Pre-Code Hollywood, Star Profiles

Celebrating Ruby Keeler: “Gold Diggers of 1933” ☆

August 19, 2016: Ruby Keeler Day for TCM’S Summer Under the Stars

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(photo courtesy of doctormacro.com)

1933 was an amazing year for Hollywood…. It was an especially amazing year for a young lady named Ruby Keeler. Today, the name Ruby Keeler is a name that is nearly forgotten, save for classic film fans-particularly those who are hardcore fans of 1930s Warner Bros. musicals. Ruby found herself a film star when she appeared in not one, but three, major Hollywood musicals that year: 42nd StreetFootlight Parade, and…

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Ruby Keeler portrayed Polly Parker in Gold Diggers of 1933, which was Ruby’s second film; it was released just two months after her star-making debut in 42nd Street. Gold Diggers of 1933 was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and the musical numbers were created and directed by one of my personal favorite icons of classic film, Busby Berkeley.

Polly is the true ingenue of the film. From the get-go, we are introduced to Polly and her friends: Carol (Joan Blondell), Trixie (played hilariously by Aline MacMahon), and Fay (Ginger Rogers).

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Top to Bottom: Polly (Ruby Keeler), Carol (Joan Blondell), and Trixie (Aline MacMahon)

Carol is a torch singer, Trixie is a comedienne, and Fay is the beauty who is wicked sassy and often rivals the other girls; they bicker a lot. Polly (Ruby Keeler) finds herself falling in love with the boy next door, an aspiring songwriter and singer who often croons to her from his piano across from their window. Letting Trixie know that she’s smitten, Trixie reminds her that she’s only known Brad (Dick Powell) for two weeks, but Polly insists that two weeks is more than enough to fall in love with someone. Is this a true notion? Make the decision for yourself:

They are all showgirls on the stage, but they find themselves out of work by way of the Great Depression. After the opening number “We’re In the Money”, we see the show that they are rigorously rehearsing for is being closed. After accepting unemployment and no foreseeable future of success, the girls quickly find out from Fay that Barney Hopkins, the producer of the show they were supposed to be in, has a new show that he’s going to be producing.

Hopkins pays a visit to the girls at their apartment and brings great hope and then disappointment to them, as he announces that he has a great idea for a new show but no means of money in order to produce it. Brad suddenly jumps up and promises that he’ll supply the $15,000 to fund his play but he refuses to perform in it, which sends up a red flag for the girls and Hopkins. They believe Brad is fooling them about the $15,000, which leaves Polly especially upset. They can’t figure him out and become skeptical of his intentions.

The next day, Brad pulls through and supplies the money -in cash – much to everyone’s relief.

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(courtesy of movpins.com)

The show goes forward, but the girls are still skeptical about him. Why won’t he appear in the show when he is clearly more talented than its male lead? They put pieces together and come to the conclusion that he must be a criminal and that he is trying to keep his name and face out of the public eye. However, the truth is that Brad is the son of a millionaire. The rest of his family rejects the idea of his interest in being in the theater business, believing that it is a cheap and dishonorable profession to pursue.

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Polly (Ruby Keeler) and Trixie (Aline MacMahon) find reason to believe that Brad is a criminal in hiding.  (photo courtesy of movpins.com)

However, when the male lead hurts himself right before the curtain opens on opening night, Brad is forced to go on in his place, as he’s the only one who can perform the part. He receives notice from the public and critics and lands on the next day’s newspaper. He and Polly also enter into a romantic relationship and the rest of the girls come around to liking him.

Here are a couple of clips from Polly and Brad’s first musical number together. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the whole number, so here are two great fragments:

Enter Brad’s family: They find out what he’s up to and decide to visit him immediately in order to stop his involvement in the theater and with a “cheap chorus girl”. Brad’s brother, J. Lawrence Bradford (Warren William, always a welcome face in Pre Code films) and the family lawyer Fanuel H. Peabody (Guy Kibbee, hilarious as always) make the trip to find and reform Brad.

Well, instead of finding Brad or Polly, they first come into contact with Carol (Joan Blondell) and believe that she is Polly. Trixie (Aline MacMahon) is with her and without having to say a word to each other, they both decide to play a little prank on the men who believe that “Polly” is a trampy chorus girl who can just be sent away with money. Realizing that these rich men are trying to tell off the wrong girl, they make it a game and become comedic gold diggers, seducing them in a turn of total irony.

Once Polly (Ruby Keeler) learns about the trick, she plays along and pretends to be Carol. Along the way, she proves that she is a nice and respectable girl, leading J. Lawrence Bradford to believe that his brother should instead fall in love with her. Hmm.

I leave the plot there, though. For those who may have not watched it yet (and have read up until this point), I don’t want to give it all away!

If you haven’t watched Gold Diggers of 1933, you really need to. The musical numbers are phenomenal, the story is hilarious and engaging, the cast is amazing, and our Star of the Day, Ruby Keeler, is irresistibly adorable.


Now, Ruby Keeler’s dancing style is totally her own. While many people find her to be a not-so-great dancer who looks at her feet way too much, I find her style to be quirky and fun. Sure, compared to Eleanor Powell, she wasn’t quick and as coordinated, but she was so cute. I think her clunky style is really cool. She was a buck dancer, meaning that her style was much different from the style of most dancers from the Golden Age of Hollywood. She meant to be clunky and it was more about rhythm and moving the lower part of the body.

Ruby even once said, “It’s really amazing. I couldn’t act. I had that terrible singing voice, and now I can see I wasn’t the greatest tap dancer in the world, either.” She also said, “I was all personality and no talent.” Ruby, girl, I think you had talent. You were such an important figure during those years of The Great Depression. You were a bright face in a time of total unrest.

Here’s a nice tribute that was made for Ruby using clips from several of the musicals she appeared in during the 1930s:

If you have Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and have a Twitter account, I recommend joining the #TCMParty crowd on Friday, August 19th at 6:00 PM (EST) as Gold Diggers of 1933 will be airing then. The live-tweeting is always especially fun during Pre-Code Busby Berkeley musicals. Happy watching!


This post is a part of the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Journeys in Classic Film. Click here to read the other entries for each Star of the Day.

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Holidays in Film

#PayClassicsForward: A Christmas Special

Well, we’ve nearly made it to another Christmas. In the life of an ultra-enthusiastic classic film fan, this time of year rules. I’ve got my stack of DVDs, but I get most excited about checking out Turner Classic Movie’s holiday lineup each year. Within this list you will find photos, commentary, and video clips linked for optional viewing.

Let’s go!


ONE Directorial Debut:

À bout de souffle (Breathless) – 1960, dir. Jean-Luc Godard

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TWO Duos:

Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon

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Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

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THREE Foreign Films:

Une femme est une femme (A Woman is A Woman) – 1961   [France]

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Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg)- 1963  [France]

[Two brief notes: This film was shot in beautiful color and the sets and costumes are vividly colorful. Also, the dialogue is entirely sung. Click here to listen to the soundtrack; it’s gorgeous. There are no subtitles with this audio, but I encourage you to listen anyway.]

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Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika) – 1953   [Sweden]

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FOUR Soundtracks:

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

(click here to hear the suite)

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Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

(click here to hear the soundtrack)

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The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

(Click here to hear parts of the score)

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Gone With the Wind (1939)

(click here to hear the musical score suite)

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FIVE Westerns:

Stagecoach (1939)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) – Not considered to be a western in most cases, but it can be argued. It’s a Western musical!

Oklahoma! (1955) – See commentary on 7BF7B.

Dances With Wolves (1990)

The Wind (1928)

[I feel I should note that this genre of classic film is probably the only one that I’ve barely touched, which is probably pretty obvious from the list. A new year’s resolution: Watch more Westerns!]


 SIX Dance Routines:

Be sure to click on the links to watch these musical numbers I’ve shared. They are well worth a view (or fifty).

By a Waterfall : Footlight Parade (1933) – choreographed by legendary Busby Berkeley. It’s a water ballet (just like the next one is) but I think it’s fair game! This one features one of my favorites (Ruby Keeler), Dick Powell, and a bevy of chorus girls. It’s tough to choose just one of his musical numbers to list. I’d list all of his Pre-Code Warner Bros. numbers if I could.

Gene Kelly’s roller-skate tap dance in It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) : This one will always put you in a good mood. Whether you’re actually in love in real life or not, you will be for 4+ minutes when you watch this.

Esther Williams in Million Dollar Mermaid (1952): This water ballet was choreographed by Busby Berkeley and performed by actress/swimming star Esther Williams and many other swimmers. Any time Esthers jumps into a pool, you can be guaranteed a fun time.

A Lot of Livin’ To DoBye Bye Birdie (1963) – fun choreography, amazing early ’60s youth fashion, and a catchy beat. Plus, I’m in love with Ann-Margret’s pink frilly outfit. Anyone else?

All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm : A Day at the Races (1937) – This one is amazing. Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, a group of extremely talented dancers, get a musical feature in the middle of a Marx Brothers movie. The coolest part is that they’re all African Americans. This is the same group who rocked the heck out of a Lindy hop number in Hellzapoppin’ (1941).

All That Jazz (1979) finale: This one’s kind of life changing – no pun intended. Bob Fosse, who directed Cabaret (1972) –one that’s become a favorite of mine — does wonders with this film. The ending of the film really intrigued me. I was stunned.


 

SEVEN Comedies:

The Thin Man (1934)

Is there anything wrong with this film? I don’t think so. William Powell and Myrna Loy charm audiences of all decades as Nick and Nora Charles, a married couple who balance solving crimes + downing martinis + flirting with each other perfectly. They’re a couple who have a passion for the finer things in life – including alcohol and each other. Nick and Nora taught 1930s audiences that marriage really can be fun and sexy.

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It Happened One Night (1934)

This is where the chick-flick really began. We, the audience, get to hop on a bus with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and watch a bickering roadside romance brew. Tear down the Walls of Jericho!

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Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Talk about a fun movie – this one has it all. It’s Pre-Code, which means that the content was a bit more risqué than anything filmed after 1934. There are innovative and captivating musical numbers choreographed by Busby Berkeley, romance, and highbrow hi-jinks carried out by a strong ensemble of women, portrayed by Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, and Aline MacMahon.

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Animal Crackers (1930)

Although this is not one of the Marx Brothers’ most popular or well-known films, Animal Crackers may be their zaniest. It was their second film – in the days that they were still headquartered at Paramount. Their Paramount films are extra fun because they avoided contrived plots, unlike some of their films made at MGM after they began there in 1935.

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Ball of Fire (1941)

Dorky meets sexy in this Howard Hawks-directed film starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Cooper portrays Bertram Potts, an English professor who is working with a group of other professors to create an encyclopedia of human knowledge. When the men decide to scrap their original idea and begin working on an encyclopedia of modern slang, Potts meets his match in nightclub singer Sugarpuss O’Shea (Stanwyck). Lots of laughs and sexual tension ensue. This is an amazing movie. If you’re a fan of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, you’ll really love it.

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Safety Last! (1923)

One of the finest silent comedies ever. It’s available on Blu-ray and DVD. There are also a couple of full versions of this film uploaded on YouTube.

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The Women (1939)

This movie is the ultimate cat-fight comedy. Norma Shearer portrays Mary Haines, a woman who, through nail salon gossip, finds out that her husband is cheating on her. Her friends (some of them are true “frenemies”) get tangled up in the gossip and their own drama. Add in Joan Crawford as Mr. Haines’s ‘side chick’ and scene stealer Rosalind Russell and you’ve got one of the finest comedies ever created.

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EIGHT Films Noir:

White Heat (1949)

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Gun Crazy (1950)

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The Big Sleep (1945)

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Strangers on a Train (1951)

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Laura (1944)

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Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

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Double Indemnity (1944)

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Sunset Boulevard (1950)

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NINE Inspiring Movies:

The Sound of Music (1965): A young nun who sings, dances, and becomes a governess to a large family – This may be the most generic summary for the film, but just about everyone knows how it goes. This one never gets old for me.

Dead Poets Society (1989): Okay, I know this one is considered to be modern in classic film reference, but this one is too great to keep off this list. It’s a classic.

You Can’t Take it With You (1938): This is another Frank Capra classic filled with social commentary. I love, love, love its message. This story revolves around the courtship between the son (Jimmy Stewart) of a wealthy and stuck up family and the daughter (Jean Arthur) of a poor, kind, and eccentric family.

Stage Door (1937): A group of aspiring actresses reside in a boardinghouse share their dreams and fears with each other and the audience in this tearjerker. This is a great story that illustrates the importance of female friendships and the bonds they can create. It boasts an awesome ensemble cast, including Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, a very young Ann Miller, Eve Arden, and Adolphe Menjou.

Sullivan’s Travels (1941): A popular film director (Joel McCrea) goes on the road to experience life as a hobo in order to make his next film a great one. He finds out some important life lessons along the way.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927): This is not only one of the greatest silent films ever created; it’s one of the best films ever created. In a nutshell, it teaches us that the power of love and forgiveness must prevail over all. Click here to watch the entire film on Youtube.

Pollyanna (1960): A young girl (Hayley Mills, adorable as ever) takes a dreary turn-of-the-century town by storm and teaches all of its citizens how to be happy and kind to each other. It will never leave you in a bad mood – I can promise you that.

Fiddler on the Roof (1971): The three oldest daughters of a poor Jewish family living in turn-of-the-century Russia follow their hearts (against their father’s will) and find love on their own.The results – and the musical soundtrack – are magical.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): This is a movie that I wish everyone would watch. It revolves around three men who served during World War II and their experiences upon returning to civilian life. Each has his own experiences with returning to loved ones. This one is a tearjerker and it’s worth every minute of viewing time.


 

TEN Performances:

Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind (1939)

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Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas (1937)

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Eleanor Parker in Caged (1950)

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Judy Garland in A Star is Born (1954)

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The principal cast of The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

[Yeah, I couldn’t choose between them – They were all that good]

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Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958): I honestly hope I can be as cool as Auntie Mame when I grow older.

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Liza Minnelli in Cabaret (1972)

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James Cagney in White Heat (1949)

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Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind (1960)

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Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass (1961)

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 ELEVEN Movies for Children

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944): Ahhh, my favorite movie of all time. I grew up watching this one all the time with my Grandma. Many consider this film as a Christmas movie (as I do now, even though I mostly consider it a year-round film) but I used to watch it religiously all year long. I will always be madly in love with this movie.

Pollyanna (1960): I mentioned this one in the “Nine Inspiring Movies” section. I grew up with this one, too. I love it just as I did when I was a little girl. Hayley Mills is everything.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960): One of the coolest adventure movies ever – a childhood highlight.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954): Another great adventure story.

Mary Poppins (1964): Does this one need any explaining?

The Wizard of Oz (1939): Does this one need any explaining, either?

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971): This one may get a bit dark in places (Well, really just the trippy boat scene) but it’s one of the coolest movies you can watch as a kid, teen, or adult.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968): This movie will probably give you the creeps, but it somehow works really well as a children’s film. The soundtrack is extremely fun, too.

Peter Pan (1952): I think most of us watched this one growing up (no pun intended). No further explanation needed!

Anne of Green Gables (1985): This one veers on the modern side, but I can’t not include it. I grew up on the Canadian “Anne” miniseries. It’s one of the most spectacular films you will ever watch.

Sherlock Jr. (1924): Every kid should be treated to a silent comedy. I think Buster Keaton is the best choice, too. This one’s a fun movie that I think children would appreciate.


 

TWELVE Heroes

Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Mahatma Gandhi – Gandhi (1982)

Marty – Marty (1955)

Mr. Chips and Katherine – Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

Lou Gehrig – The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Spartacus – Spartacus (1960)

Cal Trask – East of Eden (1955)

Susy Hendrix – Wait Until Dark (1967)

Nick and Nora Charles – The Thin Man (1934)

Johnny Case – Holiday (1938)

Lily Powers – Baby Face (1933)

Jefferson Smith –Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

 


 

This challenge was created by Aurora over at aurorasginjoint.com – Even though it’s Christmas Eve, I still challenge you to pass this on in your own way and on your own time!

Happy Holidays —

Love, Meredith

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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy watching.

Fashion in Film

Liebster Award

A big thank you to Paula (Paula’s Cinema Club) for nominating my blog for a Liebster award! Paula owns and operates Cinema Detroit along with her husband. It is an independent movie theater that shows everything from classic films to contemporary indie films. She also plays a big part in hosting “TCM parties” (#TCMParty) on Twitter. Anyone who is able to tune into the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel and has a Twitter account is able to participate in these live discussions. It’s great and allows classic film fans from around the country and even around the world to network in ways that weren’t possible before. Thanks Paula for all that you do!

The rules for this event:

  • The bloggers who have been nominated must link back to the person who nominated them.
  • Nominees must answer the eleven questions given to them by the person who nominated them.
  • Those nominated must choose eleven of their favorite bloggers who have less than 200 followers to answer their own set of questions. Don’t forget to notify them, leave a comment somewhere on their blog.
  • When you are nominated, you cannot nominate the person who nominated you.

Paula’s list of questions:

1. St. Patrick’s Day was this week. What is your favorite film set in Ireland?

I admit, I’ve probably seen a grand total of two movies set in Ireland, now that I think of it. I will go with Little Nellie Kelly (1940) starring Judy Garland, although I didn’t particularly love it, as much as I love Judy.

2. What movie job would you like to try? Director, screenwriter, stuntperson, costumer….?

Costuming would be so fun, but I think I would be best at screenwriting. I would love to write a really witty script like the old screwball comedies or a hysterical cult-classic mockumentary like This is Spinal Tap (1984). Those genres would be especially fun.

3. Under what circumstances, if any, would you appear on a reality TV show?

Oh, wow. Hmm. If the show were actually intelligent and worthwhile, and if I had a good reason to be on it. Sounds vague, but it just really depends. A lot of those shows are just dumb/worthless/trashy and most of the “stars” get paid way too much for basically living life and showing off in front of a camera for millions of people to see. I’d rather be on one of those shows if we could teach people valuable life lessons.

4. There’s a lot of mediocre sequels around, but are there any films that should have a sequel but don’t?

How about Gone with the Wind 2? Totally kidding. But I’ll be honest, I’m so curious as to what happens to Scarlett and Rhett after the ending. But part of the movie magic is the uncertainty they left us with at the end of the movie. It’s left up to our personal interpretations. Another one I’m going to throw out is It Happened One Night. I’m half-joking but I’ll admit that I would love to see a movie follow up on Peter and Ellie’s lives after they’ve torn down the “walls of Jericho” on their wedding night. Do we see them raising children and teaching them how to properly dunk a donut? Do we see them arguing with each other over just about everything and see that they make up every time they argue?  With that being said, I’m glad a sequel was not made, because it would’ve had to have been extremely well-made to compare to the original film and that would be a difficult task. So when it comes down to it, I can’t really think of a movie sequel that I wholeheartedly believe should have been made. I’ll get back to you if I can ever think of one!

5. Have you had any brushes with fame…where and who was the famous person?

I did get to meet legendary St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Lou Brock and got an autograph back in 2006. He was an incredibly sweet man in person and he’s now 74 years old. I have yet to meet any movie or television stars but I’m planning on writing some fan mail to a handful of aging stars when I get some free time over the summer. I’ve had a couple actors respond to Tweets that I’ve sent them, which made me so excited!

6. What is your favorite time of day?

I am a night owl through and through.

7. Who should play you in your biopic?

I’m going to go with young Doris Day. Of course, she’d have to dye her hair brown. I don’t have her wonderful singing skills, but I’m okay. I just feel like our personalities (at least her onscreen personalities) are fairly similar.

8. Is there a book that has not been made into a movie that you think would be good?

I can’t think of any at the moment. If I would have answered this a year ago, I would have said The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. But the movie has recently been filmed and will be released in theaters in June. I’m really excited. It’s going to be emotional.

9. Sleepless night…do you get up and do something, stay still and try to relax, or….?

Often, I make the mistake of staying still which usually does not help when I’m experiencing a sleepless night. I hate being restless, but it happens a lot. My caffeine problem probably contributes a lot to this problem…It’s smart, at least for me, to get up and grab any kind of reading material and read for awhile until your eyes start feeling worn out. That will sometimes work.

10. Do you have a recurring dream?

No, but I have dreamed about a couple of people that I know in real life multiple times and those dreams are usually very similar.

11. Fill in the blank: People would be surprised that I really like __________________.

Being exposed to all different kinds of ways of thinking. I like learning about different people’s beliefs and whatnot. I’m striving to be open-minded. Sometimes I’m not sure if people know that or not. Going in a different direction–I also recently became a big fan of the ’60s band/TV show The Monkees and I’ve developed a crush on Michael Nesmith. He’s really underrated in the music world and ended up doing a lot of solo work after The Monkees split up. His specialty is southern rock/folk–in fact he was one of the pioneers of country rock– and discovering his work is really fun. To those out there who know my taste in music, they’d probably be surprised to find that I have music on my iPhone music library that could be considered country in nature, at least in Mike Nesmith’s own sort of unique way. Apart from Nez, I’ve yet to branch out into other country music.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Thanks again for the nomination, Paula. Unfortunately I am pretty busy at the moment, or I would definitely take the time to nominate other bloggers and pass this along. This is an honor and has been fun to answer these questions!

Take care,

Meredith

Star Profiles

Gordon MacRae: A Birthday Tribute to an Underrated Talent

Gordon MacRae will probably always be best known for his unforgettable role as Curly in Oklahoma! (1955). He was an incredibly handsome dark-haired man with a rich, strong baritone singing voice. His roles were usually those of the clean-cut boy-next-door. MacRae was born Albert Gordon MacRae in East Orange, New Jersey on March 12, 1921. When he was young he started participating in drama club and began learning how to play several musical instruments. During World War II, he served as a navigator in the United States Army Air Force. In 1942, Gordon made his Broadway debut in the show “Junior Miss”. By 1947, he was signed to a recording contract with Capitol Records when he was discovered by them. Starting in 1949, Gordon began starring in movie musicals. The first was Look for the Silver Lining, co-starring June Haver and Ray Bolger. In 1950, MacRae made the first of five successful musical films with co-star Doris Day- Tea for Two.

Oklahoma!

Since I was a little girl, Oklahoma! (1955) has been one of my favorite musicals. Starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, this film is set in turn-of-the-century Oklahoma territory. It tells the story of a cowboy named Curly (Gordon MacRae) and a farm girl, Laurey (Shirley Jones), two young adults who–despite being in love with each other–are too prideful and stubborn to admit it. It takes Curly awhile to finally win her over and to fight off Laurey and Aunt Eller’s ranch hand, Jud Fry (Rod Steiger), who is also romantically interested in Laurey–to a really creepy extent. The movie is led by a vivacious supporting cast including Gloria Grahame as Ado Annie, Eddie Albert as the smooth-talking peddler Ali Hakim, and Charlotte Greenwood as Aunt Eller. If you’re like me and you love old romantic musicals, I highly recommend watching Oklahoma! if you’ve never seen it. Gordon MacRae’s performance is one that I personally believe made him a true talented heartthrob. I’m not sure how long I’ve had a crush on Curly, but I suspect I have since I was a little girl. Every time I watch the movie there’s no doubt I love him. Every time I hear him sing “People Will Say We’re in Love” and  every time I watch him propose to Laurey, I get the “butterflies in my tummy” feeling. It must be true love.

Gordon and Shirley worked together again the next year for the second and last time in another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical- Carousel (1956). The tone is much different than in Oklahoma! but MacRae and Jones are wonderful together yet again. MacRae shines in his role.

* Side note: I’ve heard that there will be a showing of this Oklahoma at the TCM Film Festival this year–newly restored–which I’m sure will be fun to watch on the big screen. Unfortunately I will not be attending this year.

Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones in Oklahoma! (courtesy of doctormacro.com)
Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones in Oklahoma! (courtesy of doctormacro.com)

On Moonlight Bay

One of Gordon MacRae’s other films I want to highlight is called On Moonlight Bay (1951). This was the third film he made with Doris Day. The movie is set just before World War I in a small town in Indiana. MacRae plays William Sherman, an ambitious but money-loathing college student who lives across the street from tomboy teenager Marjorie Winfield (Doris Day). At the beginning of the movie, Marjorie only cares about baseball and doesn’t seem to even realize boys exist. This all changes when she meets William one day. When she realizes she may have feelings for William, Marjorie decides to ditch her baseball garb and opts to dress like a “proper” young lady. She even decides to take dancing lessons to impression William. There is a lot more that goes on in the movie, but I won’t give any more of it away for those who have not seen it. It’s worthwhile to mention that this movie has a great supporting cast. Perhaps my favorite screen father figure ever, Leon Ames, stars as the patriarch of the Winfield family. His character is very similar to the character he played in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944): stern, and at times moody; but completely lovable and really funny. Rosemary DeCamp plays Mrs. Winfield, Billy Gray plays young Westley Winfield (a hilarious performance given by Gray), and Mary Wickes plays the family’s wisecracking maid, Stella. For fellow fans of Meet Me in St. LouisOn Moonlight Bay is comparable to that film in several ways (Leon Ames portraying the family father in both films is just one). It may not be quite as great as the latter, but for a light romantic comedy musical, it’s fantastic. For someone like me, watching 90 minutes of that stuff is heavenly.

Gordon was married to his wife Sheila (who actually just passed away about one week ago) from 1941-1967 and they had four children: Meredith, Heather, Gar, and Robert Bruce MacRae. After they divorced, Gordon married Elizabeth Lamberti in ’67 and they had one child: Amanda. They were married until his death. MacRae’s later life was unfortunately not an entirely happy one. In the late 1950s and 1960s, he began drinking heavily and eventually became an alcoholic. He went on to receive help and by the 1970s recovered from his alcoholism and even began helping others who were dealing with their own struggles. When he sobered up, he continued to record music and appear on television. In 1982, he suffered a stroke but kept performing when his health would allow him to. In 1986, Gordon MacRae died at his home in Lincoln, Nebraska from pneumonia, which resulted from complications from cancer of the jaw and mouth. He was 64 years old.

I wish there were more people today who knew the name of Gordon MacRae because he deserves to be remembered for being a great actor and–in my opinion–one of the finest singers in Hollywood history and one of the handsomest leading actors during the Golden Age.

Happy birthday Gordon. I’ll always love you.

Meredith

Fashion in Film

Kansas Silent Film Festival

I officially attended my first film festival this past weekend. My dad and I made the journey to the city of Topeka, which is roughly 4 1/2 hours from our home, to join fellow classic film fans in a weekend of silent film bliss at the 18th annual Kansas Silent Film Festival. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s famous “Little Tramp” character, so Modern Times (1936) was screened in honor of the milestone (we were unfortunately unable to attend this screening). The two other themes were “Hollywood on Hollywood” and “early animation”. My dad and I actually weren’t able to attend most of the screenings due to the threat of a winter storm–which turned out to be a bit of a dud, in my opinion, but at least we played it safe. Fortunately, we were at least able to enjoy two full-length films: Doubling for Romeo (1921) and The Patsy (1928) and a few short silent films; and for that I am grateful.

Location of the 18th annual Kansas Silent Film Festival: White Concert Hall, Washburn University
Location of the 18th annual Kansas Silent Film Festival: White Concert Hall, Washburn University

We arrived a bit late on Friday evening and missed the first feature film Ella Cinders (1926) , but luckily we arrived shortly before Doubling for Romeo, a hysterical love

Will Rogers and Sylvia Breamer in Doubling for Romeo (1921)
Will Rogers and Sylvia Breamer in Doubling for Romeo (1921); courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

story starring Will Rogers–filled with satire aimed at Hollywood and one-liners, many of them intermixed with Shakespearean dialogue. The story follows an awkward but endearing cowboy named Sam Cody (Will Rogers) who just doesn’t know how to “make love” (different connotation back in the 1920s, mind you) to the girl he likes. Lulu, his love interest, (portrayed by Sylvia Breamer) tells him that men in the movies–namely the suave Douglas Fairbanks– all know how to make love to women and that he should look to them for inspiration. Cody decides to head out west to Hollywood and becomes a not-so-successful stunt double in the motion picture industry. I won’t give away any more, but I will mention that there is a brilliant comedic dream sequence in which Cody dreams himself into the world ofRomeo and Juliet, which is a highlight in the film. Unfortunately it is not available on DVD, which is a real shame because I would be interested in owning this film.

Day 2 of the festival began with a few cartoon shorts from that spanned from the turn-of-the-century to the 1920s. It was very enjoyable. Then came the first feature film of the day:

The Patsy— starring Marion Davies, tells the story of a young woman, “Pat” (Marion Davies), a kindhearted Cinderella- esque girl who is desperately in love with her sister’s suitor, Tony, and faces mistreatment by her mother (portrayed by the always-wonderful Marie Dressler) and sister at home. She finds comfort in her loving father (Dell Henderson), who brings out the best in her. We see that Pat’s sister does not really love Tony, which is illustrated at one point in the film when she completely ignores poor Tony at a dinner party to pursue another gentleman. All the while, Pat tries to make Tony take notice of her–she even goes as far as to create a make believe crush in order to seek advice from Tony on how to make the “other man” fall in love with her. This film contains the famous scene in which Marion Davies was able to show off her gift for doing impressions. She showcases this talent in one scene by mimicking three famous actresses of the day: Mae Murray, Lillian Gish, and Pola Negri.

Being able to see silent films on the big screen is something of a novelty now, but it’s so much more than that. We, the people of the 21st century, get a glimpse of what it was like to go to the movies when the motion picture was coming of age. I think it’s also worth noting that watching silent films with live musical accompaniment really adds to the experience. I hope to return to the festival next year and hopefully I’ll be able to attend more of the screenings than I did this year. In the meantime, I will try to delve into the world of silent film by means of TCM, my local library (they have a good Buster Keaton DVD collection), and even Netflix streaming.

A very happy Tuesday evening to you,

Meredith