With this blogathon, we had to provide the option of two films, one film produced in a year ending in an even number and another ending in an odd number. The blogathon host would then flip a coin and decide which option to assign to the author. My two films were: Walk on the Wild Side (1962) and Once a Thief (1965). I was told to write about my “even” choice. Stay tuned for my eventual entry about Once a Thief, with the beautiful Alain Delon whom I just discovered last year, thanks to guest programmer, Dana Delany on TCM!
Everyone’s favorite critic, Bosley Crowther, described Walk on the Wild Side as a “lurid, tawdry, and sleazy melodrama.” With this ringing endorsement, I knew I had to see this film! Plus, it also featured two of my faves, Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Fonda! With these two powerhouse actresses in the cast, I figured that Walk on the Wild Side, if anything, would be entertaining. I first tried to watch this film in February 2019 when my husband was in the hospital. I discovered that it was streaming on Amazon Prime. But between being tired due to trying to sleep in the uncomfortable hospital chair and then being constantly bothered by the hospital staff, and then falling asleep while trying to watch the movie, I had to give up trying to watch it. Sadly, the film dropped off Prime and I didn’t get to see it.
I finally got to see Walk on the Wild Side last year when Criterion Channel featured the film during a series they had on Jane Fonda. I was so excited to see it.
It was worth the wait.
Walk on the WildSide opens with some awesome Saul Bass-produced opening and closing credit sequences. As the opening credits are displayed, a black cat slinks its way through an urban landscape as an exciting jazz-inspired score plays. The black cat walks through the grimy neighborhood, passing broken fences, old cement pipes, rusted out plumbing and chain link. Eventually the black cat spots a white cat and picks a fight. This opening sequence is the perfect metaphor for the events that unfold in Walk on the Wild Side. The closing credits are just as fun with the black cat seen walking over a newspaper headline providing an update to the characters’ fate whom we just saw at the conclusion of the film.
Walk on the Wild Side takes place during the Great Depression. It opens with Kitty Twist (Jane Fonda) sleeping inside of a large, cement tube somewhere in rural Texas. Dove Linkhorn (Laurence Harvey), a cowboy, spots her and wakes her up. Kitty is a young woman who has spent many years as a bit of a vagabond, doing what she needs to get by. The filmmakers try to make Jane Fonda look a little rough around the edges, but despite some messy hair and baggy clothes, she still looks great. Fonda also affects a Southern drawl, much better than the one she uses in Period of Adjustment. Dove tells Kitty that he’s on his way to New Orleans. His father has died and Dove decides that this is the time to find and reunite with his lost love Hallie. He gets wind that she’s in New Orleans.
(DOVE has this completely absurd and ridiculous reminiscence about his time with Hallie. Seriously nobody would ever say this)
DOVE: “I’ll never forget the first time I met her. We went swimming together. It was at night. The way she moved in the water, like a kind of white flash. It was then I kissed her for the very first time. She gave me something I’d never known before. Something I a’int experienced since. Afterwards in the moonlight, we danced like we were celebrating a miracle. Crazy kind of dancing. We sang and shouted like it wasn’t real, as if we were in another world. Sometimes I think it never really happened to us.”
Laurence Harvey as “Dove Linkhorn” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
Kitty, not really having anywhere else to go or having anything else to do, decides to travel with Dove to New Orleans. Along the way, she shows him the ropes on hitchhiking and hopping freighters. Kitty also shows Dove the tools that women have at their disposal to get by in the world when she trades her baggy clothes in for a tight, form-hugging dress that shows off her assets to their highest potential. The ruse works and Kitty is able to get them a ride in the back of a box truck to complete the final leg of their trip. It’s obvious by this point that Kitty wants to get into Dove’s pants, but he rebuffs her every advance.
(KITTY is trying to seduce DOVE)
DOVE: “Sure I like you Kitty, but I don’t feel like foolin’.”
KITTY: “I’ll make you feel like foolin’.”
DOVE: “When I want something, I’ll ask for it!”
KITTY: “Who are you savin’ it for Dove? What’s her name?”
DOVE: “Hallie. Her name is Hallie.”
KITTY: “She’s in New Orleans?”
DOVE: “Hope so. I a’int seen her in three years.”
Jane Fonda as “Kitty Twist” and Laurence Harvey as “Dove Linkhorn” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
Upon arriving in New Orleans, Kitty and Dove stop at a small diner run by a kind Latina woman, Teresina (Anne Baxter. Yes, really. We’ll look past this for now). Kitty senses an opportunity to take advantage of Teresina’s hospitality and feigns illness after eating her meal. Teresina takes Kitty into the small bedroom behind her cafe to rest. As soon as Teresina is out of sight, Kitty loots her drawers, looking for something of value to steal. She eventually settles on Teresina’s beautiful rosary. Kitty emerges from the bedroom and she is very rude to Teresina, threatening to sue her for “poisoning” her.
(After TERESINA implies that KITTY was feigning illness while KITTY pitches a fit about being “poisoned” by TERESINA’S cooking)
KITTY: “Imagine, an innocent person walkin–“
TERESINA: “And of course, you make your living by walking.”
Jane Fonda as “Kitty Twist” and Anne Baxter as “Teresina” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
Me-ow! Kitty’s behavior at Teresina’s restaurant leads to a fight between her and Dove. As they’re leaving, Dove discovers the rosary in Kitty’s pocket and forces her to return it. They return to Teresina’s cafe and return the rosary. Kitty storms off and disappears for about half the film. As the action of the film progresses, it becomes obvious where Kitty will re-emerge. Dove’s honesty appeals to Teresina and she gives him a job at her cafe. With a place to stay and some income, Dove continues to search for Hallie. He ends up discovering that she works works at “The Doll House,” a brothel in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Now for the best part of the film–Barbara Stanwyck. My queen, Barbara Stanwyck, plays Jo, the proprietor of The Doll House. It seems that Jo discovered Hallie in New York City and brought her back to New Orleans. When Dove finds Hallie, she tells him how she came to live at The Doll House. Hallie’s story implies that she and Jo became lovers, which Hallie was receptive to because she was so lonely. Jo is very protective of Hallie, both out of a personal interest and a business interest, because Hallie is the #1 girl at The Doll House. Dove and Hallie reunite and resume their relationship, much to Jo’s chagrin.
Eventually, Kitty re-joins the film (looking amazing I might add) when she’s picked up on vagrancy charges. Jo apparently bailed her out and perhaps in repayment, Kitty becomes an employee at The Doll House. Jo then figures out that Kitty and Dove are acquainted with one another which is where Jo finds her ace in the hole. Kitty is apparently underage (which we wouldn’t know looking at her). Dove and Kitty traveled together from Texas to Louisiana. Jo sees this as an opportunity to threaten Dove, stating that she will tell authorities that he transported a minor over state lines for the purposes of immoral activity and statutory rape. However, she’ll keep quiet if Dove leaves, without Hallie. However, Jo isn’t the type to just let things go.
JO to HALLIE: “I want to know what’s going on between you and that boy. Are you in love with that Texas dirt farmer?
(After further arguing between JO and HALLIE)
JO: You may be weak, but I’m not. I’ll find your dirt farmer and that will be the end of that.”
Barbara Stanwyck as “Jo” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
This film is kind of trashy, but in all the right ways. It is not quite as trashy as one of my other faves, Valley of the Dolls, but it’s up there. Laurence Harvey has the personality of a wet mop, so there isn’t much to say about him, except that he’s miscast. Harvey is British playing a cowboy. Capucine isn’t much better. She epitomizes ice queen, which does not seem like the ideal quality for a prostitute. She seems like she’d be the type of prostitute who’d come with a big laundry list of things that they “won’t do.” Anne Baxter’s casting as a Latina is baffling. Her affected “Mexican” accent is even worse. The filmmakers could have cast someone else, like Katy Jurado, if they wanted a Latina accent. If they really wanted Baxter, I don’t think changing the character’s nationality would have made much of a difference. While I love Baxter, she has such a deliberate way of speaking, with. each. and. ev-ery. syl-a-ble. so. clear-ly. em-pha-sized. Regardless, Baxter’s miscasting just lends to the fun. That’s how I look at it.
The real stars of this film, in my opinion, are Fonda and Stanwyck–the two actresses for whom I watched this film. Fonda is excellent as the conniving young woman who does whatever she wants, takes whatever (or whomever) she wants. She doesn’t care who she hurts as long as she gets what she wants. Fonda brings a spark to her scenes with Harvey, which is desperately needed since he’s so boring. I love that she’s allowed to be a little more loose in this film as she was a bit too stiff in her earlier films like Period of Adjustment. Stanwyck is amazing and she did an excellent job as the villain of the story. She is so cruel and ruthless. Jo is a woman who is so clearly in love with her star girl, that no man, and especially not a drip like Laurence Harvey, are going to come between her and the woman she loves. Poor Barbara Stanwyck’s legless husband. He doesn’t stand a chance.
This film also features gorgeous 1960s gowns, except, oops. This movie takes place during The Great Depression. But hey, if Anne Baxter can be Mexican, then Capucine can wear 1960s Pierre Cardin couture. Sartorial anachronisms aside, Walk on the Wild Side is a great film if you enjoy a slightly trashy film. The early 1960s black and white, gritty aesthetic really makes the film. It’s a fun film to watch if you don’t take it too seriously and just go with whatever is presented on screen. I was so happy when Sony saved this film from out of print oblivion by releasing a new blu ray of the movie this past September. You better believe that I bought it.
After World War II, the idea of the “nuclear family” was advertised to married couples as the “American Dream” and the way things are supposed to be to achieve a happy life. Women who’d found employment outside the home while the men were fighting in World War II, were expected to give up their jobs and return to “domestic bliss.” If couples weren’t already married, they married upon the man’s return from the war. Married couples had a million children. They bought a tract home in some newly-built subdivision in the suburbs somewhere. Women who during the war, had found personal enrichment in being a military pilot or working in manufacturing factory work were expected to find the same personal enrichment in the newest vacuum, fancy stoves, and being a shill for Tupperware. If a woman did not find happiness in these things, she was branded as “unfeminine” or a “bad wife” or any other negative labels. As one can imagine, secret pill and alcohol abuse was rampant among housewives in the 1950s and 1960s.
Despite what was really happening in America, the new burgeoning medium of television was continuing to perpetuate the image of the perfect nuclear family. Women like June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) were seen as content and happy, while vacuuming the home, perfectly coiffed, dressed in high heels and pearls. She watched after her children, Wally and The Beaver, but hesitated to dole out discipline. Husband Ward was expected to make the disciplinary decisions for the children. Other shows like Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Donna Reed Show all presented the husband and wives as asexual beings whose only concern involved their children, their home, and everything else needed to uphold the image of the perfect nuclear family.
Meanwhile in the movie world, the collapsing studio system and Production Code allowed filmmakers room to explore more controversial themes and ideas. Dysfunctional families found more and more screen-time. Rebel Without a Cause presented a family with a browbeaten husband and a domineering wife. Their inability to come together as a parental unit is tearing their juvenile delinquent son apart. All That Heaven Allows depicts a mother (and widow) trying to find love again with a younger man, an arborist, much to the chagrin of her college-age children. Her children don’t approve of her relationship and don’t even like that she’s trying to find another husband, as if she would be cheating on their father.
Aside from ‘Rebel’ and ‘Heaven,’ there are countless other films depicting a complicated family dynamic: Written on the Wind, There’s Always Tomorrow, Peyton Place, Imitation of Life, the list goes on and on. Despite differences in theme, the one commonality that all these films have is that they demonstrate how intense and volatile these familial relationships can be when other factors are involved: class differences and expectations, alcohol, infidelity, out of wedlock pregnancies, sexuality, divorce, sexual needs, race, etc. These are all issues that if they exist, tend to remain hidden within the family lore. Family members cover for each other’s mistakes. If a member of the family is known for being racist, family members learn how to tolerate it, but don’t let it be known outside of the confines of the family unit. It is only when the skeletons in the collective family closet become known, that drama erupts, or someone suffers consequences, or both. One of the best examples of this idea is depicted in one of my favorite melodramas–A Summer Place.
::Cue Percy Faith’s “Theme to A Summer Place” ::
A Summer Place starts with Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire) and Bart (Arthur Kennedy) Hunter receiving a telegram from Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan). Jorgenson writes the Hunters to request accommodations for himself, his wife and their daughter at their Inn in the resort town of Pine Island, off the coast of Maine. About twenty years prior as a youth, Ken had worked as a lifeguard on Pine Island. He is now a successful chemist and millionaire. The Inn used to be Bart Hunter’s family’s mansion, but has since been converted into an Inn due to Bart’s squandering of the family fortune. Sylvia also has a history at Pine Island and had known Ken during his lifeguarding days. It is obvious that Bart and Sylvia have marital problems. Bart is an alcoholic and Sylvia has been forced to keep the Inn running so that she and their 17-year old son, Johnny (Troy Donahue), have a place to live and food on the table.
Bart, assuming that Ken wants to flaunt his wealth and hold it over Bart (who has lost all of his wealth) wants to deny the reservation request. Sylvia tells Bart that they have no choice but to accept Ken’s reservation. They need the money desperately. Bart reluctantly agrees. To give the Jorgensons the best accommodations possible, the Hunter family move into their guest house so that the Jorgensons can have Bart and Sylvia’s master bedroom suite.
Meanwhile, Ken and his shrew of a wife Helen (Constance Ford) and their 17-year old daughter, Molly (Sandra Dee), are sailing to Pine Island. We get a sneak peek at Helen’s awfulness when she and Molly get into an argument over what Molly should wear when she disembarks the boat. Helen wants Molly to put on constrictive support garments and juvenile clothing that obscures her developing figure. Helen finds Molly’s figure and interest in boys to be vulgar. Honestly, Helen finds almost everything vulgar. Ken is much more permissive and finds nothing wrong with Molly’s figure, her choice in clothing, or her interest in the opposite sex. It should not come as a surprise that Ken and Helen do not sleep in the same bed, they don’t even share a bedroom. Honestly, it’s surprising that Molly even exists.
When Ken, Helen, and Molly step off the boat, Johnny and Molly immediately spot one another and are smitten. They spend time together and Helen instantly assumes the worst–there’s a horrible scene where Helen forces Molly to submit to a physical examination from a random doctor she hires to check and make sure she’s still a virgin. At another point, Helen slaps Molly so hard, she takes a very dramatic tumble into the Christmas tree. Yes. This is the type of woman we’re dealing with. In spite of Helen, Molly and Johnny fall deeper and deeper into love with one another.
While Johnny and Molly are falling in love, Ken and Sylvia are reigniting their’s. It becomes obvious that Ken and Sylvia were lovers during their youth when Ken was lifeguarding on Pine Island–that is the real reason why Bart didn’t want Ken and his family on the island. Ken and Sylvia were deeply in love, but didn’t marry because Ken was a poor college student and couldn’t support Sylvia. They broke up and she married Bart, whom she didn’t love, but he was from a rich family with status. How Ken ended up with Helen, I have no idea. She could not have been a better option than being single. Regardless, Ken and Sylvia have stayed in their loveless, unhappy, sexless (except for at least one rendezvous) marriages for the sake of their children.
Ken and Sylvia begin an affair which comes to light after the island’s night watchman rats them out to Helen and tells her about their nighttime trysts in the boathouse. Helen first decides to play the silent, suffering wife (based on the advice of her horrible mother who tells her to catch Ken and Sylvia together so she can get a bigger divorce settlement). However, after she forces Molly to go through the embarrassing physical virginity exam (after Molly and Johnny spend the night together on another island after their boat capsizes), Johnny threatens to kill her. Through a fit of anger, Helen reveals Ken and Sylvia’s affair to everyone. It’s game over and the Jorgensons and Hunters divorce. Ken and Sylvia are free to marry.
However neither Helen nor Bart will relinquish custody of their respective children. Apparently, despite being horrible people, the courts don’t look kindly on Ken and Sylvia (aka the better parents) because of their adultery. Custody is granted to Helen and Bart. Ken and Sylvia are given visitation rights. Helen and Bart choose to send Johnny and Molly away to separate non-coed boarding schools. Johnny goes to Virginia and Molly goes to another school a few states away. Despite their distance however, they stay in touch via letters (which are of course read by Helen) and secret visits. It is during one of these visits where Molly learns that she’s pregnant and tells Johnny. Helen learns of Molly’s pregnancy and informs Ken.
A Summer Place is such an amazing melodrama. I love the over-wrought melodramas of the 1950s. I love them even more when they center on teenage melodrama. A Summer Place has two nuclear families: The Jorgensons and The Hunters. Neither family is happy. The Jorgensons are torn apart by Helen’s prudishness, hate, and intolerance. Ken has a spectacular monologue where he berates Helen for displaying yet another prejudice:
(After Helen alludes to Molly’s “Swedish blood” as the reason why she lets Johnny kiss her the first night they meet)
KEN: So now you hate the Swedes. How many outlets for your hate do you have, Helen? We haven’t been able to find a new house because of your multiplicity of them. We can’t buy near a school because you hate kids. They make noise. And there can’t be any Jews or Catholics on the block, either. And, oh, yes, it can’t be anywhere near the Polish or Italian sections. And, of course, Negroes have to be avoided at all costs. Now let’s see: No Jews, no Catholics, no Italians, no Poles, no children, no Negroes. Do I have the list right, so far? And now you’ve added Swedes. And, oh yes, you won’t use a Chinese laundry because you distrust Orientals. And you think the British are snobbish, the Russians fearful, the French immoral, the Germans brutal, and all Latin Americans lazy. What’s your plan? To cut humanity out? Are you anti-people and anti-life? Must you suffocate every natural instinct in our daughter too? Must you label young love-making as cheap and wanton and indecent? Must you persist in making sex, itself, a filthy word?
RICHARD EGAN as KEN in A Summer Place (1959)
Helen has nothing to say. She just stomps out of the room. Helen sucks. She is a horrible, vile person. She has absolutely no redeeming qualities. She’s awful at the beginning of the film and she’s awful at the end. At least with Bart, I feel like deep-down, without the booze, he might be a semi-decent person. At least he isn’t full of so much hate. I think he mostly hates himself and how he’s squandered his family’s fortune and status. If this movie had been made pre-1950, Helen and Bart would have made some sort of turnaround to save their marriages and win back their spouses. However, in 1959, we are rooting for Ken and Sylvia’s adultery. These people deserve happiness. They should leave their spouses. Who cares that they’re cheating on their partners? Their partners aren’t worth keeping. Molly and Johnny’s love should be encouraged so they can save themselves from a fate like Ken and Sylvia’s. Being teen parents might not be the best thing in the world, but it’s not the end of the world either.
At the end of this film, two nuclear families have crumbled but two more are rising from the ashes. Johnny and Molly are starting their own family. Ken and Sylvia have found happiness with each other. Bart and Helen are left on the outside as they should be. True love prevails. Hate can kick rocks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
–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.
–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.
–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.
“I gotta get somewhere in this world. I just gotta.” -Hal Carter, Picnic.
And so sums up William Holden’s character in Picnic. I’ve written about this film previously in this blog, but I thought that this time I would focus on William Holden and his character in the film. Holden thought that he was miscast in this film and in many ways, he is right. Hal is clearly supposed to be in his early to mid-twenties, as he’s a college classmate of Alan Benson’s (Cliff Robertson). Holden himself was 37 and looked every bit of it. From an age perspective, Holden is right. He is too old. However, from a personality standpoint, he is perfectly cast.
Holden made his screen debut in 1939’s Golden Boy, co-starring Barbara Stanwyck. Holden was nervous and ill at ease and it was affecting his performance. Columbia Studios bosses were unhappy with his performance and were on the verge of firing him. Stanwyck, then one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, employed her star power and demanded that Holden remain in the film. She coached him and helped him get through the filming of Golden Boy. While Holden’s “green-ness” shows in this film, he’s not terrible (that honor goes to Lee J. Cobb, then 27, who was inexplicably cast as 21 year old William Holden’s father. Cobb is horrible and very annoying in this film). While Holden got steady work, it would take eleven years to finally “make it” and be a big star.
In 1950, Holden won the leading role in Sunset Blvd. As “down on his luck” screenwriter, Joe Gillis, Holden developed his signature brand of cynicism, world weariness, but an overall good guy. He would play this character in most of his films from here on out. One of the best applications of “The William Holden” persona is his portrayal of Hal Carter in Picnic. A film in which, like I mentioned earlier, Holden felt he was miscast. Yes, age-wise, Holden is too old. He knows it and the audience knows it. But personality-wise, Holden is perfect as Hal Carter.
In Picnic, Hal Carter is a drifter who winds up in Kansas in hopes to reacquaint with an old college friend, Alan Benson. Hal is unemployed and has jumped from job to job and city to city since dropping out of college. He is trying to get his life back together and hopes that Alan will give him some sort of job. Alan’s family owns a large grain mill and Alan promises Hal a job scooping wheat. This job is not exactly what Hal has in mind–he wanted to be an executive. Hal ends up meeting and falling for Madge Owens (Kim Novak), a 19 year old woman who is known to be one of the prettiest “girls” in the area. But, oops! Madge is already involved with Alan. This will drive a wedge between Hal and Alan.
Hal is just trying to find a niche for himself in a community where he can thrive. He is tired of the drifting lifestyle and just wants to fit in somewhere. From Hal’s expository dialogue, we learn that he is responsible for his previous failures. Alan, believing that Hal is sincere in getting his life together, invites him to the town’s annual Labor Day Picnic. At first, everything’s going great and Hal is charming everyone. After Alan senses that Hal may have his sights set on his girlfriend, Madge (and Madge has her sights set on Hal), Alan begins giving Hal the cold shoulder.
Madge is facing a similar situation to Hal. She is known for being beautiful and that’s it. Her mother and boyfriend think that Madge can skate by on her looks and nothing matters except for her to “be pretty.” It is apparent that Madge’s mother, Florence, wants Madge to use her beauty to land a boyfriend with a high social standing, so that by proxy, the Owens women (Madge, sister Millie, and mother “Flo”) will have high social standings as well. It is apparent that Alan is really only interested in Madge so that he can have a pretty trophy on his arm. Nobody takes Madge seriously because it is assumed that someone so beautiful couldn’t have any problems, right? Hal on the other hand, has made so many previous mistakes in his life, that his sincere actions are dismissed by others, thinking that he’s just a ne’er do well bum. Both Madge and Hal are trapped by other people’s perceptions and expectations (or lack thereof) of them.
Holden incorporates a raw sensuality and a brashness into Hal that is in direct contrast to Novak’s Madge who exhibits an uneasy and inhibited sensuality. Hal knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to speak up. Madge on the other hand, is conflicted. For her entire life, she’s had people telling her what to do. Finally, she finds herself feeling something for a man whom is the complete opposite of anyone she’s ever known. Her mother doesn’t approve. Her boyfriend doesn’t approve (well obviously I guess), not because he loves her, but because she’d look good on his arm. Rosemary (Rosalind Russell), a boarder at the Owens’ home, goes off on Hal–not because she doesn’t like him, but because she resented him falling for younger Madge and not her middle aged self. Rosemary is having her own personal crisis. She is worried that she’s getting old and that she’ll be a spinster her whole life. The only characters in the film who like Hal are: Millie (Susan Strasberg), Howard (Arthur O’Connell) and elderly neighbor Mrs. Potts (Verna Felton).
A powerful moment in the film is when Hal returns to the Owens home the day after the picnic (and a day after his and Madge’s rendezvous at the river bank) and makes one last plea for Madge to run away with him. He proclaims his love for her and she realizes that she feels the same for him–so does Hal. He yells “you love me! you love me!” repeatedly to Madge as he departs for the train. Their feelings for one another are so expertly depicted in the now classic “Moonglow” dance–one of the sexiest scenes in film. No words. No nudity. Nothing explicit–yet Hal and Madge’s feelings for one another are so explicit during the dance. The sexual tension had already been building in the scenes preceding the dance and it explodes during the first moments when Madge hijacks sister Millie’s (more innocent) dance with Hal.
Holden was uneasy with the idea of dancing on screen. Holden demanded $8,000 “stunt pay” to do the dance scene. He figured the studio would balk and replace him with a dance double. Well, that backfired. The studio ponied up the money and Holden was on the hook to perform the dance. The director tried having Holden and Novak, with a few drinks in them, practice dancing to music from jukeboxes in the local bars, but they were too awkward and the end result was not sexy. When it came time to shoot, Holden was allowed to have a few drinks beforehand. The camera work was set up in a way to allow the stars to do minimal movement. The camera would move around Holden and Novak on a dolly. A bunch of lights were also added to change colors as the stars moved around which added visual interest to the screen. Whatever hang ups and issues there were and whatever workarounds the crew had to incorporate in order to complete this scene worked, because the end result is gorgeous. With each swivel of the hip, the audience can watch Holden and Novak slowly fall for one another. This is where the audience begins to root for Holden and Novak to end up together.
Holden was able to so effortlessly bring sexiness, charm, humor, but at the same time, common sense and cynicism to his parts, that it really made him feel like an everyday person. He lacked pretension. You don’t feel like he’s putting on any type of facade. He’s a “what you see is what you get” type of person. He isn’t a distinct persona like Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do a “William Holden impression.” But that’s not to say he’s lacking in any personality. It’s just that he’s so approachable and real. He isn’t larger than life. While I like Grant, Bogart and Cagney, I find Holden’s realism refreshing and enjoyable. Whereas, someone like Marlon Brando (to me), always seems like he’s using a shtick (don’t get me wrong, he’s excellent in On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire), he’s a bit too intense. Holden seems like a guy you could go out for a beer with and not feel intimidated or nervous that you wouldn’t have anything to say to him. He (and his characters) is a real person.
To use the words of Madge to describe Hal, and in effect, describe an audience’s view of Holden himself:
Sorry for the delay in posting, but I’ve been very busy with work and dealing with the aftermath of a disaster incurred in my home. During the Thanksgiving weekend, my sewer pipe and sump pump decided to join forces and fail at the same time. Not to be outdone, the rain poured furiously, further compounding the problem. As a result, my basement flooded about 1′, destroying everything in its path. Unfortunately, in one of the rooms in the basement, I was storing my DVD collection. I lost all the films on the bottom shelves in the room. Some other films also suffered some collateral damage due to coming in contact with one of its flood-ravaged brethren.
You’ll notice that the rug is floating. All the movies that are on their sides on the second to bottom shelf are the ones in the water. There were seven shelves in all. Sadly, inside that cardboard box on the right side, were all my husband’s classic NES, SNES, Sega, etc. game cartridges. While I know that the DVDs themselves are okay, the cover art is destroyed. Plus the movies were covered in sewer water. Who wants sewage contaminated films? I don’t. Ick! Insurance should provide me with enough money to be able to replace all the victims.
Anyway. This brings me to my post:
In Memoriam to some of those lost in the great flood of 2016…
You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) /You Were Never Lovelier (1942).
In You’ll Never Get Rich, Fred Astaire portrays the manager of a theater who is enlisted by the theater owner, Robert Benchley, to help him woo dancer Rita Hayworth by buying her a gift. However, Benchley is caught by his wife, Frieda Inescort, who is at the end of her rope. It is implied that Benchley has a wandering eye and Inescort has had enough. She threatens divorce. To save his marriage, Benchley insists that Astaire bought the gift and sets Astaire and Hayworth up on a date. Matters are further complicated when Astaire is drafted into WWII and Hayworth travels to the camp (to perform for the troops) and to visit her real boyfriend. She and Astaire end up falling in love.
In You Were Never Lovelier, Hayworth portrays the second eldest daughter of a wealthy Argentinian, Adolph Menjou, who also owns a local nightclub. Menjou has four daughters and has insisted that his daughters must marry in order of age. Astaire portrays an American dancer who finds himself out of work after losing all his money betting on horses. Looking for work, Astaire visits Menjou’s club. Menjou is not interested. Astaire ends up contacting his friend, Xavier Cugat, who has been hired to perform at Menjou’s eldest daughter’s wedding. Astaire spots Hayworth and is immediately smitten, but she rebuffs him. Hayworth is not interested in marriage. Her two younger sisters are in love and desperately want to marry (in the film it the ladies seem like they’re more desperate to sleep with their boyfriends, but of course, morality dictates that they must wait until they’re married). Knowing the plight of his youngest daughters, Menjou begins sending orchids and love notes to Hayworth under the guise of a secret admirer. One day, Astaire tries to visit Menjou. Menjou, not seeing Astaire and thinking he’s the bellboy, orders him to go deliver the latest love trinkets to Hayworth. Astaire complies and Hayworth assumes that Astaire has been the one sending the notes. Hayworth ends up asking Menjou to set her up with Astaire. Menjou, who dislikes Astaire, offers to give Astaire a long-term contract at the club if he will do his best to repel Hayworth. Of course, they fall in love instead.
A Summer Place (1959)
One of my favorite types of films are the over-wrought melodramas of the 1950s. A Summer Place has everything you could ever want in a film: adultery, bigotry, alcoholism, love, teen pregnancy, everything. Plus, it has memorable theme music that is present throughout the film and adds to the overall mood of the film.
A Summer Place tells the tale of two former teenage lovers (Dorothy McGuire and Richard Egan) who end up reuniting twenty years after the end of their affair. Neither McGuire nor Egan are happy in their respective marriages. McGuire’s husband, Arthur Kennedy, is an alcoholic. McGuire and Kennedy operate an Inn on Pine Island off the coast of Maine. The Inn used to be Kennedy’s family’s opulent family mansion. With the family fortune all but gone, they are forced to rent out rooms. McGuire and Kennedy have even moved into the small guest house on the property so that they can rent out their master suite. One day, Kennedy receives a message from an old acquaintance, Richard Egan, who wants to bring his family to the resort. Egan, who used to be a lifeguard back when Kennedy knew him, is now a millionaire. Kennedy doesn’t want Egan to visit, feeling that he’s only there to brag about how he’s rich and Kennedy is now broke. However, McGuire tells him to accept the request, because they need money. McGuire and Kennedy also have a teenage son, Troy Donahue.
Egan shows up with wife Constance Ford and teenage daughter Sandra Dee. Egan and Ford have a rocky marriage. She is bigoted against pretty much everyone. He even delivers a delicious diatribe completing ripping her a new one. Egan, who is very cognizant of “the love that got away” (McGuire) encourages daughter Dee to listen to her natural desires and to embrace her developing figure and interest in the opposite sex. Ford on the other hand, is a prude who forces Dee to hide her curves and disapproves of any behavior that seems indecent. She particularly disapproves of Donahue and even goes as far as forcing Dee to submit to a particularly embarrassing and degrading physical exam after she suspects that Dee and Donahue were having sex, even though both parties vehemently deny it.
McGuire and Egan, who haven’t been together for twenty years since McGuire left the then broke Egan for the rich Kennedy, rekindle their romance and are soon engaged in an adulterous affair. Their respective spouses end up finding out and the marriages are soon dissolved. At the same time, McGuire and Egan’s respective children, Donahue and Dee, are wrapped up in a teen love affair of their own. Knowing of the time they lost, McGuire and Egan are the most supportive of their children’s affair. Ford and Kennedy both disapprove. Donahue and Dee are deeply in love and nothing, not even being sent to different schools in different states, will keep them from seeing one another.
Yours, Mine and Ours (1968)
This film, the precursor to The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), features Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda as widowed spouses who end up marrying and merging their families. The problem? Ball is the mother of eight children and Fonda has ten children. The beginning of the film features funny scenes of Ball and Fonda’s courtship. When they originally meet, neither knows about the other’s considerable brood. When the truth comes out, they try to put the kibosh on their relationship, but soon it is apparent that they are truly in love and they decide to take the plunge. Both groups of children dislike each other and the tension is high. Eventually they end up learning how to work together and to actually like each other.
One of the funniest scenes is when Ball comes over to meet Fonda’s children for the first time. The eldest sons, tasked with making cocktails, end up getting Ball schnockered by making her “an alcoholic Pearl Harbor” (as Fonda puts it), which is a screwdriver containing vodka, gin and scotch with a tiny bit of orange juice (for color, I imagine). Ball ends up dumping food on one of the children, laughing and crying maniacally, and generally making a fool out of herself.
Another funny scene deals with the plight of poor Phillip, one of Ball’s youngest sons. This poor kid can barely get any food at breakfast, can’t reach the sink to brush his teeth, is left with enormous rain boots that he can’t walk in and later ends up getting in a fight with the teacher in his Catholic school.
My favorite scene though, is the one where Henry Fonda hands out room assignments. He assigns a number to each child (oldest to youngest), a color to each bathroom and a letter to each bedroom. One of the children walks away repeating, “I’m 11, Red, A.”
Van Johnson co-stars as a co-worker of Fonda and Ball; Tim Matheson appears as the eldest child, Mike; and Tom Bosley appears as a doctor.
…and for the saddest casualty of them all…
The Long, Long Trailer (1954)
This is my favorite film of all time. I have probably seen it a hundred times–not exaggerating. When I replace my copy, I will be on my third copy. I wore out my VHS. Anyway, myself and my family can recite all the dialogue. Desi Arnaz has the best lines. These are some of the gems:
“It’s a fine thing when you come home to your home and your home is gone!”
“Have you any conception how much room it takes to turn this thing around? We might have to go on for miles and miles!”
Then the mechanic has two of the funniest lines, that continually haunt Arnaz for the first half of the film:
“Trailer brakes first!”
“Forty feet of train!”
This film is about a newlywed couple (Lucille Ball and Arnaz) who purchase a trailer and take it on their honeymoon. Arnaz’ job takes him to different locations all over the country (it is not stated what his job is, but I am assuming that he is some type of engineer as Ball mentions him working on a bridge and a dam), and Ball envisions them living in this motor home and traveling to wherever Arnaz’ job takes him. They plan to drive from Los Angeles to Colorado for their honeymoon. On the way, they visit Ball’s relatives in another part of California and also visit Yosemite. They get into hilarious incidents along the way, including an impromptu housewarming party, a night stuck in the mud, ruining Ball’s Aunt Anastasia’s prized rose, and much more. The highlight of the film is when Ball has the bright idea of trying to prepare dinner in the trailer while Arnaz drives.
This film is basically one big long I Love Lucy episode, Arnaz’ character’s name is “Nicky” after all, but it is fun from beginning to end and features gorgeous Technicolor and scenery.
In my first post, I lamented blogs being abandoned soon after being started. I unfortunately temporarily fell victim to that phenomenon, because I didn’t know what to do next. I wanted to start the blog, but felt overwhelmed. I decided today (Labor Day) to try and get this thing going. I thought I’d kick things off with the film I’m watching right now in honor of Labor Day–Picnic (1955).
(I’ve seen this film multiple times and never tire of it)
Picnic opens with star William Holden (Hal Carter) hitching a ride on a freight train headed through a small Kansas town. He has an acquaintance (and former fraternity brother), Cliff Robertson (Alan Benson) who lives in this town. Hal, who failed in his latest venture, Hollywood star, is hoping that Alan will set him up with a job at his wealthy father’s grain mill. After disembarking from the train, Hal ends up meeting Verna Felton (Mrs. Potts), a kind elderly woman who not only dispenses kind advice to the young single mom next door, but she also is her mother’s (!) caretaker. In exchange for breakfast, Hal offers to help her out with any work she needs done around her home. Despite her protests (“It’s Labor Day. Nobody works on Labor Day,” Mrs. Potts tells Hal), Hal insists on completing some yard work for her. Mrs. Potts is hilarious because on at least two occasions (perhaps even three), she tries to get Hal to take his shirt off. She succeeds in the first scene when she offers to wash his shirt while he does her yard work.
While Hal is working away in the yard, Susan Strasberg (Millie Owens), a soon to be high school senior, is sitting outside next door, reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. She is a bookworm, a bit of a tomboy who very much resents being in the shadow of her 19 year-old sister, Kim Novak (Madge Owens). Madge is considered one of the prettiest girls in town. Betty Field (Flo Owens) portrays the single mother of the two girls. It seems that Mr. Owens walked out on the family when Millie was a newborn, so Flo has been on her own for a long time. Flo’s main goal for her daughters is that Millie will use her academic talents to attend college and Madge will use her beauty (it is alluded to that academics aren’t Madge’s specialty) to snag a rich husband, in this case, the intended target is Madge’s boyfriend, Alan. Rosalind Russell portrays Rosemary, the local schoolteacher who also rents out a room in the Owens’ home. She is also depressed because she’s unmarried and is hoping that her longtime beau, Arthur O’Connell (Howard Bevins), will marry her so she can lose the title of spinster. All these characters end up at the annual Labor Day Picnic, which is where a bulk of the action takes place.
The main conflict in this film:
Flo wants Madge to be more committed to wealthy boyfriend Alan, who is really only interested in Madge because she looks good on his arm. Madge, it seems isn’t really into Alan, she’s dating him because her mother wants her to. There is some funny and icky (in the sense that it’s mother and daughter) dialogue between Flo and Madge about her relationship with Alan.
FLO: “If she (a pretty girl) loses her chance when she’s young, she might as well throw all her prettiness away.”
MADGE: “I’m only nineteen.”
FLO: “And next summer you’ll be 20, and then 21, and then 40!”
MADGE: “You don’t have to be morbid.”
Madge then later has to endure this awkward conversation with her mother, where her mother essentially tells her to put out in order to seal the deal with Alan and secure him as a husband:
FLO: “Madge, does Alan ever make love?”
MADGE: “Sometimes we park the car by the river.”
FLO: “Do you let him kiss you? After all, you’ve been going together all summer.”
MADGE: “Of course I let him!”
FLO: “Does…does he ever want to go beyond kissing?”
MADGE: “Oh mom!”
FLO: “Well I’m your mother for heaven’s sake…these things have to be talked about! Do you like it when he kisses you?”
FLO: “You don’t sound very enthusiastic.”
MADGE: “Well, what do you expect me to do? Pass out every time Alan puts his arms around me?”
FLO: “No. You don’t have to pass out. But there won’t be many more opportunities like the picnic tonight, and it seems to me you could at least–”
At the picnic, Flo sees that Hal is crushing on Madge and Madge is reciprocating. Madge and Hal’s attraction to one another is obvious when they dance to “Moonglow” at the picnic. Flo is worried that Madge’s attraction to Hal will get in the way of Madge’s relationship with Alan which would move her family up on the social ladder. Flo is also concerned about Hal’s influence on Millie.
(One of the most romantic scenes in film)
Some of the minor conflicts:
2. Millie resents Madge getting all the attention because of her beauty. On the flip-side, Madge resents that Millie gets attention for being so smart and winning a full ride scholarship to college.
3. Rosemary is jealous that Hal is only paying attention to the younger Madge and not interested in her.
4. Alan is upset with Hal because his former fraternity buddy is obviously hot for his girlfriend. Alan wants Madge because she would look good on his arm (i.e. “A trophy wife”). Alan’s father doesn’t approve of Madge because her social standing is much lower then theirs.
All of these conflicts come to head at the annual Labor Day Picnic.
I love this film. I am a sucker for the overwrought melodramas anyway and Picnic does not fail to deliver. This film has everything: shirtless William Holden, romantic dancing, a sexy “did they? or didn’t they?” love scene, a drunken breakdown, over-the-top dramatic scenes and much more–everything you’d want in a melodramatic film. It also offers one of the corniest, albeit creepiest, pick up lines in film history:
ALAN (to MADGE): “I want to see if you look real in the moonlight.”
(Alan is obviously hinting to Madge that he wants to seal the deal too).
If you like any of the stars and/or melodramatic films, I highly recommend Picnic.