On April 19th in 1956, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier the sovereign ruler of Monaco. Grace had met Prince Rainier a little less than a year prior, in May of 1955. By saying “I do,” Grace gave up her successful, Oscar-winning Hollywood career and assumed her duties as Princess Grace of Monaco. She didn’t plan to give up her career after the wedding, but was pressured to do so by her new husband. As a result, the last film that Grace made was High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story.
The Philadelphia Story was released in 1940 and was the film that saved Katharine Hepburn’s career. In the original film, Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, an affluent young woman who is marrying for the second time to George Kittredge (John Howard). Tracy is part of the Philadelphia upper-crust. Her first husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) re-enters her life after arranging for Spy Magazine to cover Tracy’s wedding. Two years prior, Tracy had divorced C.K. due to him not meeting the impossible standards that Tracy sets for her friends and family. She also thought he drank too much and her critical opinion of his drinking caused him to imbibe even more.
On the same day, Macaulay “Mike” Connor (James Stewart) and Elizabeth “Liz” Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) a reporter and photographer, respectively for Spy Magazine arrive at the Lord estate. They are planning on covering Tracy’s wedding for their magazine. Complications ensue when Mike starts falling in love with Tracy, much to Liz’s chagrin. Liz harbors an unrequited crush on Mike. Meanwhile, Tracy is irritated with her ex-husband, C.K.’s constant presence. However, he helps her to realize that she needs to relax and stop being so judgemental of the people in her life. She is not perfect herself, so it is unfair to hold others to such a high standard.
In the musical remake of High Society, the action is moved from Philadelphia to Newport, Rhode Island. Grace Kelly assumes the role of Tracy and plays the role very well. She plays a haughty socialite just as well as Katharine Hepburn. Both women have a similar way of speaking, with a very pronounced mid-Atlantic accent. Interestingly enough, Grace herself is from Philadelphia and hails from the very same world depicted in The Philadelphia Story. However, I think I prefer the shift to the Newport locale. I love that the famous Newport Jazz Festival is used as a backdrop for High Society. The jazz music is also an excellent addition to the story, as Bing Crosby stars as C.K. Dexter Haven, Cary Grant’s role from the original film. Throughout the film, C.K. is busy organizing the festival, with Louis Armstrong and his band serving as the Greek chorus for the events in this film. C.K. also happens to live next door to the Lord estate, making his constant presence believable.
In High Society, it is Tracy’s father, Seth Lord, who has invited Spy Magazine to cover his daughter’s nuptials. The magazine has obtained some unflattering details about Seth’s various infidelities. Seth makes a bargain with Spy Magazine and allows them to send over a couple employees to cover the wedding. Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra) and Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm), a reporter and photographer respectively, arrive and are invited to stay at the Lords’ home. The scene where Mike and Liz arrive plays out in a similar fashion in both High Society and The Philadelphia Story. Tracy resents their intrusion and carries out an elaborate farce, including speaking French with her little sister and having her sister make an entrance dancing en pointe and then performing a song while playing piano. For her part, Tracy acts like a complete ditz, figuring that she needs to fit the image that the tabloids have of her. For the record, I find Virginia Weidler’s “Dinah” really annoying in The Philadelphia Story and prefer Lydia Reed as little sister, “Caroline,” in High Society. Weidler is the more talented performer, but there’s just something about her that makes me want to smack her.
What I love about High Society is that there are more scenes between Tracy and C.K., giving us an idea as to why they fell in love in the first place. The Philadelphia Story hints at that, such as when C.K. gifts Tracy a miniature replica of their yacht, “True Love,” that they sailed around in during their honeymoon. In High Society, not only does C.K. gift Tracy the miniature replica of the “True Love,” but we’re treated to a flashback sequence of C.K. and Tracy singing “True Love” on their boat. I love any singing scene that involves characters playing a small accordion. This was also a fun scene where we actually hear Grace singing with her own voice. Thank goodness they did not dub her with someone like Marni Nixon. Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Nixon was an excellent singer, but her voice is so out of place in so many of the films where it is heard (case in point, Natalie Wood’s voice in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn’s in My Fair Lady).
I also love Grace Kelly’s costumes in this film. Her costumes are gorgeous, especially the blue chiffon dress with silver embroidery she wears during the party Tracy holds on the eve of her wedding. Katharine Hepburn’s dress in the same part of the film is incredible, but I think Grace has the edge. Grace also gets to wear a much better wedding dress during the film’s finale. I am not a fan of Katharine’s gown with the big girdle like thing across her waist. At the beginning of the film, Grace wears a simple beige blouse with beige slacks and red flats and she looks amazing. The woman could wear a stained sweatsuit and look fabulous.
One of the highlights of High Society is the duet between Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. This scene replaces the drunk scene between James Stewart and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story. The original scene is very funny, as Mike cannot stop hiccuping as he talks to C.K. However, with both Sinatra and Crosby in the cast, it is a no-brainer that a duet between the two men would have to take place. Sinatra and Crosby were often pitted against one another, with Sinatra being viewed as the crooner who would take the elder Crosby’s place. However, nothing could be further from the truth and the two men were lifelong friends. Their duet, “Well, Did You Evah!” is one of the highlights of the film.
It would also be remiss of me to not mention the amazing Louis Armstrong. He and his band serve as the Greek chorus, setting the scene for the film and then commenting on the action throughout. He provides a fun presence to the action and of course, since he’s performing at the Newport Jazz Festival, which is being planned by C.K., we are treated to a wonderful performance by Louis and Bing Crosby. The two men perform “Now You Has Jazz” and it is amazing. I would have loved if Louis Armstrong and his band had been hired as the entertainment at Tracy’s party on the eve of her wedding.
The ending of High Society plays out exactly the same as it does in The Philadelphia Story, the dialogue is almost repeated word-for-word. However, for whatever reason I find Tracy and C.K.’s quick decision to remarry more believable in High Society, even if I’m not totally sure on the coupling of Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby. However, the two actors did date in real life, so I guess it is plausible!
While The Philadelphia Story is regarded as the “better” film, I have perhaps the controversial opinion that I find High Society more entertaining. I love the casts of both films equally. I do enjoy The Philadelphia Story, at one point owning four copies. However, given the choice between the two, I would watch High Society. The jazz music and more “fun” feel make the film for me. I love all the Bing and Sinatra performances. Louis Armstrong is amazing. Grace Kelly is gorgeous. I just love it. It was amazing to see High Society in the theater last year.
(Singing) MIKE: Have you heard that Mimsie Starr C.K. Oh, what now? MIKE: She got pinched in the Astor bar C.K. Sauced again, eh? MIKE: She was stoned C.K. Well, did you ever?
Frank Sinatra as “Mike Connor” and Bing Crosby as “C.K. Dexter Haven” performing “Did You Evah?” written by Cole Porter in High Society (1956).
On Monday, June 7, 1937, Spencer Tracy made a very short diary entry– “Jean Harlow died. Grand girl.” Harlow’s tragic death at the young age of 26 devastated the entire MGM company. One MGM writer was quoted later saying, “The day Baby (Harlow’s nickname) died…there wasn’t a sound in the commissary for three hours.” Harlow’s fiance, William Powell, was devastated. He was in the middle of filming his latest film, Double Wedding, with frequent co-star Myrna Loy. Loy was also good friends with Harlow. The two stars asked for time to grieve and production was temporarily halted. Even after completing the film, both Powell and Loy felt like they hadn’t turned in their best performances. Clark Gable and Una Merkel were also good friends of Harlow’s and had been with her during her final days. Both Gable and Merkel appeared with Harlow in what turned out to be her final film, Saratoga (1937).
Unfortunately, Harlow’s passing at such a young age and rumors about her cause of death have overshadowed her legacy. A rumor persists that her death was caused by poisoning from the peroxide she used to achieve her trademark platinum blonde look. The truth is that Harlow unfortunately was not in the best of health throughout her short life. When she was 15, she contracted scarlet fever and it is thought that the illness permanently damaged her kidneys. Harlow also suffered bouts of meningitis, polio, and pneumonia during her youth. Healthwise, the poor girl was a mess.
Watching Harlow on the silver screen however, one would never know that she suffered from so many various ailments. On-screen, Harlow’s beauty and effervescent personality are on full display. Her trademark platinum blonde hair lights up the screen. Unfortunately, Harlow’s hair suffered greatly from the treatment given to achieve this look. Harlow’s hairdressers came up with a concoction of hydrogen peroxide, sodium hypochlorite bleach, ammonia, and Lux soap flakes. Yikes. Last time I checked, one was not supposed to mix bleach and ammonia together. But this is what Harlow endured to be a star. However, her hair also started to fall out. Towards the end of her life, Harlow had given up the harsh peroxide treatment and returned to her natural hair color or wore wigs.
Despite all the issues the platinum blonde hair caused Harlow, it led to her breakthrough film, aptly titled, Platinum Blonde (1931). Prior to this role, she had appeared in small roles, usually as the floozy, but she did have a good role in James Cagney’s breakthrough film, The Public Enemy (1931). In Harlow’s earliest films, she’s not particularly good. It’s very obvious that she isn’t experienced in acting. However, she just has that je ne sais quoi, aka “that certain something,” aka “the ‘it’ factor,” aka “star quality.” In 1932, Harlow finally hit her stride and became a bona fide star when she appeared in Red-Headed Woman.
In Red-Headed Woman, Harlow plays Lillian ‘Lil’ Andrews, a young woman who lives in a small town in Ohio, in a home literally on the wrong side of the tracks. She desperately wants to improve her social standing and will stop at nothing, and I mean nothing, to do so. Curiously enough, in this film which is widely seen as Harlow’s star making role, her character dyes her platinum hair red. In my opinion, Harlow actually looks better with the darker hair. As Lil, Harlow sizzles on screen. There is a scene where she changes her top and for a brief second, the side of her right breast is visible. There’s another scene where Lil asks a store clerk if the dress she’s interested in is sheer and the clerk says that yes it is. That’s all Lil needs to hear and she gladly wears it. Throughout the film, Lil shamelessly seduces married men, older rich men, anyone who can move her to the other side of the tracks.
LIL: “Listen Sally, I made up my mind a long time ago, I’m not gonna spend my whole life on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.”
SALLY: “Well, I hope you don’t get hit by a train while you’re crossing over.”
Jean Harlow as “Lil” and Una Merkel as “Sally” in “Red-Headed Woman” (1932)
1932 was a big year for Harlow, after Red-Headed Woman, Harlow’s star status further solidified with the release of Red Dust, co-starring Harlow’s friend and frequent co-star, Clark Gable. Red Dust is mostly remembered today for Harlow’s famous scene where her character bathes nude in a rain barrel. However, Harlow’s performance in Red Dust is so much more than that one short scene. In this film, Harlow plays a prostitute, Vantine, who stumbles upon Gable’s rubber plantation in Vietnam. She’s on the run. Why, exactly? We don’t know, but we can assume that her occupation probably has something to do with it. While on the plantation, Harlow and Gable crackle and sizzle on screen. Their chemistry is off the charts, even in a ridiculous scene where they discuss their preferred type of blue cheese.
VANTINE [bathing in the rain barrel]: “What’s the matter? Afraid I’ll shock the duchess? Don’t you suppose she’s ever seen a French postcard?”
DENNIS: “You’ll let those curtains down if it’s the last bath you’ll ever take!”
Jean Harlow as “Vantine” and Clark Gable as “Dennis” in “Red Dust” (1932)
Harlow’s best roles were during the pre-code era, when her sexuality and sensual nature were allowed to be on display. 1933 was a banner year for Harlow as well, as she was re-teamed with Gable in Hold Your Man, and appeared as part of the all-star cast in Dinner at Eight. She has a particularly memorable scene with Marie Dressler, a fellow MGM star who couldn’t be more different than Harlow. She also appeared in Bombshell, playing a fictionalized version of Clara Bow. An argument could be made however, that Harlow was also playing a fictionalized version of herself. The success of Bombshell led to Harlow being declared a “blonde bombshell.”
KITTY: “I was reading a book the other day.”
CARLOTTA: “Reading a book?!”
KITTY: “Yes. It’s about civilization or something. A nutty kind of book. Do you know that the guy says that machinery is going to take the place of every profession?”
CARLOTTA: “Oh, my dear, that’s something you never need worry about.”
Jean Harlow as “Kitty” and Marie Dressler as “Carlotta” in “Dinner at Eight” (1933)
After the production code went into effect in mid-1934, Harlow’s on-screen image was toned down. She was still the brassy blonde, but she was no longer the sexpot. She didn’t slink around in silk bias cut gowns where it was very obvious she wasn’t wearing underwear. While she might have still been going commando under her costumes, the Harlow-character was now a different type of woman. In The Girl From Missouri, made in 1934 after the production code went into effect, had a storyline similar to Red-Headed Woman. Harlow’s character, Eadie, lives in Kansas City and desperately wants to leave her home, complete with an abusive stepfather, behind. She decides to move to New York City to search for a millionaire. If The Girl From Missouri had come out earlier, Harlow’s character would have probably acted more brazenly in pursuit of her millionaire. The production code version of this film features a tamer, more common rom-com plot.
TR: “You want to scratch me off your list. I’m not a ladies’ man.”
EADIE: “Oh, Mr. Paige. Don’t be such a pessimist.”
Franchot Tone as “TR” and Jean Harlow as “Eadie” in “The Girl From Missouri” (1934).
Both The Girl From Missouri and 1936’s Libeled Lady, feature a common production code Jean Harlow character, the sassy girl who is a bit gaudy and unsophisticated, but has charm in spades. Libeled Lady is the first film Harlow made where she does not sport her trademark platinum blonde hair. By this point, the harsh peroxide and bleach had led to Harlow’s hair resembling straw. It eventually started to fall out in clumps. Alarmed at her hair loss, Harlow understandably ceased the bleach treatments and reverted to her own hair color, or she would wear wigs. In addition to Harlow, Libeled Lady features three of MGM’s other big stars: Spencer Tracy, William Powell, and Myrna Loy.
WARREN: “Gladys, do you want me to kill myself?”
GLADYS: “Did you change your insurance?”
Spencer Tracy as “Warren” and Jean Harlow as “Gladys” in “Libeled Lady” (1936).
In 1934, Harlow and Powell started dating. At some point they became engaged, but did not marry before Harlow’s death. Powell had gifted Harlow an enormous star sapphire ring and was truly devoted to her. Had Harlow not died so young, it’s interesting to think about whether Harlow and Powell would have married. Would their marriage have lasted? Sadly, we’ll never know because by the beginning of 1937, it was the beginning of the end for Harlow. She was cast in the film Saratoga again with Gable. She would not complete the film. In March, she developed sepsis after having her wisdom teeth extracted. After a brief hospitalization, she resumed filming.
In May, Harlow complained of symptoms–fatigue, nausea, fluid retention and abdominal pain, but sadly the studio doctor didn’t seem to think there were any issues (Really, doc?). He diagnosed her with a gallbladder infection and the flu. Whether Harlow’s life would have been prolonged or even saved were she diagnosed correctly, is hard to say. It is apparent though that she was already suffering from kidney failure and with dialysis not being a thing and antibiotics still in their infancy, most likely Harlow was doomed. At the end of May, she filmed a scene in which her character is suffering from a fever. Harlow did not need to act to do this scene. She was very very ill and had to lean against Gable for support. William Powell was called to escort Harlow home. She never returned to the set.
On the evening of June 6, 1937, Harlow slipped into a coma. She died the next morning just after 11:30am.
Harlow’s death is tragic. Who knows what she could have done had she lived a long life? I would have loved to have seen Harlow continue with her more natural appearance. She would get rid of the pencil-thin high arched eyebrows. I could see her with longer hair. I would have loved to have seen Harlow in a film noir. Let’s hope that when she reached her 40s in the 1950s, that she didn’t adopt the awful poodle cut that so many of her peers did and aged them 15-20 years in the process. Perhaps in the 1950s, Harlow could have worked with a young actress who idolized her–Marilyn Monroe. Monroe worshipped Harlow as a child and tried to emulate her, complete with the platinum blonde hair.
I love Jean Harlow. She is a legend. While Harlow continues to end up on lists of stars who died tragically young, her legacy is so much more. Harlow is the original blonde bombshell. She established the blueprint for the sassy, sometimes brassy, va va voom blonde who inevitably will win the heart of the leading man of the film. After Harlow’s breakthrough in Platinum Blonde, many other platinum blonde starlets popped up: Alice Faye, Ida Lupino, Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, even Joan Crawford sported the look for awhile! But only Harlow persists as the ultimate platinum blonde. Marilyn Monroe might share the platinum blonde mantel, but Harlow is the original.
April 17th will mark the 104th anniversary of William Holden’s birth. Holden is someone who I first became acquainted with when he appeared as himself on my personal favorite episode of I Love Lucy, and perhaps the best episode (imo)–“L.A. at Last!” or “Hollywood at Last!” as it’s also known. Holden’s episode is hysterical. The expression on his face when Lucy turns around after “fixing” her putty nose (“The California sun certainly makes your skin soft,” Lucy says) is hilarious and still makes me laugh no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Throughout the rest of the Ricardo and Mertz’s trip in California and even later in the series, multiple celebrities make reference to Holden and his having warned them about Lucy’s antics. For whatever reason, the idea that William Holden was running around Hollywood warning people like John Wayne about Lucy Ricardo is hilarious. I Love Lucy and William Holden also brought about one of my favorite quotes from the series:
MAN (to ETHEL): Pardon me. Are you sitting on John Wayne?
ETHEL: Who, me? No!
MAN: Are you positive?
LUCY: Positive. She’s sitting on Bill Holden. She’s president of the Bill Holden Fan Club, and once a year she comes here to sit on his signature.
“Lucy Visits Graumans,” I Love Lucy. Season 5, Ep. 1. Originally aired October 3, 1955
Anyway, my point in saying all of this was that for the longest time, I was only aware of William Holden by his appearance on my favorite show, and the constant references to him in the episodes leading up to and after his episode aired. I’d never seen one of his films before. I only knew him from I Love Lucy. Having not heard much about him, in comparison to the *big* Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, etc. I figured he was one of those stars who was big in their time, such as Tennessee Ernie Ford, who made multiple appearances on I Love Lucy.
Oh how I was wrong.
After becoming fully obsessed with I Love Lucy as a middle schooler, I learned that Lucille Ball had appeared in a film with Holden–Miss Grant Takes Richmond. I borrowed the VHS from the library and watched it. I found that film pretty funny, especially Lucy’s role, but didn’t find anything remarkable about Holden. In the film, he played a character very similar to how Holden portrayed himself on I Love Lucy. Some time passed before I saw Holden in another film. He didn’t jump out to me as someone whose films I just had to watch.
Then I saw Sunset Boulevard.
My opinion on William Holden did a complete 180. In ‘Sunset,’ Holden was cynical, sarcastic, romantic, conniving, weary, compassionate, etc. etc. His performance in this film was so fantastic that I was hooked. Soon I ended up watching a lot of Holden movies: The Country Girl (the film he was promoting on I Love Lucy), Sabrina, Picnic, The Moon is Blue, Apartment for Peggy, Paris When it Sizzles, Network, Born Yesterday, Executive Suite… But one film that I watched that I really loved was Force of Arms, which premiered in 1951.
(Woo! Finally I made it to the entire point of this whole post.)
Force of Arms reunites William Holden with his ‘Sunset’ co-star, Nancy Olson. This was the third film out of four films that they starred in together. One part of ‘Sunset’ that I really enjoy is the relationship between Holden and Olson’s characters. Holden’s cynical yet romantic Joe Gillis does not get off to a good start when he first meets Olson’s Betty Schaefer. Joe, a screenwriter, and Betty, a script reader both work for Paramount Pictures. Joe walks into the office of a producer just to overhear Betty harshly criticizing Joe’s script. Later the two reunite at a New Years Eve party, and start working together on a new screenplay after Betty pitches some ideas to Joe as to how they can salvage his story. Throughout much of the film, Joe meets in secret with Betty while his employer (and perhaps keeper), Norma Desmond, sleeps. Joe and Betty have a cute relationship. They laugh, they share stories, they appreciate each other’s intelligence, and eventually they fall in love. And while things don’t work out for Holden and Olson’s characters in ‘Sunset,’ they fare much better in Force of Arms.
Force of Arms takes place during World War II in Italy. Holden plays another character named Joe, this time Lieutenant Joe “Pete” Peterson who is part of the American 36th Infantry Division. After a hard fought battle in San Pietro, Joe and his division are given five days’ rest in a small Italian town. One evening, while walking through a cemetery, Joe meets WAC Lieutenant Eleanor “Ellie” MacKay (Olson). Joe tries to better make Ellie’s acquaintance, but is rebuffed because she is in no mood to be picked up while in a cemetery. Later, Joe and Ellie are reunited when he and his friend go to the post office to see if they’d received any correspondence from back home. It turns out that Ellie works at the post office. Earlier in the day, Joe had received a promotion from sergeant to lieutenant, and Ellie offers to buy him a celebratory drink. He accepts.
Joe and Ellie begin to spend more and more time together and grow closer as the movie progresses. However, despite how much Joe wants to be with Ellie, she keeps him at arm’s length as she’s afraid to fall in love again. It seems that she was previously engaged to another soldier and was deeply in love, but then he was killed in the war. She is too scared to fall in love as she doesn’t want to experience heartbreak again. However, her mind is changed when Joe’s leave is cut short. Not wanting to lose him, she agrees to marry him when he returns on his next leave.
The film then transitions into a bunch of battle scenes which usually don’t interest me. I love World War II era movies (or in this film’s case, films that take place during the war), but I am more interested in the homefront aspect–or if it directly involves the war aspect, there needs to be another storyline interwoven with the battle scenes. Thankfully, Force of Arms has a romance that is intermingled between the gunfire and carnage. Despite being involved in the very serious situation that is war, Joe remains determined to see Ellie again. Even after falling into a deep depression after the death of a friend and not wanting to see anyone, even Ellie, we know that true love will prevail–Ellie and Joe will be together again. Otherwise, what was the point of this movie?
Nancy Olson was the perfect person for the part of Ellie. Her cherubic face, her sweet demeanor. She is what brings hope to Holden’s bitter, cynical Joe. Were a harsher woman cast, Joan Crawford, for example, or Ida Lupino, I don’t think this film would be nearly as heart wrenching. Ellie is the perfect compliment for Joe. She can provide sympathy and warmth to an angry man. Ellie represents hope and happiness for Joe. No matter how nasty he acts towards her, she remains in love with him. Ellie is what keeps Joe from giving up all hope. She makes him want to live. When Ellie receives some shocking news about Joe, she is in disbelief. She cannot believe what she is being told. Ellie’s anguish is palpable.
William Holden plays the type of character he became best known for in this film. Joe is a handsome everyman, who is just angry at himself, angry at the world. However, despite his bitterness, he never once becomes mopey. Never is Joe mean. He isn’t an unbearable person. He’s just disappointed. Upset. Depressed. Tired. Despite how cynical and jaded Joe is, there’s always this glimmer of hope. He knows that things can get better. Joe just needs some luck or an opportunity. Holden always manages to bring a charm and vulnerability to his roles. You can’t hate Joe. You can’t hate Holden.
While this might not be the greatest World War II-set romantic drama ever made, I loved this film when I first saw it. But I’m always a sucker for a genuinely romantic film, free of most of the typical plot contrivances that malign the romance genre.
As much as I love Bette Davis (she’s my second favorite after Lucille Ball), I do not watch The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex for her. I watch for my man, Errol Flynn (portrays Lord Essex, obviously). Davis’ preparation for the role as England’s Queen Elizabeth I is legendary. To accurately portray the 60-something year old monarch (despite only being 31), Davis shaved back her hairline to mimic Elizabeth I’s reported hair loss. She even shaved off her eyebrows! Which Davis later admitted was a mistake, as her eyebrows didn’t grow back properly. Forever after the film, she had to pencil in her eyebrows. Davis performed a lot of research for her role, and came up with many of Elizabeth I’s quirks and mannerisms herself based off her studies. One such quirk that Davis inserted into the film was Elizabeth’s propensity to fidget with her beads or other things. It’s the fidgeting that drives me crazy. It’s very distracting. It’s the one thing that turns me off of this film.
‘Elizabeth and Essex’ got off to a very rocky start. Davis wanted Sir Laurence Olivier to appear as Lord Essex. However, he was unavailable. Instead Warner Brothers cast their big star, Errol Flynn, to appear alongside Davis. The film’s high production costs led to the decision to cast Flynn as the studio hoped to not only recoup their budget, but to make a profit as well (obviously). Davis was very unhappy about the decision and did not make a secret of her dissatisfaction with her co-star. She treated Flynn very poorly and didn’t hold back when criticizing his acting ability. In his (fantastic) autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Flynn recalls their first dress rehearsal of the scene in which Essex makes his entrance into the film to answer to Elizabeth I re: his latest military defeat (and she slaps him across the face). Essex has to make a long walk, through the middle of the English court, towards Elizabeth I who is seated on her throne.
“Finally, they called the first real rehearsal, and I must say, that as Bette assumed her place on the throne, dressed as Elizabeth, with great big square jewels on her hands, and on her wrists big heavy bracelets, she was living the part. She was Queen Elizabeth. I started the walk down through the English court. The cameras were grinding, the extras were gazing at me or at the throne, and I reached the Queen…Then all of a sudden, I felt as if I had been hit by a railroad locomotive. She had lifted one of her hands, heavy with those Elizabethan rings, and Joe Louis himself couldn’t give a right hook better than Bette hooked me with. My jaw went out. I felt a click behind my ear and I saw all these comets, shooting stars, all in one flash. It didn’t knock me to the ground. She had given me that little dainty hand, laden with about a pound of costume jewelry, right across the ear. I felt as if I were deaf.”
Errol Flynn in My Wicked Wicked Ways (1959).
The tense situation on the set did not improve from there. In his book, Flynn acknowledges that Bette was a great actress; but it’s safe to say that they were never going to be bosom buddies. Flynn also asserts that Bette’s animosity towards him is due to his turning down her advances. Whether this is true or not, is hard to say. Either way, Flynn and Bette never worked together again after ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ There is a famous anecdote about Bette and friend (and ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ co-star) Olivia de Havilland. Decades after the filming of ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ and even Flynn’s passing in 1959, Bette and Olivia attended a viewing of ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ Bette was quoted as saying about Flynn: “I was wrong, wrong wrong. Flynn was brilliant.”
The basic plot of ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ is that Queen Elizabeth I is having an affair with the much younger, Lord Essex. While she is in love with Essex, Elizabeth fears that his intentions are not entirely honorable. She is afraid that the much younger Essex, will use his youth, popularity, and influence to take over her throne. Her vanity worries continue throughout the film. Essex maintains that he is in love with Elizabeth, but at the same time he knows that there is no heir to her throne. It is hard to ascertain whether his motives are genuine, or if he just wants to insinuate himself into the accession line for the British throne. Elizabeth, I think, is in love with Essex, but struggles between her love for him and her duty to the English people. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting, Penelope (de Havilland), also lusts for Essex and uses her position to try and drive a wedge between Elizabeth and Essex.
Now onto the real point of this blogathon–the costumes. Obviously, Elizabeth’s costumes are the highlight of the film. Famed costume designer, Orry-Kelly, designed all the costumes for ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ Elizabeth’s gowns were very extravagant and apparently weighed about sixty pounds. Poor Bette Davis regularly lost 2-3 lbs daily just from sweating under the heavy lights during film production. Bette wears an array of Elizabethan gowns. I’ll admit that I am not familiar with the actual terminology for the different parts of an Elizabethan gown. For the purposes of this blog, I googled “Elizabethan gown” to try and learn the correct names for the different components.
Many of Bette’s gowns are what’s known as a “French gown” which is a dress with a square neckline, tight bodice, and a full skirt. Bette had to be put into a corset everyday in order to present the proper silhouette for her Elizabethan garb. According to some of the articles I read, buxom women would need to wear a corset in order for the gown to fit properly. Less-endowed women could get away with just some boning placed in the bodice of the gown. Bette no doubt had a bosom, thus the corset. Elizabethan gowns were outfitted with a device called a “Spanish Farthingale” which was essentially a hoop skirt, as to give the dress the correct Elizabethan look. Then, there was the “bumroll” (lol) which was a padded device that women wore around their hips to make the skirt pop out more. There is no doubt that Bette is also wearing a similar device to achieve the right aesthetic.
Then, there is another type of skirt, whether it is a petticoat, or something called a “kirtle” that will be a decorative skirt that will cover the spanish farthingale. Then, if that weren’t enough, FINALLY, the dress is put on. Bette’s costumes also include decorative elements, like the ruffs, which provide the more well known Elizabethan touches, like the big ruffled cuffs and high ruffled stiff collars. There were also ruffled collars that just went around the neck, but didn’t stick up half a foot from the neck. The kirtle is the contrasting part of the skirt that is visible. After this many different layers, which didn’t even include any sort of underwear or stockings that Bette might be wearing, no wonder the costume weighed 60 lbs.
Many of Bette’s gowns in the film follow this same silhouette, but the gowns themselves all different from one another. The gowns are made of varying fabrics (brocade, silk, velvet to name a few) and colors. Her gowns are festooned with a variety of different decorative elements, like beading, lace, jewelry, flowers, and embroidery. Orry-Kelly would also change up the gowns by adding bunched sleeves, or extra ruffles, or what have you. Elizabeth’s costumes are very beautiful and elaborate. They truly are the highlight of the film.
Flynn’s costumes however, while not as elaborate, are still beautiful. Very few men could get away with tights and still look cool. But as Flynn proved in both The Adventures of Robin Hood and again in ‘Private Lives,’ is that he looks amazing in everything. Honestly, I pay more attention to Flynn than I do to Bette when I watch this film. When Flynn makes his grand entrance into the film as the defeated Lord Essex, he is dressed in a beautiful navy blue with gold trim doublet, with brown and gold breeches, brown tights, and knee-high brown boots. Nobody wore knee-high boots as beautifully as the 6’2″ Flynn. He is also wearing a black and gold breastplate with a red sash draped diagonally across it. And of course, because this film takes place during the Elizabethan era, he has on a tall, ruffed collar. For the sake of propriety, we will assume that Flynn’s Lord Essex is not outfitted with the codpiece that was custom during Elizabethan times.
Flynn’s costumes follow a similar template, though the components are changed up based on the action of the scene. Obviously, he is not always dressed in battle armor, except when appropriate. There is another scene where Essex is dressed in a teal outfit, and he’s wearing a gold garter or some sort of decorative element around his leg, under the knee. He also wears a variety of short and long capes in this film. Flynn’s costumes are also adorned with a variety of embellishments, and the type of fabrics are changed up. While Elizabeth wears a lot of bright, bold colors, Essex for the most part is dressed in more neutrals, like dark blue, brown, and teal.
Olivia de Havilland’s Lady Penelope and Elizabeth’s other ladies in waiting, including chanteuse, Mistress Margaret Radcliffe (Nanette Fabray), wear costumes similar to Elizabeth I, but they are less ornate, less busy. Lady Penelope in particular wears quite low-cut costumes and overall appears sexier (as sexy as one can be in Elizabethan garb) than Elizabeth I. This was probably a purposeful choice as Lady Penelope is presented as a foe for Elizabeth I. She has the hots for Essex and seems like a more logical partner for him than the aging monarch.
This is a wonderful film, in spite of Bette Davis’ constant fidgeting with her beads or whatever else is in her hands. There is no doubt watching this film that she studied and worked very hard to play Elizabeth I. In fact, she might have prepared a little too much as this performance seems a little more rigid than other performances of Bette’s that I’ve seen. Flynn of course is Errol Flynn. He is a great hero and a great lover. It is logical that Elizabeth and Penelope would both be in love with him. It is also logical that he’d use his good looks, popularity and influence to worm his way into Elizabeth’s confidence, so that she’d let her guard down as he keeps his eye on the prize (i.e. her throne). It doesn’t even matter that Flynn didn’t even attempt to not sound Australian. Flynn looks hot in his costumes. That’s all that matters to me. Poor Olivia de Havilland, was cast in this film right after finishing filming her role as Melanie in Gone With the Wind. Someone of her stature is wasted in the small part as Lady Penelope. However, it is nice to see her play a bad girl, a conniving type.
It’s no secret on my blog that I love Lucy. I love Desi too. I discovered Lucy and Desi in 1994 or 1995, when I was 10 or 11 years old. One evening, I stumbled upon I Love Lucy on Nick at Nite and was hooked. From then on, I had to watch “my show.” I made sure to have my homework done by 8pm, so I could watch ‘Lucy.’ On Saturdays, at 10pm, I watched Nick at Nite’s “Whole Lotta Lucy Saturday” with 2(!) episodes of I Love Lucy and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Nick at Nite’s “Block Party Summer” was even more exciting, because I Love Lucy always got a day–4 whole hours of I Love Lucy!
Growing up, my family also went to the library every month. I started checking out books about Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, I Love Lucy, and everything I Love Lucy-adjacent. Through these books, I learned about Lucille Ball’s movie career. I discovered that my library had a good selection of Lucille Ball’s films on VHS! I checked out every single one. It was through I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball that I developed my knowledge and love of classic film.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz have always held a special place in my heart. I Love Lucy is my absolute favorite show of all time. I have seen every episode dozens of times and never tire of it. I own the entire series on DVD. I own at least a dozen books about it. I saw the I Love Lucy colorized special in the theater. I have a dozen Lucy Ricardo Barbie Dolls. I have almost every Lucille Ball movie that’s available on DVD/Blu Ray. Lucy, Desi, and I Love Lucy is very important to me. I find it fascinating that an interest in Lucy and Desi seems to have revitalized in 2021. It’s very curious. Not that I’m unhappy about it, but why? Was the catalyst the 70th anniversary of the debut of I Love Lucy? In the past six months (give or take), we’ve had: A new Lucille Ball doll, Lucille Ball “Let’s Talk to Lucy” radio show/podcast on Sirius XM, TCM’s excellent Lucy podcast (highly recommended), and both a movie and documentary about Lucy and Desi. I hope more content is on the docket.
When I heard about Aaron Sorkin’s plan to dramatize a week in Lucy and Desi’s life, I was instantly turned off. For the record, I have not seen Being the Ricardos, nor do I plan to watch it. I saw Sorkin being interviewed on TCM, and I’m not even convinced that he’s ever seen an episode of I Love Lucy. I read about what the film is about, and he doesn’t even portray the correct episode being filmed when Lucy’s Communist allegations broke. They are filming a season 1 episode when this whole incident went down at the end of season 2/beginning of season 3. I’m not convinced about the casting of Lucy and Desi. I vehemently disagree with a quote by Sorkin stating that I Love Lucy isn’t a show that we’d find funny with a 21st century lens. I don’t know what planet Sorkin lives on, but I Love Lucy is still very popular.
Aside from the inaccuracies portrayed in Being the Ricardos, I do not want to see Lucy and Desi’s personal problems dramatized. I read Lucy’s memoir. I read Desi’s memoir. I have seen countless documentaries. I’ve read countless books. Lucy and Desi’s marital issues are well documented. Lucy and Desi fighting, Lucy and Desi divorcing, Desi’s drinking, Desi’s infidelity… these are not the things I want to think about when I think about Lucy and Desi. I want to think about the adorable couple I see in I Love Lucy. I want to think about the honeymooning couple in my favorite movie of all time: The Long, Long Trailer. I want to think about the photos of the ecstatic newlyweds after their 1940 elopement. Lucy and Desi are far more interesting than their divorce.
Thankfully, Amy Poehler came to the rescue with her new documentary, Lucy and Desi, that is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. I’m always game for a good documentary. However, because I’ve read/watched so much about Lucy and Desi, finding new programs and books that don’t simply rehash the same old stories again and again are hard to find. And while Lucy and Desi does cover some familiar ground, Poehler put a unique spin on sharing Lucy and Desi’s story. Following the same storytelling style present in TCM’s Lucy podcast, Poehler has archival audio clips of Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, and people close to Lucy and Desi telling the story. While there are some actual interviews featured by people like Lucie Arnaz, Carol Burnett, and my fave, Charo, much of the story is told by Lucy and Desi themselves. I also love how clips of I Love Lucy were used to tie pieces of Lucy and Desi’s story together. Poehler actually managed to find audio, video and photos that I’d never seen before! That was the absolute best part of watching this documentary.
I liked the narrative structure of the documentary. The events in the story unfold chronologically, with Lucy’s childhood, move to New York City as a teenager, and eventual opportunity to come to Hollywood being the key events of her life. Lucy and Desi, of course mentions the tragic accident that changed the course of Lucy and her family’s lives and how that incident motivated Lucy’s work ethic. Lucy’s family was financially devastated by the accident and Lucy was determined to never be in that situation again. It was interesting that the documentary did not mention Lucy’s bout with rheumatism, which derailed her life for two years in the late 1920s. Desi’s childhood of course was a riches to rags story, with his comfortable life ruined by the overthrowing of the Cuban government in 1933. Desi’s life story cannot be portrayed without mentioning this horrible event that completely ruined Desi and his family’s lives. It is asserted in the documentary that this was a formative event in Desi’s life and that it perhaps was the root cause of Desi’s personal problems later on in his life.
Lucy and Desi’s married life is depicted with countless home movies showing two people in love. The controversy over their interracial marriage is touched upon, but it’s obvious from the home movies that race was the furthest thing from Lucy and Desi’s minds. And of course, race again is a major player in the discussion regarding the genesis of I Love Lucy and how it almost didn’t happen because CBS didn’t think Americans would find Lucy and Desi’s marriage believable. Of course, CBS was wrong. Lucy and Desi were a sensation and I Love Lucy was and continues to be a massive hit. A bittersweet moment in the documentary is when Lucie Arnaz mentions that I Love Lucy only exists because Lucy and Desi wanted to be together, and they weren’t able to achieve that. The success of the show and their studio, Desilu, is partially what drove the couple apart.
I liked that Poehler didn’t opt to dwell on the latter part of Lucy and Desi’s lives. She mentions that both remarried and spends a little bit of time on Lucille Ball as President of Desilu, but really not much else is said. We don’t care about Gary Morton, Lucille Ball’s second husband. The documentary even says as much. We don’t care about Desi’s second wife, Edith Mack Hirsch. What we do care about is the fact that Lucy and Desi stayed in love after their divorce. They stayed friends. Lucy and Desi are known for having a very amicable divorce. They never fell out of love with one another. This is definitely proven by the ending scene showing Lucy being honored at the Kennedy Center.
The one thing I always hate about documentaries about my absolute favorite stars (almost all of whom are long deceased) is that the documentary has to mention their death. I can’t even watch my Errol Flynn documentary, because I love him so much I don’t want to be reminded of his death. Yes, I know logically, they have passed. I am not in denial about the fact. However, I want to think of Lucy and Desi (and Errol) as always being alive. And while Amy Poehler does devote some content of the documentary to Desi’s passing, it is included as a way to conclude their love story. Even then, we are treated to a very moving (and heartwrenching) epilogue to their story–Lucy and Desi’s love for one another never waned, even after death, Desi still loved Lucy.
I can take some solace in knowing that even if it was just for 2.5 short years, I was alive at the same time as Lucy and Desi, two people who have brought me almost three decades of happiness. Even during difficult days, I Love Lucy can always make me laugh.
I can highly recommend Amy Poehler’s Lucy and Desi documentary. I can only hope that it becomes available on Blu Ray.
2021 is (finally) coming to a close. While the year wasn’t so hot as a whole, except for my fabulous trip to Southern California in October, it was another year of discovering new favorite films. One of the best thing about being a fan of film, especially classic film, is that you never run out of “new” movies to see. As Lauren Bacall says in an episode of Private Screenings with Robert Osborne, “It’s not an old movie, if you haven’t seen it,” and I couldn’t agree more. There is an entire world of movies to discover, a world of films just waiting to become someone’s favorite.
Without further adieu, in no particular order, here are some of my new favorites that I watched for the first time in 2021:
#1 Road House (1948) This was a fabulous film noir that I watched right at the start of the new year. It is the final volume in the Fox Film Noir DVD series (I own the entire collection). I decided to take a look at it, because I’m a big fan of Ida Lupino. In addition to Lupino, it also starred Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, and Celeste Holm. At first, it seems like Ida is going to be the femme fatale, but it is soon revealed that she is a woman who will not be made a pawn in the games of the men, Wilde and Widmark. Even though she was originally brought into the Road House by Widmark to be another of his fly by night floozies, she refuses to be used and becomes a big star and later saves the day. In a time when every woman who wasn’t Judy Garland or Doris Day was dubbed, Ida uses her own voice to warble out “One for my Baby (And One More For the Road)” and it was fabulous.
#2 Mrs. Miniver (1942). I know. This is a big Oscar winner. A major classic of the studio era, but I hadn’t seen it yet. I absolutely loved this movie and actually bought the blu-ray literally right after watching it. That’s how much I loved it. Greer Garson won an Oscar playing the titular Mrs. Miniver and infamously delivered the longest acceptance speech, a record which still stands today. Long-winded speech or not, Garson deserved her award. In Mrs. Miniver, Garson portrays a very stoic woman and mother who stays strong and protects her family even directly in the line of fire during the German invasion of Britain. She puts humanity above all else, even when directly threatened by an injured German pilot. The scene with Mrs. Miniver and her husband and children hiding in the shelter while bombs fall all around them is heartbreaking. This family does not know what they’ll find when they emerge, or whether their house will still be standing. Despite everything, Mrs. Miniver remains a calm influence even in the middle of a tumultuous event, like a World War. I cannot say enough good things about this film, it was fantastic.
#3 Girl Happy (1965). Like the esteemed Mrs. Miniver, this Elvis movie is another film that I purchased immediately after watching it. I loved it. For years, with the exception of Viva Las Vegas (my favorite Elvis movie), I wrote off Elvis’ movies as pure fluff, and not fluffy in a good way, and many of Elvis’ movies are ridiculous, like Girl Happy, but if you can suspend disbelief and just go along with whatever plot is presented, I’ve found that many of Elvis’ movies are enjoyable diversions. In Girl Happy, Elvis plays a musician (a premise setting up lots of opportunities for Elvis to sing) who, along with his band, is hired by his boss to indirectly chaperone his 18-year old daughter, Shelley Fabares. Shelley is traveling to Florida for Spring Break and her overprotective father is worried. Elvis happily agrees, because he gets an all expenses paid trip to Florida. Like how most movies with this plot go (see Too Many Girls), Elvis starts to fall in love with the girl whom he’s chaperoning, and the girl discovers that he was hired to watch her and gets upset. Regardless, this movie was charming, fun, and I loved it.
#4 History is Made at Night (1937) This was a movie that I’d never even heard of until I heard that Criterion was restoring it and releasing it as part of their esteemed (at least among the boutique label community) line of films. I first watched it on the Criterion Channel and must have seen a pre-restoration print, because it was pretty rough. After watching it, I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of it. It had one of my faves, Jean Arthur! And Charles “LUCY! RAWWWR” Boyer. How has this movie been hiding from me this entire time? In this movie, Jean Arthur plays Irene, a woman who leaves her husband, Bruce, (Colin Clive) after he falsely accuses her of having an affair. To prevent the divorce from being finalized, Bruce tries to manipulate a situation to frame Irene for infidelity. He hires his chauffeur to pretend to be Irene’s lover, so that a private detective walks in and catches them in a compromising position. While this is taking place, Paul (Charles Boyer) is walking by Irene’s window. He overhears the ruckus and comes to Irene’s rescue, pretending to be an armed burglar. It’s a weird set-up, but ultimately leads to a beautiful love story with an ending that I was not expecting.
#5 Naked Alibi (1954). This was another film noir that I’d never heard of until I was reading Sterling Hayden’s filmography and discovered that he’d made a film with one of my faves, Gloria Grahame. Fortunately, my library had this film available and I was able to borrow it. This was a great movie. Hayden plays a police chief who tails a suspect, Willis, to Mexico. Willis is suspected to be the mastermind behind a series of crimes in the small town from which he and Hayden hail. While in a border town on the Mexican border, Hayden meets Grahame, a singer with whom he becomes smitten. Unfortunately, Grahame is the girlfriend of Willis, despite the shoddy treatment she receives from him. Hayden and Grahame’s connection with one another continues to grow until the very end of the film. This was a wonderful film and I thought that Gloria Grahame looked absolutely gorgeous.
#6 Dead End (1937). Despite the appearance of the Dead End Kids, whom I cannot stand (I don’t get their appeal), I thought this was a great movie. This film is a story about social classes and the privileges that are afforded to those of a higher social standing. The neighborhood in the film is a “dead end” both figuratively and literally. The rich live in high rise apartments that overlook the slums and tenements. Those who are not privileged to live in the high rises literally have the rich looking down upon them. If you have the misfortune to be born into the slums, it is all you can do to get out. Some try to do so honorably, like Dave (Joel McCrea), who dreams of making a career as an architect. However, he can’t just seem to book the right gig, so he has to survive by doing odd jobs. Others, like Drina (Sylvia Sidney) have slightly less honorable means to get out of the tenement, she wants to marry a rich man. Then, there are those like Hugh “Baby Face” Martin (Humphrey Bogart), who did manage to get out of the slums, but he did so by becoming a big-time mobster. The Dead End Kids represent the next generation who most likely will remain in the slums, unless they can somehow be guided into making a better life for themselves. Marjorie Main has a heartbreaking role as Baby Face’s mother. Claire Trevor is fantastic as Baby Face’s old girlfriend, who was never able to get out of the slums.
#7 Klute (1971) This was the first film in Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy,” which unfortunately I watched all out of order. I don’t think the films in the trilogy have anything to do with one another, so I think I’m okay. Anyway, there’s just something about the 1970s thrillers that I find fascinating. There’s a grittiness, a seediness, combined with the earth tones aesthetic that I just love watching. Anyway, in this film, Jane Fonda gives an Oscar-winning performance as Bree Daniels, a prostitute who aids police detective, John Klute, in investigating a murder. After finding an obscene letter addressed to Bree in the murder victim’s office, Klute rents an apartment in Bree’s building and begins tracing her. Concurrently, Bree is working as a freelance call girl to support herself while she tries to make it as a model/actress. Bree is also trying to find meaning in her life through sessions with a psychiatrist. This was such a fantastic movie and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who was responsible for the murder.
#8 Thunder on the Hill (1951) I am a big fan of Ann Blyth and this was a film of hers that I hadn’t heard of until I purchased Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema box sets. Thunder on the Hill, by the way, is on the second collection in the series. In this film, Blyth plays Valerie, a young woman convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. However, on her way to the gallows, Valerie and the police officers accompanying her, are forced to spend the night in the hospital ward of a convent due to massive flooding. Running the hospital ward is Sister Mary (Claudette Colbert), a woman who is also battling with her own mental troubles involving her sister’s suicide. Valerie is understandably combative and angry, but confides to Sister Mary that she is innocent of the crime of which she was convicted. Sister Mary, who has been warned in the past about meddling in other people’s affairs, is convinced of Valerie’s innocence and sets to save her before she is executed. This was such a wonderful film. It was interesting to see Blyth in such a different role than that of Veda in Mildred Pierce or the mermaid in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. I loved the suspense of the story and the cinematography was gorgeous. I am also a big fan of Douglas Sirk, so this film fit the bill.
#9 King Creole (1958) A second Elvis film on the list? Yes! I watched a lot of Elvis movies this year according to LetterBoxd, so it was bound to happen. This was an excellent film. It was much higher brow fare than Elvis would be offered once he returned from his stint in the army. In this movie, Elvis plays super senior Danny, who has failed high school once and looks like he’ll fail it again due to his behavior. He is offered a chance to graduate if he agrees to take night classes, but Danny turns it down, much to the chagrin of his father, Dean Jagger. There is drama between Danny and his father, in that Jagger lost his job as a pharmacist after his wife died. The family is forced to leave their nice home outside of New Orleans for a much more modest flat in the French Quarter. To help make ends meet, Danny was working before and after school. Now with school out of the way, Danny starts working at a club. As how most Elvis movies go, he is coerced into singing and is offered a job performing at the club, much to the chagrin of the club’s main act. Danny is soon a sensation. Eventually his connection with the local gangs threaten to affect his family, his relationship with a young woman named Nellie (Dolores Hart), and his life. This was such a great movie with a stellar cast. Aside from Elvis, Dean Jagger and Dolores Hart, Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau, Vic Morrow, and Paul Stewart also star in this film… and it was directed by none other than Michael Curtiz!
#10 Private Lives (1931) This was a fabulous pre-code starring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery. In this film, Shearer and Montgomery play Amanda and Elyot, two ex-spouses who end up staying at the same hotel while honeymooning with their new respective spouses. Both honeymoons are NOT going well. Amanda and her new husband Victor (Reginald Denny) are already fighting due to Victor’s incessant need to talk about Elyot. Because yes, let’s talk about your new bride’s ex-husband on your honeymoon. Great idea, Victor. Elyot is dealing with the same thing from his new wife, Sybil (Una Merkel) who won’t stop asking about Amanda. Eventually, Amanda and Elyot find each other and begin to reminisce about “the old times.” They end up leaving the hotel together and head to a new place in St. Moritz. This was a fabulous pre-code that had plenty of racy moments. I am not as big a fan of Shearer in her production code movies like The Women, but I love her in pre-code. She and Montgomery also make a great pairing. Poor Una Merkel is wasted in her role, but she is wonderful in her scenes.
#11 Hold Back the Dawn (1941) This was an amazing movie. One that I’d always wanted to see but it seemed like it was never on TCM–then finally it was and the movie was everything I’d hoped it would be. In this film, Charles Boyer stars as Georges Iscovescu, a Romanian immigrant who is stuck in a Mexican border town. Per immigration laws, he is looking at up to an eight year wait to obtain a quota number for entry in the United States. Georges then runs into an old flame, Anita Dixon (Paulette Goddard), an Australian who married a US citizen purely to obtain US citizenship. As soon as she could, she divorced the man and retained her citizenship status. Anita suggests that Georges do the same thing, then he and she could be free to start a new life together in New York. Georges immediately goes to work and spots Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland), a California school teacher whose bus has broken down. The bus is set to be repaired shortly, but Georges manipulates the situation (by “losing” a vital piece of the bus’s machinery) and forces Emmy and her class to stay overnight. This gives Georges enough time to woo Emmy and they are married after a whirlwind romance. However, Georges is required to wait in Mexico a few weeks before he can join Emmy in California. Emmy returns unexpectedly and Georges takes her on a trip (under the guise of a honeymoon, but in reality he is trying to hide from an immigration officer who is looking for con artists like Georges and Anita). Georges’ plans are complicated when he finds himself falling in love with Emmy. This was such an amazing film. Even though we’re supposed to dislike Georges, it’s hard to do because it’s Charles-freaking-Boyer. It’s easy to see why Emmy falls for him. I love true, legitimate romantic films (with no contrived plot points), and this is one of the best that I’ve seen.
#12 Gaslight (1944) Another Charles Boyer film! Third one on the list! Surprisingly Boyer was not on my top 10 actors watched in 2021, per Letterboxd. This was an amazing film. I don’t know how I went so long without seeing it. This is the film that gave the name to a form of psychological abuse, where one partner mentally manipulates another into thinking that they’re losing their mind. In this film, Boyer plays Gregory Anton, a pianist who marries Alice Alquist (Ingrid Bergman), a famous opera singer. Gregory works as Alice’s accompanist. At first, Gregory seems sweet, he convinces Alice that they move into her deceased aunt’s old home #9 Thornton Square in London, seemingly under the guise that Alice loved her aunt so much and that her aunt would want her home to be lived in. However, Gregory has ulterior motives which are revealed throughout the film. To keep Alice from catching onto Gregory’s motives, he gaslights her by manipulating situations and then making her think she caused them. Alice begins to think she’s going insane. And while she begins to question Gregory’s actions, he’s gotten her mind so messed up that she can’t convince herself that she’s right. A young, 17-year old Angela Lansbury makes her film debut as Nancy, a tart of a maid who takes pleasure in observing Gregory’s manipulation of Alice. Nancy even plays along to exacerbate the situation. Ingrid Bergman’s performance was a tour-de-force and she deserved every piece of the Oscar that she received.
#13 I Want to Live! (1958) If there are two things I love, it’s classic film and true crime. I Want to Live! has both. This film is a biopic of Barbara Graham, a prostitute who was executed in California in 1955 for her part in the murder of a wealthy widow. Susan Hayward gives an Oscar-winning performance as the doomed woman who at the beginning of the film, works as a prostitute who is arrested for soliciting sex across state lines. She then receives jail time after providing a false alibi to two friends who committed crimes. Despite her growing rap sheet, Barbara continues to “make a living” by committing petty crimes and turning tricks. Eventually, she hits the big time when she gets a job working with a big time thief, Emmett Perkins. Her job is to lure men into his illegal gambling parlor. Meanwhile, her husband has a drug addiction and is unemployed–leaving Barbara as the breadwinner. Eventually Perkins ends up becoming involved with criminals, John Santo and Bruce King. Barbara returns to Perkins’ establishment which is soon raided by the police. Barbara surrenders to the police for her involvement in the gambling ring, but soon learns that she is being accused in being complicit with Santo and King’s murder of a wealthy widow. Barbara tries to give her alibi, saying that she was home with her husband and son, but her husband has skipped town. Unless he can be found, Barbara is toast. This was such an amazing film. I know that there was controversy regarding how Barbara Graham was portrayed in the film, versus the real life events. I can’t comment on that; but what I can say is that real facts or not, this was a great movie.
#14 Suspense (1946) I went into this film noir not knowing entirely what to expect. It starred Barry Sullivan whom I like and Albert Dekker who always turns in a good performance. Sullivan and Dekker’s co-star was British figure skater, Belita. Often when athletes are put into films, especially athletes whose sport is exploited on screen, the results can vary drastically–especially if the athlete has limited acting talent. Sometimes this is good, such as the case with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan series. Other times, it can be limiting like is the case with Belita in another film of hers that I’ve seen. However, in this film, I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not saying Belita was amazing; but she was asked to play a figure skater, and Belita delivers on that front. In this film, Sullivan plays schemer, Joe Morgan, a newcomer to New York City who ends up taking a job at a theater as a peanut vendor. Belita plays the star performer, figure skater, Roberta. Albert Dekker plays Leonard, the owner of the theater and Roberta’s husband. Joe ends up suggesting a new act for Roberta, which revitalizes the show–as a reward he is made a manager. When Leonard leaves for a business trip, he puts Joe in charge. Joe and Roberta end up striking up a romance which Leonard soon discovers. This was a fantastic film. I actually was in suspense and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
#15 The China Syndrome (1979) This was another 1970s thriller that I watched which I really enjoyed. In this film, Jane Fonda plays television reporter, Kimberly Wells, who keeps getting stuck with the fluff stories during the local news segments. There is chauvinism present at the station, as it is thought that she couldn’t possibly handle a serious story. Her cameraman is the hot-tempered Richard Adams (Michael Douglas). One day, Kimberly and Richard end up getting a plum gig: doing a report from the Ventana, CA nuclear power plant. While visiting, they witness a malfunction in the nuclear power plant turbine operation and emergency shutdown protocol. Richard, despite being asked not to film, covertly records the entire incident. The incident is played off as not a big deal, but it becomes clear that the plant was thisclose to a meltdown. Jack Lemmon gives a fantastic performance as Jack Godell, the supervisor of the plant. Wilford Brimley was also excellent as the long-time employee, Ted Spindler, who battles with knowing what is right and his resentment over being passed up for promotion opportunities. I loved this movie. This isn’t normally my type of thing, but as a fan of 1970s thrillers and Fonda and Lemmon, I gave it a try. I’m glad I did. I was captivated from beginning to end and I especially loved Lemmon’s performance in the second half of this movie.
A Cry in the Night (1956). Raymond Burr, Natalie Wood, Edmond O’Brien.
Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018). A fabulous documentary on HBO Max.
The Caine Mutiny (1954). Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer.
Once a Thief (1965). Alain Delon, Ann-Margret, Van Heflin.
Walk on the Wild Side (1962). Laurence Harvey, Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter, Capucine.
Moonrise (1948). Dane Clark, Lloyd Bridges, Gail Patrick.
The Glass Wall (1953). Vittorio Gassman, Gloria Grahame.
The Big Combo (1955). Richard Conte, Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace.
Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021) The Great Gonzo, Pepe, Will Arnett.
Die Hard (1988) Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson.
Confession (1937) Kay Francis, Basil Rathbone, Ian Hunter.
Three Days of the Condor (1975) Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson.
I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) Susan Hayward, Richard Conte, Eddie Albert.
Possessed (1947) Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey
“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
“We’ll always have Paris.”
“Play it Sam, play ‘As Time Goes By.'”
“I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on here.”
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
“Everybody comes to Rick’s.”
These are just some of the amazing quotes from Casablanca. Casablanca is considered one of the greatest films of all time, and for good reason–it is a fantastic movie. Almost every line of dialogue is quotable. The characters (especially Rick, Ilsa, and Louis) are iconic. The last scene between Rick and Ilsa at the airport and later, the ending scene with Rick and Louis walking off into the fog are forever symbolic of Classic Hollywood. Between the quotes, the scenes, the music, Rick and Ilsa’s romance, Louis’ corruption… there is so much to remember about Casablanca. However, does anyone remember the object that plays a central role in the film? 1
1 Obviously a rhetorical question, because duh, we’re all Classic Hollywood film fans, OF COURSE we know the answer to this question; but roll with it.
Answer? The letters of transit. The letters of transit are introduced in the film as a piece of crucial documentation that refugees must present to leave Casablanca, Morocco. These refugees are hoping to obtain a letter of transit so that they can travel through German-occupied Europe to Lisbon, Portugal (which is neutral), then board a ship/plane to head to their new life in the United States. These documents are the objects that motivate the main characters’ actions in the film. The audience is first introduced to Peter Lorre’s character in the film, Ugarte, as he races through town and into Rick’s (Humphrey Bogart) club, Rick’s Cafe American. Ugarte boasts that he murdered two German couriers to obtain these precious letters of transit. He wants to sell them in Rick’s club. In the meantime however, Ugarte asks Rick to keep the letters of transit safe.
Later, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) arrive in Casablanca and head over to Rick’s. Victor is the leader of the Czech Resistance movement. Because of his activity, Victor ranks high on the Germans’ list of persons to not allow to leave Casablanca. Thanks to Rick’s business rival, Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet), Rick is suspected of having the letters of transit in his possession. This suspicion is what leads Ilsa and Victor to Rick’s. Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), the corrupt prefect of police, also suspects Rick has the letters of transit. He is a subject of the German-controlled France and is supposed to be preventing Ilsa and Victor’s escape.
But does the audience care about the letters of transit? No. Not really. As the audience, we are immediately captivated by Rick’s sour reaction to Ilsa’s showing up at his club. What’s the story there? That’s what we want to know. Judging from Ilsa’s acquaintance with Sam (Dooley Wilson), Rick’s pianist and friend, and her asking him to play “it,” we know that there’s a story there. Sam knows what “it” is and reluctantly agrees to play the song when Ilsa persists. When Sam acquiesces to Ilsa’s request and begins playing “As Time Goes By,” (i.e. “it”), Rick angrily emerges from his office, demanding to know why Sam is playing *that* song. He spots Ilsa and oof. If looks could kill. Rick’s reaction, combined with Sam quickly grabbing his piano bench and scurrying out of the way, is what we need to know about. What is the story behind Rick and Ilsa?
The story of Rick and Ilsa provides the main framework of the story and the main conflict. Add in the fact that Ilsa is married to Victor, and a love triangle develops. Rick and Ilsa’s romance is re-kindled and soon it’s up in the air as to whether Ilsa will want a letter of transit to leave Casablanca. A different side of Rick emerges. He was a cynical, world weary ex-pat living in Casablanca, seemingly impervious to everything. Then Ilsa shows up (unexpectedly) and the romantic side of him emerges. Louis is there, kind of playing both sides, both as an ally of Rick’s but also wanting to follow through on his “duty” and prevent Victor’s escape. He knows Rick knows where the letters of transit are, but he doesn’t really work too hard to look for them. Louis, a French police officer, is stuck in the middle between duty to his country and duty to the corrupt Nazi regime who had taken over Vichy France. At the end of the film, Louis tosses the full bottle of Vichy water into the trash, symbolically showing that he is severing his ties with the Nazis. Louis, like Rick, becomes a patriot.
At the end of the film, Rick makes the ultimate sacrifice and sends Ilsa off with Victor. He hands over the letters of transit very casually. There is no big fanfare, no big build up when Rick hands off the coveted documents. Instead, we are treated to Rick’s very self-sacrificing monologue, the monologue in which he finally severs ties with Ilsa and closes this chapter of his life. This is closure to the romance that we’ve been captivated by since the beginning of the film. We’re finally finding out the resolution of the love triangle. Which man will Ilsa end up with? The man she fell in love with after her husband was thought to be dead? Or her husband, whom she reunited with (and abandoned Rick in the process) after learning that he was still alive? Does she stay with the man who escaped the war to live in Casablanca? Or does she stay with the man who is conducting very important, but also dangerous work on behalf of the Resistance? The letters of transit are essentially irrelevant in the context of the real crux of the film.
RICK: “Last night, we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you’re getting on that plane with Victor where you belong.”
ILSA: “But Richard, no… I… I…”
RICK: “Now you’ve got to listen to me! You have any idea what you’d have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten we’d both wind up in a Concentration Camp. Isn’t that true, Louis?”
LOUIS: “I’m afraid Major Strasser would insist.”
ILSA: “You’re only saying this to make me go.”
RICK: “I’m saying it because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
ILSA: “But what about us?”
RICK: “We’ll always have Paris. What we didn’t have, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”
ILSA: “When I said I would never leave you.”
RICK: “And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t have any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”
(ILSA lowers her head and begins to cry)
(RICK gently grabs Ilsa’s chin and raises it, so they can look into each other’s eyes.)
RICK: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Humphrey Bogart (Rick), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa), and Claude Rains (Louis) in one of the most iconic scenes in Classic Hollywood.
The final scene between Rick and Ilsa is one of my absolute favorite scenes in any film. Who knew that a scene where two people are breaking up could be so romantic and heartbreaking. It was beautifully written and acted. After taking in the emotional gravitas of this scene and the absolutely heart-wrenching ending to this romance, who is still thinking about the letters of transit?
Claudette Colbert made a series of romantic comedies throughout her storied career. She is most well known for her Oscar-winning role in It Happened One Night (1934). She also made a series of romantic comedies with frequent co-star Fred MacMurray. However, my favorite film of Claudette’s is The Palm Beach Story, co-starring Joel McCrea and directed by Preston Sturges.
The Palm Beach Story starts off with a series of manic images showing a bride and groom racing to get to the church and random objects crashing around them. From the beginning scenes, we really have no idea what’s happening, only that Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea marry at the end of the sequence and that the year of the marriage was 1937. Fast forward five years, 1942, and we meet Geraldine “Gerry” Jeffers (Colbert) who is dealing with back bills and possibly losing her apartment. I am unsure exactly what Tom Jeffers’ (McCrea) occupation is, but when we meet him in 1942, he is meeting with an investor about funding is idea to build an airport that is suspended over a city.
Meanwhile, back at the Jeffers’ apartment, Gerry is watching “The Wienie King” (aka the greatest character in the film) touring the apartment. The Jeffers owe back rent and their landlord is thisclose to evicting them. The Wienie King is hard of hearing, which makes his two scenes even funnier. He also makes sure everyone knows that he’s The Wienie King and that’s how he made his wealth:
THE WIENIE KING: I’m The Wienie King! Invented the Texas wienie. Lay off ’em, you’ll live longer
The Wienie King, “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)
Gerry ends up sharing her’s and Tom’s financial troubles and how they’re about to lose their home. The Wienie King, not interested in her apartment anyway, pulls a thick roll of bills out of his pocket and hands Gerry $700 ($11,560 in 2021 dollars). She accepts it and uses the money to pay their back bills and buy herself a new outfit. When Tom arrives home, Gerry lets him know that their financial troubles are alleviated for now. Tom is suspicious of The Wienie King’s financial gift and also his pride is wounded that another man had to pay his bills. Gerry then admits that she fully used her womanly wiles to get money from The Wienie King.
TOM: Oh, is that so? He just–seven hundred dollars? Just like that?
GERRY: Just like that.
TOM: I mean, sex didn’t even enter into it?
GERRY: Oh, but of course it did, darling. I don’t think he’d have given it to me if I had hair like excelsior and little short legs like an alligator. Sex always has something to do with it, dear…you have no idea what a long-legged woman can do without doing anything.
Joel McCrea (Tom) and Claudette Colbert (Gerry) in “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)
The next day, Gerry packs her bags and leaves Tom. She believes that she and Tom are better off separately and they’re just holding each other back. She plans to take a train from New York to Palm Beach, FL. She ends up getting onto a train with the craziest passengers I’ve seen in a movie. Gerry ends up onboard with “The Ale and Quail Club,” a boisterous hunting (and drinking) club led by William Demarest (aka Uncle Charlie in “My Three Sons” and Ann-Margret’s father in “Viva Las Vegas”). The Ale and Quail Club is absolutely insane. Every member is drunk and partying heavily. They are even having a shooting contest IN THE TRAIN. When the members meet Gerry, they declare her their mascot. Eventually, the noise gets to be too much for Gerry. She borrows a pair of pajamas from one of the members and tries to sleep. The party then gets really out of hand, and Gerry leaves, not wanting to get caught in the crossfire.
The Ale and Quail Club traincar, now riddled with bullets and missing all of its windows, is disconnected from the rest of the train and abandoned. Gerry finds an empty upper berth and crawls in, while standing on millionaire John D. Hackensacker III’s (Rudy Vallee) face, breaking his glasses in his eyes (yikes). But Hackensacker doesn’t mind and quickly takes a shine to Gerry. The next day, Gerry fashions herself the greatest dress made from men’s pajamas and a Pullman blanket. She and Hackensacker order two .75 ($12.39 in 2021) breakfasts.
When Gerry and Hackensacker finally arrive in Palm Beach, Hackensacker offers to buy Gerry some clothing due to Gerry’s suitcase disappearing. Gerry accepts, thinking that he’ll buy her an outfit. Hackensacker has other ideas. We are next treated to a Pretty Woman-esque (once she goes to the store with Richard Gere’s credit card) montage with Claudette modeling one fancy dress after another. Close-ups of Hackensacker painstakingly marking each and every purchase in his small notebook are also amazing. Who knows what the final bill ends up being, but I’m sure it’s in the tens of thousands. Gerry and Hackensacker then go out on his yacht.
Meanwhile, Tom has arrived in Palm Beach and somehow knows that Gerry is at the yacht club. He’s waiting for her on the dock. Also arriving on a yacht is Hackensacker’s sister, Princess Maud Centimillia (Mary Astor). Her companion is her latest protegee, Toto, who barely speaks English and really has no idea what is going on. However, once the Princess spots Tom, she drops Toto–who unfortunately doesn’t understand that the Princess has no interest in him. He keeps showing up and the Princess sends him away. When Gerry introduces Tom to Hackensacker, she introduces him as her brother, “Captain McGlue,” much to Tom’s chagrin.
PRINCESS CENTIMILLIA: Who is McGlue?
GERRY: There is no McGlue.
PRINCESS CENTIMILLIA: Well thank heavens for something. That name!
Mary Astor (Princess Centimillia) and Claudette Colbert (Gerry) in “The Palm Beach Story.”
Soon, Hackensacker falls in love with Gerry. The Princess falls in love with “Captain McGlue” (Tom). And Tom and Gerry wonder if their marriage is worth saving.
This movie is absolutely hilarious especially “Captain McGlue” and Princess Centimillia. Joel McCrea is such an underrated star in Hollywood. He was adept at delivering lines with a dry, sarcastic humor. Such as in The More the Merrier when Charles Coburn asks McCrea what he does for a living. McCrea asks Coburn what his occupation is. Coburn says: “retired millionaire.” McCrea then answers Coburn’s occupation question by saying, “Same.” I love the scene of Rudy Vallee serenading Claudette Colbert with “Goodnight Sweetheart.” Every scene with the Princess’ protegee, Toto, is hilarious.
I know that Sullivan’s Travels and The Lady Eve are more revered as director Preston Sturges’ best film; but for me, The Palm Beach Story is his best. This film is perfect from start to finish.
It’s not a secret that I love Lucille Ball. She’s been my favorite actress since I discovered her on her now iconic sitcom, I Love Lucy, playing the titular character, Lucy Ricardo. I Love Lucy not only made Lucille Ball a household name, it also forever cemented her identity as “Lucy.” Mention “Lucy” to almost anyone (at least those worth associating with) and Lucy Ricardo comes to mind. I was roughly 10-11 years old (circa 1994-1995) when I discovered Lucy and I Love Lucy. I began to borrow books about I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball during my family’s monthly trips to the library. As an 11-year old, I was able to read the biographies in the adult section, making it very easy to learn about my new favorite actress. In 1996, Lucy’s autobiography was published–7 years after her death. Apparently her daughter found her mother’s manuscript while going through her things and went forward with having them published. I may have been the only 12-year old who desperately wanted Lucille Ball’s autobiography.
Throughout my trips to the library and reading books about Lucille Ball, I learned about the movie career she had prior to finding stardom on television. Lucy appeared in over 70 movies prior to switching gears to the small screen. Her film career began in 1933 when she came to Hollywood to appear as a slave girl in Eddie Cantor’s Roman Scandals. Not one to turn down any offer of paid work, figuring that every job offered her the chance to learn and hone her craft, Lucy appeared in at least a couple dozen uncredited roles before building up her momentum enough to score small, speaking roles. By 1937, Lucy scored a juicy part in the A-list ensemble drama, Stage Door, co-starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. In 1938, Lucy was offered her first starring role in The Affairs of Annabel. Lucy plays Annabel Allison, an actress forced to carry out insane publicity schemes by her agent, played by Jack Oakie.
At the library, I managed to borrow every single Lucille Ball VHS that my library had. I was lucky in that my library seemed to have a large amount of the films in the “Lucille Ball Signature Collection.” This collection is how I saw many of Lucy’s movies, including the aforementioned The Affairs of Annabel, The Big Street, Dance Girl Dance, Too Many Girls, Seven Days Leave, and others. TCM had just come on the scene as well and I scoured the TV Guide (insert in newspaper, not the magazine) to review the upcoming week of programming. Any Lucille Ball movies were circled and set up to record on the VCR. Throughout my years of recording and watching Lucille Ball’s films, there was one film that I’d always wanted to watch and it seemed to elude me for years: A Girl, A Guy and A Gob.
Mercifully, TCM finally saved the day and aired A Girl, A Guy and A Gob at a time when I was able to see it. Then, Warner Archive went above and beyond and released the film on DVD. I have since built up a very decent sized collection of Lucille Ball’s films. Anyway, I digress.
Back to A Girl, A Guy and A Gob…
In this film, Lucy plays Dorothy ‘Dot’ Duncan, a young woman who has recently began work as a secretary to Stephen Merrick (Edmond O’Brien) a shipping magnate. Dot is obviously the “Girl” in the title. Stephen is the “Guy.” Playing the “Gob” is George Murphy. Murphy plays Claudius J. Cupp aka “Coffee Cup.” When I first watched this film, I had no idea what or who a “Gob” was. I learned that the term “Gob” refers to a sailor. Coffee Cup is a sailor in the United States Navy and it is established that he loves being in the Navy and regularly signs on for new missions after the previous one ends. It is also obvious that Dot and Coffee Cup have been together for quite some time, but I get the sense that Dot tires of waiting for Coffee Cup to settle down and somewhat resents being expected to stand idly by and wait for him to return over and over again.
The film opens with Dot and her family settling down to watch a play from inside a box seat at the theater. This is a big deal for the Duncan Family. It’s Mr. and Mrs. Duncan’s anniversary and their children have (seemingly) purchased box seats at the theater as a gift. Meanwhile, out in the lobby, Stephen and his horrible fiancee Cecilia and her equally horrible mother are impatiently waiting for Stephen to locate their tickets. Stephen’s tickets are for their box seat, the seats where he, Cecilia and her mother sit every night at the theater. Dot figures out that her brother “Pigeon,” didn’t actually buy these seats. In reality, he gambled away the ticket money (that Dot gave him) and just happened to find Stephen’s tickets. Dot and Stephen get into an argument that ends with Stephen, Cecilia and her mother having to sit in ::gasp:: the regular section of the theater. After Dot realizes how her brother happened to come away with the box seat tickets, she is embarrassed and leaves but not before accidentally dropping her purse (with a giant “D” monogram) on Stephen’s head.
The next day, Dot shows up for a secretary opening at the Herrick and Martin shipping company, unaware that the “Herrick” in the company’s name is Stephen Herrick whom she’d hit with her purse at the theater the night prior. Stephen recognizes Dot’s purse (with the very obvious “D” monogram) and identifies her as the woman from the theater. They get off to a poor start, obviously. Later that day, Coffee Cup shows up, home from another Navy “hitch” (as he calls them). Coffee Cup and Dot take a walk and Coffee Cup spots his friend Eddie, a fellow sailor who has a shtick where he bets onlookers that he can stretch himself and grow four inches. Coffee Cup and Eddie gather a crowd in front of a pet store, much to the owner’s (Franklin Pangborn) chagrin. Stephen happens to walk by, Dot spots him, and borrows five dollars from him to bet on Eddie. The contest ends in a brawl and Stephen ends up being knocked out.
When Stephen awakens, he finds himself lying on the couch in Dot’s family’s apartment. The scene is so chaotic with people dropping in, Mrs. Duncan delivers the neighbors baby and delivers the results of the bet that the family had over the weight of the new Liebowitz baby (#9). The scene is so boisterous, but full of so much love, Stephen finds himself captivated. Stephen has a date with Cecilia, but ends up dancing the night away with Coffee Cup and Dot at the Danceland Dance Hall. Cecilia ends up spending the night all dressed up, but with nowhere to go. Whoops. Cecilia is the typical fiancee of the lead–boring, snobby, a real stick in the mud.
Throughout the remainder of the film, Stephen and Dot find themselves growing closer and closer together. Dot finds herself less enthusiastic about a future with Coffee Cup, despite admirably trying to carry on with him, because he is genuinely a nice guy. However, it is easy to see that a life with him may lack the stability that Dot may need. I get the idea she isn’t crazy about Coffee Cup leaving all the time. He’s also very much about having a good time, all the time and can be irresponsible. Stephen is a nice guy, but is also professional and runs a company. Stephen also realizes that a life with Cecilia would be stodgy and miserable. It is obvious that Cecilia is with Stephen for the material goods that he can provide and presumably the boost to her social class that he provides. Stephen also finds Dot’s spontaneity exciting and makes his day-to-day routine more fun.
Henry Travers who seems to be in everything, plays Stephen’s business partner, Abel Martin. Martin, who obviously dislikes Cecilia and sees through her true intentions, plays matchmaker in this film. He casually tries to convince Stephen that Dot is the woman for him and throughout the remainder of the film, he insinuates himself into their social group to try and get Stephen and Dot together.
This is such a fun and entertaining film. I love movies with love triangles. I love seeing such a young Edmond O’Brien. This was his third film. Dare I say that I thought O’Brien was somewhat cute in this film? George Murphy is always personable and of course Lucille Ball was fabulous. Harold Lloyd produced this film and his brand of physical humor is present throughout. Lucille Ball was able to show off both her skill for acting and physical humor. It isn’t often that we get to see O’Brien in a light-hearted film as he primarily made a lot of more intense films like White Heat and The Killers. George Murphy is affable and great. It’s easy to see how his enthusiasm and zest for life would make him the ideal candidate to join the boisterous Duncan family. However, this is Ball and O’Brien’s film and they convince me of their budding romance.
If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted romantic comedy, I wholly recommend A Girl, A Guy, and A Gob.
Doris Day would have celebrated her 99th birthday on April 3, 2021. Miss Day passed away almost two years ago on May 13, 2019 at the age of 97. Up until the day she passed away, Doris had devoted the last half of her life to animal welfare–forming multiple non-profit organizations whose intent was to support both animals and other like-minded organizations. Through Doris’ non-profits, she also protected animals’ well-being through her Spay and Neuter program, and support at other legislation aimed to give animals the respect and dignity they deserve when facing illnesses and injuries that could potentially prolong their suffering and pain. With all that I’ve read about Doris and from what I’ve seen of her in interviews, I’m sure that she’s most proud of her animal welfare work and is what she’d like to be her legacy.
For major classic film fans like myself and others, Doris Day will forever be known for her pretty, perky girl next door persona, which later evolved into the persona of a sophisticated career woman. She ended her career playing mother roles. However, in all of these roles, no matter the setting, Doris Day was always a cute, personable woman with a gorgeous singing voice and effortless charm. She, much like the younger Sandra Dee, ended up being saddled with a reputation for being virginal–which really doesn’t make sense considering that she often played a mother toward the end of her career. This “virgin” label is often used as some sort of an insult, as if to discount Day’s work as being trivial or fluff. To this I say, what’s wrong with fluff?
I like fluff.
In a pair of my favorite fluffy films, On Moonlight Bay (1951) and its sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953), Day plays eighteen-year old, Marjorie Winfield. We’ll look past the fact that Doris was 29 and 31 in the two films. Day’s youthfulness and effervescent personality more than makes her believable as an eighteen-year old. She was also paired up with frequent co-star, Gordon MacRae, who is adorable in both films. On Moonlight Bay starts the Winfield Family’s story in the mid-1910s. The Winfields have just moved into a larger home in a more affluent neighborhood in their small Indiana town. Marjorie has recently graduated high school and since she’s not getting any younger, her father, George (Leon Ames), is eager to have her meet a suitor and marry. Much to his chagrin however, Marjorie is a tomboy and would rather play baseball than wear dresses and look for a suitable husband.
Lucky for Marjorie however, she soon meets neighbor Bill Sherman (MacRae), an Indiana University student. He is at home while on a break from school. Marjorie is smitten with him and soon is all about being a proper young woman, wearing dresses and the like. At first George is overjoyed, but soon is dismayed when Bill shares his unconventional thoughts regarding marriage and finances. Bill’s thoughts on finances is especially upsetting since George makes his living as a banker. Marjorie’s mother, Alice (Rosemary DeCamp), likes Bill as does Marjorie’s precocious younger brother, Wesley (Billy Gray). The Winfield’s maid, Stella (Mary Wickes), is too busy dealing with Wesley’s hijinks to be concerned about Marjorie and Bill’s relationship.
At some point, George tries to fix Marjorie up with his idea of a suitable suitor, Hubert, but Hubert is lame and dull. Nobody except George likes him. Marjorie reluctantly follows along, but Wesley has no qualms about making his opinions on Hubert known. By the end of the film, the US has entered WWI and Bill leaves to fight in the war. In the sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, it is 1918. WWI is over and Bill returns to his small Indiana town to pick things up with Marjorie. Thankfully, Marjorie has been waiting for Bill and the two resume their relationship.
Marjorie and Bill’s relationship really hits its stride. Except, the now nineteen/twenty-year old Marjorie is ready to marry Bill. However, Bill is reluctant to commit to Marjorie, because he has yet to find a good job. He does not want to marry Marjorie if he is not gainfully employed. Of course, because every movie needs to find a reason for the romantic couple to break up so that they can triumphantly reunite towards the end, Marjorie and Bill breakup over his not wanting to marry Marjorie. They are reunited thanks to one of Wesley’s schemes, which involves Bill disguising himself (with a fake mustache, of course) as a horse and carriage driver. There’s also an odd subplot involving the family thinking that father George is having an affair. Wesley also has a fantasy sequence where he’s a detective. Those sequences are fine, but honestly this film is all about Doris Day and Gordon MacRae.
On Moonlight Bay and By the Light of the Silvery Moon never seem to be mentioned among Day’s more well known titles like Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Calamity Jane, Love Me or Leave Me, etc. This pair of films deserve to be mentioned along Doris’ other wonderful films. Both films capture Doris’ wonderful girl next door persona, she’s cute as a button and it’s easy to see why Gordon would be so enamored by her. She is so cheery and charming. As is Gordon. Why that guy wasn’t a bigger star is beyond me. These films are very much in the same vein as Meet Me in St. Louis (even with the same dad), but they are different enough to not be considered a knock-off. I don’t even usually like child actors, but Billy Gray is able to imbue his character Wesley, with enough charm and personality that he comes off as funny, rather than obnoxious. At no point is Wesley cloying, or trying to manipulate the audience into feeling affection toward him. He is legitimately funny and sweet towards his sister in the film.