Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Belle Starr (1941)

After watching THE TALL TARGET last night, tonight I decided to stay in the Civil War era by watching BELLE STARR, also known as BELLE STARR: THE BANDIT QUEEN. Gene Tierney, the star of Friday night's movie RINGS ON HER FINGERS, plays Belle, a Missourian who refuses to accept that the South has lost the Civil War.

Tierney seems, especially in the early scenes, to be channeling more than a little of Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara in her portrayal of flirtatious, temperamental Southern loyalist Belle. It's a bit disconcerting at first hearing Tierney with a high-pitched Southern accent, rather than her usual smoother tones, though perhaps it wasn't as much of a shock as hearing Tierney's Brooklyn accent in RINGS ON HER FINGERS! Ultimately, however, it's an interesting performance, in part because -- like the heroine of RINGS ON HER FINGERS -- it's a fairly unusual role for Tierney. Belle becomes a wild woman, a vengeful crack shot who is comfortable living a rugged outlaw life in the service of the cause she believes in, the South. As Moira Finnie aptly noted in the comments for RINGS ON HER FINGERS, BELLE STARR is "a distinctly aggressive role for her [Tierney] with echoes of Scarlett O'Hara."

Randolph Scott and Dana Andrews are the men in Tierney's life. Andrews unfortunately doesn't get to do much more than look pained in his role as a Northern major who once loved Belle, but Scott imbues the Rebel Sam Starr with rascally charm and subtly but convincingly portrays Sam's gradual slide into becoming more outlaw than soldier. John Shepperd, who was later known as Shepperd Strudwick, plays Belle's devoted brother; Shepperd also appeared with Tierney in RINGS ON HER FINGERS. The supporting cast includes Chill Wills, Elizabeth Patterson, and Louise Beavers.

The film is a bit of a curiosity from an historical perspective, in terms of its treatment of African-Americans. There are some terms and attitudes which I found uncomfortable as a modern viewer, even acknowledging that the film is portraying the vastly different post Civil War era of nearly a century and a half ago, and that the film is structured to engender a certain sympathy for its Southern heroine. It's one of those interesting questions -- what about the film reflects the filmmakers' attempts to portray the Civil War era vs. what attitudes in the film are reflective of the year it was made, 1941.

All in all, the film isn't an especially good one, but it's entertaining enough, particularly if one enjoys the cast. The vivid Fox Technicolor, which highlights Tierney's remarkable beauty, is a definite plus.

The main theme music for BELLE STARR is Alfred Newman's "Ann Rutledge Theme," which somewhat ironically was composed for John Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939). It seems a bit of a strange choice to use in scoring a movie about a Rebel heroine! The music was also later used memorably in Ford's THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. The busy Newman had a habit of recycling his themes; for instance, the theme for STREET SCENE (1931) was used again in I WAKE UP SCREAMING, CRY OF THE CITY, and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, among others, while his BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940) music reappeared in YELLOW SKY and RAWHIDE.

The movie was directed by Irving Cummings, whose three-decade directing career included a number of Betty Grable films; Cummings also acted in silent movies. The film runs 87 minutes.

BELLE STARR is not yet available on video or DVD, but it can be seen on cable periodically on Fox Movie Channel.

Advent Blessings

Best wishes to all my readers for a happy and meaningful Advent season.

Update: Click here for photos of First Lady Laura Bush accepting delivery of the White House Christmas tree today.

The tree was planted in North Carolina 23 years ago.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The Tall Target (1951)

I've seen quite a number of Dick Powell movies this year -- links are provided at the end of this post -- and I think my favorite thus far was tonight's movie, THE TALL TARGET, directed by Anthony Mann.

THE TALL TARGET is set in 1861 and tells the story of John Kennedy (Powell), a New York Police detective who desperately attempts to unravel a plot to assassinate President-Elect Lincoln. The story unfolds as Kennedy's night train speeds toward Baltimore, the site of the planned pre-Inaugural murder. The film is very loosely based on historical facts.

The movie, set entirely on the train and in train stations, has tremendous atmosphere, beginning with the faint sounds of trains in the background as MGM's Leo the Lion roars at the start of the film. The eye-catching opening credits, which roll up from the bottom of the screen, are superimposed over the train engine ready to begin its journey, and the viewer is then immediately plunged into the exciting story. Lanterns swinging in the fog as the train pulls in for its stops, telegrams sent and received at train stations, and the engine speeding through the night, as seen from the engineer's perspective, all contribute enormously to the presentation of a rather unique film.

The outstanding cast includes Paula Raymond (you can read a bit more on Raymond here), Adolphe Menjou, Marshall Thompson, Ruby Dee, Florence Bates, and Leif Erickson. Will Geer is memorable as the train conductor, who perpetually walks around with a shawl over his shoulders. Further down in the supporting cast are familiar faces such as Barbara Billingsley (LEAVE IT TO BEAVER) as the hapless mother of a wild little boy and Jeff Richards (SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS) as a Philadelphia police officer.

Bit parts are played by many recognizable faces such as Jonathan Hale, Ken Christy, Victor Kilian, Percy Helton, Frank Sully, Will Wright, and Roger Moore (not 007, but the older brother of Robert Young, who had a long career as a bit player). Dick Powell's close friend Regis Toomey, who was godfather to one of Powell and June Allyson's children, played a small but critical unbilled role as Inspector Reilly; Toomey was somewhat disguised by muttonchop sideburns and glasses.

THE TALL TARGET was shot in black and white and runs 78 minutes.

THE TALL TARGET can be seen on cable on TCM. The film has not yet been released on video or DVD. Click here to indicate interest in a DVD release.

This year's previous reviews of Dick Powell movies: FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933), 42ND STREET (1933), GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), DAMES (1934), FLIRTATION WALK (1934), HOLLYWOOD HOTEL (1937), NAUGHTY BUT NICE (1939), and CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940).

Fall 2009 Update: THE TALL TARGET is now available on DVD-R via the Warner Archive.

March 2014 Update: I had the great pleasure of seeing a 35mm print of THE TALL TARGET at UCLA along with Anthony Mann's THE FAR COUNTRY (1954).

Weekend Fun: The Original Pantry Cafe

While members of our families were at tonight's USC-Notre Dame game, I met a good friend visiting from out of state at the Original Pantry Cafe, located a couple miles down Figueroa from the Coliseum.

The Pantry is an historic Los Angeles restaurant, but somehow I'd never managed to visit it before today.

Here's a shot of the exterior sign:


The front door reads "Through a door which has no key, you will enter a cafe that has...NEVER BEEN CLOSED SINCE 1924."


This sign marks the Pantry as a Cultural Heritage Monument. To the right is a photograph of the former Mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan, who has owned the Pantry for many years.


The interior is small and nothing fancy, but has an antique charm, with the menus posted on the walls:


When we left there was quite a line curved around the corner. Here's how it looks after dark:


The Pantry serves down-home American food including breakfast, which is available 24 hours a day. We enjoyed a dinner of pancakes and hash browns while we caught up on some of the news since we last met in Florida earlier this year. We're in regular touch via email, but there's nothing like having uninterrupted time to sit and chat in person!

Trojans Beat the Irish, 38-3

The USC-Notre Dame rivalry is very special...the more so as I have a close friend who is a Notre Dame alum, and she now has a daughter playing in the Notre Dame marching band. Our daughter, of course, is a junior at USC.

The Notre Dame band and my friend's family all flew out for this year's game, which is also providing a great opportunity for us to have time to visit over the long weekend.

I'm happy to say that USC won again this year, and thanks to Oregon State's loss, USC now has an excellent shot at returning to the Rose Bowl.

Here are some photos my USC daughter (aka gategirl) took at tonight's game:

The USC marching band enters:


USC taking the field:


The Notre Dame marching band's halftime show:


The Olympic Torch is always lit in the 4th Quarter. Barely visible on the screen to the right is Traveler, the horse which is a USC mascot.


Final Score:


Postgame Celebration:


An L.A. Times photo gallery is here.

Fight on!

Previously: 2006 and 2007 games.

Update: Here's the as-it-happened coverage from Ed Morrissey, who attended tonight's game.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Rings On Her Fingers (1942)

In 1942 Gene Tierney and Henry Fonda, who had previously costarred in the Western THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES (1940), were reunited for the light comedy RINGS ON HER FINGERS.

In RINGS ON HER FINGERS Tierney is cast against type as Susie, a gum-snapping girdle salesgirl with a Brooklyn accent. Susie is taken under the wing of a pair of con artists (Spring Byington and Laird Cregar) and transformed into elegant Linda Worthington -- minus the gum and the accent. The trio cons John Wheeler (Henry Fonda) out of $15,000, but Linda falls head over heels in love with John and spends the rest of the movie figuring out how to return his $15,000 and live happily ever after.

It's a cute, well-made film. Fonda and Tierney have good chemistry and are an appealing couple. It's quite surprising seeing Tierney in her early scenes as the shopgirl, as it's a character unlike anything else I've seen her play. Byington and Cregar are always fun to watch, and the supporting cast also includes the marvelous character actor Henry Stephenson. Shepperd Strudwick (billed as John Shepperd) also appears.

The movie was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, who directed classics such as THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940) and BLOOD AND SAND (1941). It was shot in black and white and runs 86 minutes.

In GENE TIERNEY: A BIOGRAPHY Tierney's husband at the time the film was made, Oleg Cassini, shares an interesting anecdote. He had accompanied his bride of a few months to a location shoot for RINGS ON HER FINGERS on Catalina Island. While they were there, it was announced that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Since it was uncertain whether an island off the California coast would be safe, the crew had to pack up immediately and sail back to the mainland. The scene early in the film where Tierney meets Fonda is set on Catalina.

RINGS ON HER FINGERS can be seen on cable on Fox Movie Channel. It's not available on VHS or DVD. Click here to indicate interest in a DVD release at Amazon.

2012 Update: RINGS ON HER FINGERS is now available on DVD-R via the Fox Cinema Archives.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tonight's Movie: WALL-E (2008)

For at least the third year in a row, our family enjoyed a new Pixar DVD release on Thanksgiving Night.

This year WALL-E followed in the footsteps of CARS (2006) and RATATOUILLE (2007).

I enjoyed WALL-E, although I wasn't as swept away by it as many reviewers. I appreciated the creativity and artistry of those who made it -- and had fun picking out influences from all sorts of films, including E.T., 2001, and STAR WARS -- but, let's face it, the worlds depicted in the film are depressing.

As a musicals fan, for me the best parts of the movie were the ongoing references to HELLO, DOLLY! (1969). The film's startling opening, with Michael Crawford singing the beginning of my favorite DOLLY song, "Put On Your Sunday Clothes," was just about my favorite part of the movie. What makes it even better is that for years an instrumental version of this song has been part of Disneyland's Main Street music loop; now it is truly a "Disney song"! Having another DOLLY song close the movie was a lovely touch. While watching the movie, I couldn't help but wonder what Michael Kidd and Gene Kelly would think if they were able to see the film and its depiction of robots mesmerized by their work.

Sound effects wizard Ben Burtt provides the "voice" of the title character. Pixar regular John Ratzenberger is back once again (check out his very interesting website); he'll also be in the cast of Pixar's next movie, UP, along with Christopher Plummer and Ed Asner. Fred Willard appears onscreen in WALL-E, while Kathy Najimy and Sigourney Weaver voice characters.

WALL-E can be seen on DVD in a 3-Disc Special Edition or a Single-Disc Edition. I chose the 3-Disc Edition as my youngest son, in particular, is fascinated by "making of" and special effects featurettes. The set includes the 87-minute documentary THE PIXAR STORY (2007) which should be very enjoyable.

Tonight's Movie: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

One of my favorite things to do on Thanksgiving is watch MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. Since the movie begins on Thanksgiving Day and ends on Christmas, it's the perfect way to begin the holiday season.

Most people are already familiar with the movie, but it must be said that it only gets better with time and repeated viewings. The film is perfection itself, starting with the lead actors -- Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Oscar-winning Edmund Gwenn -- and the fine supporting cast which includes Gene Lockhart, Jerome Cowan, and William Frawley.

As with WHITE CHRISTMAS and other holiday classics, memories of watching the film over past holidays add to the nostalgic glow and magic each time the movie is visited anew.

The movie was directed by George Seaton, who also wrote the screenplay, based on Valentine Davies' story. Seaton and Davies both won Oscars. The movie was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT; among the other nominees was another holiday perennial, THE BISHOP'S WIFE. The movie was filmed in black and white and runs 96 minutes.

Fans of the film might be interested in two related books. MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET: A HOLLYWOOD CLASSIC by Sarah Parker Danielson is a beautiful oversized coffee table book.

The book is 112 pages and contains numerous beautifully reproduced full-page film stills and publicity photos. It's a real treasure which I highly recommend.

The Valentine Davies book has been republished in many editions. I have a red and white paperback illustrated with pictures from the film.

One of the loveliest copies of the book is a facsimile of the 1947 edition (pictured here). It's so beautiful that I chose it as a Christmas gift for a couple of good friends the year it was republished.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET can be seen on a Special Edition DVD. The DVD includes a commentary by Maureen O'Hara, which is interesting, though fairly short; there are some big gaps of silence in between her comments. Her commentary on THE BLACK SWAN (1942), with Rudy Behlmer triggering her memories with questions, was more extensive and detailed. O'Hara has a phenomenal recall for names and people.

The DVD also includes a documentary and the 1955 TV version which reunited Teresa Wright and Macdonald Carey, the sweethearts of Alfred Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). In the TV version Thomas Mitchell plays Kris and Sandy Descher is Susan, with Dick Foran as the DA and Ray Collins as the Judge.

My advice is to ignore the colorized disc of the 1947 film which is included in the box and watch the film in its original beautiful black and white.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET has also been released on VHS.

The trailer can be seen at IMDb. You may notice that the trailer makes no mention of Christmas or Santa Claus whatsoever -- the movie was released in May!

Happy Thanksgiving

Happiest Thanksgiving Wishes to All!

I have much for which to be grateful this year...including having so many kind and thoughtful readers who stop by this blog on a regular basis.

Have a wonderful day!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Design for Living (1933)

DESIGN FOR LIVING was directed by Ernst Lubitsch and stars Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins. Given the creators, I was hoping for something really special, but instead I found the film merely passably entertaining.

Tom (March) and George (Cooper) are a pair of starving artist Americans in Paris; Tom is a playwright and George is a painter. The close friends each fall in love with Gilda (Hopkins), who can't decide between the two men. So she decides to move in with both of them! But romance is forbidden; instead, Gilda plans to nurture the men's artistic work. Tom and George's careers take off, but their romantic lives grow increasingly complicated.

I was expecting a light, witty souffle along the lines of Lubitsch's sparkling TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932), but instead DESIGN FOR LIVING seemed more leaden than airy. One can understand Gilda's dilemma, but as time goes on the trio's romantic difficulties become more painful than funny. (In some regards the film's plot difficulties parallel 1940's TOO MANY HUSBANDS, reviewed here.) The last 10 minutes are amusing, but aren't quite enough to push the movie over the top to the next level.

The three leads all do their best with the material. Hopkins gives a wild child performance somewhat akin to her jewel thief in TROUBLE IN PARADISE. I'm especially partial to March; he and Cooper share a funny drunk scene late in the movie. The supporting cast includes Edward Everett Horton, Franklin Pangborn, Isabel Jewell, Jane Darwell, and Mary Gordon.

DESIGN FOR LIVING runs 91 minutes. The Ben Hecht screenplay was based on a play by Noel Coward. Hopkins' shimmering gowns are by Travis Banton.

DESIGN FOR LIVING is available on DVD as part of the 5-film Gary Cooper Collection. The other films in the set are THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER, BEAU GESTE, THE GENERAL DIED AT DAWN, and PETER IBBETSON.

This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

Tonight's Movie: Letty Lynton (1932)

I've been savoring the anticipation of the pre-Code classic LETTY LYNTON for some months now, thanks to the kindness of Carrie. Thanksgiving weekend seemed like the perfect time to finally enjoy it...and enjoy it I certainly did.

Wealthy Letty Lynton (Joan Crawford) has been living a somewhat dissolute life in Montevideo as the mistress of possessive Emile Renaul (Nils Asther). Letty wants to end the relationship and sails for the United States, leaving Renaul behind. On the ship Letty finds true love in the person of Jerry Darrow (Robert Montgomery), who wants Letty to be his wife. When the boat docks, the evil Renaul is waiting for Letty. Renaul possesses some letters which Letty doesn't want Jerry to see. Will Renaul ever let Letty go and begin her new life?

Crawford and Montgomery are splendid as Letty and Jerry. Crawford never looked more beautiful, wearing stunning gowns by Adrian. (Half a million copies of the white "Letty Lynton gown" were sold by Macy's.) I've made it no secret that I've never been a Crawford fan, but she was very appealing as the tormented, lovestruck heroine. I liked her in this very much.

I've been trying to put my finger on the secret of Montgomery's appeal, and I think part of it is his intimate and sincere manner when he's being serious, combined with his great good humor. After watching this film I love him more than ever. Over the last couple of years I've seen 21 Montgomery movies -- 20 of those for the first time ever -- and as regular readers of this blog probably realize, I've seen most of those movies this year. It's been great fun exploring his career, having previously only been familiar with MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941), HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941), and THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945). I'm hard-pressed to name a favorite, but LETTY LYNTON joins HIDE-OUT (1934), THE MAN IN POSSESSION (1931), TROUBLE FOR TWO (1936), and 1937's THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY (also co-starring Crawford) as some of the titles I've found extra-special.

The last 10 minutes or so of LETTY LYNTON is pure pre-Code heaven; as Leonard Maltin puts it, the film has "a nifty pre-Code finale." The final scenes are daring, unexpected, romantic, and more than a little shocking, if only in terms of what one expects from an "old movie." My lips are sealed, but let's just say you would never have seen an ending like this after the Production Code was enforced starting in July 1934!

The strong supporting cast includes Lewis Stone, who makes the most of his one scene as a District Attorney. The more I see of Stone's work, the more I appreciate him. May Robson is Letty's chilly mother, while Walter Walker and Emma Dunn are appealing as Jerry's kind parents. Louise Closser Hale plays Letty's devoted maid, Miranda.

The film was directed by Clarence Brown and runs 84 minutes.

Here's a review from Lauren at The Life Cinematic, which pronounces the film "an extraordinarily fine romantic melodrama... The resolution is probably something that could only happen to the fabulously wealthy, but my inclination toward social responsibility has not yet returned. Crawford’s great in this, and Montgomery’s a perfect stand-by-your-gal match. A really superlative film of its kind in every way." I'm in complete agreement.

Photos can be seen at The Films of Joan Crawford. (Warning: significant plot spoilers are here and at the Wikipedia and TCM links below.)

LETTY LYNTON has been generally unavailable for screening since 1936, due to MGM losing a copyright case which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Copies are floating around -- i.e., Leonard Maltin has reviewed the film for his CLASSIC MOVIE GUIDE, and it can be seen in sections on YouTube -- but to my knowledge the film hasn't been shown on TV or in theaters for decades. The copy I saw was watchable, but only just. I would dearly love to see it again in crisp black and white, with the actors and Adrian's creations seen as they deserve.

Whatever the copyright issues may have been, it's criminal that a film like this is still out of general circulation after over seven decades. The artistry of those who made it should not be lost for all time. Hopefully at some point the legalities will be cleared up so that the film can be widely seen, as it deserves.

Please click here and register your request at the TCM website for the film to be released on DVD.

My thanks again to Carrie for making it possible for me to see the movie! It provided a great start to the holiday weekend.

Update: Fabulous Letty Lynton and A Glimmer of Hope for Letty Lynton.

Cooking With Martha

USA Today has a fun piece on a novice cook who receives a lesson on roasting chicken from Martha Stewart herself.

Martha's student made an excellent point which I've found to be true as I've worked on improving my cooking skills in recent years: "People say they don't understand computers, but if you just go in there and play around, you start to get your bearings. I think that ought to be the same way with cooking."

Stewart's new book, MARTHA STEWART'S COOKING SCHOOL, was released last month; see this post.

White Christmas Opens on Broadway

The new Broadway production of WHITE CHRISTMAS, which I wrote about in August, opened last weekend.

The general consensus seems to be that the show is enjoyable but nothing spectacular.

USA Today (click title of this post) rates it 2-1/2 stars. The New York Times found it "efficient but bland."

The Philadelphia Inquirer pronounced the show "dated, still delightful," while Newsday termed it "straightforward and old-fashioned."

Based on the reviews, I suspect I'd have a pretty good time at this one, since "old-fashioned" suits me fine. Hopefully Southern Californians will have the opportunity to see a touring production at some point in the future.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Tear Gas Squad (1940)

Fun entertainment can sometimes be found in unexpected places -- in this evening's case, a "B" musical with the unlikely name TEAR GAS SQUAD.

TEAR GAS SQUAD is a 55-minute Warner Bros. programmer starring a young Dennis Morgan and John Payne. Morgan plays Tommy, a nightclub singer who is enamoured with a young lady named Jerry (Gloria Dickson). Jerry comes from a family of police officers, so Tommy decides he'll become one too. This doesn't go over well with Tommy's training officer, Bill (John Payne), who is also courting Jerry.

It's an amusing little story which gives Morgan several opportunities to display his fine tenor voice amidst some police action sequences. The film is nothing particularly outstanding, but it does exactly what it sets out to do: entertain its audience for the better part of an hour. It also provides a fun time capsule -- gotta love that "Calling all cars!" barked out by the police dispatcher.

The supporting cast includes familiar faces such as George Reeves, Edgar Buchanan, Mary Gordon, and Herbert Anderson.

TEAR GAS SQUAD, which has also been shown under the title STATE COP, was shot in black and white. It was directed by Terry O. Morse.

TEAR GAS SQUAD can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. It has not had a video or DVD release.

The trailer is here.

An Interesting Question

American Thinker has published a very good piece regarding the growing controversy surrounding Senator Obama's refusal to allow the public to see his original "vault" birth certificate.

Disclosing the witnessed birth certificate would put to rest once and for all questions regarding whether Obama was born in Hawaii. There have been rumors to the contrary, including a story that his paternal grandmother witnessed his birth in a hospital in Mombasa, Kenya.

The computerized certificate which has previously been released is not the original birth certificate, and is questionable as at the time the Senator was born it may have been possible for a foreign birth to be registered in Hawaii.

I find Senator Obama's refusal in this matter quite odd. It seems as though a potential President should be more than happy to prove that he meets the Constitutional requirements for the office he seeks and end the issue permanently.

This Crazy World

A few parents who obviously have far too much time on their hands protested the annual kindergarten Thanksgiving feast celebration shared by two Southern California elementary schools, and district officials agreed to end the 40-year tradition.

I'm sorry to say that one of the parents who pressured the district to stop celebrating Thanksgiving -- which one protesting parent said would equate with dressing 5-year-olds as Nazis and Jews -- is a professor from my alma mater, the University of Redlands.

Some parents sent their children to school in costume today and plan to keep their children at home on Wednesday so the district won't get state attendance money for the day. I think the day-long boycott is a fine idea which will hopefully serve as a wake-up call to weak-kneed district administrators.

Our country has reached the point where we really need to stop letting people whose feelings are hurt dictate the behavior of the majority. And the protestors need to grow up and get over their depressed, negative outlook on life. Unfortunately, that's hardly likely to happen, but anyone who sees evil in 5-year-olds giving thanks and celebrating friendship between cultures has got bigger problems than Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Classic Movies Blog Roundup

I'm buried in work as I try to finish my last few proofreading jobs before taking a few days off...hopefully my break will include watching more old movies! It will be a fun week, including hosting our daughter's college roommate and seeing dear friends visiting from out of state.

In the meantime, there's a wealth of interesting writing on classic movies out there in the blogosphere...here are a few posts I've enjoyed recently.

Jacqueline muses on "10 Things I Like About Old Movies" at Another Old Movie Blog (click title of this post).

That theme was picked up by Campaspe at Self-Styled Siren.

Be sure to read all the comments on the above posts...I found myself regularly nodding in agreement: Art deco sets, check. Trains and ocean liners, check. "Buy war bonds at this theater," check. Nightclubs, check. Orry-Kelly and Adrian, check. And so much more...including the amazing supporting casts I mentioned last night.

Jacqueline also muses on typewriters and romance in a fun post. Sometimes I rather miss my old typewriter and that lovely ring when the end of the line was nearing...

At Skeins of Thought Moira Finnie has an excellent essay on librarians in the movies, which was originally posted at TCM's Movie Morlocks blog last summer. As I commented at her site, every time I thought of another librarian movie, I scrolled down a little further and she had it covered!

Katie Richardson at Obscure Classics recently posted on favorite wedding scenes and has some great picks. I especially enjoyed her thoughts on I MARRIED A WITCH; the wedding that wasn't and the wedding night that was were my two favorite scenes in the movie. (My review is here.) The only film she mentions which I haven't already seen -- and enjoyed -- is MAN'S CASTLE, which I recently taped.

At Movie Morlocks Suzidoll muses on Thanksgiving in the movies...Thanksgiving is depicted in films relatively rarely. Can you think of more titles than what she's listed? HOLIDAY INN comes to mind...

And speaking of Thanksgiving, if you haven't seen the Macy's ad with a montage of movie scenes mentioning the store, be sure to check it out at Classic Montgomery.

Happy reading!

Alan Colmes Leaving Hannity & Colmes

I can't say I'm sorry to read this news.

Colmes will continue at FNC as a liberal commentator.

Assuming the program continues in the same format, I'd like to see a liberal who doesn't reflexively repeat Democrat talking points take the chair.

Regular guest Kirsten Powers would be a good choice. Juan Williams is another possible option.

Powers is the top name listed at this poll at TV Newser.

Update: Here's more info from Hot Air.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943)

Ruth Kirke (Deanna Durbin) is an American teacher raised in China by her missionary parents. When war forces Ruth to flee the country with eight orphans in tow, she must masquerade as THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY in order to assure the children entrance into the United States.

Wealthy Commodore Holliday (Harry Davenport) went down with the ship which was transporting Ruth and the children to safety, and Ruth is induced by the ship's surviving first mate (Barry Fitzgerald) to pretend she is the Commodore's widow and move the children into the Holliday mansion in San Francisco. There Ruth meets the Commodore's grandson, Tom Holliday (Edmond O'Brien). Will Ruth become Mrs. Holliday for real?

Given its subject matter, the film is more serious than the typical Durbin film. The flashback scenes in which Ruth describes how she and the children fled China -- and accepted the additional responsibility of a wounded Chinese woman's baby along the way -- are both harrowing and poignant. A sequence where the children, now safe in San Francisco, respond with terror to American planes overhead is likewise quite moving in its depiction of the war's impact on the young. Some of Deanna's songs in this film are lullabies she sings to the children, which are beautiful.

As always, Deanna Durbin is fresh and charming in the lead role. She gave very natural and unaffected performances which are quite unlike anyone else of the era. Her calm, quiet manner of speaking is just one of her unique qualities, while on the other hand she could also be quite funny. Deanna was very much an original.

Durbin and O'Brien make a good team; his immediate affection for the children who unexpectedly land on the Holliday doorstep is very appealing. In 1948 Durbin and O'Brien were reunited in FOR THE LOVE OF MARY, reviewed here.

While watching the movie, I reflected that films today just don't have the incredibly deep supporting casts, filled with recognizable faces, which were a hallmark of Hollywood's Golden Era. Besides Fitzgerald and Davenport, the supporting cast also includes Arthur Treacher (as, what else, a butler), Frieda Inescort, Grant Mitchell, Elisabeth Risdon, Esther Dale, Philip Ahn, Gus Schilling, Jonathan Hale, Irving Bacon, and George Chandler. Between them, Bacon and Chandler racked up over 950 credits! Add in Hale and you're up to around 1200 film and TV credits by just three of the actors who appeared in this film.

The children are all delightful. The best-known of the child actors is probably Christopher Severn, who played Toby Miniver in MRS. MINIVER (1942). His sister Yvonne also appears as one of the orphans. Christopher and Yvonne had six other siblings who were also child actors; the family did much of their work at MGM, where Christopher and Yvonne appeared with two of their siblings, Raymond and Ernest, in Spencer Tracy's A GUY NAMED JOE (1943). Later in the '40s, Ernest Severn played Robert Mitchum as a child in an excellent non-MGM film, PURSUED (1947). Billy Severn gave an especially notable performance as a war orphan rescued by Robert Young in MGM's JOURNEY FOR MARGARET (1942). The other Severn children were Clifford, Winston, and Venetia.

THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY was directed by Bruce Manning and an uncredited Jean Renoir. It was filmed in black and white and runs 96 minutes. The movie was Oscar-nominated for Best Musical Score for a Drama or Comedy.

This movie is available on video.

Links to more reviews of Deanna Durbin movies can be found at the bottom of my previous post on MAD ABOUT MUSIC (1938).

June 2012 Update: THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY is now available on DVD-R in the Universal Vault series.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Heartwarming Story

Friday four off-duty Anaheim firefighters arrived at an Anaheim Hills home which burned down in the massive fire here in Orange County last weekend. Their mission: to sift through the rubble looking for anything which had survived the fire.

After hours of hard work -- and prayer -- they located Dana Philblad's wedding ring, which she'd been unable to wear due to pregnancy.

One of the firemen said: "Take it as you will, but three of the four of us are people of faith. I told one of my buddies just a couple minutes earlier I thought we didn't have much of a chance. But I told him I'd asked God that if he could help us find something for these people, that would be awesome. Little did I know that two of the other three guys had the same thought and had prayed that in their hearts. Within 15 to 20 minutes, we came up with the ring. It was like a little blessing for us, to be involved and share that with the family."

Slide Threat Permanently Closes Many Yosemite Cabins

Yosemite's Curry Village has now lost over one-third of its cabin capacity, as 233 of the Village's 618 cabins will be closed permanently due to danger from possible rock slides.

A major slide from Glacier Point hit the park on October 8th.

A view of Curry Village wood and tent cabins taken last summer:


The number of hotel rooms and cabins has steadily decreased at Yosemite in recent years.

The L.A. Times reports it could take over half a decade to build new accommodations due to judicial restrictions on park construction...yet another example of a judge who has a one-man kingdom, making law from the bench.

Meanwhile, the large reduction in room capacity means it's going to be much more difficult for visitors to Yosemite to book reservations.

Previously: Curry Village Review.

Friday, November 21, 2008

They're Going to Disneyland!

President Bush will pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey next week in the 61st annual ceremony.

You can vote for the names of the turkey and its alternate at the White House website (click title of this post). President Bush will announce the names during the ceremony on November 26th.

Last year the turkeys were flown to Disney World in Orlando after the White House ceremony, but this year they will again be featured at Disneyland, where they can be visited at Big Thunder Ranch in Frontierland.

Tonight's Movie: Three Loves Has Nancy (1938)

Sweet country girl Nancy (Janet Gaynor) is left at the altar by George, whom she's known since childhood.

Nancy goes looking for George in the big city, and this being MGM movie land, she ends up at the New York City apartments of writer Malcolm Niles (Robert Montgomery) and his publisher and next-door neighbor, Robert Hanson (Franchot Tone). How lucky can a girl get? Before you know it, Nancy is cooking for Bob, inspiring a serial by Mal about the adventures of a country girl, and turning both men's lives inside out.

I found this movie terrific fun. Montgomery and Tone make excellent sidekicks, with wonderful repartee. (Two years previously they costarred in NO MORE LADIES, reviewed here.) Gaynor overdoes the hyper country bumpkin at the outset of the film, but as soon as Nancy puts on an apron and whips up breakfast, the movie starts firing on all cylinders. The interplay between the three leads is delightful; I watched most of the film with a smile on my face.

This is MGM '30s escapism at its best, including marvelous art direction by Cedric Gibbons; the Art Deco bar, kitchens, terrace and other sets are worth watching the movie in and of themselves.

The excellent supporting cast includes Claire Dodd, Charley Grapewin, Grady Sutton, Charles Lane, Guy Kibbee, and most notably Reginald Owen as Montgomery's butler.

Janet Gaynor met MGM's great fashion designer Adrian when he designed her costumes for this film. She retired from the screen shortly thereafter; she and Adrian married and had a son. They were married for 2 decades, until Adrian's death in 1959. A few years later Gaynor embarked on another two-decade marriage, to producer Paul Gregory -- the man who gave James Garner his acting start with a nonspeaking role on Broadway in THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL.

There's a perceptive review of THREE LOVES HAS NANCY posted at Obscure Classics.

THREE LOVES HAS NANCY was shot in black and white. It runs 69 minutes. The film was directed by Richard Thorpe, who had directed Montgomery in his Oscar-nominated performance in NIGHT MUST FALL the previous year. Thorpe and Montgomery teamed on other titles including THE EARL OF CHICAGO, RAGE IN HEAVEN, and a Montgomery film I'm especially anxious to see, BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY (correction: BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON, aka HAUNTED HONEYMOON), in which Montgomery plays Lord Peter Wimsey.

THREE LOVES HAS NANCY isn't available on DVD or VHS. Click here to register interest in a DVD release.

This film can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer can be seen here.

April 2012 Update: I'm happy to report that THREE LOVES HAS NANCY is now available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive.

Bob Hope Honored With Postage Stamp

Bob Hope will be honored by a commemorative postage stamp to be released next spring.

According to the AP, "Hope died in 2003 and becomes the first person to benefit from a postal rule change allowing individuals to be honored on a stamp five years after their death. Before the rule change in 2007 people other than ex-presidents had to wait 10 years to become the subject of a stamp."

Mr. Hope was the first person declared an "honorary veteran" of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The design will be unveiled Monday in a ceremony at Ellis Island.

Watch Those Constitutional Rights

I've been taking a bit of a sabbatical from politics after the never-ending Presidential campaign and election, but Ed Morrissey has two excellent posts today highlighting just two of the ways our 1st and 2nd Amendment rights may be threatened by the coming Obama Administration.

The first post (click title of this post) is about Obama's unusual interest in whether potential administration employees or their families own guns.

It's no more Obama's business if an applicant or spouse owns a gun than it is to inquire about religion or other personal matters.

Morrissey also points out that Obama's pick for Attorney General has advocated regulating Internet communication: he wants "reasonable restrictions, reasonable regulations in how people interact on the Internet."

And who decides what's "reasonable"?

Add to this the ever-present threat by Democrats to shut down talk radio via reinstating the so-called "Fairness" Doctrine or by using "localism" and you've got a two-pronged front that could open up on voices dissenting with the Obama Administration.

Morrissey: "We apparently will have an incoming administration blissfully ignorant of the Constitution they will swear to defend. Barack Obama couldn’t articulate a coherent statement on gun rights despite his supposed status as a Constitutional scholar, Joe Biden couldn’t figure out what Article I actually establishes, and now Eric Holder hasn’t read the First Amendment."

To learn more about localism, here's an editorial at Human Events.

Pushing Daisies Gets the Ax

Sad faces in our house today for the fans of PUSHING DAISIES.

I've yet to see the show -- I often spend weeknights working -- but this series was loved by my daughters especially. The Season 1 DVD set is on my younger daughter's Christmas wish list.

Season 2 will end up being 13 episodes. Hopefully that's enough for a DVD release so fans can own the entire series.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Book: Born Country: How Faith, Family, and Music Brought Me Home

One of my all-time favorite country music groups is Alabama. It was thus a nice surprise to find lead singer Randy Owen appeared on HANNITY & COLMES earlier this week when I caught up with it via my DVR.

Randy has written his autobiography, which immediately went on my Christmas wish list. The book is said to "weave in the Alabama story, Randy’s own experiences with temptation in the face of superstar status, and how he held on to his traditional, Christian values over time."

Alabama had a remarkable 42 No. 1 hit singles. I own many of their CDs -- and, dating myself here, a couple LP's. I'd be hard-pressed to name my favorite Alabama song, although if I hear "Love in the First Degree" it immediately carries me back to my college years; during that time period a couple college friends and I made the drive from Redlands to the L.A. Sports Arena to see an Alabama concert, which is a great memory. (Johnny Lee and Mickey Gilley were the opening acts...)

Randy also has a new solo album, ONE ON ONE, which includes a single written to raise funds for St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

For those who are new to Alabama's music, the 25th ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION is a great place to start. For less expensive options, try ULTIMATE ALABAMA: 20 #1 HITS or IN THE MOOD: THE LOVE SONGS.

Saturday Update: Many thanks to Moira Finnie for sharing this link to a new NPR interview with Randy Owen.

U.S. Homeschooling Growing Quickly

A new study from Stanford University's Hoover Institution says that homeschooling in the United States grew 29% between 1999 and 2003.

I'd certainly be interested to know what the numbers are since 2003, which is the year we began homeschooling.

A survey last year showed that 45% of Americans know a homeschooling family, which is up from 40% the previous year.

I can certainly attest to these types of changes. A decade ago we didn't know any homeschoolers. Two of my closest friends -- neither of whom lives locally -- began homeschooling before I did, and after I started, my cousin checked out what my family was doing and took the plunge herself. She's now been homeschooling nearly as long as I have. Over the last few years my younger children have found local homeschoolers on their AYSO soccer teams, and my younger daughter's longtime Girl Scout leader became a homeschooler around the same time I did.

It seems that homeschooling is increasingly an ordinary fact of life, rather than being seeing as something exotic and unusual.

We have also noticed a surge in how many school-age children we see "out and about" during school hours. For instance, we go out to lunch with other homeschooling families a couple times a month, and we always see other families in the restaurants. Some of this can be accounted for by year-round students who are "off track," but it's highly unlikely that's the entire explanation, as there aren't all that many year-round schools in our area.

Over 75% of American colleges and universities now have admissions policies for homeschoolers, compared to just 10% in 1986.

USA Today had a good overview today of various options available for homeschooling families.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Notable Passings

...Irving Brecher, who was Oscar-nominated for the screenplay for the classic musical MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, has passed away at the age of 94. (Click the title of this post for his obituary.)

Brecher shared the nomination with Fred F. Finklehoffe.

Brecher also worked on SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN, the musicals YOLANDA AND THE THIEF and SUMMER HOLIDAY, and a couple of Marx Brothers movies, among other credits. He also served as an uncredited "script doctor" -- I wonder if the term existed back then -- on THE WIZARD OF OZ. Brecher was the creator of the series THE LIFE OF RILEY.

...Theater critic and dance historian Clive Barnes has passed away at the age of 81.

Barnes spent the last three decades at the New York Post.

More from the New York Post and the New York Times.

...The Reverend Louis H. Evans Jr., who founded one church attended by President Reagan and later served at another church also attended by the Reagans, has passed on at the age of 82.

Evans, who was married to former actress Colleen Townsend, founded the Bel Air Presbyterian Church. He later served at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.

The Evanses' four children are a pastor, a lawyer, a doctor, and a pastor's wife.

Three very different men who each made unique contributions to American life in the 20th century, and on into the 21st.

Cottage Living Magazine Stops Publication

Bummer news today: one of my favorite magazines, Cottage Living, is being shut down by Time, effective immediately.

Cottage Living started publication in 2004. The last issue will be the November/December Christmas issue currently on the stands.

Media Bistro reports the New York Post says today is "the day of the ax" at Time. More bad news is coming from the company.

I just renewed my subscription this fall; I hope I'm able to get my money back. The website is not yet shut down -- that's coming soon -- so I just sent in my cancellation and request for the return of the balance of my subscription payment.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Book: The South Pacific Companion

'Tis the season for thinking about gift giving, and if you know someone who loves musicals you probably can't go wrong with Laurence Maslon's THE SOUTH PACIFIC COMPANION.

The book was actually published last spring, but I just became aware of it for the first time recently. Mason is the author of the excellent SOUND OF MUSIC COMPANION which was published last year.

I haven't had the opportunity to look at the book yet, but based on Maslon's previous work it should be very enjoyable.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Return of the Greatest American Hero?

Stephen J. Cannell's THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO is a series I recall fondly from its run from 1981-83.

The show had a good sense of humor, a nice cast -- I especially loved Robert Culp as the long-suffering FBI agent -- and it didn't hurt that it also featured one of the all-time great TV theme songs, Mike Post's "Believe It or Not."

My kids have watched the entire series on DVD and liked it too. One of my daughters was quite excited when the "Hero" himself, William Katt, turned up recently on HEROES -- nice touch there -- but sadly he was killed off immediately!

(For movie trivia fans: Katt is the son of Bill Williams and Barbara Hale; he appeared with his mother in the series of PERRY MASON movies in the '80s, where he played Paul Drake Jr. In the early '70s I saw him singing "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" when he played Rolf in a Los Angeles Civic Light Opera production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, starring Sally Ann Howes.)

Now comes word that the GREATEST AMERICAN HERO series is being revived in two different formats. Star William Katt has launched a comic book line continuing Ralph's adventures, and creator Stephen J. Cannell says there will be a feature film based on the series:

"We have a script. We have a director. I'm in the middle of making the deal now for distribution. We have a bite now. It will happen. It's a PG movie, not a PG-13. We want to have all kids be able to go see it. I want all the 7-year-olds to be able to go and their parents will remember the show and want to share it with them. It needs to be funny but with one foot on the ground in reality."

Cannell promises the original cast members will make appearances in the film and that we'll also hear the familiar theme song.

This all sounds like a lot of fun to me. We'll be there!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tonight's Movie: East Side, West Side (1949)

Jessie and Brandon Bourne (Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason) have patched their marriage back together after his affair with Isabel Lorison (Ava Gardner). Isabel's been out of town for an extended time, but has returned to New York ready to resume her relationship with Brandon. Thus begins EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE, a glossy, enjoyable MGM melodrama which is part "women's" picture and part murder mystery.

Van Heflin and Cyd Charisse are also in the large cast as Stanwyck's friends. Heflin pines for the married Stanwyck, while Charisse longs for Heflin to notice that she loves him. It's hard to imagine what Heflin's character is thinking, dumping the very available Cyd Charisse (!), but he and Stanwyck do have nice chemistry. They previously costarred in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946) and B.F.'S DAUGHTER (1948).

The entire cast is very good, although Mason gives a bit of a one-note performance as the predictable cad who can't stay away from Gardner despite his promises to his wife. Stanwyck, Heflin, and Charisse are all sympathetic and likeable. Gardner is an absolute powerhouse in her role as the villainous seductress, stealing every scene she's in. The moment where she and Stanwyck have it out over which one of them will end up with Mason is a marvelous piece of acting by both actresses.

The excellent supporting cast includes Nancy Davis (Reagan) as Stanwyck's best friend; a sequence where Davis urges Stanwyck to be honest about her marital problems is one of the best scenes in the movie, along with the Stanwyck-Gardner argument. The cast also includes William Conrad as a police detective, Gale Sondergaard as Stanwyck's mother, and William Frawley as a bartender.

Paula Raymond has a scene as James Mason's secretary. In her next film she played the lead opposite Cary Grant in CRISIS (1950). She played Esther Williams' roommmate in DUCHESS OF IDAHO (1950), reviewed here. Raymond's other credits include two Anthony Mann films, DEVIL'S DOORWAY (1950) with Robert Taylor and THE TALL TARGET (1951) with Dick Powell.

Earlier today I reviewed a book by MGM chorus dancer and bit part player Norman Borine -- so it was fun to suddenly notice his face as a square dancer at a society party.

EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE was filmed in black and white and runs 108 minutes. The film has MGM class production values all the way, including photography by two-time Oscar winner Charles Rosher, gowns by Helen Rose, and musical score by Miklos Rozsa.

The movie was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, whose classic films include WATERLOO BRIDGE (1940), JOHNNY EAGER (1942), RANDOM HARVEST (1942), THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944), LITTLE WOMEN (1949), and QUO VADIS (1951), among many other great titles.

Given all the talent involved, perhaps the movie should have been even better than it is; it's a solidly entertaining film, though not a great one. Still, the attractive cast and MGM gloss make for fun viewing, and I'm sure I'll be watching it again sometime in the future.

EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE can be seen on DVD as a single-title release or as part of the six-film Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection, which is described in more detail here and here.

EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE has also been released on VHS. It can be seen on cable on TCM. The trailer can be seen on the TCM website.

Book Review: Dancing With the Stars

I've been a serious movie fan since my pre-teen years, and the films which first captured my interest were musicals, most especially MGM musicals. I've seen a majority of MGM musicals multiple times, though there are still a few I haven't caught up with yet.

I was thus delighted to have the opportunity to review Norman Borine's book DANCING WITH THE STARS. No, it's not about the TV show...the autobiography, which was published posthumously this year, chronicles Borine's years as a contract dancer performing in the chorus at MGM and other studios. Borine's book illuminates an area of Hollywood's golden age which has received very little attention from film historians and thus makes a valuable contribution in that regard.

(Dancer-choreographer Robert Sidney's autobiography, WITH MALICE TOWARDS SOME: TALES FROM A LIFE DANCING WITH STARS is in my "to read" stack, but I'm hard pressed to think of similar titles regarding film choreographers or background dancers.)

Borine danced in MGM films such as TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, ZIEGFELD FOLLIES, THE PIRATE, ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU, and RICH, YOUNG AND PRETTY. He also swam in an Esther Williams film. At other studios, he backed up Yvonne DeCarlo in SONG OF SCHEHERAZADE, Vera-Ellen in CARNIVAL IN COSTA RICA, Susanna Foster in THE CLIMAX, and Betty Hutton in INCENDIARY BLONDE. Borine also had bit parts in dramatic films, such as appearing in a dream sequence in HER HIGHNESS AND THE BELLBOY and playing a soldier in COURAGE OF LASSIE, which starred Tom Drake.

I'm pretty sure I spotted Borine as a square dancer at a society party in the 1949 MGM film EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE, which I'm watching this evening. It will be fun looking for his face in the background of future movies.

The book's production is of high quality, with glossy pages and numerous black and white photos; many of the photos are presented as attractive full-page spreads. I especially liked the photos of chorus dancers in various film sequences where the author is pointed out with an arrow; I would have liked seeing even more of those types of photos. It's fun being able to pick him out of the crowd backing up Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer in "This Heart of Mine" from ZIEGFELD FOLLIES or wearing a top hat and tails standing behind Judy Garland in TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY. Many of the other photos included in the book are movie star portraits personally autographed to the author by a wide variety of stars from the '40s and '50s.

Borine tells many interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes about working at MGM and other studios which musical fans will enjoy. I glossed over some of the stories regarding his personal life, as it was TMI (too much information) for me to feel comfortable reading, but others may feel differently about that aspect of the book.

As a reader and film fan, I would have found it of great interest if the book had included a filmography, but since the book was published posthumously, perhaps it wasn't possible to put together a complete list of Mr. Borine's film credits. The book does contain a useful index of film titles and actors.

In the interest of offering a thorough review, I note that the book does contain a few minor errors and typos scattered throughout, such as transposing the words in the title RICH, YOUNG AND PRETTY to YOUNG, RICH AND PRETTY, or misspelling Susanna Foster's name as Suzanna on one page; Hedy Lamarr's last name appears as LaMarr. A good proofreader with a knowledge of film history could have picked up these goofs and helped the publisher present a more polished final product. However, the errors do not detract overly much from the book as the author's personal chronicle of a unique slice of Hollywood history.

Including the index, this hardcover book is 234 pages. It was published by Fideli Publishing. It should be noted that the only copy listed at Amazon is a paperback which is 248 pages; that edition is linked here (click the title of this post).

More information about the book can be found at the DANCING WITH THE STARS official website.

Someone should put together an oral history with chorus dancers from movie musicals. Around 1980, I had the unique opportunity to chat with a woman who'd been an MGM chorus dancer in films such as MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and THE HARVEY GIRLS. (I'm not 100% sure without hunting down old notes, but I believe it was Dorothy Tuttle.) It was fascinating being able to ask her some questions about her career.

The chorus dancers may have been nameless to the public, but they were witnesses to big pieces of movie musical history, and Borine's book helps document some of that history for future generations.

Christmas in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Movie fans of a certain age may remember 1978's THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, a TV show which was incredibly cheesy even back when it first aired three decades ago.

The STAR WARS characters, including the film's lead actors, were mixed into a variety show format with guest stars including Diahann Carroll, Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Harvey Korman.

Not surprisingly, it was never shown on TV a second time, despite the enormous popularity of the STAR WARS franchise.

Donald Liebenson has written a fun look back at a TV program which is probably best forgotten...just being reminded of Chewie's relatives being named Itchy and Lumpy makes me shudder.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tonight's Movie: I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)

One of the marvelous things about classic movies is that no matter how many hundreds of films one has seen, there are always more just waiting to be discovered. And there's a particular thrill that comes with viewing a wonderful movie for the very first time.

I had such an experience tonight watching the 1945 British film I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING!, written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

The movie stars Wendy Hiller as Joan Webster, a determined young lady who is headed for her wedding to a wealthy man she doesn't love. However, Joan has to get there first, and "there" is a remote Scottish island. Bad weather strands Joan in a village for several days, where she gradually falls under the spell of the people in general and a poor but dashing Naval officer, Torquil MacNeil (Roger Livesey), in particular.

I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! combines equal parts comedy and drama. The film's beginning is enchanting, as we follow Joan growing to adulthood over the opening credits. Joan is stubborn -- and mercenary -- yet she also has a certain charm; she's a fully rounded, human character. Small moments linger in the mind, such as Joan hanging up her wedding dress in her train compartment, gazing at it with satisfaction.

Livesey has quiet confidence as Torquil, and Joan and the audience simultaneously get to know him and come to see his worth. The romance between Joan and Torquil is depicted with great subtlety -- blink and you will miss key moments -- but it builds to a wonderful, heartwarming conclusion. The film's 91 minutes fly past quickly.

The black and white photography and the Scottish locations are stunning. You may want to watch this one wrapped in a warm blanket, as the viewer can't help feeling cooooold watching the wind and rainswept scenes. (I also felt a bit seasick during the last third of the movie...) The weather and stark locale combine with Gaelic, ancient castles and legends, music, animals, and village celebrations to give the film a certain otherworldly, mystic quality.

Pamela Brown is particularly striking as Catriona, a free-spirited woman who takes weary traveler Joan into her dog-filled, cobwebby home. Petula Clark was about 12 when she played a young girl Joan meets during her stay. Finlay Currie is also in the large cast.

I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! is available on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection; like most Criterion DVD's, it's packed with extras, including a commentary track.

The movie is also available on VHS and can be seen on cable on TCM.

I'm looking forward to watching the commentary track soon, as it will give me the chance to absorb more of the film. It's a relatively simple story, but told with so many rich details and nuances that it's impossible to take it all in in one sitting.

Watch and enjoy!

Update: Here's some good trivia...Margot Fitzsimons, who plays young Bridie, is the sister of Maureen O'Hara.

Smoky Saturday

We're used to regular bouts of smoke and ash during the fall in Southern California, due to annual wildfires stoked by the Santa Ana Winds, but today is quite a bit worse than usual.

Here's one of the views from our neighborhood in North Orange County:


The fires are not close -- we're in no danger -- but the smoke is quite oppressive. When you look out the window you can see ash fluttering to the ground like snowflakes.

Needless to say, all our kids' AYSO soccer games were cancelled for the day. It's pretty smoky even inside our house.

Update: Here's a shot taken around 2:45 p.m. The overcast sky is a combination of brown and orange. It's dark enough we had to turn on the lights inside the house despite the early hour.


My husband had a trombone gig scheduled tonight in Claremont which was just called off due to the fires.

Friday, November 14, 2008

New Book: Lana: The Memories, the Myths, the Movies

This new Lana Turner book caught my eye recently when it came up in my Amazon recommendations.

LANA is a 400-page coffee table book by Turner's daughter, Cheryl Crane, and Cindy De La Hoz.

The five-star Amazon reviews made it sound quite interesting. Turner isn't one of my top favorite actresses, but I've enjoyed many of her films, especially those she made up through the late '40s, and I particularly love MGM films of Turner's era.

Leonard Maltin has just reviewed the book, and calls it "...one of the best books about a star I’ve ever read, so much so that I recommend it not only to dedicated Turner fans but to anyone who wants to learn a bit more about the truth behind the glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age."

That is high praise indeed from a film historian of Maltin's caliber. This book just went on my Christmas wish list!

Turner films reviewed here to date: RICH MAN, POOR GIRL (1938), DANCING CO-ED (1939), THESE GLAMOUR GIRLS (1939), and MARRIAGE IS A PRIVATE AFFAIR (1944).

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