Friday, December 10, 2021

The "It's a Wonderful Life" 75th Anniversary Celebration: It's a Wonderful (and Sexy) Kiss


This is my entry in the “It’s a Wonderful Life Blogathon” hosted by The Classic Movie Muse. Click HERE for more great posts celebrating the 75th anniversary of this classic.

I hate to be a wet blanket at this party, but I have a bit of an issue both with George Bailey and James Stewart. 

Oh George, you are such a good guy, really. I mean look at all the sacrifices you’ve made, all the good things you’ve done and all the hardships you’ve endured. But let’s face it, you can be one grumpy s.o.b. It’s a good thing Mary loves you. And Clarence and the rest of Bedford Falls. Okay, maybe there is a reason. I'm open to it.

Now to James. It’s kind of in my movie loving DNA to love this actor. I mean, who doesn’t? But, it seems to me that he is always playing a rather disagreeable fellow. “Rear Window”? He’s complaining about Grace Kelly. GRACE KELLY! Come on. In “Vertigo” he is harassing Kim Novak and being totally obnoxious to Barbara Bel Geddes. Why Katharine Hepburn did a stint in his arms in “The Philadelphia Story” is a mystery to me (thank goodness she came to her senses and fell back into Cary Grant’s arms). And in “Bell, Book and Candle” it makes one wonder why Kim Novak’s witch didn’t cast a permanent spell to erase his disagreeable tendencies. Now that I come to think of it, his casting in “It’s a Wonderful Life" is a pretty perfect blend of character and actor.

But there was one thing Mr. Stewart did in his films that I heartily approve of  - he was a pretty darn good kisser, and therefore, so was George Bailey. Take a gander at George’s 2 greatest kisses and a bunch of others by Mr. Stewart. Since someone took the time to make this video, I guess I’m not the only one to think Mr. Stewart sizzled in the lip lock department.

That scene by the telephone is pretty darn sexy for a holiday movie, isn’t it? The longing, the desire, passion….aww – I guess I’ll just have to watch it again this year. I always suspected there was more to George Bailey than just the good old Building and Loan.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

George Tobias: Hey! That's Abner Kravitz!

This is my entry in the What a Character Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club. Click here for more about our favorite folks who don't need star billing to shine.

George Tobias as himself

For me, the best character actors are the ones who press that automatic happiness button that's wired in our movie-loving brains. As soon as they appear, you recognize them and the world - movie-wise, that is - is a better place. Like a cuddle under a warm blanket or the platonic hug from an old and dear friend, certain actors who operate below the star billing can provide us with a sense of reassurance. Once they appear, we know everything is going to be fine. And even if it isn't, well, we thought it might.

My introduction to the stars of classic films came through television. Older stars who worked in TV were identified by my mother (See Alice Faye on "The Hollywood Palace"? She used to be a great big star). When it came to movies,  I was a Warner Brothers gal from the get-go, chiefly because those were the only films my local TV station seemed to show. Plus, they really did have the best roster of supporting players, didn't they? So, it was only natural for me to recognize that guy playing an immigrant from some foreign land as good old Abner Kravitz from "Bewitched."

Warner Brothers cornered the market on New York types (my favorite type, by the way), and George was no exception. Having spent most the the 1920s and early 1930s on the stage, he committed to Hollywood in 1939 and somehow became everybody's favorite immigrant. Some of the roles played by this nice Jewish boy were an uncredited Soviet in "Ninotchka," Sascha in "Music in My Heart," Pasha in "Affectionately Yours," Igor Propotkin in "Out of the Fog," Nick Popoli in "My Wild Irish Rose," and Vassili Markovitch in "Silk Stockings." Two of my favorite George Tobias immigrants are Rosario La Mata in 1940's "Torrid Zone" and Nicholas Pappalas in 1941's "Strawberry Blonde." In both films he supported James Cagney, and they seemed to go together like peanut butter and jelly.

A revolutionary George Tobias

Somehow, somebody thought George would make a good Central American revolutionary in "Torrid Zone." Despite the questionable believability factor here, George plays his role with such ingratiating good humor and gusto that you just have to root for him to escape justice and live to fight another day.

Nick and Biff reminisce about the good old days in "Strawberry Blonde"

The other part I adore him in is as Nick the Greek barber in "Strawberry Blonde." As the usual best friend he gets some very funny lines, my favorite being "boy how those foreigners murder the English language" in his heavy Greek accent while observing a German band singer. Noting that the beautiful strawberry blonde of the title (Rita Hayworth) would not have turned into a nagging shrew if he had married her, he states that "a woman who has 17 children got no time to nag." 

In 1943, George got to show another side of himself in "Thank Your Lucky Stars," a Warner Brothers showcase of performers who donated their salaries to the Hollywood Canteen. Supported by Olivia de Havilland and Ida Lupino as jitterbuggers, George donned a zoot suit and, as always, gave it his all. For once he got support from "A" list leading ladies.

When not playing a fellow from some foreign land, George also turned up everywhere and anywhere as the good friend of the hero. Never a double-crosser, he was reliable and sympathetic, and when he sometimes met his demise as the script demanded, you can't help but miss him (thinking "Captains of the Clouds" here).

Abner and Gladys Kravitz

And then there was Mr. Kravitz. George did lots of television and when he landed on "Bewitched," well, what can I say? He was the fellow I was always happy to see - just like in the movies.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Living Your Inner Life in Public: The Lure of the Love of Film

A couple of things, movie-wise, have been converging around me lately. Powerful things...things that are hard to put into words. But, I'll give it a go.

First, I've been watching a whole lot of films starring my favorite actor. I think I'll leave him out of it for now, since I've written so much about him. I've been moved to tears (I'm crying a lot know how it can be) not by any specific film, but by coming to understand what makes a performer an artist. It's generosity. They can be the most talented, but without generosity there can be no greatness. The ones who hold back, who keep something apart, you can have them. Now, can you think of that performer who you love, who speaks to you in a language of feeling, who takes your breath away by willing to expose the most deeply felt emotions that real people struggle to hide? Then insert that name in your heart, for they are generous with their gifts. They sprinkle the ordinary with stardust.

Second, I actually went to the movies for the first time in well over a year*. What brought me to tears this time was not the movie itself but the coming attractions. So many exciting thing to come! I've been so insulated in my home watching movies this past year and a half that I forgot what it felt like to sit in a theater. With people. Watching those trailers, I realized there are those out there still creating stories meant to move us, excite us, amuse and thrill us. In this time of such civil ugliness, there are still people who are invested in the magic of visual storytelling and who long to take us on that journey.

And it's a funny journey, isn't it? Norma Desmond says we are alone in the dark. On one hand that is true. Our experience is singular. Anyone who breathes movies can tell you that they stir a rich inner life, a private world that is precious. That world can bring great joy and also serve as a ballast against troubled times. If you are lucky, it will never leave you. On the other hand, we sit among our friends and strangers, sharing a common experience. We hear the chuckle, the sniff that precedes the tear, and we become part of a shared journey.

Will the movie-going experience ever be the same again after we've gotten so used to watching everything under the sun on our large, high definition televisions? I simply don't know. I recently watched "Cinema Paradiso," not only a love letter to film, but one to that paradoxically communal and intimate experience of entering that very sacred portal to an inner life.  Amazing how something so fixed and permanent as a piece of film can lead us to a nostalgic past, a hopeful present, a deep and longing passion, a soul cleansing belly laugh or all of the above all at once.

Truthfully, there are no words to adequately describe these moments, but all I could do is try. The best movies are never real. How could they be? They are real plus, real extra...masquerading as life, but with that extra bit of beauty that defines some sort of art.

*Oh, and for those 2 idiots who were seated in my row...if you want to have a running commentary between you 2 during the film, please go home and watch movies on television. When you are in the theater, you're not in your ****ing living room. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Producers (1967): Here's a Funny Story.....

Maybe it's the state of affairs all around us, but I've been in a particularly sensitive mood these days...for so many days, it seems. Almost anything can make me bust out in tears - usually something beautiful; a song, a moment from a film, a memory. And when it comes to comedy, I simply can no longer abide the joke cloaked in meanness. 

So, here's the funny story. When I saw the topic for the CMBA Blogathon, I jumped at the chance to select "The Producers," my go-to comedy that never fails to make me laugh. However, once I started to put a few thoughts down on paper, it all seemed vaguely familiar. And no wonder. I had written about this same film in in 2012 CMBA Comedy Blogathon and in the 2018 CMBA Outlaws Blogathon. What's that quote about insanity?

Anyway, I picked it yet again, so now I'm faced with the challenge of saying something different about it. I mean really, I felt I had said it all in 2 pretty decent articles. And yet here we are again - me, Mel, Max and Leo. So, here are the links if you feel inclined to read about the film:

This time I'm doing something a little different.

First, let me bow down in awe of the great Mel Brooks. Almost all of my comedy gods are gone, some long gone before my time. But, praise whoever, Mel is still here with us and I firmly believe the world is a more joyful place because he is here (that goes for you, too, Jack Nicholson, but that's a whole 'nother story). 

Here's the great man accepting his Oscar for Best Screenplay (after some shtick from Sinatra and Rickles -ah those were the days when the Oscars were fun).

The tale of 2 swindlers who give us "Springtime for Hitler" is a love letter to the comedy traditions of vaudeville, burlesque and early television. It is humor put forth with the adolescent's complete conviction about what is funny. And who is braver and freer than the adolescent before the world of adults infects him or her with self-doubt? I am so grateful Mel never grew up.

The secret ingredient here - and all great comedies have one of those, don't they? - is love. The important presence of Zero Mostel as Max is offered with love for all that he is here - and all that he went through in the past. His Max is outrageous, venal, a joyous liar and an entitled thief, but somewhere in there, there is love. Somehow, one feels he is loving the moment, no matter how perilous. There is also love between Zero and his Leo (Gene Wilder, so sweet in his first big role). Mel's humor is based in love. That is why we can laugh at Hitler. That is why we can laugh at 2 Jews ditching their swastika armbands in a trashcan after they secure the rights to Franz Liebkind's Nazi-fueled fever dream of a play. Deep in our hearts we want to believe love wins.

When our hearts are so broken by the world, it takes a loving heart to mend them. And a funny loving heart? Even better. Well, leave it to that great humanitarian Mel Brooks to give us so generously what we need. "The Producers" says come play with me, come revel in the bawdy, uninhibited humor that obliterates hipness and coolness. Cleverness is merely humor without humanity. Artificial Intelligence can be clever. It takes a human being to give us Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolph and Eva at Berchtesgaden

This is my contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Association's Laughter is the Best Medicine Blogathon. Click here for more needed comic relief. And boy, do we need it!

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Love Me or Leave Me (1955) - A Bad Romance


This is my entry in The Biopic Blogathon, hosted by Hometowns to Hollywood.  Click here for more favorite biopics. They’re all true, right?

My heart explodes with love for this film. It has everything that enchants me about the movies. It may never make the list of the greatest films ever made, but it weaves a tale of dangerous emotions and irresistible characters and features knockout performances of epic chemistry by two of my favorite actors, James Cagney and Doris Day. I absorb it. It creates its own world in my imagination. It makes me feel. It makes me care.

Marty thinks he's in control

“Love Me or Leave Me” is a fictionalized (what else) version of the unsavory and pretty appalling professional life of singer Ruth Etting. Ms. Etting was a popular singer in the 1920s and 30s, known as “America’s Sweetheart of Song,” who was married to her violent mobster manager, Martin “Moe” Snyder, charmingly known as “Moe the Gimp.” Once Etting managed to free herself from Snyder she entered a romantic relationship with her accompanist, Myrl Alderman, whom Snyder promptly shot. All of this really happened (Snyder’s teenage daughter was also caught up in the gun play, but there was only so much of this that the movie could show). Anyway, in 1955 Etting, Snyder and Myrl Alderman (now Ruth’s husband), all sold the rights to their story to MGM. So, while the film certainly sanitizes a lot, it also has that smidgen of truth that some biopics can’t claim.

Ruth gets canned from her 10 cents a dance girl job,
but bigger and badder things are on the horizon

The story opens in the Chicago of the 1920s where Etting is working as a 10 cents a dance girl and Snyder is the local hood shaking down the establishment. She catches his eye and he tries his luck for a quick pick-up, offering to help her get a job on stage. She is ambitious and takes the help (she is hilarious when first hired as a dancer who can’t remember her steps) and that’s the beginning of a twisted, sadomasochistic relationship that ends with the above-mentioned shooting.

What makes this film so damn compelling are the performances of Day and Cagney and how they breathe life into a couple entangled in a relationship that is, to say the least, complicated. Each party thinks they are in control, until one of them is not.

Marty is always mouthing off, but Ruth holds the reins (for a while)

Doris Day is no little miss innocent here. Looking sexy as all hell in skimpy, skin-baring outfits (as well as some other less revealing but no less beautiful outfits, all designed by Helen Rose), Day comes across as 100% believable as the overly ambitious, hard drinking singer whose moral compass is a little off kilter. See how she works Marty to get her more of what she wants.

Doris looking amazing

The music, mostly songs Etting made famous, as well as a few new ones, is Doris at her best. Because each song is presented as part of a performance, the musical numbers blend seamlessly with the story. It’s a beautiful soundtrack that was hugely popular in its time.

This was Doris Day’s first real dramatic performance and she is perfect. She goes toe to toe with Cagney in some heated arguments that are downright uncomfortable in their intimacy and she never backs down. There is a real, twisted sexual tension between these two; his combined with hope, violence and jealousy and hers mingled with self-loathing and an over-estimated confidence in her ability to control him.
 Cagney loved Doris, lobbied for her to play the role, insisted that she get top billing (what a guy – the first time he relinquished it since attaining star status in 1931) and thought she was a great actress. I have to concur. Next to Judy Garland, I think she is probably the most talented all around performer in film. There was nothing she couldn’t do, and she did it all with a never showy naturalness that is sometimes underrated due to her later undeserved reputation as a professional virgin (although she was married in so many of those later comedies. Go figure). Her transformation from a hopeful, joyous performer to a beaten down woman who drinks to numb the pain is harrowing and touching (her “Ten Cents a Dance” number masterfully illustrates the hardness and sadness she develops after her marriage to Marty).

Marty Snyder was Cagney’s last gangster role and he simply blows up the screen with raw appeal. Nothing is held back in reserve and he takes my breath away. His Gimp is crude, brutal, an animal and yet, at the same time, charming, and lovesick and you just can’t help feeling sorry for the guy. Ruth knows he is nuts for her and initially manipulates him while managing to keep his romantic overtures at bay. She accepts the help he gives her with her career and doesn’t seem to mind that, initially, most of that help was obtained through shady methods. She plays the game well, but in the end pays a big price. After a scandal making altercation backstage during Ruth’s Ziegfeld Follies debut, the couple get into a vicious, heartbreaking argument that ends with an off screen sexual assault and a miserable marriage. When he furiously attacks her because she would never acknowledge their relationship to the Ziegfeld crew, she says she couldn’t and he practically sobs that he would have done it for her (a tough guy holding back a sob is always a gut punch). Whew. It truly feels like watching the most private moments of a couple’s awful argument, feeling like you somehow intruded upon them and you shouldn’t be there.  The 1955 censors apparently cut out more explicit scenes of violence and sexual assault. According to Day's biography, that disturbing scene continued with Marty pushing Ruth against a wall, tearing her dress and raping her. The remaining scenes are disturbing enough. 

This battle is about as emotional as it gets. Marty is a
dangerous and wounded animal and Ruth has run out of luck

Cagney’s Gimp eventually devolves into a man who has lost control of Ruth and his emotions, ending with a mean (and very real) slap across his soon to be ex-wife’s face and the eventual shooting of Alderman. It's debatable if Day knew the real slap was coming, but it was 100% real. Ouch. Audiences gasped at the shocking violence.

Of course, Cagney in the clink is always fun to watch. When Ruth comes to see him there he tells her it makes him feel like a kid again and that he is finally done with her. She realizes she is free, but she is not jubilant. Marty was like a bad addiction. You know it's so bad for you, but you can't imagine living without it.

Marriage to Marty means sadness and the end to sexy pjs

During each of Ruth’s performances the camera repeatedly gives us Marty’s reactions. At first, when a club owner is strong-armed into letting Ruth perform, Cagney is nervous and then relieved when he realizes the girl can actually sing. Next we see him filled with pride when he realizes that he doesn’t have to “stack the joint” with cronies and that customers actually want to pay to see her. Finally, we see the admiration fade to the realization that, after her smashing performance at the Follies, he has lost her and that she doesn’t need him anymore. All of these emotions are spelled out in a single look. I could go on and on about how towering this performance is, but I’ve always been a sucker for Cagney and this is one of  - if not my favorite – performance of his. He justly was nominated for an Academy Award (Ernest Borgnine won that year). Doris, unjustly, was not. The film did win the award for best story.

Marty fears the handwriting on the wall

So, what else? Cameron Mitchell as Alderman is very appealing and sympathetic and makes a nice, strong shoulder for Doris to cry on. 

Myrl Alderman becomes Johnny Alderman in the film

The gal who sings a nightclub jingle in the beginning is Audrey Young, who in real life was Mrs. Billy Wilder. The part of the agent who befriends both Ruth and Marty is played by Robert Keith, who was Brian Keith’s father. And three cheers to Harry Bellaver, who played Marty’s long suffering and ever present stooge and punching bag, Georgie. The look of the film is a little less 1920s and more 1950s MGM, but the lush orchestrations by Percy Faith are top notch. There are tons of little bits of business – Marty casually helping Ruth take off a bracelet during one of their nasty arguments, his inability to remember her name when they first get involved (calling her “Ettling”), Marty genially patting the back of the prison guard as he is led back to his cell – all serve to make these characters knowable to the audience.

Marty finally lands in a place he feels comfortable - the pokey

Ruth Etting was not very happy with the finished product (are they ever?) and would have preferred to have Jane Powell play her. Snyder was also unhappy with the way he was portrayed, but he should have been happy that he wasn’t portrayed more honestly. Ugly stories abound. Happily, after all the drama, Ruth and Myrl Alderman had a long and happy marriage, largely away from the spotlight. Marty, as his film character predicted, did eventually get sprung from prison. His exact fate is a little murky, but it seems he drifted back to Chicago and worked in a mailroom or a license bureau. Somehow I don't think all he did was sort letters....

Here are the real Ruth and Marty, as well as the recently shot Alderman with Ruth, and Marty’s daughter (who ended up living with Ruth - as I said, it was complicated), at his bedside.


And here is Ruth Etting singing her signature song, Love Me or Leave Me.


On a personal note, I have to say how grateful I am that I watched "Love Me or Leave Me" again for this blogathon. For quite a long time now I have been a little indifferent to classic film. It seemed the old spark was gone, and it saddened me. James Cagney was the very first actor, so many decades ago, who got me hooked on classic films. And here he is again, so many years later, reigniting that passion. Thanks for bringing me home, Mr. C. I better not stray too far from him again.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Without the Lover There is No Beloved: An Appreciation of the Audience

This is a blogger's true confession.

How I admire all of you who make art, who write about art, who inform and educate and thrill me with your creativity and insight. Movies have been my passion for most of my life, and yet I hardly care to know who directed it, who wrote it, who provided amazing lighting or music or sound. For me, the Academy Awards could last no more than 1 hour with but 5 categories (actors, actresses and film). I am the person in the dark. I am the audience.

don't worry, Lina Lamont, your audience loves you

With bubbles of creativity gurgling in my brain, this has been deeply conflicting for me. I should care more, be more critical in my thinking, I should create more. But I don't. Instead, I am drawn into the magic of Chaplin, Keaton, Kay Francis, Ann Dvorak, James Cagney, Cary Grant, and most recently, Charles Boyer. It is always the stars, so magically presented, that lure me in. My rational mind knows that is it all make believe and that an army of artists and artisans have combined their creative forces to produce this moment of stardust. 

looking for the magic

This has always been a little upsetting for me. I read that Buster Keaton, upon his first encounter with a movie camera, had to take it apart to discover how it worked. Good thing that wasn't me! The damn thing would have been left in pieces!

can you feel the magic?

In so many ways, I have felt like a fraud when it comes to movie knowledge. But finally I have come to terms and accepted my place in this process. Without an audience, there is no magic. The audience, with its appreciation and love, breathes life into a piece of film, a canvas, a printed page or a beautiful fabric. So, in my way, I am playing my part in keeping these beautiful things alive. That is no small thing. As an added benefit, acknowledging this also gives me power over negative noises in our midst. I can chose my beloveds. The troubles of the world are of the moment; Bogie and Bergman, Fred and Ginger, and Scarlett and Rhett are forever as long as there is an audience for them. We grow old, but Chaplin is forever young as long as there is love for cinema.

Norma as Casandra

Norma Desmond was wise. She knew she owed it all to those wonderful people out there in the dark. And yes, I know those lines were written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, but let me have this. Sit back and enjoy the show. That is all that is needed.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Book Review: Vitagraph: America's First Great Motion Picture Studio

 I love the stories about the great movie pioneers, you know -L.B. Mayer, Adolph Zukor, the Warner Brothers. But, before the usual and more famous pioneers, there were the earliest pioneers, the dreamers who served as the scouts who cleared the path and laid the foundation for a road that lead to a great industry. D.W. Griffith remains a famous name, but many of those who came before the moguls have fallen into obscurity. While I had certainly heard of the Vitagraph Studio, the names of its founders - Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton - were unknown to me. Author Andrew A. Erish, in his book "Vitagraph: America's First Great Motion Picture Studio," gives them their due and tells the story of a great studio that, for a time, flourished in those exciting, early days.

While Vitagraph was established in Brooklyn, it also had a west coast studio

Two English fellows who had a hankering for show business, Smith and Blackton founded Vitagraph Studios in 1896 and set up shop in Brooklyn, NY. Starting with the days of the crude nickelodeon and progressing to shorts and feature films, the Vitagraph boys, like so many early pioneers, found themselves knee-deep in the endless patent wars with Edison, a financial struggle that would have defeated less determined men. They did prevail, but there always seemed to be bigger companies nipping at their heels.

A few Vitagraph stars. Jean Page became Mrs. Albert Smith

In their heyday, Vitagraph launched the careers of Maurice Costello (as well as his daughters Dolores and Helene as child actors), Corinne Griffith, Florence Lawrence, Florence Turner, Anita Stewart, Antonio Moreno and Norma Talmadge. Tribute is paid to forgotten superstars of the era, comedians John Bunny and Larry Semon. Even Moe Howard (the smart Stooge) makes an appearance as a teenaged extra. Life at Vitagraph seemed like a cozy, happy family.

Not quite the Dodgers, but a fine looking Brooklyn team

But, all good things must come to an end. The founders drifted in different directions and the company suffered. Eventually, the industry that they helped build got the best of them and, in 1925 Vitagraph was sold to Warner Brothers. 

Vitagraph founders Albert E. Smith (center) and J. Stuart Blackton (right),
as well as partner William T. ("Pop") Rock (left)

The book is a mixture of good gossip and heavy, important research. Zukor, founder of Famous Players and later, Paramount, comes across as a ruthless and power hungry philistine, the author never letting us forget he was a furrier. Norma Talmadge, one of the silent screen's greatest stars, is described as a bit dim-witted. Smith and Blackton, while flawed, are clearly held in high esteem by the writer, with Smith's Christian ethics praised to the end. The book can get technical at times, but it offers a thorough and detailed history of an important studio and a good glimpse at those more innocent times.

Still standing

Vitagraph is long gone, but, in Brooklyn, a reminder of this once great studio remains. The smokestack that displays the company name somehow has managed to survive. There are luxury apartments now on the old studio lot. The name of the apartment building is "The Vitagraph," and, after a campaign to save the old smokestack, the developer of the complex as left it intact. I'm sure those 2 English chaps with show biz in their blood would be happy to see that last remnant of their life's work still standing.

"Vitagraph" America's First Great Motion Picture Studio" by Andrew A. Erish was provided to me at no cost for review.

VITAGRAPH: America’s First Great Motion Picture Studio

Andrew E. Erish
Kentucky Press | Screen Classics Series
298 pages | 6×9 | 46 b/w photos | hardcover | 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

History is Made at Night: Walking on Stardust

This is my entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association Hidden Classics Blogathon. Click here for more hidden cinematic gems.

History is Made at Night (1937)

My love of film has to do with how they make me feel. While I don't always remember the exact plot lines, the camera angels or directorial strokes of genius, if I love a film I can always remember how it makes me feel. And the feeling I get from History is Made at Night is magically, unashamedly romantic... otherworldly romantic ....twinkling white star against a velvet midnight sky romantic.

See the look of love?

The chemistry between Charles Boyer (can you hear me sigh?) and Jean Arthur is bathed in enchantment. Now, I am not Ms. Arthur's biggest fan. Her quirky voice and quizzical manner seems a bit too much like a tightly wound corkscrew for me. However, here, with Boyer, she simply walks on stardust The way she looks at him and her quiet, delighted manner is an unapologetic surrender to love. In fact, the entire film makes no apology for it's singular devotion to love. There are no sly moments, no snarky comments that pass for sophistication.

Jean Arthur: still the American girl, this time with a continental glow

So why does this Jean Arthur wholeheartedly convince me she is more than the little list of annoyances she has presented to me in the past? Perhaps her appeal lies in the influence of a more continental partner in Mr. Boyer. Here he is the waiter who gives his all to his job and his all to romance. His charm is wrapped in his utmost and serious 100% devotion to love.

To the Romantic, food and love require total devotion

There is a pretty great villain here, too, in the person of Colin Clive. Man, he's a real stinker. 

Not the look of a happy wife

Mr. Clive suffered from severe alcoholism and would die in 1937 at the age of 37. His dissipation is evident in this film and only adds to the depravity of his character as Jean's evil and possessive husband.

Is it any surprise here that "History is Made at Night" was directed by Frank Borzage, a true master of romance? 

So, here's the bottom line: all the romantic, moonlit cinematic stars aligned for this film. There is a delightful plot, which I've totally neglected, and even a pretty exciting climax involving a Titanic-like ship sinking, but what stays with me is the feeling I get from this film. My heart aches for Boyer and Arthur, I root for them to succeed, they make my heart happy, I am enchanted by their charm and chemistry and, finally, I believe in the power of romantic love in its purest form. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

National Classic Movie Day: 6 Decades/6 Double Features

This is my entry into The Classic Film and TV Cafe's annual National Classic Movie Day blogathon. This year's theme is 6 films - 6 decades. Click here to see more personal choices by some awesome movie lovers.

If you're like me, you have a list of favorites. And, because they are favorites, I've written way too many times about them. So, in the spirit of not boring myself, let alone you, to death, I've decided to pair an almost- top favorite with an absolute favorite to create a National Classic Movie Day Double Feature (remember those? If you do, you're probably a classic yourself). I'm also tying them together with a (sometimes very loose) thematic thread...sort of. Here goes...

1910s: The Immigrant and The New York Hat: Big Apple Love and Longing

The main feature is one of my favorite Chaplin shorts, 1917's "The Immigrant." The second feature is 1912's "The New York Hat." Chaplin gazes at the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and Mary Pickford gazes longingly at a fancy New York hat in a shop window. There's always been something about New York.

$10 is a  fortune for Mary in "The New York Hat."

Have you seen this film? This is a charming little short with a hefty pedigree. Directed by D.W. Griffith and written by Anita Loos and Frances Marion, it stars Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore in Mary Pickford's swan song to her Biograph association. I love everything about this film, including its sly and humorous take down of small town gossips, but mainly I am always - always - astounded by Mary Pickford's incredible star power. It is impossible not to take your eyes off of her or be enchanted by her. After 109 years, she is undeniably a bright and shinning and ever lasting star.

1920s: Our Hospitality and The Thief of Bagdad: Go Big. 

The main feature for this decade would be Buster Keaton's great first feature, 1923's "Our Hospitality." I love the incredibly clever story and, of course, Buster's humor. But mainly I love this film for Buster's bravery and audacity in both his stunts and his incredible period recreation. The little guy went big in all ways.

The second feature pairing is Douglas Fairbanks' 1924 "The Thief of Bagdad." This film is epic in its splendor and size and in its romance. Photos cannot do it justice. Check out this beautiful trailer for a real flavor of this film, accompanied by a beautiful Carl Davis (and Rimsky-Korsakov score). Norma Desmond (more about her later) said "they took the idols of the world and smashed them." Here at the height of his star power, Fairbanks creates an over-sized fantasy that is a feast for the eyes and imagination. This was the golden decade of movie magic and romance. Never again would film speak to the entire world in such a singular voice, never again would the private imaginations of movie goers soar in such private and personal splendor.

1930s: City Lights and Love Me Tonight: I Humbly Apologize...

The main feature is Chaplin's great 1931 "City Lights." I've written way too much about it already, so let's just focus here on the beautiful story of a poor fellow who will stretch the truth about his humble conditions to win the heart of his lady love.

Chevalier and MacDonald sizing each other up

The second feature here is 1932's "Love Me Tonight." Ah, "the son of a gun is nothing but a tailor!" (so the song goes). Chevalier, the humble tailor who masquerades as a nobleman to win his princess, oozes his most cheeky French charm, Jeanette MacDonald is at her sexiest and least artificial, there's a score to die for by Rodgers and Hart, and it's all directed in the Lubitsch manner by Rouben Mamoulian. An added plus: A delicious Myrna Loy, Charlie Ruggles and Charles Butterworth are along for this joyous and carefree ride. "Love Me Tonight" is a perfect cinematic confection that tastes like desert but is as pleasing as a full course meal. Isn't it romantic? Yes! 

1940s: Double Indemnity and Leave Her to Heaven: Pretty Poison

"Double Indemnity" (1944) is one of my all time favorites. What more can I say? It is Billy Wilder perfect - which is perfect x 10 (at least). Barbara Stanwyck's unforgettable femme fatale is poisonously fatal to everyone, including herself. But, she had us at the ankle bracelet.

Please don't let Ellen take you swimming.....

The second feature for this decade is 1945's "Leave her to Heaven." Talk about a poison femme fatale. This noir in glorious color has everything: great locations, sympathetic secondary characters, and an irresistible potboiler of a plot. However, it all bows in service to Gene Tierney's psychopathic Ellen. Beautiful to look at, deadly to hold. I can't think of a femme fatale more beautiful and ultimately more loathsome.

1950s: Sunset Boulevard and Strangers on a Train: Kooks and Unrequited Love

Kooks and unrequited love seems to be a theme that runs through this decade. Sunset Boulevard is my favorite film of any decade and Norma Desmond one of my most favorite characters. Period. Poor Norma.... fruitcake mad for Joe Gillis... and poor Max...fruitcake mad for Norma. More Billy Wilder perfection.

Criss Cross....

Hitchcock's 1951 "Strangers on a Train," the other half of this nutty double feature, also has a kook who seems to be, if not in love, at least enthralled with his unwilling partner in crime. The way the word "Guy" drips out of Bruno's mouth is about as creepy as it gets. I kind of think even Norma Desmond would head for the door in Bruno's presence.

1960s: The Apartment and Charade: surrounded by baddies

Billy Wilder again! I guess all I need are Chaplin and Wilder films to feel happy. Aside from the complicated and adorable love story between Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, one of the uncomfortable aspects of "The Apartment" is the casual immorality of of all those guys at Consolidated Insurance.

Seriously, what's not to love here?

1963's "Charade" finds Audrey and Cary (I'm on a first name basis with these 2) also surrounded by bad guys. That's about it for any connection to "The Apartment" (except maybe each has a memorable theme song). But, since this is one of my favorites from the '60s, I had to include it. It is beautiful, clever, thrilling and I love it. I never tire of it.

Oh wait! Can we have a triple feature for the 60s? I would gladly get more popcorn and sit through Mel Brooks' "The Producers" (1967) any time, any place. There are too many reasons why to count, but mainly because for the previous 4 years I kept repeating one line of the film over and over again (last line before the fade out):

Thank you, Mel Brooks, for all the laughs.

And many thanks to Rick at The Classic Film and TV Café for reminding us about National Classic Movie Day.. although for most of us, that's every day, right?