Tag Archives: Drama

Favorite Performer: Ann Blyth

One of the best things about watching classic film is discovering new favorite performers.  Sure, there are the well-known legends of classic film: Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, etc. and I love many of them too and can completely see how and why these men and women have endured decades after their last film; but there are a whole crop of other actors in these films that deserve to be just as well known.  Many of my favorite performers were steadily working actors and were even stars in their day, but over the years, they’ve been all but forgotten.  Thankfully, through vehicles like TCM, the internet, the TCM/Fathom classic film events and other film revivals all over the country, these actors are once again getting their day in the sun.  It is my hope that through TCM and the classic film events that these actors will once again be in the limelight.   Often for me, it is the films with the big name that leads me to discovering these other performers, many of whom are just as good as the big name to whom they’re lending support, or even sharing a star billing with them!

One such performer who was a star in her day and whom deserves more recognition is Ann Blyth.

annblyth
Ann Blyth, 1940s

My first exposure to Ann Blyth was her star-making turn as the daughter-from-hell, Veda Pierce in the 1945 classic, Mildred Pierce.  ‘Mildred,’ starred Joan Crawford as the title character, a recently divorced mother who is determined to give her spoiled teenage daughter, Veda, everything she wants.  This film was a comeback vehicle for Crawford whose contract at MGM had been terminated two years prior, after eighteen years with the studio.  In 1945, Crawford signed with Warner Brothers and immediately embarked upon a string of hit films, mostly in the melodrama genre, where her career thrived for the next decade or so.  As an aside, frankly, I prefer this short period of Crawford’s career.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Crawford, but I absolutely love Crawford during her Warner Brothers era–plus I really love melodramas.  But I digress…

Back to Ann Blyth.

Prior to ‘Mildred,’ Blyth was under contract with Universal, mostly appearing in musicals that took advantage of her singing talent.  She was paired often with Donald O’Connor as Universal hoped that they could replicate the success of MGM’s Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musicals that were popular a few years prior.  The Blyth/O’Connor musicals were successful enough, but Blyth’s star skyrocketed after she was loaned out to Warner Brothers to appear in ‘Mildred.’ Blyth was cast after Shirley Temple, Virginia Weidler, Bonita Granville, and Martha Vickers were considered.  Frankly, the idea of Shirley Temple slapping Joan Crawford sounds intriguing.  I believe Granville could also have done a pretty good job as she played a horrible child in 1936’s These Three.  But after seeing Blyth’s performance (and having seen it multiple times as Mildred Pierce is one of my favorite movies of all time), it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the part.

annblyth1
Veda tells Mildred what she really thinks about her in Mildred Pierce

Blyth’s portrayal of Veda, I believe, is one of the all-time most “femme-fataly” of all femme fatales in noir.  On the surface, she looks harmless.  She’s got a sweet face and a very nice sounding voice.  However, under the surface, there lies one of the most shallow, despicable characters in classic film.  Veda is brazen and unapologetic about what she wants and what she’s willing to do to get what she wants.  In some ways, I find that admirable, because she knows what she wants and she doesn’t care what she has to do to get it.  On the other hand, the way she goes about it is questionable.  Veda can show moments of kindness and sympathy, but one has to wonder how genuine it is when the next scene has her saying/doing something awful to Mildred.  My favorite moment of the entire film is Blyth’s “f-you” speech to mother, Mildred, which culminates with Mildred ripping up Veda’s windfall (in form of a check that Veda received after some mild extortion), Veda slapping Mildred, and Mildred kicking Veda out of the house.

VEDA (to MILDRED): “With this money, I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men who wear overalls. You think just because you made a little money, you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t. Because you’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing. With this money, I can get away from every rotten, stinking thing that makes me think of this place or you!”

Damn.  I’ll have to say that Veda deserves everything she gets in this film.  Her monologue above pretty much sums up Veda’s entire character.  There is nothing redeeming about Veda.  Mildred does everything for her, even jumping into the incredibly difficult restaurant industry, and despite after much success, really has nothing to show for it at the conclusion of the film.

After ‘Mildred,’ Blyth appeared in a variety of different film genres.  One such film was 1948’s Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid with William Powell.  This fantasy film is a lot of fun.  Powell portrays a middle-aged psychiatrist, Arthur Peabody,  who is experiencing a bit of a midlife crisis when it occurs to him that his fiftieth birthday is quickly approaching (we’ll look past the fact that Powell already looks 50 and then some).  While on vacation, Peabody hears some singing coming from a distant island.  Taking his fishing boat, Peabody travels to the island and discovers the source of the singing.  It’s a mermaid, Lenore, played by Blyth.

peabody
Ann Blyth and William Powell in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid

While Lenore is mute and does not speak, she does sing.  Throughout the rest of the film, Peabody spends a lot of time with Lenore.  Lenore is mischievous and charming which Peabody finds exciting as it is pulling him out of the rut he feels he is in.  Lenore is also young and likes Peabody, which he also finds exciting as a man nearing fifty.  Peabody even ends up teaching Lenore how to kiss.   Much of the film involves Peabody trying to hide Lenore, first in the bathtub of his hotel room and later in the insanely large fish pond at the hotel.  Other characters in the film, overhearing snippets of Peabody’s conversations with Lenore and seeing Lenore’s face (not her mermaid body obviously) immediately think he’s having an affair.

While Blyth has no lines in ‘Peabody,’ she is completely enchanting as the mermaid.  Between her beautiful face and her gorgeous singing voice, it’s no wonder that Peabody is instantly smitten.

Blyth’s Hollywood career wasn’t incredibly long, though longer than some.  Over the course of thirteen years (1944-1957), she appeared in about thirty or so films.  While I believe Mildred Pierce represents the apex of her career, Blyth makes an impact in every films of hers that I’ve seen.  In addition to the two films I mentioned above, I also recommend Blyth’s last film, The Helen Morgan Story.  Despite her voice being inexplicably dubbed, Blyth’s performance as tragic torch singer, Helen Morgan, is excellent.  She portrays a woman who was at the top of her career, only to lose it to alcohol addiction.  While this may not be the best biopic, Blyth shines in a performance that was different than the many musicals that she made prior to this film.

annblythtoday
Ann Blyth Today

Today Blyth lives near San Diego, California.  At 89 years old, she still answers her fan mail and is known to journey up to Los Angeles occasionally to appear at film related festivals.  In 2013, Blyth appeared at the TCM Film Festival to be interviewed by late TCM host, Robert Osborne.  In this interview, she showed that she still had the charm and lovely demeanor that she showcased in all those films decades prior.  Fortunately, the real Ann Blyth is nothing like her best known role, Veda Pierce.

 

 

Advertisements

Villain Blogathon–Eve Harrington, “All About Eve” (1950)

Villains 2017

All About Eve, the showbiz drama to end all showbiz dramas, starts in the present time at an annual theater award banquet.  Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), the evening’s recipient of the most prestigious award–The Sarah Siddons Award (for distinguished achievement), is set to take the stage.   The evening seems like a pleasant affair, but the narrator Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), quickly informs us that all is not what it seems.  As Eve ascends the steps and is about to take the award from the presenter, the picture freezes.  In a knowing and almost sarcastic tone, we are advised that we will “learn all about Eve” shortly.  The film quickly segues into a flashback, where we, as the viewer, assume that we will be taken on a journey to find out how Eve earned herself the prized Sarah Siddons Award trophy.  When I first saw this film, I knew that Eve had to have done something scandalous or nefarious to get there–and if you’re like me, this premonition will only hook you into wanting to take the ride to learn ALL ABOUT EVE.

eve1
Eve accepts the Sarah Siddons Award

Trust me.  It’s worth it.  That Eve is a real piece of work.

We first meet Eve outside of a theater on a dreary evening in New York City.  It is pouring outside and Eve, wearing a raincoat and bucket hat is huddled next to one of the side doors.  She has just come from seeing her idol, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), perform in her latest play, “Aged in Wood.”  Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), a friend of Margo’s and wife of the play’s author, Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe), spots Eve outside.  Karen remarks to Eve that she’s seen her outside of the theater every evening after a performance.  Eve (who at this point seems like a genuine, starstruck young woman), comments that she loves Margo Channing and has seen every performance of this play.  She even remarks that she’d first seen Margo perform in San Francisco, where she became an instant fan.  Karen invites Eve inside to meet her idol.

The wheels are in motion…

Inside the theater, we meet Margo and all of her other theater friends and colleagues.  Aside from Karen and husband Lloyd, there’s Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) (Margo’s boyfriend and director of the play) and Margo’s assistant Birdie (Thelma Ritter) (also a former vaudevillian).  They’re laughing about an interview Margo gave and Karen introduces Eve to Margo and appeases to her ego by gushing over her.  After prompting her to tell the group how she found Margo and ended up in New York City, Eve gives her first of many excellent performances.  Eve tells a sob story about how she came from Milwaukee, WI and worked in a dead end career as a secretary in a brewery.

eve2
Eve the starstruck fan, meets her idol, Margo Channing.

EVE: “When you’re a secretary in a brewery, it’s pretty hard to make believe you’re anything else.”

She then discusses how she dabbled in theater in her town, but of course, Eve with her fake humility, says she was awful.  It was at this theater where she met “Eddie” who was a radio technician, but was also in the Air Force.  Then Eddie was sent into combat when “The War” came.  Eve went back to work at the brewery and lived for Eddie’s once a week letters.  She saved her vacation time and money to be able to meet Eddie in San Francisco for a vacation.  Eddie never showed up.  He was killed in combat.  Now in San Francisco, Eve decided to look stay in town and look for work.  One night, Margo Channing came to town to perform “Remembrance” at the Shubert Theater, which Eve attended, and ultimately led to her following Margo back to New York and brings us to the current events.  The group is sympathetic to Eve’s story and instantly feel compassionate toward her plight.  The only person who is not convinced is Birdie.

BIRDIE: “What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end”

After accompanying Margo and Bill to the airport so he can catch his flight to Hollywood, Eve ends up being invited to live in Margo’s home and work as her assistant.  For awhile, Eve dotes on Margo and Margo is in bliss.  However, Eve has an ulterior motive.  By taking care of Margo and all her affairs for a few weeks, she can learn all there is to learn about Margo Channing and her friends and colleagues.   At the theater, Margo catches Eve on the theater stage, modeling Margo’s costume and pretending to bow and accept applause from an invisible audience.  When Eve realizes that she’s been caught, she has a look of terror on her face, but Margo chalks up Eve’s reaction to embarrassment and assumes that Eve’s actions are those of a wannabe theater actress.

Later that evening, Margo receives a phone call at 3:00AM.  Apparently, she had placed a call from New York to California at 12AM (Pacific Time) to wish Bill a Happy Birthday.   Margo assumes that Eve placed the call on her behalf.  It is apparent that Margo is confused and not sure if Eve’s intentions were pure or if there was some underlying motive. The next morning, Margo and Birdie discuss Eve and Birdie’s instinctive dislike of her.

birdie
Birdie is suspicious of Eve’s true intentions

MARGO: She (Eve) thinks only of me, doesn’t she?

BIRDIE: Well let’s say she thinks only about you, anyway.

MARGO: How do you mean that?

BIRDIE: I’ll tell you how: like…like she’s studying you, like you was a play or a book or a set of blueprints–how you walk, talk, eat, think, sleep…

MARGO: I’m sure that’s flattering.  There’s nothing wrong with it.

Margo asks Eve about the phone call.  Eve admits that she forgot to tell Margo about the phone call.  She then nonchalantly mentions that she also sent a telegram to Bill for his birthday and smirks as she leaves and closes the door. The musical score then pops in with its wonderful shrieking violins and loud crescendos.  This music is a continual theme and is heard throughout the film each time Eve does something else nefarious.

From this point on, Eve’s behavior just gets more brazen as she works to take over Margo’s career.  Some of the things she does:

  • Eve finds out Margo’s understudy is pregnant and under the guise of humility, manages to manipulate Karen into asking Max into giving the role of Margo’s understudy to her.
  • Margo arrives late for an audition with another Addison DeWitt protegee, Miss Caswell (Marilyn Monroe).  Eve, Margo’s understudy, auditions with Miss Caswell instead.  She gives a brilliant performance (according to Addison).  Later, after Margo feuds with Lloyd about Eve (and Lloyd vents to Karen), Karen decides to play a joke on Margo to teach her a lesson and cause her to miss a performance (and help out Eve at the same time).  This will later backfire on Karen big time.
  • Eve goes on stage in Margo’s place and wins rave reviews. Just by “sheer coincidence,” Addison and all the other top theater critics in town just happened to be in the audience when Eve made her stage debut. Hmm.  Isn’t that curious?
  • Having taken over Margo’s role, Eve tries to take over Margo’s boyfriend Bill,  the director of “Footsteps on the Ceiling.”  It doesn’t work.  “Just score it as an incomplete forward pass,” he tells her.  From here on, Bill is suspicious of Eve.  Addison also witnesses Eve’s attempt to seduce Bill.
  • Eve then has a friend call Lloyd in the middle of the night to tell him that Eve is having some sort of emotional breakdown and that he needs to come over right away.  He comes to her hotel.  Eve then presents this as Lloyd leaving Karen in the middle of the night and coming to her.  She is convinced that she will marry Lloyd and he will write plays and she’ll star in them.
  • Addison, under the pretense to find out more about Eve’s background, states that he is going to write a column about her.  Actually performing a fact-checking mission, Addison asks Eve about her backstory.  He also does end up writing a column about his interview with Eve where he (and Eve) tear Margo apart.
  • Eve blackmails Karen into convincing Lloyd to give her the coveted role of Cora (the role written for Margo) in “Footsteps on the Ceiling.” Eve threatens to expose Karen’s scheme and how it caused Margo to miss the performance that allowed Eve to be “discovered.”
addison
Addison and Eve–“champion to champion.”

Margo however, has the last laugh.  During Bill’s welcome home party, already feeling irritated and upset with Eve, Margo introduces Eve to Addison, the acerbic theater critic who writes very blunt and sometimes scathing newspaper columns about the theater world.  Margo knows that if there is anything to find out about Eve’s true intentions, Addison will find out.

At first Addison appears to have been taken in by Eve.  He takes her under his wing (along with Miss Caswell) as a protegee.  He’s present for her audition with Miss Caswell and he is present when Eve goes on in Margo’s place.  It is assumed that he probably helped to arrange for all the local critics to be present.  However, Addison catches on to Eve and works to expose her for the fraud and sociopath she really is (takes one to know one, right?).

Then comes one of the best, most delicious scenes in the film.  Eve, after all her backstabbing, lying, selfishness, etc.  is finally exposed for the fraud she is and Addison uses her manipulation tactics against her.  He exposes the fact that Eve didn’t leave Milwaukee willingly.  She was having an affair with the boss and the boss’ wife had her husband followed by detectives.  Eve and the boss’ affair wasn’t proven–but she was given $500 to get out of town.  She never went to San Francisco.  She used the $500 to go to New York.  There was no Eddie.  No Shubert Theater (it doesn’t even exist in San Francisco!).  He exposes her real name.  It’s not Eve.  It’s Gertrude.  She has parents whom she hasn’t seen or talked to for three years.

Then Addison delivers the gut punch:

ADDISON: “That I should want you at all suddenly strikes me as the height of improbability.  But that, in itself, is probably the reason.  You’re an improbable person Eve and so am I.  We have that in common. Also a contempt for humanity, an inability to love or be loved, insatiable ambition–and talent.  We deserve each other.”

Addison blackmails Eve and states that she now belongs to him.  She has no choice but to acquiesce, otherwise, she’ll lose the theater career she worked so hard for (worked hard in a different way, but it was probably hard work nonetheless).

eve3
Bette Davis, in that inimitable Bette Davis way, rips Anne Baxter a new one.

Back in the present day, the screen unfreezes, and Eve accepts her award.  She gives some fake praise to her “friends” and colleagues thanking them for helping her get the Sarah Siddons Award.  After the ceremony, Margo gives Eve a pretty good burn and pretty much tells her exactly what she thinks of her.  This is also one of my favorite parts of the movie.

MARGO: “Nice speech, Eve.  But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart.  You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.”

Yikes.  You go, Margo.

Finally, it’s karma’s turn.

Eve returns home from the ceremony to discover a young girl asleep in her room.  The girl wakes, introduces herself as “Phoebe,” and informs Eve that she’s president of the “Eve Harrington Fan Club” at her high school.  She idolizes Eve and wants to be a theater actress.  Hmm… sound familiar? Phoebe continues to appeal to Eve’s ego and soon finds herself working as Eve’s assistant in the hotel room.  Hmm… Addison quickly stops by to bring Eve back her award that she left in the back of the limo.  Eve has Phoebe answer the door.
ADDISON (to Phoebe): “Hello there. Who are you?”
PHOEBE: “Miss Harrington’s resting, Mr. DeWitt. She asked me to see who it was.”
ADDISON: “We won’t disturb her rest. It seems she left her award in the taxicab. Will you give it to her?”
(Phoebe holds the award and looks at it with the awe of a stage struck fan girl.  Addison knows this look)
ADDISON: “How do you know my name?”
PHOEBE: “It’s a very famous name, Mr. DeWitt.”
ADDISON: “And what is your name?”
PHOEBE: “Phoebe.”
ADDISON: “Phoebe?”
PHOEBE: “I call myself Phoebe.”
ADDISON: “Why not? Tell me Phoebe, do you want some day to have an award like that of your own?”
PHOEBE: “More than anything else in the world”
ADDISON: “Then you must ask Mrs. Harrington how to get one.  Miss Harrington knows all about it.”
(Addison closes the door with a smirk on his face, knowing the fate that awaits Eve).

Game. Set. Match.

Phoebe takes Eve’s award to the bedroom to pack it in Eve’s trunk (per Eve’s request) and spots Eve’s rhinestone studded cape draped across the trunk.  She puts it on, grabs the award and practices accepting the award in Eve’s three-way mirror.  In the closing scene, the mirror’s reflection shows a bunch of Phoebes.  This is a very effective scene and provides the film’s motif: “There is always someone smarter, more attractive, funnier, etc. waiting in the wings.”

phoebe
There’s always someone waiting in the wings–entering Phoebe!

Unrelated to Eve:

What happens to Birdie? She goes to deliver the sable coat to the owner and never returns.  One can assume that perhaps Eve was so efficient that Birdie wasn’t needed and lost her position.  However, she appears to have been a good friend of Margo’s, so that seems unlikely.  Thelma Ritter, where did you go?

birdie2
The last time we ever see Birdie

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Holden Blogathon–“Picnic” (1955)

william-holden-4

“I gotta get somewhere in this world. I just gotta.” -Hal Carter, Picnic.

And so sums up William Holden’s character in Picnic.  I’ve written about this film previously in this blog, but I thought that this time I would focus on William Holden and his character in the film.  Holden thought that he was miscast in this film and in many ways, he is right.  Hal is clearly supposed to be in his early to mid-twenties, as he’s a college classmate of Alan Benson’s (Cliff Robertson).  Holden himself was 37 and looked every bit of it.  From an age perspective, Holden is right.  He is too old.  However, from a personality standpoint, he is perfectly cast.

holden
Who cares how old he is supposed to be in this film? Hubba Hubba!

Holden made his screen debut in 1939’s Golden Boy, co-starring Barbara Stanwyck.  Holden was nervous and ill at ease and it was affecting his performance.  Columbia Studios bosses were unhappy with his performance and were on the verge of firing him.  Stanwyck, then one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, employed her star power and demanded that Holden remain in the film.  She coached him and helped him get through the filming of Golden Boy.  While Holden’s “green-ness” shows in this film, he’s not terrible (that honor goes to Lee J. Cobb, then 27, who was inexplicably cast as 21 year old William Holden’s father.  Cobb is horrible and very annoying in this film).  While Holden got steady work, it would take eleven years to finally “make it” and be a big star.

In 1950, Holden won the leading role in Sunset Blvd.  As “down on his luck” screenwriter, Joe Gillis, Holden developed his signature brand of cynicism, world weariness, but an overall good guy.  He would play this character in most of his films from here on out.  One of the best applications of “The William Holden” persona is his portrayal of Hal Carter in Picnic. A film in which, like I mentioned earlier, Holden felt he was miscast.  Yes, age-wise, Holden is too old.  He knows it and the audience knows it.  But personality-wise, Holden is perfect as Hal Carter.

picnic

In Picnic, Hal Carter is a drifter who winds up in Kansas in hopes to reacquaint with an old college friend, Alan Benson.  Hal is unemployed and has jumped from job to job and city to city since dropping out of college.  He is trying to get his life back together and hopes that Alan will give him some sort of job.  Alan’s family owns a large grain mill and Alan promises Hal a job scooping wheat.  This job is not exactly what Hal has in mind–he wanted to be an executive.  Hal ends up meeting and falling for Madge Owens (Kim Novak), a 19 year old woman who is known to be one of the prettiest “girls” in the area.  But, oops! Madge is already involved with Alan.  This will drive a wedge between Hal and Alan.

Hal is just trying to find a niche for himself in a community where he can thrive.  He is tired of the drifting lifestyle and just wants to fit in somewhere.   From Hal’s expository dialogue, we learn that he is responsible for his previous failures.  Alan, believing that Hal is sincere in getting his life together, invites him to the town’s annual Labor Day Picnic.  At first, everything’s going great and Hal is charming everyone.  After Alan senses that Hal may have his sights set on his girlfriend, Madge (and Madge has her sights set on Hal), Alan begins giving Hal the cold shoulder.

Madge is facing a similar situation to Hal.  She is known for being beautiful and that’s it.  Her mother and boyfriend think that Madge can skate by on her looks and nothing matters except for her to “be pretty.”  It is apparent that Madge’s mother, Florence, wants Madge to use her beauty to land a boyfriend with a high social standing, so that by proxy, the Owens women (Madge, sister Millie, and mother “Flo”) will have high social standings as well.  It is apparent that Alan is really only interested in Madge so that he can have a pretty trophy on his arm.  Nobody takes Madge seriously because it is assumed that someone so beautiful couldn’t have any problems, right? Hal on the other hand, has made so many previous mistakes in his life, that his sincere actions are dismissed by others, thinking that he’s just a ne’er do well bum.  Both Madge and Hal are trapped by other people’s perceptions and expectations (or lack thereof) of them.

kimnovak
Madge (Kim Novak)

Holden incorporates a raw sensuality and a brashness into Hal that is in direct contrast to Novak’s Madge who exhibits an uneasy and inhibited sensuality.  Hal knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to speak up.  Madge on the other hand, is conflicted.  For her entire life, she’s had people telling her what to do.  Finally, she finds herself feeling something for a man whom is the complete opposite of anyone she’s ever known.  Her mother doesn’t approve.  Her boyfriend doesn’t approve (well obviously I guess), not because he loves her, but because she’d look good on his arm.  Rosemary (Rosalind Russell), a boarder at the Owens’ home, goes off on Hal–not because she doesn’t like him, but because she resented him falling for younger Madge and not her middle aged self.  Rosemary is having her own personal crisis.  She is worried that she’s getting old and that she’ll be a spinster her whole life.  The only characters in the film who like Hal are: Millie (Susan Strasberg), Howard (Arthur O’Connell) and elderly neighbor Mrs. Potts (Verna Felton).

A powerful moment in the film is when Hal returns to the Owens home the day after the picnic (and a day after his and Madge’s rendezvous at the river bank) and makes one last plea for Madge to run away with him.  He proclaims his love for her and she realizes that she feels the same for him–so does Hal.  He yells “you love me! you love me!” repeatedly to Madge as he departs for the train.  Their feelings for one another are so expertly depicted in the now classic “Moonglow” dance–one of the sexiest scenes in film.  No words. No nudity. Nothing explicit–yet Hal and Madge’s feelings for one another are so explicit during the dance.  The sexual tension had already been building in the scenes preceding the dance and it explodes during the first moments when Madge hijacks sister Millie’s (more innocent) dance with Hal.

moonglow
“Moonglow,” one of the sexiest dances in film and a pivotal moment for the two characters in the story.

Holden was uneasy with the idea of dancing on screen.  Holden demanded $8,000 “stunt pay” to do the dance scene.  He figured the studio would balk and replace him with a dance double.  Well, that backfired.  The studio ponied up the money and Holden was on the hook to perform the dance. The director tried having Holden and Novak, with a few drinks in them, practice dancing to music from jukeboxes in the local bars, but they were too awkward and the end result was not sexy.  When it came time to shoot, Holden was allowed to have a few drinks beforehand.  The camera work was set up in a way to allow the stars to do minimal movement.  The camera would move around Holden and Novak on a dolly.  A bunch of lights were also added to change colors as the stars moved around which added visual interest to the screen.  Whatever hang ups and issues there were and whatever workarounds the crew had to incorporate in order to complete this scene worked, because the end result is gorgeous.  With each swivel of the hip, the audience can watch Holden and Novak slowly fall for one another.  This is where the audience begins to root for Holden and Novak to end up together.

Holden was able to so effortlessly bring sexiness, charm, humor, but at the same time, common sense and cynicism to his parts, that it really made him feel like an everyday person.  He lacked pretension.  You don’t feel like he’s putting on any type of facade.  He’s a “what you see is what you get” type of person.  He isn’t a distinct persona like Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do a “William Holden impression.”  But that’s not to say he’s lacking in any personality.  It’s just that he’s so approachable and real.  He isn’t larger than life.  While I like Grant, Bogart and Cagney, I find Holden’s realism refreshing and enjoyable.  Whereas, someone like Marlon Brando (to me), always seems like he’s using a shtick (don’t get me wrong, he’s excellent in On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire), he’s a bit too intense.  Holden seems like a guy you could go out for a beer with and not feel intimidated or nervous that you wouldn’t have anything to say to him.  He (and his characters) is a real person.

picnic
This looks like the cover of a trashy romance novel

To use the words of Madge to describe Hal, and in effect, describe an audience’s view of Holden himself:

“You don’t love someone because he’s perfect.”

Classic Quotes Blogathon–“Casablanca” (1942)

blogathon

One of the qualities a “classic” film has is memorable dialogue.  A movie’s scenes can only be enhanced by clever and well-written dialogue.  Prior to “talkies,” the character’s words were typed out across the screen on a title card.  When the characters are “speaking” on screen, oftentimes the actors are just filmed saying different words, but obviously, because the film is silent, the audience does not hear what is being said.  The audience is told what is being said, via the title card.

In Singin’ in the Rain (1952), a film that depicts the movie industry’s transition from silent to sound films, there is a memorable scene between Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen’s characters, Don and Lina, respectively.  Don and Lina are filming the scenes for their next silent film, The Dueling Cavalier.  Don is furious with Lina because she had his new lady friend, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) fired from her job at the studio.  They’re supposed to be filming a love scene.  While Don is stroking Lina’s arm and kissing her passionately, he’s also telling her things like “I don’t like her half as much as I hate you.”  Later in the film, after converting The Dueling Cavalier from silent to sound, Don, Lina and the rest of the studio personnel watch their film in a theater.  Silent films were not known for having great dialogue.  Unfortunately, the crew in The Dueling Cavalier didn’t realize that they needed to actually write something for the characters to say.  The actors are no longer silent on screen.  Don’s character is reduced to saying things like: “I love you. I love you. I love you.”  If a movie, like Singin’ in the Rain, can make their scenes and dialogue memorable, then it is destined to be a classic.

Aside from Singin’ in the RainCasablanca is another classic film from the studio era.  One of the reasons that the film is so popular and memorable is the dialogue.  This film is one of the most quotable films of all times.  The dialogue in Casablanca is gold, from start to finish.  The iconic airport scene at the end of the film has so many memorable quotes, it’s hard to choose a favorite.

ricks
“Everybody comes to Rick’s”

My particular favorite quote is muttered by Claude Rains’ Captain Louis Renault, the shamelessly corrupt head of the Vichy French police in Casablanca.  German official, Major Strasser is also in Casablanca while he keeps track of Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo and his wife Ilsa.  Rick’s Cafe American, run by expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is the most popular club in town.  There is a backroom gambling den which though illegal, is popular and well attended.  Captain Renault frequently spends time at the roulette table.

On one particular night, Major Strasser and his cronies are spending time at Rick’s.  Strasser leads a rousing rendition of “Die Wacht am Rhine,” a patriotic German anthem.  Laszlo interrupts and has the band play “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.  The dueling anthems is a very beautiful and powerful part of Casablanca (Anything to not hear that guitar lady sing again!).  Pretty soon, the French are drowning out the Germans.  Upset, Major Strasser orders Captain Renault to close Rick’s.

shocked

Captain Renault demands that Rick’s be shut down.  Rick naturally asks what grounds the Captain has for closing his establishment.  Captain Renault is grasping for a reason to close Rick’s down and then delivers one of the funniest lines in the whole film:

CAPTAIN LOUIS RENAULT: “I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”
(The dealer hands the Captain a stack of money)
DEALER: “Your winnings, sir.”
CAPTAIN LOUIS RENAULT: “Oh, thank you very much…everybody out at once!”

This scene perfectly sums up Captain Renault’s entire persona.  He’s a corrupt official.  He’s a hypocrite.  He doesn’t care about what is right or wrong, he just wants to win.  Even if it means allying with the Germans, he doesn’t care.  He wants to be on the winning side.  Captain Renault is ultimately a good guy and eventually comes around toward the end of the film when he agrees to join Rick who plans on leaving Casablanca.

friendship
“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

In Memoriam…

Sorry for the delay in posting, but I’ve been very busy with work and dealing with the aftermath of a disaster incurred in my home.  During the Thanksgiving weekend, my sewer pipe and sump pump decided to join forces and fail at the same time.  Not to be outdone, the rain poured furiously, further compounding the problem.  As a result, my basement flooded about 1′, destroying everything in its path.  Unfortunately, in one of the rooms in the basement, I was storing my DVD collection.  I lost all the films on the bottom shelves in the room.  Some other films also suffered some collateral damage due to coming in contact with one of its flood-ravaged brethren.

2ekhbue

You’ll notice that the rug is floating.  All the movies that are on their sides on the second to bottom shelf are the ones in the water.  There were seven shelves in all.  Sadly, inside that cardboard box on the right side, were all my husband’s classic NES, SNES, Sega, etc. game cartridges.  While I know that the DVDs themselves are okay, the cover art is destroyed.  Plus the movies were covered in sewer water.  Who wants sewage contaminated films? I don’t.  Ick! Insurance should provide me with enough money to be able to replace all the victims.

Anyway.  This brings me to my post:

In Memoriam to some of those lost in the great flood of 2016…

You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) /You Were Never Lovelier (1942).

220px-poster_-_youll_never_get_rich_01you_were_never_lovelier

In You’ll Never Get Rich, Fred Astaire portrays the manager of a theater who is enlisted by the theater owner, Robert Benchley, to help him woo dancer Rita Hayworth by buying her a gift.  However, Benchley is caught by his wife, Frieda Inescort, who is at the end of her rope.  It is implied that Benchley has a wandering eye and Inescort has had enough.  She threatens divorce.  To save his marriage, Benchley insists that Astaire bought the gift and sets Astaire and Hayworth up on a date.  Matters are further complicated when Astaire is drafted into WWII and Hayworth travels to the camp (to perform for the troops) and to visit her real boyfriend.  She and Astaire end up falling in love.

In You Were Never Lovelier, Hayworth portrays the second eldest daughter of a wealthy Argentinian, Adolph Menjou, who also owns a local nightclub.  Menjou has four daughters and has insisted that his daughters must marry in order of age.  Astaire portrays an American dancer who finds himself out of work after losing all his money betting on horses.  Looking for work, Astaire visits Menjou’s club.  Menjou is not interested.  Astaire ends up contacting his friend, Xavier Cugat, who has been hired to perform at Menjou’s eldest daughter’s wedding.  Astaire spots Hayworth and is immediately smitten, but she rebuffs him.  Hayworth is not interested in marriage.  Her two younger sisters are in love and desperately want to marry (in the film it the ladies seem like they’re more desperate to sleep with their boyfriends, but of course, morality dictates that they must wait until they’re married).  Knowing the plight of his youngest daughters, Menjou begins sending orchids and love notes to Hayworth under the guise of a secret admirer.  One day, Astaire tries to visit Menjou.  Menjou, not seeing Astaire and thinking he’s the bellboy, orders him to go deliver the latest love trinkets to Hayworth.  Astaire complies and Hayworth assumes that Astaire has been the one sending the notes.  Hayworth ends up asking Menjou to set her up with Astaire.  Menjou, who dislikes Astaire, offers to give Astaire a long-term contract at the club if he will do his best to repel Hayworth.  Of course, they fall in love instead.

A Summer Place (1959)

220px-a_summer_place

One of my favorite types of films are the over-wrought melodramas of the 1950s.  A Summer Place has everything you could ever want in a film: adultery, bigotry, alcoholism, love, teen pregnancy, everything.  Plus, it has memorable theme music that is present throughout the film and adds to the overall mood of the film.

A Summer Place tells the tale of two former teenage lovers (Dorothy McGuire and Richard Egan) who end up reuniting twenty years after the end of their affair.  Neither McGuire nor Egan are happy in their respective marriages.  McGuire’s husband, Arthur Kennedy, is an alcoholic.  McGuire and Kennedy operate an Inn on Pine Island off the coast of Maine.  The Inn used to be Kennedy’s family’s opulent family mansion.  With the family fortune all but gone, they are forced to rent out rooms.  McGuire and Kennedy have even moved into the small guest house on the property so that they can rent out their master suite.  One day, Kennedy receives a message from an old acquaintance, Richard Egan, who wants to bring his family to the resort.  Egan, who used to be a lifeguard back when Kennedy knew him, is now a millionaire.  Kennedy doesn’t want Egan to visit, feeling that he’s only there to brag about how he’s rich and Kennedy is now broke.  However, McGuire tells him to accept the request, because they need money.  McGuire and Kennedy also have a teenage son, Troy Donahue.

Egan shows up with wife Constance Ford and teenage daughter Sandra Dee.  Egan and Ford have a rocky marriage.  She is bigoted against pretty much everyone.  He even delivers a delicious diatribe completing ripping her a new one.  Egan, who is very cognizant of “the love that got away” (McGuire) encourages daughter Dee to listen to her natural desires and to embrace her developing figure and interest in the opposite sex.  Ford on the other hand, is a prude who forces Dee to hide her curves and disapproves of any behavior that seems indecent.  She particularly disapproves of Donahue and even goes as far as forcing Dee to submit to a particularly embarrassing and degrading physical exam after she suspects that Dee and Donahue were having sex, even though both parties vehemently deny it.

McGuire and Egan, who haven’t been together for twenty years since McGuire left the then broke Egan for the rich Kennedy, rekindle their romance and are soon engaged in an adulterous affair.  Their respective spouses end up finding out and the marriages are soon dissolved.  At the same time, McGuire and Egan’s respective children, Donahue and Dee, are wrapped up in a teen love affair of their own.  Knowing of the time they lost, McGuire and Egan are the most supportive of their children’s affair.  Ford and Kennedy both disapprove.  Donahue and Dee are deeply in love and nothing, not even being sent to different schools in different states, will keep them from seeing one another.

Yours, Mine and Ours (1968)

220px-yours_mine_ours_28196829

This film, the precursor to The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), features Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda as widowed spouses who end up marrying and merging their families.  The problem? Ball is the mother of eight children and Fonda has ten children.  The beginning of the film features funny scenes of Ball and Fonda’s courtship.  When they originally meet, neither knows about the other’s considerable brood.  When the truth comes out, they try to put the kibosh on their relationship, but soon it is apparent that they are truly in love and they decide to take the plunge.  Both groups of children dislike each other and the tension is high.  Eventually they end up learning how to work together and to actually like each other.

One of the funniest scenes is when Ball comes over to meet Fonda’s children for the first time.  The eldest sons, tasked with making cocktails, end up getting Ball schnockered by making her “an alcoholic Pearl Harbor” (as Fonda puts it), which is a screwdriver containing vodka, gin and scotch with a tiny bit of orange juice (for color, I imagine).  Ball ends up dumping food on one of the children, laughing and crying maniacally, and generally making a fool out of herself.

Another funny scene deals with the plight of poor Phillip, one of Ball’s youngest sons.  This poor kid can barely get any food at breakfast, can’t reach the sink to brush his teeth, is left with enormous rain boots that he can’t walk in and later ends up getting in a fight with the teacher in his Catholic school.

My favorite scene though, is the one where Henry Fonda hands out room assignments.  He assigns a number to each child (oldest to youngest), a color to each bathroom and a letter to each bedroom.  One of the children walks away repeating, “I’m 11, Red, A.”

Van Johnson co-stars as a co-worker of Fonda and Ball; Tim Matheson appears as the eldest child, Mike; and Tom Bosley appears as a doctor.

…and for the saddest casualty of them all…

The Long, Long Trailer (1954)

10092858656_43988067f1_b

This is my favorite film of all time.  I have probably seen it a hundred times–not exaggerating.  When I replace my copy, I will be on my third copy.  I wore out my VHS.  Anyway, myself and my family can recite all the dialogue.  Desi Arnaz has the best lines.  These are some of the gems:

“It’s a fine thing when you come home to your home and your home is gone!”

“Have you any conception how much room it takes to turn this thing around? We might have to go on for miles and miles!”

Then the mechanic has two of the funniest lines, that continually haunt Arnaz for the first half of the film:

“Trailer brakes first!”

“Forty feet of train!”

This film is about a newlywed couple (Lucille Ball and Arnaz) who purchase a trailer and take it on their honeymoon.  Arnaz’ job takes him to different locations all over the country (it is not stated what his job is, but I am assuming that he is some type of engineer as Ball mentions him working on a bridge and a dam), and Ball envisions them living in this motor home and traveling to wherever Arnaz’ job takes him.  They plan to drive from Los Angeles to Colorado for their honeymoon.  On the way, they visit Ball’s relatives in another part of California and also visit Yosemite.  They get into hilarious incidents along the way, including an impromptu housewarming party, a night stuck in the mud, ruining Ball’s Aunt Anastasia’s prized rose, and much more.  The highlight of the film is when Ball has the bright idea of trying to prepare dinner in the trailer while Arnaz drives.

This film is basically one big long I Love Lucy episode, Arnaz’ character’s name is “Nicky” after all, but it is fun from beginning to end and features gorgeous Technicolor and scenery.

 

Cary Grant Blogathon–“To Catch a Thief” (1955)

cary-grant-blogathon-banner-4

FRANCES: “Do you want a leg or a breast?”

JOHN: “You make the choice”

This exchange between Grace Kelly and Cary Grant’s characters is just one of many innuendo-laden scenes in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s sexiest films, To Catch a Thief.  Set in the picturesque French Riviera, To Catch a Thief depicts the story of a retired cat burglar, John Robie (Cary Grant) who finds himself back in the spotlight after a series of copy-cat jewel heists occur which threaten to implicate him as the culprit.  Reformed, he sets out to unveil the real jewel thief.  The jewel thief specifically targets the rich guests of a local ritzy resort.  One of these guests is Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) whose mother, Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) is on the hunt for a suitable beau for her daughter.  Of course, one look at John Robie, and mother and daughter are on his tail.  A Lloyd’s of London insurance agent (John Williams) is also chasing the cat burglar (as his clients are the ones who are being targeted).  He ends up enlisting the help of John Robie to catch the real cat burglar.  Things are complicated when Jessie is targeted by the jewel thief.

tocatchathief

One of the best things about this film is the chemistry between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.  In many of Grant’s most popular roles, he plays the sophisticated, witty and charming romantic man.  Women can’t help but be taken in by his suave mannerisms and debonair good looks.  To Catch a Thief is no exception.  Grant and Kelly absolutely sizzle when they’re on screen.  One of their sexiest scenes is the famous fireworks scene in the hotel.  In this scene, Kelly invites Grant up to her hotel room “to watch the fireworks.”  At the beginning of the scene, she turns off the lights (saying that fireworks look better in the dark) and at another point, steps into the shadow which only hides her face but showcases her white strapless gown and diamond necklace (which conveniently points down to her cleavage).  At the end of the scene, Kelly invites Grant to sit next to her on the couch, while also ensuring that her necklace and decolletage are on display.  She asks him to “hold them. Diamonds.” After seductively kissing his fingers, Kelly asks Grant if he’s “ever had a better offer.”  After Grant calls out Kelly for trying to seduce him with imitation diamonds, she reassures him that she’s not imitation and they kiss.  Fireworks explode in the sky behind them.

fireworks
Grace Kelly tries to seduce Cary Grant

Prior to making To Catch a Thief, Cary Grant had announced his intention to retire after 1952’s Dream Wife.  He felt that at, 48, he was too old to continue acting.  Alfred Hitchcock had to personally coax him into accepting the John Robie role.  Even after filming was completed in summer of 1954, it was feared that Grant, at 50, was too old for 26-year old Grace Kelly.  However, in this film, like Grant’s other May-December romance films, nobody cared.  Grant is one of the few actors who can seem to get away with being a middle-aged man courting a twenty-something and it doesn’t seem strange or awkward.  Perhaps it’s his permanently tanned skin and black hair which gives him a youthful appearance.  Perhaps it’s his suave and charming persona which would be irresistible to almost any woman.  Perhaps it’s all of the above.  Whatever “it” is, Cary Grant is timeless. He makes To Catch a Thief what it is.  Without him, it would not be nearly as fun.

Cary Grant made three other films with Alfred Hitchcock–Suspicion (1941, with Joan Fontaine); Notorious (1946, with Ingrid Bergman); and North By Northwest (1959 with Eva Marie Saint), but To Catch a Thief is my favorite of these collaborations.  The combination of the sexy leading actors and provocative dialogue, the gorgeous color cinematography, the beautiful French Riviera and the fantastic costumes (especially Grace Kelly’s gold ballgown at the end of the film) sets this film apart from the others.

ball
Grace Kelly’s gorgeous gold ballgown.  I also really like the black mask costume, it’s so outrageous.

Clearing the DVR- Brief Encounter (1945)

brief

I had heard about this film for a couple years now and had seen it listed at the top of various lists.  It’s also a Criterion release.  I finally got the chance to watch this film.

Brief Encounter is a British film that is based on the 1936 Noel Coward short play, “Still Life” which was one of ten short plays that were performed under the title “Tonight at 8:30.” In 1945, this short play was adapted into the 86-minute film and was directed by David Lean.  Lean later went on to direct such films as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

This was an excellent film.  This film depicts a budding romance between two married people, Laura (Celia Johnson) and Alec (Trevor Howard), both married to different people, and the subsequent guilt both experience as their newfound relationship continues to thrive and begins towing the line between platonic friends and infidelity.  For much of the film, they grow closer and closer until they have an opportunity to make their relationship more physical.  This is the turning point in the film.  They begin by spending the day together every Thursday when they’re both in town.  Soon, it grows to them getting really cozy with one another until they’re regularly smooching on the quaint, romantic bridge.

brief2
Laura and Alec at the train station

Laura is a privileged middle-class British mother and wife (she has a servant and doesn’t seem to have many obligations in the way of housework or tending to the children).  She goes into town every Thursday for shopping and going to the latest movie matinee at the theater.  She also regularly dines at the tea shop at the train station–this where she meets Alec, a doctor who once a week, does consultation work at the local hospital.  Despite her cushy lifestyle, Laura is bored.  Her husband doesn’t seem to pay much attention to her in the evenings, preferring to complete his crossword puzzle.  Their evenings are the same every night.  When she meets Alec, suddenly, her life is interesting and fun.  She feels feelings that she hasn’t experienced in quite some time.

The beginning of the film starts at the ending of the story.  Laura is back home, sitting across from her husband, watching him complete his crossword puzzle.  She stares at him, knowing that he is blissfully unaware of what has been going on in her life.  She imagines herself confessing everything to him.  Her internal confession serves as the narration for the events of the film.  Suddenly, we’re at the train station before Laura meets Alec.  Throughout the film, her narration demonstrates how conflicted and distraught, yet happy, Laura is in her relationship.  There is also a scene where Laura, while on an outing with Alec, sees two acquaintances in the tea room.  Suddenly, she is embarrassed and worried that the secret of her new romance will get out.   I believe that this scene and the one where she’s conflicted about making her relationship with Alec more physical demonstrate that deep-down, she knows that what she and Alec are doing is wrong.

Most of the action of the film unfolds without either Laura or Alec’s spouses in the scene.  Laura’s husband is only seen intermittently, Alec’s wife is not seen at all.  I believe that the lack of spouses in the picture allow us to see the story entirely from Laura and Alec’s perspective and allows us to feel for Laura and Alec.  While they are thisclose to cheating on their respective spouses, I found it hard not to root for them to end up together.

In addition to the story, I also really liked how the film was shot.  The black and white cinematography provided a romantic, moody atmosphere.  The train station was a wonderful setting.  Doesn’t it seem like the best films involve some sort of train travel? I also liked all the steam coming from the trains and the music that repeated each time Laura and Alec were together.  There were many interesting shots used in the film.  One of my favorite shorts showcased Laura sitting in the train.  We see her from the side, but we can see her entire face in the reflection on the window.  Laura’s self-reflection is literally being reflected on the glass for the audience to see.

brief1
Laura looks out of the window during a moment of self-reflection.

 

This was a great film.  Highly recommended.