La La Land: Here’s to the Ones Who Dream ♪

“People love what other people are passionate about.”

In the course of two days, I’ve seen La La Land twice (so far). I figured I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t know that I’d love it as much as I do. I’m already binge-listening to the soundtrack.

Directed by Damien Chazelle, the film was recently released in theaters worldwide and has become a hit. The project was a tough feat for Chazelle to get off the ground, but he got it off the ground and ran with it all the way. Like the films it pays homage to, La La Land is a dish of escapism with a bittersweet garnish on top. It introduces us to two characters (portrayed by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) who are young adults living in Los Angeles. Both are ambitious dreamers who are struggling to find a steady career in the fields that they’re passionate about: acting (her) and jazz (him).

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The opening song and dance sequence was filmed on the ramp connecting the 105 and 110 Interstates in LA. The crew had them closed down for two days in summer 2015 to shoot it.

As previously mentioned, this film is a love letter to the bubbly and lavish Technicolor musicals of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Now that it’s showing in theaters across the globe, scores of people – many who have never watched a black & white movie – are, in some shape or form, being introduced to classic film. That may seem like a stretch to say that, but I really mean it. Which brings me to this:

There are so many references made by the characters and the film itself:

  • The movie opens with the CinemaScope logo, a camera lense used often in the 1950s and ’60s. Films shot on CinemaScope were presented in its special widescreen formatting.

Movies shot in CinemaScope began with a logo similar to this one:


  • Main characters Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) watch Rebel Without a Cause (1955) at the old Rialto Theatre. Their reason for going, they both claim, is for research purposes. The looks on their faces suggest otherwise. After their date concludes (it was totally a date), Sebastian and Mia make an impromptu visit to the Griffith Observatory, which is seen in Rebel.

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  • The dreamlike dance sequence inside the Griffith Observatory’s Planetarium is, in a word, enchanting. That scene, along with a couple of other scenes, reminded me of the ballet sequences that were popular in musical films of the 1950s – think An American in Paris and Oklahoma!.

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  • Mia has classic film posters on many of the walls in her apartment. As seen on the left side of the photo below, she has a huge mural of Ingrid Bergman’s face splashed on the wall beside her bed. Also, note the posters hanging up on the right side of the photo. The Black Cat is a 1941 comedic horror film, Lilies of the Field (1924) is a lost silent film, and The Dove is a silent film starring Norma Talmadge, released in 1927. I can’t figure out what movie the poster hanging up by Ingrid Bergman is from. Also, that wallpaper. ❤
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(photo courtesy of Dale Robinette / Lionsgate)

  • When Sebastian tap dances with Mia in a romantic scene, he pulled off a couple of moves that made me think he must have hardcore studied Gene Kelly’s work.
  • One of Sebastian’s prize possessions is an old stool that was signed by music legend and occasional classic film character actor Hoagy Carmichael.

  • The soundtrack is made up of a mixture of old-fashioned instrumental jazz music and pure Golden Age of Hollywood-inspired show tunes.

A few more personal thoughts on the film: 

La La Land captures the heart with its pure optimism and tug-at-your-heartstrings moments. While some may see its premise as unrealistic and saccharine, I believe that it shouldn’t be overthought. Just enjoy it for its escapism. God knows we don’t get enough high-quality film musical escapism today.


On an extra personal note, I want to thank La La Land for making me feel feelings – all kinds of feelings. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking so many negative thoughts because of some personal life stuff and politics. The second time I watched the film, it really got me. To a degree, I understood how both of the main characters were feeling – the uncertainty of where life is leading you, but feeling incredibly excited to just be alive. And I felt more alive than ever when I watched the opening number – the idea of having fun in LA traffic! (Cheesy, I know.) It made me even more excited for my next journey to Los Angeles this April. (I can’t dance, so I won’t subject any poor souls to seeing scene recreations in Griffith Park.)

And this movie celebrates classic film while doing its own thing…My heart is full.

When I sat down and watched this movie, everything became brighter. I fell into this Technicolor-inspired world of exciting passion and remembered that Passion. Is. Everything. By the end of the movie, I was amazed at how many emotions it brought to me.

And, without letting any major spoilers slip, the ending just…wow…


So, friends, do yourself a favor and put the politics away for two hours. Put your life’s worries away. Put away your differences. Enjoy life and enjoy this movie. That’s what La La Land is for. (And if you’re not into musicals, I can’t guarantee you’ll love it, but I hope you do.)


To watch the trailer, click on this link. Happy watching, friends!

Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas (1937)

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Barbara Stanwyck is known for many roles: from her Pre-Code days up until her part in the popular 1960s Western television show The Big Valley, she could do it all.

There’s a role of hers which I feel is often overlooked and totally underrated: the titular character in Stella Dallas (1937).

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Stella Dallas is the story of a young lady named Stella Martin, who’s in love with a formerly wealthy factory mill owner named Stephen Dallas (John Boles). She’s of lower class status but desperately dreams of upper class living.

The film is set in post-World War I Massachusetts. Stephen is in mourning: his father has committed suicide after losing his fortune. After falling out of high society, Stephen aims to regain his fortune and then marry his fiancee. But when news comes of his fiancee marrying another man, Stephen and Stella marry.

Once they’re married, Stella quickly falls into a bad pattern. She loves to socialize and meet high society people, but she often goes overboard. Embarrassed by her behavior, Stephen pleads with Stella to return to her more humble roots and become more refined. Within the first year of their marriage, she gives birth to a daughter named Laurel. Immediately after returning from the hospital–baby in arms–Stella begs Stephen to let her go to a party. He refuses to let her go, but she argues and finally gets her way.

We see the years progress through Laurel’s growth. Once she becomes a young lady, we see actress Anne Shirley enter the picture. Shirley did a great job portraying the Dallas’ daughter. By the time she appears onscreen, we see Stella and Stephen’s marriage dissolving. Eventually the split becomes permanent. Laurel lives with her mother and visits her father on occasion. She loves both of them; however, her relationship with Stella becomes a bit strained once she begins socializing with her peers in her teenage years. She befriends kids in more refined circles and falls in love with a young man who comes from a wealthy family. Adding to the pressure, Stella’s behavior is becoming more and more vulgar, causing Laurel to push her mother into the shadows.

To put a further strain on the situation, Stephen runs into his ex-fiancee, who has a family. They quickly become reacquainted and fall in love all over again. And the story goes on, and the tears begin to fall.


Barbara Stanwyck was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar four times but she never won one in her long and successful screen career. Stella Dallas was the first role that she was nominated for an Oscar. Luise Rainer took the Oscar home that year for her role in The Good Earth (1937).

Stanwyck’s role in this film is a little reminiscent of some of her roles in the early ’30s. She was one of the queens of the Pre-Code era. Stanwyck often played nitty gritty characters in her early Hollywood days.

As shown in the clip below, Stella tries her best to raise her daughter but she doesn’t always make great decisions. Her husband disapproves of the company she keeps, seeing them as a rowdy crowd. She’s so natural in her performance:

As the movie progresses, Stella seems to get zanier by the minute. I think that’s mostly due to the fact that we – the audience – are seeing her through the eyes of a growing Laurel. Laurel is surrounded by friends from “respectable” families and feels a great deal of pressure from that. She loves her mother so much, but she decides to make some tough decisions that hurt them both.

Throughout it all, Stella actually does grow. She remains “different” in her ways, but she makes a tough realization and a noble decision by the end of the film. If you’ve seen the film, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I highly recommend watching it to find out what I mean.

Don’t watch this scene if you don’t want the end of the film spoiled. If you do want to watch it and you’ve never seen it before, I will now allow Ms. Barbara Stanwyck to rip your heart out:

 

Esther Williams: Baby, It’s Cold Outside

“I was just a swimmer who got lucky.”

Christmas is over and the new year is here. So, you know what that means: Summer is right around the corner. Well, practically. What better way to celebrate than by talking about Esther Williams?

Esther Williams Posing in Ballerina Costume
Esther Williams is shown in the underwater ballet scene from [Million Dollar Mermaid] in this photograph. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Okay, so it took me twenty years to watch an Esther Williams film.

It took a girl who spent many hours of her childhood watching old musicals and classic romance films that long to watch one of those movies. How? Well, I don’t know. I just never really got around to watching her movies until just after she passed away in the summer of 2013.

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Esther Williams pictured in 1945 – in her early ’20s (photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images) – courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

I remember sitting down one night right in front of the TV (I think I had actually just discovered Seven Brides for Seven Brothers that night. I watched it for the first time on an old VHS given to me. Edgy.)

“America’s Mermaid” passed away on June 6th of that year. TCM (Turner Classic Movies) was running a marathon of her swimming films as tribute to her life and legacy. I remember learning of her death on that June day. I first heard about it through social media, where I follow a lot of other film fans and often find the news first. It was shocking, but I realized that I hadn’t seen any of her films before. I knew, however, that she was a unique talent. I just didn’t know how unique.

As I began to discover her films, I learned that both of my Grandmas were really familiar with her films. I guess that’s not surprising, as she was huge in the 1940s and ’50s. My Grandma Riggs was an especially big fan of Esther’s. She’s told me about the wonderful memories she has of going to the local movie theater to watch her musicals. I hope I’m lucky enough to watch at least one Esther Williams musical on the big screen someday. I can’t imagine how vibrant they must look full-scale.

The first Esther movie I watched was Million Dollar Mermaid (1952). I watched and I was entranced by everything Esther. She was this magical, beautiful mermaid…but in human form. No fins, no tail, but a mermaid in every other possible way.

Here’s one of her musical/synchronized swimming numbers from the film – choreographed by the one and only Busby Berkeley:

 

And can we talk about her film fashion for a moment? She wore the most beautiful bathing suits in her movies and her non-bathing attire was always gorgeous, too.

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(courtesy of nytimes.com)

Although the plots in a typical Esther Williams movie are not filled with much complexity, their escapist plots -and, of course, the water ballets- are really what drew people in to to watch her. The idea of movies built around synchronized swimming may sound really cheesy to anyone not familiar with her films. But they were marvelous. MGM made each of her swimming numbers extravagant. (Side note: did MGM ever not do extravagant in the ’40s and ’50s?)

Oh, and how can I forget about the romantic plots/subplots? Esther Williams’s musicals were always filled with romance. She was often paired with dreamboats Van Johnson (check out Thrill of a Romance if you’re in the mood for a cute movie), Ricardo Montalbán (my personal pick is Neptune’s Daughter), and Howard Keel.


Esther was still active in her later years, despite suffering from a stroke in 2007. Among other achievements, a swimming pool company named itself after her, she created her own line of bathing suits (over at esther-williams.com, a number of bathing suits inspired by Esther are still being sold), and she appeared at the 1984 Olympics as a synchronized swimming commentator.

Today, many people remember her as one of the most effervescent stars of her time. The world really loved her.

 

There will never be another Esther Williams.

(courtesy of paytonangelle1.tumblr.com)

 

A Christmas Discovery: It Happened on Fifth Avenue

 

“For to be without friends is a serious form of poverty.”

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I made a wise decision in taping It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) when it aired recently on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

(Side note: Taping movies on TCM is how I usually come across cinematic gold. Thanks, TCM.)

The film chronicles the lives of several New York City residents in the 1940s, all from extremely different walks of life.

The story begins as a hobo named Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor Moore) is moving into a Fifth Avenue mansion for his third winter – unbeknownst to the owner, of course. With his little dog in tow, McKeever takes up residence at the home of Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles), the second richest man in the world, while he is away for the winter in Virginia.

McKeever comes across a newly homeless ex-G.I. named Jim Bullock (Don DeFore) after being evicted from his apartment. The reason for the eviction? A man named Michael J. O’Connor (ring a bell?) is tearing down the apartment building in order to build a skyscraper. Before he is physically kicked out of the building, Jim stubbornly refuses to leave, even going so far as to chain himself to the bed with handcuffs. Dedication!

The video below is marked as a trailer, but it’s actually the first Jim Bullock scene:

Just after Jim moves into the O’Connor mansion, a young lady makes her way into the house. The audience is made aware that the girl in question is O’Connor’s 18 year-old daughter named Trudy (Gale Storm). Unhappy with her life, Trudy had run away from her father and returned to their Fifth Avenue home, of course unaware of the mansion’s winter guests:

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/359700/It-Happened-On-Fifth-Avenue-Movie-Clip-Shed-That-Mink-.html

When Trudy realizes that McKeever and Jim are harmless and just need a place to stay, she decides to hide her identity and take up the alias Trudy Smith in order to fit in. She even goes to the extent of nabbing a job at a music store to become an “everyday girl”.

Soon, Trudy falls for Jim. However, Jim is still unaware of Trudy’s true identity. She is determined to win Jim over without the knowledge of her wealth – something that Jim wouldn’t even take into consideration for falling in love. After she tells her father about Jim, she convinces him to meet him…but under one stipulation: He has to disguise himself as a panhandler named Mike. McKeever allows “Mike” to stay in the mansion as a servant. Funny how stuff works out.

When Trudy brings her mom (her father’s ex-wife)  -portrayed so well by Ann Harding – in to the mix, things get ever so sweetly complicated…as if the situation wasn’t crazy enough before. Throw in a subplot that involves Jim and several of his ex-GI buddies living in the mansion and their plans to buy an old Army camp and make low-cost housing out of the former barracks and you’ve got one heck of a Christmas film.

It Happened on Fifth Avenue is so funny. It’s got a touch of screwball in it. It’s silly, but it tugs at the heartstrings. It was nominated for the Best Writing, Original Story Academy Award and lost to another holiday classic, Miracle on 34th Street. After going into almost total obscurity for nearly twenty years, it was released on DVD for the first time in 2008. Following suit, Turner Classic Movies aired it for the first time in 2009.

There are a couple of songs performed and nice incidental music in It Happened on Fifth Avenue. This is my personal top pick:

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/359699/It-Happened-On-Fifth-Avenue-Movie-Clip-That-s-What-Christmas-Means-.html

This just may be my new favorite Christmas movie.


It Happened on Fifth Avenue will air on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on Christmas Eve at 12:30 PM (EST).

Happy watching. ♡

-Meredith

 “Meet Me in St. Louis”: A Love Letter 15+ Years in the Making

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The VHS I used to watch had this cover. Nostalgia is on high level. Thanks, internet.

I don’t know how many times I’ve talked/made references about Meet Meet_Me_In_St_Louis_PosterMe in St. Louis (1944), but it’s a big, big, big number. I watched it a lot with my Grandma Riggs, who played a big part in introducing me to a handful of classic movies, especially of  the musical genre. It’s a film that, in my eyes, is pure magic–darn near perfect. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been a Missouri girl all my life, so maybe I’m a bit biased.

Meet Me in St. Louis, a story based on writer Sally Benson’s childhood experiences in turn-of-the-century St. Louis, is divided into four vignettes: Summer 1903, Autumn 1903, Winter 1903, and Spring 1904. It follows the Smiths, an upper-middle class family whose members each looking forward to something in the year of 1903:

The film opens:

Lon (Henry H. Daniels, Jr.), the oldest sibling and only son, is looking forward to attending college at Princeton. The two oldest sisters, Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer) are giddily looking forward to the World’s Fair which is to take place in Spring of 1904. The two younger sisters Tootie (brilliant Margaret O’Brien) and Agnes (Joan Carroll) are up to their own shenanigans. Tootie, the youngest of the family, is hilariously morbid. She’s five years old and owns a doll that has “four fatal diseases”.

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Esther (Judy Garland) wears a beautiful tennis dress in the first scene of the film. I’ve always loved it.
The second oldest daughter, Esther, is introduced as she arrives home one lovely summer afternoon after finishing a match of tennis with her friends. She runs up the porch steps, enters the house, and promptly tells Rose to accompany her to sit on the porch, as she has sighted the boy next door — AKA the boy of her dreams. Here’s the catch: Esther has never even spoken to John Truett (Tom Drake), the neighbor in question.

The scene in which Esther and Rose glide onto the porch is, for some reason, one that I really adore. And this brings me to one aspect of the film which enriches it so much: the rich, vibrant Technicolor.

In this scene, John is standing casually in his front yard smoking a pipe. Esther and Rose sit down on the edge of the porch and pretend not to notice John, but at the same time get him to notice them. The camera does a sudden close-up on Esther’s face in one brief shot, showing her beaming face set against the blooming flowers on the porch, a soft-shot focus, and swelling music. It’s absolutely lovely. Vincente Minnelli–who directed this film–really was creating his own art.

After they return indoors, Rose brushes off Esther’s crush on her way upstairs and reassures her that “…When you get to be my age, you’ll find out there are more important things in life than boys.”

Esther responds accordingly:


I love every little detail in this film: how the four season title cards begin with a beautiful photo, pretty music, and goes right into motion; the absolutely gorgeous use of Technicolor and the costuming/sets which amplified the color; the occasional off-color/morbid humor exhibited by little Tootie…

OH. Tootie, oh, Tootie. Where do I begin with her?

In the Halloween scene, Tootie becomes the heralded daredevil of the neighborhood when she single-handedly marches to the door of “the meanest” man on the block, rings his door bell, and lobs a clump of flour in his face. The hit signifies a “kill”, the object of the game played on Halloween. Very Tootie. She is praised as the bravest of the group.

After that, a group – including Tootie and Agnes – (off camera at this point) stage a prank on the trolley car. They dress up a doll that looks like a person and place it on the tracks hoping that the trolley will derail. Fortunately, the trolley is kept safe and Tootie escapes the law after John Truett pulls her away from the scene and hides her in a shed. Well, Tootie – being Tootie – decides to glitz the story up to something that it’s not:

And who could forget the cakewalk number at Lon’s going away party?

I love how many classic film fans enjoy watching Meet Me in St. Louis during the holidays. I never thought of it as a Christmas movie until seeing people talk about it online over the past few years.

Probably because of the fact that I watched it all the time when I was kid, it never dawned on me that it worked really well as a Christmas movie. Now I can’t resist curling up late at night in late December to watch this and all of the other amazing classic films that pop up during the season.

One of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time was created specifically for this film and one of the best snowman-decapitating scenes follows (but for real, this scene…): 


When it was released in 1944, the majority of the public and critics sang praises. TIME Magazine called it “one of the year’s prettiest pictures” and gave little Margaret O’Brien a rave review: “[Her] song and her cakewalk done in a nightgown at a grown-up party are entrancing acts. Her self-terrified Halloween adventures richly set against firelight, dark streets, and the rusty confabulations of fallen leaves, bring this section of the film very near the first-rate.”


As a bonus, here’s a deleted song that was written not by the film’s musical composer Hugh Martin but Rodgers & Hammerstein. It’s really lovely and it was meant to be sung in a scene between Esther and John when they visit the fairground construction site. Better yet, this is a raw recording, so you can hear Judy talk a little bit in between recording. Producer Arthur Freed said that the musical number slowed down the movie too much. I’ll let you decide for yourselves:

The musical number you can’t miss: “The Trolley Song

Do you have any special memories of watching Meet Me in St. Louis? Please share them with me!

“The Goodbye Girl” (1977) Had Me at Hello

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(courtesy of latimes.com)

I officially love The Goodbye Girl (1977). If you don’t believe me yet, I’ll inform you that I recently received a print of the official poster in the mail and I’ve hung it up on my bedroom wall right next to my Top Hat poster. They make a great team. But enough about me. Let’s talk movies.

The Goodbye Girl was written by Neil Simon (The Odd CoupleBarefoot in the Park), directed by Herbert Ross, and it starred Richard Dreyfuss (JawsAmerican Graffiti) and Marsha Mason.

One question: Why isn’t this movie more well known? It isn’t extremely well-known, at least compared to films like When Harry Met Sally and Casablanca. Sometimes, though, I think it’s even more fun to enjoy something that’s not well-known. But gosh dang it, let’s talk about it. Let’s party like it’s 1985 – like it’s time to sit down for a Thursday Night Movie on ABC:

 

The Goodbye Girl tells the story of a single mother named Paula McFadden whose married boyfriend, Tony, has just left her with no warning. She finds a letter on the mantle in the apartment they shared together with Paula’s ten year old daughter, Lucy (Quinn Cummings) in Manhattan. Devastated by this, Paula is then informed by her landlady that Tony had subleased the apartment before his departure, another move that was unbeknownst to Paula. She becomes furious and declares that she will not be giving up the apartment.

Later that night, a strange rain-soaked man knocks on the door and informs Paula that he is a friend of Tony’s and that he is now a resident of the apartment. Paula becomes furious once again and tells him that he is not welcome in the apartment, but the man is persistent enough that she finally caves in and lets him in to discuss the matter.

The strange man in question: Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss) is a stage actor from Chicago who acts in off-off Broadway plays. When he tells Paula his profession, she’s angered: After Tony ran out, she sees all male actors on the same level.

She finally relents and allows him to stay but on (unfairly) strict conditions. Their relationship from the start is rocky at best: There is seldom a moment of peace or agreement between Paula and Elliot.

Exhibit A: (Also, haha @ the title of this video)

“And I DON’T. LIKE. THE. PANTIES. DRYING. ON. THE. ROD.”


Exhibit B:


Paula works hard to get into shape so that she can hopefully return to the stage as a dancer, like she once was. Later on, she gets a gig modeling/selling cars.

Throughout the film, Elliot and Paula slowly come to admire each other. Elliot shows that he’s a compassionate guy and he begins to adopt a sweet fatherly role for Lucy.

Then, things begin to get complicated. Sparks begin to fly between Elliot and Paula, which makes Lucy upset. When things become obviously more-than-platonic, Lucy becomes convinced that Elliot is just another Tony; that she and her mother will be, once again, deserted and heartbroken. For those of you who haven’t watched the film, I invite you to give it a view and fill in the blanks (and the ending) for yourselves.


So, what was it about The Goodbye Girl that captivated me? 

  • The fact that Paula has classic movie star posters hung up on some of the apartment walls. When she shows Elliot his room, we are treated to the sight of a big Jean Harlow poster hanging up above the bed. Later on, we can (briefly) see classic film star photos posted in Elliot’s dressing room. I spotted a James Cagney one, specifically. Where can I find one of those?
  • Elliot’s Richard III performance: I lost it. The director of the show forces Elliot to portray the titular character as a highly, highly hiiiiighly flamboyant gay man and although Elliot hates it, the results for the movie watcher are astounding. I’d pay big money to see that performance live.
  • Richard Dreyfuss’s performance/The quirkiness of Elliot: Dreyfuss rightfully won an Oscar for this role. At first, Elliot seems arrogant and comes off as annoyingly pretentious…at least through they eyes of Paula. But I love that he’s so quirky: Among other things, he plays his guitar in the nude when he can’t sleep, meditates each  morning (always with incense, of course), and he’s extremely cautious about what kind of food goes into his body. We, the audience, get to see that he’s actually a great guy who has a romantic side. I mean, holy…… Which leads me to:
  • The bathroom scene: Out of context, that probably sounds weird. But if you know what I’m talking about, I hope you agree with me here. I melted during this scene. HOLY DREYFUSS.goodbyegirl2
  • The rooftop scene: For those of you who have yet to see this movie, I won’t say much. Geez, I melted once again during this scene. I know I’m not the only one.

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  • Quinn Cummings’ performance as Lucy McFadden: She was just ten years old but she played that role like a seasoned veteran. In my head, I have branded her the ’70s Margaret O’Brien. She’s so funny in this movie. Her performance landed her a nomination for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award and a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe Award.

The song “Goodbye Girl”, released and performed by David Gates, was introduced at the end of the film and became a hit the following year:


Do yourself a favor and watch (or re-watch) The Goodbye Girl. Some may find it to be way too cheesy, but it’s really cute. I think Dreyfuss really carries it. This was the first film of his that I ever watched; I only discovered Jaws (1975) last week – literally. He’s such a dream. (According to sixteen people on Twitter, I’m not the only one who has a crush on ’70s Dreyfuss.) As mentioned before, Quinn Cummings holds her own, too. She’s fantastic.

Grab a blanket, sit on the couch, dim the lights, and enjoy The Goodbye Girl.

Happy watching!

Celebrating Ruby Keeler: “Gold Diggers of 1933” ☆

August 19, 2016: Ruby Keeler Day for TCM’S Summer Under the Stars

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(photo courtesy of doctormacro.com)

1933 was an amazing year for Hollywood…. It was an especially amazing year for a young lady named Ruby Keeler. Today, the name Ruby Keeler is a name that is nearly forgotten, save for classic film fans-particularly those who are hardcore fans of 1930s Warner Bros. musicals. Ruby found herself a film star when she appeared in not one, but three, major Hollywood musicals that year: 42nd StreetFootlight Parade, and…

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Ruby Keeler portrayed Polly Parker in Gold Diggers of 1933, which was Ruby’s second film; it was released just two months after her star-making debut in 42nd Street. Gold Diggers of 1933 was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and the musical numbers were created and directed by one of my personal favorite icons of classic film, Busby Berkeley.

Polly is the true ingenue of the film. From the get-go, we are introduced to Polly and her friends: Carol (Joan Blondell), Trixie (played hilariously by Aline MacMahon), and Fay (Ginger Rogers).

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Top to Bottom: Polly (Ruby Keeler), Carol (Joan Blondell), and Trixie (Aline MacMahon)

Carol is a torch singer, Trixie is a comedienne, and Fay is the beauty who is wicked sassy and often rivals the other girls; they bicker a lot. Polly (Ruby Keeler) finds herself falling in love with the boy next door, an aspiring songwriter and singer who often croons to her from his piano across from their window. Letting Trixie know that she’s smitten, Trixie reminds her that she’s only known Brad (Dick Powell) for two weeks, but Polly insists that two weeks is more than enough to fall in love with someone. Is this a true notion? Make the decision for yourself:

They are all showgirls on the stage, but they find themselves out of work by way of the Great Depression. After the opening number “We’re In the Money”, we see the show that they are rigorously rehearsing for is being closed. After accepting unemployment and no foreseeable future of success, the girls quickly find out from Fay that Barney Hopkins, the producer of the show they were supposed to be in, has a new show that he’s going to be producing.

Hopkins pays a visit to the girls at their apartment and brings great hope and then disappointment to them, as he announces that he has a great idea for a new show but no means of money in order to produce it. Brad suddenly jumps up and promises that he’ll supply the $15,000 to fund his play but he refuses to perform in it, which sends up a red flag for the girls and Hopkins. They believe Brad is fooling them about the $15,000, which leaves Polly especially upset. They can’t figure him out and become skeptical of his intentions.

The next day, Brad pulls through and supplies the money -in cash – much to everyone’s relief.

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(courtesy of movpins.com)

The show goes forward, but the girls are still skeptical about him. Why won’t he appear in the show when he is clearly more talented than its male lead? They put pieces together and come to the conclusion that he must be a criminal and that he is trying to keep his name and face out of the public eye. However, the truth is that Brad is the son of a millionaire. The rest of his family rejects the idea of his interest in being in the theater business, believing that it is a cheap and dishonorable profession to pursue.

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Polly (Ruby Keeler) and Trixie (Aline MacMahon) find reason to believe that Brad is a criminal in hiding.  (photo courtesy of movpins.com)

However, when the male lead hurts himself right before the curtain opens on opening night, Brad is forced to go on in his place, as he’s the only one who can perform the part. He receives notice from the public and critics and lands on the next day’s newspaper. He and Polly also enter into a romantic relationship and the rest of the girls come around to liking him.

Here are a couple of clips from Polly and Brad’s first musical number together. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the whole number, so here are two great fragments:

Enter Brad’s family: They find out what he’s up to and decide to visit him immediately in order to stop his involvement in the theater and with a “cheap chorus girl”. Brad’s brother, J. Lawrence Bradford (Warren William, always a welcome face in Pre Code films) and the family lawyer Fanuel H. Peabody (Guy Kibbee, hilarious as always) make the trip to find and reform Brad.

Well, instead of finding Brad or Polly, they first come into contact with Carol (Joan Blondell) and believe that she is Polly. Trixie (Aline MacMahon) is with her and without having to say a word to each other, they both decide to play a little prank on the men who believe that “Polly” is a trampy chorus girl who can just be sent away with money. Realizing that these rich men are trying to tell off the wrong girl, they make it a game and become comedic gold diggers, seducing them in a turn of total irony.

Once Polly (Ruby Keeler) learns about the trick, she plays along and pretends to be Carol. Along the way, she proves that she is a nice and respectable girl, leading J. Lawrence Bradford to believe that his brother should instead fall in love with her. Hmm.

I leave the plot there, though. For those who may have not watched it yet (and have read up until this point), I don’t want to give it all away!

If you haven’t watched Gold Diggers of 1933, you really need to. The musical numbers are phenomenal, the story is hilarious and engaging, the cast is amazing, and our Star of the Day, Ruby Keeler, is irresistibly adorable.


Now, Ruby Keeler’s dancing style is totally her own. While many people find her to be a not-so-great dancer who looks at her feet way too much, I find her style to be quirky and fun. Sure, compared to Eleanor Powell, she wasn’t quick and as coordinated, but she was so cute. I think her clunky style is really cool. She was a buck dancer, meaning that her style was much different from the style of most dancers from the Golden Age of Hollywood. She meant to be clunky and it was more about rhythm and moving the lower part of the body.

Ruby even once said, “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.” She also said, “I was all personality and no talent.” Ruby, girl, I think you had talent. You were such an important figure during those years of The Great Depression. You were a bright face in a time of total unrest.

Here’s a nice tribute that was made for Ruby using clips from several of the musicals she appeared in during the 1930s:

If you have Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and have a Twitter account, I recommend joining the #TCMParty crowd on Friday, August 19th at 6:00 PM (EST) as Gold Diggers of 1933 will be airing then. The live-tweeting is always especially fun during Pre-Code Busby Berkeley musicals. Happy watching!


This post is a part of the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Journeys in Classic Film. Click here to read the other entries for each Star of the Day.

“The Red Shoes” (1948)

– “Why do you want to dance?”

– “Why do you want to live?”

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(photo courtesy of express.co.uk)

To me, there’s something kind of modern about Moira Shearer. To a classic film megafan, that’s not something that would be considered important. However, it’s something I’ve observed. Is it because of her mastery of ballet, and that ballet is so timeless? Is it her gorgeous fiery red hair and/or her iconic makeup in The Red Shoes? I don’t know.

There’s also something really modern -timeless- about the film itself. It’s based on a fairly tale of the same name written and released by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845. In the fairy tale, the story is even darker than the film’s narrative. The ending is especially darker, resulting in the protagonist’s feet being chopped off while her red shoe-clad feet remain dancing. You can read the full fairy tale here if you dare.

The film adaptation was released in 1948. It was written, directed, and produced by the impressive filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They actually had a bit of trouble getting Moira Shearer to sign on to the film, but she did after about a year of persuasion. It’s been said that she had a terrible experience during the filming of The Red Shoes.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about the movie itself:

First off, the film production is beautiful. Its use of Technicolor is one of the most beautiful ever seen onscreen. Check out some of the clips from this Criterion Collection video:

*Cue The Brady Bunch theme* – Here’s the story:

After attending a show with her mother, a young unknown dancer named Victoria “Vicky” Page (Moira Shearer) is introduced to Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) at a party by way of her aristocratic aunt. Lermontov happens to be a famous impresario for his own renowned ballet company, The Ballet Lermontov. Intrigued by her, Lermontov accepts her as a student where she is instructed by the best of the best in the industry.

After watching her perform in a production of Swan Lake, Lermontov realizes that Vicky is a brilliant dancer and asks her to join the company in a trip to France and Monte Carlo. Once his prima ballerina announces that she’s going to get married (meaning that her career is ruined in the eyes of Lermontov), he seeks Vicky out to become his number one dancer. She soon lands the starring role in a new ballet called The Red Shoes with music being written by a young and new composer named Julian Craster (Marius Goring).

Things begin to get complicated. Vicky and Julian fall in love. Then Lermontov, who also falls in love with her, becomes incredibly jealous. Always having to be in control of everything, Lermontov doesn’t let their new romance bloom as it could. Vicky becomes torn between her two loves: Julian and ballet. Which will she choose?

The ballet sequences are gorgeous and mesmerizing. Here’s one of them. Watch for the famous shot in which Vicky leaps into her red ballet slippers:

After starring in The Red Shoes, Moira Shearer was in a handful of films, but didn’t achieve the same amount of success in ballet that she did before the film. She once said, “Isn’t it strange that something you’ve never really wanted to do turns out to be the very thing that’s given you a name and identity? … The Red Shoes (1948) ruined my career in the ballet. They [her peers] never trusted me again.”

Oh, and big shout-out to a dancer and actor named Robert Helpmann, who you see a lot in The Red Shoes. He portrays dancer Ivan Boleslawsky. In the video above, he is the first person to dance with Vicky. His first closeup is at the 40 second mark. You may remember Helpmann as the childhood-scarring Child Catcher in the 1968 musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes.

It’s little known to many that our childhood’s worst nightmare was actually an accomplished dancer. I first learned this when I read a piece of trivia on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘s IMDb page: “Whilst filming one of the scenes where the Child Catcher rides his horse and carriage out of the village, the Cage/Carriage uptilted with Robert Helpmann on board. Dick Van Dyke recalls Helpmann being able to swing out of the carriage and literally skip across the crashing vehicle. Van Dyke claims Helpmann did this with incredible grace and much like a dancer – which was Helpmann’s original claim to fame.” He just seems like he was a really cool, interesting guy.

If you enjoy a good drama, romance, dance film, or even melodrama, then you’ll love The Red Shoes. Find a free Saturday night, turn the lights out, curl up, and discover the beauty of this film.


This post is part of the 3rd Annual British Invaders Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote of mercurie.blogspot.com. Be sure to check out the other great posts here!

Melanie Hamilton: A True Heroine

HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY TO OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND!

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Scarlett O’Hara, one of the finest-crafted characters in all of literature and cinema, calls Melanie Hamilton a “pale-faced, mealy-mouthed ninny”, completely jealous because Melanie marries Ashley Wilkes, the man Scarlett is crazy about. Although that phrase is hilarious, it’s crazy inaccurate. 

In the 1939 landmark film Gone With the Wind, Melanie is portrayed by Olivia de Havilland with gracious strength and sincerity. Scarlett O’Hara may have been the role of a lifetime (truly, it was) but I think olivia3.jpgthat de Havilland won herself an amazing role, as well. It’s understated. Scarlett O’Hara is usually the first character people think of when they think about Gone With the Wind. Well, that or Rhett Butler. I feel like it’s kind of a tossup. But there are so many characters in the film that are so interesting and complex and Melanie just happens to be one of them.

 

The following clip shows several other actresses who auditioned for the role of Melanie. Fun fact: Marsha Hunt, who was one of the auditioned actresses, is still alive at the age of 98. She’s in the clip starting at the 1:07 mark:

One could look at Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes and simply find a meek, saccharine, too-kind young lady who sees the world through twenty pairs of rose colored glasses. But that’s really not the way to look at her. I think you have to look below the surface to really appreciate Melanie’s strength. It’s her kindness and graciousness that make her so strong. She forgives, she’s completely accepting of people from different walks of life (Just watch the poignant scene in which she thanks Belle Watling – a prostitute and outcast – for saving Ashley’s life). Unlike many other people, Melanie treats Belle like a human being: a human being that matters; a human being that is on the same level as she is. Personally, I think it’s one of the most touching scenes in the nearly four hour film.

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Belle Watling to Melanie: “Mrs Wilkes, there ain’t never been a woman in town that’s been nice to me the way you was; I mean about the money for the hospital, you know, and I don’t forget a kindness. I got to thinkin’ about you bein’ left a widow, with a little boy – he’s a nice little boy, your boy, Mrs Wilkes. I got a boy myself…”


You see Melanie’s kindness and graciousness so well in this scene, too: the famous (or infamous?) Wilkes barbecue. Scarlett gets snarky with Melanie, as she’s just heard the rumor that Melanie and Ashley are going to be married.

The scene, like every other one in the film, is a classic one:

“Oh Scarlett, you have so much life. I’ve always admired you so. I wish I could be more like you.”

But she doesn’t take any nonsense, either. She’s not afraid to defend her life and the lives of those she’s close to if danger comes near. And she’s also not afraid to make quick judgments and trust people when trusting may seem like the bad thing to do to everyone else:

This clip is more for celebrating Olivia de Havilland’s acting and the great detail she puts into illustrating her emotions onscreen. Although Ashley is a questionable love interest, it’s a lovely moment:

Gone With the Wind remains one of the greatest and most beloved films in the history of the universe. Olivia de Havilland’s performance as Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes is one of the most tender and wholehearted that’s ever been seen on celluloid.


As a miscellaneous bonus, here’s an interview from 2006 in which Olivia talks about her initial interest in portraying Melanie in the film, meeting Errol Flynn for the first time, and how she sued Warner Brothers in the landmark case that changed everything in how film contracts worked in the studio system. Go Olivia!

Tap Queen: Ann Miller

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“I have worked like a dog all my life, honey. Dancing, as Fred Astaire said, is next to ditch-digging. You sweat and you slave and the audience doesn’t think you have a brain in your head.” (photo courtesy of vintagegal.tumblr.com)

 

Ann Miller was a big star in some of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s biggest musicals. She became known for how fast she could tap dance. But before all of that, she was born into the world Johnnie Lucille Ann Collier in Texas in 1923. She was named annmilleryoungJohnnie because her father was hoping for a son; she was nicknamed ‘Annie’. After contracting rickets between the ages of three and five (various sources give different ages), Annie began taking dance lessons. Her mother believed that dancing would help her regain her strength. Boy, was she right about that.

Leaving Texas with her mother around 1932 (her father had been unfaithful to her mother), the two headed for Los Angeles. Her mother was hearing-impaired and had trouble finding work. Annie, on the other hand, had an advantage: She was not even ten years old when she began looking for – and finding – dancing gigs in nightclubs in order to support her mother and herself. She was successful in this endeavor because she looked much older than her age, something that would come back to help her in the not-too-distant future. (Annie also did a little bit of uncredited extra work in films in the mid 1930s.) At the age of thirteen, she claimed to be eighteen – and got by with it. As a young girl, she learned to tap dance so well that she became something of a child prodigy. She named dancing legend and film actress Eleanor Powell as one of her inspirations.

She soon became Ann Miller, the stage name we all know her by.

One night in 1936 or ’37, Lucille Ball and RKO Pictures talent scout Benny Rubin were in the audience of the Club Bal Tabarin in San Francisco where Ann was doing her specialty act. Ball loved her. Benny Rubin got her into RKO for a screen test and she secured her first studio contract that year at the age of fourteen. After producing a fake birth certificate to “verify” that she was eighteen (the studio demanded this in order for her to come on board at RKO as a contract player), she began her journey into stardom.

Ann’s first credited role was in the film New Faces of 1937 in which she played herself. She got a small role in the film The Life of the Party (1937). That same year, Ann secured a supporting role in a film that really resonates with me: Stage Door (1937). Directed by Gregory La Cava, Stage Door tells the story of a group of young ladies who share a living space in a boarding house and they also happen to be looking for work onstage – some successfully and some not successfully. They all fight a lot, but through the film, they learn the importance of supporting each other. In my opinion, it’s an amazing movie. To look at her, you wouldn’t believe Ann Miller was just fourteen years old in that film. It’s incredible.


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Ann in a publicity still for Stage Door (1937)

 


Here’s Ann dancing to a catchy tune in the 1938 film Tarnished Angel. She was just fifteen here. Watch her performance carefully. Look how much personality she has shining through. And just look at that talent running through her young legs.

 

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Ann and Dub Taylor for “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938) – courtesy of doctormacro.com

1938 brought more film roles for Ann, including the Marx Brothers comedy Room Service and Frank Capra’s classic romantic comedy You Can’t Take It With You – the latter being another one of my personal favorites. It’s a true inspirational classic and its theme is near and dear to my heart.

Miller stayed with RKO for a couple more years and then left in 1940. She went on to sign with Columbia Pictures in ’41. In 1946, while married to her first husband Reese Llewellyn Milner, Ann suffered a miscarriage after being thrown down the stairs by Milner during a fight. The two divorced in early 1948.

When she was still in a back brace (the fall gave her a severe back injury), Ann was picked up by MGM. She auditioned for – and got the role – of Nadine Hale in the hit 1948 musical Easter Parade which starred Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. She performed her big tap numbers – most notably “Shakin’ the Blues Away” – in the back brace. Ironically, she replaced Cyd Charisse – who was first cast in the role – after Charisse tore a ligament in her knees. Fred Astaire also replaced Gene Kelly, who was set to star as Don Hewes but he broke his ankle before filming began.

When I learned about the stuff that she went through and how she persevered through it all, I was so amazed. Look at this girl GO:

In 1949, Ann co-starred with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett, and Jules Munshin in the MGM musical On the Town. This film was the first musical to shoot its musical numbers on location: In this case, New York City. In the 1950s, musical films were becoming less prevalent in Hollywood. The lavish musicals of the 1940s were becoming a thing of the past. Ann Miller was in a handful of films that decade, including the musical Hit the Deck and the 1956 remake of the 1939 classic The Women called The Opposite Sex. According to her biography on tcm.com, Ann’s favorite role at MGM was as Lois Lane/Bianca in the musical Kiss Me Kate (1953), starring Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel.

While reading up on Ann, I found some cool “fun facts” about her. One was this, from IMDb:
“At the end of her MGM contract, she flew overseas to Morocco to entertain on the Timex TV Hour for Bob Hope. She sang and danced ‘Too Darn Hot’ in 120-degree heat, entertaining 5000 soldiers.”

Ann also danced the Charleston with Ginger Rogers during a party at the Mocambo – a popular nightclub in West Hollywood that operated from the early ’40s until the late ’50s. This photo is adorable and what a party that must have been!

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Photo courtesy of vintagebreeze.tumblr.com

 

After she left MGM in the late ’50s, Ann married oil tycoon William Moss in 1958. Just after they divorced in 1961, she married her third husband Arthur Cameron and their marriage was annulled less than a year later. She never remarried after that. When film roles weren’t coming her way, Ann got her own nightclub act, acted on Broadway, and even landed a memorable spot in an early 1970s commercial for Great American soup. The commercial was styled after iconic musical director and choreographer Busby Berkeley, with an overhead shot and snazzy choreography. Keep in mind, she was about 50 years old here and she rocks just as hard here as she did in the ’40s.


Ann’s last film role was in neo-noir mystery cult classic Mulholland Drive (2001), written and directed by David Lynch (Twin PeaksBlue Velvet).  On her role, Ann once commented, “I don’t understand one damn thing about that crazy movie, but isn’t it a hoot that I’m in it!”

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Ann in “Mulholland Drive” Photo courtesy of cinexplex.com

Ann’s vivacious personality and big hair (which she fashioned in her later years) were often riffed by comedians, like Carol Burnett. The impressions and jokes, of course, were done in good taste. I know I’m not the only one who appreciates how Ann Miller seamlessly fits into the fusion of modern-day and classic pop culture, as proven by the hilarious and brilliant YouTube channel PunchyPlayers. Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli also prove to be pop culture queens. This is one of my favorite videos of all time:


Ann Miller came into my life when I was little girl. For a long time, my only exposure to her was through Easter Parade (1948). I was raised on that movie. I’ve always been a Judy Garland fan. In fact, this was my only exposure to Fred Astaire until my teenage years, when I finally watched a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical. But Ann Miller holds her own and then some in that movie. I vaguely remember my dad telling me about Ann Miller and how she was such a fast tap dancer. “Shakin’ the Blues” away has always a treat to watch and hear.


I think Ann would’ve been so fun to chat with. She was a ball of fire and so talented. According to an article by the Hollywood Reporter, she did things like writing “Star Lady” down in the “occupation” column of her W-4 forms. And once, a friend of Ann’s was asked to look up actress Arlene Dahl’s phone number in Ann’s personal phone book. To her friend’s confusion, Dahl’s number couldn’t be found in the “D” or even “A” section; Ann had it saved under “G” for “girlfriend”.

If you want to get an even more in-depth look into the world of Ann Miller, check out any of her interviews that can be found on YouTube. Her Private Screenings interview with Robert Osborne on TCM is on there, uploaded in several parts. She was so interesting and a live wire into her old age!

Okay, how could I end a piece about Ann Miller without letting her finish it up? Here she is dancing and singing in Small Town Girl (1953). The one and only Busby Berkeley choreographed this number.