“Movies Are Murder” Fall CMBA Blogathon–Clue (1985)

“Communism was just a red herring.”

Tim Curry as “Wadsworth” in Clue (1985)

A movie based on a board game should not be good. I can only think of one other movie based on a board game, Battleship (2012), and since I haven’t heard about that film since it came out ten years ago, I doubt that it will stand the test of time. I don’t even think it lasted until 2013. However, a film based on a board game that has stood the test of time is Clue, made 37 years ago in 1985. While the black comedy murder mystery failed to impress contemporary audiences upon its release, it has since developed a massive cult following. The film’s incredibly quotable dialogue has seamlessly integrated itself into everyday lexicon–or maybe just mine.

The 1992 version of Clue. This is the one that I had!

Clue, the board game, asks players to solve the murder of Mr. Boddy, the owner of the mansion in which the action of the game takes place. The answer to the murder lies inside an envelope placed in the center of the board. Players can assume the role of one of the mansion’s guests: Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Mr. Green, Mrs. White, and Professor Plum. A die is rolled and a player moves throughout the mansion, moving in and out of the mansion’s many rooms (Lounge, Dining Room, Kitchen, Ballroom, Study, Library, Billiard Room, Conservatory, and Hall). Players can also utilize the secret passageways that are present in each of the corner rooms. The secret passageway allows the player to move diagonally, from one corner to another. Upon entering a room, a player is allowed to make a suggestion. The player must make a suggestion and name a guest as the murderer and identify the murder weapon (lead pipe, knife, wrench, revolver, rope, and candlestick). The location of the murder is related to the room where the player resides. If the player states, “I think it was Miss Scarlet in the Conservatory with the lead pipe,” the person to the player’s left then has an opportunity to disprove the player’s suggestion by secretly displaying one of the matching cards in their hand. The player can then discreetly eliminate the room, guest, or weapon that was displayed by marking it on their clue sheet. If the player to the left cannot disprove, it is up to the next player to disprove the suggestion. If they cannot disprove the suggestion, it’s up to the next player, and so on. If nobody can disprove the suggestion, the player can then make an accusation. If none of the players can disprove the accusation, the player can reveal the contents of the envelope. If they are correct, they win the game.

The Clue movie takes the basic premise of the board game and gives it a slightly different spin. The film is set during the mid-1950s in Washington DC during the Red Scare. It is a dark, stormy night as six guests try to make their way to a mansion in the middle of nowhere. The cars of each guest match the color of their character’s pawn in the board game. Upon the guests’ arrival, they are given pseudonyms by Wadsworth, the Butler, and Yvette, the Maid. Wadsworth and Yvette are the only original characters added to the cast of main characters. The six guests’ pseudonyms align with the names of the guests from the board game. Right off the bat, one of the reasons that Clue is so awesome is that it has an All-Star cast:

ActorRoleKnown For (as of 1985):
Tim CurryWadsworthRocky Horror Picture Show, Annie, Legend
Colleen CampYvetteSmile, Apocalypse Now, Valley Girl
Eileen BrennanMrs. PeacockThe Last Picture Show, The Sting, Murder by Death, Private Benjamin
Madeline KahnMrs. WhiteWhat’s Up Doc?, Paper Moon, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein
Christopher LloydProfessor PlumOne Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest, Taxi (TV), Back to the Future
Michael McKeanMr. GreenLaverne and Shirley (TV), This is Spinal Tap
Martin MullColonel MustardMr. Mom, Mary Hartman Mary Hartman (TV), Fernwood 2 Night (TV)
Lesley Ann WarrenMiss. ScarletThe Happiest Millionaire, Victor/Victoria, Songwriter, Mission Impossible (TV)

After the guests all arrive, a seventh guest, Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving) shows up. Wadsworth reveals that it was Mr. Boddy who was responsible for sending the invitations that led to the guests’ arrival at the mansion. It turns out that Mr. Boddy has obtained some incriminating information on each guest and plans to blackmail them. Each guest is accused of the following scandal:

Miss ScarletIs a Madam, runs an underground brothel in DC.
Miss PeacockHas been taking bribes on behalf of her husband, a Senator.
Mrs. WhiteMurdered her husband, a nuclear physicist.
Professor PlumLost his medical license due to having an affair with a patient.
Colonel MustardSuspected of being one of Miss Scarlet’s clients and is also a war profiteer who sold plane parts on the black market, which led to many deaths.
Mr. GreenIs gay. This isn’t a title he’s ashamed of, but would lose his job at the State Department if it were discovered.

After this news is revealed, Wadsworth informs the guests that the police have been notified and will arrive in 45 minutes. Mr. Boddy gives each of the guests a weapon (one of the six weapons from the board game). He teases them with the weapons, saying that one of them should murder Wadsworth, who has a key to the front door, allowing for their escape and subsequent freedom. The light is then turned out, a moan and gunshot are heard. The light comes back on and Mr. Boddy is found supposedly dead. The guests then begin wandering around the mansion, trying to investigate the death of Mr. Boddy. We see the guests move from room to room, just like in the board game. The rooms in the film even resemble the board game. Somebody played a lot of Clue while designing these sets.

The whole time I watch this movie I am always fascinated with how Miss Scarlet’s dress stays up.

As the film wears on, more bodies turn up and is becomes obvious that one of the eight people in the house is the murderer. It is worth noting that when the policeman shows up to respond to Wadsworth’s call, it is exactly 45 minutes from when Wadsworth made the call. As the film wears on, other people such as a stranded motorist and a singing telegram girl show up and are soon added to the body count. There is a hilarious scene where the guests try to alleviate the policeman’s suspicion by pretending to be making out with the dead victims. As The Chords’ “Sh-Boom” plays, Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum pretend to make out next to the booze soaked, drunk, passed out (dead) motorist. Mrs Peacock pretends to be the arms of the (dead) cook caressing Colonel Mustard and Mrs. White makes out with (dead) Mr. Boddy on the couch. The policeman is satisfied, saying “these are just folks having a good time!” By the end of the film, there are six victims. Speaking of the end of the film, there is a hysterical sequence in which Wadsworth breathlessly takes the guests (and the audience) through all the events of the film as he works to reveal the culprit behind all the murders.

Upon the film’s original release, the filmmakers created three possible endings, hoping that the audience will see the film multiple times to see all the endings. This plan did not work, as audiences did not feel the need to see in the film multiple times. In my opinion, the only way to see Clue is with the “All three endings” option enabled on the DVD. For the record, the third solution with Mrs. White’s amazing “Flames on the side of my face” speech is the best ending of the three.

Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White is absolutely hysterical in this film. One of the funniest parts of the film (aside from “flames on the side of my face”) is when she talks about her husband and how she’s not a black widow:

COLONEL MUSTARD: How many husbands have you had?
MRS. WHITE: Mine or other women’s?”
COLONEL MUSTARD: Yours
MRS. WHITE: Five
COLONEL MUSTARD: Five?!
MRS. WHITE: Yes, just the five. Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong and disposable.
COLONEL MUSTARD: You lure men to their deaths like a spider with flies.
MRS. WHITE: Flies are where men are most vulnerable.

Martin Mull as “Colonel Mustard” and Madeline Kahn as “Mrs. White” in Clue (1985)

MRS. WHITE (explaining why she’s paying the blackmailer): I don’t want a scandal, do I? We had a very humiliating public confrontation. He was deranged. He was a lunatic. He didn’t actually seem to like me much; he had threatened to kill me in public.
MISS SCARLET: Why would he want to kill you in public?
WADSWORTH: I think she meant he threatened, in public, to kill her.
MISS SCARLET: Oh. Was that his final word on the matter?
MRS. WHITE: Being killed is pretty final, wouldn’t you say?

Madeline Kahn as “Mrs. White,” Lesley Ann Warren as “Miss Scarlet,” and Tim Curry as “Wadsworth” in Clue (1985).

MISS SCARLET: Do you miss him?
MRS. WHITE: Well, it’s a matter of life after death. Now that he’s dead, I have a life.
WADSWORTH: But he was your second husband. Your first husband also disappeared.
MRS. WHITE: But that was his job, he was an illusionist.
WADSWORTH: But he never reappeared.
MRS. WHITE: He wasn’t a very good illusionist.

Lesley Ann Warren as “Miss Scarlet,” Madeline Kahn as “Mrs. White” and Tim Curry as “Wadsworth” in Clue (1985).

The “Take Two” Blogathon- High Society (1956)

On April 19th in 1956, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier the sovereign ruler of Monaco. Grace had met Prince Rainier a little less than a year prior, in May of 1955. By saying “I do,” Grace gave up her successful, Oscar-winning Hollywood career and assumed her duties as Princess Grace of Monaco. She didn’t plan to give up her career after the wedding, but was pressured to do so by her new husband. As a result, the last film that Grace made was High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story.

Poor Celeste Holm, a fellow Oscar-winner to a cast full of Oscar-winners and she’s left off the poster.

The Philadelphia Story was released in 1940 and was the film that saved Katharine Hepburn’s career. In the original film, Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, an affluent young woman who is marrying for the second time to George Kittredge (John Howard). Tracy is part of the Philadelphia upper-crust. Her first husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) re-enters her life after arranging for Spy Magazine to cover Tracy’s wedding. Two years prior, Tracy had divorced C.K. due to him not meeting the impossible standards that Tracy sets for her friends and family. She also thought he drank too much and her critical opinion of his drinking caused him to imbibe even more.

On the same day, Macaulay “Mike” Connor (James Stewart) and Elizabeth “Liz” Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) a reporter and photographer, respectively for Spy Magazine arrive at the Lord estate. They are planning on covering Tracy’s wedding for their magazine. Complications ensue when Mike starts falling in love with Tracy, much to Liz’s chagrin. Liz harbors an unrequited crush on Mike. Meanwhile, Tracy is irritated with her ex-husband, C.K.’s constant presence. However, he helps her to realize that she needs to relax and stop being so judgemental of the people in her life. She is not perfect herself, so it is unfair to hold others to such a high standard.

Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm in High Society

In the musical remake of High Society, the action is moved from Philadelphia to Newport, Rhode Island. Grace Kelly assumes the role of Tracy and plays the role very well. She plays a haughty socialite just as well as Katharine Hepburn. Both women have a similar way of speaking, with a very pronounced mid-Atlantic accent. Interestingly enough, Grace herself is from Philadelphia and hails from the very same world depicted in The Philadelphia Story. However, I think I prefer the shift to the Newport locale. I love that the famous Newport Jazz Festival is used as a backdrop for High Society. The jazz music is also an excellent addition to the story, as Bing Crosby stars as C.K. Dexter Haven, Cary Grant’s role from the original film. Throughout the film, C.K. is busy organizing the festival, with Louis Armstrong and his band serving as the Greek chorus for the events in this film. C.K. also happens to live next door to the Lord estate, making his constant presence believable.

Not the planned wedding, but a good ending and we get to see Tracy’s gorgeous wedding dress! Let’s hope second time’s a charm for these crazy kids.

In High Society, it is Tracy’s father, Seth Lord, who has invited Spy Magazine to cover his daughter’s nuptials. The magazine has obtained some unflattering details about Seth’s various infidelities. Seth makes a bargain with Spy Magazine and allows them to send over a couple employees to cover the wedding. Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra) and Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm), a reporter and photographer respectively, arrive and are invited to stay at the Lords’ home. The scene where Mike and Liz arrive plays out in a similar fashion in both High Society and The Philadelphia Story. Tracy resents their intrusion and carries out an elaborate farce, including speaking French with her little sister and having her sister make an entrance dancing en pointe and then performing a song while playing piano. For her part, Tracy acts like a complete ditz, figuring that she needs to fit the image that the tabloids have of her. For the record, I find Virginia Weidler’s “Dinah” really annoying in The Philadelphia Story and prefer Lydia Reed as little sister, “Caroline,” in High Society. Weidler is the more talented performer, but there’s just something about her that makes me want to smack her.

Liz and Mike admire one of Tracy’s millions of wedding gifts

What I love about High Society is that there are more scenes between Tracy and C.K., giving us an idea as to why they fell in love in the first place. The Philadelphia Story hints at that, such as when C.K. gifts Tracy a miniature replica of their yacht, “True Love,” that they sailed around in during their honeymoon. In High Society, not only does C.K. gift Tracy the miniature replica of the “True Love,” but we’re treated to a flashback sequence of C.K. and Tracy singing “True Love” on their boat. I love any singing scene that involves characters playing a small accordion. This was also a fun scene where we actually hear Grace singing with her own voice. Thank goodness they did not dub her with someone like Marni Nixon. Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Nixon was an excellent singer, but her voice is so out of place in so many of the films where it is heard (case in point, Natalie Wood’s voice in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn’s in My Fair Lady).

Grace Kelly wears this amazing dress in High Society

I also love Grace Kelly’s costumes in this film. Her costumes are gorgeous, especially the blue chiffon dress with silver embroidery she wears during the party Tracy holds on the eve of her wedding. Katharine Hepburn’s dress in the same part of the film is incredible, but I think Grace has the edge. Grace also gets to wear a much better wedding dress during the film’s finale. I am not a fan of Katharine’s gown with the big girdle like thing across her waist. At the beginning of the film, Grace wears a simple beige blouse with beige slacks and red flats and she looks amazing. The woman could wear a stained sweatsuit and look fabulous.

One of the highlights of High Society is the duet between Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. This scene replaces the drunk scene between James Stewart and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story. The original scene is very funny, as Mike cannot stop hiccuping as he talks to C.K. However, with both Sinatra and Crosby in the cast, it is a no-brainer that a duet between the two men would have to take place. Sinatra and Crosby were often pitted against one another, with Sinatra being viewed as the crooner who would take the elder Crosby’s place. However, nothing could be further from the truth and the two men were lifelong friends. Their duet, “Well, Did You Evah!” is one of the highlights of the film.

Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong duet in High Society

It would also be remiss of me to not mention the amazing Louis Armstrong. He and his band serve as the Greek chorus, setting the scene for the film and then commenting on the action throughout. He provides a fun presence to the action and of course, since he’s performing at the Newport Jazz Festival, which is being planned by C.K., we are treated to a wonderful performance by Louis and Bing Crosby. The two men perform “Now You Has Jazz” and it is amazing. I would have loved if Louis Armstrong and his band had been hired as the entertainment at Tracy’s party on the eve of her wedding.

Tracy and C.K. spar in front of Tracy’s fiance, drip George Kittredge.

The ending of High Society plays out exactly the same as it does in The Philadelphia Story, the dialogue is almost repeated word-for-word. However, for whatever reason I find Tracy and C.K.’s quick decision to remarry more believable in High Society, even if I’m not totally sure on the coupling of Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby. However, the two actors did date in real life, so I guess it is plausible!

While The Philadelphia Story is regarded as the “better” film, I have perhaps the controversial opinion that I find High Society more entertaining. I love the casts of both films equally. I do enjoy The Philadelphia Story, at one point owning four copies. However, given the choice between the two, I would watch High Society. The jazz music and more “fun” feel make the film for me. I love all the Bing and Sinatra performances. Louis Armstrong is amazing. Grace Kelly is gorgeous. I just love it. It was amazing to see High Society in the theater last year.

(Singing)
MIKE: Have you heard that Mimsie Starr
C.K. Oh, what now?
MIKE: She got pinched in the Astor bar
C.K. Sauced again, eh?
MIKE: She was stoned
C.K. Well, did you ever?

Frank Sinatra as “Mike Connor” and Bing Crosby as “C.K. Dexter Haven” performing “Did You Evah?” written by Cole Porter in High Society (1956).

National Silent Movie Day- The Freshman (1925)

Another September 29 is upon us which means that it is National Silent Movie Day! 2022 is the second official year of this film event. This year, I opted to watch The Freshman starring the hilarious Harold Lloyd. Lloyd is someone who is often remembered alongside Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but I always feel like he’s mentioned as an afterthought, like “the greatest silent film comedians were Chaplin and Keaton… and I guess we can throw Lloyd in there too.” Harold Lloyd deserves to be revered just as much as Chaplin and Keaton. His “glasses” character is inventive and unique. I like Harold Lloyd’s comedy and find him a delightful middleground between the more sentimental Chaplin and the more physical Keaton. Don’t get me wrong, all three men were very skilled when it comes to physical comedy and acting; but each one is very different from the other.

The Freshman which debuted in theaters in 1925, tells the story of Harold Lamb, a young man who has saved exactly $480-something dollars (~$8100 in 2022 money) to go to college–Tate University to be specific. He saved the money selling washing machines. Harold has watched his favorite film, The College Hero, practically on a loop and has based his entire personality on the one presented in the film. He even learns the jig that The College Hero performs as part of a greeting when he meets a new person. Watching Harold execute the jig throughout the film is adorable, he looks so happy every single time he does it.

Harold rides the train to Tate University. On the train, he meets Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), a young woman also attending Tate. However, unlike Harold, she does not have a substantial savings and must work to afford the tuition. The train arrives at the station and Harold introduces himself to his new classmates, including, The College Cad (Brooks Benedict). After Harold does his jig, The College Cad laughs and makes Harold the laughingstock of the school. However, because he is so naive, Harold misinterprets his classmates’ laughter and The College Cad’s mocking as a sign that they all like him.

The College Cad eventually convinces Harold to try-out for the football team, thinking that it’d be hilarious. He isn’t selected for the team (of course), but ends up being hired to become the football team’s tackling dummy. Harold damaged the school’s only tackling dummy during his audition. The football coach loves Harold’s enthusiasm, however, but admits to the captain of the football team, Chet Trask (James Anderson) that Harold’s lack of athleticism does not make up for his positive attitude. Chet suggests to his coach that he bring Harold onto the team to be the waterboy. The coach agrees and invites Harold to join the team–except Harold thinks he’s joining as a football player.

Harold emulating “The College Hero”

Later, Harold is convinced to host the annual Fall Frolic dance. It’s obvious that the other students just want to use the big event to make a fool out of Harold. The Fall Frolic scene is hilarious. Harold hires a tailor to make him a new suit for the dance, but when he arrives to pick it up, he learns that the tailor is late and has only barely started sewing it together. Only a few stitches are holding the jacket and pants together. Despite the sparse stitches, Harold wears it anyway, hoping for the best. The tailor offers to follow Harold around the dance, sewing the suit together should it start to fall apart. Almost immediately, the tailor is having to sew the arms back onto Harold’s jacket.

The scene of Harold trying to stay in front of a curtain and entertain his date while the tailor works behind the curtain frantically sewing his suit together is hilarious and one of the best scenes in the film. I love the part when one of Harold’s classmates approaches him to ask for $10. Harold’s right arm is busy being repaired, so the tailor offers up his arm in place of Harold’s. The tailor’s arm (posing as Harold’s arm) reaches into Harold’s pocket and pulls out $10. While Harold is shaking hands (left hand) with his classmate, the tailor’s right hand pick-pockets the $10 out of Harold’s classmate’s pocket and puts the money back into Harold’s.

Eventually, Tate University’s football team is playing in the big game. Harold sits on the sideline, anxiously, as if to say “put me in coach, I’m ready to play.” He and another player watch as one teammate after another are knocked out of the game. The team is running out of benchwarmers and will be at risk of being disqualified from the game if they can’t meet the minimum requirement for active players on the field. Harold soon gets his big chance.

Jobyna Ralston and Harold Lloyd in “The Freshman.”

Women’s hair always seemed so ratty in the 1920s–no wonder they bobbed their hair later!

The type of comedy presented at the Fall Frolic is one of the things I love about Harold Lloyd. He has a lot of sight gags like this that are not as broadly comedic as Keaton, but are still very funny. There’s another funny scene in Safety Last! where Lloyd pretends to be an overcoat hanging on the wall. Lloyd’s character is very affable and approachable to audiences. He seems like an everyman and seems to be loving his life. He doesn’t have a stoneface like Keaton or seems like a hopeful sad sack like Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Harold Lloyd’s gags are just as well-timed and well-executed as anything Chaplin and Keaton did.

During the big football game, the audience cannot help but cheer for Harold. We don’t want to see him on the bench. We want Harold on the field, making the game-winning touchdown. Frankly, we want him to make any sort of score because in the fourth quarter the game is only at 3-0 in the opposition’s favor. Only a field goal. What a boring game! Harold’s enthusiasm and determination is contagious. This guy deserves to become his hero–The College Hero.

Harold’s jig greeting is hilarious

Broadway Bound Blogathon- Stage Door (1937)

TERRY RANDALL: I see that, in addition to your other charms, you have that insolence generated by an inferior upbringing.
JEAN MAITLAND: Hmm! Fancy clothes, fancy language and everything!
TERRY: Unfortunately, I learned to speak English correctly.
JEAN: That won’t be much of use to you here. We all talk pig latin.

Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” and Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” in Stage Door (1937)

This is just one example of the snappy dialogue present in the 1937 RKO classic, Stage Door. MGM’s 1939 classic, The Women, is held-up as the ultimate women’s picture, mostly because of the all-female cast and it’s spectacular script full of witty one liners and innuendo. While The Women is great, I much prefer Stage Door, despite including men in the cast in addition to the spectacular female cast. The cast is more appealing to me, the story is more interesting and frankly, the film is shorter which makes it a lot more compelling. It is my opinion that The Women runs a little long and could stand some editing. But I digress. This blog entry is not about The Women, it is about Stage Door.

Stage Door, directed by Gregory La Cava, was released on October 8, 1937. As a big Lucille Ball fan, this film is notable for being Lucy’s big break and was her first decent supporting role in an A-list production–and you can’t get much more A-list than co-starring in a film with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. In addition to Lucille Ball, this film also features Eve Arden and a 14 (!) year old Ann Miller. It is hard to believe that Ann is only a child in this film, she carries herself as a much older woman and more than holds her own dancing alongside Rogers in the film. Arden is awesome because she spends much of the film with a cat wrapped around her shoulders. Gail Patrick (playing a similar character to her “Cornelia” in My Man Godfrey) and Andrea Leeds also lend support as other women in the boarding house. Adolphe Menjou co-stars as producer Anthony Powell who is acquainted with the young women at the club and to whom the women look to for roles in upcoming productions. Look for a young Jack Carson as Judy’s lumberjack beau, Mr. Milbanks.

Three mega stars from left to right: Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers

Stage Door starts with a raucous, chaotic scene inside the Footlights Club all-female boarding house. The inhabitants of the boarding house are all aspiring Broadway performers, mostly acting, but some dancing as well. Because it’s the Great Depression and because breaking into Broadway is definitely not a sure thing, the women are struggling to survive and make ends meet. One of the boarders, Linda Shaw (Patrick) doesn’t seem to be starving, and it’s implied that she’s a kept woman–often being “kept” by Powell. We see Jean Maitland (Rogers) and Linda arguing over Linda’s borrowing Jean’s stockings without asking. Then, Judy Canfield (Ball) is observed asking Jean if she’d like to double date. Eve (Arden) walks around with a cat draped around her shoulders. The boarding house maid, Hattie (Phyllis Kennedy), contributes to the cacophony by poorly warbling some indistinguishable tune. An aging experienced actress, Ann Luther (Constance Collier), dispenses advice. Later she’ll guide Terry in her performance in her big break.

The noisy scene comes to a halt when a new boarder, Terry Randall (Hepburn), enters the Footlights Club looking for accomodations. It is apparent from the get-go that Terry is not in the same destitute situation as the other women in the club. She has money. She is interested in pursuing theater as a lark, not because she has a passion for the performing arts. Her obvious advantage makes her an instant adversary to the other women, especially Jean. According to Stage Door, Kay Hamilton (Leeds) is the best actress in the club. Kay is desperate to land the lead in Powell’s upcoming play, Enchanted April. Despite being the Footlights Club’s best actress, I find Andrea Leeds to be the weakest part of the film. I think her scenes are too saccharine and frankly, Kay comes off as pathetic. I can see why Terry is getting roles over her.

Left to right: 14 (!) year old Ann Miller, Ginger Rogers, and Lucille Ball

The main conflict of Stage Door comes when Terry breaks the status quo and barges into Powell’s office to demand to know why he refuses to see any of her fellow colleagues, despite their trying day after day to audition. Terry eventually ends up winning the coveted role in Enchanted April, making her the persona non grata at the Footlights Club. Hepburn’s solo scene at the end of the film when she recites the famous “the calla lilies are in bloom again…” speech is heart wrenching and one of the highlights of an otherwise dialogue-heavy film. Hepburn and Rogers are fantastic as the sparring roommates, a situation not too far removed from real life. Apparently, Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers did not get along. I would probably chalk it up to personality differences and probably a professional rivalry at RKO. Lucille Ball and Eve Arden are fantastic as the sarcastic roommates and it’s easy to see why the two women eventually became huge stars.

Eve Arden is awesome and walks around Stage Door with a cat wrapped around her shoulders

I love the ending of this film. After a very tragic and tense third act, Terry gives the performance of her life. Much of her performance is inspired by her friendship with Kay and how much Terry knew that Kay wanted the role. While dialogue indicates that Terry is not delivering the correct dialogue for her opening monologue, it is forgiven because she is properly evoking the mood the author intended. Terry demonstrates that she is intuitive and is an actress. At the behest of Ann, Terry goes on stage despite being distraught–“the show must go on,” as we all know. Terry is forgiven by her roommates, presumably because of her heart-wrenching performance in Enchanted April. She finally wins approval of her roommates who no longer see her as someone who is just slumming it in their boarding house as a form of entertainment. Terry has demonstrated that she has the passion and skill to be an actress on the stage. At the end of the film, Terry is shown throwing out sarcastic barbs alongside her former foe, Jean. A new starry-eyed boarder moves into the boarding house and Terry is right alongside the other women, ready to welcome the newbie into the fold.

Despite the presence of the hugely talented cast, the star of this film is the dialogue. It must have been quite a undertaking for the cast to remember all their lines.

Ginger Rogers and Gail Patrick are at odds through most of Stage Door

(After Terry has spoken at length and eloquently about Shakespeare)
EVE: Well, I don’t like to gossip, but that new gal seems to have an awful crush on Shakespeare!
SUSAN: I wouldn’t be surprised if they got married!
MARY LOU: Oh, you’re foolin’! Shakespeare is dead!
SUSAN: No!
MARY LOU: Well, if he’s the same one who wrote ‘Hamlet,’ he is!
EVE: Never heard of it.
MARY LOU: Well, certainly you must have heard of “Hamlet” !
EVE: Well, I meet so many people.

Eve Arden as “Eve,” Peggy O’Donnell as “Susan,” Margaret Early as “Mary Lou” in Stage Door (1937)

JEAN MAITLAND: (yelling) OH LINDA!
LINDA SHAW: Maybe if you spoke a little LOUDER next time, everyone in the whole HOUSE could hear you.
JEAN: Oh I’m sorry, I forgot you’re old and deaf.

Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” and Gail Patrick as “Linda Shaw” in Stage Door (1937)

JEAN MAITLAND: Do you mind if I ask a personal question?
TERRY RANDALL: Another one?
JEAN: Are those trunks full of bodies?
TERRY: Just those, but I don’t intend to unpack them.

Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” and Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” in Stage Door (1937)

JEAN MAITLAND: In some ways, you’re not such a bad egg.
TERRY RANDALL: As eggs go, I probably have my points.

Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” and Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” in Stage Door (1937)

KAY HAMILTON: It’s (her birthday cake) so beautiful, I hate to cut it.
JUDY CANFIELD: It’s one of Hattie’s cakes. Maybe you can’t cut it.
HATTIE: I resent that!
LINDA SHAW: Be careful you don’t drop it on your foot.
ANN LUTHER: Girls, I have the most wonderful news!
JUDY: Maybe the house is on fire.

Andrea Leeds as “Kay Hamilton,” Lucille Ball as “Judy Canfield,” Phyllis Kennedy as “Hattie,” Gail Patrick as “Linda Shaw,” and Constance Collier as “Ann Luther,” in Stage Door (1937).

EVE: I’ll never put my trust in males again
TERRY RANDALL: What happened to Eve?
JEAN MAITLAND: She’s brokenhearted. Henry’s in a cat hospital.
TERRY: An accident?
JEAN: He just had a litter of kittens.
TERRY: Well that’s easy to solve. Change his name to Henrietta.

Eve Arden as “Eve,” Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall,” Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland,” in Stage Door (1937).

TERRY RANDALL (in her play): The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died.

Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” in Stage Door (1937)

Singin’ in the Rain Blogathon- Songs of Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain is celebrating its 70th Anniversary this year. It is widely considered to be one of the best (if not the best) musicals of all time. I have seen this movie a million times. I’ve seen it in the theater multiple times. I own the huge box set. I love this movie. While it might be a cliche answer, considering its popularity, Singin’ in the Rain is my favorite musical. At the time the film came out however, it wasn’t thought to be anything special. It did turn a profit, but nothing remarkable. Even the origin of the film came from humble beginnings.

Don and Kathy eventually star in “Singin in the Rain” for Monumental Pictures

Arthur Freed, head of the “Freed Unit” and in charge of MGM’s musicals, wanted to develop a film based around the catalog of songs written by himself and composer Nacio Herb Brown. The only original songs written in 1952 for Singin’ in the Rain, were “Moses Supposes” and “Make ‘Em Laugh.” It is pretty clear however, that “Make ‘Em Laugh” is a rip-off of Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown.” There’s a pretty funny anecdote involving Freed showing Porter around the set during the production of Singin’ in the Rain. The cast and crew were rehearsing Donald O’Connor’s memorable “Make ‘Em Laugh” routine. Cole Porter heard the music and said “isn’t that ‘Be a Clown?'” Freed distracted Porter from the song before answering.

Gene Kelly performs the title song, “Singin’ in the Rain.”

The most memorable song in Singin’ in the Rain is the title song, “Singin’ in the Rain,” featuring Gene Kelly’s character, Don Lockwood, doing what else? Singing in the rain. Kelly’s song and dance in the rain is iconic and one of the most indelible scenes of Classic Hollywood cinema. In the musical number, Don is overjoyed after coming up with a plan to save his movie career and falling in love with Kathy Selden, played by the adorable and hugely talented Debbie Reynolds. There are some urban legends surrounding Kelly’s performance of the big title song dance number. One urban legend is that the water is actually milk, with the idea that milk would be more visible on screen. Co-Director Stanley Donen (Kelly was the other director), debunked this myth. One story that is true however, is that Gene Kelly was suffering from a horrible fever during production of his big dance number. It’s amazing that he was able to perform it so well and effortlessly, despite being so sick.

Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor sing “Good Morning” in Singin’ in the Rain.

“Singin’ in the Rain” was first heard in 1929, in the film Hollywood Revue of 1929. The song was performed by Cliff Edwards, who is best remembered now as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney’s Pinocchio. Edwards is seen wearing a raincoat and hat, while warbling this song in the rain. It was a big hit in its day, but Gene Kelly definitely added some life to the song in 1952. Another song from Singin’ in the Rain that was recycled, was “Good Morning.” In the 1952 film, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, and Gene Kelly sing the song after they realize that it’s past midnight after a disastrous film premiere. This song leads into Cosmo’s (O’Connor) brainstorm–turning Don and Lina Lamont’s (Jean Hagen) film, The Dueling Cavalier, into a musical. Judy Garland was heard singing “Good Morning” in her 1939 film with Mickey Rooney, Babes in Arms.

Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly harass the poor elocution teacher in “Moses Supposes.”

After it is decided to transition The Dueling Cavalier into a musical, Don and Lina are ordered to attend elocution classes. Miss Lina “And I Can Stan’ it!” Lamont definitely needs all the help she can get. Don, on the other hand, speaks fine, but is forced to go through these classes as well. We see him learning how to pronounce his “A” vowel sounds and say tongue twisters like “Chester chooses chestnuts, cheddar cheese with chewy chives. He chews them and he chooses them. He chooses them and he chews them, those chestnuts, cheddar cheese and chives in cheery charming chunks.” Cosmo shows up he and Don and end up singing “Moses Supposes” with a lot of rhymes. This number is used as a showcase for Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, but you cannot help but feel sorry for the poor elocution teacher. “Moses Supposes” was one of the original songs written for the film.

Debbie Reynolds is front and center in “All I Do is Dream of You” in this adorable number.

After dropping Don Lockwood off at a Hollywood party, Kathy Selden (Reynolds) makes her big splash in Singin’ in the Rain with her adorable performance in “All I Do is Dream of You.” Kathy and a chorus line of girls are seen in cute pink outfits while doing the Charleston amidst a storm of confetti. Don is instantly smitten with her, and so is my husband. My husband finds Debbie absolutely adorable in this number. My favorite part of “All I Do is Dream of You” is when Debbie so effortlessly removes a piece of confetti from her face. Whether that was scripted, I don’t know, but she made it look so easy. What an amazing lead role film debut for Debbie. She was so talented. “All I Do is Dream of You” can be heard as an instrumental song in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.

After Kathy sings “All I Do is Dream of You,” she unfortunately ends up hitting Lina in the face with a pie that she intended for Don. She runs out of the party in embarrassment. Lina reciprocates by having her fired. Don looks in vain for Kathy, but doesn’t have any luck. Eventually, Cosmo ends up performing a very acrobatic rendition of “Make ‘Em Laugh” in an attempt to cheer Don up. Let’s face it, this song is “Be a Clown.” There is no mistaking that. However, for all intents and purposes, it’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” in Singin in the Rain. Donald O’Connor’s solo dance is absolutely fantastic. I don’t know any other dancer(s), except for maybe The Nicholas Brothers, who could have performed the acrobatics required of this dance number. O’Connor is amazing.

If there’s one thing I love, it’s a random fashion show inserted into a film.

One of my absolute favorite things in a Classic Hollywood film is the random fashion show. Singin’ in the Rain does not disappoint and features a fashion show in the middle of the film during the “Beautiful Girl” montage. This section of the film is kind of random. My husband doesn’t like it because he feels like it is disjointed from the rest of the film. Me on the other hand, enjoy it because it features a fashion show and this section also serves as a way to get Don back with Kathy when we discover that Kathy is now working as a chorus girl in this musical number on an unnamed film. Singin’ in the Rain very effortlessly segues from the musical interlude to the story involving Kathy and Don. The other purpose that this section serves is that it shows how Monument Studios has had to adapt in face of the burgeoning technology of “talking pictures.” Now they’re producing musicals–a genre that wouldn’t have been possible during the silent era.

The “Beautiful Girl” montage opens with a mash-up of “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin,” “The Wedding of the Painted Doll,” and “Should I?” Images of flappers, women dressed as toy soldiers, and a man with a megaphone are seen. “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin'” debuted in 1936 in Broadway Melody of 1936. “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” was heard in another ‘Broadway Melody’ film, Broadway Melody of 1929. Finally “Should I?” was heard in Lord Byron of Broadway in 1930. The montage transitions into a man singing “Beautiful Girl” which was heard in the film Stage Mother in 1933. Kathy Selden is one of the chorus girls in the “Beautiful Girl” number. This scene then switches into an amazing fashion show–one of my favorite random fashion shows in film.

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in my favorite number from Singin’ in the Rain.

The ‘Broadway Melody’ films provided a lot of music to Singin’ in the Rain. In the big closing number, Broadway Melody is presented as the imagination of Cosmo Brown and Don Lockwood as they pitch the revamped version of The Dueling Cavalier to Monument Pictures Studio head, RF Simpson (Millard Mitchell). The big “Broadway Melody” number was featured in Broadway Melody of 1929 along with “The Wedding of the Painted Doll.” “Broadway Rhythm” was also featured in 1936, in Broadway Melody of 1936, along with “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’.” I love this part of the film. Cyd Charisse as the flapper in that green, fringed dress is gorgeous. She and Gene together are sizzling hot. This is one of the sexier dance numbers during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I love the music. Charisse is seen later wearing a white version of the same dress and later, a white dress with her own hair, and an enormous, flowing white veil. This is a very dramatic number set to an original song, the “Broadway Ballet,” composed by Nacio Herb Brown. This number is fantastic and I love it.

In the Classic Hollywood era, it is easy to find costumes and songs recycled from other previous films. If you have a great costume, or a great piece of music, why not re-use it? Singin’ in the Rain is proof that you don’t have to develop an entire catalog of new songs if you have songs that will suit the purposes of the film. However, the caveat to this is that you have to have writers that are talented. Props have to be given to the writing team of Adolph Green and Betty Comden. They were given a stack of songs and told to write a story using these songs, and boy did they deliver!

LINA: I’m a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament.

Jean Hagen as “Lina Lamont” in Singin in the Rain (1952)

No! No! No!
Yes! Yes! Yes!
No! No! Nooooooooooo!

MGM Blogathon–Jean Harlow, the First Blonde Bombshell

Jean Harlow the original blonde bombshell

On Monday, June 7, 1937, Spencer Tracy made a very short diary entry– “Jean Harlow died. Grand girl.” Harlow’s tragic death at the young age of 26 devastated the entire MGM company. One MGM writer was quoted later saying, “The day Baby (Harlow’s nickname) died…there wasn’t a sound in the commissary for three hours.” Harlow’s fiance, William Powell, was devastated. He was in the middle of filming his latest film, Double Wedding, with frequent co-star Myrna Loy. Loy was also good friends with Harlow. The two stars asked for time to grieve and production was temporarily halted. Even after completing the film, both Powell and Loy felt like they hadn’t turned in their best performances. Clark Gable and Una Merkel were also good friends of Harlow’s and had been with her during her final days. Both Gable and Merkel appeared with Harlow in what turned out to be her final film, Saratoga (1937).

Unfortunately, Harlow’s passing at such a young age and rumors about her cause of death have overshadowed her legacy. A rumor persists that her death was caused by poisoning from the peroxide she used to achieve her trademark platinum blonde look. The truth is that Harlow unfortunately was not in the best of health throughout her short life. When she was 15, she contracted scarlet fever and it is thought that the illness permanently damaged her kidneys. Harlow also suffered bouts of meningitis, polio, and pneumonia during her youth. Healthwise, the poor girl was a mess.

Jean Harlow sported a more natural look towards the end of her life.

Watching Harlow on the silver screen however, one would never know that she suffered from so many various ailments. On-screen, Harlow’s beauty and effervescent personality are on full display. Her trademark platinum blonde hair lights up the screen. Unfortunately, Harlow’s hair suffered greatly from the treatment given to achieve this look. Harlow’s hairdressers came up with a concoction of hydrogen peroxide, sodium hypochlorite bleach, ammonia, and Lux soap flakes. Yikes. Last time I checked, one was not supposed to mix bleach and ammonia together. But this is what Harlow endured to be a star. However, her hair also started to fall out. Towards the end of her life, Harlow had given up the harsh peroxide treatment and returned to her natural hair color or wore wigs.

Despite all the issues the platinum blonde hair caused Harlow, it led to her breakthrough film, aptly titled, Platinum Blonde (1931). Prior to this role, she had appeared in small roles, usually as the floozy, but she did have a good role in James Cagney’s breakthrough film, The Public Enemy (1931). In Harlow’s earliest films, she’s not particularly good. It’s very obvious that she isn’t experienced in acting. However, she just has that je ne sais quoi, aka “that certain something,” aka “the ‘it’ factor,” aka “star quality.” In 1932, Harlow finally hit her stride and became a bona fide star when she appeared in Red-Headed Woman.

Jean Harlow in “Red Headed Woman.”

In Red-Headed Woman, Harlow plays Lillian ‘Lil’ Andrews, a young woman who lives in a small town in Ohio, in a home literally on the wrong side of the tracks. She desperately wants to improve her social standing and will stop at nothing, and I mean nothing, to do so. Curiously enough, in this film which is widely seen as Harlow’s star making role, her character dyes her platinum hair red. In my opinion, Harlow actually looks better with the darker hair. As Lil, Harlow sizzles on screen. There is a scene where she changes her top and for a brief second, the side of her right breast is visible. There’s another scene where Lil asks a store clerk if the dress she’s interested in is sheer and the clerk says that yes it is. That’s all Lil needs to hear and she gladly wears it. Throughout the film, Lil shamelessly seduces married men, older rich men, anyone who can move her to the other side of the tracks.

LIL: “Listen Sally, I made up my mind a long time ago, I’m not gonna spend my whole life on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.”

SALLY: “Well, I hope you don’t get hit by a train while you’re crossing over.”

Jean Harlow as “Lil” and Una Merkel as “Sally” in “Red-Headed Woman” (1932)
Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in “Red Dust.”

1932 was a big year for Harlow, after Red-Headed Woman, Harlow’s star status further solidified with the release of Red Dust, co-starring Harlow’s friend and frequent co-star, Clark Gable. Red Dust is mostly remembered today for Harlow’s famous scene where her character bathes nude in a rain barrel. However, Harlow’s performance in Red Dust is so much more than that one short scene. In this film, Harlow plays a prostitute, Vantine, who stumbles upon Gable’s rubber plantation in Vietnam. She’s on the run. Why, exactly? We don’t know, but we can assume that her occupation probably has something to do with it. While on the plantation, Harlow and Gable crackle and sizzle on screen. Their chemistry is off the charts, even in a ridiculous scene where they discuss their preferred type of blue cheese.

VANTINE [bathing in the rain barrel]: “What’s the matter? Afraid I’ll shock the duchess? Don’t you suppose she’s ever seen a French postcard?”

DENNIS: “You’ll let those curtains down if it’s the last bath you’ll ever take!”

Jean Harlow as “Vantine” and Clark Gable as “Dennis” in “Red Dust” (1932)

Harlow’s best roles were during the pre-code era, when her sexuality and sensual nature were allowed to be on display. 1933 was a banner year for Harlow as well, as she was re-teamed with Gable in Hold Your Man, and appeared as part of the all-star cast in Dinner at Eight. She has a particularly memorable scene with Marie Dressler, a fellow MGM star who couldn’t be more different than Harlow. She also appeared in Bombshell, playing a fictionalized version of Clara Bow. An argument could be made however, that Harlow was also playing a fictionalized version of herself. The success of Bombshell led to Harlow being declared a “blonde bombshell.”

KITTY: “I was reading a book the other day.”

CARLOTTA: “Reading a book?!”

KITTY: “Yes. It’s about civilization or something. A nutty kind of book. Do you know that the guy says that machinery is going to take the place of every profession?”

CARLOTTA: “Oh, my dear, that’s something you never need worry about.”

Jean Harlow as “Kitty” and Marie Dressler as “Carlotta” in “Dinner at Eight” (1933)
Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler in “Dinner at Eight.”

After the production code went into effect in mid-1934, Harlow’s on-screen image was toned down. She was still the brassy blonde, but she was no longer the sexpot. She didn’t slink around in silk bias cut gowns where it was very obvious she wasn’t wearing underwear. While she might have still been going commando under her costumes, the Harlow-character was now a different type of woman. In The Girl From Missouri, made in 1934 after the production code went into effect, had a storyline similar to Red-Headed Woman. Harlow’s character, Eadie, lives in Kansas City and desperately wants to leave her home, complete with an abusive stepfather, behind. She decides to move to New York City to search for a millionaire. If The Girl From Missouri had come out earlier, Harlow’s character would have probably acted more brazenly in pursuit of her millionaire. The production code version of this film features a tamer, more common rom-com plot.

TR: “You want to scratch me off your list. I’m not a ladies’ man.”

EADIE: “Oh, Mr. Paige. Don’t be such a pessimist.”

Franchot Tone as “TR” and Jean Harlow as “Eadie” in “The Girl From Missouri” (1934).

Both The Girl From Missouri and 1936’s Libeled Lady, feature a common production code Jean Harlow character, the sassy girl who is a bit gaudy and unsophisticated, but has charm in spades. Libeled Lady is the first film Harlow made where she does not sport her trademark platinum blonde hair. By this point, the harsh peroxide and bleach had led to Harlow’s hair resembling straw. It eventually started to fall out in clumps. Alarmed at her hair loss, Harlow understandably ceased the bleach treatments and reverted to her own hair color, or she would wear wigs. In addition to Harlow, Libeled Lady features three of MGM’s other big stars: Spencer Tracy, William Powell, and Myrna Loy.

WARREN: “Gladys, do you want me to kill myself?”

GLADYS: “Did you change your insurance?”

Spencer Tracy as “Warren” and Jean Harlow as “Gladys” in “Libeled Lady” (1936).
The cast of “Libeled Lady,” L to R: William Powell, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy.

In 1934, Harlow and Powell started dating. At some point they became engaged, but did not marry before Harlow’s death. Powell had gifted Harlow an enormous star sapphire ring and was truly devoted to her. Had Harlow not died so young, it’s interesting to think about whether Harlow and Powell would have married. Would their marriage have lasted? Sadly, we’ll never know because by the beginning of 1937, it was the beginning of the end for Harlow. She was cast in the film Saratoga again with Gable. She would not complete the film. In March, she developed sepsis after having her wisdom teeth extracted. After a brief hospitalization, she resumed filming.

In May, Harlow complained of symptoms–fatigue, nausea, fluid retention and abdominal pain, but sadly the studio doctor didn’t seem to think there were any issues (Really, doc?). He diagnosed her with a gallbladder infection and the flu. Whether Harlow’s life would have been prolonged or even saved were she diagnosed correctly, is hard to say. It is apparent though that she was already suffering from kidney failure and with dialysis not being a thing and antibiotics still in their infancy, most likely Harlow was doomed. At the end of May, she filmed a scene in which her character is suffering from a fever. Harlow did not need to act to do this scene. She was very very ill and had to lean against Gable for support. William Powell was called to escort Harlow home. She never returned to the set.

On the evening of June 6, 1937, Harlow slipped into a coma. She died the next morning just after 11:30am.

As a child, Marilyn Monroe idolized Jean Harlow.

Harlow’s death is tragic. Who knows what she could have done had she lived a long life? I would have loved to have seen Harlow continue with her more natural appearance. She would get rid of the pencil-thin high arched eyebrows. I could see her with longer hair. I would have loved to have seen Harlow in a film noir. Let’s hope that when she reached her 40s in the 1950s, that she didn’t adopt the awful poodle cut that so many of her peers did and aged them 15-20 years in the process. Perhaps in the 1950s, Harlow could have worked with a young actress who idolized her–Marilyn Monroe. Monroe worshipped Harlow as a child and tried to emulate her, complete with the platinum blonde hair.

I love Jean Harlow. She is a legend. While Harlow continues to end up on lists of stars who died tragically young, her legacy is so much more. Harlow is the original blonde bombshell. She established the blueprint for the sassy, sometimes brassy, va va voom blonde who inevitably will win the heart of the leading man of the film. After Harlow’s breakthrough in Platinum Blonde, many other platinum blonde starlets popped up: Alice Faye, Ida Lupino, Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, even Joan Crawford sported the look for awhile! But only Harlow persists as the ultimate platinum blonde. Marilyn Monroe might share the platinum blonde mantel, but Harlow is the original.

“I wasn’t born an actress, you know. Events made me one.” -Jean Harlow

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.