Friday, January 15, 2021

William Powell and Carole Lombard in “My Man Godfrey”

My Man Godfrey (1936) is an American screwball comedy directed by Gregory La Cava and starring William Powell and Carole Lombard. The film is based on a short novel, 1101 Park Avenue by Eric S. Hatch. My Man Godfrey is considered one of the best screwball comedies of all time. In 1999, the film was deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Carole Lombard and William Powell

During the Great Depression, two socialite sisters, Cornelia and Irene Bullock (Gail Patrick and Carole Lombard respectively) are competing in a charity scavenger hunt and need to find a “forgotten man.” They come across a man living in a New York City dump, but Cornelia gets to him first. She offers Godfrey Smith (William Powell) $5 if he will come play along and help her win the scavenger hunt. Godfrey finds Cornelia’s attitude annoying and backs her up into an ash pile. Irene who has been watching the whole episode ends up speaking with Godfrey who finds her to be kind, but a little bit crazy, decides to help her. Irene drives the two of them to the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel where she presents Godfrey as her forgotten man. Irene wins the scavenger hunt and is so grateful that she offers Godfrey a job as a butler in her family’s home. Little does Godfrey realize that the Bullock family is quite eccentric and hasn’t been able to keep a butler for more than a few days. 

Myrna Loy and Powell in The Thin Man

Godfrey is a success as a butler impressing the entire family especially Irene who finds herself falling in love with him. But Godfrey has a secret and Cornelia, who has held a grudge since she fell in the ash pile, is determined to expose it.


Gregory La Cava (1892 – 1952) was an American film director best known for several landmark films from the 1930s including My Man Godfrey and Stage Door (1937). La Cava was born in Pennsylvania and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. La Cava directed many of the top stars during his heyday including Irene Dunne, Helen Hayes, Constance Bennett, Charles Boyer, Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Melvin Douglas, and Katharine Hepburn. LaCava directed Ginger Rogers in three films in three years: Stage Door, Fifth Avenue Girl (1939), and Primrose Path (1940).

William Powell (1892 – 1984) was an American actor who was most famous for the Thin Man series in which he costarred with Myrna Loy. Loy and Powell made 14 films together. Powell was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times: The Thin Man (1934), My Many Godfrey (1936), and Life With Father (1947). Powell was under contract to Paramount, Warner Bros., and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer where he had his greatest success. Some of Powell’s popular films include Manhattan Melodrama (1934), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Libeled Lady (1936), The Last of Mrs. Cheney (1937), Love Crazy (1941), Life with Father (1947), The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947), Dancing in the Dark (1949), How to Marry a Millionare (1953), and Mister Roberts (1955).

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard on their wedding day

Carole Lombard (1908 – 1942) was an American film actress who gained great fame starring in screwball comedies. So popular was she as a comedic actress that Life magazine dubbed her “The Screwball Girl.” He got her start in silent films as a child and progressed to more important roles when a car accident almost ended her career. Glass for the car’s windshield cut up her face leaving her with a small scar. She eventually hit the big time in 1934 with her breakout performance in Twentieth Century costarring John Barrymore. The film directed by Howard Hawks (a distant cousin of Lombard’s) lead to better roles and eventually superstardom. In Lombard’s short career, she appeared in several iconic films including My Man Godfrey, Nothing Sacred (1937), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and To Be or Not to Be (1942). At the height of her career, Lombard died in a plane crash while returning from a bond tour. At the time of her death, she was married to Clark Gable. Together they were one of Hollywood’s original power couples.

The excellent supporting cast includes Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Jean Dixon, Eugene Pallette, Alan Mowbray, Mischa Auer, and Franklin Pangborn.


My Man Godfrey trivia:

  • Was the first movie to be nominated in all four acting categories.
  • Marion Davies, Constance Bennett, and Miriam Hopkins were all considered for the role of Irene.
  • William Powell and Carole Lombard were once husband and wife and had been divorced for three years when they made the film.
  • Jane Wyman has an uncredited role standing in the crowd in the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel.
  • Gail Patrick (Cornelia) played Irene’s (Lombard) older sister, but in reality, was almost three years younger.


To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.



To join us for a discussion on Zoom on January 19, 2021, at 6 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an email with an invitation to the discussion with the appropriate links. 



Questions for discussion:

  1. Is there a serious message amidst all the comedy? If yes, what is it?
  2. What do you think motivated Godfrey to get back on his feet?
  3. Did you have a favorite supporting character?
  4. Did Lombard and Powell have believable screen chemistry?
  5. Why do you think the film has remained a classic 85 years after its initial release?


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles star in “Jane Eyre”

Jane Eyre (1943) is a gothic romance directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Based on the classic novel by Charlotte Bronte, the screenplay was written by John Houseman, Aldous Huxley, and Robert Stevenson. Bernard Herrmann wrote the film score.


The plot concerns Jane Eyre, an orphan educated at Lowood, a charity institution for young girls run with brutal discipline by Mr. Brocklehurst. When Jane reaches adulthood, she advertises for a job as a governess. Edward Rochester hires her through his housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, who at first, Jane believes to be the mistress of the house. Jane enjoys her job as governess to Adele, Mr. Rochester’s ward. In spite of Mr. Rochester’s sometimes-surly behavior, Jane finds herself drawn to him. As their relationship eventually grows into love, a secret from Rochester’s past threatens to doom them both.

Jane Eyre was filmed entirely on the sound stages at 20th Century-Fox.

Robert Stevenson (1905 – 1986) was an English film director, screenwriter, and actor. Producer David O. Selznick brought him to Hollywood where he loaned out his services as a director to other studios. In Hollywood, Stevenson directed Tom Brown’s School Days (1940), Back Street (1941) starring Charles Boyer and Margaret Sullavan, Joan of Paris (1942) starring Michele Morgan, and Dishonored Lady starring Hedy Lamarr (1947). Stevenson also directed many episodes of top television series including Gunsmoke, Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Stevenson really hit his stride when he began working for the Walt Disney Studios. At Disney, he directed Johnny Tremain (1957), Old Yeller (1957), Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), Kidnapped (1960), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), In Search of the Castaways (1962), The Love Bug (1968), and two of my favorites, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964) and The Monkey’s Uncle (1965). None of the above Disney classics could compare, however, to the huge success of Mary Poppins (1964) which went on to win five Oscars. Stevenson directed Hayley Mills in That Darn Cat! (1965), her last movie under contract with Disney. In 1977, Variety reported that Stevenson was “the most commercially successful director in the history of films. Stevenson became an American citizen during World War II and was in the U.S. Army Signal Corps with director Frank Capra.


Orson Welles (1915- 1985) was an American actor, writer, director, and producer. He is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, with Citizen Kane (1941) considered by many to be the greatest film of all time. Welles got his start on the stage. He formed the Mercury Theatre with John Houseman in 1937. Many of the actors from his repertory theatre starred in his first two films. Welles had a reputation for being difficult and undisciplined which contributed to his low output of films. In spite of all that, his reputation as a Hollywood genius remains untarnished.


Joan Fontaine (1917 – 2013) was a British-American actress who starred in more than 45 films during Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” After secondary roles in Gunga Din (1939) and The Women (1939), her fortunes turned with her starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, Rebecca (1940). She was nominated for Best Actress for her role in that film but lost to Ginger Rogers. The next year, she worked with Hitchcock again in Suspicion and this time won the Best Actress Oscar, beating out her older sister Olivia de Havilland. She received a third and final nomination for The Constant Nymph (1943). Other popular Fontaine films include This Above All (1942), From This Day Forward (1946), Ivy (1947), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), The Emperor Waltz (1948), and Ivanhoe (1952). After the late-1950s, she appeared less in films and more on stage and television. Fontaine and her sister are the only siblings to have won major acting Academy Awards.

Helen (Elizabeth Taylor) has her hair cut by Mr. Brocklehurst much to
Jane’s (Peggy Ann Garner ) dismay.

Others in the cast include Margaret O’Brien as Adele, Peggy Ann Garner as the young Jane, Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Reed, John Sutton as Dr. Rivers, Henry Daniell as Mr. Brocklehurst, Edith Barrett as Mrs. Fairfax, and Sara Allgood as Bessie. An eleven-year-old Elizabeth Taylor plays Jane’s childhood friend at Lowood. So unknown was Taylor at this time that she didn’t receive on-screen billing. Both Taylor and Margaret O’Brien were loaned from their home studio, M-G-M to Fox for their work in Jane Eyre.



Jane Eyre trivia:

  • Director Robert Stevenson was a member of the Bronte Society.
  • Composer Bernard Herrmann would go onto writing an operatic version of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
  • Character actress Ethel Griffies (Grace Poole) played the same character in the 1934 film version.
  • Olivia de Havilland portrayed Charlotte Bronte (author of Jane Eyre) in Devotion (1946).



To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.


To join us on Zoom for a discussion of the film on January 12, 2021, at 6 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and link to the Zoom meeting.


  1. Questions for discussion:
  2. Why do you think there have been literally dozens of film and television adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s novel?
  3. Have you seen other film adaptations of Jane Eyre? How do they compare and contrast to the 1943 version?
  4. Were Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles well cast as Jane and Mr. Rochester?
  5. Did anything about the film or its production surprise you?
  6. Did you have a favorite character actor in the film?






Friday, January 1, 2021

Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn believe “The More the Merrier”

The More the Merrier (1943) is an American romantic comedy directed by George Stevens and starring Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn. This was director Steven’s last feature film before he joined the Army as chief of the combat photographic unit. It was also the last comedy he ever directed.

Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn, and Joel McCrea

The housing shortage in Washington D. C. during World War II brings Connie Milligan (Arthur) an engaged-to-be-married young woman, Sergeant Joe Carter (McCrea), and Benjamin Dingle a retired millionaire (Coburn) together in Connie’s apartment. Connie reluctantly rented a room in her apartment to Dingle, only to have him sublet it to Joe. Connie is very organized and businesslike in the way she starts her day, much to the dismay of Joe and Dingle who never seem to be on schedule.

Eight women to every man

Connie and Joe are both attracted to each other from the start, but Connie tries to ignore her feelings and remind herself that she’s engaged to Charles J. Pendergast (Richard Gaines), a Washington bureaucrat. Will Connie choose security with Pendergast or the uncertainty of life with Sergeant Joe Carter?

The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called the film “as warm and refreshing a ray of sunshine as we’ve had in a very late spring.”


George Stevens (1904 – 1975) was an American film director and producer. He was nominated for five Best Director Academy Awards, winning one for Giant (1956). Stevens got his start in the movies as a cameraman working on many Laurel and Hardy films. Stevens directed many of the top stars of Hollywood’s Golden age including Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Ronald Colman, Ginger Rogers, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard, Fed Astaire, Joel McCrea, Alan Ladd, Spencer Tracy, and Elizabeth Taylor. Other popular films directed by Stevens include Annie Oakley (1935), Gunga Din (1939), Woman of the Year (1942), The More the Merrier (1943), I Remember Mama (1948), Shane (1953), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).

Jean Arthur (1900 – 1991) was an American stage and film actress whose career spanned three decades. Arthur got her start in silent films but became a major star with the advent of sound. Her unique speaking voice made her a natural for comedy. She came to prominence having major roles in a series of films directed by Frank Capra: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take it With You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Other popular films Arthur starred in included Only Angels Have Wings (1939), The Talk of the Town (1942), The More the Merrier (1943). For her work in The More the Merrier, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress; it was her only Academy Award nomination. Arthur’s last film role was in the western classic Shane (1953). After retiring from acting, she taught drama at Vassar College where one of her students was Meryl Streep.

McCrea and Arthur

Joel McCrea (1905 – 1990) was an American movie star who appeared in over 100 films. During his almost-five-decades career, McCrea worked with some of the top directors in Hollywood including Alfred Hitchcock (Foreign Correspondent 1940), Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels 1941, The Palm Beach Story 1942), and George Stevens (The More the Merrier 1943). McCrea worked opposite some of the top leading actresses of the day including Miriam Hopkins, Irene Dunne, Veronica Lake, Claudette Colbert, and Barbara Stanwyck with whom he made six films. He was the first actor to play Dr. Kildare in the film Internes Can’t Take Money (1937) costarring Stanwyck. McCrea married actress Frances Dee in 1933. The two were married until McCrea’s death in 1990.

Charles Coburn (1877 – 1961) was an Academy-Award-winning character actor. Coburn was one of the most popular character actors in film during the 1940s. He was nominated for three Best Support Actor Academy Awards for The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), for The More the Merrier (1943)—won, and The Green Years (1946). Other classic films featuring Coburn include The Lady Eve (1941), Kings Row (1942), The Constant Nymph (1943), Monkey Business (1952), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).


The More the Merrier trivia:

  • It was the last picture under a three-picture deal that Stevens had with Columbia Studios; the other two were Penny Serenade (1941) and The Talk of the Town (1942).
  • The film was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Director; Coburn won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
  • Jean Arthur was on the outs with Columbia Pictures for turning down roles. To placate the studio, she paid Garson Kanin to write something for her, paying him out of her own pocket.
  • Joel McCrea originally didn’t think he was right for the film and suggested Cary Grant for the lead; ironically, Grant starred in the remake, Walk, Don’t Run (1966) in the Charles Coburn role.



To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.


To join the discussion on Zoom on January 5, 2021, at 6 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP to the discussion, you’ll get an invitation to the Zoom meeting.


Questions for discussion:

  1. Many critics consider the film one of the best romantic comedies of all time. What’s your opinion?
  2. How does Jean Arthur’s performance in Too Many Husbands compare with her performance in The More the Merrier?
  3. Why do you think Joel McCrea thought he wasn’t right for the role?
  4. Did the film remind you of any other romantic comedies?
  5. The scene on the stoop with Arthur and McCrea is considered a classic. Do you agree?


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Jean Arthur has “Too Many Husbands”

Too Many Husbands (1940) is a screwball comedy directed by Wesley Ruggles and starring Jean Arthur, Fred MacMurray, and Melvyn Douglas. The screenplay was written by Claude Binyon (True Confession 1938), based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham.

Melvyn Douglas, Jean Arthur, and Fred MacMurray

Vicky Lowndes’s (Arthur) first husband, Bill Cardew (MacMurray) went missing in a boating accident and is presumed dead. During her bereavement, Bill’s best friend and business partner Henry Lowndes (Douglas) comforts Vicky. Within six months of Bill’s death, Vicky and Henry marry. Six months later, Bill shows up, after being rescued from an uninhabited island where he had survived after his accident at sea. Vicky has a tough choice to make; which husband does she want to spend the rest of her life with?

Cimarron (1931) was the only western to win the Best Picture Oscar until Dances with Wolves (1990)

Wesley Ruggles (1889 – 1972) was an American film director. He directed over 50 films including Cimarron (1931), No Man of Her Own (1932)—the only film to star Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, I’m No Angel (1933). The Gilded Lily (1935), I Met Him in Paris (1937), and You Belong to Me (1941). Ruggles got his start as an actor in 1915 where he appeared in several silent films. Two years later, his interests turned to directing. He was a top producer and director at Paramount throughout the 1930s and early 1940s. His career declined after directing and producing London Town (1946), considered one of the biggest flops in the history of British cinema. It was the last motion picture he directed. He was the younger brother of actor Charlie Ruggles.


Jean Arthur (1900 – 1991) was an American stage and film actress whose career spanned three decades. Arthur got her start in silent films but became a major star with the advent of sound. Her unique speaking voice made her a natural for comedy. She came to prominence having major roles in a series of films directed by Frank Capra: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take it With You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Other popular films Arthur starred in included Only Angels Have Wings (1939), The Talk of the Town (1942), The More the Merrier (1943). Arthur’s last film role was in the western classic Shane (1953). After retiring from acting, she taught drama at Vassar College where one of her students was Meryl Streep.

Fred MacMurray (1908 – 1991) was an American film actor who appeared in more than 100 movies and had a successful career on television as well. MacMurray signed a contract with Paramount Pictures in 1934 and was a major leading man by 1935. He co-starred with the studio's top leading actresses including Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, and Madeleine Carroll. By 1943, MacMurray was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood and the four-highest-paid person in the United States. Probably his most famous role is as insurance agent Walter Neff in Double Indemnity (1944) co-starring Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. During the late 1950s and 1960s, MacMurray gained new fame as the star of films produced by Walt Disney including The Shaggy Dog (1959), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), Son of Flubber (1963), and Charley and the Angel (1973).

Melvyn Douglas (1901 – 1981) was an American actor. Douglas was a popular leading man during the 1930s working with some of Hollywood’s most famous leading ladies including Greta Garbo, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Myrna Loy, and Merle Oberon. He won two Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards late in his career for Hud (1963) and Being There (1979). Douglas’s last film role was in Ghost Story (1981) co-starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Fred Astair.


Too Many Husbands trivia:

  • Two endings were filmed, one having her end up with her first husband and the other having her stay with the second.
  • The film was screened with both endings and sent out questionnaires to see which ending audiences preferred.
  • Released just months before My Favorite Wife, both films were popular with audiences and critics.
  • The film was remade as “Three for the Show (1955) starring Betty Grable, Jack Lemmon, and Gower Champion.



To watch the movie on YouTube, click on the link below.



To join our discussion of this film on Zoom, December 29, 2020, at 6:30 p.m. click here. Once you RSVP to the Meetup, you’ll receive an email with Zoom login information.



Questions for discussion:

  1. What was your overall impression of the movie?
  2. Did anything surprise you?
  3. If you’ve seen My Favorite Wife, how are the movies similar and how are they different?
  4. Did you have a favorite husband? Who do you think Vicky would be happiest with and why?
  5. Was the film’s ending satisfying or a letdown?


Friday, December 18, 2020

Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” glows on the screen

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) is an American drama directed by Elia Kazan and starring Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, James Dunn, Lloyd Nolan, Ted Donaldson, and Peggy Ann Garner as Francie. The film is based on the best-selling novel by Betty Smith.

James Dunn and Peggy Ann Garner

The film centers around an impoverished Irish-American family living in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. The film’s main focus is on 13-year-old Francie Nolan (Garner) who dreams of a life away from her drab existence and her desire to improve herself through reading all the books in her local library.

Francie’s parents Katie (McGuire) and Johnny (James Dunn) are struggling to make ends meet and raise their children. Johnny is a singing waiter who struggles with alcoholism which is a strain emotionally and financially on the family. Francie is especially affected because she loves her father dearly and yearns for a time when he won’t be “sick” anymore.

Lloyd Nolan, Joan Blondell, Ted Donaldson, Dorothy McGuire,
Peggy Ann Garner, and James Dunn

Elia Kazan (1909 – 2003) was an American director, producer, writer, and actor. He is one of the co-founders of the Actors Studio in 1947 with Robert Lewis and Cheryl Crawford. Kazan is also one of the most celebrated directors of the theater as well as the movies. Kazan won two Best Director Academy Awards-1947 for Gentleman’s Agreement and 1954 for On the Waterfront—as well as a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1998. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was Kazan’s feature film debut as a director.

Dorothy McGuire (1916 – 2001) was an American theater and film actress. McGuire developed an interest in acting at a young age. At 13, she made her stage debut in A Kiss for Cinderella in Omaha, Nebraska, her hometown. Henry Fonda, also from Omaha, was her costar. As an adult, she achieved fame on Broadway in Claudia (1941 to 1943). In 1943, she starred in the film version with Robert Young that was a huge success. She reunited with Young for The Enchanted Cottage (1945) and replaced Gene Tierney in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945). She was nominated for Best Actress in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947). Some of her other films include Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Trial (1955), and Friendly Persuasion (1956). McGuire made several popular films for Walt Disney including Old Yeller (1957), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), and Summer Magic (1963).

Joan Blondell (1906 – 1979) was an American actress who was a top movie star during the 1930s and early 1940s. Later in her career, she became a popular character actress. Some of Blondell’s early films include The Public Enemy (1931), Gold Diggers of 1933, Dames (1934), and Stand-In (1937). Later in her career, she gave notable supporting performances in The Blue Veil (1951), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), and Grease (1978).

James Dunn (1901 – 1967) was an American stage, film, and television actor. He achieved his greatest success early in his career when he signed a contract with Fox. In 1934, Dunn co-starred with Shirley Temple in three films, the most famous of which is probably Bright Eyes. Dunn broke his contract with Fox before it expired and worked as a freelance artist without much success. Like his character Johnny in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Dunn had a drinking problem which impacted his acting career. For his role as the alcoholic father in that film, Dunn won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Peggy Ann Garner (1932 – 1984) was an American child film actress who achieved great fame during the mid-1940s. Garner entered films at age six. By age twelve, she had reached her peak playing the role of Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. For her performance in that film, Garner won an Academy Juvenile Award. Garner was memorable as the title character as a young girl in Jane Eyre (1943). After her success in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Garner had starring roles in Nob Hill (1945), Junior Miss (1945), and Home Sweet Homicide (1946). Soon thereafter, Garner was relegated to a supporting player, never able to successfully transition to adult roles. In spite of the lack of film roles, Garner had success on Broadway and appeared on popular television shows including Perry Mason, Combat!, Batman, The Big Valley, and Lou Grant.



A Tree Grows in Brooklyn trivia:

  • 20th Century-Fox paid $55,000 dollars for the rights to Betty Smith’s novel before publication.
  • Director Kazan and author Smith were classmates at Yale School of Drama.
  • Alice Faye, Gene Tierney, Mary Anderson, and Jeanne Crain were all considered for the role of Katie Nolan. Tierney actually was set to play Katie but had to drop out due to pregnancy. Tierney and McGuire were best friends in real life.
  • Fred MacMurray campaigned for the role of Johnny Nolan.
  • Nicholas Ray is credited as dialogue director.


To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.



To join us on Zoom for a discussion on December 22, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click the link for details and invitation. When you RSVP you will receive an email and link to the discussion.


Questions for discussion:

  1. What was your overall impression of the film?
  2. Did any of you read the novel? How does the film compare?
  3. Did Katie’s love for her husband get in the way of her ability to protect her family from the effects of his alcoholism?
  4. Did Francie have a realistic view of her father?
  5. How did you feel about the way the film concluded?


Friday, December 11, 2020

Irene Dunne recalls her marriage to Cary Grant in “Penny Serenade”

Penny Serenade (1941) is an American melodrama directed by George Stevens and starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. The film is based on a story that appeared in McCall’s magazine written by Martha Cheavens.

Dunne and Grant at the beach in Penny Serenade

Dunne and Grant star as a couple on the brink of divorce after a tragic event in their lives. While preparing to leave her husband, Julie Adams (Dunne) listens to some old records that take her back to the early days of her relationship with her husband Roger (Grant). Balancing laughter with tragedy, director Stevens (A Place in the Sun, Giant, Shane) strikes all the right notes with this sentimental classic. 

The excellent supporting cast includes Beulah Bondi and Edgar Buchanan. Grant earned his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a truly moving performance.

P.S. You may need tissues while watching!



George Stevens (1904 – 1975) was an American film director and producer. He was nominated for five Best Director Academy Awards, winning one for Giant (1956). Stevens got his start in the movies as a cameraman working on many Laurel and Hardy films. Stevens directed many of the top stars of Hollywood’s Golden age including Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Ronald Colman, Ginger Rogers, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard, Fed Astaire, Joel McCrea, Alan Ladd, Spencer Tracy, and Elizabeth Taylor. Other popular films directed by Stevens include Annie Oakley (1935), Gunga Din (1939), Woman of the Year (1942), The More the Merrier (1943), I Remember Mama (1948), Shane (1953), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).

Irene Dunne (1898 –1990) was an American actress and singer who was one of the most popular movie stars during Hollywood’s Golden Age. She is probably best remembered for her comedic roles, though she first became famous playing in melodramas like Back Street (1932) and Magnificent Obsession (1935). In fact, Dunne was so popular as a star of melodramas that she was dubbed “The Queen of the Weepies” by the press. Her comedic breakout performance was in Theodora Goes Wild (1936) which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She would go on to make other comedy classics like The Awful Truth (1937) where she earned another Best Actress nod, and My Favorite Wife (1940). Dunne and Grant were one of the most popular screen teams in movie history. All three of their films were critical and box office successes. Dunne earned a total of five Academy Award nominations for Best Actress but never won a competitive Oscar. The fact that the Motion Picture Academy never awarded her an Honorary Academy Award for her body of work is a travesty to me.

Cary Grant (1904 – 1986) was an English-born American actor who became one of the most popular leading men in film history. Grant started his career in vaudeville before heading to Hollywood. He became a superstar in the late 1930s in a series of screwball comedies including The Awful Truth (1937) with Irene Dunne. He was a memorable C. K. Dexter Haven in The Philadelphia Story (1940) opposite Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart. He received two Best Actor nominations: Penny Serenade (1941) and None but the Lonely Hearts (1944). Other classic Grant films include Gunga Din (1939), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). He made four popular films with Alfred Hitchcock: Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955), and North by Northwest (1959). He was presented with an Honorary Oscar at the 42nd Academy Awards in 1970.


Penny Serenade trivia

  • Irene Dunne said this was one of her favorite films because it reminded her of her adopted daughter.
  • This was the third and final film that Dunne and Grant made together.
  • Dunne and Grant share the same bed, which was against the Production Code.
  • This was the first of Grant’s two Best Actor nominations; the other was for None but the Lonely Heart (1944).
  • To get around the laws restricting the time infants could be on camera, director Stevens hired two sets of identical twins.

Director Stevens hired identical twins to get around the laws restricting the 
time infants could spend on camera.



To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.


To join us on Zoom for a discussion on December 15, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click the link for details and invitation. When you RSVP you will receive an email and link to the discussion.



Questions for discussion:

  1. Were Grant and Dunne believable as first-time parents?
  2. What do you think about how the adoption process was portrayed?
  3. Did you like the film’s narrative flashbacks?
  4. What did you think of the character roles played by Beulah Bondi (Miss Oliver), and Edgar Buchanan (Applejack Carney)?


Friday, December 4, 2020

Don Ameche meets “His Excellency” in “Heaven Can Wait” (1943)

Heaven Can Wait (1943) is an American comedy produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It stars Gene Tierney, Don Ameche, and Charles Coburn. The film is shot in beautiful 20th Century-Fox Technicolor.


The plot begins with Henry Van Cleve (Ameche) at the end of his life speaking to “His Excellency” (Laird Cregar) the gatekeeper in Hell. Henry thinks that due to all his life’s failings, he deserves to spend eternity there away from all the people he loved on earth especially his beloved wife Martha (Tierney). 

Born in 1972 to an upper-class family in New York City, Henry has been indulged by all his family members including his mother (Spring Byington), his father (Louis Calhern), his grandmother (Clara Blandick), and his grandfather (Coburn). Will all this fawning and making excuses for Henry during his lifetime doom him to an eternity with His Excellency?

Don Ameche and Gene Tierney

Ernst Lubitsch (1892 – 1947) was a German-born American film director and producer. He is best known for his sophisticated comedies, especially those produced before the Production Code went into effect in 1934. Lubitsch was a successful director in his native Germany but was brought to Hollywood in 1922 to direct Mary Pickford in Rosita (1923). The film was a success but Pickford and Lubitsch didn’t get along very well. He signed a contract with Warner Bros. and his career in American was set. Lubitsch made the transition to sound directing hits like The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), Trouble in Paradise (1932), Design for Living (1933), and The Merry Widow (1934). For a time he was head of production at Paramount where he became close friends with Carole Lombard. Other classic Lubitsch films include Ninotchka (1939) with Greta Garbo and The Shop Around the Corner (1940) with Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart. In the mid-1940s, he moved to Fox, but his health kept him from directing some of the films he had on his slate. Lubitsch was awarded a Special Academy Award for his “25-year contribution to motion pictures” in March of 1947. On November 30, 1947, Lubitsch died of a heart attack at the age of 55.

Gene Tierney (1920 – 1991) was an American actress. Tierney got her start on the stage where she played the ingenue lead in The Male Animal. Tierney made her movie debut in 1940 in The Return of Frank James starring Henry Fonda. She worked steadily in the early 1940s but established herself as a top box office star with Laura (1944). She starred in Leave Her to Heaven the next year which was the biggest hit of the year and Fox’s biggest moneymaking success until The Robe (1953). Other successes for Tierney include Dragonwyck (1946), The Razor’s Edge (1946), and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947).

Don Ameche (1908 – 1993) was an American actor on stage and in film. He was also a star on the radio during the early 1930s. He signed a contract with 20th Century-Fox in 1935 and quickly became one of the studio’s top leading men and top box office stars. He was often teamed with fellow Fox stars Alice Faye and Tyrone Power including In Old Chicago (1938) and Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938). Ameche was so popular that in two years (1938 and 1939) he had ten films in release. In the 1950s, Ameche starred on Broadway in Silk Stockings (1955-56) and Holiday For Lovers (1957). His career in film in television continued into the 1960s and 1970s. When he was cast in Trading Places (1983) along with fellow movie veteran Ralph Bellamy, Ameche was introduced to a new generation of fans. In 1985 he starred in Cocoon (1985) which won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Ameche continued acting until his death in 1993 at 85.

Charles Coburn (1877 – 1961) was an American character actor who had a long career on stage and in film. He won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance in The More the Merrier (1943) co-starring Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea. Coburn’s other classic films include The Lady Eve (1941), Kings Row (1942), The Paradine Case (1947), Monkey Business (1952), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).

The film has a dream supporting cast that includes Marjorie Main, Spring Byington, Allyn Joslyn, Eugene Pallette, Signe Hasso, Louis Calhern, and Clara Blandick.


Heaven Can Wait trivia:

  • Lubitsch was originally disappointed with the casting of Don Ameche but changed his mind and was won over by the actor’s dedication to the role and his professionalism.
  • Gene Tierney recalled that during production, “Lubitsch was a tyrant on the set, the most demanding of directors. After one scene, which took from noon until five to get, I was almost in tears from listening to Lubitsch shout at me. The next day I sought him out, looked him in the eye, and said, ‘Mr. Lubitsch, I'm willing to do my best but I just can't go on working on this picture if you're going to keep shouting at me.’ ‘I’m paid to shout at you’, he bellowed. ‘Yes’, I said, ‘and I’m paid to take it - but not enough.’ After a tense pause, Lubitsch broke out laughing. From then on we got along famously.” (From Gene Tierney’s autobiography Self-Portrait.)
  • This was Lubitsch’s only film in Technicolor,
  • Tod Andrews who played Don Ameche and Gene Tierney’s son was only six years younger than Ameche and six years older than Tierney.
  • Gene Tierney realized she was pregnant during the film’s production.
  • The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography, Color.


To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.



To join us on Zoom for a discussion on December 8, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click the link for details and invitation. When you RSVP you will receive an email and link to the discussion.


Questions for discussion:

  1. Do you think Henry was actually unfaithful to Martha?
  2. The picture rests on Ameche’s shoulders; what did you think of his performance as Henry?
  3. Would the film have worked in black and white? What did the Technicolor add to the film?
  4. The film is filled with great character actors; did you have a favorite?
  5. Were there any memorable lines from the film that stuck with you?




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...