1940s Film, musicals

GOOD NEWS (1947)

Welcome to Tait College circa 1927, where football rules and romance is aplenty. This is Good News.

This film is a remake of the 1930 film musical, which was based on the 1927 play. (The 1930 version was a full-out Pre-Code production filled with sexual innuendos. By the 1940s, it was no longer screened in the US because of cinema censorship.) The 1947 version of the film, of course, is a lot more innocent.


The hottest man on campus (on the field and off) is Tommy Marlowe (Peter Lawford). Taking the opposite approach of the female classmates who are interested in him, Tommy decides that acting disinterested is the only good way to win a girl over.

Tommy’s plan is tested when he meets the new girl on campus, Pat McClellan (Patricia Marshall). Pat is a recent finishing school graduate who likes to show off her sophistication, especially to the opposite sex. She pledges at the Phi Gamma Gamma sorority and wins over the attention of the entire football team.

When Tommy shows interest in her, Pat immediately rejects his romantic advances and, with it, piques his interest even more.

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Pat McClellan does not find Tommy amusing.
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And she makes it known.

Because Pat rejects him using a French term, Tommy decides that the way to make her fall in love with him is by enlisting the librarian on campus to teach him French. The librarian just so happens to be Connie Lane, portrayed by June Allyson.

Connie is secretly in love with Tommy and is naturally upset that he is pursuing Pat, but she consents to his request and begins French lessons with him.

Tommy eventually falls in love with Connie as the lessons continue. Of course, that just makes everything complicated, as Tommy began taking French lessons in order to pass his class, which would ensure him a spot on the field at the big football game…which would ultimately lead him straight into the arms of Pat. So…yeah.

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One of my favorite parts of the film is when Tommy and Connie sing “The Best Things in Life Are Free”. It’s sweet, reassuring and, well, innocent.

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Tommy goes back and forth with his feelings toward Connie and Pat, which upsets Connie a great deal.

Finally, Tommy comes to his senses and realizes that Connie is the girl for him. By that point, Connie realizes that he really loves her and they get together.

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Seeing as Good News is a 1940s MGM musical production, no real blossoming romance can be verified until a big song and dance number is presented to celebrate it.


As seen in Good News, June Allyson thrived at the girl-next-door roles she was often given during her time acting in Hollywood films. With her distinct husky voice, cheerful attitude, and wholesome looks, she became a huge star at MGM in the 1940s.

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(photo courtesy of Doctor Macro)

Bonus video: The Varsity Drag number from the 1930 film version of Good News – It’s even more fun than the ’47 version, honestly. It’s crazy.


This post is a part of the June Allyson Centenary Blogathon, hosted by Champagne for Lunch. I recommend checking out the other posts written by various bloggers for this blogathon!

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1930s Film, Pre-Code Hollywood

THE MIRACLE WOMAN (1931)

 “And she gave up a million bucks for that. The poor sap.”


When you hear the name Frank Capra, what’s the first movie you think of?

For many people, it’s his 1946 Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life or his patriotic 1939 hit Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

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In The Miracle Woman, one of Capra’s earlier and lesser-known films, one can see theThe_Miracle_Woman_1931_Poster style which he progressively popularized in his films begin to blossom onscreen. His themes of optimism and goodwill would later become synonymous with his very name and if you’re familiar enough with at least some of his other films, you will see that, indeed, there is a Capra touch.

The well-cast Barbara Stanwyck plays a con artist disguised as a popular traveling evangelist named Florence Fallon. After Florence’s elderly father – the longtime minister of a church – is cast aside by the parish to make way for a newer and younger preacher, Florence addresses the congregation and informs them that her father has just died and was heartbroken by the way he had been treated by the church’s members.

She makes the speech of all speeches to disavow their iniquity and literally runs them out of the church.

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Ultimately, because of the church’s behavior, she becomes bitter, turns her back on God and – with the help of a seasoned conman – seeks to avenge her father by packing the house in her own traveling temple and scamming Christians around the United States.

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The conman, named Bob Hornsby (Sam Hardy), becomes – in a sense – her boss. He gives Florence a total makeover, changing her name to Sister Fallon, training her on how to act, and dressing her in white, angelic gowns. She takes on the persona of a faith healer and plays it like a pro.

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Sister Fallon invites Christians around the nation to her “Temple of Happiness”, which is where she performs her spirited (and 100% scripted) religious ceremonies and performs phony “miracles”. She and Hornsby hire actors who are planted in the audience to appear as enthusiastic Christians in order to make it that much more believable.

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Her resentment toward Christians is tested when she meets a blind World War I veteran named John Carson (David Manners).

John is the antithesis of everything Florence presently stands for: He is kind, honest, and faithful.

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Ironically, John was saved from committing suicide when he heard fabricated words of hope spoken by “Sister Fallon” in a sermon via a neighbor’s radio as he was about to jump out of a window in his apartment.

When he tells Florence that she saved his life, she is floored and humbled. John is a genuinely good man and his renewed faith makes Florence realize that there are still good people in the world and that, deep down, she is one of them. However, she keeps up the persona of Sister Florence but begins to feel more and more guilty about it.

The two become fond of each other and quickly fall in love. John (and his ventriloquist dummy, Al) make Florence laugh at a time when she didn’t think she could anymore.

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Finally, Florence stands up to Hornsby and decides that she’s going to tell her “followers” the truth about who she really is and that she has deceived them.

While all of this is going on, John selflessly pretends that his sight has been miraculously restored so that Florence will gain back her own faith. However, when his plan slips and he has a mishap, Florence bursts into tears of gratitude, hugs him tightly, and reassures him that he has shown her that miracles are real.

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“You’ve made me see.” – Florence

Of course, Hornsby won’t give up without a fight. Out of anger, he knocks John out in Florence’s dressing room and makes a move to shut off the lights while Florence is making her confession, but he accidentally sets the place on fire.

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When the entrance becomes blocked, everyone panics – except for Florence. With her newfound faith, she begins to sing hymns and urges everyone else to join her. With her singing, she guides them out of the building and into safety.

The fire begins to spread throughout the entire structure and it becomes engulfed with flames. Fortunately, John regains consciousness in the nick of time and follows Florence’s voice to find her. She passes out just before he reaches her but he picks her up and rushes out of the building just before its total demise.


The ending is totally Capra and it makes my heart happy.

Six months after the devastating fire, Florence is seen proudly working for the Salvation Army by none other than Hornsby.

She also receives a telegram from John…

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“And she gave up a million bucks for that. The poor sap.”

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Indeed, the poor sap…

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Modern Film: The '80s and Beyond

THE ROOM: A Cult Classic At Midnight

“If a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live.”

On the night of Saturday, August 26, my friends and I took a Lyft to the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis, MO – about two hours from where we live – and waited in a huge line to meet Tommy Wiseau and to watch The Room at midnight.

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For those of you not familiar with The Room, it’s been called “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”, which should tell you enough. It’s unintentionally hilarious, filled with dozens of head-scratching/bizarre one liners and extremely awkward moments.

I was introduced to the movie several years ago by a good friend and I’ve been crazy about the movie ever since, occasionally quoting it in everyday life situations.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that the screening was set to begin at midnight. However, seeing as it was a sold-out event featuring Tommy Wiseau and he did greet a lot of people, the movie ended up starting just after 2 am. By that time, my friends decided that they didn’t want to stick around any longer and I decided to move from the back of the theater closer to the front, where I found myself sitting beside a couple of really nice guys named Nick and CJ.

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Notice the spoon resting behind Nick’s ear? Well, spoons are a staple of late night screenings of The Room. I’ll get to that soon.

Before the film officially began, Tommy came down to the front of the theater and held a quick Q&A session. When I say quick, I mean it lasted for, like, two minutes. I’m not complaining at all – I just figure that’s a very Tommy Wiseau thing to do. He answered the questions he wanted to answer (For example, “Did you hit her?!” “No.”) and ignored the ones he didn’t want to answer.

After the Q&A ended, the film was preceded by a trailer for Wiseau’s upcoming buddy film (co-starring The Room‘s Greg Sestero) Best Friends, a trailer for the highly anticipated movie The Disaster Artist, and a commercial for Tommy’s underwear line.


FINALLY, just after 2:00, the movie began. What an experience that was.

Because everyone (or mostly everyone) who attends late night screenings of The Room has the movie memorized, there’s not a quiet moment in the audience until everyone files out of the theater. It’s truly one of the most quotable movies of all time and that night’s audience was not shy about proving it.

We all yelled along to the most famous lines, such as, “YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, LISA!”

There was one guy down in the lower left side of the theater who was basically a one-man version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax. He had a quip for almost every single line and, at least in my case, it made the experience that much funnier. In fact, people throughout the audience made quips after terrible lines were delivered, booed at antagonist Lisa, and yelled at every character who forgot to close the door in the main character’s apartment (note: it happens a lot).

Now, back to the spoons.

If you watch closely, there are several picture frames placed on a table in the apartment. Of course, putting realistic pictures in them would be too simple. Inside the picture frames, there are pictures of single spoons in them. Someone somewhere decided that, at screenings of the film, audience members should throw spoons toward the screen every time the spoon photos appear in the shot. It happens several times.

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So, why were there pictures of spoons in that apartment? Thankfully, Tommy Wiseau answered that question for us!

I admittedly bought four spoons for $1 while standing in line, but fortunately I capitalized on the purchase by recycling spoons, in a sense. Those of us who were not in the back rows got to pick up the spoons thrown by people behind us and re-use them. I should also mention that there were a few inflatable footballs being tossed throughout the audience which is an homage to the cringeworthy football tossing scenes. It was the closest I’ve ever gotten to being in the middle of a sporting event at a movie screening.

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As someone who has the utmost respect for and adoration of movie theaters, it kind of felt like I was, in a sense, sinning as I launched spoons up front. As you can see in the photos I took, parts of the theater were a mess after the lights came back up.

But really, it was one of the best cinematic moments of my life thus far. I was surrounded by really nice and good-humored people late at night and we all share a mutual love for horrible cult classic movies. My 2 am – 4 am brain was begging to go to sleep most of the time, but it was 100% worth it to stay up and watch it. (Even though I am a little jealous that my friends found Tommy in a nearby diner and ate with him while I was watching the movie. True story.)

 

1940s Film, Holidays in Film

THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944)

One evening in the summer of 2013, I was spending some time at my grandparents’ home and we turned on the TV to see what was playing on TCM. It was a movie called The Very Thought of You, which I’d never heard of before. From the moment it began, my grandma and I were hooked.

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The film stars Dennis Morgan as an Army sergeant named Dave, who is on a three day furlough in Pasadena, CA. His buddy, “Fixit” (Dane Clark), is also on furlough and just wants to meet a nice girl. Dave had attended college at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) before joining the Army.

Soon after their arrival into Pasadena, Fixit’s wish is granted and Dave’s memory is jogged when they run into two young women on a bus. Fixit immediately lays on his humorous charm when he sees Cora (Faye Emerson) and Dave comes face to face with Janet (Eleanor Parker), who used to serve him chocolate malts at a shop in Pasadena. She remembers him, but he doesn’t remember her until she introduces herself.

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Fixit finds the woman of his dreams.
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“Aren’t you going to say hello?”

At the insistence of Fixit, the guys follow Janet and Cora after they get off the bus and decide to get to know them better. Janet reveals to Cora that she used to have a big crush on Dave just before Dave and Fixit catch up to them. While Fixit chats up Cora, Dave and Janet walk arm-in-arm on the sidewalk and get to know each other.

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Seeing as it’s Thanksgiving and Dave has no family in the area, Janet invites him to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. He gratefully accepts and joins them. Unfortunately, most of Janet’s family are hostile and rude toward Dave.

Janet’s mother (Beulah Bondi) is adamantly opposed to seeing any more of her daughters marry a serviceman. She believes that, if Janet were to marry Dave, she would either become a war widow. She faces opposition from her cynical brother. Her sister Molly also voices her outrage, citing her own experiences as she waits for her husband to come home from war (while stepping out with other men). Janet’s father (Henry Travers) and little sister Ellie (Georgia Lee Settle) are the only two who stick up for her.

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Father tells his family that he is ashamed at the way they treated Dave.
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Ellie stands up for her sister.
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Conflict arises.

The next day, Ellie wanders into a local drugstore counter and spots Dave. Being the energetic (and totally adorable) teenager that she is, she sprints home and takes Janet back with her. Dave invites Janet to take a drive to Mount Wilson and she accepts.

It’s worth noting that when Dave turns on the radio in his car, the classic song “The Very Thought of You” is playing. Here is one version of the song, as sung by Al Bowlly.


And that’s when their courtship really begins.

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Within two days, the couple experience moments of pure bliss and a pushback from Janet’s family which makes it all the more emotional for her.

It’s a concept that’s pretty difficult for a lot of modern audiences to grasp, but it was reality for many young adults during World War II. When a man in the service fell in love with a woman back home, they were faced with a tough decision: marry now or wait until he comes back.


Because I’ll Be Seeing You is unfamiliar to most people today (and I hope that at least some of you are able to watch it after reading this), I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot in this post.

I want to add that the leads of the film, Dennis Morgan and Eleanor Parker, convey a tender romantic chemistry in the film and they make a sweet onscreen couple. For all of the talent he carried within him – in acting and in singing – Dennis Morgan is so underrated. He carried a natural and charming presence onscreen that was really unique. And my, was he handsome.


Even better, it’s airing at 2:30 PM (EST) today – August 24, 2017 – on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). If you’re able to, I highly recommend watching it. 


This post is part of the TCM Summer under the Stars Blogathon, hosted by Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film. Check out other posts highlighting the stars of the month!

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1930s Film, Star Profiles

The Marx Brothers: A Love Story

Mrs. Rittenhouse, ever since I met you, I’ve swept you off my feet.

I feel like anyone who is a fan of the Marx Brothers remembers when they first watched their movies and have vivid memories of it. I know I do.

See, when it happened, I didn’t plan on checking out several of their Paramount films on DVD. But one day in the summer of 2011 – a few months before I would begin my senior year of high school – they somehow caught my attention and I snatched them up.

For those of you reading who may not be too familiar with the Marx Bros, their Paramount films were done at the beginning of their film careers. They began there in 1929 with the film The Cocoanuts and remained through 1933 with the release of one of their most popular comedies, Duck Soup. I watched The CocoanutsAnimal Crackers (1930), Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), and Duck Soup first. I loved every movie, but I was especially taken with Animal Crackers and The Cocoanuts.

To talk about a couple of those films…

Animal Crackers (1930) is actually my favorite Marx Brothers film. It’s not their strongest one, but it kills me. I think I love it so much because it’s just basically Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo running around a mansion (owned by a Margaret Dumont character, no less) for ninety-seven minutes, causing mayhem and throwing around sidesplitting one-liners – usually at the expense of unamused house guests.

 


The Cocoanuts (1929) is by no means a spectacular production on film – it’s clunky all over, which is understandable for an early talkie musical based on a stage play, but it’s total madcap fun and there are some hilarious one-liners tossed around. The boys are just getting going too, and it’s cool to think about how far they’d go after ’29.

I got hooked on watching these guys throughout my senior year – what a vice! It seemed like I couldn’t stop watching their movies, talking about them, or reading about them.

I read several books, including Chico Marx’s daughter’s recollections of living with her father, who really was a genius (but also a Lothario) in real life.

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To this day, Harpo’s autobiography Harpo Speaks! remains one of my favorite books. In it, he fleshes out the life he shared with his brothers, mother, father, and extended family in New York City and continued through his later years. It’s filled with humor and a lot of hear. I highly recommend it to any fan. You’ll adore the man behind the trenchcoat, top hat, and harp.

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At some point, I need to read more about Groucho.


I’ve noticed that hardcore fans tend to debate over which era was the best for the Brothers in film: the Paramount era versus the MGM era. After Duck Soup, The Brothers moved over to MGM in 1935. Their other most popular film, A Night at the Opera, was released that year. In my opinion, their Paramount films (1929 – 1933) are far superior. When they moved over to MGM, their creative rights were traded in to ensure that there was a thicker plot in each film. Basically, more love subplots. Ehhhhh. In doing this, most of their MGM films were actually much weaker than their Paramount films.

With that said, my personal favorite Marx Brothers MGM flick is actually A Day at the Races (1937). Although it’s not as solid as their earlier work, there are some great scenes and jokes in it.


I have to say that I wholeheartedly enjoy the musical number shared between Allan Jones and Maureen O’Sullivan. It’s just so optimistic and emotional all at the same time.


And there’s that incredible swing dance number performed by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, which is still a marvel to watch eighty years later.


Besides their jokes, it’s important to remember that the Marx Brothers were also incredibly talented musicians. In many of their films, they often took time out of the madcap plot lines to serenade the audience with the piano, harp, and voice.

Just watch Harpo sit down at his harp and see how he gets so into playing each piece. You can see the “real” Harpo come through every time.

Chico’s ability to “shoot” the keys when he plays the piano is fascinating to watch. Bonus points go to him for making flirtatious facial expressions while he’s playing.

Groucho often got to sing and dance and his numbers, of course, were typically over-the-top and funny as all get-out.

Zeppo was said to have actually been the funniest of the brothers. However, in the five films he appeared in, Zeppo always played the straight man. Either way, he definitely had a fine singing voice and used it several times in his movie appearances.


I want to thank Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, Margaret Dumont, Thelma Todd, and everyone else featured on and off screen in the Marx Brothers’ films. I fell in love with the Marx Brothers pretty early on in my reintroduction to the Golden Age of Hollywood and they will always hold a special place in my heart. (Would Groucho approve of such a cheesy statement? Hey, it’s true!)


What’s your favorite Marx Brothers film and/or “era”? Let me know in the comments!

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Fashion in Film

Ruby Keeler: What a Dancer

It’s really amazing. I couldn’t act. I had that terrible singing voice, and now I can see I wasn’t the greatest tap dancer in the world, either.

Unless you’re a huge fan of early 1930s musicals, you most likely have never heard of Ruby Keeler. She rose to fame in 1933 with the release of the hit Warner Brothers backstage musical 42nd Street.

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She’d go on to star in two other musicals in the same year: Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade. In each of these films, Ruby portrayed the girl-next-door character. She was sweet, charming, and wide-eyed with wonder.

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(courtesy of doctormacro.com)

Yes, it’s true: She wasn’t a terrific actress or singer, but I will argue that she is still enjoyable in those areas (at least for me) and she really could dance. Her technical skills would later be surpassed on screen by Eleanor Powell, Ginger Rogers, and Ann Miller, but she could hold her own and she did it with a style like no one else.

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(photo courtesy of doctormacro.com)

Ruby was a buck-and-wing dancer, meaning that her footwork was more percussive than anything else. It wasn’t particularly graceful and it didn’t require any distinct movements with the upper body. Now, I’ve seen people liken her footwork to stomping on ants. Personally, I can’t watch enough footage of her dancing around the screen with that charm of hers.

Many of the Busby Berkeley musicals that she appeared in were filled with numbers which didn’t require her to tap dance. Berkeley’s often created musical numbers that showed Ruby and chorus girls moving around in geometric formations, often putting more focus on the formations (and their bodies) than the dancing itself. He created a world – sometimes trippy, always fantastical – in which audiences in the Great Depression era could let go of their troubles for ninety minutes and enter a world created by a genius.

Ruby’s breakout song and dance number on film came at the finale of 42nd Street in the title song and dance number. You can watch it here.


In Gold Diggers of 1933, Ruby’s part is even better, the numbers are even greater, and the supporting cast is hilarious.

Earlier, I said that Ruby always played the sweet, wide-eyed ingenue kind of characters, but she got to have some fun, too. In the cheeky number “Pettin’ in the Park”, she masters the art of being sexy and (nearly) innocent at the same time.

In “The Shadow Waltz”, Ruby is given a platinum blonde wig complete with marcel waves and costumed in a breathtaking gown. She is partnered with Dick Powell, who plays her romantic interest in the film and in several other films, including 42nd Street and Footlight Parade. The choreography and set design is pure Busby Berkeley. If you’re not familiar with his work, this number will give you an idea of what he was capable of producing.


One of Ruby Keeler’s coolest dance numbers happens in Footlight Parade. She shares the stage (I should say bar counter) with none other than James Cagney, a wonderful and unique dancer in his own right. The number is called “Shanghai Lil” and it closes out the film with a level of grandeur that could only be achieved by Busby Berkeley.

Because I’m a cat lady, I adore “Sitting on a Backyard Fence”, in which Ruby is a dancing cat, surrounded by chorus girl cats and a mouse, played by Billy Barty. Gotta love it!

Although the number “By a Waterfall” doesn’t actual contain any dancing, I have to share it because it’s my personal favorite Busby Berkeley number and Ruby is including in the water ballet. This is one of those videos I like to pull out and share with people to show them that, yes, classic film is pretty freaking amazing.


1933 was by the Ruby’s best year in Hollywood. She continued to get parts in films, but none of them were as good as the ones she made in ’33. It’s important to note that Ruby’s first three films (and Dames in 1934) were choreographed by Busby Berkeley, which is an impressive mark on her resume.


In Dames (1934), Ruby is again romantically paired with Dick Powell and she is a sweet and innocent singer and dancer who happens to be in love with her thirteenth cousin. (But hey, who’s counting?)

Dames contains one of the most memorizing song and dance sequences ever put onscreen and our Ms. Keeler is the object of its affection (literally).


Ruby went on to make a handful of other musicals before retiring from film in 1941. She was married to movie musical superstar Al Jolson from 1928 to 1940. According to Ruby, Jolson treated her terribly. Before they divorced, they adopted a son and named him Al Jr. and Ruby retained custody of him. She went on to marry businessman John Homer Lowe in 1941 and they remained married until his death in 1969. They had four children together and Ruby seemed to lead a much happier life with him and their children.

Here are several other song and dance numbers she performed in films from the mid ’30s into the early ’40s. The films may have been ultimately forgettable, but Ruby left us with underrated material.

Using only tap dancing as dialogue, she danced her way through engagement and down the aisle with Paul Draper in this number from Colleen (1936).

In the same film, Ruby’s character informs Dick Powell’s character that she won’t marry him because he can’t dance well.

In the 1937 film Ready, Willing, and Able she tap danced with Lee Dixon on a typewriter. Nothing further need be said.

Her last film before her retirement, Sweetheart of the Campus (1941), isn’t a good one, but Ruby still shows off some great moves. I thought her tap dancing had gotten even better by this point. Take a look and see if you agree.


Ruby Keeler made a comeback in the 1970s with the successful 1971 Broadway revival of No, No, Nanette. It was her first big role since her retirement and she was praised for her ability to still tap dance (with a lot of energy) in her 60s.

1960s Film, Fashion in Film, musicals

Spotlight on Fashion + Color: BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963)

What’s the story, morning glory?

It doesn’t get much sillier or more fun than the musical film Bye Bye Birdie (1963), which was adapted from the 1960 Broadway musical. The film stars Ann-Margret as Kim MacAfee, a teenager from Sweet Apple, Ohio who wins the contest of a lifetime: a kiss from rock and roll superstar Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) – a parody of Elvis Presley – before he must report to duty in the Army.

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Kim, a dedicated member of the local Conrad Birdie fan club, lives with her parents Harry (the uproarious Paul Lynde) and Doris (Mary LaRoche) and younger brother Randolph (Bryan Russell). She’s also dating a sweet classmate named Hugo Peabody (real-life singer/teen heartthrob Bobby Rydell) who, of course, resents her enthusiasm at the idea of kissing Birdie.

The movie also features Dick Van Dyke – in his first film – as a young songwriter named Albert, Janet Leigh as Albert’s girlfriend and secretary, Rosie, and Maureen Stapleton as Albert’s comically overbearing mother.

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One of the aspects I adore the most about this movie is the colors used in the sets and the costuming – especially the kids’ clothing. Set only several years before youth fashion became more daring, Bye Bye Birdie reminds us of a time when American culture was quickly shifting.

The opening scene, I will argue, is iconic. Stylistically speaking, you just can’t avert your eyes. From the moment it begins, Ann-Margret runs around in a straight line (on an off-camera treadmill) accompanied by a striking blue background. It’s as if we, the audience, are stand-ins for the man she’s singing to, Conrad Birdie. She’s looking right into our souls and bearing her heart directly with us. She’s gorgeous. (If you hadn’t figured it out, I’ve totally got a girl crush on her.)

 


Bye Bye Birdie has become one of my favorite musicals because it’s pure fluff in a campy-’60s-teen-musical sort of way. It puts me in an amazing mood every time I watch it and my life is richer because of it in some weird way.

I was lucky enough to see it on a huge screen at the TCM Classic Film Festival in April. Honestly, it was my favorite screening at the event. As mentioned above, I have so much fun every time I watch it, but watching it next to two ladies who saw it as teenagers in 1963 warmed my heart. During a couple of the musical numbers, I heard them whisper excitedly to each other that they remembered remembering and loving those parts. And it’s no exaggeration when I say the screen was huge; it really was. It was an incredible experience.

After the dynamite intro song, the first full-length number we’re treated to is “The Telephone Hour”. After Kim tells her best friend, Ursula that she and Hugo Peabody are going steady, Ursula calls a friend who calls a friend who calls a friend and the news about Kim and Hugo spreads around within minutes.

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“I just got pinned by Hugo Peabody!”

And so it begins:

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Soon after Kim reveals her news, she celebrates her newfound womanhood. The colors continue to pop, although the hues are a lot softer. Take note of her dolls and figurines, too. I spotted Fred and Barney on top of her dresser! Even though she makes it well-known that she’s now a sophisticated woman, Kim still retains some childlike qualities.

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Just look at that bedroom (and Kim’s socks!)

When Conrad Birdie arrives in Sweet Apple, things get a lot more colorful. After making his gold-clad arrival by a motorcycle motorcade, he takes his golden electric guitar out and serenades all of the elated fans who came out to greet him. And boy, does it get wild. He quickly gets busy with pelvic thrusts and sensual noises. By the time his song “Honestly Sincere” is finished, every woman in the crowd has fainted. It’s so over-the-top and funny.

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Bye Bye Birdie_Jesse Pearson

And then there’s the A Lot of Livin’ to Do number – my personal favorite. The scene pits Kim against her boyfriend Hugo (Bobby Rydell), as she decides to pursue the one and only Conrad Birdie – an older, more mature man of the world. Hugo retaliates in the best way possible: a dance-off. You just can’t beat the choreography in this one.

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Also, Kim’s outfit is what dreams are made of. The ruffles, man. The ruffles!

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As underrated as the topic is, I hope you also find enjoyment in this extremely colorful film. The charismatic and vivacious performance given by Ann-Margret proved to Hollywood and audiences alike that she was here to stay.

1960s Film, Fashion in Film

TWO FOR THE ROAD (1967): A Few Thoughts + Fashion

By George, I finally did it: I watched Two for the Road. I’d been wanting to watch this movie for several years and for some reason never tracked down a copy of it to enjoy until now.

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I had the chance to watch it back in 2013 when I visited Hollywood for the first time with my dad. We got tickets to a double-feature of this film and It Happened One Night (1934) at the Egyptian Theatre. Unfortunately, Two for the Road was screened after It Happened One Night, which didn’t begin – if I’m correct – until 7:00 or 7:30 that evening. My dad wasn’t keen on the idea of walking back down Hollywood Blvd near midnight to locate our rental car. Although I was bummed, I will admit that he had the right idea in getting back to our car much before that hour. Nevertheless, I saw no less than two people dressed as Spiderman running and jumping around the sidewalks and I was totally enamored by seeing It Happened One Night on the big screen.

But good things come to those who wait!

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Directed by Stanley Donen, Two for the Road looks at a young couple’s twelve-year relationship – from their first meeting, to moments of bliss, to a strained and seemingly doomed marriage. Some moments in the film are terribly romantic, some are bittersweet, and some are downright heart-wrenching.

Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney star as Mark and Joanna Wallace. The film begins in the “present day”, introducing the watcher to a miserable couple seemingly on the brink of divorce. They begin to reminisce about the different periods in their relationship. The unique quality of this film is in its storytelling manner; instead of telling it chronologically, it’s presented in a nonlinear sequence.

Hepburn and Finney share a red-hot chemistry and despite it being a bit difficult to follow, the story is compelling and engaging. I think this was the best acting I’ve seen from Hepburn in a film so far. She’s so genuine and nails her dramatic and lighthearted scenes.

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As always, Ms. Hepburn is at the top of her game where fashion is concerned, proving to us that she can pretty much grace any outfit she wears. (Side note: Hubert de Givenchy collaborated with Audrey for a handful of her biggest films, but she was costumed by Mary Quant, Paco Rabanne, and several other designers in this one.)

The style of Audrey’s costuming in Two For the Road is much different than any of her previous films. Viewers are used to seeing her in elegant dresses, simplistic blouses, and long skirts. Along with her naturalistic performance, the wardrobe does wonders.

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On top of everything, this film’s soundtrack was scored by Henry Mancini, who scored three other Audrey Hepburn films: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Charade (1963), and Wait Until Dark, which was also released in ’67.  The theme of this film is absolutely beautiful.

1940s Film, Holidays in Film, musicals

YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942) on the Big Screen

It’s always a pure joy to watch a classic film on the big screen, especially when you’re watching James Cagney sing and dance. On the evening of Thursday, July 6, I drove about an hour and a half to a little town called Moberly and met one of my online friends (and fellow classic film blogger), Terry, at the newly restored 4th Street Theatre.

As you can see below, the theater is gorgeous. A lot of hard work has been put in over the last several years in order to make it look as it did when it screened movies in its original run.

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The 4th Street Theatre opened in early 1914 and functioned as a movie and vaudeville house. 1,000 people were able to pack in at one time, a concept that most of us are not familiar with. Many cinemas are now multiplexes, which means that there are multiple movie screens in one complex. In theaters like the 4th Street Theatre, this meant that 1,000 people were able to pack into one movie showing. With multiplexes, we lose out on that feeling of true camaraderie, in my opinion.

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The 4th Street Theatre in its infancy. Date unknown.   (courtesy of cinematreasures.org)

As Terry and I stepped inside the theater, I was in awe as I looked around. To say that the restoration of this theater was merely successful would be an understatement; everyone who put effort into its restoration did an incredible job. One of the volunteers informed us that many of the parts inside are original and most of the parts that are not original are replicated. Terry and I got there about an hour before the show began, so we took advantage of the extra time and took photos. Here are a few I captured:

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A closeup of the exterior of the 4th Street Theatre
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This popcorn machine is to die for.
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The inside of the theatre: 100% restored and 100% lovely
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The poster for Yankee Doodle Dandy is on the left side and the poster for Pillow Talk, which was screened in June, hangs beside it.
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Filing out after the show

This is the second James Cagney film that I’ve been fortunate enough to see on the big screen. Incidentally, the first was his first musical film, Footlight Parade (1933). Prior to the release of that film, movie audiences had only known Cagney as a gangster onscreen. He played the fast-talking, seedy tough guy characters like nobody’s business. Funnily, enough his first gig as a performer came in 1919 when he appeared onstage, in drag, as a chorus girl.


For his portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Cagney won the Oscar for Best Actor. Cohan, who began his career as a young boy on the vaudeville stage with his family, became the most popular figure in Broadway in the early 20th century. Besides having a successful acting career on Broadway, he went on to write some of the most enduring songs in American history, including “The Yankee Doodle Boy” – often referred to as (I’m a) Yankee Doodle Dandy” – and “You’re a Grand Old Flag”. Cohan was also the first entertainer to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was honored with it in 1940 particularly for his patriotic songs “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Over There”. They became anthems for the United States during World War I and World War II.

The film, directed by Michael Curtiz, is really one of the most uplifting films ever created. The musical numbers are crafted wonderfully and the supporting cast (including Cagney’s real-life sister as his onscreen sister, Josie) lends a warm touch to the already heartwarming story. I especially enjoy Joan Leslie as Mary, the love of George’s life.

My personal picks from the musical numbers are “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “So Long, Mary”, which I’ve shared below.


You can find Terry’s blog mercurie.blogspot.com.

1930s Film

FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938)

One recent rainy/chilly Sunday afternoon, I sat down on the couch and made the decision as to what movie I should watch on the DVR. Well, I ended up choosing a black & white romance that I had never heard of before taping it on TCM.

Four Daughters (1938) was directed by Michael Curtiz, who would go on to direct some of the biggest movies of all time, including Casablanca (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), and White Christmas (1954). The movie stars three of the four Lane Sisters (Priscilla, Lola, and Rosemary) and Gale Page as the Lemp sisters. The Lemp girls are the daughters of Adam Lemp (Claude Raines), a serious but loving father who is the dean of the Briarwood Music Foundation. They live with Adam’s witty sister, Etta (May Robson).

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Adam Lemp (Claude Rains) surrounded by his daughters: (L-R) Ann (Priscilla Lane), Thea (Lola Lane), Kay (Rosemary Lane), and Emma (Gale Page)

Adam’s daughters inherited his talent and love for music and their house is rarely silent because of it. Along with the girls’ zest for music, they have men on their brains.

The first to be formally courted is Thea (Lola Lane). Thea is one of the sisters who appears not to be interested in letting romance come in the way of a good marriage. She catches the eye of Mr. Ben Crowley (Frank McHugh), a well-meaning older man well on his way to making good money. What Thea wants in life is stability and she knows she can get it in marrying Mr. Crowley.

The eldest daughter, Emma (Gale Page), knows that kind and sensitive neighbor Ernest (Dick Foran) is in love with her, but she doesn’t really feel the same about him. Ernest works as a florist and often makes a detour to personally give her a bouquet of flowers at her doorstep.

Youngest daughter, Ann (Priscilla Lane), not interested in getting married, vows to Emma that they will become old maids together. Soon after making her vow, a young man named Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn) makes his way to the neighborhood. Felix, a composer of popular music, is the son of one of Adam’s old friends. He is cute, charming, and knows how to craft a witty sentence. He even bewitches Aunt Etta (their interactions are adorable). The Lemp family take him in as a border, where he continues his work in music. Felix, being the charming man that he is, accidentally leads on all of the daughters. (That’s not sarcasm; he sincerely doesn’t mean it.) Ann is the one who truly loves him, but her sisters also temporarily fall under his spell.

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Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn)

Kay (Rosemary Lane) is the only daughter who takes a different path. As the most talented daughter, she has been offered a scholarship for a music school but has not decided if she wants to attend or not.

Enter Mickey Borden (John Garfield, in his first movie role). Mickey is a cynical orchestral arranger who believes that everything bad that has happened to him in life has been dealt by fate and that there’s no getting around his misfortunes. Ann makes an effort to cheer him up and look at life more lightheartedly. Through this, Mickey falls for her.

At the same time, Felix has been in love with her and proposes marriage to her. Will she choose one or the other or neither…?

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Felix and Ann

So, yeah, things begin to get tangled up, the girls get jumbled up in their feelings, and feelings get hurt. A tragedy occurs near the end of the movie, but overall it’s a sweet and lighthearted story.

Some Thoughts

Four Daughters was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actor in a Supporting Role for John Garfield’s performance. Claude Raines gives a good performance as always, but his part is overshadowed by most of the other characters. Priscilla Lane is a darling and plays the part of the optimistic kid sister well. Besides P.L., Jeffrey Lynn’s character was my favorite. I see why all of the sisters fell for him. The movie isn’t the greatest, but I really did enjoy it. Because of its sentimentality and lovely winter scenes, I’d be okay with watching it around Christmas every year. Oh, and I’ll definitely be watching the sequel, Four Wives (1939) and Four Mothers (1941). More to come on those.

RATING (out of four): ★★★