A Love Affair, Recycled

Rita Wilson describing An Affair to Remember. Image: Buzzfeed

Rita Wilson describing An Affair to Remember. Image: Buzzfeed

You really can’t beat Rita Wilson’s monologue in the 1993 romantic comedy, Sleepless in Seattle.

In the film, a chagrined Tom Hanks is describing a potential meeting his young son has arranged with a stranger (Meg Ryan) at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. Wilson immediately recognizes this rendezvous from the 1957 classic film, An Affair to Remember.

But as Wilson describes the touching 1957 movie, she becomes increasingly emotional. Soon she’s sobbing as she re-enacts a famous scene between Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. “It’s so amazing when he comes to see her,” she says, tears spilling down her cheeks.

Sleepless is Seattle is, essentially, a love letter to An Affair to Remember. In one scene, Ryan and on-screen friend Rosie O’Donnell are watching the 1957 classic and it’s clear they’ve seen the movie dozens of times. They recite several passages, including Deborah Kerr’s famous line: “Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.”

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Rosie O’Donnell (left) and Meg Ryan watching An Affair to Remember. Image:

O’Donnell quips, “Men never get this movie.”

The film in question, An Affair to Remember, stars Cary Grant as an internationally-famous playboy whose engagement to an American heiress becomes worldwide news. As he sails from Europe to New York to marry his fiancé, he meets a fellow passenger (Deborah Kerr), with whom he falls in love.

Cary Grant meets and romances Deborah Kerr. Image: lsdjfkd

Cary Grant romances Deborah Kerr. Image: Dynasty Forever

This romance leads to a messy business once the pair land in New York. Grant needs to sort things out with his fiancé, while Kerr has to decide what to do about her boyfriend. As the ship pulls into port at New York, Grant and Kerr agree to meet in six months (on Valentine’s Day) at the top of the Empire State Building to see if they Have Something Here.

We have a confession to make regarding this film. For years we eschewed it because we feared it would be too schmaltzy. But when we finally watched it, we were charmed by its humour and some of its exquisite moments.

One such moment is the shot of Grant and Kerr walking down the stairs on the ship to New York. As they descend, Kerr suddenly stops and pulls Grant towards her. Look at the gif below, at the teasing way director Leo McCarey frames this intimacy:

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A shipboard romance. Image:

Grant and Kerr have good chemistry, which is crucial because the film depends on it. They have to make you believe each would turn their world inside out for the other.

Their rapport is so sharp and witty, in fact, it’s almost as delightful as the romance in the original film, starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne.

Irene Dunne's Words to Live By. Image: tumblr

Irene Dunne’s Words to Live By. Image: tumblr

An Affair to Remember is a remake of the Academy Award-winning Love Affair (1939) – and when we say remake, we mean remake. Some of the scenes in the 1957 movie are shot identical with the 1939 film, so a viewer can’t help but make comparisons. However, director McCarey was at the helm of both versions, so you have to respect his pragmatism: If a scene worked well in ’39, why not recycle it in ’57?

We (as in, yours truly) prefer the 1939 movie to the 1957 version. The character of Terry, played by Dunne in the ’39 version, seems to have been written specifically for her. Dunne is especially winsome, and it’s easy to see why Boyer falls for her.

As for Boyer, in the role of the famous playboy, he has an exceptional scene late in the film, where he visits Dunne after a long absence. When he realizes the truth about Dunne’s situation, his performance nearly breaks your heart. You’ll find yourself rewinding this scene, just to study his method.

The themes in these three films are timeless, and they never fail to enchant – even if they are sprinkled with a little schmaltz. They are proof that good casting and witty dialogue make a story feel fresh, even decades later.

This post is part of the They Remade WHAT?! Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. Click HERE to see the other fab entries.

Love Affair-Affair to Remember

The Disorderly Universe of Laurel and Hardy

Stan Laurel (left) and Oliver Hardy are in another fine mess. Image: Wikipedia

Stan Laurel (left) and Oliver Hardy have gotten into another fine mess. Image: Wikipedia

1939 saw the release of some of the greatest films in Hollywood history.

The Flying Deuces ain’t one of ’em.

Now, that’s not to say it’s a bad film, because it has amusing scenes and great aerial photography.

However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In the late 1930s, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were still working for producer Hal Roach. During a break between films, they made a movie with a lesser-known producer, Borris Morros. (Get this: Rumour has it Morros was an alleged Soviet spy and FBI double agent! Click here for the story.)

The resulting comedy is The Flying Deuces, a film almost as wild as a double agent’s life. In this film, Laurel and Hardy are vacationing in Paris when Hardy meets and falls in love with a beautiful French woman (Jean Parker). When she rejects Hardy’s proposal of marriage, the pair join the ultimate lonely hearts club: the French Foreign Legion.

Laurel and Hardy are their usual charming selves in this film. Laurel is dim-witted but single-minded; Hardy is smart but cursed with bad luck. This is an unfortunate combination for a friendship, as evidenced by their many films. It’s a wonder they manage to stay friends.

It’s also a wonder they manage to stay alive. Because in the Laurel and Hardy universe, systems continually transition from a state of Order to Disorder.

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Laurel and Hardy on the lam. Image: The Telegraph

In The Flying Deuces, our first glimpse of the Order Disorder Paradigm occurs when Hardy is understandably upset that his marriage proposal has been refused. He decides to jump into the Seine with a cement block. Unbeknownst to him, a man-eating shark has escaped from the zoo.

(Note: Since Hardy is planning to End It All anyway, a man-eating shark shouldn’t be of consequence. But we viewers can’t stand the thought of a shark interfering with Hardy’s mournful plans.)

Happily, an officer from the Foreign Legion, played by the fab Reginald Gardiner, arrives on the bank of the Seine just in time, and suggests the pair enlist in the Legion. Order is thus temporarily restored to the L&H Universe.

However, Order quickly collapses into Disorder when the pair, newly arrived at their post in North Africa, are assigned to laundry duty. The laundry is piled as high as a two-storey house, and the clotheslines stretch for miles. The two are unhappy with this volume of work – and the pitifully small compensation – and they decide to quit.

Disorder quickly accelerates. Laurel and Hardy accidentally set the laundry on fire, then, without meaning to, ransack the commandant’s office. They are imprisoned, they escape; they are recaptured, they re-escape.

It’s when they hide in a plane and inadvertently start its engines that we see Disorder run amok, in all its devil-may-care glory. There’s no way Order can be restored now; we just have to hope for the best.

Despite the ever-present Order  Disorder paradigm, Laurel and Hardy are rarely vindictive. As Disorder infects them, they innocently infect others. It’s not deliberate; it’s merely the Way Of All Things in the L&H Universe.

The Flying Deuces may not be Laurel and Hardy’s best film, but it shows us how a seasoned comedy team can elevate the material they’re given. It also reminds us that we can never take an orderly universe for granted.

The Flying Deuces: starring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Jean Parker. Directed by A. Edward Sutherland. Written by Ralph Spence, Charles Rogers, Alfred Schiller & Harry Langdon. Boris Morros Productions, 1939, B&W, 68 mins.

This post is part of the See You In The Fall Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog. Click HERE to see the schedule.


Lauren Bacall’s Millionaire-Marrying Racket

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Lauren Bacall gives William Powell the marriage Sales Pitch. Image: Living in Cinema

How to Marry a Millionaire is our go-to comedy. This 1953 technicolor confection stars Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall as three models who pool their resources to rent a way-too-expensive Manhattan penthouse.

The women have moved into this upscale residence because they’re hunting millionaires.

We’re aware this film has been accused of being a shallow, spare-no-expense fashion show. So what? It was one of the first feature films made in CinemaScope, which was crucial in showcasing William Travilla‘s stunning wardrobe design.

How to Marry a Millionaire has a witty script, charming characters and first-rate comedic performances by Grable and Monroe. But our favourite character is the tough-talking Bacall.

Bacall’s character is recently returned from Reno where she obtained a divorce from “a gas-pump jockey”. She’s back with a new plan for marriage, one where neither her bank account nor her heart are at risk.

Bacall is smart, skeptical and has learned how to sniff out a rat. For example, when Monroe announces her boyfriend is taking her Atlantic City on a Saturday to meet his mother, Bacall is immediately suspicious.

Bacall: “I think we oughta put a check on that one.”
Monroe: “Why? I don’t know what you mean.”
Bacall: “Nobody’s mother lives in Atlantic City on Saturday.”

Bacall coaches Marilyn Monroe. Image: Fan Pop

Bacall coaches Marilyn Monroe. Image: Fan Pop

The best part about Bacall’s character is that she talks like a gangster. She refers to the penthouse as “a joint like this” and calls their scheme a “racket”. She’s essentially Edward G. Robinson in a designer gown and beaded clutch.

But she can be as smooth as cashmere. When she meets a rich widower from Texas (William Powell), she’s demure and flirtatious. Over a drink at a cozy table, she leans into his conversation, chin in hand, sporting an encouraging smile. Her voice has polished charm, but soon she derails herself, telling Powell she always gets taken in by gas-pump jockeys, most notably her ex-husband.

Bacall: (contemptuously) “This one handled a pump for Standard Oil.” (brightly) “You don’t own that, do you?”
Powell: “No, Standard Oil is one of the interests of a man, I believe, named Rockefeller.”
Bacall: “Is he a friend of yours?”
Powell: (deadpan) “No, I’m afraid not.”

Bacall sees more than a fat wallet in Powell; she also sees a kind-hearted man whom she genuinely admires. Even so, she has a rough time convincing Powell she’s wild about older men and hates the younger set.

She’s lying, of course. Bacall meets a handsome and savvy young man (Cameron Mitchell) who, unlike Powell, talks like he’s never read a book in his life. She’s immediately attracted to him, but because she believes he’s part of the dreaded gas pump crowd, she refuses to associate with him.

Cameron Mitchell romances Bacall with hamburgers.

Cameron Mitchell romances Bacall with hamburgers.

Mitchell relentlessly pursues her anyway. “The trouble with you,” he tells her bluntly, “is you’re a strictly a hamburger-with-onions dame but you won’t admit it.”

How to Marry a Millionaire is a delightful film that shows Lauren Bacall’s comedic talents. If you haven’t seen this film, beware: You’ll likely find yourself purchasing it to add to your personal library.

How to Marry a Millionaire: starring Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe. Directed by Jean Negulesco. Written by Nunnally Johnson. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1953, glorious Technicolor, 95 mins.

This post is part of The Lauren Bacall Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click HERE to see the schedule.


Alice Guy: Entertaining Since 1896

Alice Guy-Blaché lksdjf ksdjf Image: Open Culture

Alice Guy: Writer, Director, Film Pioneer. Image: Open Culture

They say Alice Guy (Alice Guy-Blaché) made over 600 movies between 1896-1920.

Sure, a lot of these films were under 15 minutes, and she did have her own studio.

Even so. Over six hundred movies.

Although Guy’s work is slowly gaining more recognition through recent publications and a biopic Kickstarter campaign, she remains largely unknown.

Now, we’re not saying Guy should be popular just because she first became a director at the age of 23, or that she was head of production at France’s Gaumont Company for 11 years, or that she emigrated to America with her husband to establish their own studio (The Solax Company) in 1910 at Fort Lee, New Jersey’s fledgling film colony.

We’re also not saying she should be popular because she’s regarded as the first female director, or made movies where women had as much screen time as (if not more than) men, or that she was a filmmaking pioneer who explored the use of colour, special effects and sound.

We think she should be popular because her movies are wonderful.

Happily, Flicker Alley thinks so, too, because they’ve introduced Alice Guy: A Female Pioneer. This newly-mastered collection, streaming on Vimeo, beautifully showcases Guy’s techniques with three touching and amusing films.

Falling Leaves (1912)

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The scientific way to prevent winter. Image: YouTube

We’ve reviewed Falling Leaves before, but we want to discuss it again because the newly-mastered version, in our opinion, makes the film fresher. This charming film is about a girl who discovers her older sister is not expected to live through autumn (“When the last leaf falls…”). The girl reasons she can prolong her sister’s life by re-attaching fallen leaves onto trees.

First of all, the mastering on this film is lovely. We can more clearly see the detailed sets, including a window that reveals rapidly falling leaves as the family receives the bad news about their eldest daughter.

This new version also emphasizes the complexity of Guy’s scenes: Characters in the background are frequently involved in a different activity than those in the foreground. This was a pioneering technique for the period, one that is common in Guy’s films.

Canned Harmony (1911)

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Who, me? I’m not doing anything. Image: Harpodeon

Canned Harmony is an unrestrained comedy about a young couple who want to get married – BUT! – the girl’s father opposes the engagement. Not only does the musical father disapprove of the boyfriend’s musical ineptness, he deplores the young man’s lack of facial hair and curly locks. (Trademarks of a “real” musician, we assume.)

However, the boyfriend is resourceful. He dons a wig and sticky facial hair, and triumphantly returns to his girlfriend’s house posing as “Signor Tremelo, the great violinist”. He then gives a faux performance on a violin while his girlfriend plays a phonograph hidden under the table.

Tellingly, the disguise changes the young man’s demeanour; he is more flamboyant and confident in the presence of the girl’s beaming father.

Guy proves she’s every bit a comedic master, not unlike a Buster Keaton. She was merrily unafraid to construct an outrageous scenario, then run amok with it.

A House Divided (1913)

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Drawing the battle lines. Image: Women Film Pioneers Project

Misunderstandings nearly lead to divorce in the comedy A House Divided. When a husband and wife each suspects the other of having an affair, they hire a lawyer and sign an agreement whereby they “live separately together”. This means they must not communicate with each other, except through notes and letters.

As these notes increase in frequency, they become more ridiculous. For example, the distraught wife, in outlining her unhappy marital state to her mother, pulls out all the notes the pair have written to each other. One of them says, “Please pass the butter.”

During a dinner party, the wife hears someone breaking into the basement. She calmly hands a note to her husband: “There is a burglar in the cellar. You must catch him without disturbing the company.”

A House Divided proves Guy to be a clever and empathetic filmmaker. She doesn’t take sides with these characters; she leaves them to be who they are.

Sadly, Alice Guy’s filmmaking career was short-lived. By the early 1920s, many film studios had moved from New Jersey to California, and Guy returned to France. In 1953, she was awarded the Legion of Honor.

If you would like to see more of Alice Guy’s work in a newly-mastered format, you must see Alice Guy: A Female Pioneer.


Alice Guy: Female Pioneer Presented by Flicker Alley and the Blackhawk Films® Collection (and Ms. Guy herself)B&W, 46 mins.

This post is part of The Anti-Damsel Blogathon co-hosted by The Last Drive-In (Saturday) and Movies, Silently (Sunday).


John Barrymore: How to Suffer Nobly for Art

John Barrymore suffers for his Art. Image: YouTube

See how John Barrymore labours for The Theatre. Image: YouTube

We (as in, yours truly) have an affinity for outlandish characters – whether in real life on on the screen. One of favourite oversized movie characters is the fictional Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe, as played by the legendary actor John Barrymore.

You’ll find Jaffe in the comedy Twentieth Century (1934), a film adaptation of the play by the same name that was reworked from the unproduced Napoleon of Broadway, a play based on a certain Broadway producer.

Twentieth Century is about a successful, egocentric impresario who discovers a lingerie model (Carole Lombard), and casts her as the lead in his new play. However, after a profitable but tumultuous three-year business/romantic relationship, Lombard suddenly flees to Hollywood to become a movie star.

Without his talented and lucrative leading lady, Barrymore’s productions start to deteriorate, and he realizes he must woo Lombard back to New York if he’s going to become commercially profitable again.

Much of the movie takes place on board the spiffy Twentieth Century, the glam New York-Chicago train service that operated for 65 years, starting in 1902. (Get this: passengers actually walked on freshly-laid red carpet when boarding the train.)

As amusing as the train scenes are, our favourite parts of the movie take place in Barrymore’s theatre, as he prepares his actors for his newest production.

Our introduction to Barrymore’s character is a display board outside the theatre:

Mr. Oscar Jaffe announces a new play
Personally Supervised by Mr. Jaffe
with a typical Jaffe Cast
to be presented at the Jaffe Theatre
The Play: “The Heart of Kentucky”
An Oscar Jaffe Production is a guarantee of wit and genius in the theatre.

With such a build-up, we can’t wait to meet this guy. And when we do, we’re not disappointed.

Barrymore’s Jaffe has affected mannerisms, such as his use of a quill pen and placing a plaid scarf around his neck just so. He walks with a cane even though he doesn’t limp.

It’s worth noting that Barrymore’s hair is almost never under control in this film, which may be symbolic of his unruly nature. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Barrymore is not impressed with Lombard's new boyfriend. Image:alkdj f

Barrymore (right) is unimpressed with Carole Lombard’s new boyfriend. Image: Acidemic

When Barrymore arrives at the stage where his actors are assembled, he delivers a Motivational Speech. In this speech, he tells us everything we need to know about his character.

“Before we begin,” he says solemnly, “I want you all to remember one thing. No matter what I may say, no matter what I may do on this stage, during our work, I love you all. And the people who have been through my battles with me will bear me out in testifying that above everything in the world, I love the theatre and the charming people in it.”

Oh boy. You know you’re dealing with a real piece of work with a speech like that.

His magnanimous stance is short-lived, however. When someone disagrees with him, he pronounces Judgment: “From now on, I close the iron door on you.”

Barrymore plays Jaffe with a straight face, but there’s something about his performance that almost winks at us. You think I’m kidding about this character? he seems to say. I’ve known dozens like him.

Barrymore’s Jaffe is smart and quotable, and makes a monumental display of his Suffering. For instance, when he’s told blackboard chalk is impossible to buy at midnight (!), he grimly closes his eyes as if summoning Inner Strength. “No cooperation from anyone,” he sighs miserably. “Never mind. I’ll carry through alone.”

There is much to admire about Twentieth Century – script, casting, sets – but we guarantee you’ll adore Barrymore’s performance as a self-absorbed egotist. If you’ve never seen a John Barrymore film, you must make time for this one.

Twentieth Century: starring John Barrymore, Carole Lombard, Walter Connolly. Directed by Howard Hawks. Written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Columbia Pictures Corp., 1934, B&W, 91 mins.

This post is part of The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Hollywood. Click HERE to see the schedule.


The Man-Crazy Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple falls for Cary Grant – and who can blame her? Image: laskdjf askjdf d

Shirley Temple falls for Cary Grant – and who can blame her? Image: Miss Shirley Temple

In 1947, Shirley Temple was 18 going on 19 and struggling with a difficult marriage.

Her career was faltering, too. She was no longer the winsome child star who had charmed millions of moviegoers during the bleakest years of the Depression. She was now one of many talented young actresses in Hollywood.

But Temple wasn’t a seasoned pro for nothing, and if you watch films from the last years of her movie career, you can’t detect the off-screen pressures she must have faced. She was a hard worker, starring in three (three!) films released in 1947: Honeymoon, That Hagen Girl and, one of our personal favourites, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

Now, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is one of those films that suggests you leave your critical thinking skills at home. However, it does deliver hearty laughs in return.

The film stars Cary Grant as an affable painter of contemporary American life. He is one of those fellows who’s always in trouble, usually with women. However, his real headaches begin when he gives a lecture at the high school Temple attends, and discovers Temple has developed a sudden, fierce crush on him.

After the rousing lecture, Temple rushes to meet Grant in the school hallway, and introduces herself as a representative of the school newspaper. She fawns over Grant and gushes over the Suffering Of The Artistic Soul. While the uncomfortable Grant tries to make a polite getaway, Temple immediately starts grilling him on his love life. This makes Grant wonder what kind of newspaper the school actually publishes:

Temple: “Oh, all the students read it.”
Grant: “I’ll bet they do!”

Grant is Not Interested in Temple for many reasons, including her age. Yet, their scenes sparkle with on-screen chemistry, the way scenes do between two professional actors.

Myrna Loy also stars as Temple’s accomplished older sister, a judge who is well aware of Grant’s reputation. She considers the remote possibility of Temple dating him as odious: “I’d just as soon my sister were going out with an actor.

Although the cast includes the ultra-fab Rudy Vallee and Ray Collins, it’s Temple’s charismatic performance that elevates the film and, ironically, makes Grant and Loy even more culturally significant.

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Myrna Loy (left) is not amused by Grant’s protestations. Image: Dr. Macro

The term bobby-soxer was popular during the 1940s and 1950s. Bobby socks (short socks that reach just above the ankle) became fashionable during WWII and, after the war, were often worn with saddle shoes. This style was especially popular with teenage girls and young women.

More importantly, the bobby-soxer crowd made big stars out of singers like Frank Sinatra and actors like Van Johnson. Just like today’s teenage girl demographic, these young women could elevate a performer’s status to über-stardom.

By portraying a bobby-soxer, Temple was endorsing the longevity of Grant and Loy. It’s telling that Loy is not cast as Temple’s mother, but her older sister, and Temple’s crush on the 40-something Grant only enhanced his status as a romantic leading man.

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer was a profitable film for RKO; it tied with The Egg and I as the second-highest grossing film of 1947. It also won a screenwriting Oscar.

Grant and Loy may have gained street cred with the younger set in this charming film, but it did not save Temple’s film career. By 1950, she was out of the movies and her troubled marriage – but had embarked on other challenges in her remarkable life.

The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer: starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple. Directed by Irving Reis. Written by Sidney Sheldon. RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., 1947, B&W, 95 mins.

This post is part of The 1947 Blogathon co-hosted by Shadows & Satin and Speakeasy. Click HERE to see today’s fab entries.


The Algonquin Table of the Old West

Gordon MacRae's pimped-out surrey, with a fringe on top. Image: lsdkjf askdjf

Gordon MacRae’s fully-loaded surrey, with a fringe on top. Image: Los Angeles Times

You would have a skewed view of life if you only watched musicals.

For example, look at the recently-restored Rodgers and Hammerstein western-comedy musical, Oklahoma! (1955). This film is about a group of farmers and ranchers in turn-of-the-20th-century Oklahoma, who hold a box lunch social to raise money for the schoolhouse roof.

This film makes it look like these farmers and ranchers have nothing to do but sing and dance and make merriment. In one scene, a train pulls into the station and everyone on the station platform suddenly – and without warning – leaps into a impromptu hoedown.

The rustic Oklahoma in this film looks gla-mor-ous. Men’s tailored shirts are neatly pressed, and women’s Orry-Kelly gowns dresses are made of sumptuous fabrics. Life is so effortless, folks do their chores while wearing crisp, white clothes. There’s not a drop of sweat in sight.

You’ll notice a lot of dancing in this Oklahoma, even interpretive dance where themes of innocence and exploitation are examined.

The villain in this neck of the woods is played by Rod Steiger, a surly and vaguely creepy man who is the only one in the film with grime on his clothes. He lusts after young Shirley Jones (in her film debut) and resents the cowboy Gordon MacRae for wooing her.

You could be forgiven for thinking these are simple, unsophisticated folk. Indeed, the film opens with MacRae (in a glorious CinemaScope tracking shot) riding his horse along a row of corn, underneath a dazzling blue sky. He sings about the beautiful morning and a “bright golden haze on the meadow”.

Basic, wholesome people living a basic, wholesome life? Not so fast, partner.

The marvels of Kansas City. Image: alksdj faksdj f

The marvels – wholesome and unwholesome – of Kansas City. Image: Dusted Off

What really makes this film, besides the wardrobe and the scenery, is the song lyrics. The clever lyrics easily outpace the script in wit and innuendo.

Notably, the songs seesaw between the conflicted feelings of the characters. For example, a man sings about his visit to Kansas City and, alternating between amazement and disapproval, he describes life in the prosperous, fast-growing burg:

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City
They’ve gone about as far as they can go!
They went and built a skyscraper seven stories high
About as high as a building ought to grow.

He then goes on to detail, with a twinkle in his eye, various other sights including a burlesque show.

In another scene, MacRae confronts the surly Steiger with a song that swings between threats and flattery. MacRae suggests no man will be more highly praised at his own funeral than Steiger himself:

He’s looking oh so pretty and so nice
He looks like he’s asleep.
It’s a shame that he won’t keep,
But it’s summer and we’re running out of ice.

That’s a bit twisted, no? MacRae is taking chances, singing this kind of stuff to the temperamental Steiger.

In another scene, Gene Nelson proposes to his girlfriend (Gloria Grahame), although she doesn’t really want to settle down. After the he proposes, Grahame replies:

But if a wife is wise, she’s gotta realize
That men like you are wild and free …
Stay up late and don’t come home till three
And go right off to sleep if you’re sleepy.
There’s no use waiting up for me!

Oklahoma! won Academy Awards for Best Music and Best Sound, and raked in $6.8 million at the box office that year. We think you’ll enjoy this cheeky, light-hearted tribute to the 46th state of the union.

Oklahoma! starring Gordon MacRae, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson. Directed by Fred Zinneman. Written by Sonya Levien & William Ludwig. Magna Theatre Corp., 1955, B&W, 145 mins.

Silent Film with a Surrealist Twist

Buying a new arm at the limb store. Image: lskdj f

Buying a new arm at the Limb shop. Image:

We could hardly wait to share an obscure six-minute film with you.

Get this: Here is a film that was made in 1908, during the Nickleodeon period (1905-1915), and it feels as fresh and original as many indie short films produced today.

Some background: Before movies became the blockbuster form of entertainment they were before the pre-gaming era, films were shown as one attraction in a vaudeville (variety) show. However, in 1905, there was a shift in the entertainment industry, when the first Nickelodeon theatre opened in Pittsburg. Price of admission: 5 cents.

Suddenly movies became the dominant form of entertainment. As vaudeville theatres were converted to nickelodeon theatres, the programs changed, too. Instead of the focus on live acts, the focus was now on the films, although singing and some vaudeville acts still accompanied these films. These programs lasted between 10 minutes and an hour.

A lot of films were produced during this period; theatres changed their programs as often as three times a week. Everything about these films were short – production time, run time, and length of time in theatres.

Now, you may think these films were simple and unsophisticated. But we disagree. We like to think audiences were given their nickel’s worth. One example is 1908’s The Thieving Hand.

This movie was filmed in Brooklyn, New York, by the Vitagraph Company of America. This company began by making newsreels, but it graduated to narrative film. It was a prolific company; in 1907, for instance, no other company produced more films than Vitagraph. It was also the first studio to use stop-motion photography.

The Thieving Hand is an excellent example of Vitagraph’s trick cinematography (and black humour) during this era.

The plot involves a one-armed man who peddles cigars on a street corner. He sells a cigar to a rich man who accidentally drops his ring in the street. When the one-armed cigar peddler chases him down and returns the ring, the rich man rewards him by buying him a new arm.

Business is brisk at the Limb shop. Image: alskdfj

Business is brisk at the Limb shop. Image: Film: Ab Initio

This is where the film leaps into surrealism. The two men go to a Limbs shop where the one-armed man can be outfitted with a new forearm + hand. (The shop’s windows has arms and legs on display, but you can buy an assortment of hands and feet as well. Wooden “peg” legs are available, too, if that’s your style.)

Sadly for the cigar peddler, his new hand has a mind of its own and steals from passersby on the street. The owner, the poor slob, has no idea his fancy new hand is a kleptomaniac and, through a series of events that are not his fault, ends up in the slammer.

It’s an interesting study of a man, who is honest, and his alter-ego, The Hand, which is dishonest.

It’s also a delightful film with a slightly twisted bent, made better by some cheeky special effects, including:

  • Forearm + hand crawling around by itself.
  • Fitting the man with his new arm by merely shoving it up his shirtsleeve. (If only fitting prosthetics were this easy!)
  • The man pulling off the arm when he doesn’t want it any more.
  • The hand putting rings on itself, then admiring how it looks.

No CGI or other high-tech tricks here, only clever sleight of hand (ha ha). The result is pure magic.

But don’t take our word for it! We’ve included the full movie below. We think you’ll get a kick out of this little-known Nickelodeon gem.

The Thieving Hand: starring Paul Panzer. Directed by J. Stuart Blackton. Vitagraph Co. of America, 1908, B&W, 6 mins.

This post is part of the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon co-hosted by Movies, Silently, Once Upon a Screen and yours truly, and sponsored by Flicker Alley. Click here to view all the posts for today’s era.


Billy Wilder’s Life-Affirming Ninotchka

"We're here to work, Comrades." Greta Garbo as Type A communist. Image: alkdsj flksd f

Greta Garbo, Type “A” communist. Image: More Stars than in the Heavens

A person could go on all day about the delightful 1939 comedy, Ninotchka. What’s not to love about a film with Cedric Gibbons art direction, Adrian gowns, Ernst Lubitsch’s skilled directing (a.k.a. “The Lubitsch Touch“), and a top-notch cast?

What we admire most is the script.

The screenplay was a collaborative effort by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch and a man who would become one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors, Billy Wilder.

To us, the script is like sneaking into your grandmother’s freezer and discovering a cache of baked goods. There are plenty of funny lines, endearing characters, and thoughtful observations on geopolitics.

Ninotchka is set in pre-World War II Paris, where three Russian envoys have arrived with orders to sell Russian jewels on behalf of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, prices are not ideal because the market has become flooded with such jewels.

There’s a bigger glitch: A Russian Countess in exile (Ina Claire), learns the Soviets have arrived with intentions to sell her family’s confiscated heirlooms.

Moscow then dispatches an Envoy Extraordinary named Ninotcha (Greta Garbo) to Paris to sort out this mess.

Wilder & Co. have created such intriguing characters that even if this film had no plot, it would still be fascinating. Characters reveal, in the first exchange of dialogue, their agenda and their eventual outcome.

For example, the Countess’ courtesan (Melvyn Douglas), is a suave fellow who appears with this introduction: “Remember that platinum watch with the diamond numbers? You’ll be in a position to give it to me now.”

Garbo, at the start of the film, is a dour, industrial-strength communist. She doesn’t suffer fools, and she despises frivolity.

Her adversary, the Countess, is a refined, cultured woman who is equally tough. She despises everything Garbo represents. Our sympathies throughout the movie lie with Garbo, but Claire is not going down without a fight. When the two women finally meet, Claire sharply reminds Garbo of everything the Bolsheviks have taken from her.

Whether as a screenwriter or director, Wilder is as funny as he is cynical. He’s an unflinching observer of human nature. This script incorporates Wilder’s trademark shrewdness, but we also find something unexpected.

Ninotchka, at heart, is overwhelmingly life-affirming.

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A tipsy Garbo jokes about being human. Image:

Garbo’s character undergoes an incredible transformation in this film. When she first arrives in Paris, she orders her fellow comrades, “Don’t make an issue of my womanhood. We’re here to work.

When she sees a ridiculous hat in a shop window, she almost can’t express enough displeasure. (“A civilization cannot survive with such hats.”) However, each time she passes the window, her contempt softens. Then, when she opens a carefully-locked drawer in her hotel room and pulls out said hat, we realize she is shedding Soviet rhetoric for a more human existence.

Douglas is drawn to Garbo in spite of (or because of?) her humourless demeanour. He implores her to smile and to laugh at “the whole spectacle” of life. “Thinking about death is so glum,” he says.

After Garbo’s internal human-ness awakens, she gives a poignant speech which must have been acutely felt by audiences in 1939, when the world was on the verge of global war. Her speech is almost a direct plea to world leaders.

“Comrades, people of the world,” she says, “the revolution is on the march. I know, bombs will fall, civilizations will crumble, but not yet. Please – wait. What’s the hurry? Give us our moment. Let us be happy.”

Ninotchka received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay. We know you’ll enjoy this clever film co-authored by the great Billy Wilder.

Ninotchka: starring Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire. Written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, BW, 1939, 110 mins.

This post is part of the BILLY WILDER Blogathon co-hosted by Outspoken and Freckled and Once Upon a Screen. Click HERE to view all the fab posts in this blogathon.


Guilty Pleasure: Beach Party (1963)

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The life of a California teen – “surfin’ all day and swingin’ all night.”  Image:

Please, no judging.

Here is today’s confession: We are endlessly fascinated by the Frankie + Annette Beach Party movies.

There were a handful of these movies made between 1963-66, each one worse than its predecessor – and that is saying something. These films, made by American International Pictures, were targeted to teenagers and include lots of music, dancing and surfing.

These elements must appeal to us more than we care to admit, because these crazy movies are our ultimate guilty pleasure.

Our favourite is Beach Party (1963), the first of the illustrious series. In this movie, a social anthropologist (a deadpan Robert Cummings), rents a beach house so he can spy on these mad surfing kids and write a book on Post-Adolescent Surf Dwellers.

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Cummings sports a voluminous academic beard. Image: Forgotten Actors

Cummings may be a professor and a noted expert in his field, but he’s as thick as day-old gravy when it comes to l’affaire de coeur. No one is more aware of this than his assistant (Dorothy Malone), a savvy, chic woman who’s half in love with her dim-witted boss.

Among the so-called “surf dwellers” are a young couple, teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon and former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. Avalon has rented a neighbouring beach house so he can spend the weekend alone with his girlfriend. Unbeknownst to him, Funicello has invited half the state of California to share the house with them, because she’s not ready for The Big Step.

As a result, Avalon and Funicello spend most of the movie trying to make each other jealous. Avalon takes up with a waitress from a local hotspot, while Funicello flirts with Cummings.

There’s a bad guy, too!, in the form of Harvey Lembeck, the leader of an inept motorcycle gang. Lembeck calls his minions “You Stupid”, while his dress and mannerisms spoof Marlon Brando in 1953’s The Wild One.

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Marlon Brando – er, Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) is easily defeated. Image: B-Movie Detective

Beach Party doesn’t have a complex plot, but the script is surprisingly funny and self-mocking. Malone delivers some laugh-out-loud punchlines, while Cummings and Funicello share some amusing moments, many of which poke fun at Cummings’ age. In one scene, Cummings takes Funicello for a ride in his twin-engine plane, and she asks how he learned how to fly.

Cummings: “…That was before the war, of course.”
Funicello: “Which one?’
Cummings (wryly): “The Spanish American.”
Funicello: “Oh, you’re teasing. I bet it was World War I.”

One thing this movie never fails to do is remind you of how Hip it is. Scenes incorporate bongo drums and surfing slag as much as possible. The beach fashions are über stylish, and no one appears in the same swimsuit twice. Even the local hangout is hip, featuring poetry as performance art, yoga practitioners and live music by Dick Dale and the Del Tones.

This film also never fails to remind you that teenagers are cool, while the older generation is, well, old. In one scene, Cummings decides to go to the beach in his neck-to-knee 1920s-era bathing suit. Funicello defends the suit by saying tactfully, “I like it. It’s substantial looking.”

Beach Party isn’t cinematic art, nor is it a deep analysis of the human condition. It is, however, an entertaining movie – which makes it a worthy guilty pleasure.

Beach Party: starring Bob Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Frankie Avalon. Directed by Willam Asher. Written by Lou Rusoff. American International Pictures, 1963, Colour, 101 mins.

This post is part of the Beach Party Blogathon co-hosted by Speakeasy and yours truly. Click here to view all the groovy posts in this blogathon.

Beach Party Frankie Annette