1950s Film

Skip “Fifty Shades of Grey” – Go for “Marty”

Trade out Christian and Anastasia for Marty and Clara and you’ve got a winner. Of course, I’m referring to the two main characters in Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) and Marty (1955), respectively. The film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey was released back on Friday, February 13th. It’s based on the best-selling erotic romance novel, which has sold approximately 100 million copies worldwide. While there are tons of die-hard fans, there are many who see Fifty Shades as promoting dangerous sexual behavior (by objectifying women), masked by the selling point of “romance”. Many see it as grossly misrepresenting BDSM and promoting the idea of engaging women in sexual acts that are not entirely desired on their part. Seeing a story like this become a blockbuster makes me appreciate more simplistic, positive-message romance films even more than I usually do. So, after I caught Marty on TCM recently I basically thought, I should write a recommendation post about this movie in the midst of the “Fifty frenzy”. Because, honestly, it’s so much more worth watching.

French poster for "Marty" (1955)
French poster for “Marty” (1955)

Marty tells the tale of 34 year old Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine), a lonely and socially awkward Italian-American butcher from the Bronx. His mother won’t stop bugging poor Marty to find a wife. Not only does she bug him about marriage, but a lot of the older ladies of the neighborhood do, too. Marty dismisses their pleas to find a wife. He finds himself to be unattractive and unlikely to find a young lady to settle down with. Marty and his mom get into an argument after she tries to convince him to go to the Stardust Room, a popular club in town, one Saturday night. He’s tired of being turned down and hurt, so the prospect of having to endure a night out on the town seems downright awful.

Marty ends up going and meets a shy 29 year old school teacher named Clara (Betsy Blair), who has just been ditched by a blind date. Seeming to sense Marty is a nice guy, Clara goes straight into his arms and gently cries after her date goes off with an old flame without even telling her to her face (and even if he told her, that still would have been a lousy thing to do). Marty gives her a pep talk and they resume the evening dancing with each other and they hit it off. Then they decide to ditch the club and talk about life over sandwiches and coffee and simply walk around the streets of New York. Their relationship progresses from that point.

Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair in "Marty" (1955) Courtesy of wikipedia.org
Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair in “Marty” (1955)
Courtesy of wikipedia.org

The beauty of this film is in its subtlety and realness. Marty and Clara share what–one kiss?– throughout the entire film. Yet their chemistry and emotional vulnerability do the talking. Okay, so I’m definitely not opposed to kissing in movies, but I think movies like Marty hit the mark when it comes to romance, showing that relationships aren’t just about kissing or sex. I think the sexiness is found in sharing everything with your life partner: your hopes, dreams, fears, failures, triumphs, and everything in between. The film also shows those not-so-great moments in budding relationships, like when Marty tries to kiss Clara and instead of finding it to be a romantic gesture, it frightens her. In turn, Marty has a moment of frustration because he doesn’t understand why Clara won’t reciprocate the gesture. She simply thought he was getting fresh with her, which upsets him even more because he doesn’t want her to think he’s “that kind of guy”.

Ernest Borgnin
Ernest Borgnine as Marty

Marty’s family and friends also take a stance against Clara. His friends declare her to be too homely and plain and his mother is afraid Marty will marry Clara and leave her to be by herself. It’s not quite on the level of Romeo and Juliet, but there’s definitely tension. Ultimately, Marty has to choose between what his family and friends are pressuring him to do and what his heart is telling him to do.

I feel a kind of connection to this film and I’m sure many other feel the same way. I just feel like I kind of relate to Marty and Clara in some way. I’m kind of awkward sometimes. And I’ve gained some weight over the past couple of years. Although I don’t think about my weight all the time, I won’t pretend like I don’t think about it sometimes. I also used to be self-conscious of my mouth, especially when I had braces. You see, I got braces right after sixth grade and had them until the end of my junior year of high school. Back when I was in the early years of teenager-hood people sometimes mildly teased me about how big my mouth was. Although I think it was meant in good fun, it secretly hurt. Marty helps you remember that no matter what you look like and no matter how awkward you may be, you should never ever change for anyone. Don’t waste your time crying over jerks. Be the beautiful passionate nerd you really are.

So if you’re thinking about spending $8 on a movie ticket and $6 on popcorn to watch Fifty Shades of Grey, or if you’re thinking about renting it when it’s out to purchase, think about staying home and watching Marty instead. It will be airing on TCM on March 22nd at 3:30 pm (CST). If you aren’t able to watch it at the scheduled time, you can watch it via the free WATCH TCM app, which will stream the movie for about a week after it’s aired. All you have to do is provide your username and password to whatever cable/satellite provider you use and you’re in. Also, really consider donating money or services to a local domestic violence shelter. I think that’s the best route you could possibly take.

1950s Film, musicals, Pre-Code Hollywood, Star Profiles

Dueling Divas: Kathy Seldon vs. Lina Lamont

Classic film mega-fans, casual fans, and people who don’t normally watch old films have one thing in common when it comes to Singin’ in the Rain: they’ve all probably seen this movie at least once…so this movie doesn’t require much of an introduction. But I’ll give one anyway. You know how it goes: It’s 1927 and famous silent film star Donald Lockwood (Gene Kelly) meets aspiring stage actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) when he jumps into her car after nearly being torn apart by a mob of his fans. They don’t quite hit it off; she makes fun of his profession and he thinks she’s a stuck up wannabe stage actress. But he realizes after meeting up with her again at a party that he has fallen in love with Kathy. She’s the only girl who’s not crazy about him and he responds accordingly. His frequent squeaky-voiced co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen, in her Oscar-nominated role), however, is determined to prove the gossip magazines true and make Don realize that they are meant to be together. Don, of course, has other ideas:

Lina spends the entire movie acting off her jealousy of Kathy. Lina tries to use her power to get her fired from Monumental Pictures after landing some screen time. Kathy’s a sweet girl but she doesn’t once give in to Lina’s conniving ways. That’s basically the one thing Lina’s good at. Cosmo Brown sums it up best by declaring: “She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. She’s a triple threat.”

Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont (courtesy of http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Hagen)
Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont
(courtesy of http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Hagen)

We learn that, following the huge success of 1927’s groundbreaking film The Jazz Singer, talking films are the future of the motion picture industry. Many people in the industry are very much against this. It just can’t be done. Here’s where Lina really comes into play. Because she has such a glass-shattering voice, she can’t possibly make the switch from silents to talking pictures. Everyone except for her comes to realize this. She cannot accept the fact that she just plain sucks when it comes to talkies. In her mind, she’s still Queen Bee of Monumental Pictures and nobody will get in the way. Lina sees Kathy as a gold-digger, using Don Lockwood as a ticket to stardom.

Lina and Kathy’s feud is not your typical Hollywood production fight. There’s no real big confrontation between them, aside from one. Lina walks in on Kathy and Don sharing a kiss after Kathy finishes dubbing Lina’s lines for The Dancing Cavalier. Lina’s BFF Zelda Zanders tips her off about the sparks flying between Don and Kathy and she decides to do something about it. She yells at them and threatens them.

Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden (courtesy of highlighthollywood.com)
Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden
(courtesy of highlighthollywood.com)

What else is there to do but sabotage Kathy’s career? Nothing. Lina goes wild with envy and does everything in her power to make sure Kathy does not take credit for her dubbing in the film, with would make her a likely candidate for a string of her own films to star in. Lina goes against the studio and uses blackmail to back herself up. Of course, her plan goes awry and Lina is exposed at the end of the film for being the fraud and the spiteful woman she truly is.

This allows Kathy and Don to finally enjoy some peace and quiet. We discover at the end that Kathy will be starring opposite Don in a film called–you guessed it– Singin’ in the Rain.

Have you ever wondered what became of Lina after the end of the film? If she had a sense of humor, perhaps she could have gone on to make pictures to simply make fun of her voice, but perhaps that would be too self-depreciating– and that’s not good. Perhaps she became a model. Maybe she took up cooking. Who knows? Any way you look at it, Lina put up quite a fight, but her intentions were downright silly and ridiculous. But who knows? Maybe the talking pictures just weren’t ready for a ‘force of nature’ like Ms. Lamont.

This post is part of the Dueling Divas Blogathon, hosted by Lara over at backlots.net. Special thanks to Lara for allowing me to participate in her fourth annual “Dueling Divas” blogathon. Be sure to head over to backlots.net to see the rest of the awesome submissions.

1950s Film

Recommended Film: “It Should Happen to You” (1954)

It’s been awhile since I last updated. At some point, I’d love to get more posts up at a faster rate. Balancing everything doesn’t leave a ton of time to do this. But hooray, “Holliday” breaks are quickly approaching. Anyway, I hope to accomplish some more writing during break. Without further ado, here we go…

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Have your wondered what it would be like to see your name on signs all across the city you live in? The idea of being famous for being famous?  That’s what Gladys Glove (Judy Holliday) dreams of in the 1954 film It Should Happen to You. Directed by George Cukor and co-starring Jack Lemmon (in his onscreen debut) and Peter Lawford, this film is a romantic comedy set in the hustle and bustle of 1950s New York City.

Gladys Glover is a quirky, naive young woman whose big goal in life is to see her name printed on a huge billboard for no other reason than for fame itself. Just after she’s fired from her job as a girdle model, she runs into a lovely young man named Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon) while he is out in Central Park filming for his upcoming documentary. He is a budding (but still amateur/unknown) filmmaker and new to NYC. They become fast friends and he soon moves to her apartment building after she gives him her address so that he can send her the film he has shot so far. Let me back up and add that, as creepy as that last sentence sounded, he’s not a creep. I PROMISE.

Judy Holliday, 1950s (courtesy of doctormacro.com)
Judy Holliday, 1950s
(courtesy of doctormacro.com)

Gladys saves up money and achieves her dream: her name is painted on to a humongous billboard in Columbus Circle, a very busy area in Manhattan. Over a short period of time, she becomes a city-wide sensation. Everyone starts talking about Gladys Glover, the girl whose name is everywhere–but the question of “Just who is Gladys Glover?” is asked all over town. She begins “going public” and starts modeling for ads, making public appearances, and even finds herself appearing on popular television variety shows. It’s the things she says–usually unintentionally hilarious–that captivates everyone. It’s a gag on the whole “famous for being famous” concept. Pete is not a fan of this and often tries to talk Gladys out of the whole thing. He is aware that she is being exploited (I won’t go into the details of that. I’ll leave that for the movie; that’s where Peter Lawford’s sleazy character comes in and it’s a lot to explain). Anyway, Gladys is sweet and naive and a bit of a ditz, and for awhile she isn’t aware that she’s being used. But deep down, she’s intelligent and tough, which comes through especially by the end when she has to make some tough decisions.

Jack Lemmon, date unknown Courtesy of doctormacro.com
Jack Lemmon, date unknown
(courtesy of doctormacro.com)

I think Judy Holliday herself is way underrated. Why isn’t she remembered as she should be? It’s said that she had a crazy high IQ score but she was often cast in roles very similar to Marilyn Monroe: ditzy blondes. Marilyn was another brilliant lady, not often credited for her intelligence.

Judy’s so funny in this film. She was a brilliant comedienne. She just says things that are so off the wall, you can’t help but laugh out loud (like how she pronounces the name Pfeiffer as “Puh-feiffer”). And that voice of hers…nothing like it in the world! I didn’t really know anything about her until I caught this movie by chance one day earlier this year on TCM. I had flipped the channel on and caught it near the end, when….nah, I won’t give it away.

But I was totally captivated. It’s an extremely bittersweet, touching scene. I want so desperately to share the whole scene in this post with all of the romantic details but I just can’t bring myself to do it. For those of you reading this who may have seen this sometime in the past, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

Luckily we have DVR, so I went back to the beginning of the movie and recorded it. I watched it from beginning to end (which I was obviously already familiar with) and adored it. Then, to my pleasant surprise, I was roaming around Walmart one day with a friend awhile after that and happened to find this film in a 5-pack classic film DVD in the $5 bin. I never would have imagined I’d find it in a small town Walmart of all places. I was so happy.

Judy Holliday and George Cukor, behind the scenes of "It Should Happen to You" (1954) Image courtesy of doctormacro.com
Judy Holliday and George Cukor, behind the scenes of “It Should Happen to You” (1954)
Image courtesy of doctormacro.com

And I think this movie made me kind of fall in love with Jack Lemmon. Don’t get me started on how much I LOVE him in Some Like It Hot (“Most of the time…I slllap it.”) but there’s something about him in It Should Happen to You that’s wonderful and sweet. Pete has a more sensible mind than Gladys and they balance each other out perfectly. He’s really not given many funny lines in this movie, but he’s so darn lovable.

The parts that really stand out to me are the moments when Pete has his 16 mm video camera in his hand and films random things that are happening around him, and his interactions with Gladys: their first meeting, their arguments, and everything in between. Judy and Jack really had great chemistry. I love the subtle things Jack did body language-wise as you could see Pete falling in love with Gladys, while she is totally unaware. It’s all in his eyes. Watch closely. The way he does double takes, stares at her, and sings “Let’s Fall in Love” with–and secretly– to her. It’ll make you melt. It’ll make you want to travel back in time and marry the guy. Or is that just me?

So, if you find the chance to watch this film, please do. The chemistry between Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday really make this movie extra special. The film itself is pretty far ahead of its time because of its theme: famous for being famous. It’s pretty typical for a romantic comedy, at least how the story is structured. There are no big plot twists. But, in my opinion, it’s a great film–very underrated and virtually forgotten by modern audiences. I hope I’ve done at least an “okay” job of explaining the outline of the story. I tried to bring out the big points, but there’s a lot more to it than what I’ve mentioned. What I’m here for is to simply say: “Hey! This movie is special and I’d like to bring it to the attention of other people out there.”

While you’re at it, be sure to check out Jack in Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960) and Judy in Born Yesterday (1950- she won the Oscar for this role, which was a very competitive year for the Academy) and Bells are Ringing (1960). If you enjoy those movies, check out all of the others that you can find. But those are just a few titles I recommend.

Happy watching.