Gregory Peck was vehemently against nuclear war and believed strongly that atomic weapons should not have been used against Japan during World War II. Peck’s strong beliefs were one of the main reasons why he agreed to appear in On the Beach. Even in the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan revealed his defense missile system, Peck did not hesitate to voice his opposition. He made it a point during his lifetime to advocate against the use of nuclear weapons.
On the Beach is a film that demonstrates the devastation that nuclear weaponry can cause–even to those who weren’t the main targets. The folks depicted in this film are collateral damage, innocent bystanders, if you will. These people were just living their lives until World War III broke out in 1964. During this war, nuclear weapons were used, leading to the Northern Hemisphere being destroyed due to radiation. All the survivors fled to the Southern Hemisphere, mainly Australia, where the area was still habitable. Life seems to be going well for awhile, until it is discovered that the radiation is slowly making its way to Australia.
Gregory Peck portrays Captain Dwight Towers, an American who operates the USS Sawfish submarine. The USS Sawfish was submerged during the initial radiation fallout and emerges in Melbourne, Australia. Dwight begins to ingratiate himself into the Melbourne community. He quickly meets and befriends Royal Australian Navy Lieutenant Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins). He and his wife are trying to make a life for themselves in Melbourne with their newborn daughter, Jennifer. Dwight also meets the world weary, cynical, but romantic Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner). Dwight is quick to tell Moira that he’s married and has a son, but he is harboring a secret. Moira and Dwight attend a party where her ex-beau, scientist Julian Osborn (Fred Astaire), is drunkenly holding court.
Up until the party, the film has an uncomfortable vibe. There is something going on in the community, something causing anxiety, fear, and worry. However, up until this point, nothing is explicitly said. Then a drunken Julian blurts out the bad news: the radiation is slowly creeping up on Melbourne and its citizens will be dead within months–there’s nothing that can be done. Everyone is doomed. Melbourne is one of the last places in the world where humanity can survive. This is an end of the world scenario. Humanity will cease to exist. As one can imagine, Julian’s doom and gloom outburst kills the party. Moira is drunk. Julian is obviously drunk. She explains to Dwight that they’re collectively known as the town drunks.
JULIAN: “Who would have ever believed that human beings would be stupid enough to blow themselves off the face of the Earth?”
Fred Astaire as “Julian Osborn” in On the Beach (1959)
Peter’s wife, Mary (Donna Anderson), understandably has a hard time coping and accepting the news. She is in denial and keeps trying to go about her day as if she had many more ahead of her. Peter on the other hand, is more pragmatic and manages to get a doctor to give him and his family (including his newborn) a lethal amount of sleeping pills so that they can commit suicide rather than face sickness from radiation poisoning. If this film wasn’t bleak enough, the idea that two parents would have to administer a lethal dose of pills to murder their baby is pretty dark. This is not a silly disaster film.
Eventually, there’s a glimmer of hope when a faint signal is detected off the coast of San Francisco in the United States. Dwight, Peter, Julian, and the crew of the USS Sawfish embark on a journey to see if there is life somewhere else–another world that they and their loved ones can relocate to and thrive. However, the hope was just that, a glimmer. As the film wears on, the characters in the film begin to accept their fate and start being proactive to make the process as painless as possible.
This is a very bleak and depressing film. There are no funny monsters. No outrageous natural disasters. This is a man-made problem that could very well happen–which makes it more terrifying. Every character deals with their inevitable fate in their own way. However, the scene between Mary and Peter, when Mary finally accepts what is going to happen, especially what is going to happen to their newborn baby, is absolutely heartbreaking. It might be the saddest scene in the film which is saying a lot because this film is just one sad, painful scene after another. The action in this film is very relatable in anyone’s life. While it might not be the threat of nuclear annihilation, the idea that one person’s or a group of people’s actions could completely ruin or end (!) another person or people’s lives is a very real thing that can happen. It happens everywhere, everyday.
One scene that I enjoyed was the very bittersweet, romantic, yet mournful rendition of “Waltzing Matilda” juxtaposed with a scene of Moira and Dwight engaged in a deep, passionate kiss, while the camera twirls around them. In other films, this scene would be a sign of joy, of romance–not in On the Beach. The characters and the audience know that there will not be many more moments like this in Moira and Dwight’s future.
MOIRA: “There isn’t time. No time to love…nothing to remember…nothing worth remembering.”
Ava Gardner as “Moira Davidson” in On the Beach (1959)
Gregory Peck plays one of his usual stoic, strong characters who has to guide everyone through the film and provide support. However, his character’s personal trauma lends a layer of vulnerability, and hope, even if bittersweet. Anthony Perkins also plays one of his usual nervous characters; but in this film his character is just sad. He is trying to do his job, but it’s easy to see that his heart isn’t entirely in it, as he knows what fate awaits his family. The real revelations in this film were the performances of Fred Astaire and Ava Gardner.
On the Beach was Fred Astaire’s first foray into dramatic acting. This film is not a typical Fred Astaire vehicle. He doesn’t sing. He doesn’t tap. He doesn’t wear tails. The Fred Astaire in this film is bitter, reflective, angry, and tired. This is a tortured man. He’s tired of being blamed for the nuclear war because he’s a scientist. He regrets having helped design and build these atomic weapons. Throughout the entire film, Astaire’s character drinks excessively and chain-smokes. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Fred Astaire call someone “an ass.”
JULIAN: “The war started when people accepted the idiotic principle that peace could be maintained by arranging to defend themselves with weapons they couldn’t possibly use without committing suicide.”
Fred Astaire as “Julian Osborn” in On the Beach (1959)
Ava Gardner’s performance in On the Beach was also fantastic. This is a cynical woman. She’s upset (as anyone would be, presumably) that she is going to die. And soon! She has so much life that she hasn’t lived yet. She’s not in denial about the radiation poisoning. She knows that it’s inevitable. However, in the meantime, she’s going to live it up. When Ava’s character, Moira, meets Gregory Peck’s Dwight, she falls in love with him. However, things are complicated at first when he says that he is married and has children. She doesn’t want to live out her last days as a homewrecker. However, when she learns the truth, she’s even more conflicted. Moira and Dwight though are the film’s great love affair. Both realize that if they’re going to die, they may as well go out on a high note. It’s bittersweet that Moira and Dwight have both finally found happiness, even if it will ultimately be short-lived.
I recommend On the Beach to anyone who wants to watch four great performances while also watching one of the most depressing films that I’ve ever seen. What makes this film even more depressing is that its premise is not inconceivable. While the film is fictional, nuclear weapons and radiation is very real. What would we do? How would we handle it?
May 16th is National Classic Movie Day. And what would be better to watch during these trying times than a classic film? This year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe’s annual blogathon is devoted to the 1960s. All participants have been asked to list their favorite films of this decade.
The 1960s are an interesting time for classic film as the Production Code and Studio System were all but gone. Sandra Dee, 50s/60s teen queen, was Universal Studios’ last contract star. Most of the classic film stars of the studio system were either retired, and unfortunately, many were deceased. Some of the younger stars of that era, e.g. Doris Day and Lauren Bacall, to name a couple, were still active, but even then their stars were waning. The 1960s brought a new crop of stars: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, to name a few. Some child stars, like Natalie Wood, had successfully transitioned out of juvenile roles and into ones for adults.
This year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe has asked bloggers to name their six favorite films of the 1960s.
Without further ado:
I’m sure everyone is familiar with this film. The violent shower scene where Janet Leigh meets her demise is iconic. Norman Bates’ name is synonymous with “mommy issues.” The fictional Bates Motel is infamous. I love Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. This is probably my second favorite Hitchcock film after Rear Window. I am not a big horror movie fan, but this film is more psychological than slasher and in true Hitchcock fashion, there are even some funny, albeit, macabre parts as well.
Janet Leigh stars as Marion Crane, a secretary for a local real estate company in Phoenix. On a Friday afternoon, she meets with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), for a quickie during lunch. Their rendezvous is complicated when Sam announces that he cannot marry Marion because of debts he incurred after divorcing his first wife. Marion, disappointed, returns to work. When she arrives, her employer is in the middle of settling a large real estate deal. The client ends up giving Marion’s boss $40,000 cash as a down payment. Marion, seeing an opportunity to solve Sam’s money woes, so that they can marry, feigns a headache. Her boss, not wanting such a large sum of cash in the office over the weekend, asks Marion to deposit the cash on her way home. Marion absconds with the money instead and drives to California where Sam lives.
While enroute, there’s a fantastic scene (with Bernard Hermann’s amazing score) where Marion is driving and she imagines her boss’ conversation after he discovers that she’s stolen the money. Marion trades in her vehicle after a weird encounter with a police officer who keeps questioning her when she acts odd and suspicious after he wakes her up from a roadside nap. During a heavy rainstorm, Marion comes across a motel off the beaten path– The Bates Motel. The proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), is a little odd, but seems harmless.
Unfortunately, Marion is never seen again.
The remainder of the film deals with her sister, Lila (Vera Miles), Sam, and Detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam), trying to find out what happened to Marion. It becomes clear to all involved that Norman has a weird relationship with his mother. Lila and Arbogast decide that Mrs. Bates might hold the key to the whole mystery.
***SPOILER*** These are my favorite scenes:
Marion’s infamous shower scene
Lila tapping on the shoulder of “Mrs. Bates” and having the chair spin around only to see a skeleton wearing a wig.
“Mrs. Bates” stabbing Arbogast and him falling down the stairs.
Norman Bates’ reveal as “Mrs. Bates” That scene is funny, if anything.
The last scene featuring a close-up of Norman Bates’ face with “Mrs. Bates” providing the internal monologue. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Cape Fear (1962)
I saw this film for the first time a couple years ago. Prior to that, my only experience with Cape Fear was the Simpsons parody with Sideshow Bob assuming the Robert Mitchum role. I saw Scorsese’s 1991 remake last year and while it was okay, I preferred the original. Scorsese’s version was too graphic and gross. I liked the subtlety of the original. Cape Fear, in my opinion, is very progressive for 1962. It might be one of the first sexual thrillers. This film is terrifying and Robert Mitchum deserves all the credit for imbuing the film with the creepy and uncomfortable atmosphere present through the entire film. In Scorsese’s 1991 remake, Robert DeNiro assumes Mitchum’s role, and in my opinion, Mitchum was much more effective. DeNiro was just creepy, gross, and a complete psychopath. Mitchum, on the other hand, was creepy, but also possessed that dreamy quality (which also makes him excel in romantic roles). He was believable as a man who could charm a potential victim into spending time with him–only for her to realize his true character when it was too late. DeNiro is just a creep from the start.
The original Cape Fear takes place in contemporary 1962 Georgia. Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), has just been released from prison. He has just completed an 8-year stint after being convicted of rape. What’s interesting in this film is that Max’s crime is never explicitly stated, but is implied. After leaving prison, Max travels to the hometown of Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), a lawyer who assisted in delivering the eyewitness testimony that sealed Max’s case and got him convicted and incarcerated. Max is determined to get revenge on Sam. He promptly discovers where he lives. The remainder of the film deals with Max stalking both Sam and his family. It gets even worse when Max sets his sights on Sam’s 14-year old daughter, Nancy.
There is a terrifying scene between Max and a woman he picks up at a bar, Diane Taylor (Barrie Chase). This scene is made even more disturbing in the 1991 Scorsese version.
The highlight (and scariest part) of the film is the famous houseboat scene–parodied perfectly on The Simpsons. Sam’s family heads to their houseboat in Cape Fear, North Carolina, in an effort to lure Max. The scene between Max and Sam’s wife, Peggy (Polly Bergen) on the houseboat is so disturbing– it just gives me the willies thinking about it.
This film is fantastic and highly worth watching. I recommend watching it in the dark to get the full effect. In fact, I may watch this movie tonight in honor of National Classic Film Day.
Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968)
Full disclosure: I love The Brady Bunch. I can watch it all day long and I never tire of it. However, other family sitcoms, e.g. Full House, I can only take an episode or two at a time. Both sitcoms have overly sappy moments, both can be saccharine at times, there are lessons to be learned in each episode… so what’s the difference between the two shows? I have no idea, except the The Brady Bunch is superior.
In 1968, when Sherwood Schwartz was looking for a new project, he came across a newspaper column offering the statistic that 30% of marriages involve children from a previous marriage. He created a pilot for a series involving Mike Brady, a widower with three children, falling in love with and marrying Carol Martin, a divorcee with three children. Due to objections from the network, Carol’s marital status was made more ambiguous. Schwartz presented his pilot to all the major networks. Each network liked the project, but requested multiple changes. Then, two films about mixed families premiered– With Six You Get Eggroll (Doris Day & Brian Keith), and Yours, Mine and Ours (Lucille Ball & Henry Fonda), the latter film turning a major profit. The success of ‘Yours,’ served as the impetus for one network, ABC, to take a chance and greenlight The Brady Bunch.
Yours, Mine and Ours is based on the true story of Frank Beardsley and Helen North, two widowers who, between the two of them, have enough children to play an entire baseball game–defense and offense. They meet and marry and then try to unite their families and manage their massive household. Lucille Ball’s production company, Desilu, purchased the rights to Helen Beardsley’s (nee North) autobiography, Who Gets the Drumstick? Ball enlisted her I Love Lucy writing dream team, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh to write the screenplay. Ball, of course, would play the role of Helen North. She enlisted her friend (and former beau), Henry Fonda, to play her husband, Frank Beardsley.
Frank works in the Navy and has recently left his post on the USS Enterprise. He has taken on a new role (one that presumably keeps him at home) working as a project officer. One day, at the commissary, he meets Helen North, a nurse on the base. They have a friendly, cordial meeting. But nothing comes of it. Later, Frank and Helen reunite when Frank has to bring 12-year old daughter Louise in for an exam. Frank and Helen hit it off and decide to go out on a date. The trouble? Frank and Helen are both single parents to a large number of children. Frank has 10 children, Helen has 8.
While on the date (at a VERY crowded club), there’s a funny scene where Helen practices nonchalantly telling Frank about her 8 children. Since she’s practicing out-loud, the men around her think that she’s coming onto them. Later, there is another funny scene where her fake eyelashes (courtesy of her daughters) keep falling off and later her pinned up slip falls down (her girls also shortened her dress, making her slip too long).
Finally, the truth comes out when Frank and Helen make their respective broods known to one another. After some funny scenes with the children including a manic Lucille Ball crying/drunk scene, and a near break-up, Helen and Frank marry and then work on combining their respective households–but not without help from Frank’s buddy, Darrel (Van Johnson).
My favorite scene is when Frank is doling out bedroom and bathroom assignments. Each bedroom is assigned a letter. The bathrooms are assigned a color. The children are assigned a number, based on their position within the group of children. There’s a funny quote when one of the younger children (11/18) walks down the hallway, repeating the mantra over and over: “I’m 11, red, A.” For the record, in my house, I’m 1, red, A. My husband is 2, red, A. My sister/boarder, is 3, red, B.
I’m not usually a big fan of children-centric movies/shows or actors (which probably makes my love of The Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours, even more bewildering)–but both The Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours are free of the annoying, precocious child with a catch phrase–so that’s probably why I like them. For the record: My favorite Brady kid is Marcia (close second: Greg), and my favorite Yours, Mine and Ours child is Phillip (perhaps the Jan Brady of the Beardsley household), close second: Veronica)
For the record, these are the children in their order of rank:
Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)
I know that this is not the best movie in the world. It’s not even the best of the Gidget franchise. However, I love this movie. It’s so ridiculous in the best possible way. First of all, we’re supposed to believe that this is a continuation of 1959’s Gidget–just look past the fact that Deborah Walley (Gidget in Gidget Goes Hawaiian) looks absolutely nothing like Sandra Dee (the original Gidget in Gidget). The sequel even went as far as to film “flashbacks” of scenes from the first film, with Walley wearing some of Dee’s costumes! Gidget’s parents in the second film–Carl Reiner as Russ and Jeff Donnell as Dorothy, are completely different. Arthur O’Connell and Mary LaRoche assumed the roles in the Dee film. In the first film, only the surfer boys refer to Gidget by her nickname. Gidget’s parents refer to her by another nickname, “Francie,” based on her real name: Frances. In the second film, everyone calls Gidget by her nickname. The one constant in both films? And really the only constant that even matters? James Darren’s Jeff “Moondoggie” Matthews.
In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Gidget and Jeff are still together. At the end of the first film, Gidget turns 17 and is entering her senior year of high school. Jeff is a college student, who is on summer break and planning to return to school in the fall. We can assume that Jeff is either a year or two older than Gidget. In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, the timeline is a little fuzzy. Presumably, this is a year or so after Gidget, based on the fact that Jeff is on summer vacation, returning to college again in the fall. At this point, Gidget is presumably at least 18, and perhaps Jeff is 20-21 (He’s still in college in 1963’s Gidget Goes to Rome. Super senior? Pursuing a MA?) He gives Gidget his pin at the beginning of the film, something that he did at the end of the Dee film. Is this a continuity error? I’m not sure. I choose to believe that perhaps Jeff got another pin and is giving it to Gidget. I really don’t know. Regardless, in Gidget’s world, Jeff has just proposed marriage, and they’re basically engaged now.
After an idyllic summer of surfing, bonfires on the beach and romantic dates, Gidget and Jeff reach their last two weeks of vacation together, before Jeff has to leave for school. Then Gidget’s dad drops a bombshell–he’s booked a two-week trip to Hawaii for the family. Most people would be ecstatic at this news, but not Gidget. She’s devastated, as two weeks is all she and Jeff have left together until he leaves for school. Her father is understandably both upset and bewildered at Gidget’s unhappiness. Gidget tries to get sympathy from Jeff, and he tells her that this trip is an opportunity of a lifetime (because it is) and that she’d be nuts not to go. Gidget, because she’s bonkers, takes Jeff’s encouragement as a sign that he’s indifferent to her leaving or not, gets mad, and breaks up with him. Meanwhile, Gidget’s parents have decided to turn their family trip into a romantic trip and cancel Gidget’s adjoining room. Gidget then announces that she’s coming on the trip after all, and her parents scramble to re-book her room. Her adjoining room is gone, but they’re able to book her a single room down the hall. Gidget and her family are on their way to Hawaii.
While on the plane, Gidget and her parents become acquainted with another family on board–Monty (Eddie Foy, Jr.) and Mitzi (Peggy Cass) Stewart and their daughter Abby (Vicki Trickett). Abby and Gidget are the same age. While seated on the plane together, Gidget and Abby get to talking. Gidget bares her soul to Abby about Jeff and how lost she is without him. The whole group is staying at the same Hawaiian hotel together. While at the hotel, Gidget and Abby meet Eddie Horner (Michael Callan), a dancer who is appearing at the hotel. The girls, Eddie and his friends all spend time together during the trip.
Gidget is miserable during the beginning of the trip. She just sits and mopes in the hotel, refusing to take in the sights of Hawaii. Her parents are understandably concerned. Gidget’s dad arranges to have Jeff fly to Hawaii as a surprise for Gidget. Between Gidget’s moping and Jeff’s arrival in Hawaii, she comes out of her shell and quickly wins over Eddie and the guys. Abby is jealous of Gidget’s popularity and appeal to the boys and quickly resents her.
I really like this film because it’s fun and has amusing moments. I do feel bad for Deborah Walley–only because I feel the costume team did her a real disservice. Gidget is presumably at least 18, but is dressed like she’s 12. Walley is not chubby by any means, but her tight, short waisted, twee dresses greatly undermine her figure. She looks best in her swimwear and when Gidget imagines that she’s a streetwalker. I also don’t know what’s up with the half up, half down hairstyle she sports–it’s not appealing. But I’ve seen it on other women during the early 60s, so I’ll assume that it was the style.
Where the Boys Are (1960)
If there’s one thing I love, it’s teen beach movies. I love all of them: Gidget, Beach Party, everything. One of the best films of this genre is Where the Boys Are. This film has more in common with the coming of age story in Gidget (1959) and less with the wackniess of the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies. Much like Gidget, this film is progressive in its discussion of not only teenage sexuality, but the sexuality of young, unmarried, women. Where the Boys Are tells the story of four young college women (Freshmen) who travel to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a two week spring vacation.
Merritt Andrews (Dolores Hart) is a young woman who talks a good game when it comes to young women being free to date, makeout and have sex (aka “backseat bingo”) with whomever she wants. This progressive attitude of course scandalizes the professor of the “Courtship and Marriage” class. It is obvious that the four main characters in the film attend an all-female university. Merritt’s outspoken views have her kept under close watch by the school’s dean. At the conclusion of the school day, Merritt and her friends Melanie Tolman (Yvette Mimimeux), Tuggle Carpenter (Paula Prentiss), and Angie NoLastName (Connie Francis) set off for Fort Lauderdale.
While on the road, the girls come across TV Thompson (Jim Hutton) who is looking to hitch a ride to Florida. After being impressed by his height and shoe size, Tuggle (who stands 5’10.5 and desperately seeks a taller man) invites him into the car. They arrive in Florida and check into their apartment. As the events of the film unfold, it becomes apparent that each girl has a different viewpoint when it comes to sex.
MERRITT: Outspoken advocate of pre-marital sex. Talks a good game, but might not be as experienced and confident as she lets on. She meets Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), a senior at Brown University. He’s wealthy and his intelligence is on-par with Merritt’s. It becomes clear that he probably actually has the experience that Merritt talks about and it seems that he may have been led on by her at first.
TUGGLE: Strives to become a wife and mother “the chaste way,” she says. Tuggle believes that her height and build has her destined to become the mother to multiple children. She is more traditional and doesn’t particularly share Merritt’s opinion about sex. She wants to meet a man, marry and then have sex after marriage. TV ends up becoming her beau throughout the film and at first seems to be upset about her wanting to be a “good girl.” However, TV seems like a good guy.
MELANIE: She’s insecure about her lack of experience and takes Merritt’s outspoken views to heart. Her main goal while in Florida is to meet a “Yale-ie” and lose her virginity. Unfortunately for Melanie, she might be dealt the worst hand in this film. She meets a couple Yale-ies in the film.
ANGIE: Angie is your classic tomboy. She’s a pretty girl, but isn’t tall like Tuggle, or blonde like Melanie and Merritt. She’s short and brunette and a little curvier than the other girls. Angie is the captain of her school’s field hockey team. Nobody worries what Angie is doing on vacation or while at school. It is implied that everyone just assumes that Angie won’t have to worry about pressure to have premarital sex. The one asset Angie does have is that she has a killer voice. Her voice attracts the attention of Basil (Frank Gorshin) a didactic jazz musician.
This film has some very funny scenes such as at the club when the gang watches Lola Fandango (Barbara Nichols) perform an Esther Williams-esque underwater number; and when Angie and Merritt attempt to save money by ordering hot water (and dipping in their own contraband tea bag) at a restaurant. I also love the scenes showing the mob at the beach and in their hotel room (the girls end up sharing their 2-bed room with 7 other girls). There are also some very serious scenes as well as some sweet ones.
This is an excellent film for anyone who loves coming of age stories, teen beach movies, or movies with killer title theme songs.
Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Last but not least, one of my other favorite films of the 1960s is the cult classic, Valley of the Dolls. This film is so ridiculous in all the best ways possible. Prior to watching this film, I was unaware that “dolls” was a term for pills. I always thought that the “dolls” in the title referred to the women in the film. Oh how I was wrong.
This movie is amazing. Everyone in this film has a million problems. The most sane person is probably Susan Hayward’s Helen Lawson, and even she’s a piece of work. Based on Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 novel of the same name, this film tells the story of Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) a recent college graduate who takes a job as a secretary at a theatrical agency. Their number one client is Helen Lawson–an aging, and cutthroat Broadway star. Helen is appearing in a new show, which is featuring a young ingenue, Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke). Neely is very talented and Helen fears that Neely will overshadow her performance. In an effort to get Neely to quit the show, Helen orders for all of Neely’s best scenes, including her big musical number, cut. The ruse works and Neely is out. Anne is immediately disheartened with show-biz after witnessing Helen’s cruel behavior toward Neely, but is convinced by her employer to not quit and stay with the company.
Anne and Neely befriend another young woman, Jennifer North (Sharon Tate). Jennifer is gorgeous, but her talent is limited. Neely’s agent at the theatrical agency (which employs Anne) lands her an appearance on a telethon, which leads to a nightclub gig, and so-on. The audience is treated to an amazing 1960s montage of Neely’s rise to success. Neely is offered a Hollywood contract and off she goes. Unfortunately, the pressure of the business and instant success gets the best of Neely and soon she’s a glorious, alcoholic, doll-addicted disaster. In all honesty, Neely’s complete collapse and self-destruction is the highlight of the film. I know it’s campy, over-the-top, and absolutely absurd, but I love it. Neely O’Hara was my hero in this film. One particular highlight is when a drunk, drugged out of her gourd Neely goes to a bar. She plays her own song on the jukebox and plays the “don’t you know who I am?” card. Nobody knows who she is because she’s a shell of her former self.
Unfortunately, the other two ladies, Anne and Jennifer, don’t fare much better, though Anne’s plight lasts all of 5 minutes. I wish she’d self-destructed a little bit more.
The absolute best part of the entire film is the showdown between Neely and Helen. It is amazing and one of my all-time favorite movie scenes. I absolutely love this movie from start to finish. It is worthy of its status as one of the all-time best campy, cult films. Lee Grant has an appearance as the sister to Jennifer’s beau. Dionne Warwick sings the very melancholy theme song.
Now I want to watch this movie. Valley of the Dolls / Cape Fear double feature? Is that weird?
I recently checked a new book out from the library, TCM: Movie Night Menus: Dinner and Drink Recipes Inspired by the Films we Love. While I questioned some of the meals, I liked the idea of pairing a meal and a cocktail with a film. A decade or so ago, TBS had a television show that followed these same lines. It, I believe, was called “Dinner and a Movie.” In the show, the hosts would prepare a meal that was loosely themed to the featured film. Usually it had some cutesy name (often times the name was a pun on the name of the film). I liked the ideas featured in the TCM book as it was less corny and seemed more in tune with my idea of making film viewing an event in and of itself. Who says you have to leave the house to “go out” ?
I’ve been trying to come up with some type of feature for the blog. I often enjoy pairing drinks and/or meals with specific films. Even if this is my hundredth time watching the film, it can feel like a different experience in the context of a dinner and drink event. For my first feature, I went with Roman Holiday (1953). I decided to go with Roman Holiday, because I wanted to watch something that took place in Italy to go with my Italian meal. I made lasagna and paired it with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from California. I’m not going to include recipes, because lets face it, I had to use a recipe to make the meal in the first place–so it’s not my recipe. My lasagna happened to be made with italian turkey sausage (instead of the traditional ground beef or ground beef and pork sausage blend). The turkey makes the meal feel lighter. I also added fresh spinach to the ricotta filling.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. I USUALLY TRY NOT TO BLOW PLOT POINTS, BUT I NEED TO DO SO FOR THE SAKE OF DISCUSSION***
Roman Holiday is such a delight. It is Audrey Hepburn’s first major film role and is the film that catapulted her to stardom. Peck was very kind to Hepburn during the making of this film. At this point, Peck was the bigger star and should have received sole star billing (i.e. above the title). However, he felt that this was Hepburn’s film and that she would win an Oscar for it. He insisted to the studio heads that Hepburn’s name also appear above the title with his. He was right. Hepburn went on to win the Best Actress Oscar for her work in this film. Peck and Hepburn went on to be life long friends.
In this film, Hepburn portrays Princess Ann. Princess Ann’s nationality I do not believe is ever disclosed in this film. Princess Ann is on a European tour and is quickly growing bored with her regimented routine and schedule. One night, appearing at another function (undoubtedly just one of hundreds that she has to attend), Ann has a breakdown after being briefed on her next appearance. A doctor gives her a sedative (seemingly every doctor in the Golden Age’s solution. “She’s hysterical. Give her a sedative”). Not knowing about the sedative, Princess Ann sneaks out of the embassy and into Rome. Joe Bradley (Peck), an American reporter for the American news service comes across her sleeping on a bench. Not knowing of her true identity, he tries to give her money for a taxi to go home, but she’s too out of it to cooperate. He ends up taking her home to sleep it off.
The next morning, word is out that Princess Ann has taken ill and has canceled all appearances (obviously the embassy is trying to save face and figure out where she is). Bradley ends up going to work late under the pretense that he’s completed his interview with Princess Ann. His boss calls him out on his lie. Bradley sees a photograph of the Princess in the newspaper in his boss’ office. Seeing an opportunity, Bradley bets his boss $5,000 that he can get an exclusive interview with Princess Ann. He returns home and despite the Princess’ hesitations, he ends up taking her out for a day of fun in Rome. With her newfound freedom, Princess Ann cuts her hair short and even drives a Vespa around town! Unbeknownst to her, Bradley has hired his friend Irving (Eddie Albert) to photograph the Princess during her day of freedom.
Many romantic comedies involve deception. Roman Holiday features multiple deceptions. Gregory Peck deceives Audrey Hepburn in two ways: 1) He knows her true identity but pretends like he doesn’t and 2) He tells her that he is a fertilizer salesman. Audrey Hepburn deceives Gregory Peck by devising her fake identity of “Anya.” Of course, Hepburn’s deception seems reasonable, as she wouldn’t want word to get out as to her whereabouts. Peck on the other hand, at the beginning of the film, is lying to Hepburn purely to profit off of her decision to be “free.” Of course, in most of these romantic comedies, the characters usually find out about the other’s deception and the relationship seems to be in jeopardy at first until one of them makes a great gesture.
In Roman Holiday, however, Hepburn never finds out about Peck’s true intentions. In fact, she realizes that her jig is up when the government agents track her town at a party and chaos ensues. At the conclusion of the party, Hepburn bids Peck adieu, stating that she must resume her royal duties. Peck realizes that he’s developed true romantic feelings for her and doesn’t want to hurt her by profiting off of the photos he has of Hepburn acting very un-Princess like. While appearing at another meet and greet event, Peck and Albert present Hepburn with the photos of her trip under the guise of a generic memento of her trip to Rome. Hepburn and Peck exchange some vague but direct allusions to their day together while maintaining the appropriate distance between a royal and a “strange” reporter. At the conclusion of the event, Peck is left to wonder what could have been as he leaves Princess Ann. I can’t help but think that Peck’s character will stick around in Rome hoping to see Princess Ann each time she visits–or perhaps he’ll get an assignment in Princess Ann’s country.
When I first saw this film, I loved Audrey Hepburn’s character but thought that Gregory Peck seemed wooden. I have had that same opinion of Peck in other films, but as I see more of him and learned about him as a person outside of the silver screen, I’ve grown to appreciate him more. Now, when I watch him in Roman Holiday, he still has that deep, stiff sounding voice. However, now his deep voice lends itself to sounding more romantic and strong–which is a good quality for a leading man. He and Audrey have magnificent chemistry. Audrey’s effervescence is a nice contrast to Peck’s tendency to seem too serious and she helps lighten him up a bit.
This film is filled with so much joy and happiness that it is impossible to tire of it. This film was a wonderful way to introduce Audrey Hepburn to the American public.