude remark made about him by Stu, he throws a lime at the back of Stu’s head, then claims there was a “run-by fruiting” when Stu turns around in anger.

I think the film tries to somewhat portray Stu as a villain for comedic effect. However, he’s not really a villain in the sense that he’s purposely doing anything bad. However, he will be the factor that will ruin Daniel’s chances at reconciliation. While Daniel is trying to improve his life and meet the court requirements for joint custody, what he wants is to be back with his family; however Stu looks like he’ll be blocking that goal. And Stu isn’t just trying to hook up with old flame Miranda. After a business associate makes a comment about Miranda “having baggage” (i.e. three children), Stu corrects him, stating that he’s crazy about Miranda and her children.

The hunky Pierce Brosnan in “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Daniel’s behavior toward Stu reinforces Miranda’s decision to divorce him, in my opinion. Here is a grown man, who yes, is upset that Stu is taking his place as the patriarch, but he responds by throwing fruit, flipping Stu the bird, stating that Stu achieved his physique with liposuction, pulling the emblem off the hood of Stu’s Mercedes, and then truly takes things too far at Miranda’s birthday dinner. Daniel learns of Stu’s allergy to pepper. Daniel is at the restaurant to attend both a dinner/meeting with his new boss and as Mrs. Doubtfire to celebrate Miranda’s birthday. He ducks into the kitchen, finds Stu’s dinner and sprinkles pepper all over it. Stu is handed his dinner, takes a bite, and immediately starts choking. He is truly at risk of dying and Daniel finally realizes what he’s done and saves Stu’s life via the heimlich maneuver. Unfortunately for Daniel, the jig is up as Mrs. Doubtfire when his prosthetic mask is torn from his face while saving Stu. This brings us to the greatest line in the film:

MIRANDA: Oh my god! Oh my god! The whole time?! The whole time?! THE WHOLE TIME?! I have to go. We have to leave now. We have to go. I have to leave. We have to leave.

Sally Field as Miranda Hillard in “Mrs Doubtfire” (1993).

By the end of the film, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Miranda and Stu will continue seeing one another. Thankfully, Miranda and Daniel are able to resolve their differences enough that Miranda gives Daniel the housekeeper/nanny job so that he can see his children every day after school. The children can also see their father, via his “Mrs. Doubtfire” persona, which is a new hit children’s show in the local San Francisco market. It would have been easy for the filmmakers to turn Stu into a villain, make him slimy and gross, only wanting to hook up with Miranda for sex, her money, her business, etc. But the film doesn’t do that, Stu is presented as a stand-up guy, and we as the audience aren’t disappointed that Miranda might find a new father for her children. Both she and Daniel are better off in their new arrangement. And Miranda, who at the beginning of the film expressed how unhappy and angry she was in her marriage to Daniel, and how it made her act and feel, will finally get a chance at happiness. She’s found a man who brings what she needs to the table, and we cannot help but root for her and Stu.

YES!

The Biopic Blogathon: “Gentleman Jim” (1942)

The real James J. “Gentleman Jim” Corbett

James John “Gentleman Jim” Corbett was a competitive boxer best known for beating the famed heavyweight world champion, John L. Sullivan. Despite having only fought in about twenty matches, Corbett went up against the best fighters the sport had to offer. He was famous for his technique, which involved actual skill and practice, in lieu of sheer brute force. His refined conduct inside and outside the boxing ring led to the media referring to Corbett by the nickname, “Gentleman Jim.” At the end of the nineteenth century, boxing was still illegal in about half of the states in the union. The brutal nature of the sport led to it being considered immoral. However, Corbett’s genteel behavior and adoption of the Marquess of Queensbury Rules 1 (still in use in boxing today) led to the sport becoming more acceptable, especially among the women who flocked to his matches in droves. Corbett was one of the first modern sex symbols in the sports world.

1 The Marquess of Queensbury Rules were drafted in 1865 and established a code of ethics that fighters must follow at all times during a match. It wasn't enough to win, a fighter also had to play by the rules. There are a multitude of rules, including boxing ring regulations, proper gloves and shoes, 10-count before declaring KO, referee given power to end bout, and other rules. 
Despite what the poster might have you believe, Flynn does not have a mustache in this film.

In 1942, about ten years after Corbett’s passing, Warner Brothers set out to create a biopic of his life after having purchased the rights to his story from his widow. To star in the film as the first sex symbol of modern day boxing, Warner Brothers cast (who else?) Errol Flynn. Of all the stars in their stable, Flynn is the perfect choice to appear as the refined, lithe, attractive “Gentleman Jim.” Flynn himself was a boxer before Hollywood and was a natural athlete. To hone his boxing skills and to properly portray the real-life Corbett’s footwork technique, Flynn took extensive lessons. He rarely used a double during filming.

Flynn’s James “Jim” Corbett is presented as a brash young man with a “cock of the walk” type attitude. Working as a bank teller in San Francisco alongside his best friend, Walter (Jack Carson), he very easily ingratiates himself into the Olympic Club, a very elite club and gym for the upper crust. A young woman, Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith) comes into the bank one day to get some change for her father’s card game and meets Jim. Hearing that she’s on her way to the Olympic Club, Jim very graciously (lol) offers to accompany her to the club. Soon he manages to invite himself on a lunch date with Victoria and before he knows it he’s in the club showing off his boxing technique to the members of the club. The members are impressed and much to Victoria’s chagrin, Jim is invited to become a member of the club.

Alexis Smith and Errol Flynn as Victoria Ware and Jim Corbett. This picture nicely sums up Victoria and Jim’s relationship throughout most of the film.

Victoria and Jim have a very funny love-hate relationship throughout the film. Victoria finds Jim’s cockiness and forward behavior very off-putting. On his first day as a member, Jim has himself paged all over the club, “Paging Mr. Corbett,” to make him appear important to the other members of the club. His arrogant behavior irritates the other members of the club, but they put up with it because of his ability. Victoria heckles Jim throughout the film. She cheers for his opponents, boos him when he enters the ring, and mocks his behavior. Victoria’s dad looms in the background laughing at Victoria and Jim’s flirtatious, yet faux contemptuous behavior toward one another. “You two are the funniest couple” he says. However, despite how much Victoria pretends to be irritated by Jim, there’s a definite vibe that she’s got a crush on him. And who wouldn’t? Look at the man.

Jim also has a hilarious Irish family who provide some comic relief for the film. His father, Pat (Alan Hale) and mother, “Ma,” are both Irish immigrants who run a stable in the working class area of San Francisco. After a few prominent boxing matches, Jim’s star rises and he arranges for his family to move to the upper crust Nob Hill neighborhood. Pat and Jim’s brothers run a saloon that Jim purchases for them. The family is hilarious. One of their running gags is their heated arguments, which culminate with them taking the fight outside–“The Corbetts are at it again!” is heard a few times in the film. It is interesting how Jim is the only member of the family to speak with an Australian accent, but we’ll let that slide.

Alan Hale as Pat Corbett and Errol Flynn as his son, Jim.

Much of the film involves Jim’s power growing as he takes down one acclaimed boxer after another. During his first major bout, there’s a funny scene where his opponent’s son asks his mother why his dad doesn’t look like [Jim] in his underwear. The mother responds, “he did, once.” Jim wins the match and attends a party in his honor. However, he learns about the snobbery of the upper crust when his friend Walter is kicked out of the party due to not following dress code and drunkenness. My favorite part of this scene is where Walter starts drinking a man’s cocktail and the man says “hey that’s my drink!” Walter says, “it is? Then this must be mine!” as he grabs another drink and knocks it back. Upset over the treatment of his friend, Jim bails and they continue the celebration.

Jack Carson, William Frawley and Errol Flynn as Walter, Billy Delaney, and Jim Corbett

The celebration ends the next morning in Salt Lake City when Jim and Walter wake up. They discover that during their drunken evening, Jim had won $10 in a fight and gained a manager, Billy Delaney (William Frawley). Delaney is “strictly big time” (he says) and is soon booking Jim into more prestigious fights. Jim’s prizefighting career culminates with a huge 60+ round fight against the reigning heavyweight world champion, John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond).

Ward Bond and Errol Flynn as John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett

At the risk of spoiling the film, Jim emerges as the victor of the huge Corbett vs Sullivan match. At his celebration party, a humbled Sullivan shows up unexpectedly to cede his title to Jim. The scene is very poignant as Sullivan has to admit defeat and face the fact that he is no longer the greatest in the world. Jim, who idolized Sullivan when he was younger, gives the man a boost as he says that he’s grateful that he wasn’t the same Sullivan a decade prior. This moment humbles Corbett as he knows that there’s always someone waiting in the wings that is better. Soon Corbett will be humbled, just like Sullivan was that evening.

Finally, Victoria and Jim’s contentious relationship reaches its climax. Victoria continues to feign annoyance at Jim’s arrogance and he finally calls her out on it. He makes her admit that she doesn’t hate him as much as she lets on.

Alexis Smith and Errol Flynn as Victoria Ware and Jim Corbett– Geez, kiss already.

(After Jim kisses her while she berates him for being a “tin-horned, shanty Irishman”)

VICTORIA: Fine way for a gentleman to behave

JIM: Oh darling, that gentleman stuff never fooled you, did it? I’m no gentleman.

VICTORIA: In that case, I’m no lady.

(Jim and Victoria kiss again, this time as two people who have the hots for one another)

Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith as James “Jim” Corbett and Victoria Ware in “Gentleman Jim” (1942)

Like most biopics, Gentleman Jim strays from the truth a bit. The real “Gentleman Jim” was soft-spoken as he considered that more dignified. However, the casting of Errol Flynn brought about the “cock of the walk” attitude that definitely makes for a much more exciting film. Gentleman Jim was Errol Flynn’s favorite film of his career and it shows. This film is the peak of Flynn’s popularity and good looks. This film makes the best use of Flynn’s athleticism, good looks, charisma, everything. Alexis Smith was perfect casting. She’s formidable enough both in stature and personality to face Flynn. He is at his best when he has a strong leading lady to play against.

Swoon

My favorite parts are:

  1. When Jim falls into the San Francisco bay during an illegal fight and he completes the match in wet boxing pants.
  2. When Billy Delaney tries to maintain a quiet, relaxing environment for his prizefighter in the days leading up to the John L. Sullivan fight and his family bursts in and soon they’re singing and dancing an Irish jig. Billy Delaney says: “Look at those maniacs! What do you mean barging in here like a herd of wild elephants?” I love how Jim looks on in the background in amusement while Billy and Pat scuffle.
  3. When Ma Corbett corrects her family, saying “John *L* Sullivan,” emphasis in the L.
  4. The ending romantic scene with Victoria and Jim where they finally kiss. It’s about time, you know she’s been wanting to hook up with him since the beginning of the film.
  5. The very sweet scene between Jim and Ma where she worries about him fighting.

Now, time for my swoon moment:

YES!

Errol Flynn. Errol is my #1 favorite actor and this is the film that cemented that. He is hot hot in this film and is fantastic. He is one of the few leading men who take attention away from the leading lady. He is so gorgeous in this film and is just so much fun to watch. Aside from the film being genuinely a good film, he also provides plenty of opportunities for ogling.

In this film, we get to see:

  1. Flynn in wet, tight pants
  2. Flynn in short shorts
  3. Flynn in a tuxedo and top hat
  4. Flynn in a form-fitting union suit. HE EVEN MAKES A UNION SUIT LOOK GOOD.
  5. Flynn in tight pants
  6. Flynn with no mustache
  7. A lot of shirtless, Flynn action
“Give ’em room!”