Monday, October 13, 2008

Ah, bio pics!

How I love a good one from the 1930s. And there were so many interesting ones back then. Who cares if they played a little (okay, a lot) loose with the facts? If I want facts, I'll read a book! ;) When I watch a movie, I want to be entertained. And I certainly was by the movie I saw today, a bio pic of Florence Nightingale called The White Angel.

Robert Osbourne felt it necessary in one of his introductions to point out that Kay was known as "the Wavishing Kay Fwancis" around the studio due to her speech impediment. To be honest, I didn't notice it until he pointed out (introducing Mandalay), and then during that film all I could do was listen for it. I didn't think it was as bad as he makes it out, although it's definitely there. However, during The White Angel, I never once thought about it, in main part due to the great story and Kay's acting. I thought the story was well told without being overbearing, as old movies can sometimes be.

Last month was Kay Francis month on TCM, and as a result I've been watching a lot of her movies lately. I think I've found my new favorite pre-Code actress (formerly Barbara Stanwyck); I think Kay's films from the early 30s are some of the best examples of pre-Code. She's a doctor! In more than one movie! You didn't see that very often. Of course she's also lovely to look at and dressed beautifully, but I enjoyed her performances for more than that. I'll be doing a few more entries on her in the near future, I think. Her other films I've seen lately include:

Dr. Monica
Mary Stevens, M.D.
Jewel Robbery (with William Powell, yay!)
Another Dawn (with Errol Flynn, yum)
Guilty Hands

Do I see another box set request on the horizon? I think I do, Ted Turner! (You can leave out Guilty Hands, though. That was kind of meh. Lionel Barrymore sure can chew some scenery, though.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Smell that? It's "The Women"

Thank you, Radar Online, for this handy summary of bad reviews. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

(I don't think I've felt this strongly about a movie since Blues Brothers 2000, or as I like to call it, That Sound You Hear Is John Belushi Spinning In His Grave.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Confessions of a (Mediocre) Nazi Spy

So, onward to Confessions of a Nazi Spy. This was one of the first anti-Nazi films, and I'm hearing various things about whether it was a hit or a flop at the time. I was kind of disappointed that Robinson didn't show up until the second half of the film, but the rabid Germans were enough to hold my interest until then. When I saw George Sanders in the credits, I assumed he would be playing some suave British agent, with that great purring voice of his. Turns out he was one of the lead Nazis, with a "high and tight" haircut and fairly good German accent. In his first scene he's giving a speech to some fellow Nazis and almost frothing at the mouth. As the camera moved in tighter on his face, I kept thinking, "That looks a little like George Sanders. But it can't be. Is it? No, it can't be." It was more difficult than I would have expected to recognize him with the haircut and accent.

As for the Nazi spies...well, let's say it was no surprise they got caught (in the real life case, FBI historian John Fox pointed out, only 3 of the 18 conspirators were caught; in the film they convict about 6, and 2-3 get kidnapped back to Germany by the Gestapo to a fate, we are to assume, worse than death). They all follow the same pattern: first, hysterical denial and demands to be let go. The German consulate will protest this!

Once they realize the jig is up, they all start singing like canaries. If the spy in question happens to be confronted by his menacing colleagues, there are more hysterics along the lines of, "Oh, please, don't send me back to Germany. I can't go back to Germany!" Five minutes ago you were singing the praises of the Fatherland, and now you don't want to go back?

The spy who begins the story gets his job by writing to a German newspaper and volunteering his services. You heard me. All through the movie, he keeps asking George Sanders how much he's going to get paid. No wonder you were the first domino to fall, Schneider. I'm sure a lot of the gratification for audiences came not only with the bad guys getting caught, but getting caught because they were so monumentally stupid.

Robinson is fine as FBI agent Renard; his part is less substanstial than I would have expected, but he does a good job as an FBI agent who gets all the spies to spill their guts. One loose end the movie left was the fate of Schlager/George Sanders. He's not caught or tried, it seems, but we never really see him escape, either. He just disappears about 2/3 of the way through the film and is never mentioned again. Overall, though, it was a pretty good WWII movie, and I would recommend it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet

I'm skipping ahead of myself to talk about Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet. I love a bio pic if it's done well, and this one was. One of my litmus tests: after I see the movie, do I want to learn more about the person? Would I buy a biography of them, if one was available? In this case, the answer was yes. There were so many interesting bio pics back in the 30's and 40's: Marie Antoinette, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, and Queen Christina, to name just a few. (Yes, I realize these movies all took liberties with the facts.) And there are many more fascinating stories to be told; Hollywood, I'm looking in your direction. Why not find someone interesting and historically important, like Paul Ehrlich, and do a bio pic of them, rather than Mission Impossible 4 or a remake of a classic film that was fine in the first place, and yes I mean you, The Women. Ugh, let's not go there. I'm not even going to link it. The trailer commercials I'm seeing now make me grit my teeth.

Anyhow, back to the movie. I was really surprised that the film revealed the true subject of the bulk of Ehrlich's research: syphilis. After all, this is the Code age of Hollywood, (the film was released in 1940) when references to venereal disease were specifically forbidden (along with a bushel of other things). I can't imagine how this one got by Joe Breen, whose enforcement of the Code was "rigid and notorious." They do actually use the word "syphilis" (despite what IMDB would have you believe); there is in fact one amusing scene when Ehrlich, at a society dinner with a potential benefactress, is asked what he's working on, and he matter-of-factly says, "Syphilis." Everyone at the table stops cold and gasps; several reaction shots are shown. (His benefactress is not bothered at all, and does end up funding his research.)

While it's not stated outright that the men (and only men, although one female patient of another doctor is mentioned) Ehrlich treats caught the disease by sleeping around, it is hinted at in oblique ways; Ehrlich tells one patient he can "never get married," and the patient later kills himself.

However Warner Bros. got this one by the censors, I applaud them for doing so, because it is a film well worth seeing. The movie is also stuffed with character actor goodness, including appearances by Otto Kruger, Donald Crisp, Sig Ruman, Donald Meek, Henry O'Neill, Harry Davenport, and Montagu Love.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dr. Clitterhouse, you ARE amazing!

Today I would like to speak of my current classic movie boyfriend, Edward G. Robinson. Between TCM's Eddie G. day on "Summer Under the Stars" and a DVD or two, it has been a regular Ed-fest around here.

Last night I watched The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse. Having watched Little Caesar on Sunday, it was naturally quite a contrast to see Robinson as a character who is intelligent, urbane, cultured, kindly, and has a gentle speaking voice. From what I've read about him, this seems like a role that would be fairly close to his real life (well, except for one thing, which I'm not going to specify because it would spoil the ending). It was a treat to see him in this role after all the "Meh, see?" squealing of LC. Although that also has its place, and I love him in those roles, too.

The movie had my attention from the start; I thought I understood the premise from the summary on my cable recording, but it took me awhile to be sure one way or the other. I love a movie that keeps me guessing like that, and has a few tricky turns on the way to the ending (one plot point in particular had me very surprised). To me, this is one of the most satisfying kinds of movie viewing experiences.

The roles of the gang members and police were filled by some familiar and well-loved character actors (Ward Bond, Allen Jenkins, Donald Crisp, Maxie Rosenbloom), which always adds more to a movie for me. As corny as it sounds, it's like running into old friends to see them listed in the opening credits. You know they're going to give a solid performance, no matter what the role. I enjoyed the interactions between the gang members and Dr. Clitterhouse; I found the respect they had for their "professor" rather touching.

The movie is being released on October 21 as part of the Warner Gangsters Collection, Vol. 4, and it's already on my Amazon wish list.

Next up on the discussion list: Confessions of a Nazi Spy.

Monday, August 04, 2008

They Met In Bombay

July was Roz Russell month on TCM, so I have a boatload of her movies saved on my DVR. Last week I watched They Met in Bombay, which starred Clark Gable in the kind of role I think he does best: the guy whom the girl thinks she hates but is really falling in love with, and he knows it. From almost any other actor, I think I might find that "yeah, baby, you know you love me" attitude annoying, but Gable pulls it off with a sideways glance and crooked grin that I love. Sort of like this, except imagine him looking down at a dame. (Can't get the image to upload, so just a link for now.)

He and Roz are competing jewel thieves who end up escaping from the law together, falling in love, and going straight. Much like the Gable/Harlow movie Hold Your Man, the beginning starts out all snazzy wisecracks and ends up kind of mushy. Roz's doe eyes couldn't have gotten any more limpid or starry, and she did lose a lot of the pizzaz that I usually love her for. I thought some interest was added to the "Gable becomes a hero" part of the story by including Roz in his adventures as a fake Winnipeg Grenadier escaping from the Japanese army; usually the women get left at home during these kinds of escapades.

Included in the cast was one of my favorite character actors, Jessie Ralph, as the raucous and tipsy Duchess of Beltravers. She is a scream in these kind of "fiesty matron" parts; she plays another duchess in The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, which is another role of hers I like. My all time favorite, though, is Jessie as Aunt Katherine ("Nic-oh-las!") in After the Thin Man.

While this movie could easily fall into a "romantic caper" pigeonhole along with dozens of other movies, I would still recommend it.

On a totally unrelated note, IMDB has just informed me that they're remaking The Day The Earth Stood Still. (Keanu Reeves? Really?) Must they remake every classic movie just to jazz it up with CGI and rock music?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Canteen, get your canteen right here

Nothing like a nasty head cold to give you time to catch up on a movie or two. This week on TCM I happened to catch Hollywood Canteen, the movie I really wanted to see when I rented Stage Door Canteen from Netflix. I saw SDC last year, and looking at the cast on Netflix (Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Ray Bolger, and Ethel Merman, among others) I can't say I really remember any of them from the film. It kind of made a non-impression on me, probably in part because I was expecting it to be another movie entirely. But the main plot was three soldiers meet three girls, and I suspect the reason why all the famous faces didn't stick in my memory is because they had very little screen time.

HC, by comparison, was a treat. The cast includes almost all of the Warner Bros. stars, with the "notable exceptions" (says Robert Osbourne) of Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan (and, I note, James Cagney). Ann was offered the lead (played by Joan Leslie) but refused it, because she didn't want any part of a movie that would make a GI think he could come to the canteen and marry a movie star. I guess I see your point, Ann, but come on, do you really think many people would actually believe that? It's for the war effort! Well, Joan did a nice job, and I think she is a better match for Robert Hutton as Cpl. "Slim" Green. Joan has that girl-next-door quality, and Ann I would consider more of a siren, so in this case I think Joan works better in the role. (Although Ann can be quite a good ingenue, as evidenced by her performance in Angels With Dirty Faces. But I tend to think of her more like this.)

The story is based on the actual Hollywood Canteen, founded by Bette Davis, although I don't know if it was actually filmed on location. It was made during the war, so I guess it's possible. During the film John Garfield, another founder, gives a speech about the origins of the canteen, which you can read about at the link above.

(Side note: I was horrified to learn that something called the Hollywood Canteen was reopened in 2001, and "caters to some of Hollywood's biggest names including: Paris Hilton, Marilyn Manson, Keith Jardine, Vince Vaughn, and Lindsay Lohan to name a few." Oh, vomit. Where do I start? If you're going to call it a canteen, then it should be free for service members, like the original was. Oh, wait: Wikipedia tells me that a canteen doesn't necessarily refer to a military eating place, but is rather a type of food service location in which there is little or no table service, whether a restaurant or within an institution such as a large office building or school. Point taken. But still. There's a lot of history behind that name. That sound you hear is Bette Davis spinning in her grave.)

The list of movie stars who volunteered their time to the original canteen is lengthy and impressive. I doubt very much you would see many of today's "stars" (and I use that term loosely) doing anything like this. But maybe that's just cynical me.

(Somewhat related aside: I admire Kathy Griffin for going to Iraq with the USO to entertain the troops, and I love it when she uses that fact to shame loudmouths like Bill Maher who bust on her: "I recently got back from Iraq, when are you going?")

Anyhow, the movie. While the romance between Slim and Joan Leslie is rather hokey, it's still cute and not overplayed. The stars who appeared in the film seem very natural, and you see them not just performing (Andrews Sisters, etc.), but waiting tables (Jack Carson) and washing dishes (Paul Henreid). From the little I've read on the canteen, it seems they really did get out there and mingle with the troops quite a bit. (Another aside for a funny story: a soldier at the canteen bet his friend $5 he couldn't get a kiss from Bette Davis. Bette kissed the soldier when he asked and gave him $5 to pay the bet. Then she gave the other soldier $10 and said, "thanks for believing in my virtue." Heh.)

One of my favorite moments from the film is when Dane Cook, as Sgt. Nowland, is dancing with a woman and says to her, "Has anyone ever told you you look just like Joan Crawford?" The couple pans around as they dance..."By the way, I am Joan Crawford," Joan Crawford says. Another funny moment was the bit with Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.

[after unintentionally scaring away a marine sergeant]
Peter Lorre: [sadly] All I wanted to ask him is to join me in a cigarette!
Sydney Greenstreet: He didn't trust us, Peter.
Peter Lorre: No... and we are such gentle people!
Sydney Greenstreet: Are we? [
bugs eyes out in menacing manner]

(<-- as close as I could get)

Peter Lorre: [Backs away, frightened]

Overall, this movie was a combination of several thing I love to see in a classic film: behind the scenes glimpses of Hollywood, a ton of stars and character actors, a morale boosting WWII movie, and a good portrayal of the times. I would definitely recommend this one.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Roz vs. Joan Smackdown!

One evening this week I was flipping channels and I came across the 1936 movie, "Craig's Wife," which is based on the play by George Kelly and stars Rosalind Russell and John Boles. The movie is probably more well known in its 1950 incarnation, "Harriet Craig," starring Joan Crawford. Yes, that movie about which people say, "oh, it was so much like Joan in real life, with the obsession with material things and general craziness and all that!" And by "people" you know I mean "Christina Crawford."

I like comparing version of classic films; see my earlier entry on "Red Dust" vs. "Mogambo." Maybe I should make that a more regular feature. Yeah, like Character Actors I Love, which I haven't done in forever. Although my virtual cemetery on the subject continues to grow.

So, HC vs. CW. I came into CW about 15 minutes late; Harriet and her niece (I think it's her cousin in HC) are on their way home on the train, having been visiting Harriet's sick sister. I came in right in the middle of a juicy speech in which Harriet explains to her mildly horrified niece her views on marriage: Harriet married so she could be "completely independent" and have her own house, basically. She doesn't love her husband "in that silly, romantic way you mean." So right off we get the character exposition and find out almost all we need to know about Harriet (note I say almost; more on that later).

The story progresses as expected: everyone but Harriet's husband Walter realizes that she's a scheming, manipulative bitch. He just acts like a goofball in love, and while I get the point of that (it makes it all the more shocking later when he does come to see Harriet as she really is), John Boles takes it a little overboard, what with the gushing and turtledove cooing and whatnot. Gradually, people start to withdraw from the home, and especially from Harriet: she herself fires Maisie, the maid; Walter's Aunt Ellen moves out (after giving him a lecture on the subject of his wife), Mrs. Landford, the long-time housekeeper, quits. Ethel, the niece, leaves with her fiancee, who has come to retrieve her, apparently having also sensed Harriet's evil from afar.

There's a murder of one of Walter's friends as part of the plot, but I think I missed out on some of that, because it was just background to the story by the time I came into it. It functions mainly as plot device to really drive home Harriet's manipulations: she gets caught by the police inquiring about the deceased's phone number (spying on her husband, to see what he was up to while she was out of town) and when the detective comes to the house, she lies about it. Walter finds out, and they get into an argument, in which Harriet (sort of) inadvertantly reveals that her main concern is keeping their good name out of a scandal, and not so much whether Walter is innocent or not (he is, it turns out to be a murder/suicide). This is what finally lets the scales drop from Walter's eyes, and after he smashes Harriet's prize knick-knack, they argue some more, and he walks out on her. Harriet exposits that she is obsessed with having a home because her father mortgaged her childhood home to support his mistress, and the family ended up on the street. Walter isn't having any, though. She can have the house, he says, since it's what's really important to her.

The exits of the people involved in Harriet's life have a lot of impact, because they all occur in the last 15-20 minutes of the movie, so you get a sense of this mass exodus from the house. Walter is the last to leave. Right after he drives off, Harriet gets a telegram telling her that her sister died at 6:00 that morning. (This is the sister she left at the beginning of the film, dragging her niece away from her mother because "she didn't know she was that ill.") Harriet flops on the divan to have a good cry, when the next door neighbor Mrs. Frazier comes in with roses from her garden (Harriet never liked her and was jealous of any attention her husband paid to her or her little boy). Harriet, slightly incoherent by this time, accepts them. Mrs. Frazier offers sympathy upon learning of the death in the family, but Harriet's too dazed to really respond, so Mrs. Frazier leaves. Harriet starts to say, "I'm alone in the house, so if you wouldn't mind..." but when she turns to Mrs. Frazier, she's long gone. Harriet starts for the door but can't bring herself to go out. The movie ends with a close-up of Harriet's big eyes leaking tears, and the epitaph "Those that live for themselves are usually left to themselves."

Now, this surprised me, because the version of Harriet in HC (which in the version I saw first), is much more unsympathetic. There is no explanation of her nastiness with a childhood trauma. Joan's Harriet only seems angry when she's thwarted, never upset or scared. (Disclaimer: I haven't seen HC in awhile.) I don't think there's an aunt in the house, but there is a long-time housekeeper, devoted to Mr. Craig, who walks out near the end. Ethel the niece is now Claire the cousin, and her story unfolds more or less the same. The last scene of the movie, if I remember correctly, is Joan walking up the magnificent staircase of her house, now completely alone. She doesn't seem all that upset to have the house to herself. There may have been a few tears on her part through out the movie, but my memory is that they were more for effect than out of sincerity.

Overall, the impression I had of the Harriet character in HC is a much colder woman, and more of a one dimensional character. I thought the two versions of the film made an interesting contrast, however, I liked the earlier version better. (Aside: while Roz is more know for her comedy roles, she was great as the cool, sharp Harriet Craig). I would recommend both films, though.

I don't know which version is closer to the play, but I'll find out when my copy of "Three Plays by George Kelly" arrives from Amazon. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Nope. No, sir, I don't approve.

I have borrowed that line from Disapproving Rabbits to express my feelings about June Allyson's performance in "The Secret Heart." I watched it because it featured her and Claudette Colbert, who I'm really liking right now because I recently saw her in the 1934 "Imitation of Life," and I just finished the book as well (an entry on all of that is forthcoming).

Anyhow, I was talking about June. With her little girl looks and squeaky voice, she is ideal for bubbly musicals like "Till The Clouds Roll By," wherein she does that "Cleopatterer" number (lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse, there's a neat factoid) I keep seeing in the "That's Entertainment!" compilations. I also liked her in "The Glen Miller Story;" that kind of drama works for her. However, in "The Secret Heart," she is supposed to be a disturbed young woman with a mild sort of Electra complex who dislikes her stepmother. I thought her performance was just average; I could not, in my mind, put aside the perky June Allyson long enough to find her credible in this role. When she has a "breakdown" near the end, and ends up temporarily catatonic, then bursts into hysterical tears, I wasn't really moved. Of couse, the movie ends with her miraculous recovery as she moves on with her happy life (apparently crying in the arms of Claudette Colbert is a cure for years of mental illness; who knew?).

Another ho-hum addition to the cast was Walter Pidgeon, who I think works perfectly well in small character roles (I liked him in "The Bad and The Beautiful"), but doesn't have what it takes to pull off a leading man role. That was kind of distracting to me as well. I had the same feeling about him in "That Forsyte Woman;" I just could not buy that Greer Garson would leave Errol Flynn for Pidgeon. Not just because of Pidgeon's looks (which are average at best, although he does have a great, deep voice), but because he was just sort of...meh. No reflection on his acting, he just doesn't thrill me, is I guess what I'm trying to say. I've never been really absorbed in one of her performances.

An amusing fact with which to close: June Allyson guest starred in an episode of "The Incredible Hulk," which tickles me. For some reason it's easier to imagine her as Dr. Kate Lowell than Penny Addams.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Yesterday I watched the 1934 movie "The Barretts of Wimpole Street," with Norma Shearer, Charles Laughton, and Frederic March. Today it is chilly, and pouring rain. On the surface, these two facts may seem unrelated. To me, however, the nasty weather makes me envy Norma Shearer, who got to play most of this role reclining on a beautiful chaise lounge in front of a toasty fire with Flush, the adorable cocker spaniel, curled up in her lap. Right now, that sounds like heaven. (I can't find a picture of Norma in the role, but her lovely chaise lounge looked something like this, only more old-fashioned, with the buttons set deep in the upholstery).

I liked the movie quite a lot. Norma was very good as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and looked just gorgeous in those long curls. I thought Maureen O'Sullivan was too shrill as her sister Henrietta. I understand Henrietta's thwarted love affair and conflicts with their father were to lend drama to the story, but O'Sullivan gave it too much drama, in the scenery eating style you often see in old movies. When she shrieks at her father, "Is it nothing to you that I shall hate you for this to the end of my life?" and he answers, "Less than nothing," I was actually a little bit on his side. And her crying jag as she clings to his knees...dear, please get up and show some dignity. For all our sakes. I found O'Sullivan delightful as a "modern" girl, Dorothy, in "The Thin Man." There, her energy works well with the character. Here, in this period drama, she seems out of place.

It has been said that the scenes between Elizabeth and her father were toned down to lessen the suggestion of his incestous feelings for her. Charles Laughton famously replied, "They can't censor the gleam in my eye," and he was so right. It's rather subtly done at first; you don't get the idea right from the start that he's panting after his own daughter. He just seems like a big old control freak, who dominates over all his children. As the movie progresses, more and more hints come out that Elizabeth is his favorite child, in both (relatively) good ways and really, really bad ways. He's a master at manipulating her (and the rest of his children) with guilt trips.

Then there is the scene near the end, right before she runs away to marry Browning, where her father grabs her and goes on and on about how the family will move away to the country and Elizabeth will be his confidant and his comfort and...okay, now it's extremely icky. Sneaking out of the house with only the clothes on her back and her dog suddenly seems like a great idea. And she does. In a final touch of evil, Laughton orders one of Elizabeth's brothers to find her dog, take it to the vet, and have it destroyed. Henrietta triumphantly informs her father that Elizabeth has taken the dog with her.

Frederic March as Robert, March has never really done anything for me. He was good in "Anna Karenina," and "Susan and God," but I never see a movie listing and think to myself, "oooh, Frederic March, yay!" You don't actually see Browning much in the movie, so March made his usual non-impression on me.

Overall, I would recommend this movie, and was disappointed to learn that it's not out on DVD yet. In my world, it would be released as a Norma Shearer boxset with the following other movies (I'm only choosing ones that have not already been released on DVD):

Idiot's Delight (seeing Clark Gable perform "Puttin' on the Ritz" should be on every classic movie lover's list)
Strange Interlude
Romeo and Juliet
Private Lives

Two of Norma's movies have recently been released on DVD as part of the Forbidden Hollywood, Vol. 2 collection: "The Divorcee" and "A Free Soul."

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The funniest movie I'd never heard of

Robert Osbourne said it in the introduction, so it must be true: this is a great screwball comedy, written by Billy Wilder, that often gets overlooked. Well, as it turns out, I agree with him. I'd taped it last week and got to watch it this afternoon. I wasn't familiar with the movie at all before, but I'm sure glad I am now.

I'll crib a plot summary from IMDB: Showgirl Eve [Claudette Colbert], stranded in Paris without a sou, befriends taxi driver Tibor Czerny [Don Ameche], then gives him the slip to crash a party. There she meets Helene Flammarion [Mary Astor] and her gigolo Picot, who's attracted to Eve. Helene's scheming husband Georges [John Barrymore] enlists Eve's aid in taking Picot away from his wife. It works well... at first. Meanwhile, lovestruck Tibor searches for Eve. But then he learns she's calling herself Baroness Czerny!

You could say this is a typical 30's "mistaken identity" comedy, and you'd be mostly right. I have to say, though, some of the plot twists were rather clever. Just when you think Claudette Colbert is going to be found out, she or John Barrymore come up with some spur of the moment story to save their skins. Quite creative stories, too. Barrymore is a delight, especially in the scene where he's portraying Eve's imaginary daughter Francie on the phone: "Dada? Is that you?" If you see it on the TCM schedule again, check it out (or you can, as Robert helpfully pointed out, buy it on DVD).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Inside jokes are hilarious

Today I rewatched an old favorite, "It's a Great Feeling," with Jack Carson, Doris Day, and Dennis Morgan. I love this film in part because it's one huge inside joke; Doris Day is a young girl from Gurkey's Corners, Wisconsin who's in Hollywood to become a movie star, and she's discovered by Morgan and Carson, who play themselves. As do a host of other Warner Bros. stars, such as Edward G. Robinson, Joan Crawford (whose scene I just adore, it's so funny), Gary Cooper ("Yep"), Sydney Greenstreet, Danny Kaye, Patricia Neal, Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman (and daughter Maureen Reagan), and directors Michael Curtiz (who famously said, "Bring on the empty horses!" the title of David Niven's autobiography), King Vidor, and Raoul Walsh. The running joke is that no one at Warners' wants to work with Jack Carson because he's "such a ham." Which he sometimes was, but I love him for it. He was so great in "Mildred Pierce." I love his line, "Oh, boy, I'm so smart it's a disease."

Doris Day goes through various adventures trying (with help from Jack and Dennis) to win the attention of studio head Arthur Trent. In the end (and I have to spoil the ending because it is so damn cute) she winds up going home to Wisconsin to marry her fiance, Jeffrey Bushdinkle, played in a wee little cameo by...Errol Flynn. I fall out laughing every time I see that. The movie overall is really funny, and I highly recommend it, if you should happen to come across it on TCM.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Life Between Takes"

Right now I'm reading a great book, Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes. I've long thought that she was an underrated and underappreciated star, and it's great to see a full-length book about her. It was written with the participation of her children, Ellen and Norman Powell, so it's full of all kinds of wonderful personal details. I highly recommend it.