Thursday, February 15, 2024

I Don’t Care How the Sausage is Made: Give Me the Magic, Give Me the Make-Believe

I've been blogging a long time (13 + years) – lately not so much. I mean, after a while, you kind of run out of novel things to say. Plus – man, are there some great classic film bloggers out there. I am amazed, not only at their writing ability, but at their intricate knowledge of all the things that go into making movies. You know, all that behind-the-scenes stuff, like writing, directing, cinematography, etc.

It might be hard to keep your mind on the screen here....

Alas, I am nowhere in the same league. Sometimes I just feel like throwing in the towel because I am not an expert in anything (and don’t have the nerve to pass myself off as one).


But I do admit you would have to go a long way to find my equal when it comes to being starstruck. Those pictures you see of the enraptured movie goer, sitting on the edge of their seat, hand poised between popcorn and mouth, eyes wide and glued to the screen? Yup, that’s me.

Yes, Mia, I totally get it.

Billy Wilder has William Holden as Joe Gillis in “Sunset Boulevard” say “Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.” Of course I know that. But, when I’m lost in a film, I don’t care. I want to believe. Maybe that’s the filmmakers curse – they work so hard at make believe that their own contribution is ultimately ignored. Do you sit though all of the interminable credits at the end of the film these days? I don’t. I just want to see who was in it.

You know how you can pretty much find a Seinfeld episode that relates to every incident in life? Well, I can pretty much do that with movies. I have to keep those references in my head most times, because I’ve had the “poor thing: can’t relate to real life” look too many times. Or worse, the “WTF is she talking about?” look. Actually, I kind of like that one.

There is nothing like a great star of the classic era. I’m aware that it took an entire industry to produce such glorious beings for our consumption, but I don’t want to know. I don’t care that Rita Hayworth had her hairline painfully altered, I only care to see her shimmering image on film. I want to believe that they emerged – full-fledged and fascinating – on the screen.

Charles Foster Kane had his Declaration of Principles. No matter that he betrayed each and every one of them, but he had them. And here are this lowly starstruck willfully ignorant fan’s Seven Rules of Classic Film Fascination:

1. There must be music in the background: Does mood music follow you around all day? Well, in the movies it does and it is perfectly normal. No questions asked.

2. Do you wake up in full make-up and perfectly coiffed hair? Only movie stars do. They really do.

3. Can life’s stories be brought to conclusion in approximately 2 hours or less. In the movies they can. Or at least, in most classic films they can. Anyone see “Oppenheimer” or “Killers of the Flower Moon”? Either learn to tighten it up, give us a potty/snack bar break or make a streaming series.

4.  Only a great star can invite the illusion of intimacy. All the behind the scenes stuff can't make that.

5. There is always, always, an elegance about a star. And something unique – they neither look, nor sound, nor move quite like anyone else.

6. A film is not totally absorbing unless there is a star. A cast of unknowns don’t cut it.

7. How will you know 1-6 combine to create the brew that is a star or an unforgettable film? You will know it’s magic when it lingers in you thoughts and dreams, when it interjects itself into your real life, and when you never tire of repeated viewings of images or a film.

I am not now and never will be a film scholar, although I have lots of odd facts rumbling around in my brain. Please don’t ask me about geography, but I can tell you a lot about Clara Bow. I was what the movies was made for: open to magic, open to dreaming, open to the secret life that lives within.

Go on...ask me

Maybe I’ll go on blogging, maybe not. I started blogging because I felt the need to share my love of the movie-going/watching experience, but maybe this one entry is all I have left to say. I do like participating in some blogathons because it forces me to write, but right now my only topic is that of surrender – surrender to the magic of the finished product. It's bliss in a world filled with anything but at times.


Sunday, December 17, 2023

Lina Lamont and Billie Dawn: Sisters From A Different Mister?

Sometimes things are so obvious you just can't help but wonder: Were Lina Lamont ("Singin' in the Rain") and Billie Dawn ("Born Yesterday") related?

We don't know anything about the parentage of Miss Lamont and only know that Billie's dad worked for the gas company.  Let's take a look at a few undeniable truths.

First: obvious physical and seductive resemblance. You see it, right? Sisters? Mother and daughter?

Second: the even more obvious vocal resemblance. I mean, really - can there be any doubt that these two have a memorable -shall we say - tone? 

Sorry for any ear bleeding here,

Third: the shared impression that both were not bright when, in fact, they were smart cookies. While Billie mastered her civics and brought down a millionaire crook, Lina knew all the ABCs of her studio contract.

Fourth: while we know that Billie's first name is really Emma, we don't know her given last name. And it's a pretty good bet that Lina Lamont is not the lady's real name. It has proved impossible to obtain actual birth certificates for each gal and back then there were no DNA tests.

So, I'm going to posit, without any proof, of course, that somehow these 2 are related. Billie would have to be the kid sister, of course or...could it be that somewhere, somehow, Lina had an affair with the gas man?

I leave it to you to ponder. 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Sweet Smell of Success: The Cat's in the Bag and the Bag's in the River

 My local library is kind enough to indulge my desire to share my passion for classic film by allowing me to show a classic film once a month. And once in a while, a few film fans wander in and share the enjoyment. 

November's Film: 

The Sweet Smell of Success

1957's "The Sweet Smell of Success" is a glamorous black and white vision of the seedy New York gossip world of the 1950s. Before TMZ and the internet's instant update on the rich and infamous, there was the gossip columnist. While Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons were well known on the west coast, New York City had Walter Winchell, a columnist who wielded his power to make or break people with an iron and vicious typewriter. In "The Sweet Smell of Success," Burt Lancaster is J.J. Hunsecker, a thinly disguised version of Winchell. While he cloaks himself in a cynical suit of respectability, his is a world devoid of morals  and filled with sleaze. His chief officer in charge of sleaze is struggling publicist Sidney Falco, played by Tony Curtis in a dynamic performance. Hunsecker's downfall is his shall we say "unusual" attachment to his sister, Susie. Isn't that always the way? Anyhow, to watch J.J. and Sidney weave a spider's web of malice only to be caught in it is a joy to behold.

Aside from the two stars at the top of their game and dialogue that snaps and crackles, New York City, backed by a great jazzy Elmer Bernstein score, is the third star of the film. The film captures the city in the last glittering days of nightclubs, cocktails and fur coats. It's fun to spot the long gone stores you knew in the street scenes and to see legendary nightspots like The 21 Club and Toots Schor's in all their glory. 

A couple of special mentions: Barbara Nichols tugs at your heart as a cigarette girl (remember them?) who is badly used by the men she knows. 

It's also a chance to get a glimpse of the great vaudeville artist Joe Frisco playing a nightclub comedian. It's a small part, but just the thought that he was cast is a bit of a bow to New York's entertainment past.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Leave Her to Heaven: When Beauty Disguises the Beast

This is my contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Association's Blogathon and the Beast event. Click here for more beastly good reads.

Leave Her to Heaven: 

When Beauty Disguises the Beast

In the eternal cinematic battle between good and evil, virtue must always contend with the beast. Now, when the beast looks like these guys, he's not so hard to resist.

But, when the beast looks like this, well, it certainly complicates things. And that's what makes "Leave her to Heaven" so much twisted fun.

As with the serpent of old, the beast in Ellen Berent (the impossibly gorgeous Gene Tierney) reveals itself slowly. It takes time for poison to settle in and work to its full potency, even in the host.

Our beauty is a predator, and the beast in Ellen is a maniacal, possessive jealousy that causes her to destroy anyone who threatens her prey's singular fascination with and devotion to her. 

strangers on a train
The prey in this story is author Richard Harland (a totally interchangeable-with-any-leading man Cornel Wilde). They meet cute on train in New Mexico. Ellen is just getting over the death of her father to whom she was VERY devoted and who, it appears, was very devoted to her. What to do with all of that singular and obsessive devotion? Why, transfer it all on to Richard, who reminds Ellen of her dad. Naturally.

off to a happy start....

As with all doomed love stories (movie-wise), things get off to a great start. Richard meets the family. It's all so lovely, but there are warning signs. Mother Berent seems resigned to have been the third wheel in her dead husband’s and Ellen’s relationship. Cousin Ruth (a virtuous Jeanne Crain) keeps mom company and kind of fills the emotional space where daughter Ellen should be.

Ellen coolly ditches her attorney newly ex-beau Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) in favor of Richard and announces that she and Richard are to be married. That’s news to Richard, but Ellen’s power is too alluring to overcome. They wed. Ellen’s little paradise seems to be working – she is completely adored by her new husband. But is she?

It's the word “completely” that causes the beast to rear its ugly head. Richard has other loves – a disabled younger brother and his career. This makes the beast unhappy and you can hear the gears clicking in Ellen’s brain – how can she destroy them?

Richard loves his home, called Back of the Moon, in Deer Island, Maine. The remote location is perfect for him to write. Ellen hates the place.

Ellen "helps" Danny with his swimming regimen 
The tense situation only gets worse when Danny comes to visit. Taking the boy out for a swim, the unthinkable occurs and Ellen watches the boy helplessly drown before her eyes. A truly unforgettable scene of detached and compassionless evil.

and then watches him drown
From there, things go from worse to worser (I know, not really a useable word, but what’s worse than worse?). Cousin Ruth offers Richard a sympathetic ear. While Ellen may have driven Richard to Ruth, Ellen's jealousy Spidey sense here was not off base.

Cousin Ruth: a pretty shoulder to cry on
Eventually the beast begins to consume its host. Faced with an unwanted pregnancy, Ellen goes full beast. In fact, she refers to her unborn child as "the little beast." Unless a Rosemary’s Baby is cooking in the oven, she is fingering the wrong beast.

before the fall...getting it just right
She is a clever cookie, though. Why not kills 2 birds with one stone? Ellen manages the old fall down the stairs to terminate the pregnancy move. When she confesses her actions to Richard to prove the depth of her singular devotion, Richard leaves her. To add insult to injury, he dedicates his next book to Ruth. At this point Ellen is fairly glowing green.

Poison comes so naturally to Ellen
The last act of this beautiful beast is to take poison and try and frame Ruth. While this proves a bit of a headache (which involves some over the top theatrics from Vincent Price’s attorney) and some jail time, the beast is dead and Ruth and Richard are free to live happily ever after.

Old flame Russell Quinton grills Ruth.
Ellen is dead, but her spirit is in a courtroom painted green with envy
It wasn't that Ellen loved too much, as her mother told Richard, it was that she smothered (and drowned) anyone who her beloved dared to love or admire besides her. Face it, the girl just couldn't stand to share.

The beauty of the film is not only Ellen. The costumes, the color, the settings, all contribute to a feast for the sense that leaves you rather full like a dinner where you've had too much to eat. It is all too tasty, all too uncomfortable and all too deliciously much in a most discomforting yet satisfying way. 

As mentioned, Gene Tierney's costumes (designed by her husband Oleg Cassini ) and the various homes featured in the film are simply to die for. Here's a sampling:

The Costumes

notice her initials?

The Homes

1. The New Mexico Home (my favorite)

2. Back of the Moon (Deer Lake, Maine)

3. The Bar Harbor Maine House


Saturday, September 30, 2023

This Month at the Library : I Married a Witch (1942) - Bewitched, Bothered and Charmed

My local library is kind enough to indulge my desire to share my passion for classic film by allowing me to show a classic film once a month. And once in a while, a few film fans wander in and share the enjoyment.

October's Film: 

I Married a Witch (1942)

I admit I approached this film with a kind of blah attitude the first time I saw it. Fredric March is part of that group of leading men (including Franchot Tone and George Brent) that prompt a mental yawn from me. 

As for Veronica Lake, my opinion of her more influenced by things I read about her rather than her actual performances (more about this later). And Susan Hayward, one of my most favorite actresses, has only a supporting role here.

So imagine my surprise when I was completely charmed by this little fable. If it reminds you of the television show "Bewitched" you would not be wrong, as this film was one of that show's inspirations (the other being "Bell, Book and Candle."). The chief charm here is Veronica Lake. She is a pint sized sprite, alluring and adorable and simply perfect for this role. Old Freddy March does quite all right for a two time Oscar winner (even though I rate him with zero sex appeal while Ms. Lake oozes it out of her every pore). Susan Hayward is stuck in one of those before-she-became-a-star roles and her main purpose here is to be as bitchy as possible (making you root for the witch). But, she is mighty beautiful. Cecil Kellaway pops in as the witch's dad and might remind you of Agnes Moorehead's Endora character in "Bewitched."

Speaking of the b-word, apparently Ms. Lake was so unpleasant to work with that March renamed the film "I Married a Bitch." Joel McCrea was originally cast as the leading man and seemed a better choice, but he balked because he had had enough of Ms. Lake after "Sullivan's Travels." No matter. I'm sure anyone who views this film will fall under her spell.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Down the Rabbit Hole with Cagney's Coat: This is when you know you've got a problem

So, during covid I decided to indulge my obsession with James Cagney and watch all of his films - in order, mind you. And I did. And I liked it.

However, when you spend a lot of time with someone, you get to notice things. Things like clothes, for instance.

I kept seeing this coat over and over - in film and in real life photos I happened to come across going down the movie rabbit holes we movie maniacs know all too well.

My conclusion:

a) I need to get a life (which is a whole 'nother story), and

b) Cagney must have really liked that coat.

If ever a garment deserved billing, it is what shall now simply be referred to as "the coat."

If this photo was taken during the filming of "Smart Money," the only time Cagney and Edward G. Robinson appeared on screen together, then this would have been taken in 1931 and, so far, would be the earliest sighting of the coat.

This photo of Cagney and the missus was dated 1936, so this would make the coat at least 5 years old. Apparently, the coat did on and off screen duty. I've kept coats for 5 years, so not feeling too strange....yet.

1938 appears to have been a good year for the coat. First up, "Boy Meets Girl." The coat is prominently worn. 

The coat then has a cameo in "Angels With Dirty Faces," also 1938. Cagney doesn't wear it, but it is draped over a chair and searched by the cops when they enter Rocky Sullivan's room. The coat is now 7.

All right. Now it's getting weird. The coat has a major role in 1949's "White Heat." Coming out of retirement, the coat is now at least 18.  I'm not sure what that means in "coat years."

The coat's last appearance (as far as I can find) is in this candid shot during the 1955 filming of "Love Me or Leave Me." Assuming there was not a role for the coat on screen, Cagney trotted the 24 year old war horse out for a photo shoot. The old boy can now vote, drink and get married.
So, let's hear it for the coat, winner of the most durable piece of outerwear in cinema history. But honestly, Cagney, was this your lucky coat or something? I'd love to know.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Giveaway! Warner Bros. 100 Years of Storytelling


If you know anything at all about me through this blog, you know that I'm a Warner Brothers girl. One look at that distinctive shield and I'm instantly happy. I don't exactly know why. Maybe it has something to do with all of those Saturday afternoon films shown on television during my adolescence. Or maybe it has something to do with that suave, naked bunny lounging confidently atop it. Munching a carrot.


Anywho, that's how it is and always has been with me. And I'm so grateful that in this world that continually changes at an ever faster pace that symbol still endures. I'm sure its founders wouldn't recognize the entertainment business today, but still, 100 years is pretty impressive.

By the way, anyone catch that recent Jeopardy final answer about the name of the brothers who missed the premier of "The Jazz Singer" because one of them was ill? Were you, like me, screaming "WARNER!" at the television screen? Did you feel pretty darn smart when each one of the contestants didn't know the answer? Of course, I kind of doubt my score would have been on the plus side leading up to Final Jeopardy, but that's another story.

So now to the giveaway. In honor of hanging in there for 100 years, A Person in the Dark is conducting a giveaway of the newly published "Warner Bros. 100 Years of Storytelling. The Official Centennial History by Mark Vieira" with a forward by Ben Mankiewicz.

From the Preface by Mark A. Vieira:

Four brothers from Ohio started a film company. Their first star was a dog. Their next star was Broadway’s greatest actor. They climbed to the top of the industry with the technology of sound, but they lost a brother in the process. They not only survived the Great Depression but also thrived by making musicals such as Footlight Parade. Their studio was the home of unique stars: Joan Blondell, James Cagney, Kay Francis, Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Paul Muni. Theirs was the only studio to blow the whistle on fascism. They boosted morale during World War II with films such as Casablanca. In the 1950s, after adapting to 3-D, widescreen, and stereo, Warner Bros. was one of the first Hollywood studios to enter television production.

Warner Bros. started as a family business. This book could be the family album…. It’s a record of extraordinary entertainment history, a panoply of the greatest names, faces, and talents in Hollywood lore.

Interested? Okay, here are the rules:

1. One entry per person

2. Email your name and email address to me at Please write "Giveaway" in the subject line.

3. The drawing will be held on Thursday, June 15th.


That's it! Good luck. And, as always, here's looking at you kid.