Monday, April 19, 2021
Monday, April 12, 2021
When Ms. Loy saw that she and Mr. Powell were being advertised as a screen team, she decided that receiving half the salary Mr. Powell was getting was not enough. So, she stood her ground and held out for an equal salary to Mr. Powell - and Louis B. Mayer gave it to her! (TCM article). And, if only for this film, Ms. Loy does seem to know how to knit.
The New York Times review by Frank S. Nugent was positive calling it "one of the most urbane comedies of the season". And indeed it is. We'll leave you with the trailer:
Monday, April 5, 2021
Monday, March 29, 2021
Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) shoots her philandering husband, Warren (Tom Ewell) after she finds him in the arms of Beryl Caighn (Jean Hagen). The case intrigues attorney Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn), who sees it as a means of striking a blow for women's rights. But there is a complication - her husband Adam (Spencer Tracy) is the assistant DA assigned to prosecute the case. Our film this time is Adam's Rib (1949).
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are delightful as a happily married couple on opposite sides of the political fence (she's a Democrat; he's a Republican) and opposing each other in a media circus of a trial. Amanda is convinced that if the defendant were a man, she would not be on trial for shooting her cheating spouse. Adam says the gender shouldn't matter - it's the letter of the law that counts, and someone who shoots another deserves jail time, no matter the reason for it.
The dialog between the couple fairly crackles - it's smart, sexy, and amusing. Written by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon (who were friends of Tracy and Hepburn), the screenplay was written with the acting duo in mind. The story was inspired by the divorce of Raymond Massey and Adrianne Allen, who hired a married couple as their representation. The Massey/Allen divorce resulted in two divorces, when lawyers William and Dorothy Whitney also divorced, each to marry their client (TCM's The Big Idea).
Jean Hagen is also spectacular as the Other Woman. This was her first film, and she's a riot in her small scene with Katharine Hepburn. Beryl Caighn is reminiscent of Ms. Hagen's most famous role - Lena Lamont in Singin' in the Rain, but we should never forget that Ms. Hagen was a versatile actress who really never rose to the level of success that she should have.
Monday, March 22, 2021
Cole Porter (Cary Grant), a law student at Yale opts to discard a career as a jurist to take up songwriting in Night and Day (1946) a very loose interpretation of Mr. Porter's life and career.
Since the release of DeLovely (2004), Night and Day has had to bear the brunt of its claim to being a biography of Cole Porter. Quite frankly, it's not. It's a way of incorporating a vast array of Mr. Porter's glorious music into a film, and tell a story at the same time. Let's go over a few of the facts, and then we can talk about the film as a story, not a biography.
Cole Porter did attend Yale, and one of his classmates was Monty Woolley (Mr. Woolley, who plays himself, was NOT a professor at Yale). The sinking of the Lusitania had nothing to do with the failure of See America First, as the ship sunk in May 1915, and the musical opened in March 1916. Mr. Porter was not wounded in combat during World War I; he is listed as serving in the French Foreign Legion during the war (Broadway, The American Musical). He also spent time in Paris partying and met his future wife in Paris. Linda Lee Thomas was well aware of Mr. Porter's sexuality when they married - she had come from an abusive first marriage. Linda Lee Porter never officially left Cole - in fact, it was she that worked with the doctors to keep them from amputating his leg following his horseback riding accident. She continued as his health advocate until her death in 1954 (Cole Porter obituary). Following her death, doctors convinced him to allow the amputation, and he lived as a recluse for the rest of his life (as Linda feared). Mr. Porter was as openly gay as the era would allow (The New Yorker). Regardless, he and Linda loved one another and were inseparable - les Colporteurs (Smithsonian Magazine).As you can see from the photo, The Porters looked nothing like their on-screen imitators. Linda wanted Alexis Smith to play her, and when she expressed her desires to Warner Brothers executives, Cole jokingly said that Cary Grant should play him (Cary Grant: In Name Only by Gary Morecambe & Martin Sterling). Mr. Grant and Ms. Smith are wonderful together, and Ms. Smith was thrilled to be working with him. Though he could be very definite in his opinions - for example, Mr. Grant demanded that his suit be cut so that only an eighth of an inch of cuff should show, Ms. Smith commented on his "care and attention" to the character (TCM article). This was Mr. Grant's first technicolor film.Warner Brothers incorporated their best character people into the film. Eve Arden finally gets a chance to sing as French performer Gabrielle, who introduces Porter's song "I'm Unlucky at Gambling." Jane Wyman (Gracie Harris) also gets a chance to show her vocal talents. Dorothy Malone (Nancy) has some brief scenes with Donald Woods (Dr. Ward Blackburn) as her husband and Cole's friend and physician. Alan Hale (Leon Dowling) turns up as a theatrical producer who doesn't see the beauty of Cole's compositions. And Henry Stephenson (Omer Porter) is sympathetic as Cole's grandfather.
Monty Woolley gets to play himself, and get off some bon mots while he is at it. He pops in and out of the film, as Woolley wanders in and out of the Porters' lives (and back and forth from New York to Hollywood). There is some amusing banter as he goes off to film The Man Who Came to Dinner - he'd starred in the Broadway play (he almost didn't get the movie role - Warner Brother considered Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Robert Benchley, John Barrymore, and Charles Coburn). Mary Martin, who got her start in Cole Porter's Leave it to Me, reprises her hit song from the musical, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" (though this song, along with several of the others, are cleaned up versions of Mr. Porter's sometimes rather racy lyrics). Ginny Simms (Carole Hill), the woman who works with Porter in a music store in the film, is very loosely based on Ethel Merman. Ms Merman had appeared in earlier plays, but her first starring role was as Reno Sweeney in Mr. Porter's Anything Goes (AFI catalog).
The New York Times review by Thomas M. Prior (T.M.P.) was positive, though even Mr. Prior pointed out that it wasn't really a biography. When the film DeLovely was released in 2004, The Times again wrote about Night and Day as part of a discussion of the biographical aspects of the two movies.
If you are not a stickler for facts, and would like to see some fine acting, pleasant singing, and spectacular songs, this film is worth a viewing or two. We'll leave you with the trailer:
Monday, March 15, 2021
Jim (Cary Grant) and Muriel Blandings (Myrna Loy) are a happily married couple living in a three bedroom apartment with their two daughters, Joan (Sharyn Moffett) and Betsy (Connie Marshall), and their maid, Gussie (Louise Beavers). Jim is a successful ad man, making a nice salary, and while he loves his family, he yearns for a home with more room. When he stumbles upon an ad for a farmhouse in Connecticut, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948).
If you’ve ever bought a house, redesigned your abode, or even picked out paint samples, this film is for you. The combination of Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Melvyn Douglas (Bill Cole) is a trio not to be missed. Add in a truly wonderfully supporting cast, and you have a VERY funny movie, which even today rings so true.
Cary Grant is delightful as a family man who is feeling the physical constraints of his crowded New York City apartment. It's very clear that the Blandings are well-off by contemporary standards. Jim makes a good salary, but there are limits, and Mr. Grant effectively pulls off the frustration of a man who is sinking his salary into a construction project that feels like a money pit. Some aspects of home buying have (thankfully) changed - no one today would dream of buying a home without a professional building inspection - but Jim's limitations as a home buyer add significantly to the humor in the film. Cary Grant and Myrna Loy did three films together (the other two are Wings in the Dark (1937) and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947)); this would be their final film together (TCM article).
Myrna Loy has long proved her talent for comedy, and her fine touch is demonstrated perfectly here. Her rapport with Mr. Grant is wonderful - an early scene, in which he brings her an early morning cup on coffee is a sweet comment on the intimacy of their marriage. As Jim hands her the cup, he lightly strokes the top of her head; she sleepily smiles. Later, as they try to perform their morning ablutions in their tiny bathroom, Jim gently pushes her head down so he can adjust the mirror on the medicine cabinet. It's those little touches that make this very much the story of a marriage. As Jeanine Basinger says, Ms. Loy "always remained relaxed, natural...There was an honesty to her, and a subtext that put her quietly in charge of everything." (I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies). One of my favorite scenes in the film is her selection of paint for the house. Think about the plethora of paint chips in the local paint store today!
Louise Beavers is terrific as Gussie, the one calm, practical member of the family. When all else is falling apart, Gussie keeps the home humming. Though her acting career was spent playing maids, she always brought warmth and dignity to the parts. She's best remembered today for films like Imitation of Life (1934), She Done Him Wrong (1933), and The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), and was one of three actresses to portray Beulah on television - the first television series to star an African-American actress. In her private life, she served as a board member for the Screen Actors' Guild (Hollywood Black: The Stars, The Films, The Filmakers by Donald Bogle). Her career is discussed in depth in African American Actresses: The Struggle for Visibility, 1900-1960 by Charlene Regester. Ms. Beavers died of a heart attack in 1962, at the age of 60.
The Blandings daughters are ably portrayed by Sharyn Moffett and Connie Marshall. Both girls stopped acting as they approached adulthood; Ms. Marshall died of cancer in 2001. Ms. Moffett and her husband are clergy in the Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania.
Other notable appearances in the film include Reginald Denny as Mr. Simms, the unflappable architect who keeps the Blandings house going; Ian Wolfe has one short scene as realtor Smith - a conniver if ever there was one. Lex Barker is a carpentry foreman in another brief speaking part. Jason Robards, Sr appears as John Retch, the contractor. But two actors stand out - Lurene Tuttle as Mary, Jim's loyal secretary (watch her as she waits for him to come up with an appropriate ad campaign for Wham!), and especially Harry Shannon as Mr. Tesander, who spends most of the movie looking for water. This exchange between Mr. Shannon and Mr. Grant and Mr. Douglas is priceless:JIM: Water, Mr. Tesander. TESANDER: Yep. JIM: At six feet! TESANDER: Yep. JIM: And over there, just thirty-two yards away, you had to go down two hundred and twenty-seven feet to hit the same water. TESANDER: Yep. JIM: How do you account for that, Mr. Tesander? TESANDER: We-ll, way it seems to me, Mr. Blandings, over here the water's down around six feet and over there it's-- uh -- BILL AND TESANDER: down around two hundred and twenty-seven feet. (script).
The film was based on a book by Eric Hodkins and is a novelized account of a true story. Bosley Crowther's New York Times review was generally positive.
The story spawned an October 1949 Lux Radio Theatre production which starred Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, as well as a Screen Director's Playhouse production with Betsy Drake and Cary Grant in June of 1950 (AFI catalog). Mr. Grant and Ms. Drake also were the stars of the Mr. and Mrs Blandings radio show in 1951.
New Yorkers all, we loved the introductory scenes of New York City, circa 1948. And we can certainly empathize with life in a NYC apartment. If you've never seen this movie, you'll find it a real treat (and if you have seen it, it's not a bad time to relax with the Blandings Family again). In the meantime, here's the trailer for a taste of what's to come:
Monday, March 8, 2021
Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) is about to open in a new London musical when it happens - he meets the girl of his dreams, Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers). All it takes is one dance for the two to fall head-over-heals in love. But Dale is told that the man who is romancing her is Jerry's best friend Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton), the husband of Dale’s friend, Madge Harwick (Helen Brodrick). Our film this week is Top Hat (1935).
If there is a truth to be found in any Astaire-Rogers movie, it is that the written plot is unimportant - all the information you need to know about the story is there in the dancing. We see the carefree bachelor ("No Strings"), who falls in love with the downstairs neighbor ("No Strings - Sandman"). He woos her ("Isn't it a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain"), seduces her ("Cheek to Cheek"), and wins her ("The Piccolino). Who needs words more than those penned by the great Irving Berlin?
It is because Astaire and Rogers are great actors that the film works so well. They act the words of the script, of course. But they act the dance. Watch their faces, their movements - they are telling us the story even when we think we are just watching them dance. It's not surprising that their partnership is legendary. They fit beautifully together.
The film is also remembered for the "Cheek to Cheek" dance - notable for the grace of the choreography, as well as for the ostrich feather dress that Ms. Rogers helped to design it with Costumer Bernard Newman. It too is the story of legend. Ms. Rogers loved the dress - and she is correct in her belief that its flow contributed to the dance itself. The problem, however, was that the dress shed. Badly. It left feathers all over the floor and Mr. Astaire's tuxedo. Mr. Astaire rebelled - he wanted a different dress for the number, and Ms. Rogers dug her heels in and refused to get a new dress (Actually, an old dress - they wanted her to use a dress she'd worn in The Gay Divorcee). So, the wardrobe staff came to the rescue - they spent the night reinforcing the feathers. The result is on the film - an occasional feather wafts by, but no flurries. And Ms. Rogers gained a gold charm in the form of a feather (and a note which read "Dear Feathers, I love ya!, Fred"), a song, and the nickname "Feathers" from Mr. Astaire. (Ostrich Feather Dress TCM Behind the Scenes).
Edward Everett Horton and Helen Broderick as the older married friends of Jerry and Dale are very amusing. Ms. Broderick, especially, with her deep voice and saucy manner is perfect as the attempted matchmaker. Watching her encourage Dale to get closer to Jerry is really funny (especially considering that Dale thinks Jerry is actually Madge's husband, Horace). Ms. Broderick, who spent her film career playing best friends, is also remembered as the mother of actor Broderick Crawford.
While the characters played by Erik Rhodes (Alberto Beddini) and Eric Blore (Bates) are required for the plot, they are pretty silly. Especially nonsensical is the scene with Bates (masquerading as a gondolier) and an Italian Policeman. It is reported that several scenes at the end of the film were excised to speed things up - one wonders why this particular bit remained. The character wasn't much loved either - Italy banned this film because of Mr. Rhodes portrayal (TCM Trivia & Fun Facts). It's also worth noting that Lucille Ball makes an appearance as a Flower Shop Girl in the film.
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Our group had all seen this delightful film before, and were enthusiastic about seeing it again. One of the Freed Unit musicals, this story is biographical in nature, taking inspiration from the lives its star, its writers, and from other Broadway notables.
Fred Astaire is perfection as the movie star who decides to retire rather than face a declining public. Many aspects of Tony Hunter are taken directly from Mr. Astaire's own life. He had starred on Broadway in 1931 musical The Band Wagon (then dancing with his sister, Adele), in which he'd sung "I Love Louisa" (The musical revue also featured the song "Dancing in the Dark"). In 1946, Mr. Astaire decided to retire, thinking that his career was starting to peter out (Starring Fred Astaire by Stanley Green & Burt Goldblatt). And he did express concern that his potential dancing partner Cyd Charisse (Gabrielle Gerard) was too tall for him (TCM The Big Idea). All these little nuances gel to create a character with some depth.
Ms. Charisse's singing voice was supplied by India Adams; sadly, one of her numbers was cut - "Two-Faced Woman." MGM didn't give up on the song though - they later used it in Joan Crawford's film Torch Song (they should have left it in The Band Wagon!). For more information on Ms. Charisse, take a look at this brief video from TCM on her career. And to quote Mr. Astaire (from this bio) "When you've danced with Cyd, you stay danced with."Jeffrey Cordoba was originally intended for Clifton Webb, but as he'd become rather a big star by 1953, he wasn't interested in a secondary part. He suggested Jack Buchanan instead (TCM The Essentials). MGM also considered non-dancers Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson (AFI Catalog) before deciding on Mr. Buchanan. He's very funny and an able song-and-dance man in a character that was inspired by both Orson Welles and José Ferrer; between 1950 and 1954 Mr. Ferrer staged and/or starred in TEN Broadway plays.
We were especially impressed by the costumes of Mary Ann Nyberg - they are beautiful, and in many cases, quite simple. The white flair dress that Ms. Charisse wears in "Dancing in the Dark" is perfect for a night scene - the simple lines of the dress flow with her dancing; the light color spotlights her and Mr. Astaire as they dance. In the documentary that accompanied the DVD of the film, Ms. Charisse commented on the red dress she wore in the "Girl Hunt Ballet" - it was one of her favorites. Liza Minnelli (interviewed in that documentary) recalled that Ms. Nyberg made dresses that mirrored those of the stars for 6-year old Liza. She loved them!
The film received three Oscar nominations - for Costume, Score, and Original Screenplay. It was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1995. It's #17 on the AFI's 100 Years, 100 Musicals.
When it opened at Radio City Music Hall in New York, Bosley Crowther's New York Times review was glowing:"Joined with the equally nimble talents of Fred Astaire. Jack Buchanan and Cyd Charisse and some tunes from the sterling repertory of Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, this literate and witty combination herein delivers a show that respectfully bids for recognition as one of the best musical films ever made." Other reviews were equally enthusiastic. We heartily concur.
If you've never seen this film, give yourself a treat and find a copy. Here's a trailer from the film. Enjoy the music:
Monday, February 22, 2021
As Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) awaits the return of her husband Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif) from an 18-month prison stay, she recalls her career as a Funny Girl (1968) and her introduction to the gambler who would become her husband.
When Funny Girl opened on Broadway in 1964, the star, Barbra Streisand had appeared in only one other play - the musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale. She had, however, become well known to the public due to television appearances - including The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. Funny Girl ran from 1964 to 1967 (Ms. Streisand was in the lead for the first year, after which she appeared in the West End production). Regardless, Hollywood did not want her - Anne Bancroft, Carol Burnett (TCM Trivia), and Shirley MacLaine (Tribeca News) were all considered for Fanny. It was the film's producer Ray Stark who wanted Streisand, despite Columbia Pictures fear that Ms. Streisand was not pretty enough. The result - an Academy Award win for Ms. Streisand, in the only tie for the Best Actress category in Oscar history (Ms. Streisand shared the award with Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter). It's not a surprise - Ms. Streisand is amazing Fanny Brice, bringing just the right amount of humor and passion to this story of a career and a marriage. And while most of the songs in the film were done in the conventional way, William Wyler decided film the song "My Man" live, as Ms.
Streisand was having some issues with the emotion required for the scene
(TCM Behind the Camera).
The story of Ms. Brice - a comedienne and singer from the early days of Broadway, was put together by her son-in-law, Ray Stark (Mr. Stark was married to Frances Arnstein). Not surprisingly, he took some liberties with his mother-in-law's life. For one thing, her rise to fame was not as meteoric as stated in the film - it took her years, starting at Keeney's (Frank Faylen) Theater on Fulton Street, then on tour in the chorus, to Burlesque, and then to the Ziegeld Follies. Her marriage to Nick Arnstein was fraught - both had been married before, Arnstein had already been in jail and would end up there again, and he was perfectly happy to live off his famous wife's money. Ms. Brice finally divorced him when she discovered his record of infidelities. The couple had two children, however son William Arnstein did not wish to be mentioned in the film. (Encyclopedia of Jewish Women)
Anne Francis (Georgia James) appears briefly as a showgirl in the Ziegfeld Follies. By the second half of the movie, Georgia has disappeared (sadly). Ms. Francis was frustrated by her diminishing role in the film - she would blame it on Ms. Streisand, however as much as we enjoy seeing Ms. Francis, it must be pointed out this is the Fanny Brice story. Ms Francis sued to have her name removed from the credits (TCM article).
Many of the train sequences on the film were shot at the and Jersey City and Hoboken Train Stations, both beautiful old stations. Hoboken has seen its share of issues in recent years, including flooding from Superstorm Sandy and a train which crashed through a bumper block into the concourse (Wikipedia).
It was a treat to see this film again, and we heartily recommend it. Here is the re-release trailer:
Monday, February 15, 2021
College friends Al Mercer (Guy Madison), Brick (Brian Keith), Roy (Brian Keith), and Ronnie (Kerwin Mathews) take a vacation trip to Harold's Casino in Reno, Nevada. Upon returning to school, Ronnie comes up with a supposedly foolproof method of robbing the casino. Ronnie and Roy see it as a game - they won't keep the money, so there is no crime. But unknown to them, Brick, a Korean War vet who has had mental issues since returning stateside, is finding it hard to cope with civilian life. This week, we'll discuss 5 Against the House (1955).
At first look, this appears to be a film in the vein of Oceans 11 - it was, in fact, an inspiration for Martin Scorsese's Casino (TCM article). There is one small problem - it's not a very good movie, and it's badly miscast.
Two of our actors are supposed to be college students in their early 20s. Alvy Moore was 34 and looks it; Kerwin Matthews was 29 and looks older. It's therefore rather hard to find them believable as naive youths. Also, Matthew's character is supposed to be extremely intelligent. But he thinks he can commit grand theft and not be charged because he's going to give back the money. Really?? He's also really unpleasant - he's constantly hazing a younger student (which is supposed to be the comic relief), and he's vain enough to decide to trap Al into his illegal scheme. All in all, he is a self-important, spoiled brat.
The actor who is given the most to work with (and that still is not a whole lot) is Brian Keith. He gets the chance to play a man teetering on the verge of madness. But he's given precious little of a back story, and that does not help our understanding of the man. When one thinks of other post-war films, like The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), both of which have characters that have suffered emotional trauma because of their experiences, the audience is given a chance to taste some of the horrors that plague the men. Not here - like Al, Brick is written in shorthand. It's only thanks to the skill of Brian Keith that we have any sympathy for him.
This was only Kim Novak's fifth film, and while she too is saddled with a superficial character, we do warm to her, mainly because we see that she is a strong and intelligent woman. If any character is a savior, it is she, and the audience likes her audacity by the end. The same year as this film was released, Ms. Novak would appear as Madge in Picnic, and her stardom was assured.
William Conrad (Eric Berg) has a brief appearance as a casino employee - strangely, he gets billing OVER Kerwin Matthews. Well, maybe not so strange - he's a far better actor.
The story was taken from a Good Housekeeping series (AFI Catalog) - an odd tale for such a magazine. One nice feature is that it offers a glimpse of Reno (and Las Vegas) in the mid 1950s - not the cities that we think of today.
Unless you are a Kim Novak completist, or a fan of Brian Keith, we can't really recommend this one. Here is a trailer from the film: