1940s Film, musicals

GOOD NEWS (1947)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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(photo courtesy of Doctor Macro)

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


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

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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.

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.

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, 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!

Fashion in Film, musicals, Star Profiles

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)

 

1940s Film, musicals

 “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!

1940s Film, musicals

“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!

Fashion in Film, musicals, The 1970s in Film

“Cabaret” (1972)

 “What good is sitting all alone in your room? Come, hear the music play…Life is a cabaret, old chum…”

Let’s take a trip back to 1931 Berlin. Liza Minnelli stars in Cabaret (1972) as Sally Bowles, an Original_movie_poster_for_CabaretAmerican chanteuse who dreams of fame but performs in a small-time (but lively) nightclub called the Kit Kat Klub. The film opens with a literal ‘welcome’ from the club’s Master of Ceremonies (portrayed by Joel Grey, known today for his notable work in Broadway shows like Anything Goes). In this opening, we get a general sense of the film’s tone. It’s unconventional, daring, and wonderfully bizarre. It also deals with the rise of the Nazi party and the Antisemitism that comes with it in both direct and indirect sequences throughout the film.

If anyone reading this write-up has not seen this movie entirely, be warned: There are some spoilers.

Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles
Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles

During the opening song “Willkommen”, we see an intertwined part of the narrative, which is something that also happens throughout the film. The Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey) is kind of the glue that holds the fabric of the film together. A pattern begins with the opening number. Each time one of the cabaret acts happens, a corresponding event is taking place in “the real world”.

During the song, we see cuts to “the real world” outside of the Kit Kat Klub. The film itself welcomes a young Englishman named Brian Roberts (Michael York) who has taken a train to live in Berlin while he finishes his work to earn a PhD. He is a student at Cambridge University and, seeing as he has little money to live on, he begins his stay in Berlin by offering English lessons to anyone who is interested.


Brian moves into an apartment building which Sally Bowles lives in. Just as he comes in to rent a Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles Oscar winner in Cabaret 1972room, he runs into Sally and the two become fast friends. She sort of shows him the ins-and-outs of their living quarters (and what “Divine Decadence” nail polish looks like).

He accompanies her to the Kit Kat Klub shortly after moving in and meets one of her closest friends and a native of Germany, Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper), who’s working tirelessly at becoming a gigolo. Brian soon begins giving English lessons to Fritz.

Sally Bowles performs
Sally performs “Mein Herr” – on chair

Sally is a free-spirited bohemian girl who is not shy about talking about her regular (and random) sexual encounters – although not much is explicitly said (on camera, at least). She and Brian give each other a nice balance. He’s reserved while she’s totally flamboyant and outgoing. But there’s a deep level of vulnerability hidden inside of her. Brian becomes successful with his English lessons and Sally continues to dream of fame and perform at the club, masking her self-esteem issues from the world.


The song “Maybe This Time”, which Sally sings at the club, really echoes her real-life situation. For anyone who has ever had trouble with confidence, the song hits hard. It’s wonderful.

“Everybody loves a winner, so nobody loved me”

As you can see in glimpses during the song, Sally and Brian develop romantic feelings for each other and become lovers. Let me note that Liza Minnelli and Michael York had great chemistry. And a second note: York’s voice. Holy golly. Anyway, Sally wants to make sure not to fall in love with the young scholar because she’s bound and determined to marry a rich man. Enter Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem), a rich and handsome playboy who entices Sally from the get-go. Oh, did I mention that’s he’s also a baron?

Herr Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem) - via playbuzz.com -
Herr Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem)
– via playbuzz.com –

As Sally is getting her laundry done she meets Maximilian. After a little bit of flirting, Max offers Sally a ride in his limousine and after that, they begin seeing each other. Max begins to pamper Sally by doing things like buying her frivolous things, like a nice fur coat.

In the midst of this love triangle, another love story is brewing. Fritz, who I mentioned earlier, meets a wealthy young Jewish heiress named Natalia Landauer (Marisa Berenson) and at first falls for her fortune. It doesn’t take long for him to fall for her, regardless of her big bucks. This is the first time he’s fallen in love with someone

Fritz is totally in love with Natalia.
Fritz falls in love with Natalia. – blu-ray.com –

for non-gigolo reasons. He starts seeking advice from his friends. Once Natalia falls in love with Fritz, she seeks advice from Sally. Sally also -indirectly – advises Fritz to “pounce”. And boy, does he pounce, to the shock and – later -excitement of Natalia. Things become serious, although Natalia refuses multiple marriage proposals. Fritz concealed the fact that he was a Jew until he discovered that marriage between Natalia and him would not work because she believed that he was a Christian and she was a Jew. He decides that he has to step up and do the right thing. Although he’s a bit rough around the edges to begin with, I love seeing Fritz’s transformation into a man who no longer cares about money above everything else. I think their romantic subplot is really sweet.

Amidst the love triangle between Sally, Max, and Brian, things become even more complicated. Brian, at first hostile with Max, is eventually attracted to Max. So we get this strange mix of Sally, Brian, and Max all feeling feelings for each other. On top of this, Sally and Brian discover that Max isn’t just some hot bachelor; he’s married. He and his wife live completely separate lives, but do not seek divorce because of the strain that would put on their spending habits. Charming. An all-out argument between Sally and Brian ensues not long after an evening out with Max. It’s a quite revealing argument, where a bombshell of sorts is dropped. How does it all end? Well, if you haven’t seen the film, I urge you to see it for yourself.

Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies
Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies
The Emcee (Joel Grey) with his true love - from the musical number
The Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey) with his true love – from the musical number “If You Could See Her”

Among the other accolades it received, Cabaret nabbed a total of eight Oscar wins, including Best Actress in a Leading Role for Liza Minnelli, Best Supporting Actor for Joel Grey, and Best Director for Bob Fosse. When it was released in 1972, the film received a positive welcome from its worldwide audience. The film had earned a total of $4.5 million by May 1973 in North America, and it earned another $3.5 in other countries. It received a profit of $2,452.000.

But let’s not just look at the numbers to determine the success and legacy of the film. Cabaret is quite a unique piece of art. When I watch an old musical (which happens often), it’s typically one of the colorful, romantic ones. Although there are fun and carefree moments in Cabaret, they are the exception to the otherwise dark and gritty scenes. When I first watched it on TCM, I didn’t really think that I would like it. How wrong I was.

At the beginning, the Master of Ceremonies invites – even pleads -people to, “Leave your troubles outside! Life is disappointing? Forget it! In here, life is beautiful, the girls are beautiful, even zee orchestra is beautiful.”

At the end, Sally sings the titular song “Cabaret” to the audience after a bittersweet event in her own life. The lyrics themselves beg the audience in the Kit Kat Klub to go out and enjoy life: “What good is sitting all alone in your room? Come, here the music play…” just as it says at the top of this post – a great life lesson. I love that Sally is nowhere near perfect and by the end of the movie she’s made choices that some people would majorly argue against. But you know what? She’s a human being. And, even with her shortcomings, she rocks so hard. And you have to give it to the girl: Despite it all, she makes some decisions that are totally selfless and by God, she goes out there on stage and gives it her all. I’d argue that she is one of the most interesting characters in film history.

Joel-Grey-and-Liza-Minnelli-247858
Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli with their Golden Globe awards, 1973

Cabaret is available for purchase. You can find a copy of it on Amazon (at least on DVD) for around $10. It airs on TCM every so often, so if you get that channel, you can probably catch it in the near future.

This movie is magical. Please enjoy it as I did.

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.