Classic Movie Day Blogathon- 6 Films, 6 Decades

May 16th is upon us again. It’s National Classic Movie Day. Though honestly, I’m sure for many of us, EVERYDAY is National Classic Movie Day. For this year’s event, Classic Film and TV Cafe has asked us to list six favorite films, each from a different decade–starting with the 1920s through the 1970s. We were also given another option of the 1930s-1980s, but since my husband I have been trying to watch more silent films, I’m going to take the original challenge. To ease ourselves into silent films, we’ve started with the classic comedians–an obvious and easy jumping off point. Good comedy is universal and timeless. Since I’ve written about a lot of my favorite films over the years and have a tendency to be verbose and not wanting to bore everyone with yet another dissertation detailing my love for The Long Long Trailer, I’m going to try and change things up a bit by selecting some favorites that I don’t *think* I’ve talked about yet.

1920s- The Freshman (1925)

Starring: Harold Lloyd & Jobyna Ralston

Plot: Lloyd stars as “Harold Lamb,” an incoming freshman who is eager to begin his studies at Tate University. He has saved up quite a tidy sum, $485 ($7400 in 2021 dollars), to use as spending money while enrolled in college. While on the train, Harold meets Peggy (Ralston) and the two are smitten with one another. While at Tate, Harold decides that the best way to fit in is to emulate his favorite movie star, known as “The College Hero” in a series of films. Upon introducing himself to a potential friend, Harold performs The College Hero’s jig and adopting the nickname, “Speedy.” However, unbeknownst to Harold, his attempts to be cool and fit in make him the object of everyone’s jokes, especially the college bully. The students’ laughter makes Harold think that he’s fitting in and he’s unaware that he is the school laughing stock. His only true friend in the film is Peggy, his landlady’s daughter. Harold ends up trying out for the football team, but his obvious lack of athleticism does not impress the coach. The star football player, wanting to continue to make fun of Harold, convinces the coach to hire Harold as the waterboy, hereby making Harold think that he’s made the team. The star football player’s ruse may end up haunting him and the team later.

My Favorite Part: My favorite part of this film is when Harold is at the Fall Frolic in an unfinished suit. His tailor has all the pieces of the suit attached with some very loose stitches. Harold opts to wear the suit while the tailor hides behind a curtain, hoping to casually finishing sewing Harold’s suit. While Harold tries to partake in the Fall Frolic activities, his suit starts falling apart.


1930s- Alice Adams (1935)

Starring: Katharine Hepburn & Fred MacMurray

Plot: Hepburn stars as the titular Alice Adams, a young woman from the “wrong side of the tracks,” at least from Alice’s perception. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with the Adams’ home. It is a nice, clean home. It’s not fancy, but it’s functional and well-maintained. However, it is obvious that the Adamses are unhappy with their lot in life. Mr. Adams (Fred Stone) is an invalid and works as a clerk at Mr. Lamb’s (Charley Grapewin) glue factory. Mr. Lamb as been very nice and patient with Mr. Adams and his illness. However, Mrs. Adams (Ann Shoemaker) is frustrated with her husband’s lack of motivation or ambition to do anything to improve their financial situation. Alice’s brother, Walter (Frank Albertson), is a gambling addict and is unable to hold down a job. He also fraternizes with African-Americans, which at the time, was seen as unseemly (and embarrassing) behavior.

Alice is invited to a dance hosted by a wealthy peer of hers, Mildred Palmer (Evelyn Venable). Alice tries to put on airs, despite being escorted by her brother and carrying a bouquet of violets that she harvested outside. In an attempt to prove herself worthy of attending this party, she tries to impress her peers with haughty behavior and conversation, but they are not impressed and she is essentially shunned. While at the dance, she meets the wealthy Arthur Russell (MacMurray) who sees through her shtick but is nonetheless charmed. He makes it known that he wishes to see her more often and Alice, worried that he won’t be interested in her if he knew her true social standing (though he already does), tries to continue her charade.

My Favorite Part: The family dinner is hilarious and heartbreaking all at once. Alice invites Arthur to have dinner with her family. Alice hires a maid, Malena (Hattie McDaniel), to keep up the charade. Despite being blistering hot outside, the entire family dresses in formal attire. Alice plans this absurd (and very hot and heavy) meal made up of fancy delicacies, but Malena’s poor cooking skills are not up to par with the food Alice wants to serve. Malena provides the comic relief of the dinner with her unimpressed facial expressions and genuinely uncouth behavior. Poor Alice is collapsing emotionally with each and everything that goes wrong. Arthur, bless his heart, stoically carries on despite the disastrous evening.


1940s- Gilda (1946)

Starring: Rita Hayworth & Glenn Ford

Plot: Johnny Farrell (Ford) is an American gambler, newly arrived to Buenos Aires, Argentina. When the film opens, Johnny is hustling some gangsters outside during a game of craps. Johnny wins a large sum of money using loaded dice. When the gangsters discover Johnny’s ruse they are about to beat him up when Ballin Mundson (George Macready), a stranger, steps in and rescues Johnny. Ballin owns a fancy casino and brings Johnny there, but warns him not to cheat. However, once a cheater, always a cheater and Johnny is caught cheating at blackjack. After Ballin catches him cheating again, Johnny convinces him to give him a job and soon becomes the manager.

One day, Ballin comes back from a trip announcing that he’s taken a new wife, despite having only known her for a day. He takes Johnny to meet his new wife, Gilda (Hayworth), and Johnny is shocked. The smile on Gilda’s face quickly fades. It is obvious that these two know each other and have a past. What kind of past remains to be seen. Ballin assigns Johnny to be Gilda’s keeper of sorts. Gilda and Johnny have a very intense love/hate relationship. Gilda at one point says to Johnny: “I hate you so much, that I would destroy myself to take you down with me.” However, in spite of how much they say they hate each other, they’re also always about 5 minutes away from jumping into the sack with one another. To irritate Johnny and get his goat, Gilda begins cavorting with various men at all hours of the evening. Johnny has to keep intervening out of loyalty to Ballin. However, at some point, the tension between Gilda and Johnny begins to take over and they’re unable to contain themselves. Ballin observes his manager and wife’s lust for each other and takes matters into his own hands.

My Favorite Part: My absolute favorite part is Gilda’s floor-length sequin coat. But plot wise, the classic “Put the Blame on Mame” song is definitely a highlight. I also really love the scenes at Carnival. Gilda’s gaucho outfit is amazing.


1950s- His Kind of Woman (1951)

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price & Raymond Burr

Plot: Robert Mitchum plays Dan Millner, a professional gambler. At the beginning of the film, he is very much down on his luck. One night, after being ambushed by a group of thugs, he is brought to one of the more senior thugs and is offered a “too good to be true” job. For $50k, Dan has to spend a year in Mexico. Figuring that there’s got to be a catch, but also figuring that he has nothing to lose, Dan accepts a $5k advance and takes a chartered flight to the isolated Morro’s Lodge in Mexico. While on his flight, Dan meets Lenore Brent (Russell). Lenore very matter-of-factly tells Dan that she has a million dollars. Dan is attracted to her but disappointed to learn that she’s involved with another guest at the resort, famous actor Mark Cardigan (Price). While milling around the resort, Dan overhears two guests: Martin Kraft and a man by the name of Thompson (Jim “Thurston Howell III” Backus) discussing a plot that Dan suspects is related to the $50k he was offered. The two men give Dan $10k hush money and tell him that someone will be arriving soon to go over the plan with him.

Around the same time, an undercover agent from the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service shows up stating that underworld boss, Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr) is scheming to try and get back into the US. Four years prior, he’d been deported to Italy. At this point, as far as I can tell, Ferraro is planning a “Face/Off” situation where he and Dan, supposedly of similar height and build, will literally switch faces. It seems that Martin Kraft is a plastic surgeon, who is armed with some sort of anesthesia that will allow him to perform the face switching procedure. At some point, Dan is kidnapped and under duress on Ferraro’s boat and it becomes up to Mark Cardigan to head an expedition to save Dan.

My Favorite Part: The entire scene involving Mark Cardigan heading up the rescue mission. Vincent Price’s hamminess makes the scene and it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as interesting or funny without Price. Price brings some much wanted levity to the film, especially while Robert Mitchum faces the idea of having to literally have his face ripped off and switched with Raymond Burr’s. I love the scene where Mark valiantly boards a small boat, only to have it sink immediately because it’s overloaded. I love the hilarious super long (and I imagine, heavy, especially water-logged) cape that he wears while he mans the (larger) rescue boat.


1960s- Girl Happy (1965)

Starring: Elvis Presley & Shelley Fabares

Plot: Elvis plays Rusty Wells, a nightclub singer (duh) who along with the other three members of his quartet have just ended their gig at a nightclub in Chicago. They plan to travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for Spring Break before moving onto their next job. However, the nightclub owner, “Big Frank,” messes up their plans when he extends their contract and they have to cancel their trip.

At the same time, Big Frank’s 18-year old college-aged daughter, Valerie (Fabares), is also planning on traveling to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. Despite his daughter’s legal adult status, Big Frank is terrified at the idea of letting his daughter travel so far away with just her friends in tow. Rusty sees his boss’ worry, and still wanting to go to Florida, comes up with the brilliant idea of offering to chaperone Valerie. Big Frank likes the idea and offers to bankroll Rusty and his friends’ trip. While in Fort Lauderdale, Rusty struggles with keeping an Italian playboy from lusting after Valerie and maintaining a semblance of a relationship with a “good time girl” (i.e. loose girl) Deena (Mary Ann Mobley). Rusty has to keep bailing on Deena when duty calls and she quickly grows tired of him. But because it’s an Elvis movie and he has to find himself in some sort of love triangle, Deena continues to maintain an interest in Rusty throughout the entire film.

And because this is an Elvis movie and because it’s a tried and true plot with one party being hired to chaperone or hang out with (or what have you) the other. You know that they’ll fall in love and you know that the person being chaperoned will find out. Despite the formulaic Elvis movies and plotlines, I still love it. His movies are fluffy, but they’re fun. And sometimes a fun movie is all that is needed.

My Favorite Part: I love the part when Elvis dresses up in Nina Talbot’s dress to escape from Officer Jackie Coogan’s jail. Elvis had dug a large hole and burrowed himself into the jail cell so that he could save Valerie and the other women.


1970s- The Muppet Movie (1979)

Starring: Kermit the Frog & Fozzie Bear

Plot: The film opens with all of the Muppets sitting together in an auditorium, waiting to watch their film. This film shows how all the Muppets met. We meet Kermit the Frog sitting in a boat in a pond, singing “Rainbow Connection” while strumming his banjo. A talent agent (Dom Deluise) who just happens to be at the same pond, hears Kermit’s song and says that he could be a Hollywood star. I mean obviously, it’s a singing frog playing the banjo! What more could anyone want? Kermit loves the idea of making millions of people happy and sets off for Hollywood. Along the way, he meets a terrible (but awesome) stand-up comedian, Fozzie Bear. Kermit invites Fozzie to Hollywood and the two set off in Fozzie’s Studebaker. This brings about my favorite quote from the film, “A frog and a bear, seeing America.”

Along the way, Kermit and Fozzie meet Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (which includes Animal), the band’s manager, Scooter, Gonzo and his girlfriend (Camilla the Chicken), Sweetums, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, Bunsen Honeydew, and Beaker. There are a million of celebrity cameos: James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, Telly Savalas, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, and perhaps the greatest cameo of them all… ORSON WELLES.

My Favorite Part: This entire film is hilarious. But I really love the part where Kermit the Frog and Miss Peggy go out for a romantic dinner. They are greeted by a snarky and rude waiter (Steve Martin) who wears shorty shorts, offers them a straw for their bottle-capped Idaho champagne (after offering to let them smell the bottlecap, of course).

Clearing the DVR- “The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry” (1945)

Geraldine Fitzgerald’s provocative pose on top of brother George Sanders’ head is apropos to their relationship in this film–“strange affair” indeed

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley a couple weeks ago. I had heard of this film previously, after having seen Robert Siodmak’s amazing film noir, Phantom Lady (1944). Through this film, I discovered Ella Raines, an actress I’d heard about, but had never seen in a film. I loved her and thought she brought a new breed of leading lady to film noir. I liked that she took charge of the search for her boss’ (and secret crush) alibi. She did what she needed to do to find the truth and free her boss from an inevitable execution. Phantom Lady was produced by Joan Harrison, Alfred Hitchcock’s protegee.

After the success of Phantom Lady, Harrison and Siodmak teamed up for another film noir, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry. They cast Raines again, as one of the leads in the film. With these pieces in place, plus the addition of George Sanders whom I loved in All About Eve, Lured, and Foreign Correspondent, made me want to see this film. I was so excited to see The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry on TCM’s schedule! After seeing the film… I liked it, but oy vey. The ending. The ending gets a big thumbs down. In fact, despite my liking the film as a whole, the ending was such a bummer that it completely ruined the third act of the film.

In The Strange Affairs of Uncle Harry, Sanders plays the titular “Uncle Harry (Quincy).” He works at the local textile mill designing patterns for their fabrics. His younger co-workers call him “Uncle Harry” as a term of endearment, but Harry implores them to stop–“Uncle Harry” makes him feel old. Harry is approaching middle-age and is very lonely. He lives at the Quincy Family’s large home with his two sisters. The Quincy Family were well-off at the start of the twentieth century; however they lost their fortune during the Great Depression. All that was left was the family home.

Ella Raines and George Sanders. Their relationship is a bright spot in this film.

Harry’s older sister, Hester (Moyna MacGill aka Angela Lansbury’s mother), is a widow. She loved her late husband very much and it is obvious that she is unhappy living with her siblings. She desperately tries to help keep house, but is constantly at odds with their maid, Nona (Sara Algood), who doesn’t appreciate Hester invading her domain. Harry’s younger sister, Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald), is a spoiled, lazy, witch (with a capital B) who regularly feigns illness to keep Harry by her bedside.

One day at work, Harry meets Deborah Brown (Raines), a young designer from New York City. She is hired to work at the textile factory. She and Harry hit it off and suddenly Harry has a reason for living. He and Deborah fall in love and plan to marry–much to Lettie’s chagrin. Harry asks his two sisters to move to another home. Because she has no intention to leave Harry and move, Lettie continually finds fault with every single prospective home. I wondered why Harry and Deborah didn’t just move into another home, but apparently that was not an option–for whatever reason. Lettie then discovers that Harry and Deborah plan to elope in New York City and she goes to work to sabotage the marriage and Harry’s chance at happiness.

It is obvious from the get-go that there is more than meets the eye with Harry and Lettie’s relationship. They are unusually close for siblings and there is a weird, romantic undertone. In the original play, the incestual element was very obvious; however, this had to be played down for the movie version due to the production code. While I don’t need to see sibling incest in a film, the production code unfortunately had a bigger impact on the film’s ending.

George Sanders and Geraldine Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s character is a nut.

The ending of the film is so absurd. My husband and I watched it and were like “Wait?! What?!” The ending is such a let-down and it completely undermines all the tension and drama built up in the third act of the film. Had the film just ended a couple minutes earlier, it would have been a completely different experience. The original play’s action ended where I wanted it to end, however production code dictated a different ending. Boo Joseph Breen! Apparently there were five different endings filmed for this movie and the ending with the best reaction from the test audiences was chosen. As a representative of a modern 2021 audience, I’d like to tell the 1945 audience that they chose a terrible ending.

I don’t normally like to waste time writing negative reviews and while I liked most of this film, the ending was such a bummer that I can’t get past it and have to spend my time venting about it.

Joan Harrison walked out on her Universal contract over this ending.

I don’t blame her one bit.

Mrs. Ziffel serves up grub at the diner!

Celluloid Road Trip Blogathon- “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945)

The term “film noir” conjures up black and white imagery. The use of shadows, rain, and narration are also common tropes. The detective and femme fatale are typical characters in a film noir. Cynicism, weariness, disillusionment and paranoia are often present. Director John M. Stahl’s 1945 masterpiece, Leave Her to Heaven, features a femme fatale, but otherwise doesn’t share many of the aforementioned motifs. It also features gorgeous locales, a beautiful leading lady, amazing costumes and fantastic immaculately decorated homes, all shot in glorious Technicolor. Technicolor film noir are not common, but Leave Her to Heaven is one of the all-time best. It also features one of the deadliest and most psychotic femme fatales of all time.

The gorgeous Gene Tierney stars as one of the most psychotic femme fatales ever in “Leave Her to Heaven”

Gene Tierney plays Ellen Berent, a socialite traveling from Boston to New Mexico. She is enroute to New Mexico to spread her father’s ashes. She’s accompanied by her cousin Ruth (Jeanne Crain) and her mother (Mary Phillips aka Ex-Mrs. Humphrey Bogart #2). While on the train, Ellen spots Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde). They are immediately smitten with one another and spend the remainder of their journey chatting. Ellen and Richard then discover that they’re all staying at the same New Mexico resort and Richard is invited to dinner. It is at the dinner when Richard learns that his resemblance to Ellen’s beloved, deceased father is one of the reasons why she was interested in him. Ellen’s beau, District Attorney Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) shows up and Ellen announces (to Russell) that she and Richard are engaged–much to Richard’s surprise.

This all should be a red flag. But Richard goes along with it. Richard announces that he’s planning on visiting his polio-stricken brother, Danny (Darryl Hickman) at a hospital in Warm Springs, Georgia. Richard and Ellen marry. While in Georgia, Danny announces his intention to travel with Richard and Ellen to Richard’s “Back of the Moon” lakeside cabin in Deer Lake, Maine. We (the audience) see Ellen beg Danny’s doctor to step in and prevent the trip. She also refers to Danny as “the cripple.” Ellen’s true colors are showing.

Danny swims while Ellen follows in Deer Lake

Deer Lake, Maine is where all the most infamous action of Leave Her to Heaven takes place. This is a gorgeous lake locale–lush with trees and emerald green water. The lake is vast and serene. Deer Lake is just one of the gorgeous locations in Leave Her to Heaven. The beautiful, tranquil settings are juxtaposed with the beautiful, yet psychotic Ellen. Multiple references are made to Ellen “loving too much.” It seems that Ellen loved her father so much that she actually drove a wedge between her father and her mother. Cousin Ruth is Ellen’s adopted sister as she was taken in by the Berent family at a very young age. Ruth makes a comment referring to “being adopted by Mrs. Berent” instead of by both Mr. and Mrs. Berent. One could assume that Mrs. Berent adopted Ruth after being basically left by the wayside by both her husband and daughter. Ellen then promises Richard to “Never let [him go]. Never Never Never.”

And she means it.

Throughout the film, Ellen showcases extreme jealousy toward anyone who divides Richard’s attention away from her. She will not let ANYONE get between herself and Richard. When Danny expresses his interest in following Richard and Ellen to Deer Lake, Ellen is livid. Deer Lake (actually Bass Lake in California) provides the backdrop for one of the most sinister, diabolical scenes in film history. Ellen and Danny go out in a rowboat in the middle of Deer Lake. Danny, who is just starting to regain his strength and ability to walk, tells Ellen that he’s going to swim across the lake. Danny is way over-confident, but Ellen lets him go ahead while she follows in the rowboat. Danny starts out well, but begins to slow down. Ellen, seeing an opportunity to rid herself and Richard of Danny’s presence, urges him to continue:

“You’re not making very much progress, Danny. Are you alright?”

(Later, after Danny starts complaining of being cold and having a cramp, Ellen keeps encouraging him)

“You don’t want to give up when you’ve come so far!”

Ellen’s cold heart reveals itself after removing her sunglasses when Danny drowns

Danny starts getting very tired and distressed. As he flails around helplessly, Ellen sits there, coldly. As if she were in a trance, Ellen stares at Danny as he frantically waves his arms, trying to keep afloat and signal Ellen for help. The camera is fixated on Ellen’s face, her eyes hidden behind her dark glasses. We hear Danny yelling for help. We see Ellen watching and watching, almost as if she’s waiting for confirmation that Danny has drowned and will no longer be in her way of loving Richard. As Danny goes underwater, Ellen rips off her glasses and reveals her cold, icy stare. Combined with her pursed lips, Ellen is satisfied that she’s just murdered young Danny. She feigns concern when she spots Richard on the lakeside trail, and makes a show of “saving” Danny by diving into the lake. Richard follows suit. However, both Ellen and Richard’s rescue attempts are futile. Danny is dead. Ellen is overjoyed. Richard is understandably upset and it’s obvious that he has an inkling that Danny’s drowning wasn’t entirely an accident.

Just when we didn’t think that Ellen couldn’t be any more insane, she tops herself (perhaps, it might be on par) at the family’s oceanfront home in Bar Harbor, Maine. I am here for all of the crazy things she does in this film. It’s just so much fun to watch.

The famous shot of Ellen on Deer Lake looking on while Danny drowns. (I really love her sunglasses)

Ellen Berent is one of the most evil and insane femme fatales in noir history. I think she might be crazier than Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity. The drowning scene in Deer Lake is simply one of the all-time most evil scenes in film. She could have just poisoned Danny or shot him or anything and that would have been bad enough. She sets poor Danny up to drown. His desire to impress Ellen and prove to himself that he’s on the mend from polio causes his overconfidence. Ellen, established to be an excellent swimmer earlier in the film, had all the opportunity to save him and didn’t. Devoid of emotion, she watches Danny struggle. She cooly stares at him, mentally counting down the minutes until he’s drowned. Only then does she “worry” and try to save him. Ellen is cold and calculating. She knows what she wants and how to get it.

Ellen always wins.

Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon- “The Spiral Staircase” (1946)

Ethel in younger days. Which is hair and which is hat?

The Barrymores are a storied Hollywood dynasty. Siblings Lionel, John, and Ethel all began their careers on the stage in the late nineteenth century (1901 for John) and began appearing in silent film during the 1910s. While Lionel and John embraced Hollywood and made a large number of films, Ethel preferred the stage on Broadway. It wasn’t until the 1940s when Ethel was already in her 60s that she started taking on more film roles. She even won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her 1944 film, None but the Lonely Heart.

Robert Siodmak fills his noir with all kinds of amazing images, like this staircase in “The Spiral Staircase.”

In 1946, Ethel appeared in my favorite Robert Siodmak film noir, The Spiral Staircase. Siodmak is one of my all-time favorite film noir directors. Siodmak made so many fantastic noir: Criss Cross (1949), The Killers (1946), Phantom Lady (1944), The Dark Mirror (1946), and Cry of the City (1948). Siodmak is so adept at using all the noir tropes to create these very atmospheric, moody films. Who can forget the image of Franchot Tone’s seemingly glowing hands in Phantom Lady, or the smoke-filled heist of Criss Cross? In The Spiral Staircase, Siodmak literally uses a spiraling staircase as the focal point for the film’s tense scenes.

Fantastic use of shadow in this film!

Dorothy McGuire stars in The Spiral Staircase as a young mute woman, Helen, living in 1906 Vermont. She is mute due to childhood trauma. When Helen was a child, she witnessed her parents’ death in a fire. She has been unable to speak since. At the beginning of the film, Helen is attending a silent film screening at a local inn. During the film, a crippled woman is murdered in her room by an unknown assailant hiding in her closet. This woman’s murder is the third such murder in the community.

Dr. Parry (Kent Smith), a friend of Helen’s, was also at the inn and drives her home to her employer’s residence. Helen is a live-in servant for the invalid, Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore). Mrs. Warren’s stepson Albert (George Brent), her son Steven (Gordon Oliver), her staff Mr. and Mrs. Oates (Rhys Williams and Elsa Lanchester), her secretary Blanche (Rhonda Fleming), and her Nurse (Sara Algood) all live at the home as well.

As Helen walks up the driveway toward the home, we spot a cloaked figure watching from a distance. When Helen arrives home, she finds Mrs. Oates in the kitchen discussing the latest murder in the town. Mrs. Oates expresses fear that Helen will be targeted as the serial killer’s MO seems to be targeting disabled, i.e. defenseless, women. Helen is mute due to psychological trauma. If she’s attacked, she may not be able to scream for help.

Ethel Barrymore and Dorothy McGuire in “The Spiral Staircase.”

Mrs. Warren is bedridden with failing health, however, she is still feisty and sharp. Her hatred of her nurse is hilarious. Mrs. Warren doesn’t mince words when letting her nurse know how much she dislikes her. However, Mrs. Warren has a much better relationship with Helen. I got the sense that Mrs. Warren either empathized with her or felt some sort of protective feeling over her well-being. Mrs. Warren encourages Dr. Parry to take Helen to to Boston with him and see if he can help her through her trauma to regain her voice.

Throughout the remainder of the film, Helen’s paranoia and heightened sense of danger continues to increase as it becomes increasingly obvious that someone is targeting her.

Ethel Barrymore is amazing in this film. I love her performances. She always plays a stoic, no-nonsense, wise woman. In this film, even though her character is supposed to be physically weak and other characters just see her as a burden, she is the strongest one in the film. She has one glorious moment of triumph in this film. Another fantastic Ethel Barrymore performance is as Bogart’s friend and supporter, Margaret Garrison in Deadline, U.S.A.

I know that this is the Ethel Barrymore blogathon, but I love Dorothy McGuire in this film. She’s amazing in this movie. She is able to convey so much emotion with her face. McGuire plays a mute character in this film. She cannot speak. However, because of McGuire’s superb acting in this film, the audience doesn’t miss any of Helen’s feelings or thoughts without the dialogue. In fact, in this film, I think dialogue would have just gotten in the way of McGuire’s performance.

If you want to see another amazing Dorothy McGuire performance, check out The Enchanted Cottage (1945), co-starring Robert Young.

Noirvember 2020

My “Noirvember” picks will be continually updated as the month wears on and I make my next choice!

Maxine Cooper & Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Noirvember is upon us. I love film noir, so every month is “Noirvember” for me, but I thought I’d try to actively participate in the event this year. Previously, I lurked in conversations and posts and read about it, but didn’t actually contribute.

For those who are unfamiliar with “Noirvember,” it is simply a portmanteau of the words “Noir” and “November.” It is a term used to describe what is essentially a month-long celebration of film noir. Noirvember was invented by a poster (@oldfilmsflicker on Twitter) who just wanted an excuse to catch-up on film noir. It has since evolved and become a full-fledged event.

I have seen a lot of film noir and have a lot of favorite films and performers. While I definitely want to revisit some old favorites, I also want to watch some “new to me” film noir. I don’t have a particular list of 30 film noir to watch, as I wanted my list to flow organically. However, so that I had some semblance of organization and didn’t spend my entire evening trying to decide what to watch, I’ve decided to play a game with my selections. Each successive film will feature a performer from the previous film. E.g. “The Big Heat” features Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. “Sudden Fear” features Grahame and Joan Crawford.

It is my hope that my final film of the month will link back to the first.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray conspicuously looking inconspicuous in the grocery store in Double Indemnity.

Click here to view my Noirvember Picks!

Classics For Comfort Blogathon

I can’t think of anything more comforting than watching Eleanor Powell and her amazing dancing.

This year’s CLAMBA (CLAssic Movie Blog Association) Spring blogathon is dedicated to classic films that people may turn to in times of crisis, emotional distress, stress, or any other time when they might feel a little weary from the drudgery of day to day life. Right now, during these trying times, having something comforting to turn to, whether it be a movie, a pet, a hobby, etc. is more important than ever.

I find movies, especially classic movies, to be comforting. Not every film has positive subject matter, and not every film is uplifting, but they allow you to escape into a different world. Full disclosure: This is coming from someone who watches “Forensic Files” and “Unsolved Mysteries” to relax before bed. I have my “pet” movies that I revisit over and over again (The Long Long Trailer, Gidget, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, The Brady Bunch Movie, Singin’ in the Rain… ) but I’ve already written about those–sometimes multiple times. I will try to branch out and share my Top 5 favorite comfort films.

One of my favorite types of films is a tried and true romance. Not necessarily a rom-com (though occasionally those can hit the spot, depending on what it is), or a overly sappy romance (e.g. Nicholas Sparks), or some generic, non-offensive, completely predictable film (Hallmark Movies, I’m looking at you), but a real romantic film–“happily ever after” not guaranteed.

1) Summertime (1955). David Lean’s romantic drama is aesthetically a gorgeous film. Shot on location in Venice, Italy, the scenery and color is beautiful and very fun to watch. Katharine Hepburn stars as Jane Hudson (not that Jane Hudson), a single (gasp!) middle-aged secretary from Akron, Ohio. She has had a lifelong dream of going to Venice and has saved money for many years. Finally, she has enough money and travels abroad for her summer vacation.

Even the credits sequence is gorgeous!
Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn) meets Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi) in “Summertime.”

Upon arriving in Venice, Jane boards the local vaporetto (e.g. a waterbus that transports the public down the canals) where she meets two fellow American tourists. Jane and the three tourists are all staying at the same pensione (e.g. a boarding house that includes meals). At the pensione, Jane meets another American tourist, Eddie Yaeger (Darren McGavin), and his wife.

On her first night out, Jane goes out to dinner and spots an Italian man, Renato de Rossi, (Rossano Brazzi) watching her. The next day, Jane is window-shopping at an antique store and spots a red goblet. Interested in obtaining more information (and possibly purchasing) the goblet, Jane enters the store and discovers that the owner of the shop is Renato, the same man who was watching her the night before. Later that night, Renato finds Jane at her pensione and confesses that he finds her very attractive. She tries to ward off his advances, but ultimately agrees to attend a concert with him.

Jane and Renato’s romance is heating up!

Renato and Jane’s romance grows and soon find themselves completely enamored with one another. However, like so many romantic films, they reach an impasse when Jane finds out more about Renato’s past.

I love this film because Jane and Renato’s passion for one another is evident and who doesn’t love the idea of falling in love with a handsome stranger while on vacation? See Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun for another example of this storyline. I also liked the idea that Hepburn was playing a woman who was not only single, but didn’t seem to regret being single. She wasn’t a miserable “can’t find a man” spinster. This film is also where Hepburn picked up her lifelong eye infection after performing a stunt where she falls into one of the fabled (and notoriously polluted) Venice canals.

Another type of movie that I find comforting is an over-the-top melodrama. For me, over-the-top is something so outrageous, so absurd, that it seems like it could never possibly happen. But at the same time, with the right mix of people and the right situation, it could definitely happen. One of my favorite melodramas also combines another of my favorites: 50s-60s teen movies.

2) A Summer Place (1959) has everything one could possibly want in a good melodrama: racism, bigotry, xenophobia, adultery, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, a catchy title theme tune, love, the use of the word “convenience” for toilet… this movie has it all. And if that was not enough, the movie is photographed using the most beautiful color. Every scene is seemingly shot with gauze over the lens, giving everything a slightly hazy, ethereal look. This film also features two of my all-time favorite stars: Sandra Dee and Dorothy McGuire.

At the beginning of the film, we meet the Hunter family. Patriarch Bart (Arthur Kennedy), his long-suffering wife, Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire), and their teenage son, Johnny (Troy Donahue). It is quickly apparent that not all is well with the Hunter household. Bart, despite having been born to a wealthy family and seemingly had it all, has allowed his family’s Pine Island, ME estate to fall into disarray. Most of the blame for the family’s decline falls squarely into the lap of Bart’s alcoholism. To make ends meet, the Hunter family is forced to transform their private family home into an inn and rent rooms out to paying guests.

Johnny (Troy Donahue) and Molly (Sandra Dee) fall in love in “A Summer Place.”

One day, the Hunters receive a telegram from Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan) who along with his wife, Helen (Constance Ford) and teenaged daughter Molly (Sandra Dee), wants to rent out a room at the “inn” for the summer. The only hitch? Ken and Sylvia used to date twenty years ago, prior to their respective marriages and children. Ken at the time was a lifeguard on the island whereas, it is presumed that Sylvia must have come from “better stock.” However, the tables have turned and now Sylvia is seemingly lower class, whereas Ken is successful millionaire research chemist.

When the Jorgenson family is seen, it is obvious that Helen has some issues. “Some issues” is putting it lightly. Helen is one of the most prudish (even for 1950s standards), hateful women that I have ever seen in a film. She seemingly has an issue with everyone and anything that isn’t American, straight, puritan, and most importantly, White. Ken has an amazing scene where he rips his wife a new one. It is obvious that the Jorgenson union is going to be kaput by the end of the film.

What is this hat?

Upon arrival at Pine Island, Johnny immediately spots Molly. They are instantly smitten with one another, much to the chagrin of Helen. As a parallel to the budding union between the children, something is rekindled between Sylvia and Ken. Both are stuck in unhappy marriages and both want a new start. Sylvia and Ken find themselves confiding in one another, until their flame is reignited. At the same time, Molly and Johnny are finding themselves falling for one another. Jilted spouses Bart and Helen, find themselves on the outside, looking in.

I love this movie. I love everything about it. I never tire of it and look forward to reading the novel. There is so much drama to savor. Sandra Dee, despite being saddled with the goody two-shoes virgin image, is definitely NOT living up to that reputation in this film. One of Dee’s best qualities, in my opinion, are her eyes. Her fantastic large, brown eyes imbue Dee with a vulnerable quality. She seems to always have a wanting in her eyes. She just needs someone to take care of, and someone to take care of her. For whatever reason, Troy Donahue, despite not being that great of an actor I really enjoy. I don’t know what it is about him, but he has a quality that I find interesting.

Sometimes, all that will provide comfort is some good old fashioned eye candy. Just something to ogle for a couple hours. One such eye candy (for me) is Errol Flynn. During his heyday, he looks amazing in pretty much everything. Even in the 1950s, when Flynn’s bad habits were definitely catching up with him, though looking older than his age, he still possesses the panache and charisma of his youth. For this entry, I’m going to discuss my favorite Errol Flynn film.

This poster doesn’t do Errol Flynn or
Alexis Smith justice!

3) Gentleman Jim (1942) is a biopic that features Flynn as James J. “Gentleman Jim” Corbett. At the beginning of the film, Jim and his friend Walter (Jack Carson) are attending an illegal boxing match in 1890s San Francisco. The match is raided by the police. Jim and Walter find themselves in the paddywagon with Judge Geary, a prominent member of the board of directors at the bank that employs both Jim and Walter as tellers. Jim is able to think quickly and saves his boss from embarrassment.

Later, through a chance meeting at his bank, Jim meets Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith), the socialite daughter of Buck Ware, a wealthy upper-class member of the Olympic Club–the same club that Jim’s boss also frequents. Victoria has arrived at Jim’s bank to collect change for a local game at the club. After hearing Victoria state that she’s on her way to the Olympic Club, Jim charms her into letting him escort her and carry her heavy coins. Victoria, obviously interested in Jim (because duh! who wouldn’t?) and seeing his ulterior motives right off the bat, agrees to let him accompany her to the club. She even treats him to lunch and cigars. Later, Jim meets the Judge and other members of the upper class in the gymnasium.

Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith

Judge Geary and a renowned British boxing coach (who has been hired to evaluate prospects) see a lot of potential in Jim as a boxer. Both men are looking to make boxing respectable and plan to start a boxing club that use the Marquess of Queensbury rules (the same rules still in effect today in the boxing community). These rules were set up a few decades prior in London and were meant to make the matches more even and fair. The Judge and the British coach find Jim’s appearance and polished demeanor as the perfect image for their new fighter. And, if Jim’s good looks and charm weren’t enough, he’s also a good fighter!

Soon Jim gets to work training and quickly finds himself scheduled for his first fight, which he wins. Eventually, Jim gets a manager, Billy Delaney (William “Fred Mertz” Frawley) who books him into even bigger matches. After winning a series of fights, Jim finds himself booked for his biggest fight yet–Taking on the current heavyweight champion, John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond).

“GIVE ‘EM ROOM!”

I love this movie. I love sports movies in general, and especially boxing ones. Flynn is so freaking adorable and hot in all of his scenes. The man even looks good in a union suit! The absolute best Flynn scene is when he falls into the San Francisco Bay and pulls himself out of the water. Ooh la la. Alexis Smith makes a great foil for Flynn’s brashness. Their love/hate relationship is one of the highlights of the film. One of the absolute best parts of the film though is Alan Hale as Flynn’s father. He is hilarious in this movie. Ward Bond is also excellent as John L. Sullivan.

Another type of film that I find comforting is something that is so adorable and so sweet, that you cannot help but feel better. Charlie Chaplin’s most famous character, The Tramp, is so sweet and kind, you cannot help but root for him. In The Kid (1921), even though the audience knows that Tramp’s “son,” belongs to someone else, you cannot help but root for the two of them to stay with each other. They belong together–even if the Tramp can’t provide financially. What he lacks in financial resources, he more than makes up for it in love and kindness. One of the absolute best examples of this is present in my favorite Chaplin film.

4) City Lights (1931). This film is so freaking adorable and sweet, I cannot stand it. Fortunately, I was able to see it in the theater prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film was even better on the large screen. To make the experience even better, I got to view a 35mm print. Anyway, I digress.

This is a great movie poster!

The film opens with a bunch of dignitaries and citizens assembling for the unveiling of a new monument dedicated to “Peace and Prosperity.” When the veil is removed from the statue, the Tramp is revealed to be asleep in the lap of one of the figures. After a few moments of hilarity, the Tramp escapes the angry crowd and runs into the city. While in the city, the Tramp encounters a blind woman (Virginia Cherrill) selling flowers. The Tramp is smitten with her, even after figuring out that she is blind. The blind woman mistakes the Tramp as wealthy when she hears a door open and shut on an automobile right as the Tramp approaches her to purchase a flower. She assumes that he’s just emerged from a chauffered vehicle.

Later that evening, the Tramp saves a drunk millionaire from suicide. The millionaire is grateful to the Tramp and declares him his new best friend. The millionaire takes the Tramp back to his home for champagne, and then for a night out on the town. They have a raucuous good time. The next morning, the Tramp spies the flower girl at her corner as he’s driving the millionaire home. He gets some money from the Millionaire, takes the Millionaire’s car, and drives the girl home.

The blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) and the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin)

At this point, a running gag starts where the millionaire is the Tramp’s BFF when he’s drunk, but sober, he has no idea who the Tramp is and wants him out of his house ASAP.

The Tramp continues to visit with the blind girl. It is during one of these visits that he learns that she and her grandmother are one missed rent payment ($22… Oh to pay rent in the early 1930s) away from being homeless. At this point, nothing will stop the Tramp until he’s able to save the blind girl from losing her home.

One of the sweetest scenes ever in film!

This film is so freaking sweet and I don’t want to spoil it by describing the ending. It is perhaps one of the best endings ever in film and with so few words. The ending scene fully illustrates why Charlie Chaplin deserves every inch of recognition and acclaim that he ever received.

Finally, another of my favorite genres is film noir. Some film noir can be romantic in nature, like the Bogie/Bacall films and others can be super gritty (The Asphalt Jungle comes to mind). I love all of them. There’s something about the noir style, the narration, the way characters speak, everything.

5) One of my favorite noir, is probably one of the most famous film noir of all time: Double Indemnity (1944). Fred MacMurray stars as Walter Neff, a seemingly decent insurance salesman who makes his living selling all types of insurance. One day, he makes a house call to the Dietrichson household to remind Mr. Dietrichson to renew his automobile insurance. When Walter arrives, Mr. Dietrichson isn’t home, but his second wife Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) is. In one of the all time best character introduction scenes, Phyllis appears at the top of the stairway clad in a towel and her “honey of an anklet.” Walter is instantly smitten.

While flirting with one another, Phyllis asks Walter about taking out a life insurance policy on her husband, without her husband’s knowledge. Walter at first, wants no part of Phyllis’ obvious plan to murder her husband, but soon devises a scheme to write a policy that contains a “double indemnity” clause–which would double the payout, should the policy holder die in some type of accident.

Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) is on the case!

At this point, I cannot decide if Walter is really that enthralled with Phyllis that he’s willing to commit capital murder, or whether he wants to try and put something over on his boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). Keyes is responsible for investigating claims on behalf of the firm, to reduce the amount of payments that need to be paid out. Keyes seems to believe that he knows anything and everything about probability of different causes of death and everything that would negate an insurance claim.

This scene cracks me up. These two are the most conspicuous, inconspicuous people.

Walter inevitably ends up helping Phyllis commit the murder. Throughout the rest of the film, Phyllis and Walter try to cover their tracks as Keyes gets closer and closer to the truth.

I love this film. I love the way that Walter speaks, I love Phyllis’ hilarious wig, and Edward G. Robinson is fantastic. In the scene where Walter murders Mr. Dietrichson in the car, Phyllis has one of the most evil facial expressions in cinema.

Favorite Performers: Kim Novak

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

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

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Kim Novak and William Holden dance in “Picnic”

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

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Kim Novak as “Madeline” in “Vertigo”

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

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

My favorite Kim Novak films:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Bette Davis Blogathon–“Beyond the Forest”

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In the late 1920s, as a young twenty-something, Bette Davis attended the John Murray Anderson Dramatic School in New York and excelled in her courses.  In fact, she was the star pupil of the school.  One of Bette’s classmates was a young Lucille Ball, who was definitely NOT the school’s star pupil–in fact, the school wrote to Lucy’s mother stating that she was wasting her money and that her daughter had no future in acting (don’t worry about Lucy, she did okay for herself).  Bette on the other hand, had a future in acting and soon moved from the school to Broadway.

In 1930, Bette and her mother, Harlow Morrell Davis, left New York and moved to Hollywood to screen test at Universal Studios.  When Bette and her mother arrived at the train station, Bette was surprised that no one from the studio was there to meet her.  It turned out that someone had been at the train station and had seen Bette, but left, because he didn’t see anyone who looked like an actress.  Bette’s lack of conventional beauty would inhibit her career at first as studios didn’t view her as a glamorous leading lady.  She was often cast as the leading lady’s sister, friend… any type of role that implied “not beautiful.”  Bette failed her first few screen tests at Universal, but eventually made her screen debut in Bad Sister in 1931.

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Bette Davis in “Bad Sister”

After appearing in a few unremarkable films at Universal and a film at Columbia (which she was loaned out for), Universal opted not to renew her contract in 1932.  It looked like curtains for Bette, but fortunately, fate intervened.  Actor George Arliss had seen Bette and had suggested her as his co-star for The Man Who Played God at Warner Brothers.  Bette received good reviews for not only her performance but for her beauty (!) and Warner Brothers signed her to a five-year contract.

Bette was never known as a raving beauty.  While actresses like Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Hedy Lamarr, Vivien Leigh, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, and Ginger Rogers (to name a few examples) were touted by their studios for their beauty and glamour, Bette represented the tough woman.  While some Hollywood actresses were vain and did not want to sacrifice glamour, Bette was not.  She would do whatever it took to portray the part to its fullest.  Her breakthrough role was as a trashy waitress in Of Human Bondage in 1934.  Via write-in ballot, Bette was nominated for an Oscar for her role.  She lost, however, to Claudette Colbert for her performance in It Happened One Night.  Bette won an Oscar in 1935 for playing a drunk has-been actress in Dangerous.  It is thought by many that Bette’s 1935 Oscar was a consolation prize to losing the year before.

In 1938, Bette won another Oscar for her turn as a scandalous, rebellious Southern Belle.  This film was the beginning of the most successful and highly acclaimed part of Bette’s career.  A string of hits followed: Dark Victory, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Letter, Mr. Skeffington, Now Voyager, The Little Foxes, and A Stolen Life.  By the late 1940s, Bette’s star was starting to wane.  Bette’s films during the late 1940s were not as profitable or as acclaimed as her previous efforts.  Personally, one of my favorite films of hers during this period is June Bride (1948).  Bette should have made more comedies.  Despite her diminishing popularity and box-office return, Bette managed to re-negotiate a new four-film contract with Warner Brothers in 1949.

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I love the tagline on this poster!

After Bette’s new contract was signed, her first assignment was the amazing Beyond the Forest.  Bette didn’t find the film “amazing” and did everything she could to try and get out of the film.  She had requested script approval during contract negotiations but her request was declined.  Bette loathed the Beyond the Forest script and tried to drop out of the film.  Warner Brothers refused to release Bette and she was forced to complete the film. It might be Bette’s reluctance, or perhaps anger or irritation, about making Beyond the Forest which makes it so great.  Whether it is intentional or it’s written in the script, Bette’s performance is so over-the-top, so absurd, that it elevates this film straight into the world of camp. From Bette’s immortal “what a dump!” line to her epic death scene, Beyond the Forest is captivating from beginning to end.

Beyond the Forest tells the story of Rosa Moline, the wife of the town doctor in a small Wisconsin town.  Joseph Cotten portrays Rosa’s husband, Lewis.  Lewis is well-liked by everyone in town.  Since he is seemingly the town’s only doctor (think Dr. Baker in Little House on the Prairie), he is often out of the house on house calls or down at his office.  Rosa feels neglected, bored, repressed and any other negative adjective she can use to describe her life in a small town.  Rosa aspires to live in a big city, like nearby Chicago.  Somewhere with some nightlife and perhaps less predictability and routine.

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Bette as “Rosa”

To escape boredom, Rosa ends up meeting a vacationing man from Chicago, Neil Latimer (David Brian).  Latimer is renting a hunting cabin that is owned by a friend of Rosa and Lewis’. She and Neil end up engaging in a hot, adulterous affair.  To continue the affair, Rosa decides that she needs to cook up excuses to travel to Chicago to see Neil.  Rosa decides to talk to her husband and demands that he needs to confront his patients to pay their medical bills.  Rosa justifies her demands by stating that she needs the money to fund a new wardrobe.  Rosa travels back and forth to Chicago to see Neil, but eventually discovers that he’s engaged to another woman, a wealthy woman.  Neil breaks off the relationship.  Discouraged, Rosa returns home to her humdrum life.

Rosa discovers that she’s pregnant with her husband’s child.  While at a party for Moose, the caretaker of the hunting cabin, Rosa is re-acquainted with Neil and discovers that he’s broken off his engagement.  Rosa tries to concoct a scheme to dump Lewis and run off with Neil.  Unfortunately, Moose overhears Rosa’s plans and threatens to tell Neil about her pregnancy if she leaves her husband.

Moose’s threat to Rosa sets up the main conflict of the story.  At the beginning of the film, Rosa is on trial for murder.  The storyline is constructed in an interesting format.  It starts with the murder trial, moves into a flashback that shows how Rosa ended up in this predicament, then shows the verdict of the murder trial and then segues into what happens to Rosa after the murder trial.  A la Leave Her to Heaven, Bette purposely gets herself in an accident to induce an abortion.  It’s amazing how many studio era films contain scenes where the leading actress purposely falls down the stairs, falls down a hill, etc. in order to lose a pregnancy.  It’s interesting that that type of scene would pass censors.  I suppose in an era of back alley abortions, falling down the stairs may be a woman’s only option.  At the risk of further spoiling the story, Bette has the most fabulous death scene in the film.  It may be one of the longest, most drawn out death scenes ever.  Whether that was in the script for dramatic effect, or whether Bette decided to drag it out, who knows? All that is important is that this scene exists on celluloid, somewhere.

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Rosa’s epic death scene

Unfortunately for us, Beyond the Forest is unavailable on DVD/Blu Ray and cannot even be aired on TV.  There is some type of copyright issue that is preventing this film from being available.  I managed to see it during a one-night only showing a couple summers ago at the Northwest Film Center, a film program hosted by the Portland Art Museum.  Bette’s performance in this film is truly something to behold.  From her ridiculous black wig, to her sexpot wardrobe, Bette looks absurd and she plays the part of the town floozy to the hilt.  She is obviously too old for the part and lookswise, while I’ve always thought Bette was beautiful in a unconventional way, she is not believable as the town sex-pot.  However, this dissonance between Bette’s character and Bette herself only adds to the campiness of the film.

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

After Beyond the Forest, Bette successfully negotiated a release from her contract.  After eighteen years at Warner Brothers, Bette was a freelance actor.  She had her last major success (save 1962’s “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”) in 1950 at Fox studios with All About Eve, where she received an Oscar nomination playing the part of Margo Channing, a highly acclaimed theater actress who is feeling the pressure of age.  Adding to her woes is the fact that a young ingenue, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), is slowly insinuating herself into Margo’s life and slowly turning her friends against her and taking over her career.  All About Eve has many parallels with Bette’s life.  Despite the many successes she experienced in Hollywood, Bette was not irreplaceable.  As All About Eve illustrated, not once, but twice in the film, no matter how talented and acclaimed you are, there is always someone younger and more talented ready to take your place.

The “Free For All” Blogathon–“Birds in Film”

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When you think of birds in the movies, this image probably comes to mind:

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Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchock’s “The Birds” (1963). Don’t even get me started on why they chose to run out of the school when the birds started congregating on the jungle gym.  Stay inside! I like to think that the birds attacked the children because they were singing that annoying song.

Alfred Hitchock’s 1963 masterpiece, The Birds, tells the story of Bodega Bay, a small town near San Francisco, California that is dealing with violent and random bird attacks.  Crows are inexplicably attacking people in their homes, in phone booths, outside, anywhere.  The film never explains why the birds are attacking.  Hitchock purposely eschewed the use of music in the film.  The only sounds we hear aside from dialogue and natural sounds from the actions in the film are the sounds of the birds crowing.  Each time the birds appear onscreen, we know that another attack is about to happen.  The film ends with no resolution.  In Bodega Bay, the birds are still out there and are to be feared.

In The Birds, there are two birds featured in the film who are not to be feared–the lovebirds that Rob Taylor wants to purchase from Tippi Hedren (who doesn’t actually work at the bird shop, but is shopping for a cage for her myna bird).  People who own lovebirds typically purchase them in pairs, as a pair of lovebirds will bond for life.  A solitary lovebird who doesn’t have a constant companion will be very sad.  Owners can own just one lovebird, but they should be prepared to spend a lot of time with their bird.  In The Birds, I believe that these lovebirds represent Taylor and Hedren’s characters.

Hedren’s character is a bit of a wild woman who somewhat lives in a gilded cage.  She’s basically a rich socialite with little regard for others.  Due to her behavior and attitude, she’s somewhat trapped by her lifestyle.  The only reason she goes to Bodega Bay initially, is to use the lovebirds as a means to pursue Taylor.  She’s rich and isn’t used to not getting what she wants.  Taylor makes it clear to Hedren in the pet shop that she’s not interested in people of her type.

Lovebirds may represent the antithesis to the other birds in the film.  Birds don’t have to be evil or be killers–they can be sweet, wonderful companions for humans and other birds.  The lovebirds in The Birds demonstrate that maybe humanity and nature can restore harmony soon.

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The lovebirds in “The Birds.” I believe these are “rosy-faced lovebirds.”

Aside from the birds in The Birds, there are other ways birds are represented in film:

COMPANIONS

  1. Iago the Scarlet Macaw parrot in Aladdin, while an evil bird, he is a wiseacre and says what’s on his mind regardless of whether he’s talking to his master, Jafar, or mocking the Sultan.
  2. Kevin in Up is a goofy bird and the comic relief of the film.  Kevin is a made-up tropical bird who helps Carl and Russell make it to Victoria Falls.  Kevin also provides the conflict of the film.  Famed aviator Charles Muntz has been looking for Kevin’s species for years.  Kevin is like many real birds in that when she (yes “she”) feels that someone is a friend, she will be kind and loyal.  However, if she senses someone is a threat, or that person was mean to her, she’ll be hostile and combative.  Also, like real birds, Kevin is very curious and gets into everything.
  3. Hedwig in the Harry Potter series is Harry Potter’s loyal owl.  She is a constant companion for Harry through all of his adventures. She would deliver Harry’s mail, but was also a faithful friend. Hedwig also demonstrated how smart and clever birds can be.
  4. Zazu in The Lion King.  Zazu is a hornbill who is not only Mufasa’s personal assistant and adviser, but he also takes care of Simba after Mufasa’s tragic death.  Zazu’s allegiance is partially out of duty to the kingdom, but I also feel that he feels a sense of loyalty to the deceased Mufasa.  Zazu also doesn’t want to see Scar in charge.
  5. Maleficent’s black crow, who I don’t believe has a name, is as evil as evil gets.  He keeps Maleficent informed on the goings on in the fairies’ cottage and is the first one to inform Maleficent of Princess Aurora’s location when he spies magic coming up through the fairies’ chimney.

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Iago from “Aladdin” (1992)

WISDOM

  1. Owl in Winnie the Pooh dispenses advise to Winnie the Pooh and the other residents of the Hundred Acre Woods.
  2. Scuttle in The Little Mermaid, while definitely not smart like Owl, he lives above the sea and regularly watches and interacts with the humans.  Mermaid Ariel, who desperately wants to live out of the sea meets up with Scuttle, often bringing objects from the ocean floor that she has found.  She asks Scuttle as to what the objects are.  While Scuttle is usually wrong (e.g. telling Ariel that a dinner fork is a “dinglehopper” and is used to comb her hair), he is very kind and tries to keep Ariel informed about what’s going on above the sea.

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“Owl” from “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”  (1977)

SYMBOLISM

  1. In The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Huston’s directorial debut and the first film noir, stars Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade.  While investigating the murder of his partner, Miles Archer, Bogart gets involved with a cast of characters who not only have something to do with Archer’s death, but who are searching for the elusive Maltese Falcon statue.  This bejeweled statue has traveled the world and is apparently worth tens of thousands of dollars.  When the statue is finally found, it is determined to be a fake.  The criminals are angry and frustrated, but seek to continue looking for it.  While holding the fake statue, a detective asks Bogart, “Heavy? What is it?” Bogart says, “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”  This faux bird represents the lack of loyalty the criminals displayed to one another during their journey.  A bird, when treated with love and kindness, can be a loyal and generous friend.  They’ll be by your side constantly and will give affection. They’ll also give you their dinner if you don’t pay attention, they want to make sure you eat.  The criminals are so shady in this film, that they don’t deserve to succeed at the end.
  2. There is much bird imagery in Psycho.  It is mostly used in the scene between Norman (Anthony Perkins) and Marion (Janet Leigh) in the motel office. The birds in these scenes foreshadow Norman’s psyche and Marion’s eventual fate. Norman has a variety of stuffed birds: everything from the predator hawk to a small songbird.  Norman mentions to Marion Crane (his eventual victim) that one of his hobbies is “stuffing things” i.e. taxidermy.  This foreshadows the fact that he’s been perhaps practicing his taxidermy skills elsewhere, like on his mother’s corpse, for example (granted she is a skeleton, but he’s been preserving her).  The birds are creepy as there are a lot of them. One could argue that the different types of birds are representative of the  characters in the film.  There is an owl and hawk, two predator birds, that are featured prominently on the wall.  Norman’s mother is a predator, her personality has completely consumed Norman’s.  There are also some small songbirds who represent Marion.  These birds would be consumed in no second flat by a predator, just like it doesn’t take long for Marion’s demise at the Bates Motel.  Birds are very fragile, just like Norman Bates’ psyche.  Women are often presented as fragile and delicate, in which a bird could represent Marion.  Norman even tells Marion that she “eats like a bird” as she picks at the bread on her sandwich.  Birds actually eat a lot, a fact which Norman even mentions to Marion.  There is so much going on in this scene that it would probably warrant its own blog entry.
  3. Birds can also represent a variety of other themes: freedom, the feeling of being trapped, evil, arrogance, and mischievousness.

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Norman Bates’ office in the Bates Motel in “Psycho” (1960)

Other favorite birds of mine:

  1. Donald Duck.  Look for him in Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land (1959).  Perhaps the only good math-related movie ever made.
  2. Daffy Duck.  His “Duck Amuck” (1953) cartoon is hilarious.
  3. Woodstock from Peanuts.  He doesn’t do much except be Snoopy’s companion, but he has his moments.
  4. Roadrunner.  He says so much by saying so little “beep beep” which roughly translates to “ha ha” when said to Wile E. Coyote after successfully evading yet another trap. Why does Wile E. Coyote want to eat him so much anyway? I doubt he’s got that much meat on him.
  5. Piper from the Pixar short.  This bird is just so cute!

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Piper from Piper (2016) Pixar’s short film. Look at his face!

This post was inspired by my bird, Buddy, a yellow-sided green cheek conure:

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Buddy the bird, enjoying some mango!