Thursday, October 30, 2014

I would tot, tell you anything you want to know

So, I feel like I say "long time, no see!" more than I say anything else on this blog. Let's just skip the formalities this time, shall we? After all, we all know how terrible I've been in recent years at keeping this blog going. I haven't deleted it, however, because I still have this little wish that I'll be able to get the thing up and running again like it was a while back. It occurred to me that when I first started my blog, I ran it very informally. There were little to no scheduled posts, just random blurbs about movies. I'm going to try that again and see if I can get back into the swing of it again.

In the past month or so, I've been a lot better about exploring different movies and trying out new things. I'm not terribly good at that, as a rule, but I'm striving to be better. So, this month, I'll be doing little blurbs about the movies I'm watching, both ones I'm watching for the first time, and old favorites.

Now, on Sunday I returned home from a glorious time on the TCM Classic Cruise. It's the fourth time TCM has hosted a classic movie cruise and my third time embarking on it. I absolutely love those cruises. They're so much fun. I get to see wonderful movie stars in person, I get to watch classic movies on the big screen and with a full audience, I get to talk to fellow classic movie buffs, I get to dance to live jazz music, and I get to wear my favorite fancy clothes! Oh, we stop at a couple of ports too but I hardly notice that. I watched a good bundle of excellent movies on this recent cruise but the one I looked forward to the most was The Music Man (1962). As soon as I heard Shirley Jones was going to be a guest star, I immediately began to use all of my powers of wishing and happy thoughts toward them playing that movie on board. (I was also pulling for Kismet (1955) in honor of Ann Blyth, who was also on board, but that didn't happen. Still, one success is pretty good, right?)

Naturally, I've seen The Music Man before. It's one of my favorite movies. It's one of those musicals that even people who don't like musicals enjoy. It transcends genre. The story and the characters are so rich and wonderful. I love the morally grey Harold Hill and how you root for him from the beginning, despite (and possibly because of) all the flaws we've recently been told in "Rock Island."

The movie also has some great history to it, as most movies do. Shirley Jones was pregnant when she made this movie. I shudder to imagine her being rigged up in corsets. Yipes! It's nice to know that she and the baby were healthy despite it. On the cruise, Shirley Jones talked about Robert Preston and I was pleased to hear that she enjoyed working with him. Apparently, when Broadway stars are pulled to perform their stage character on screen, they often direct their new costars in how everything was done on stage. I can see the reasoning behind that but that must be obnoxious to work with. Well, apparently Robert Preston was not that kind of leading man and he let Shirley Jones play her character her own way and didn't try to interfere at all. Phew! It's so nice when the stars you like turn out to be likable people too. I believe this was the movie that Shirley Jones said Frank Sinatra was slated to star in as well. Apparently, it was this one and Carousel. Frank Sinatra was all set to sign the contract to play Harold Hill when Meredith Wilson stepped in and put a stop to it. I love Robert Preston so I can't imagine anyone else playing Harold Hill to the perfection he attains. Frank Sinatra would have been an interesting choice. I must admit that I'm kind of glad it didn't go through. In his roles in Can-Can, Pal Joey, and High Society, he plays conniving or manipulative men. Well, High Society it's more like a sardonic man. In any case, he plays worldly and world-weary characters and he always turns out kind of... I don't know... hard in that role. I tend to not like him that much. Now, Harold Hill is a character who seems hard but has actually buried a softness that comes out when he finds someone who loves him despite knowing what sort of a person he is. I don't know if Sinatra would have brought out that softness as easily as Preston did. I suppose we'll never know.

I don know that I'm not crazy about the remake. That probably goes without saying though. The old adage "they just don't make 'em like they used to" was bandied about quite a bit on this cruise, unsurprisingly. I'll discuss this topic more in my next post I think but I think it's interesting how speedily people dismiss all movies made after a certain point. Now, I'm the first to admit that I'm not crazy about most contemporary movies. The majority of my DVD collection dates prior to 1970. But that's not to say that I'd dismiss all movies made after that point simply out of prejudice to their release date. I would argue that the remake of The Music Man lacks the charm and the subtlety of the original. It tries too hard to be cute and exciting. The colors are clean and crisp but the town doesn't feel like a small town; it feels like a movie set. The dancing doesn't seem spontaneous. The leading man isn't half as charismatic. I don't empathize with the leading lady nearly as much as I do with the original. I feel like the remake was conscious that it wouldn't live up to the standards fans would hold the original up to and so it just tried to make up for it by exploding all over the screen. I don't know. Back to rambling, I suppose.

The last time I watched the movie was with my best friend, Katie. It's funny how you can watch a movie for years and years but you watch with someone different and they open up a whole new aspect to the movie you've never discovered. I watched it with Katie and she pointed out partway through the film that she loves how Harold really does want to be a conductor. Now, I have to admit that I was always a bit of an absent-minded kid so it's not entirely surprising that I missed this major part of his character. But, there you go, I did.

Watching the movie on the cruise, I watched it with new eyes, and I have to tell you that I kind of lost it. I was balling my heart out as I watched Harold accomplish what he was sure he never could. I also got pretty emotional over the Winthrop plot thread. Maybe it's because I watched the movie with my nieces and nephews in mind? Having developed close friendships with them I can now see how difficult it would be for a family dealing with loss and how much of a difference Harold made in Winthrop's life by giving him something to talk about. I don't know. Maybe I'm rambling at this point.

I will add, however, that it was awfully fun to see my favorite background dancer, Mr. Bert May, on the big screen! If any of you missed it, Bert May commented on the post I wrote about him (in truth, I kind of gushed), and it's something I'm ridiculously proud of. I may or may not have mentioned it a few times to a few people on the cruise... "You see that dancer there? He commented on my blog. No big deal..." I'd absolutely love to interview him. I'd love to know what it was like to work in Hollywood as a contract dancer. What were the stars like? Did he want to be the next Gene Kelly? Did he enjoy his time there? Oh, I could think of a bundle of questions to ask him. But, for now, I'll just share this scene and ask my dear readers if they'd like to play a game of "Where's Waldo?" I tried finding "76 Trombones" and "Marian the Libarian" but I can't find the dance portions on YouTube, so we'll make do with "Shipoopi" because he's in that one too!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Miss Linda Seton, on New Year's Eve, entertained a small group of very unimportant people

Ok. Here we go. The last post for the New Year’s themed movies. There are, of course, more movies centered around New Year’s Eve, but we’re going to end with this one for now. Ready? Here we go…

Holiday (1938)
Directed by: George Cukor
Featuring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Doris Nolan, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton, Jean Dixon

Plot in a Nutshell:

Johnny Case (Grant) is a young man with a bright future ahead of him. He’s just gotten engaged to a lovely girl he just met, Julia Seton (Nolan) and he’s about to make a lot of money on a deal that will enable him to pursue his dream: quit his job and take a long holiday to travel and find out what life is really all about. Unfortunately, the only people who believe in his dream are his two friends, Professor and Mrs. Potter (Horton and Dixon) and Julia’s sister Linda (Hepburn) and brother Ned (Ayres). As Linda struggles to persuade her sister to believe in her fiancĂ©, she starts to realize that she has fallen in love with Johnny as well.


- Edward Everett Horton repeats the role of Nick Potter, which he also played in the previous version of the film, Holiday (1930). (IMDb)
- George Cukor considered Rita Hayworth for the role of Julia Seaton, given her dark hair and slight resemblance to Hepburn. However, she was judged too inexperienced and Doris Nolan took the part. (IMDb)
- In 1936, Columbia Pictures purchased a group of scripts, including the script for Holiday, from RKO for $80,000. Although the film was originally intended to reunite The Awful Truth co-stars Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, George Cukor decided to cast Hepburn instead, and Columbia borrowed her from RKO, where she had refused the lead role in Mother Carey's Chickens.[5] Joan Bennett and Ginger Rogers were also initially considered to play Hepburn's role. (Wikipedia)
- A scene that was to come before what is now the first scene of the film was set in the snows of Lake Placid, although it was shot in Bishop, California. The idea was to "open up" the stage play by utilizing an exterior scene, but when director George Cukor saw the scene, he did not like it, and decided to cut it. A few still photographs, one of them on a lobby card that was distributed to theaters, are the only known remnants of this scene. (Wikipedia)
The working titles for the film were "Unconventional Linda" and "Vacation Bound". (Wikipedia)

Thoughts on the film:

It took me years to watch this one. For some reason, the description of the plot on the box made me think it would be sad so I avoided it for a while. I’m so glad I finally watched it. I love this movie! It’s so wonderful! I love Johnny and Linda and the Potters. And Ned. I love Ned. He’s my favorite character in the movie. Obviously I like Johnny – who couldn’t? And of course I’m rooting for Linda all the way. And clearly I’m happy every time the Potters show up. But, Ned is my favorite. He’s the backbone of the family and he gets no credit for it. He’s the only person in the movie who really understands everyone around him. It’s sad that he has to drink to escape his misery, but I’m convinced that Linda and Johnny come back for him.

Favorite scenes/quotes:

The meeting of the 5th Avenue Anti-Stuffed Shirt and Acrobatics Club is definitely my favorite part of the movie. Although I like the very first scene with the Potters and Johnny and the scene where we first meet Linda, and then the scene where the Seton siblings all try to prepare Johnny for his introduction to their father. And then the last two scenes are really fantastic. Basically, the whole movie is wonderful.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

We'd make half of a lovely couple.

Here we go again! So far so good on this New Year’s resolution! And we’re continuing the fun with a fun romantic comedy that would never work in a contemporary setting:

Bachelor Mother (1939)
Director: Garson Kanin
Featuring: Ginger Rogers, David Niven, Charles Coburn

Plot in a nutshell:

When Polly Parrish saves a foundling child from rolling off the steps of an orphanage, her life is turned upside-down by all of the people who mistakenly believe her to be the child’s mother.


I could find nothing on this movie. The only thing I really know about it is that it was remade in the fifties with Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fischer as Bundle of Joy. Do you know of any cool trivia? Do tell!

Thoughts on the movie:

When I first saw this movie, I laughed so hard I cried. I showed it to my sister and she was not nearly as enthused as I’d hoped. The unfortunate chauvinism bothered her tremendously. To be honest, that is a frustrating aspect of the film. No one believes Polly when she insists she is not the mother. While I found the confusion funny, it was not terribly funny how poorly Polly was treated because of the mix-up. All of the men in the movie are incredibly rude to her because they think she is an irresponsible mother. The movie ends very well, though. And I think that David Niven’s character gets a good dose of his own medicine so it turns out all right in the end (I think). And Polly comes to love the baby very much so I think it’s ok… even if in a round-about way.

Favorite scenes:

 I love the NYE scene when Polly and David are at a party. It’s so funny! I love the chemistry between Ginger Rogers and David Niven. I wish they’d done more films together. There are several really cute scenes in the movie, really. Again, I really liked it, despite the chauvinism. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

All right, I'll remember: must scold, must nag, mustn't be too pretty in the mornings.

from Doctor Macro

This week, we take a look at a murder mystery centered around New Year’s Eve. Nick and Nora are at it again in the first sequel to the popular The Thin Man. This was to be the first sequel of five, all based on the main characters in Dashiell Hammett’s gritty detective story, but not based on any actual plots by Hammett. After the success of The Thin Man, plots were contrived for Mr. and Mrs. Charles, the witty detective couple. The screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett tried to kill the series with the first sequel, burdening the couple with a baby. They figured no one would want to watch Nick and Nora as parents, that the fun would be gone. They were vastly mistaken. After the third movie in the series, the writers left and a different writer was assigned to each movie that followed.

After the Thin Man (1936)
Director: W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke
Featuring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Stewart, Elissa Landi, Penny Singleton, Joseph Calleia

Plot in a nutshell:
from Doctor Macro

When Nick and Nora Charles return home from their stressful vacation, they find that their New Year’s Eve won’t be nearly as peaceful as they’d hoped. When Nora’s cousin, Selma (Landi) is accused of murdering her philandering husband, the couple are on the case, attempting to clear her name.


- Though William Powell and Myrna Loy were very close friends off-screen, their only romantic moments together occurred on-screen. The public, however, was determined to have them married in private life as well. When the two stars showed up in San Francisco (where most of this film was shot) at the St. Francis, the hotel management proudly showed "Mr. and Mrs. Powell" to their deluxe suite. This was an especially uncomfortable moment as Jean Harlow, who was engaged to Powell, was with them, and the couple had not made a public statement about their relationship. Harlow saved the day by insisting on sharing the suite with Loy: "That mix-up brought me one of my most cherished friendships," Loy said in "Being and Becoming", her autobiography. "You would have thought Jean and I were in boarding school we had so much fun. We'd stay up half the night talking and sipping gin, sometimes laughing, sometimes discussing more serious things." Meanwhile, Powell got the hotel's one remaining room - a far humbler accommodation downstairs. (from IMDb)
- The nightclub featured in the film was loosely modeled on the famous Forbidden City, a popular San Francisco night spot from the late 1930s through the 1950s. (from IMDb)
- Although this sequel cost twice as much as The Thin Man (1934), it was still MGM's 5th biggest grossing film of the year, earning $3.1 million on a $673,000 investment. (from IMDb)
-  There's a wonderful book on the Thin Man series by Charles Tranberg called The Thin Man: Murder Over Cocktails and he gives some fascinating tidbits about the film as well. For instance, the screenwriters, Frances and Albert Hackett really wanted to kill the series with film #2. They even wanted to go so far as to kill Nick and Nora but the producer wouldn't let them. Instead, they saddled the couple with a baby, hoping the movie-going public would lose interest if Mr. and Mrs. Charles became too domestic.

Thoughts on the movie:

from Doctor Macro

This is honestly one of my favorites in the Thin Man series. I love Nick and Nora’s banter in this one and having Jimmy Stewart in it is a real treat. Selma is a bit ridiculous but that’s part of the fun of the film, really (in my opinion). Nick and Nora constantly seem to find themselves among crazy, absurd, over-the-top characters throughout the series. It makes it kind of enjoyable to notice that they’re about the only normal ones in there. There’s usually a handful of more normal characters in the film (James Stewart, for instance, in this one). It’s a good time.

Favorite scenes:

This has been a favorite of mine for a long time so, naturally, I have a ton of favorite scenes. But one of my absolute favorite scenes ever is the one where Nora wakes up and starts asking about scrambled eggs. It’s a perfect example of the clever banter that made the couple so popular. I also really like the New Year’s Eve scene at the Chinese restaurant. Oh and the surprise party. And also the part where-- well, basically you should just watch the movie. It’s fantastic.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Don't defend me, Diggs! After all, what am I? Just the greatest actor in the world.

Hey! Look at this! Two weeks in a row! I’m really hoping I can keep this up all year. Today, we’re continuing the New Year’s theme (it’s still a New Year, isn’t it?) with a rather obscure film. I stumbled on this movie quite by accident a year or so ago. I actually already wrote a post on it – but who says I can only write one post per movie? No one, that’s who. New Year’s is only a small scene in this movie but it actually has a lot of bearing on the plot. Due to one mildly sincere New Year’s resolution, the main character embarks on a misguided attempt to be a better person –and fails to humorous effect. The movie is:

from Doctor Macro

It’s Love I’m After (1937)
Warner Bros.
Director: Archie Mayo
Featuring: Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Patric Knowles, Eric Blore

Plot in a nutshell:

Sparring lovebirds Basil (Howard) and Joyce (Davis) have as dramatic a relationship offstage as they do onstage. When Joyce announces on New Year’s Eve that she is leaving Basil once and for all, Basil resolves to be a better man in the following year. And when young Henry Grant (Knowles) begs Basil to persuade Henry’s fiancĂ©e, Marcia West (de Havilland) to fall out of love with the renowned actor, Basil accepts in a misguided spirit of goodwill. But when Joyce returns to the scene to find Marcia not quite out of love with Basil and Basil not working quite so hard as he’d hoped, things even more topsy-turvy.

Trivia: There’s not a ton about this movie in terms of trivia.

(Wiki) Leslie Howard originally envisioned either Gerturde Lawrence or Ina Clair, both noted for their comedic stage performances, as his leading lady, although they had limited experience in films. Producer Hal B. Wallis had director Archie Mayo meet with Lawrence, who was interested in playing the role, but when Wallis and Howard screened the 1936 British film Men Are Not Gods, they agreed she did not photograph well. The film began production without a leading lady. Then Wallis decided the screwball comedy would be a refreshing change-of-pace for Bette Davis, who had just completed the melodrama That Certain Woman. She initially declined the role of Joyce Arden, feeling the better female role was that of socialite Marcia West. She also resented being asked to accept second billing to Howard.

My thoughts on the film:

I love this movie! I think it’s funny, silly, and surprising. I watched it with my sister once and she pointed out that Leslie Howard was a peculiar choice for an irresistible heartthrob. It’s true that he isn’t the hunkiest actor around – Clark Gable or Errol Flynn would have both been a little more believable. But, I love Leslie Howard. I think he’s very attractive and I love the intensity he pours into his roles. And he’s simply hilarious in his film. As an over-the-top, self-absorbed, philandering ham he is perfect.

Favorite scenes:

I think my favorite scene in the movie is one towards the beginning where Basil and his valet, Digges (Eric Blore), tally up Basil’s “score” for the total year (points added for various charitable works and points deducted for various dalliances). The two actors are very enjoyable together and I love their banter throughout the film. Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to find clips of the movie. I discovered the entire movie on YouTube and if you can find it, it’s well worth the watch. It’s worth buying, frankly, in my opinion, if you can’t find it online.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

May your every wish come true

Happy New Year!

I’m back! Oh, if I had a dollar for every time I said that…
It’s a New Year and it’s a new attempt to rekindle some life into this blog of mine. This year, I’m going to simplify things: I will publish one post every Thursday and each month will have a theme. The theme for January, for instance, is New Year’s. By the end of the month this theme might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s still the beginning of the year, so I’m going to say it’s fine.

So, we’re going to start with Holiday Inn. Yes, it’s often considered a Christmas movie and, by now, you’re probably all Christmased out. But there are two New Year’s celebrations in the film, one of which is the finale, so I’d say it’s as much a New Year’s film as it is a Christmas film (if not more). Not to mention the fact that I watch this movie every Fourth of July – let’s face it: it’s Holiday Inn and it works for just about every holiday.

Holiday Inn (1942)
Director:  Mark Sandrich
Featuring: Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers, and Irving Bacon

Plot in a nutshell: 

Tired of the hectic lifestyle as a performer, singer Jim Hardy (Crosby) decides to open an inn in Connecticut that will be open only on holidays. When Jim falls in love with his newest entertainer, the beautiful Linda Mason (Reynolds), things get pleasantly more complicated. And when Jim’s friend, dancer Ted Hanover (Astaire), begins to compete for Linda’s affection, things get even more complicated, although in a less pleasant way. As the threesome wend their way through a calendar of red-letter days, antics ensue and a score of Irving Berlin songs mark each holiday.


- Irving Berlin got the idea for the film after writing the song "Easter Parade" for his 1933 show "As Thousands Cheer," and planned to write a play about American holidays, but it never materialized. He later pitched the idea to Mark Sandrich, who go the ball rolling for the film. (IMDb)

- It was a success in the US and the UK, the highest grossing musical film to that time. It was expected that "Be Careful, It's my Heart" would be the big song. While that song did very well, it was "White Christmas " that topped the charts in October 1942 and stayed there for eleven weeks.
- The success of the song "White Christmas" eventually led to another film based on the song, White Christmas (1954), which starred Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. It was a loose remake of Holiday Inn, with a plot-line again involving an inn, but otherwise different from the earlier film.

Thoughts on the film:

Although this is a classic movie with some great lines, some wonderful songs, and some fantastic dances, I can’t lie when I say that it isn’t my favorite. It’s a wonderful movie – don’t get me wrong! But I love Fred Astaire and I don’t like his character very much at all in this film. Ted is a manipulative, selfish, back-stabbing friend. And as much as I like Bing Crosby, I don’t think his character deserves the girl either. He’s also selfish and manipulative in his attempts to win Linda. Neither of the two friends seem to really care what Linda wants or thinks; they trick and scheme rather than actually talk it out. I get all excited every time I decide to watch this movie and then as soon as Ted arrives at the inn I remember how frustrating the next hour is going to be.

Favorite quotes/clips:

That being said, the songs really are wonderful. I love both scenes of “White Christmas” – they’re homey and romantic. It’s no wonder the song did so well when it had such a good send-off in this film. “You’re Easy to Dance With” is a really cute scene that I’ve always enjoyed. And I really like “Let’s Start the New Year Right.” For a holiday that’s pretty raucous, I like that the main song for the holiday is an intimate little number that Jim sings to Linda while they serve up dinner in the kitchen. As I said before, I love the firecracker scene. But that’s getting way ahead of myself. I’ll wait until July to elaborate on how it’s one of the best Fred Astaire solos of all time.