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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Modern Film: The '80s and Beyond

THE ROOM: A Cult Classic At Midnight

“If a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live.”

On the night of Saturday, August 26, my friends and I took a Lyft to the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis, MO – about two hours from where we live – and waited in a huge line to meet Tommy Wiseau and to watch The Room at midnight.

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For those of you not familiar with The Room, it’s been called “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”, which should tell you enough. It’s unintentionally hilarious, filled with dozens of head-scratching/bizarre one liners and extremely awkward moments.

I was introduced to the movie several years ago by a good friend and I’ve been crazy about the movie ever since, occasionally quoting it in everyday life situations.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that the screening was set to begin at midnight. However, seeing as it was a sold-out event featuring Tommy Wiseau and he did greet a lot of people, the movie ended up starting just after 2 am. By that time, my friends decided that they didn’t want to stick around any longer and I decided to move from the back of the theater closer to the front, where I found myself sitting beside a couple of really nice guys named Nick and CJ.

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Notice the spoon resting behind Nick’s ear? Well, spoons are a staple of late night screenings of The Room. I’ll get to that soon.

Before the film officially began, Tommy came down to the front of the theater and held a quick Q&A session. When I say quick, I mean it lasted for, like, two minutes. I’m not complaining at all – I just figure that’s a very Tommy Wiseau thing to do. He answered the questions he wanted to answer (For example, “Did you hit her?!” “No.”) and ignored the ones he didn’t want to answer.

After the Q&A ended, the film was preceded by a trailer for Wiseau’s upcoming buddy film (co-starring The Room‘s Greg Sestero) Best Friends, a trailer for the highly anticipated movie The Disaster Artist, and a commercial for Tommy’s underwear line.


FINALLY, just after 2:00, the movie began. What an experience that was.

Because everyone (or mostly everyone) who attends late night screenings of The Room has the movie memorized, there’s not a quiet moment in the audience until everyone files out of the theater. It’s truly one of the most quotable movies of all time and that night’s audience was not shy about proving it.

We all yelled along to the most famous lines, such as, “YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, LISA!”

There was one guy down in the lower left side of the theater who was basically a one-man version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax. He had a quip for almost every single line and, at least in my case, it made the experience that much funnier. In fact, people throughout the audience made quips after terrible lines were delivered, booed at antagonist Lisa, and yelled at every character who forgot to close the door in the main character’s apartment (note: it happens a lot).

Now, back to the spoons.

If you watch closely, there are several picture frames placed on a table in the apartment. Of course, putting realistic pictures in them would be too simple. Inside the picture frames, there are pictures of single spoons in them. Someone somewhere decided that, at screenings of the film, audience members should throw spoons toward the screen every time the spoon photos appear in the shot. It happens several times.

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So, why were there pictures of spoons in that apartment? Thankfully, Tommy Wiseau answered that question for us!

I admittedly bought four spoons for $1 while standing in line, but fortunately I capitalized on the purchase by recycling spoons, in a sense. Those of us who were not in the back rows got to pick up the spoons thrown by people behind us and re-use them. I should also mention that there were a few inflatable footballs being tossed throughout the audience which is an homage to the cringeworthy football tossing scenes. It was the closest I’ve ever gotten to being in the middle of a sporting event at a movie screening.

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As someone who has the utmost respect for and adoration of movie theaters, it kind of felt like I was, in a sense, sinning as I launched spoons up front. As you can see in the photos I took, parts of the theater were a mess after the lights came back up.

But really, it was one of the best cinematic moments of my life thus far. I was surrounded by really nice and good-humored people late at night and we all share a mutual love for horrible cult classic movies. My 2 am – 4 am brain was begging to go to sleep most of the time, but it was 100% worth it to stay up and watch it. (Even though I am a little jealous that my friends found Tommy in a nearby diner and ate with him while I was watching the movie. True story.)

 

1940s Film, Holidays in Film

THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944)

One evening in the summer of 2013, I was spending some time at my grandparents’ home and we turned on the TV to see what was playing on TCM. It was a movie called The Very Thought of You, which I’d never heard of before. From the moment it began, my grandma and I were hooked.

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The film stars Dennis Morgan as an Army sergeant named Dave, who is on a three day furlough in Pasadena, CA. His buddy, “Fixit” (Dane Clark), is also on furlough and just wants to meet a nice girl. Dave had attended college at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) before joining the Army.

Soon after their arrival into Pasadena, Fixit’s wish is granted and Dave’s memory is jogged when they run into two young women on a bus. Fixit immediately lays on his humorous charm when he sees Cora (Faye Emerson) and Dave comes face to face with Janet (Eleanor Parker), who used to serve him chocolate malts at a shop in Pasadena. She remembers him, but he doesn’t remember her until she introduces herself.

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Fixit finds the woman of his dreams.
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“Aren’t you going to say hello?”

At the insistence of Fixit, the guys follow Janet and Cora after they get off the bus and decide to get to know them better. Janet reveals to Cora that she used to have a big crush on Dave just before Dave and Fixit catch up to them. While Fixit chats up Cora, Dave and Janet walk arm-in-arm on the sidewalk and get to know each other.

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Seeing as it’s Thanksgiving and Dave has no family in the area, Janet invites him to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. He gratefully accepts and joins them. Unfortunately, most of Janet’s family are hostile and rude toward Dave.

Janet’s mother (Beulah Bondi) is adamantly opposed to seeing any more of her daughters marry a serviceman. She believes that, if Janet were to marry Dave, she would either become a war widow. She faces opposition from her cynical brother. Her sister Molly also voices her outrage, citing her own experiences as she waits for her husband to come home from war (while stepping out with other men). Janet’s father (Henry Travers) and little sister Ellie (Georgia Lee Settle) are the only two who stick up for her.

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Father tells his family that he is ashamed at the way they treated Dave.
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Ellie stands up for her sister.
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Conflict arises.

The next day, Ellie wanders into a local drugstore counter and spots Dave. Being the energetic (and totally adorable) teenager that she is, she sprints home and takes Janet back with her. Dave invites Janet to take a drive to Mount Wilson and she accepts.

It’s worth noting that when Dave turns on the radio in his car, the classic song “The Very Thought of You” is playing. Here is one version of the song, as sung by Al Bowlly.


And that’s when their courtship really begins.

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Within two days, the couple experience moments of pure bliss and a pushback from Janet’s family which makes it all the more emotional for her.

It’s a concept that’s pretty difficult for a lot of modern audiences to grasp, but it was reality for many young adults during World War II. When a man in the service fell in love with a woman back home, they were faced with a tough decision: marry now or wait until he comes back.


Because I’ll Be Seeing You is unfamiliar to most people today (and I hope that at least some of you are able to watch it after reading this), I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot in this post.

I want to add that the leads of the film, Dennis Morgan and Eleanor Parker, convey a tender romantic chemistry in the film and they make a sweet onscreen couple. For all of the talent he carried within him – in acting and in singing – Dennis Morgan is so underrated. He carried a natural and charming presence onscreen that was really unique. And my, was he handsome.


Even better, it’s airing at 2:30 PM (EST) today – August 24, 2017 – on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). If you’re able to, I highly recommend watching it. 


This post is part of the TCM Summer under the Stars Blogathon, hosted by Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film. Check out other posts highlighting the stars of the month!

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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.

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.

1930s Film, Star Profiles

Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas (1937)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?

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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!

The 1970s in Film

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

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(courtesy of latimes.com)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


Exhibit B:


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Happy watching!