1930s Film, Star Profiles

The Marx Brothers: A Love Story

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

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

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

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

To talk about a couple of those films…

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

 


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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Fashion in Film

Ruby Keeler: What a Dancer

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

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

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

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(courtesy of doctormacro.com)

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

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(photo courtesy of doctormacro.com)

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

1960s Film, Fashion in Film, musicals

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

What’s the story, morning glory?

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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“I just got pinned by Hugo Peabody!”

And so it begins:

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

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

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

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Bye Bye Birdie_Jesse Pearson

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

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

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

1960s Film, Fashion in Film

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

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

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

But good things come to those who wait!

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

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

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

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

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

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

1940s Film, Holidays in Film, musicals

YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942) on the Big Screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

1930s Film

FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn)

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

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

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

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Felix and Ann

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

Some Thoughts

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

RATING (out of four): ★★★ 

The 1970s in Film

I Finally Watched HAROLD AND MAUDE

“I haven’t lived. I’ve died a few times.”

This is one of those movies that had fallen under the category of “I really want to see this movie” for a good while.

Harold and Maude (1971) was the first movie I ever watched at the TCM Classic Film Festival. My friend Jeremy and I lined up for the screening on Thursday night (the first official day of the festival). We stood next to a woman whose name I recognized from the “Going to TCM Classic Film Festival!” Facebook group. She has attended the festival for several years and comes from Canada each spring to indulge in the delights of TCMFF. Before we even set foot in the theater, she assured me that Harold and Maude is an incredible movie. I had no reason to doubt her.

From the moment Harold (Bud Cort) appeared onscreen, I knew I was going to fall in love with it. It also opens up with a Cat Stevens song (the whole film is filled with his music, actually) and a perfect moment of dark comedy, setting the tone for the rest of the flick.

Although I greatly enjoy many movies, there are just a handful of them that really have a profound impact on my life and Harold and Maude is one of them.

If you haven’t seen the film before, you probably at least know its general plot: it’s a love story between a young man and an old woman. Don’t be fooled; it’s so much more than that.

Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) is a nineteen-year-old obsessed with death. To amuse himself, he simulates committing suicide in order to get attention from his mother. Every time he does it, his uptight and emotionally detached mother (Vivian Pickles) either ignores it or throws a fit. (Finally, she decides that Harold needs to get married in order to grow out of his “shenanigans”, so she sets out to find the perfect girl for him.)

Her reactions make every situation so funny.

Oh, Harold also drives a wicked Jaguar hearse.

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(courtesy of imcdb.org)

Harold’s hobby is attending random funerals for fun. During one particular funeral, he first spots 79-year-old Maude (Ruth Gordon) who also happens to attend funerals in her spare time. They became fast friends despite their totally opposite outlooks on life. Whereas Harold sees through a scope of darkness, Maude sees light all around. They realize that they’re a good match and begin spending all of their time together. Harold begins to see life as something not terrible, but beautiful. Then, they become more than friends.

A note about the performances and reception at the time of the film’s release: Did you know that Harold and Maude was actually a flop when it was released into theaters in 1971? Looking back, I think it was a flop on the part of the Academy to give it a total of zero Oscar nominations. How was it not at least nominated for Best Picture? How did Ruth Gordon not get the recognition she deserved? And did they even see Bud Cort’s performance? Wow. Back then, I think a lot of people were too weirded out by the movie’s portrayal of Harold and Maude’s romance and overlooked its brilliance. Too bad for them!

The movie sat around – unloved – for several years, then people actually started watching it and loving it. Now, forty-five years after it was released, Harold and Maude is one of the quintessential cult classics.

As much as I adore Ruth Gordon’s performance (seriously, old age goals), Bud Cort has been the one who has stuck the most in my mind since viewing the movie. I was so touched to see his character transform from a miserable teenager into a man who embraced life. Because of her, Harold steps outside of his “comfort zone”. He learns how to play the banjo, he smiles, he goes out… I was touched when he declared his love to Maude because, despite it being unorthodox for those two people to fall in love, it was pure.

In real life, Bud Cort is someone who I hope to meet someday. I’ve heard he’s a nice guy and he seems like such an interesting person and I’d like think we’d make good friends. He’s held bitter feelings toward Harold and Maude for years because he makes almost nothing off of residuals from the last forty-six years. What a shame that is. 

To top it off, the soundtrack is made up of Cat Stevens tunes and it’s just about perfect.


Harold and Maude will be airing on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on June 21, 2017 at 8:00 PM (EST). If you’re active on Twitter and like to live-tweet movies, be sure to join the #TCMParty hashtag for lots of extra fun.

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(courtesy of all-that-is-interesting.com)
1940s Film, Holidays in Film, musicals

“Easter Parade”

“Miss Brown, what idiot ever told you you were a dancer?”
“You did!”

In 1948, MGM released a vibrant Technicolor musical called Easter Parade. Originally, Gene Kelly had been cast as Don Hewes, Cyd Charisse was cast as Nadine Hale, and Frank Sinatra was cast as Jonathan Harrow III. Because of various circumstances, the cast was completely switched around. The finished product starred Fred Astaire as Don, Judy Garland as Hannah Brown (as planned), Ann Miller as Nadine, and Peter Lawford as Jonathan Harrow III.

The story, set in 1912 and 1913, begins as a Broadway star named Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) receives the crushing news that his partner Nadine (Ann Miller) is suddenly quitting the act. Nadine tells him that she’s received an offer to go solo and Don tries to persuade her to stay with him. They go into a lovely song and dance number (“It Only Happens When I Dance with You”) and she seems to be persuaded to stay…until Don’s charming and handsome friend, Jonathan Harrow III (Peter Lawford), walks in to the apartment. Nadine has obviously moved on from Don to Jonathan.

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(courtesy of doctormacro.com)

When it looks like Nadine can no longer be persuaded to stay, Don sets out to prove to her that he can find any ordinary chorus girl and turn her into a star. He wants to make her jealous. Enter Hannah Brown (Judy Garland). Hannah is a singer and dancer working at a local bar. She catches Don’s eye, so he grabs her off the stage, tells her to quit her job, and meet him for her first lesson the next day.

As Don tries to model Hannah after Nadine (Hannah has no idea about the scheme), he attempts to teach her how to dance exactly like Nadine, dress like her, and even have her name changed to something similar (Juanita). In one of the scenes, he even tries to teach Hannah how to be “exotic” and extra attractive to men. It really shows off Judy’s underrated comedic gift:

As the story progresses, love triangles unfold and cheery musical numbers ensue. This is one of the most memorable numbers in the film, sung and tapped wonderfully – as always – by Ann Miller:

Easter Parade is one of my personal favorite musicals. I think part of that is because it’s one of the movies I watched a lot when I was little. I often talk about movies that I watched as a child on here because many of them have made a huge impact on me. I love reminiscing about watching movies like this one with a different view of the world. Fortunately, I still watch Easter Parade with the same childlike amusement as I did when I was six. I’m really grateful for that.

However, I will say that as I’ve gotten older, I now think that Hannah should’ve chosen Jonathan instead of Don. As much as it pains me to say that Fred Astaire shouldn’t have been chosen, I’m one of those people that thinks she’d be so much happier with Jonathan. Maybe “Fella with an Umbrella” has something to do with it, but I mean it!

Having said that, I still think the ending is adorable. I can’t easily argue with a happy Judy and Fred. I hope you all have a happy Easter! Go drum crazy, shake the blues away, and sing to someone you love in the rain.

Before you go, here’s a bonus musical number that was cut from the final print of the film. Notice that Judy is wearing the same suit that she’d wear two years later in Summer Stock during the iconic “Get Happy” number.

Modern Film: The '80s and Beyond

Friends with Potential: A Brief Look at Cameron Crowe’s “Say Anything”

“Maybe I didn’t really know you. Maybe you were just a mirage. Maybe the world is full of food and sex and spectacle and we’re all just hurling towards an apocalypse, in which case it’s not your fault…” – Lloyd Dobler to Diane Court, via her answering machine

I’d like to begin this post by simply saying: Thank you, Cameron Crowe (Almost FamousJerry Maguire), for creating this masterpiece of a film.

Say Anything (1989) is a romantic comedy starring John Cusack and Ione Skye that’s most famous for the scene in which Lloyd Dobler (Cusack) raises a boombox over his head blasting the quintessential ’80s movie love song “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel in hopes that he will win back his ex-girlfriend’s heart.

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Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court are fresh out of high school…and strangers to one another. Well, that’s not completely true; Lloyd has been in love with Diane, the most popular and academically-gifted girl at his school, for a long time. Diane doesn’t really know much about Lloyd, despite the fact that they ate lunch by each other at the mall once, a fact that Lloyd proudly remembers years later. Unlike Diane, he doesn’t have a master plan for his future, although he thinks kick-boxing (“the sport of the future”) looks like a promising ambition.

Lloyd takes a chance right after graduation: he calls the girl of his dreams and asks her out.

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(courtesy of fanpop.com)

Well, what do you think happens next? She takes a chance and agrees to attend a big party with him.

Lloyd Dobler defies the “hot guy of the ’80s” thing. Although both scenarios can be considered pretty cliche, Say Anything is clever enough to dodge the cliche-bomb. Lloyd and Diane are three-dimensional characters and so is Diane’s supporting but troubled father, portrayed by John Mahoney (four years before his debut on Frasier).

Say Anything wears its feelings on its sleeve. The chemistry between Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court is red-hot while somehow remaining charmingly innocent. There’s a scene toward the beginning of Lloyd and Diane’s relationship that shows Lloyd helping out at the nursing home owned by Diane’s father. Diane volunteers her time to help take care of the residents. After her shift ends, they decide to hang out and grab some coffee, where they decide to be “friends with potential”. Then, Lloyd takes Diane out and teaches her how to drive. As they bond over it, their potential comes through quicker than expected. It’s a really sweet moment:

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One of the other bits that stands out to me is the scene which takes place the morning after Lloyd and Diane attend the party together. After they drop off the last remaining (and totally wasted) party guest, they wander into a 7-Eleven before Lloyd drops Diane off at her house. As the leave walk through the parking lot,  Lloyd stops Diane before she steps on a pile of glass, brushes it away with his shoe, and then proceeds to walk, making sure the rest of Diane’s path is safe. The simple but sweet gesture doesn’t go unnoticed by Diane, either, who cites it as one of the reasons why she really likes Lloyd.

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John Mahoney does an outstanding job in the role of Diane’s father. The big subplot involving a dark secret kept by Mr. Court is played out well between Mahoney and Skye.

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Say Anything is available to watch in various formats – it’s super cheap to purchase on DVD from Amazon – so please, please, please sit down for all 100 minutes and soak in all of its greatness if you haven’t watched it. Or re-watch it if you haven’t seen it in awhile.

 

 

Modern Film: The '80s and Beyond, musicals

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!