Fly Fishing with William Powell

William Powell (right) is confident in his fake-fishing skills. Image: A Certain Cinema

William Powell (right) is confident in his fake fishing skills. Image: A Certain Cinema

Sometimes, knowing what you’re doing is overrated.

Who doesn’t love that adrenaline rush of panic and disbelief when you’re caught, unprepared, in a frantic situation beyond your control? That’s when you know you’re alive.

Many actors have beautifully demonstrated this type of unfortunate circumstance, and one of our favourites is William Powell in the 1936 screwball comedy Libeled Lady.

Libeled Lady is a very funny movie with this cast: Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy. It has a smart script, gorgeous Cedric Gibbons‘ set designs and an enviable wardrobe by Dolly Tree. Here is a movie that cannot go wrong.

Briefly, the plot: Tracy plays the managing editor of a newspaper that prints a story accusing a socialite (Loy) of being a home wrecker. Loy, who is vacationing in Europe, threatens to sue the paper upon her return to the United States. Tracy, fearing the $5 million lawsuit will bankrupt his newspaper, plans a “sting” operation: He will ask his girlfriend (Harlow) to temporarily marry Powell (in name only), then arrange a compromising situation between Powell and Loy. This will make the Loy homewrecking story actually true, the lawsuit will be dropped, and everyone can just move along. Nothing to see here.

As part of his scheme to seduce Loy, Powell decides to go through her father (Walter Connolly), a rich industrialist and an avid trout fisherman. Powell devours fly fishing books, and even arranges for a fly-fishing tutor to visit him at his hotel where he’s staging a fake honeymoon with the agitated Harlow.

(Digression: It’s a treat to see the Powell-and-Harlow scenes, since they were a real-life couple. Powell’s character is polite and courteous towards Harlow, while she becomes increasingly irritated with distracted boyfriend Tracy and starts falling for Powell.)

After he travels to London, Powell immediately finds Loy and Connolly on the ship leaving for America. Powell starts in with the fishing yarns, but Loy is suspicious.

Connolly (to Powell): “So, you’ve fished Gluckman’s Point. Well, you’re an angler all right.”

Loy: “I should say Mr. Chandler’s quite an angler.”

Powell believes in learning while doing. Image: Pinterest

Powell believes in learning while doing. Image:


We know the movie is building towards an epic Man-Versus-Trout battle and we are not disappointed. Once they are landed in the U.S., Connolly invites Powell to on a fishing trip with Loy and himself. Powell arrives, decked out in shiny new fishing gear and a copy of The Anglers’ Hand-Book for Beginners tucked in his creel (basket). While Connolly and Loy are expertly casting their lines – and catching fish – Powell ends up in the drink, only to discover his precious Hand-Book cheerfully floating downstream.

This is precisely one of the things that we, the audience, have paid for. The William Powell of the 1930s is a study in scrupulous grooming; he practically gleams with studio polish. As much as we adore him, we want to see him floundering down a stream in a wet, floppy hat, desperately clinging to a fishing rod as though it were useful. It makes the urbane Powell less of a movie star and more like one of us – and we love him all the more for it.

Libeled Lady is a movie that isn’t as popular as it deserves to be. The entire movie is a delight, but the scenes of Powell’s attempts at fly fishing are pure movie magic.

Libeled Lady: starring Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy. Directed by Jack Conway. Written by Maurine Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers, George Oppenheimer. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., 1936, B&W, 98 mins.

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Forgotten Filmcast Episode 34: Eyes in the Night

Silver Screenings:

Woo hoo! Look at us, a guest on the FORGOTTEN FILMCAST. Thanks again for a great conversation, Todd!

Originally posted on Forgotten Films:

ep_34After a few weeks off, the Forgotten Filmcast is back! This time, Todd is joined by Ruth Kerr from Silver Screenings to discuss the 1942 detective flick Eyes in the Night. Be sure to send your questions and comments after you give the show a listen.

Download the Show:
Your Listen

Show Notes:
Silver Screenings
Ruth at Twitter
Music Alley

Movies Discussed:
Eyes in the Night
Wait Until Dark

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The Infatuation Drug

Note: This post is part of the Build-Your-Own Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe. Today’s movie connects to Speakeasy’s My Darling Clementine via producer/writer Samuel G. Engel.

Pat Boone (left) counsels Dick Sargent on the ways of l'amour. Image: ebay

Pat Boone (left) counsels Dick Sargent on How to Romance Women. Image: eBay

Maybe young Pat Boone didn’t realize how brave he was.

In the 1957 musical comedy Bernardine, the young singer plays a slick-talking but misguided lothario who dispenses advice like he’s dispensing medicine.

“Misguided” could be too soft a word. In one scene, Boone’s character refers to a friend’s girlfriend by saying, “It belongs to Wilson.” In another scene, he sings about “technique” and how women love it when men are deceitful and neglectful.

Pretty offensive stuff – and would be to women in the 1950s – except for one thing: Boone plays the character with such over-the-top sliminess that you become fascinated by his outrageously stupid worldview.

Bernardine, based on the play by Mary Chase, stars Boone and Dick Sargent as high school seniors who are three weeks away from graduating. But Sargent’s grades are so poor, he may not graduate if he doesn’t pass his final exams. Added to this turmoil is Sargent’s inability to romance girls, despite Boone’s prescriptions.

Sargent and Boone have fantasized about the ultimate dream woman whom they’ve named Bernardine Mudd (of all things). Things get complicated when Sargent meets the beautiful Terry Moore, with whom he becomes instantly smitten. Here’s his real-life Bernardine!

However, final exams loom large, and Sargent is forced to put his romantic life on hold. He must remain sequestered in his house for two weeks to cram. He panics: What if Moore meets someone else in the meantime?!!!!!

During his “captivity”, Sargent is jittery, unfocused, irritable – much like someone going through withdrawal. Love/infatuation is a drug, they say, and Sargent’s character is a first-rate addict.

Terry Moore has her pick of men. Image: ebay

Terry Moore is the object of Dick Sargent’s obsessive affections. Image: eBay

Bernardine is a deceptively clever film. Here we have Boone, a smooth talker who employs a $50-dollar vocabulary and good-naturedly teases his chums. But while Boone winks at his friends, the movie winks at us. Can you believe these morons? the filmmakers seem to say.

Yet this movie is not so light-hearted as it first appears. Janet Gaynor, who plays Sargent’s mother, has a rather preachy lecture about parenting, but offers some thoughtful insights. The ending, too, is surprisingly philosophical, and it’s here Boone and Sargent prove they can really act.

In many ways, producer Samuel G. Engel has created a cliché 1950s teen film, with a handsome pop star singing about love and teenagers clad in wide skirts and sweater vests. But its strong characters and witty script give it a timeless feel, along with the obvious infatuation/pharmaceutical symbolism.

Producer Engel was no dummy. Besides producing and screenwriting, he was President of the Producer’s Guild of America (1955-1958), and lobbied to include short films in the Academy Awards. Before he came to Hollywood, he was a successful businessman who owned a chain of retail outlets in Manhattan.

These retail outlets were drugstores.

Samuel Engel was a pharmacologist by trade, who earned his degree at the Albany College of Pharmacy.

Now, we ask you: Who better to show us that infatuation is a drug? Engel has shrewdly done so with the little-known musical Bernardine.

Bernardine: Pat Boone, Terry Moore, Janet Gaynor. Directed by Henry Levin. Written by Theodore Reeves. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1957, Colour (by DeLuxe), 95 mins.

This post is part of the Build-Your-Own Blogathon hosted by the über chic Classic Film & TV Café. Click HERE to see the other fab entries.


Announcing the “O Canada” Blogathon!



I admit it! I. Am. Canadian.

This announcement is courtesy of our friend – and fellow Canuck – at Speakeasy.

Sorry to break it to you, but the Hollywood movies you love owe a lot to Canada. And so, with glowing hearts as warm as a bowl of piping hot poutine, we announce the O Canada Blogathon, to occur over the week of OCTOBER 4 – 9, 2014. This is your chance to celebrate (or even educate yourself and others) on just how much Canadians have shaped the cinema. Your co-hosts in this tour of cinematic Canada are:

Ruth of Silver Screenings  925screenings [at]

Kristina of Speakeasy  HQ.Kristina [at]

You obviously don’t need to be Canadian to participate – just be a movie lover – because no matter where you come from, you know these people and films, even if you weren’t aware of their heritage. Let’s help you with some suggestions.

Just who are my fellow Canadians?

Just who are my fellow Canadians?

A lot of your favourite stars came from the Land of the Loonie, people like…

  • Norma Shearer
  • Mary Pickford
  • Raymond Burr
  • Rod Cameron
  • Jack Carson
  • Hume Cronyn
  • Glenn Ford
  • Yvonne de Carlo
  • Marie Dressler
  • Douglas Dumbrille
  • Deanna Durbin
  • Michael J. Fox
  • Jonathan Frid
  • Lorne Greene
  • June Havoc
  • Walter Huston
  • John Ireland
  • Ruby Keeler
  • Margot Kidder
  • Gene Lockhart
  • Raymond Massey
  • Leslie Nielsen
  • Walter Pidgeon
  • Christopher Plummer
  • John Qualen
  • Ann Rutherford
  • Alexis Smith
  • Jay Silverheels
  • William Shatner
  • Ned Sparks
  • Donald Sutherland
  • Fay Wray

…and many more you can click here to discover, or see a list of silent stars here: male, female. You could write a bio or choose a movie (or more than one) that features their talent. Note: if someone is doing a bio, you are still welcome to focus on a specific movie by that same person.

How about the many moviemakers and behind the scenes high achievers like…

  • Douglas Shearer
  • Mack Sennett
  • Louis B. Mayer
  • Jack Warner
  • Sidney Olcott
  • David Cronenberg
  • Norman Jewison
  • Arthur Hiller
  • Atom Egoyan

…and more like the ones listed here.

A good ol' New Brunswick boy.

A good ol’ New Brunswick boy.

Canadian films/productions, any movie with a story/topic relating to Canada, movies prominently set or even shot here are all fair game for this blogathon, including…

  • I Confess
  • Canadian Pacific
  • River of no Return
  • Canadians
  • Niagara
  • Hudson’s Bay
  • The Devil’s Brigade
  • The Immortal Battalion
  • 49th Parallel
  • Corvette K225 (and many other war movies involving Canadian military)
  • Island in the Sky
  • Rose Marie
  • Face-Off
  • A Bullet for Joey
  • Black Christmas
  • The Brood
  • The Fly
  • The Changeling
  • The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
  • Atlantic City
  • Scanners
  • Northwest Trail
  • Zero Hour
  • Saskatchewan
  • Northwest Mounted Police (plus any of the myriad of Mountie movies)

…and that’s just for starters.

You may want to write about some aspect of Canada’s impact on the movies, or something unique to the Canadian movie fan’s experience (Elwy Yost, anyone?). If it has to do with Canada & movies, we’d love to have you join in.

Have a browse through these helpful pages to see more..

notable Canadians in Early Hollywood

films set in Canada


We Canadians are EVERYWHERE!

We ask that you remember these few rules:

  • No duplicates please, so that we can cover as many eras and products of this vast land as possible.
  • We encourage focusing on classics but certainly won’t exclude picks from the 80’s and 90’s, a great time for Canadian film.
  • You don’t need to choose a specific date to post, just please do so starting on the 4th through the 9th.

Now put on your thinking toques and let us know what you wish to write about so we can add you to the list.

Once again, this event will unfold over the week of OCTOBER 4 – 9, 2014.

Here’s some text to paste into your post: This post is part of the O Canada Blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy.

That’s right Edna, here are your banners. Now take off, eh! ;)







Blog Subject Website URL
Silver Screenings Buster Keaton in The Rail Rodders
Speakeasy Yvonne De Carlo’s best
A Small Press Life Fay Wray
Shadows & Satin Norma Shearer in Riptide & Strangers May Kiss
Laura’s Misc Musings Pony Soldier
Mike’s Take on the Movies Captains of the Clouds
Phantom Empires Dick Powell’s Mrs. Mike & Fort Vengeance
Hitchcock’s World Cronenberg: Naked Lunch, eXistenZ, Eastern Promises, Videodrome /poss Wilby Wonderful
Stardust Norma Shearer: bio & significance
Rosebud Cinema Dead Ringers
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear Niagara
Midnight Palace Michael Sarrazin, Margot Kidder in The Reincarnation of Peter Proud
Movies Silently Mary Pickford in The Dream
Noirish Whispering City
A Shroud of Thoughts Rock & Rule
The Stop Button I Confess /2nd poss Scanners or Black Christmas
Portraits by Jenni The 49th Parallel
Wide Screen World William Shatner
Forgotten Films The Changeling
Tales of the Easily Distracted Two O’Clock Courage + Strange Brew
Mildred’s fatburgers Ned Sparks in 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Lady for a Day
Caftan Woman Alexander Knox / also poss: Elwy Yost
Vienna’s Classic Hollywood actor John Qualen
Movie Rob HBO movie on Terry Fox’s life (1983)
Riding the High Country Northern Pursuit
A Person in the Dark Dudley Do Right OR Norma Shearer in “The Women”
Cinematic Catharsis Terror Train
Loud Green Bird Atom Egoyan: Exotica
Girls do Film Florence Lawrence
Moon in Gemini Good Riddance (Les Bons Debarras)
Barry Bradford John Candy
The Joy & Agony of Movies Donald Sutherland
Pamela, Guest Blogger New Brunswick’s connection to Hollywood
Old Movies Nostalgia Jack Carson in Romance on the High Seas
Critica Retro Marie Dressler
Once Upon a Screen Glenn Ford in 3:10 to Yuma
Canadian Cinephile Leslie Nielsen
We Always Have Classic Movies Mary Pickford Bio



The Do’s and Don’ts of Sci-Fi/Horror Movie Making

1/14/02 white pongo: scanned 8x10

White Pongo wreaks Terror wherever he goes! Image:

Good news! If you’re looking to make your own Sci-Fi/Horror film (and who isn’t?), we found the perfect film as your template.

White Pongo (1945) is budget-friendly fare about a white gorilla living near Africa’s Congo River who may be “the missing link between man and monkey.” Obviously there would be a lot of fame and money available to anyone making such a discovery, and a scientific team dispatches itself to trap the elusive gorilla.

The expedition is headed by an esteemed scientist (Gordon Richards), who has brought his daughter (Maris Wrixon) along, just because. There is also an anthropologist, a German translator/guide, several canoe paddlers, and a rifleman (Richard Fraser) who has his own reasons for being on the expedition.

White Pongo (pongo meaning “gorilla”) shows us what is necessary in making a Sci-Fi/Horror film, and what we can get away with. Our film features a gorilla, but many of these principles could apply to any costumed monster.


  • start the film in the middle of a dire situation, so the audience will be Very Fearful of what will Happen Next.
  • include a female character who appears plucky and adventurous. Make her as liberated as you like – we all know she’ll need saving from the gorilla before this business is finished.
  • have characters introduce each other with adjectives such as “noted”, as in, “Allow me to introduce my friend, the noted anthropologist.”
  • create an eccentric character who is waiting to give valuable information to the scientists. This character must be thoroughly altruistic and have absolutely no interest in cashing in on his own discoveries.
  • ensure the gorilla is always skulking about and is never in a good mood. Growling is essential.
  • give scientists a British accent. They’ll sound smarter.
  • give the bad guy a German accent. (Oops – spoiler! Sorry about that.)


  • place the gorilla in an ordinary location – the more fictionalized, the better. People will believe anything about a place they’ve never visited.
  • allow characters to perspire. Also, wrinkled clothing – even when trudging through the sticky jungle – is a no-no.
  • worry if the camera flops around. Who says you have to hold the camera steady all the time?
  • get hung up about about focusing the camera on the actor who’s talking. Let it drift aside to another actor, who may or may not be listening to the dialogue.
  • worry about filming in different locations. If you shoot the same scenery from different directions, the audience will never know the difference.

The #1 rule that can never, ever be compromised: DO NOT, under any circumstances, skimp on the gorilla costume. If the costume is the most expensive item in your budget, it is money well spent. Look at the gorilla suit in White Pongo – it looks like it weighs 120 lbs and has an internal temperature of 200º. It probably cost a fortune!

Now, people who have been to film school probably get all bent out of shape about research and technical stuff, but who cares about that? You wanna make a Sci-Fi/Horror flick? Go make it! The producers of White Pongo have shown us how it’s done.

White Pongo: Richard Fraser, Maris Wrixon, Lionel Royce. Directed by Sam Newfield. Written by Raymond L. Schrock. PRC Pictures, Inc., 1945, B&W, 72 mins.

This post is part of the UNINTENTIONALLY HILARIOUS blogathon hosted by the lovely & talented Movies, Silently. Click HERE to see the other fab entries.


John Ford’s Theatre of Faux Piety

Charles W... sldfj asfdj  Image: lsdkjf

Charles Winninger won’t talk politics today, gentlemen. *Wink!*  Image: Alt Screen

Guess which of John Ford‘s films was his favourite. Come on, take a wild guess.

The Sun Shines Bright is not a typical John Ford movie. There isn’t a single A-list actor, nor does it appear to have an expensive budget. Despite this (or because of it?) the director labeled it as his favourite.

The Sun Shines Bright is about a small southern town at the turn of the twentieth century. It is based on three short stories written by American humourist Irvin S. Cobb (1876-1944).

The town’s circuit judge, played by Charles Winninger, is facing re-election. Winninger’s character is a down-to-earth man who refers to his drink as “corn squeezin’s”, and scurries about helping his fellow townspeople. However, he is always in election mode and often mockingly protests, “No politics today, gentlemen.” It’s a rather disingenuous campaign strategy when you think about it.

While the campaigning is afoot, an African American teenager (Elzie Emanuel) is arrested for raping a white girl. Winninger works to calm the town’s anger, especially when a lynch mob marches toward the jail where Emanuel is held.

In the midst of all this, a young woman who was adopted as a child (Arleen Whelan) tries to find the truth about her birth family.

There is a lot to admire about The Sun Shines Bright. It’s beautifully filmed, like all of Ford’s movies, with each shot artfully framed. It doesn’t easily slide easily into one genre, so it is more reflective of actual life. It is a drama and a comedy and a philosophical history.

It’s the kind of movie that should make us think Ford-as-storyteller is a fine humanitarian.

But it doesn’t.

It can’t, because we are watching John Ford’s Theatre of Faux Piety. This is where words do not match actions, and the discrepancy between the two is so jarring we can hardly concentrate on the plot.

skdfj alksfj d Image:

Stepin Fetchit as Winninger’s “assistant” (read: Servant). Image:

The themes of this film are hypocrisy and redemption, as illustrated by these scenarios:

  • a young woman is ostracized by her fellow townsfolk because she was born out of wedlock.
  • when a sick woman with a dubious reputation arrives in town, she shunned by “decent” folk and is forced to take refuge at a brothel.
  • when a white girl is assaulted, police immediately arrest an African American teenager without proof.

These are thought-provoking themes that should be explored in film. Yet it’s strange that in a movie preaching Equality For All, the director presents African Americans as weak, one-dimensional characters who are completely dependent upon white townsfolk. Subtext: everyone deserves to be equal but them.

These characters have neither original thought nor ambition nor bravery. Really? People who survived slavery – and all that went with it – are now simpering fools?

It’s Faux Piety. Because Ford presents African Americans as ludicrous caricatures, the movie becomes hollow. When Emanuel is found innocent of rape charges, the film celebrates Winninger the Hero instead of examining the actions that imprisoned an innocent teenager to begin with.

We are left wondering: Redemption for some, but not all?

The Sun Shines Bright could have been one of the great films of Ford’s career. Instead, it leaves us feeling like a great premise has been squandered.

The Sun Shines Bright: starring Charles Winninger, Arleen Whelan, John Russell. Directed by John Ford. Written by Laurence Stallings. Republic Pictures Corp., 1953, B&W, 100 mins.

This post is part of the JOHN FORD BLOGATHON hosted by Krell Laboratories and Bemused and Nonplussed. Click HERE to see the other posts.


Memo to MGM: Tread Loudly in Gangster-land

Chester Morris (left) watches for prison guards while ____ searches for smuggled guns.

Chester Morris (left) watches for prison guards while Joseph Calleia searches for smuggled guns.

Crime was big business in the 1930s.

Okay, crime is always big business but during the early 1930s, movie audiences couldn’t get enough of sneering criminals. Perhaps it was an emotional purging – it was the Depression after all.

Warner Bros. were the Kings of the Gangster Pictures, and they certainly knew how it was done. A good gangster picture is more than blasting guns and squealing tires. It’s tense and mean in character and plot.

It’s only natural that other studios would want to make gangster pictures. Even MGM dabbled in the genre – 1935’s Public Hero #1 being one example.

MGM was Hollywood’s premier studio, home of lavish musicals, Andy Hardy movies, and epics about southern belles in green curtain dresses. But gangsters?

Don’t get us wrong. It’s not that MGM shouldn’t – or couldn’t – make a good gangster picture. It’s just there were times that MGM couldn’t help itself from being so…MGM-ish.

Let’s look at Public Hero #1 to show you what we mean.

The phrase “Public Enemy No. 1″ became popular in the 1930s. It was famously used in reference to Al Capone and John Dillinger, among others. In 1931, Warner Bros. released The Public Enemy, a film about an ambitious Chicago gangster. (The film was criticized for glamorizing crime.) In response, MGM released Public Hero #1 in 1935.

Memo to MGM: The title is almost a parody of itself; it makes us think we’re in for a Preston Sturges treat. A gangster picture must be soaked in Attitude, especially its title.

Public Hero starts with promise. The main character (Chester Morris) in prison, and he’s always griping about something, e.g. “You ain’t got enough screws in this joint to keep my mouth shut!”

Good stuff, right? Watch as Morris starts a food fight in the prison cafeteria, befriends the kingpin of a vicious gang, and beaks off at the prison warden.

Memo to MGM: The prison warden is Lewis Stone? He’s too soft for this gig. Someone’s likely to plug him when he ain’t looking.

After escaping from prison, Morris meets Jean Arthur, who is funny and smart alec-y like she always is. The scenes of Arthur and Morris falling in love are charming and amusing; you start wishing the movie was about the romance instead.

Memo to MGM: If you’re in the middle of a gritty gangster picture, you can’t suddenly morph into a Capra-esque comedy. We feel like we’re watching two different movies and it’s distracting. Instead of getting a 2-for-1 deal, we feel like we’re watching two half movies.

Wait a minute. Are we in a Frank Capra movie? Image: sdkjf

“Hang on – how’d we end up in a Frank Capra picture?” Image: Tout le Cine

Barrymore gets top billing, but he’s not in the film as much as he could be. He plays a doctor whose only clients are gang members. His character is almost always drunk, and Barrymore skillfully steers between comedy and pathos. In one telling scene, Barrymore muses about the gang. He tells Morris he’s saved 17 gang members; “all but three are alive.” He wonders about the point of it all.

We wonder if this is why he drinks.

Memo to MGM: Listen, you mugs. This is LIONEL BARRYMORE. Here’s your big chance to show us the not-so-obvious victims of gang warfare, and why we need so-called Public Heroes. Instead, the action sneaks past Barrymore so it can get back to shooting lousy coppers.


Even though we’ve been a bit rough on this movie, we do recommend it. The story is interesting with unexpected twists, and the acting is superb. The most outstanding feature is the cinematography, with really unique and dynamic camerawork.

Memo to Self: If you want a gangster movie with MGM sentimentality, check out Public Enemy #1. For all its flaws, it’s worth it.

Public Hero #1: Lionel Barrymore, Jean Arthur, Chester Morris. Directed by J. Walter Ruben. Written by Wells Root. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1935, B&W, 91 mins.

This post is part of the MGM BLOGATHON hosted by the lovely & talented Silver Scenes. Click HERE to see the other posts.


The 1967 in Film Blogathon: Day #3

Silver Screenings:

Thanks to The Rosebud Cinema for asking to co-host this amazing blogathon. And thanks to all contributors for your thoughtful and insightful posts. It was a blast!

Originally posted on The Rosebud Cinema:

Thank you to all of you who have participated in The 1967 in Film Blogathon, it’s been a lovely opportunity to read about the films made in what is often considered one of the greatest years in film history.

Today is the third and final day of the blogathon, and from what we’ve seen so far, I highly recommend you all have a look through the assortment of write ups that the wonderful people of the blogosphere have contributed!

Here are today’s posts!

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Guest Post: To Sir, With Love

Note: We are thrilled to have Pamela Fallon Thornley as our Special Guest Blogger. You can follow Pam on Twitter at @fallonthornley.

When I think of the year 1967, the first movie that comes to my mind is To Sir, With Love. It might not be everyone’s first choice, since it did not win Best Picture or any other Oscars, but that does not stop it from being an important movie for its time. It dealt with many issues relevant to the 1960’s, and it also had a very distinctive sixties look. I wasn’t alive in 1967, but this piece of that year, is very near and dear to my heart.

The story, written by E.R. Braithwaite, and adapted for the screen by James Clavell, centers around the character Mark Thackeray, a man who, though educated as an engineer, has decided to accept an appointment as a teacher at a London school. The movie opens on his first day in this position, when he meets his fellow teachers, and more importantly the students that will be in his class. Being new to the teaching profession things, BIG SHOCK, didn’t go swimmingly at first. Like many movies dealing with the trials and tribulations of school life, the adolescents in this film are troubled, with many being just plain rebellious, which makes Mr. Thackeray’s job all that more challenging. Gradually, as he starts to find his own teaching style, and as his students begin to realize that he has their best interest at heart, things begin to improve. The school is full of teachers that have lost or never had the love for the profession. Mark Thackeray is a breath of fresh air in this stale and stagnate institution. Most of the students come from homes that lack discipline and structure, and they are in desperate need of a strong role model. He becomes this for them.

By 1967 there had been countless movies about the relationships, and the interactions between teachers and their students. However, I feel that To Sir, With Love was able to take a fresh and positive spin on the storyline. The thing that made this movie unique, is the approach used to solve and defuse the problems at school. Mr. Thackeray talked to his students. Instead of just spouting off rules, he explained things to them. With this approach, an honest relationship blossoms between the teacher and students. Mark never talks down to them or treated them as if they were children. Instead, he expected them to act as adults, like the ones the world was soon expecting them to be. He taught them life skills,such as tips on cooking and hygiene to get them ready for the outside world. This is important, since the next stage in their lives is to go out into the work force. No topic was forbidden, which helped to get his students to open up, and the teenagers really respected him for it. For many of them having any respect for an adult was a big step just in itself. He did set some ground rules for his class, but only in that he expected them to show him and their fellow class mates due respect, to be clean, and not to use foul language. Students were to address each other as Miss or Mr, and they were to address him as either Mr. Thackeray, or Sir. You can guess which one they preferred.

As I have said, while in Mr. Thackeray’s class the students dealt with and discussed many issues. Mark’s interaction with his students didn’t go without complications and problems. Being new to the teaching profession also didn’t help as sometimes his approach lacked diplomacy. An early example of this occurred when Mark first announced to his class, the rules he expected them to follow. They didn’t understand why they were expected to maintain good hygiene, and keep a nice appearance when one of the teachers, Mr. Weston didn’t. Mr. Thackeray’s response was cut and dry,“Mr. Weston is not your teacher. We won´t discuss him, I´m the one to criticize if I fail to maintain the standards.” When his students argue this being unfair he responds by saying,“I agree, but that´s an example of things you´ll have to put up with as an adult. You´ll just have to take it.” This issue of fairness comes up many times in the movie, and causes much conflict between students and teacher. An even more significant case of this happened after Mr. Thackeray sided with a teacher that the students felt was bulling one of their classmates. One of the boys, Potts tried stand up for his friend by threatening Mr. Bell, and Sir instead of agreeing with his actions told Potts “You owe Mr. Bell an apology”. He tried to explain that he wasn’t siding with Mr. Bell’s actions, but that he didn’t like Potts fighting, “I am not concerned with Mr. Bell´s behavior, but yours.” This didn’t go well with Potts, and the other male students especially Denham the self appointed leader of the class. Denham tried to “teach” Mark a lesson by suggesting they should put boxing gloves on, and have a “friendly”sparing match. In the end it was Denham that learned that violence wasn’t the answer when Mark showed Denham that he was very capable of defending himself, but rather avoid such methods for handling a disagreement. As the students begin to mature under Mr. Thackeray’s tutelage they start to understand that he isn’t trying to be mean, but trying to show them passive ways to deal with their problems, and quarrels. As Sir puts it, “you’re supposed to be learning self discipline.”

As their teacher there were many times Sir, was called on to give advice, and to help his students with personal issues. Some were on a one on one bases like when Mrs. Dare asked him to talk to her daughter, Pam about being out late at night. Pam is very hurt because she feels her behaviour is justified, and she doesn’t understand him talking to her on her mother’s behalf, “Why are you taking her side?”. Her hurt is intensified because she has been one of his biggest supporters, and also because of the very thinly veiled crush she has on Mr. Thackeray. They do manage to work through this bump in their relationship, and come to an understanding where they have mutual respect for each other.

An issue of great significance that was dealt with in Sir’s classroom was racism. Racism is still a big issue today, but back in 1967 during the civil rights movement it was very much a hot topic. This issue is skirted around during most of the movie but is discussed seriously after a boy in the class, Seales, loses his mother. The students wanted to do something for their classmate, and friend because of his mother’s death, but because his family is black the students feel it will look bad if they are seen going to his house. They try to explain that they don’t feel any malice towards him or his family, but as Babs (Miss Pegg) says, “You can´t imagine the things be said.” It is at this time that Mr. Thackeray teaches them not so much in words as much by his own actions that in the case of racism doing nothing when you know it is wrong is the worse way to handle it. They are part of the generation that if they feel something is unjust they need to be the ones to change it. Keeping quiet is no longer acceptable, the way to show people that racism is wrong is through their own actions. In the end, they all take the flowers to Seales’ house. It is a simple gesture, but it is a victory on so many levels, and that the students might not even realize it. It shows changes in a positive direction, and increasing maturity by the students. They are starting to act as responsible adults.

The appropriate way to describe the style of the movie, in simple terms is that it seemed real and authentic which was becoming more common place in the sixties. The movie directed by James Clavell, takes place in the London’s poor East End in the sixties,and was filmed on location in London. The constant use of exterior scenes on real London streets help makes one unquestionably feel like that is exactly where you are.. The school scenes might have been done on a sound stage, but if that is the case, the transition certainly wasn’t noticeable, and they did a very convincing job of replicating a realistic school interior. The building looked dilapidated, and seemed in desperate need of repairs and renovation. The class rooms, gym and teacher’s lounge are all dreary and drab with outdated furnishings and equipment. The wardrobe and hairstyles for the movie captured the look for the late sixties perfectly. Perfectly in that it captured the popular style of 1967, but with the use of natural light, and minimal use of filters in no way did the characters have flawless appearances. The clothes though the proper style were not tailored, the mini skirts and dresses didn’t look new and even gave the appearance that they might have been purchased at a discount store.   This realistic feel also held true with the hairstyles and makeup. The cast was filled with women sporting over teased locks, and men with hair long enough that they could have been mistaken for one of the girls. However, none of it had that Hollywood glitz and glamour look to it. Make up also didn’t look professionally done, and stayed with minimal application of lipstick, blush & eyeliner on the actresses. I’m not saying any of it looked bad, I’m just saying that all the looks shown in the movie could easily be achieved, and gave the characters the feel of being real people. This helps to make the characters more relatable by the viewers.

An aspect of the movie that needs to be singled out is the music. The film isn’t a musical in a classic sense, but music does hold a great importance. It is as though it is a character, and more importantly it is as though it is one of the students. The music changed when the attitude and mood of the students change. It is revealed early in the story that the students are allowed to run a part of the school at lunch time in order to dance and to listen to “their” music. Music at this point shows the barrier between the students and teachers. Later during the field trip to the museum, the title song is played for the first time. The field trip holds great importance because it shows that Mr. Thackeray feels he can trust his students to behave, and it is also a chance for these young people to see places outside their normal life. The song speaks the words of how the students feelings for their teacher. It plays while a montage of the trip is shown. Can hear such lines as

“A friend who taught me right from wrong
And weak from strong”

It isn’t in the scene as much as it is in the air. It speaks of how important Mr. Thackeray is to them, and it shows the change in the teen’s view towards school and towards “Sir” that is happening now in the movie. Later at the conclusion of the movie, during the end of school dance music is played, and everyone dances. Music is now used to bring the students and teachers together. This is a significant difference from the beginning of the movie. The barrier is gone, and the students are letting the teachers, and adults in general, into their lives. During the dance the title song is played again, but this time one of the students, Miss. Peg (aka Lulu) is actually singing the words

“But how do you thank someone
Who has taken you from crayons to perfume?’

Not only do they respect and admire Mr. Thackeray, they want to say it out loud. The song is actually played one more time during the ending credits. At this final part of the movie Mr. Thackeray has a tough decision about which path he should take with his career. The song playing, hints to us that his students helped him to make his decision.

I’ve talked about the movie To Sir, With Love from an analytical point of view, but I haven’t yet explained why it is near and dear to me. Well to start it has the rare distinction of being one of the few times my mother suggested a movie to me. I’m not saying that she ever really hindered my love of movies, but I can’t really say that we bonded over them. We have gotten better over the years, but still I am mainly her go to when she needs a title for her crossword, or in someway needs to use my knowledge of films. This wasn’t the case one Sunday night in 1987. My mother announces that we need to have dinner early because she saw in the listing that a movie that she loves is going to be playing on the movie channel. She says that it is called To Sir, With Love, but at this time the title really didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t go into it overly excited or with much enthusiasm, but I did agree to sit down to watch. Well, when the ending credits played and the title song plays for the final time this ho hum view had changed. No, it wasn’t because there was a main character named Pamela, though I did like that fact. The best way to explain the change in my reaction is to say “Sidney Poitier!!!!” It also starred Christian Roberts, Judy Geeson, Suzy Kendall, a really young Michael Des Barres, and the singer Lulu in her first movie role, but it was Sidney Poitier that made the movie for me. To say I was blown away by his charismatic performance is an understatement. The power of very good casting. I only wish I was one for keeping a diary, because I would love to read precisely what my first thoughts were of his performance. One thing is for sure, is that, if I had written in a journal, I’m pretty sure one of the first entries about Sidney Poitier would have started with “Oh My God, He is Gorgeous!!!!!” I should clarify that I was also very much impressed with his acting. His looks were just a plus. This movie set me on the path of a “slight” Sidney Poitier obsession where I wanted to learn everything about him, and to watch all of his films. Just so you know, his other films that I was able to find didn’t disappoint either, but To Sir, With Love is still my favourite.

All this talking about To Sir, With Love is making me realize that I haven’t watched it in awhile, at least a few months. Well, I better go fix that right a way. Until I can get to my DVD player I think I will listen to the song To Sir, With Love sung by Lulu. It never fails to put a smile on my face. I hope others will take my lead, and go experience it all as well.

You can follow Pam on Twitter @fallonthornley.

This post is part of the 1967 IN FILM Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and The Rosebud Cinema. Click HERE for a list of contributions.

The 1967 in Film Blogathon: Day #2

Silver Screenings:

Day 2 recap courtesy of the lovely & talented Rosebud Cinema. This blogathon is so good, it’s like taking a film history class for free!

Originally posted on The Rosebud Cinema:

We’re now midway through The 1967 in Film Blogathon, and I hereby present today’s posts!

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