1950s Film, musicals

ON MOONLIGHT BAY (1951)

Men have been buzzing around here like flies ever since you gave up baseball. This place is beginning to look like the YMCA on a rainy afternoon!


Happy 96th birthday to Ms. Doris Day, one of the brightest lights to ever illuminate Hollywood. She was born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio. After a car accident sabotaged her dreams of becoming a professional dancer, Doris decided to keep pursuing the entertainment business. She went on to become a professional singer and eventually sang with the likes of famous bandleaders including Les Brown and Bob Crosby. Today, Doris is remembered for her film acting (which began in 1948), distinguished singing voice, and animal welfare activism. Although it’s been decades since she was a top box-office draw, Doris has yet to go out of style. She’s simply irresistible. Happy birthday, DD! ✦


Actress, singer and animal-right activist Doris DayImage result for doris day singingImage result for doris day animals


And now back to our regularly scheduled programming:

On Moonlight Bay has become very dear to me since I watched it for the first time nearly three years ago, when I happened to keep the TV on after watching Meet Me in St. Louis on TCM. It was just a couple of days before Christmas. The family room was totally dark and I was wrapped up in a blanket. It was total paradise.

And I had never seen a Doris Day film until this point.

Now, I was familiar with Gordon MacRae. I’ve been in love with his character Curley in Oklahoma! for longer than I can remember. Show me the proposal scene and I swoon every time.

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But I digress.


On Moonlight Bay is fairly similar to Meet Me in St. Louis (close in time period, Leon Ames plays a stern but loving father, young neighbors fall in love, etc.) so that’s why I was pulled in instantly. Fortunately, this film has its own unique approach to the story it tells and it’s delightful.

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The film is set in small town Indiana around the World War I era. It revolves around the Winfield family, a seemingly normal middle-class family who has just moved across town into a new house.

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Leon Ames and Rosemary DeCamp play the parents. As I mentioned above, Ames plays a father similar to his character Mr. Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis; he’s got a soft side, but it’s hidden under several layers of comical frustration and crankiness.

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Marjorie (Doris Day) is the only daughter in the family. To her parents’ dismay, she is more interested in playing baseball than dating boys – that is, until she discovers the young man who lives across the street.

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After Marjorie meets Bill Sherman (Gordon MacRae) in a rather unorthodox way, they go out on their first date.

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At the end of the date, Bill proclaims that he doesn’t believe in marriage after Marjorie invites him inside her home to drink a glass of buttermilk. His resistance doesn’t deter self-willed Marjorie, who pursues her new love interest.

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For Marjorie and Bill, there’s nothing more romantic than a nighttime power outage.

He asks to see her again, and so begins their courtship. Marjorie’s parents are stunned: She’s gone from being a girl only interested in baseball to a lovestruck teenager in a matter of a couple days. As her father puts it: “Marjorie is young and very inexperienced. All she knows about men is their batting averages.”

Bill is a sweet and handsome (but sometimes opinionated) college student. He has his own “radical” ideas about money and marriage, which does not impress Marjorie’s traditionalist father, who happens to be a rather conservative banker. Naturally, tension and an argument ensue which distresses Marjorie and infuriates her father, who demands that she stops seeing Bill entirely.

So, her father starts pushing a romance on her with another local boy named Hubert (Jack Smith). Hubert is stuffy and not interesting at all. The trouble is, he really likes Marjorie. She has a difficult time shaking him off.

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If music be the food of love, please stop playing.


In the meantime, Marjorie doesn’t give up on her romance with Bill.

Marjorie goes to the extent of secretly learning how to dance while he is away at college in order to attend a ball with him. When an injury renders her unable to walk without crutches, Marjorie refuses to attend the ball with Bill. When she breaks off the date, she makes up another excuse as to why she’s cancelling, not wanting him to know the real reason.


When a colossal misunderstanding occurs (I will go more into that shortly), Bill rushes over to the Winfield home to make sure Marjorie is okay and finds himself in an awkward situation.


Before I finish this piece, I realize that there are a couple of standout characters who I haven’t given attention to until now, so I want to dedicate some space to them here:

The always-amusing character actress Mary Wickes (White ChristmasSister Actis a standout in this movie as the comedic relief. She plays the Winfield’s maid, Stella. Stella lays on the snarky and sarcastic comments whenever she gets the chance, and it happens often.

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Wesley, the youngest of the Winfield family, is the only son. He’s a piece of work and his antics crack me up every time I watch this movie. Wesley is kind of a typical little brother: He does things like annoy his sister when suitors call (sometimes to her delight) and is often causing problems at home and school.


I think Wesley’s greatest moment is when he convinces his teacher (Ellen Corby, who would later be best remembered as Grandma Walton on the popular show The Waltons) that his father is an alcoholic who relentlessly beats his family. Wesley stole his story from a silent film he had watched the day before in order to make up an excuse as to why he was sleeping in class. And his teacher totally believes it. If you haven’t seen On Moonlight Bay, I understand that what I just said probably doesn’t sound too funny, but it’s ridiculous and always makes me laugh.

When Bill confronts Mr. Winfield about his supposed repulsive behavior, it obviously causes quite a stir. But have no fear, Wesley figures out how to dodge punishment.

I love this scene:


As usual, I don’t want to give away the entire story, just in case there are any readers who are planning on checking it out. If you enjoy lighthearted, fluffy musicals, you may take a liking to On Moonlight Bay. It’s is fun to watch at any point in the year, but it’s best around the holidays.

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This post is a part of the Doris Day Blogathon, hosted by Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood. If you’re interested, you can read other submissions here

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1930s Film, 1940s Film

How To Live Life Like You’re In A Screwball Comedy

Escape the Mundane in Five Easy Steps.

So, your life has become slow and you don’t know how to get it to its former sharpness. You’ve come to see me because you’ve heard that I have an easy solution to your problem. Well, it won’t be easy, but it can be quick if you can think on your feet. My solution is all about thinking on your feet and being on your feet (typically running around).

With my quick and (sometimes) painless remedy, your days will never see dullness again. What I recommend is getting into the Screwball Comedy Lifestyle to feel better. Screwball comedy films were extremely popular in the 1930s and ’40s. Their stories often involved a “battle of the sexes” plot along with quick and witty dialogue, steamy chemistry, and some kind of quirky/over-the-top storyline.


Here’s how you can see better results in just two weeks with my new (and not patented) Screwball Comedy Lifestyle Guide:

1. Fall Completely In Love (But Accept That it Will Never Not be Complicated)

In many screwball comedy films, the story revolves around a couple of people who madly in love with each other but find themselves in at least one humongous misunderstanding or disagreement – enough to put their relationship or marriage in jeopardy. A properly-lived screwball comedy relationship/marriage will require insane romantic chemistry, a zany brain, and an undeniable hunger for adventure.


Despite the fighting, arguing, and possible cross-country shenanigans, you will eventually fall back into each other’s arms – I guarantee it. Find someone who will run after you like Joel McCrea’s character does in The Palm Beach Story (1942).

*Falling in love not required, but highly recommended

 


2. Embrace Oddness

Like, don’t even try to run away from it if you’ve got it. The ones that have fun in screwball comedies are usually the ones who just go with it. Going with it may get you in trouble, so be wary of that. Or not. Don’t be wary. I don’t know. Just be whatever. Have a ball! Take inspiration from this scene in The Philadelphia Story:


3. Wear Cool + Dorky Glasses

Dorky glasses = cool glasses. No argument. A prime example of this is Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (1938). Wear something like this and you’re on your way to become screwball amazingness. Run around like a maniac in the middle a high society party with these glasses on and you’re set for life.


4. Sit By Interesting People on the Bus

As painful as it may sound (I warned you!) this will get you far in a screwball comedy lifestyle. You’ve got to sit by a person like Mr. Shapely from It Happened One Night (1934) at least once in your life. It may be horrible at the time, but you will look back at it and laugh.


5. Get Into a Ridiculous Fight and Tell Someone They Look Like Boris Karloff

This one is at your own risk, but it’s highly recommended if you would like to live out a complete screwball comedy lifestyle. You certainly do not have to go out and pull an Arsenic and Old Lace (1941) stunt, but do so if you please and only if it enhances your life. Throw stuff, yell, etc. If you want to go a step further, tell someone that he/she looks like Boris Karloff and see what happens.


☆ Happy Screwball Living! ☆


This post was originally published on Odyssey on August 30, 2016. 

1940s Film, musicals

For Me and My Gal (1942)

“You think anything’s going to stand in the way of us playing the Palace this time? Oh no, not even a war.”

For Me and My Gal was released in theaters in late 1942, when America was fully emerged in World War II. After the US entered the War in December 1941, Hollywood joined in on the war effort in its own ways. One of these efforts was making movies in support of America and its men and women who were serving overseas.

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The film was directed by Busby Berkeley, who is probably best known today for the distinctive musical numbers he choreographed in several highly successful Depression-era musicals at Warner Brothers, including 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933.

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Gene Kelly and Judy Garland with director Busby Berkeley

For Me and My Gal is actually set during WWI, but its patriotic themes were easily translated to the then present-day situation.

The film opens as vaudeville singer and dancer Harry Palmer (Gene Kelly) meets fellow vaudeville performers Jo Hayden (Judy Garland) and Jimmy Metcalfe (George Murphy). Hayden and Matcalfe are partners in an act who happen to be performing at the same small-time venue as Harry.


Upon stepping off the train into the new town, Harry gives Jo the once-over, catcall whistles at her, and their exchange goes like this:

Harry: “Hello, Springtime.”

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Jo, looking up at the sky/rolling her eyes

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“…Aren’t you a little out of season?”

 


This is the first exchange ever shared by Judy and Gene onscreen and you can already sense that red-hot chemistry between them. For the first half of this film, it also begins a rocky relationship between the two characters.


There’s a scene in which Jo and Jimmy’s act does a song-and-dance number early on in the film (this video includes some unused audio, as well):


This number doesn’t resemble the style typically seen in Busby Berkeley musicals. In fact, nearly every musical number in the film is shot in a rather straightforward fashion in order to illustrate his vision of what a vaudeville performance looked like from the perspective of an audience member.

One evening, Harry invites Jo out for coffee and she accepts. Harry, who is far too cocky for his own good, realizes how great they would be together and decides he’s going to do everything in his power to snatch Jo up for himself. He shows her what they could be when he sits down at the piano in the cafe and begins to play the tune “For Me and My Gal”, which was first recorded in 1917.

Once they begin singing and dancing together, there’s no going back.


After Harry offers Jo a chance to team up with him and hit the big time, Jo also realizes that they would make a terrific pair but dreads the idea of hurting Jimmy by breaking up their act. After Jo and Harry discuss the idea, Jo returns to her hotel and Jimmy asks her if Harry offered her a chance to join him in an act. Jimmy, who is secretly in love with Jo, sees how interested she is and graciously tells her that he was thinking of breaking up the act anyway and that she should join Harry.

Harry and Jo officially team up as “Palmer and Hayden” and aim to make the big-time together. They begin performing together in other small towns, trying their best to work their way up to the New York stage.


Their relationship becomes complicated when Harry meets vaudeville sensation Eve Minard (Marta Eggerth). He becomes starry-eyed and begins to spend a lot of time with her, hoping to join her act. Jo, who is secretly in love with Harry, becomes upset and confides in Jimmy, who obviously understands what it’s like to be in love with someone who doesn’t reciprocate.

Their relationship becomes even more complicated when Harry receives a draft notice. He makes a terrible decision in hopes of furthering his career and afterward finally realizes how much of a jerk and opportunist he’s been.

So, what’s to come of Harry’s future in vaudeville and with Jo…?


The second half of the film includes several popular World War I-era songs, including “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag”, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”.

 


For Me and My Gal was one of the biggest cinematic hits of 1942, grossing over $4,000,000 worldwide. It was later released on VHS in 1988 and DVD in 2004.

Although it’s not one of Berkeley, Garland, or Kelly’s best films, musical film fans (especially those who enjoy Judy Garland and Gene Kelly) may appreciate its nostalgic numbers and fluffy plot. If anything, it’s cool to see where Gene Kelly started in Hollywood and how far Garland’s star had risen (and would continue to rise) in one of her first “adult” roles.


This post is part of the Busby Berkeley Blogathon hosted by Annette at Hometowns to Hollywood.

 

 

Holidays in Film, The 1970s in Film

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)

My family’s always been in meat.

The original version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one many movies I’ve been The_Texas_Chain_Saw_Massacre_(1974)_theatrical_postermeaning to watch for a long time. I struck a bit of  cinematic gold late one early October night by catching it on TV.

One day, five fictional young adults walked into the truly terrifying world of a rural Texas area which is inhabited by a family of twisted murderers who keep human remains to create furniture for their home and who find delight in killing people in gruesome ways.

The whole movie is extremely scary in that gritty ’70s horror film kind of way. It’s chilling.


And it begins with the opening title.

The narrator – a man with a deep, omniscient voice – explains the impending terror that awaits the movie’s five main characters – and the audience. The text accompanying the narration fades to black and the black screen fades into unsettling visuals and sound effects and the opening credits roll…


When the main characters – five young adults – are introduced, they are en route to the rural Texas cemetery where sister and brother Sally (Marilyn Burns) and Franklin’s (Paul A Partain) grandfather’s grave has reportedly been vandalized and possibly robbed. Their friends are Jerry (Allen Danzinger), Pam (Terri McMinn), and Kirk (William Vail).

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When they arrive at the cemetery, they notice several bizarre people hanging out near it. (Would it be a proper horror film if there wasn’t strange activity near a cemetery?)

After their brief visit, the gang heads on to check out the old homestead of the Hardesty family, which of course, is also located in rural land.


Things start to get really strange when the kids reluctantly decide to pick up a strange-looking hitchhiker (Edwin Neal). He indeed is a bizarre fellow. He is unkempt, with long greasy hair and a large streak of blood on the right side of his face. His mannerisms are sketchy and it’s obvious from the get-go that something is “off” about him.

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The hitchhiker tells the group about how some of his family members used to work at an old slaughterhouse down the road. He goes on to show them his Polaroid pictures of hacked up cows. And then he grabs the pocketknife in Franklin’s hand and proceeds to slash his own hand with it.

Then, the hitchhiker takes the Polaroid camera that’s hanging from his neck and takes a photo of everyone else in the van without any explanation. After they refuse his random demand that they pay for the photo, he burns it in front of them and slashes Franklin’s arm with the pocketknife. They finally kick the hitchhiker out of the van after that. But he gets the last word by smearing his blood into a mysterious symbol on the side of the van as they drive away.

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Then, the gang stops at a gas station and are told by the owner that there is no gas there at the moment. The kids tell him where they are headed and he warns them not to go into the old abandoned house and instead, enjoy barbecue made at the station. They decide to go to the house anyway and to come back for gas later.

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While Sally, Kirk, Pam, and Jerry seem obliviously unsuspecting, both Franklin and the viewer of the movie sees that their destination is – sooner or later – going to be scary as (fill in the blank with your choice four letter word). Franklin is the only one who freaks out when he sees what the hitchhiker smeared on the van; everyone else mocks him and tells him to lighten up.

All five of them step into the old Hardesty house with varying degrees of excitement. Franklin, who is in a wheelchair, is left by the other four as they run upstairs and run around, squealing and giggling. I honestly thought that the scary stuff was going to take place in that old house. Boy, was I wrong.


Once Franklin tells Sally and Kirk that there’s a swimming-hole on the property, they gleefully set out to find out. But when they get there, they find that it’s dried up. There’s also the sound of a generator nearby. They walk a little ways and find a house and Kirk decides to see if the people inside can spare any gas.


Well, it all goes south from there.


As I’m not one who enjoys spoiling film plots, I won’t wander any further. If you’re reading this, love horror films, and haven’t ever watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original one!), please do yourself a favor and watch it. It’s pretty crazy.

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Guess who’s coming to dinner…

Looking deeper into the film’s history, it’s important to think about how audiences in the 1970s reacted to this movie. They weren’t completely used to seeing movies which were that scary. Horror films as we know them today were just starting to become popular.

To put things into perspective, the low-budget cult classic Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968 and The Exorcist was released just one year before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was. Those were the days.

 

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!

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.