Tag Archives: James Stewart

Happy National Classic Movie Day!

Once again I’ve fallen off the posting train.  I need to make it more of a habit, but I struggle to find time.  Then, I had trouble with my WordPress account and I couldn’t post.  I finally got that fixed.  I didn’t want to miss posting on National Classic Movie Day.  I also plan to post about the late, great Doris Day soon.

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For this year’s National Classic Movie Day, the Classic Film and TV Cafe are asking participants to post his or her top 5 favorite films from the 1950s.

Without further adieu, here are mine:

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The Long, Long Trailer (1954)

This is my absolute favorite movie of all time.  I have probably seen it a hundred times (no exaggeration). I’m a big fan of I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball.  The Long, Long Trailer is basically a 90-minute I Love Lucy episode.  Ball and Desi Arnaz’ (aka Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy) character’s first names in ‘Trailer’ are very similar to those of their Ricardo counterparts– Tacy and Nicky, respectively.  This MGM comedy is hilarious and I never tire of it, even though I’m at the point where I can recite the dialogue.  Quotes from this film regularly make it into everyday conversations I have with friends and family (only those who have seen this film of course).  My favorite quote to use, while driving, is “Turn right here, left.”

The Long, Long Trailer tells the story of Tacy and Nicky Collini, newlyweds who are embarking on a road-trip for their honeymoon: Los Angeles to Colorado.  The Collinis decide to purchase a 40′ New Moon trailer for their journey.  The film depicts the Collinis trying to handle trailer life and all the trials and tribulations that come with it: noisy trailer parks, parking on uneven surfaces, getting stuck in the mud, spending the night on a noisy highway, weight limits, cooking, parking, backing in, and more.  Will the newlyweds’ marriage survive the trip?

My favorite part of the movie is when Tacy and Nicky decide to go off-roading and end up stuck in the mud.  The trailer is all whopperjawed. Tacy and Nicky get through dinner and go to bed.  Nicky is on the downhill side.  He has no issues getting into bed.  Tacy on the other hand, is on the uphill side and can’t stay in bed.  One may ask why she doesn’t make her husband move over and she can share his bed.  Well that would be the logical solution, but since this is Lucy, that isn’t going to happen.  After a couple of feeble attempts to get into bed, the jack holding the trailer up (kind of) collapses in the mud and Tacy goes flying out the door.  Nicky, awoken by his wife’s blood-curdling scream, comes to the door and says: “What’s the matter honey? Can’t you sleep?”  While sitting in a 5′ deep mud puddle, Tacy gives him a look that could only convey “[expletive] you.”

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Gidget (1959)

I’ve mentioned Gidget many times on this blog, but it’s worth mentioning again.  I love this movie.  I’ve seen it dozens of times and I never tire of it.  Sandra Dee is adorable.  James Darren is hunky.  The story is relatable. Gidget was the start of the 1950s-1960s teen surf movie craze and I’m all in for teen surf movies.  Of all the teen surf movies (the ‘Beach Party’ films, For Those Who Think Young, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, etc.) the original Gidget film is the best.

In this coming of age story, Sandra Dee plays the titular character, Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, a seventeen year old tomboy who is uneasy about her girlfriends’ new hobby: manhunting.  Frances is more interested in snorkeling than finding a boyfriend.  Her friends on the other hand, act like they’ll be old maids if they aren’t “pinned” by the end of the summer aka the beginning of their senior year of high school.  The girls (except Frances) try posturing and flaunting themselves in front of a group of male surfers, but fail to catch their attention.  Frances clumsily tries to play along, but gets frustrated and goes snorkeling instead.  Her friends ditch her.  Frances, swimming in the ocean, gets stuck in kelp.

In the first of a couple kelp episodes, Frances is saved by one of the surfer boys, “Moondoggie,” played by James Darren.  Frances is infatuated with him from the get-go.  And frankly, who wouldn’t be? Frances is nicknamed “Gidget” by the boys (a portmanteau of “girl” and “midget”).  She also takes an interest in surfing and is soon hanging out with the boys everyday.  Her surfing skills steadily improve and pretty soon, she’s good enough to really “hang” with the boys.  Throughout all the surfing scenes, Gidget and Moondoggie grow closer, culminating with a kiss at the luau.  However, Gidget’s awkwardness threatens to keep them apart.

My favorite part of this film is probably Moondoggie serenading Gidget at the luau and planting the kiss on her.  I also love the scene with the fight at Kahuna’s beach shack and the elderly neighbor’s witness statement to the police: “When I saw that other one (Moondoggie) run in there (the beach shack). I knew there’d be trouble. I can spot trouble through a crack in the blinds.”

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All About Eve (1950)

One of the best known classics in Hollywood, I never tire of this film.  The cast.  The dialogue.  The story.  Everything about this film is perfect–except Thelma Ritter’s abrupt exit during the first half of the film.  What happened to Birdie? She went to get the guest’s coat and never came back! This story is timeless, even in real life.  No matter how great and indispensable you think you may be, there’s always someone waiting in the wings who is better than you are.

All About Eve begins at the Sarah Siddons Award ceremony.  Rising star Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is slated to receive the prestigious Sarah Siddons award, the highest honor given to persons in the theater community.  As acerbic critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) introduces the cast of characters, us as the audience knows that there is a story behind Eve’s rise to stardom.  Huge star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) looks like she wants to shoot Eve.  The playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) and director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) of Eve’s award-winning play do not look proud or happy in the slightest.  Lloyd’s wife, Karen (Celeste Holm) takes over the narration and lets the audience in on the true story about Eve Harrington.

On a rainy night, after another performance of Margo’s hit play, “Aged in Wood,” Karen comes across Eve, a young woman she’s repeatedly spotted waiting outside the backstage exit.  Thinking she’s doing the young woman a favor, Karen invites the young woman inside to meet her idol, Margo Channing.  Little does Karen know what lurks ahead.  As the story progresses, we see Eve slowly insinuate herself into Margo’s personal and professional life.  Perhaps this is why Birdie disappears! Eve’s goal is to star in Lloyd’s next play, Footsteps on the Ceiling.

What I love about this film is how slowly Eve’s scheme unfolds.  It is not obvious that Eve is taking over Margo’s life.  It’s only through the music, Birdie’s “I told you so” face, and Margo’s growing frustration that we figure out what Eve is doing.  As Eve gets away with more and more, the more brazen she becomes–such as calling Lloyd to her apartment in the middle of the night.  My favorite part of the film is Addison’s take-down of Eve and Eve’s comeuppance at the end when she meets #1 fan, Phoebe (Barbara Bates).

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Pillow Talk (1959)

Starring the recently departed Doris Day, this film is her first of three films with co-star Rock Hudson.  Of their three films together, the others being Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964)Pillow Talk is my favorite.  I love the catchy theme song, Doris and Rock’s undeniable chemistry, Tony Randall, and Doris’ gorgeous wardrobe.  The film is funny, romantic and a little sexy.

In Pillow Talk, Doris stars as Jan Morrow, an interior decorator.  She’s a successful career woman who’s driven up the wall by the romantic escapades of her party line partner Brad Allen, played by Rock Hudson.  Tony Randall portrays Jonathan Forbes, a mutual friend of Jan and Brad’s.  Jan and Brad bicker constantly on the party line.  Jan tries to offer a compromise over the use of the line, but Brad is unwilling to participate.  Jan ends up (unsuccessfully) filing a complaint against Brad with the phone company.

One night, Brad and Jan just happen to be at the same nightclub.  Brad sees her and learns her name, figuring out that she’s the one who he bickers with on the party line.  He concocts the fake persona of “Rex Stetson” a Texas cattle rancher.  Using a Texas drawl, Rex successfully picks up Jan and takes her home.  Soon they are seeing each other regularly.  Jan finds herself falling for “Rex.”  Brad/Rex finds himself falling for Jan.

My favorite part of this film is watching 6’5 Rock Hudson try to squeeze himself into a tiny sports car, Jan’s maid Alma (Thelma Ritter) drinking Hudson under the table, and every scene with Tony Randall.  He is hilarious.  Pillow Talk set the pace for the sexy 1960s sex comedies.  Watch 2003’s Down With Love (with Renee Zelwegger and Ewan McGregor) for a fun send-up of Pillow Talk and the other sex comedy tropes.

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Rear Window (1954)

This is my favorite Hitchock film.  Everything about this film is fantastic: the story, the dialogue, the cast, the sets, everything.  I absolutely love the set of this film.  Hitchcock’s courtyard set is amazing.  The attention to detail is fantastic.  I love how the other neighbors all have storylines, even though they never set foot in James Stewart’s apartment.  Miss Torso, Miss Lonelyhearts, The Songwriter, all the neighbors are fantastic.  The only fault in this film is the cheesy way the ending looks, but I’ll chalk that up to 1950s technology.

In Rear Window, James Stewart plays photographer LB “Jeff” Jeffries, who is homebound after breaking his leg.  He is bored and spends most of his days watching the goings on of his neighbors in the courtyard.  He devises names for the neighbors and keeps up on their lives.  One neighbor in particular, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), catches his attention.  It seems that Thorwald had an invalid wife, until all of a sudden, he didn’t. Curious about what happened to Mrs. Thorwald, Jeff begins watching him more intently with a large telephoto lens.

Jeff sees Thorwald engaged in all kinds of suspicious activity and is determined that he was behind his wife’s disappearance.  Using his binoculars and camera lenses, Jeff basically engages in a stakeout.  Throughout all his investigation work, Jeff’s girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly, and his nurse Stella, played by Thelma Ritter come and go.  At first the ladies are dismissive of Jeff’s interest in Thorwald and his determination to prove him a murderer.  However, after seeing Thorwald’s behavior first-hand, the ladies are hooked and soon join Jeff in his stakeout.  Lisa and Stella become further involved in Jeff’s independent investigation when they leave the apartment to gather evidence from Thorwald’s garden and home.

My favorite part of this film is the scene with Jeff, Lisa and Stella watching Thorwald scrub his walls.  “Must’ve splattered a lot,” Stella says matter of factly.  Lisa and Jeff look at her disgusted.  She then defends her position, saying “Come on. That’s what we’re all thinkin’. He killed her in there, now he has to clean up those stains before he leaves.” I also love Grace Kelly’s wardrobe.  If there was ever an actress who epitomized Hollywood glamor, it’s Grace Kelly.

 

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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.