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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 seeBud 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.
“Miss Brown, what idiot ever told you you were a dancer?”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
I don’t know how many times I’ve talked/made references about Meet Me 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”.
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!
Scarlett O’Hara, one of the finest-crafted characters in all of literature and cinema, calls Melanie Hamilton a “pale-faced, mealy-mouthed ninny”, completely jealous because Melanie marries Ashley Wilkes, the man Scarlett is crazy about. Although that phrase is hilarious, it’s crazy inaccurate.
In the 1939 landmark film Gone With the Wind, Melanie is portrayed by Olivia de Havilland with gracious strength and sincerity. Scarlett O’Hara may have been the role of a lifetime (truly, it was) but I think that de Havilland won herself an amazing role, as well. It’s understated. Scarlett O’Hara is usually the first character people think of when they think about Gone With the Wind. Well, that or Rhett Butler. I feel like it’s kind of a tossup. But there are so many characters in the film that are so interesting and complex and Melanie just happens to be one of them.
The following clip shows several other actresses who auditioned for the role of Melanie. Fun fact: Marsha Hunt, who was one of the auditioned actresses, is still alive at the age of 98. She’s in the clip starting at the 1:07 mark:
One could look at Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes and simply find a meek, saccharine, too-kind young lady who sees the world through twenty pairs of rose colored glasses. But that’s really not the way to look at her. I think you have to look below the surface to really appreciate Melanie’s strength. It’s her kindness and graciousness that make her so strong. She forgives, she’s completely accepting of people from different walks of life (Just watch the poignant scene in which she thanks Belle Watling – a prostitute and outcast – for saving Ashley’s life). Unlike many other people, Melanie treats Belle like a human being: a human being that matters; a human being that is on the same level as she is. Personally, I think it’s one of the most touching scenes in the nearly four hour film.
Belle Watling to Melanie: “Mrs Wilkes, there ain’t never been a woman in town that’s been nice to me the way you was; I mean about the money for the hospital, you know, and I don’t forget a kindness. I got to thinkin’ about you bein’ left a widow, with a little boy – he’s a nice little boy, your boy, Mrs Wilkes. I got a boy myself…”
You see Melanie’s kindness and graciousness so well in this scene, too: the famous (or infamous?) Wilkes barbecue. Scarlett gets snarky with Melanie, as she’s just heard the rumor that Melanie and Ashley are going to be married.
The scene, like every other one in the film, is a classic one:
“Oh Scarlett, you have so much life. I’ve always admired you so. I wish I could be more like you.”
But she doesn’t take any nonsense, either. She’s not afraid to defend her life and the lives of those she’s close to if danger comes near. And she’s also not afraid to make quick judgments and trust people when trusting may seem like the bad thing to do to everyone else:
This clip is more for celebrating Olivia de Havilland’s acting and the great detail she puts into illustrating her emotions onscreen. Although Ashley is a questionable love interest, it’s a lovely moment:
Gone With the Wind remains one of the greatest and most beloved films in the history of the universe. Olivia de Havilland’s performance as Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes is one of the most tender and wholehearted that’s ever been seen on celluloid.
As a miscellaneous bonus, here’s an interview from 2006 in which Olivia talks about her initial interest in portraying Melanie in the film, meeting Errol Flynn for the first time, and how she sued Warner Brothers in the landmark case that changed everything in how film contracts worked in the studio system. Go Olivia!