Monday, May 23, 2022

Mere Oberon, George Sanders, and Laird Cregar in "The Lodger"

The Lodger (1944) is an American horror-suspense film directed by John Brahm and starring Merle Oberon, George Sanders, and Laird Cregar. The film is based on Jack the Ripper and is a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's silent version, The Lodger: A Story of London Fog (1927). The screenplay was by Barre Lyndon, and the cinematography was by Lucien Ballard—who was married to Merle Oberon from 1945 to 1949. 

Ballard invented a light mounted by the side of the camera that provided direct light onto an actor’s face, which reduced skin blemishes and wrinkles. The device was named the “Obie” after Oberon, who had some facial scarring from a car accident.

Slade (Cregar) is a lodger in the home of a 19th-century London family. So is Kitty Langley (Oberon), a cabaret performer. Slade is attracted to Kitty and she to him. Will Kitty become Slade's next victim?

Laird Cregar

John Brahm (1893 - 1982) was a German film director who immigrated to the United States in 1937. Brahm found work as a director, first employed by Columbia Pictures and then 20th Century-Fox. Brahm's most famous films include The Lodger (1944), Hangover Square, and The Lockett (1946). Brahm also directed many television shows, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.

Merle Oberon (1911 - 1979) was a British actress who had roles in several popular films in Britain before coming to the United States to make films for Samuel Goldwyn. In 1935, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Dark Angel. In 1937, she was in a car accident that left her with facial scars. The accident almost ended her career but she was able to work in film and television until 1973. Oberon starred as Anne Boleyn opposite Charles Laughton in The Private Lives of Henry VIII (1933), which was her first big success. She starred opposite Lesley Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel  (1934). Perhaps her most famous role is as Cathy in Wuthering Heights (1939) opposite Laurence Olivier. She also starred in These Three (1936), Beloved Enemy (1936), Lydia (1941), A Song to Remember (1945), Night Song (1947), and Berlin Express (1948).

Merle Oberon and George Sanders

George Sanders (1906 – 1972) was a British film and stage actor who also had a fine singing voice. Hollywood was looking for a villain to star opposite a young Tyrone Power in Lloyd’s of London (1936) and Sanders more than fit the bill. His performance in that film would forever stamp him as a sophisticated bad guy. Before his acting career, he worked in the textile industry, which must have helped him with his role in The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry. In the 1960s, Sanders played Mr. Freeze in the Batman (1966) television series.

Laird Cregar (1913 - 1944) was an American film and stage actor. Cregar came to Hollywood due to his success with the play Oscar Wilde in Los Angeles in 1940. Cregar signed a contract with 20th Century Fox and quickly became a popular character actor. Due to his large size (he weighed 300 pounds), he was often cast as the bad guy. In an effort to become a leading man in the movies, Cregar went on a crash diet during the productions of The Lodger and Hangover Square. To aid in his dieting, Cregar was prescribed amphetamines which had a negative effect on his system, causing abdominal problems. These problems lead to surgery and eventually a heart attack. He died shortly after at age 31.

The Lodger trivia
  • Merle Oberon fell in love with cinematographer Lucien Ballard during production. They were married the next year.
  • This film propelled Laird Cregar to stardom and the studio was in the process of finding similar properties for the actor.
  • One of the first films to have a point of view shot from the killer's perspective.
  • The film was completed in 1943 but not released until the next year.

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

To join the discussion on Monday, May 30, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and link to join the discussion on Zoom. 

Discussion questions
  1. This film is related in style and plot to Hangover Square (1945), a film we discussed a few months ago, which also starred Laird Cregar and George Sanders and was also directed by John Brahm. Which film do you think is better?
  2. Did the film seem like a realistic depiction of the Jack the Ripper story?
  3. What did you think of Merle Oberon's performance as Kitty? Did she make a credible cabaret performer?
  4. This was a breakout film of sorts for Laird Cregar. What did you think of his performance?
  5. The film is often categorized as a horror film. Do you think that's the best category for this film? Do you have a better one?
  6. The Lodger was praised for the atmosphere created by the director and the production team? Were the critics correct in their assessment?

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones in Ernst Lubitsch's production of "Cluny Brown"

Cluny Brown (1946) is a romantic comedy produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Margery Sharp. The cinematography was by Joseph LaShalle (Laura 1944). The supporting cast includes Peter Lawford, Helen Walker, Reginald Owen, Reginald Gardiner, Richard Haydn, C. Aubrey Smith, Sara Allgood, Florence Bates, Margaret Bannerman, and Una O'Connor.

Cluny Brown (Jones) is an orphan who lives with her uncle (Billy Bevan), a plumber. Cluny has learned all about plumbing from her uncle, but her uncle doesn't think being a plumber is good for a young woman. By coincidence, Cluny meets Adam Belinski at the London home of Mr. Ames (Gardiner). Mr. Ames is having plumbing issues and Cluny manages to fix the issue, much to the surprise of both Belinski and Ames. Cluny and Belinski hit it off and seem to make a special connection.

Unfortunately, Cluny's uncle procures a job for Cluny as a parlor maid at the country estate of Sir Henry Carmel (Owen) and Lady Carmel (Bannerman). As fate would have it, Belinski is the invited guest of Andrew Carmel where he meets Cluny once again. Their relationship continues while Belinski is a guest in the Carmel home.

Will Cluny be content with the life of a parlor maid, or will she and Belinski build a life of their own?

Charles Boyer, Reginald Gardner, and Jennifer Jones

Ernst Lubitsch (1892 – 1947) was a German-born film director who became famous for his sophisticated comedies during the pre-code era. Silent film star Mary Pickford lured Lubitsch to Hollywood in 1922. He directed Pickford in Rosita, which was a huge, hit and cemented his reputation in Hollywood. Lubitsch’s films were so unique that they were described as having the “Lubitsch touch.” Some of Lubitsch’s classic films include Trouble in Paradise (1932), Design for Living (1933), Ninotchka (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Heaven Can Wait (1943), and Cluny Brown (1946). Lubitsch was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for his work in film.

Charles Boyer (1899 - 1978) was a French-American stage and film actor. Boyer was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award four times. He became a major movie star in the late 1930s in films like The Garden of Allah (1936), Algiers (1938), and Love Affair (1939). He starred as the evil husband of Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight (1944). Boyer starred opposite most of the top female stars of the period including Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Joan Fontaine, Katharine Hepburn, and Olivia de Havilland. As he grew older, Boyer played supporting roles in film and also starred on Broadway in Kind Sir (1953 - 1954) and The Marriage-Go-Round (1958 - 1960).

Jennifer Jones (1919 - 2009) was an American actress. She received five Academy Award nominations, including one win for her performance in The Song of Bernadette (1943). At age 25, Jones was one of the youngest Best Actress Award winners. She was a major movie star throughout the 1940s and 1950s. She starred in Duel in the Sun (1946), Portrait of Jenny (1948), Madame Bovary (1949), and Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955). Jones was married to producer David O. Selznick who carefully managed her career. 

Jennifer Jones takes direction from Ernst Lubitsch on the set of Cluny Brown.

Cluny Brown trivia

  • This was director Ernst Lubitsch's last completed film. He died while filming That Lady in Ermine (1948).
  • In the novel Adam Belinski is Polish. In the film, he's Czech but retains the name Belinski which is Polish.
  • Richard Haydn and C. Aubrey Smith starred together in And Then There Were None (1944).
  • Reginald Owen and Billy Bevan appeared together in National Velvet (1944).
  • Reginald Gardiner and Una O'Connor appeared together in Christmas in Connecticut (1945).

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

To join the discussion on May 23, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and a link to the discussion on Zoom.

Discussion questions

  1. Did you think the relationship between Adam Belinski and Cluny Brown was believable?
  2. Was there chemistry between Boyer and Jones?
  3. Was there a theme or message? Do you think Ernst Lubitsch was making a statement of some kind with this comedy?
  4. The film is filled with some of the greatest character actors. Did any one of the character actors stand out to you?
  5. Did this film remind you of any other films you've seen?

Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones in a publicity photo for Cluny Brown

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Richard Widmark, Jean Peters and Thelma Ritter in "Pickup on South Street"

Pickup on South Street (1953) is a film noir set against Cold War intrigue, directed by Samuel Fuller and starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter. The supporting cast included Richard Kiley and Milburn Stone. The screenplay was by Fuller with cinematography by Joseph MacDonald.

On a New York City subway, a pickpocket, Skip McCoy (Widmark) steals a wallet out of the purse of a street-smart woman named Candy (Peters). Unknown to both Candy and Skip is the fact that her wallet contained microfilm meant to be delivered to Communist spies. Candy's ex-boyfriend Joey (Richard Kiley) talked her into delivering the microfilm (in an envelope) to Joey's contacts.

Finding who has the microfilm and how to get it back becomes a top priority not only for Joey but for the U.S. government agents training Candy and Skip. Candy contacts a woman named Moe (Ritter) who helps her track down Skip. As the three of them interact and try to outsmart each other, they get into trouble that they aren't quite ready for.

Jean Peters and Richard Widmark

Samuel Fuller (1912 - 1997) was an American director, screenwriter, novelist, and journalist. Fuller got his start writing and directing B-pictures. He wrote and directed two cult films in the early 1960s: Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964). In 1957, he directed Barbara Stanwyck in the western classic Forty Guns. Later in Fuller's career, he directed the big-budget World War II film, The Big Red One starring Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill. Fuller's work influenced directors Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino.

Richard Widmark (1914- 2008) had a sensational movie debut playing the crazy villain Tommy Udo in director Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death (1947). His performance won him a Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year – Actor. He was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Udo. Widmark was under contract to Twentieth Century-Fox where he played mostly villains. Later in his career, he started playing more heroic roles in films like Slattery’s Hurricane and Down to the Sea in Ships (both 1949).

Jean Peters (1926 - 2000) was an American film actress. She was under contract with 20th Century-Fox from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Early in her career, she got a boost co-starring with Tyrone Power in The Captain from Castile (1947). She later went on to costar with Dana Andrews, Ray Milland, and Marlon Brando. She was set to play the female lead in The Robe co-starring Richard Burton but was replaced by Jean Simmons when she discovered she was pregnant. Peters married Howard Hughes in 1957 and retired from film. After her divorce from Hughes in 1971, Peters appeared on television in several mini-series. Her last acting role was in Murder, She Wrote in 1988. Today she is probably best remembered for her role as Candy in Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street.

Jean Peters and Thelma Ritter

Thelma Ritter (1902 - 1969) was an American actress best known for her portrayal of working-class characters. She was nominated six times in the Best Supporting Actress category, more than any other actress in the category. Ritter won the 
Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award in 1958 for New Girl in Town. She made her unbilled screen debut in Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and a character actress was born. Ritter quickly became a favorite of studio chief Daryl F. Zanuck who cast her in A Letter to Three Wives (1949), All About Eve (1950), The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951), With a Song in My Heart (1952), and Titanic (1953). Perhaps her most famous role was as James Stewart's nurse in Rear Window (1954). Ritter was a good friend of director George Seaton, who cast her first film in Miracle on 34th Street. It was only fitting that Ritter's last film What's So Bad About Feeling Good (1968), was also directed by Seaton.

Pickup on South Street trivia

  • Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner, and Betty Grable were all considered for the role of Candy. Fuller pulled for Peters, threatening to walk off the picture if she wasn't cast.
  • Thelma Ritter was nominated for Best Supporting Actress as Moe. This was her fourth nomination in four years.
  • It won the Bronze Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.
  • A soldier in the opening scene has a "Big Red One" 1st Infantry Division shoulder patch which was Fuller's division during World War II. He later went on to write and direct The Big Red One in 1980.

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

To join the discussion online on May 16, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation with a link to the meeting on Zoom.

Discussion questions

  1. What did you think of the Cold War storylne? Did it add anything to the plot?
  2. Richard Widmark was still in his tough-guy phase at this point in his movie career. What did you think of his performance?
  3. Were you familiar with the actress Jean Peters prior to this film? What did you think of her performance?
  4. This film wasn't highly regarded when first released but has garnered a reputation as classic film noir. 
  5. Do you think director Fuller had a theme in mind with his writing and directing?
  6. The film boasts a great cast. Did you have any favorites?
  7. Did it remind you of any other films you've seen?

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

2022 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (#TCMFF) Recap

The 2022 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival has come and gone. It went by so fast, as it always does, but it was great to see friends I hadn't seen in two years. This year, I went a day before the festival started.

It was always tough arriving on the day of the festival and jumping into watching movies. I found myself falling asleep during the last movie of the evening. So arriving Wednesday morning meant I could relax before the festival got started. This year, due to the pandemic, we had to pick up our badges in person. Every other year, badges were mailed to us. We had to prove that we were vaccinated before we could get our festival badge. Once we proved our vaccination status, we were given a wristband that we had to show to get into certain venues.

Day One
Thursday morning, I went to the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The venue is interesting. Part of the museum was a repurposing of the old May Company Department Store at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. The museum is part of Museum Row, which is on the Miracle Mile.

One of the prop sleds from Citizen Kane

The museum was a bit of a disappointment. There didn't seem to be any logic, at least any logic that I could figure out, to how the museum was organized. I thought we would be exposed to the history of film from its very beginnings, but that wasn't the case. There were exhibits that seemed almost random to me. There was an exhibit of artifacts from Citizen Kane next to artifacts from Brue Lee movies. 

The famous matte painting of Mt. Rushmore from North By Northwest

Many of the exhibits were interesting, including the matte painting from Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959). It was photo-realistic and a favorite spot for folks to take pictures. If you positioned your camera properly, you could appear to be at the famous landmark.

Posters from movies made for Black audiences from the silent era to early talkies

It isn't cheap to go to the Academy Museum, so do your research before you plan your trip.

Here I am with the winning team, featuring Lara Gabrielle (in blue), me (the only guy on the team), and Karen Hannsberry (in black next to host Bruce Goldstein).

At 3 p.m. in the Blossom Room (Club TCM) of the Roosevelt Hotel, it was time for So You Think You Know Movies, one of the hardest classic movie trivia contests around, Bruce Goldstein, repertory program director of New York's Film Forum and founder of Rialto Pictures, was the host of the annual event. You can play this team challenge (2-8 members each). The questions are really tough. Year after year, I go thinking I have a chance but have ended up humiliated for the last six years. But this year was different. My team won! Not only did we win, but we won outright. Generally, there are a few teams tied that require a tiebreaker. As winners, we received a canvas tote bag with a DVD collection, a book, and refrigerator magnets. To see if you could have been a winner, click here.

Since I had a Classic pass, going to see E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982) was out of the question. So my choices were The Harvey Girls (1946), Jeweel Robbery (1932), The Slender ThreadI (1965), Tender Mercies (1983), and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. So which film did I choose? The Harvey Girls. I've seen it before but never on the big screen so that's why I made that choice. To see the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe number on the big screen was a treat.

Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines, and William Demarest
in a publicity shot from Hail the Conquering Hero

The next choices were difficult. The choices were Lover Come Back (1981), Topkapi (1964), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), and A Star is Born (1937). I've seen all of these movies and saw a great print of A Star is Born at the TCMFF several years ago. So which movie did I choose? Hail the Conquering Hero.

Day Two
Friday morning, I had five movie choices: The Sunshine Boys (1975), Maisie Gets Her Man (1942), The Gunfighter (1950), Dinner at Eight (1933), and The Jungle Book (1967). There were a couple of movies in this grouping that I hadn't seen. So which movie did I choose? Maisie Gets Her Man. I'm a fan of Ann Sothern and I had never seen this Maisie movie before. And co-starring with Sothern in an early film role was Red Skelton. I've been a fan of Skelton since I was a boy, watching his weekly television show.  The film was introduced by actress Kate Flannery, an Ann Sothern superfan. She set up the movie and the cast perfectly which made me enjoy it all the more.

In between the morning and afternoon movies was the Lily Tomlin hand and footprint ceremony in the Chinese Theatre courtyard. I've never attended any of these ceremonies in the past, mainly because you have to miss two movie showings if you do. I always pass. Congratulations, Lily!

The afternoon's offerings included Tootsie (1982), The Group (1966), Spy Smasher Strikes Back (1942), Coming Home (1978). Also on the schedule was a short film A Little Song, A Little Dance (2022). So which movie did I choose? None! Instead of the movies, I went to Club TCM to see Mark McCray present Looney Tunes in Hollywood. It was a fun look at how (primarily) Warner Bros. animators portrayed the movie stars of the day in cartoon form. McCray, an animation historian was energetic and entertaining in his presentation of the clips he chose. I was glad I choose this presentation over the movies.

John Rait and Doris Day (center) in the delightful The Pajama Game

Later in the afternoon, I had pretty much made up my mind I was going to see one movie. My choices were All of Me (1984), The Pajama Game (1957), Pride of the Marines (1945), Queen Bee (1955), and Lillies of the Field (1963). Also during the afternoon was A Conversation with Bruce Dern in Club TCM. So which movie did I choose? I chose The Pajama Game. There was really no other choice for me. I had never seen it before and I'm a huge Doris Day fan so it was a no-brainer. The film was introduced by Eddie Muller. The host of Noir Alley on TCM may seem like an unlikely person to introduce this movie, but Muller is an unabashed Day fan. He said when they announced that this film was being screened, he expressed his interest in introducing it. The only way he wouldn't have introduced it is if Bonnie Rait, actor John Rait's daughter, was available. Well, she wasn't so Eddie got the gig. This was a premier restoration of the classic musical and boy did it look amazing. The audience was really into the movie; we clapped after each musical number. It was only day two but knew this would be my best movie experience at the festival. And by Sunday, nothing had changed. It was far and away my favorite experience.

The evening choices were many but again, my choice was dictated by a decision I made before the final schedule was set. The choices were Giant (1956), The Letter (1940), Fatal Attraction (1987), It's Always Fair Weather (1955), The Gay Divorce (1934), Cocktail Hour (1933), I, The Jury 3D (1953), Nebraska (2013), Cooley High (1975), and Soylent Green (1973) poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. So which movie did I choose? Giant. From the moment they announced this film, I knew I had to see it. I always wanted to see Giant on the big screen and when I found out that they were premiering a new 4k restoration, that sealed the deal. TCM host Ben Mankiewicz conducted interviews with Steven Spielberg, George Stevens Jr., and Margaret Bodde, Executive Director of The Film Foundation. The movie never looked better and those 3+ hours just flew by. It was amazing to see Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean at the height of their attractiveness. 

For those who like to stay up late, there was a screening of Miracle Mile (1988). I have never had enough gas to stay up for any of these midnight screenings. I passed.

Day Three
Another full day at the movies. The morning choices were Houseboat (1958), The Third Man (1949), 100 Busy to Work (1932), Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), and Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980). So which movie did I choose? I chose Houseboat (1958) starring Cary Grant and Sophia Loren. This might seem like an odd choice given the other film options but Houseboat was a favorite movie of mine as a kid so I was happy to see it on the big screen at the Chinese Theatre with an appreciative crowd. The film was introduced by film critic and journalist Tara McNamara who was enthusiastic about the movie, but kept referring to Sophia Loren's husband as "Carlos." You can't make a mistake like that at the TCM Film Festival!

The lunchtime movie schedule included Annie (1982), To Kil a Mockingbird (1962), Three on a Match (1932), The Last of Sheila (1973), and The Flame and the Arrow (1950). So which movie did I choose? I chose The Flame and the Arrow starring Burt Lancaster and Virginia Mayo. I had never seen this Technicolor swashbuckling adventure. It was interesting because Lancaster and friend and co-star Nick Cravat did their own stunts which are pretty spectacular. The film was introduced by Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burt and Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Crag Barron. Both Burt and Barron are regulars at the TCM Film Festival and are probably the most entertaining presenters the festival has ever seen. The two friends have a great report and are audience favorites.

Theresa Harris and Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face

Later in the afternoon, the choices were The Wizard of Oz (1939), Somewhere in Time (1980), A Man Called Adam (1966), The Tall T (1957), and Baby Face (1933). Again, for me, there was no choice so I chose Baby Face. Introduced by Bruce Goldstein who called the film the Citizen Kane of pre-Code films and that it is. The movie features a dynamic performance by Barbara Stanwyck in an early role. The movie also stars George Brent, Douglass Dumbrille, and Theresa Harris. The film was screened in the Hollywood Legion Theater, one of the most comfortable theaters being used at the festival.

Dinnertime movies included Heaven Can Wait (1978), The Hustler (1961), Little Women (1949), The French Way (1945), Invaders from Mars (1953), and Counsellor at Law (1933). So which movie did I choose? I chose Invaders from Mars. I remember watching this movie as a kid on Saturday afternoons and being terrified. I hadn't seen it in decades so I was keen to see this newly restored print. Boy was I surprised to realize that the movie was in color! I had watched the movie on a black and white television back in the day. The movie was introduced by the director, writer John Sayles. In the audience was Jimmy Hunt who starred as David MacLean. It was fun seeing this film after so many years. I was surprised at how much of the film I remembered. I was glad I saw it.

The evening selections were Singin' in the Rain (1952), Force of Evil (1948), Portrait of Jenny (1948), Drunken Master II (1994), Diner (1982), and Blue Hawaii (1961). So which movie did I choose? None! I was exhausted and went to bed early. And forget about the midnight showing of Polyester (1981).

Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor in Waterloo Bridge

Day Four--the last day!
Sunday was the last day and the last day of the TCM Film Festival is always bitter-sweet. But there were still a lot of movies to choose from. The morning film choices were Paper Moon (1973), After the Thin Man (1936), Waterloo Bridge (1940), Wim Wenders, Desperado (2020), and Spartacus (1960). So which movie did I choose? I chose Waterloo Bridge. I chose Waterloo Bridge. The movie was introduced by writer, actor, and film historian Sloan De Forest. Unfortunately, the movie we saw was an edited version that didn't make some scenes quite clear. Still, the film was enjoyable for the performances of Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor and the direction of Mervyn LeRoy.

Piper Laurie interview in Club TCM

The lunchtime movies included Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), High Noon (1952), Fly-by-Night (1942), and Popi (1969). Well, I chose Fly-by-Night but I didn't get into that one. So I decided to go to Club TCM for A Conversation with Piper Laurie. I was happy to see Laurie. She was scheduled for the festival two years ago but due to the pandemic, her appearance was postponed. We're so fortunate to have her with us still at age 90! She had an interesting life and career and she seems very happy with herself, her career, and the choices she made.

The later afternoon choices included The Sting (1973), Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952), Key Largo (1948), Evenings for Sale (1932), The Pajama Game (1957), Three on a Match (1932), and The Letter (1940). Some movies that were shown in smaller venues or were very popular get repeated on Sunday so you get a second chance to see a movie you missed earlier in the week. I chose The Sting. I hadn't seen The Sting on the big screen since it was first released so I thought it would be fun to see it on the big screen at the Chinese Theatre.

Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell in 7th Heaven

The evening movie choices and the last movie (sniff) that I would see at the festival would be one of the following: A League of Their Own (1992), 7th Heaven (1927), Jewel Robbery (1932), Coffy (1973), and The Group (1966). I chose 7th Heaven. I had never seen the silent classic and I had always wanted to. The film was accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra which was wonderful. They also had a foley artist create sound effects which were pretty cool. I'm glad I saw this film directed by Frank Borzage and starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell who made a total of 12 films together.

Total films seen:
  1. The Harvey Girls
  2. Hail the Conquering Hero
  3. Maisie Gets Her Man
  4. The Pajama Game
  5. Giant
  6. Houseboat
  7. The Flame and the Arrow
  8. Baby Face
  9. Invaders from Mars
  10. Waterloo Bridge
  11. The Sting
  12. 7th Heaven

With the last movie screened, it was time for the Closing Night Reception at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel poolside. This too is bittersweet because we have to say goodbye to folks we probably won't see for at least a year and it's back to reality and day-to-day life back home.

It's been a week since I left for the TCM Film Festival and it seems like a long-ago distant memory.

Well, there's always next year!

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Preston Sturges’s “Christmas in July”

Christmas in July (1940) is a comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges and starring Dick Powell and Ellen Drew. 

Jimmy MacDonald (Powell) was one of the millions of people to enter the Maxford House Coffee contest. He submitted the slogan "If you can't sleep at night, it's not the coffee, it's the bunk." Jimmy dreams of proving to himself and others that he is a success and able to provide for his mother (Georgia Caine) and marry his girlfriend Betty Casey (Drew).

"If you can't sleep at night, it's not the coffee, it's the bunk."

As a joke, three coworkers send Jimmy a fake telegram announcing that he has won the contest. When his boss hears that Jimmy "won" the contest, he promotes him with a fancy office and a secretary. When the incident snowballs out of control, things really get crazy.

Will Jimmy's newfound success be short-lived or will he be able to prove that he deserves to be taken seriously as an astute businessman?

Ellen Drew and Dick Powell

Preston Sturges (1898 - 1959) was an American playwright, screenwriter, and film director. Sturges was one of the first film directors to direct his own screenplays, opening up the door for Billy Wilder and Joseph L. Mankiewicz to do the same. Sturges was a successful playwright and Hollywood screenwriter and script doctor. As a writer-director, Sturges had an amazing output of films in a period of five years, all considered classics today. These films include The Great McGinty (1940), Christmas in July (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944). After leaving Paramount Pictures in a dispute with upper management, Sturges's career declined and he never produced anything close to the quality of his earlier successes. In spite of this decline, Sturges is considered one of the greatest talents to come out of Hollywood.

Dick Powell (1904 - 1963) was an American actor, singer, producer, and director. He began his movie career in musicals and comedies but eventually toughened up his image in the mid-1940s when he became a popular star of film noir. He was the first actor to portray Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (1944). After appearing in his last film, Susan Slept Here, Powell started directing. In the 1950s he was one of the founders of Four Star Television along with Charles Boyer, David Niven, and Ida Lupino. Some popular films starring Powell include 42nd Street (1933), A Midsummer's Night Dream (1935), Christmas in July (1940), Pitfall (1948), and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).

Ellen Drew (1914 -2003) was an American film actress. She was under contract with Paramount studios from 1938 to 1944. At Paramount she costarred with Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurray, and George Raft. After leaving Paramount, Drew went to RKO where she was the leading lady opposite Ronald Colman, William Holden, and Robert Preston. During the 1950s, with film roles drying, Drew turned to television where sh guest-starred on shows like Perry Mason and The Millionaire.

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

To join the discussion on May 9, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you'll receive an invitation with a link to the meeting on Zoom.

Christmas in July trivia

  • The $25,000 prize money would be equivalent to about $460,000 today.
  • Preston Sturges helped invent the special sofa featured in the movie. Sturges was an inventor besides being a filmmaker.
  • Betty Field and William Holden were originally announced as the film's stars.
  • Sturges sold the script to Paramount for $6,000. He sold his first script to Paramount, The Great McGinty for $10.

Discussion questions

  1. How would you classify this film? Screwball comedy? Romantic comedy? Something else?
  2. The film has many of the "Preston Sturges Stock Company" character actors. Did you have a favorite?
  3. Did you understand Jimmy's slogan? Did you think it was worthy of winning the contest?
  4. Do you think Sturges was making a commentary on corporate America with his comedy?
  5. What did you think of the two leads: Dick Powell and Ellen Drew?

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Here comes Robert Montgomery in "Here Comes Mr. Jordan"

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) is an American fantasy romantic comedy directed by Alexander Hall and starring Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, and Evelyn Keyes. The screenplay was written by Sidney Buchman and Seton I. Segall and the cinematography was by Joseph Walker (It Happened One Night, It's a Wonderful Life).

Boxer and amateur pilot Joe Pendleton (Montgomery) while flying to his next bout in New York City. A severed control cable cause him to crash his plane. An overly conscientious Angel 7013 (Edward Everett Horton) retrieves his soul concluding that he couldn't survive the crash. Upon further examination, Angel 7013's superior Mr. Jordan (Raines) determined that Joe should have lived another 50 years. 

To make amends, Mr. Jordan has Joe's soul enter the body of a crooked banker named Bruce Farnsworth who was murdered by his wife and his secretary. 

Can Joe find happiness and resume his boxing career in the body of another man?

Alexander Hall (1894 - 1968) was an American film director. He was working on the stage at age four and continued acting. As an adult, he worked in silent film before becoming interested in film production. Hall worked as a film editor and assistant director until 1932. His first directed film was Sinners in the Sun. In 1937, he signed a contract with Columbia Pictures and worked there almost exclusively. He gained a reputation for directing sophisticated comedies. Some of the films he directed include Little Miss Marker (1934), My Sister Eileen (1942), They All Kissed the Bride (1942), Down to Earth (1947), and The Great Lover (1949). 

Robert Montgomery (1904 - 1981) was an actor, director, and producer. Montgomery began his career on the stage but was soon signed by M-G-M becoming one of that studio's most popular leading men. The actor was adept at both dramas and comedies. Montgomery was twice nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award. In 1937, he was nominated for his performance as a murderous Irish handyman in Night Must Fall, and for his comedic performance in Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1942). While at M-G-M, he worked with all of the great leading ladies of the day including Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Ann Harding, and Greta Garbo. Before the United States entered World War II, Montgomery joined the American Field Services in London and drove ambulances in France. When the United States entered the war, he joined the Navy. He starred opposite Carole Lombard in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, They Were Expendable (1945), and two film noir classics The Lady in the Lake (1947) and Ride the Pink Horse (1947). From 1950 to 1957, he hosted the Emmy Award-winning series Robert Montgomery Presents. In 1955 he won a Tony Award for his direction of the play The Desperate Hours. He was also the father of actress Elizabeth Montgomery.

Edward Everett Horton, Robert Montgomery, and Claude Rains

Claude Rains (1889 - 1967) was a British actor whose career lasted almost seven decades. He was one of the most highly regarded character actors during Hollywood's classical period. He appeared in a number of classic films including The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Wolf Man (1941), Casablanca (1942), and King's Row (1942). Later in his career, he starred in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). He starred in four films with Bette Davis including Now, Voyager (1942), and Mr. Skeffington (1944). Rains was a four-time Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nominee. Many of his contemporaries consider him one of the greatest actors of the 20th century.

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

Here Comes Mr. Jordan trivia
  • The film was originally meant to be a vehicle for Cary Grant.
  • It won two Academy Awards for Best Writing, Original Story, and Best Writing Screenplay. The film was nominated for five other Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nods for Robert Montgomery and James Gleason.
  • Columbia Pictures Studio Chief Harry Cohn was reluctant to finance the picture, thinking it wasn't the type of story that would be popular with the public.
  • Montgomery was loaned out from his home studio, M-G-M.
  • The movie was remade as Heaven Can Wait (1978) starring Warren Beatty.

To join the discussion on May 2, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. When you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and Zoom link to the discussion.

Discussion questions:
  1. Was Robert Montgomery convincing as a New York City boxer?
  2. Did this film remind you of any others you've seen?
  3. If you saw Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait, how does it compare to the original?
  4. The film is filled with great character actors; did one character actor stand out to you?

John Emery, Rita Johnson, Robert Montgomery, Evelyn Keyes, Claude Rains

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi in "Summertime"

Summertime (1955) is a romance directed by David Lean and starring Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi. The film is based on the play The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents. 

Jane Hudson (Hepburn) is a middle-aged secretary from Akron, Ohio, who is traveling to Venice, Italy for the first time in her life. This is a vacation trip that she had saved for over many years. During her vacation, she feels a sense of loneliness when she sees all the couples in the city. Along the way, she meets Renato de Rossi (Brazzi) who expresses a romantic interest in her. 

Will Jane find true love and happiness with Renato or will she go back to Akron, Ohio, and resume life as a "fancy secretary?"

Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi

David Lean (1908 - 1991) was an English film director, producer, screenwriter, and editor. He is considered one of the greatest and most influential directors of all time. Lean started out working in silent films where he worked his way up from teaboy to film editor. He made the transition to talking pictures and in directed his first feature In Which We Serve in 1942 which was made in collaboration with Noel Coward. Lean collaborated with Coward on This Happy Breed (1944), Blithe Spirit (1945), and Brief Encounter (1945) widely considered one of the greatest British films ever made. Today Lean is best known in America for his epic productions of films like The Bride on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago (1965), and A Passage to India (1984).

Katharine Hepburn (1907 - 2002) was an American actress on stage, screen, and television. She is the Oscar champ, winning four competitive Best Actress Awards. She received her first in 1933 for Morning Glory and her fourth for On Golden Pond (1981). Other Hepburn films include Little Women (1933), Alice Adams (1935), Stage Door (1937), Holiday (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Woman of the Year (1942), Adams Ribs 1949), and The African Queen (1951). Hepburn continued acting as late as 1994, concentrating on television acting in The Man Upstairs (1992) with Ryan O’ Neal and This Can’t Be Love with Anthony Quinn.

Summertime trivia
  • Katharine Hepburn got an eye infection when she fell into the canal. It plagued her for the rest of her life.
  • Tourism to Venice increased after the release of this film.
  • This was the last of Lean's "small" film project and supposedly his favorite.
  • The director became so enamored of Venice that he made it his second home.
  • Olivia de Havilland considered starring in the film.

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

To join the discussion on April 18, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation to the discussion along with a Zoom link.

Discussion questions
  1. Was Katharine Hepburn convincing as a spinster from Akron, Ohio?
  2. Do you think the red goblet Renato sold to Jane is really an antique?
  3. What did you think of Renato's relationship with Jane? Do you think he really cared for her?
  4. Did you have a favorite character actor?
  5. Were you surprised by anything in the film?
  6. Was the ending satisfying? Did you expect a different ending?

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