Showing posts with label tearjerker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tearjerker. Show all posts

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931)

In honor of Mother's Day, I wanted to give a brief shout-out about a touching little pre-code tearjerker I caught recently.  The Sin of Madelon Claudet,  from 1931, is what I call a "mommy" movie---you know, a movie in which a mother's sacrificial love for her children shines through. The film, which is adapted from Edward Knoblock's play The Lullaby, stars Helen Hayes, with Lewis Stone, Neil Hamilton, and Robert Young taking on supporting roles. Miss Hayes' husband, Charles MacArthur, was the co-writer of the screenplay.

After her lover (Neil Hamilton) returns to America and is railroaded by his family into marrying a more suitable woman, French farm girl Madelon Claudet (Helen Hayes) gives birth to their illegitimate son. By becoming the mistress of the wealthy Carlo Boretti (Lewis Stone)--who unknown to Madelon is a jewel thief--- she is able to send money to the friends who are caring for the little boy.

A few years later, just as Carlo---who has known about Madelon's child's existence all along---is about to marry her and bring the youngster to live with them, his real identity as a jewel thief is discovered.  Rather than go to jail, Carlo shoots himself, leaving Madelon unable to prove that she was not his accomplice. Convicted, she is sent to prison for ten years.

Upon her release from prison, Madelon wants to spare her son the shame of having a "jailbird" mother, so she allows him to be told that she has died. Wanting to do all she can to give the boy a good future, Madelon falls into prostitution, providing her earnings to a friend who sees to it that the young man goes to medical school.   Years later, when Madelon is very old and sick and her son (now played by Robert Young) is a successful doctor, their paths cross again.

The Sin of Madelon Claudet is definitely worth seeing.  While the subject matter (illegitimate children) is, of course, dated, the story of a mother's sacrificial love is timeless. Helen Hayes---in what is essentially her film debut---is brilliant in her portrayal of Madelon, and that is not just my opinion.  The Academy thought so too, for Miss Hayes' performance graced her with a Leading Actress Academy Award win. Also worthy of mention is Lewis Stone's performance, as well as the work of the makeup artist.  The job of aging Miss Hayes, who was 30-years old at the time of filming, was spectacularly done. I highly recommend this film and am going with 4 stars on it.

Out on DVD, this film ought to be fairly easty to track down.  I do hope you get a chance to see it.

Happy viewing!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Imitation of Life (1934)

Regular readers of They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To know that I am a sucker for tearjerker dramas. The more touching a film is, the more I like it.  One such heart-tugger is 1934's Imitation of Life, which I reviewed back in the very first week of this blog's existence. What I have deemed a "mommy movie," Imitation of Life is one of four films I always watch during Mothers' Day weekend.  (The others being Stella DallasMadame X, and Penny Serenade) Loving this film as I do, I decided a revision and expansion of my earlier review was in order during Claudette Colbert's reign as star of the month.

Based on Fannie Hurst's novel of the same name, Imitation of Life stars Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers, with Rochelle Hudson, Fredi Washington, and Warren William taking on supporting roles. Nominated for three Academy Awards (including Best Picture), Imitation of Life is not only a 5-star film for me, but it is one of my 5 favorite films of the entire decade of the 1930's and among my 20 favorite films of all-time.  I absolutely love this movie.

As white widow Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert) tries to balance the responsibilities of running her late husband's maple syrup business and taking care of her young daughter, into her life comes Delilah Johnson (beautifully portrayed by the wonderful Louise Beavers), a black woman---also a widow---with a similar-aged daughter of her own. After Delilah convinces Bea to hire her as her maid, she and her little girl, Peola, move in with Bea and daughter Jessie.

Upon tasting Delilah's delicious pancakes one morning, Bea realizes that with her maple syrup and Delilah's pancake recipe, the two of them could join forces and go into business together. Bea sets out to snag a building and all the necessary equipment for them to do so. The business is a great success, and before long, they have gone beyond just a fact, they are packaging Aunt Delilah's Pancake Mix and selling it to grocery stores all across the country. Although, Delilah is a partner and earning a good living through the business, she continues to stay on as Bea's maid, since they have also become good friends.

                                                               image source

Daughters Jessie and Peola, who are now school age, attend a nearby school, but the extremely light-skinned Peola, does not want her teacher nor any of her classmates to know she is black. Able to pass as white because of her fair complexion, she seeks to hide her blackness; when Delilah shows up at the school one day---claiming to be Peola's mother and thereby ending the masquerade---Peola is furious with her.

                                                            image source

The years go by....the women's business becomes more and more successful, Jessie (now Rochelle Hudson) heads off to school, Bea falls in love, and Peola (now Fredi Washington) grows more and more angry at her skin color and tries even harder to sever ties with her black heritage and to live in a white world. She even, at one point, disowns her mother, who keeps showing up in her life and ruining things for her.  How everything plays out is the remainder of the film.

As you can imagine, this is a sobber!!! Yes, Peola will see the error of her ways and seek to make amends; the scene in which that happens is particularly poignant and touching. If you are anything like I am, the tears will be pouring down your face then.

While Claudette Colbert gets top billing in this movie and is completely wonderful and charming in her role, for me, the real star is the amazing Louise Beavers.  Miss Beavers' portrayal of Delilah is totally delightful and full of love and grace and faith.  I was in love with her from moment one. Fredi Washington is terrific in her role as well.  She brings Peola's tortured soul brilliantly to life.  

Even more than the racial situation, Imitation of Life is the story of a mother's love for her child. Both Bea and Delilah loved their daughters unconditionally and sacrificially and would give anything---even her own life---for her.  As a woman who has devoted over two decades of my life to motherhood, I find that stories like this quite resonate with me.

The team of Ross Hunter and Douglas Sirk got their hands on this story in 1959, remaking the film with Lana Turner and Juanita Moore in the Claudette Colbert/Louise Beavers roles and Sandra Dee and Susan Kohner as their respective daughters.  Despite the fact that I adore Lana Turner and count her among my top 5 favorite actresses, I definitely prefer the earlier version. The remake is moving and heart-tugging and I do enjoy it and deem it a 4-star film, but for a couple of reasons, it just doesn't top the original for me. Yes, Lana is gorgeous and her acting is terrific, and Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner are both sensational; however, in the remake, Turner's character is extremely selfish.  She can't hold a candle to Claudette's Bea. Also, Juanita Moore's character is always just a maid---the women don't go into business together. Finally, the white daughter is more whiny and selfish in the remake, making it hard to really like her. The one upside to the Sirk version is that the downward spiral of the black daughter gets more attention and is much more graphic than in the earlier film, making it, therefore, all the more heartbreaking.

Out on DVD, this film ought to be fairly easy to track down.  One of the ways it is available is in the 2-disc Imitation of Life collection, which includes both films, along with bonus feature commentary.

Happy viewing!

NOTE:  Unless stated otherwise, all photos were obtained from Doctor Macro  (HERE)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Another of the films I caught on the big screen during Maureen O'Hara's recent birthday bash celebration is How Green Was My Valley.  It's hard to believe that upon my first viewing of this film five or six years ago, I quite disliked it.  I wasn't so bored by it that I needed to turn it off, and I certainly didn't hate it, but it was definitely in the "2-star, hard to get through" category for me.  I found it excessively tedious and horribly depressing, and for the life of me, I couldn't understand how in the world it had come away with the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1941.  What a difference a few years makes (or perhaps I should say, "a few generations"), for last week's viewing of that Oscar-winning film was seen through new eyes (or maybe I should say "old" eyes). Deeply and powerfully moved, I loved the film and, without question, moved it to 5-star status.

Directed by John Ford, How Green Was My Valley is a period drama with the terrific ensemble cast of Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Donald Crisp, Sara Allgood, Patric Knowles, Anna Lee, John Loder, Barry Fitzgerald, and a very young Roddy McDowall. Nominated for ten Academy Awards, and coming away with the win in five categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Supporting Actor for Mr. Crisp, this heart-tugging film is based on Richard Llewellyn's novel of the same name.

Set in Wales in the late 1800's, How Green Was My Valley is the story of the Morgan family, who live in a small coal mining village.  Family patriarch (Donald Crisp) and his five older sons all work in the local mine at a time when change is on the horizon.  With wages being cut and workers being dismissed, the Morgan sons intend to get involved in the newly-forming unions---a fact which does not sit well with their father.

On the homefront are matriarch Beth (Sara Allgood), daughter Angharad (Maureen O'Hara), son Ivor's wife, Bronwyn (Anna Lee), and young son, Hugh (Roddy McDowall).  Although father and mother bicker regularly, there is deep devotion between them.  Angharad and the local preacher (Walter Pidgeon) have fallen in love; however, not wanting to subject her to the difficult life of a preacher's wife, he steadfastly refuses to marry her.  Young Hugh, after overcoming a near-paralyzing accident, enrolls in a nearby school, where he is regularly taunted and beaten up.  As providing for a family through the mill grows ever more difficult, some of the Morgan sons make the decision to leave Wales behind and to head for America. The remainder of the film chronicles the joys and heartbreaks of this loving, hardworking family.

There is very little that is feel-good about this film.  Quite honestly, it's rather depressing.  But it's well acted, especially by Donald Crisp, Sara Allgood, Maureen O'Hara, and Roddy McDowall. The cinematography is fantastic (and Oscar-winning), quite capturing the gritty harshness of a coal miner's life. Additionally, it's an incredibly heart-tugging story, and I found myself moved to tears on several occasions, all because I identify with it in a deep, powerful, and very personal way---something I did not do when I first watched this film in the mid 2000's.

In the last two years, I have gotten heavily into genealogy, and I have discovered that I, too, have a coal mining heritage.  One of my great-grandfathers and at least five of my 2nd and 3rd-great-grandfathers (as well as several great-grand-uncles) were lifelong coal miners.  While most of them worked in the United States, one of them also mined in England, before immigrating to America in the 1880's. Since the area of England from which he hailed was very close to the northern border of Wales, Donald Crisp's character could easily have been my grandfather, and through most of the film, that is how I saw him. As Mr. Morgan watched his sons leave their homeland and head to America, I pictured my ancestor getting on a ship with his younger children, while leaving his older children and deceased wife behind in England (knowing they would be buried on different continents). Beyond that particular grandfather, one of my other 2nd-greats was killed in a mine accident, and the mine fatalities in the film served to remind me of him; though I never knew that man, his blood runs in my veins. How could I not think of him---and the life he gave up mining coal. The scenes in which the anxious family members hover around the mine opening, awaiting news of those trapped below, affected me deeply and I was very nearly sobbing, as I thought of my relatives who endured similar situations. For those reasons, this film was very personal to me, enabling me to see it through fresh eyes and quite touching my heart. Depressing or not, it is a powerful, deeply moving story.

Out on DVD, How Green Was My Valley should be easy to track down. Additionally, it is on the TCM schedule for Saturday, November 2nd, at 8:00 p.m. (ET).  I hope you get a chance to see it, because it is well worth viewing.

Happy viewing!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Christmas Box (1995)

A Christmas movie in August?  And a 1995 one at that?  I know what y'all must be thinking . . ."Surely you jest, Patti.  There's no way in the world you of all people should want to talk about Christmas now.  After all, you know Christmas means December and winter---two things not at all on your list of "likes."  And furthermore, why are you---who almost never watches a film made after 1965---highlighting a 1990's work?" Alas, yes, y'all would be right on both counts.  I am not even remotely ready to consider the all-too-soon departure of the glorious season of summer or to start thinking about the holiday season. And, typically, I do steer clear of  "modern" (my translation: post-1965) films.  However, The Christmas Box really isn't a Christmas movie, but only has a short hunting-for-a-Christmas-tree scene and, thus, can be enjoyed any time of the year; plus, made in the 90's or not, it's clean, wholesome, and inspiring.  It also happens to be one of my absolute favorite Maureen O'Hara films, so spotlighting it during her reign as star of the month is a definite must.

                                                   Image Source:  TV Guide

Based on Richard Paul Evans' novel of the same name, The Christmas Box is a 1995 made-for-TV drama/fantasy movie, starring Richard Thomas, Maureen O'Hara, and Annette O'Toole, with child star Kelsey Mulrooney taking on a supporting role.  Winner of a Primetime Emmy, The Christmas Box is Miss O'Hara's 3rd to last work.  After this, she would go on to make 2 more TV movies, before retiring and bringing an end to her six-decade career.

Part-owner of a busy ski shop, Richard Evans (Richard Thomas), lives with his wife, Kerri (Annette O'Toole), and young daughter, Jenna (Kelsey Mulrooney), in a small apartment in suburban Salt Lake City.  Although Richard's business is successful and he is at a point where it may be possible to open a second store in another city, the long hours he has put in have robbed him of time with his family. Grieved by how much Richard's workaholism keeps him away from home, weary of the problems which come with managing their apartment complex, and feeling it is not a good environment for Jenna, Kerri suggests they take on a live-in caregiver role for the wealthy, elderly Mary Parkin (Maureen O'Hara). Though he has no desire in the world to do such a thing, to appease Kerri, Richard agrees to an interview with Mrs. Parkin; he makes a bad first impression, though, and upon leaving the interview, it seems unlikely that their family will be chosen for the position.

As it turns out, the Evans family is chosen by Mrs. Parkin to be her caregivers.  Although she really doesn't desire to have live-in domestic help, widowed Mary has unwillingly agreed with her lawyer that her tenuous health requires another's presence in the home.  Adamant that remaining in her home with strangers is preferable to having to leave it, the elderly lady grudgingly offers the position to the Evans family, and they move in just before Thanksgiving.

Thrilled to be living in the beautiful Parkin mansion, Kerri and Jenna soon break through the icy wall Mrs. Parkin has erected around herself, becoming quite close to her.  Richard, however, can't seem to get on with the old woman.  Besides disapproving of everything he does, she asks the most bizarre questions of him, such as "What was the first gift of Christmas?"  With the holiday rush and the hoped-for expansion keeping him busy at the store and Mrs. Parkin's strange, probing questions, Richard finds himself incredibly stressed. His sleep is disrupted by dreams of angels calling his name; on top of that, he is drawn to the beautiful, old Christmas box---with its trove of love letters---in the attic  Will Richard be able to figure out what it is Mary longs for him to understand before it's too late?

                                              Image Source:  The Movie Scene

One of my family's absolute musts during the Christmas season, The Christmas Box is a tender, lovely, heart-tugging movie, which always brings me to tears.   The characters are ones who will capture your hearts---even Richard.  You so want him to "get it," to understand the lesson Mary is trying to impart to him before it is too late.  While I love The Waltons, I have never been a  John-Boy fan, so I wasn't sure Richard Thomas would work for me in this movie. Alas, he does.  I like his character, and I enjoy the comical way Mr. Thomas brings him to life.

                                             Image Source:  The Movie Scene

Maureen O'Hara aged beautifully and gracefully.  She's 75-years old here, and she's totally lovely. The beauty of her youth has not diminished with age...nor has her acting ability. She does a terrific job as the feisty, but loving, Mary Parkin.   Little Kelsey Mulrooney is completely charming as Jenna, and she and Miss O'Hara have wonderful chemistry together.  Annette O'Toole is totally believable as the kind, loving, gracious Kerri.

Although the characters in the story have the names of Richard, Kerri, and Jenna Evans, the story is not an autobiographical one.  It actually was a story Mr. Evans wrote for his two young daughters, and he never intended for it to be published.  To read more about how The Christmas Box touched hearts and became an international bestseller, visit Mr. Evans' website (HERE).

Out on DVD, The Christmas Box should be easy to track down.  One of its releases pairs it with its prequel story, Timepiece, starring James Earl Jones, Ellen Burstyn, Kevin Kilner, and, Naomi Watts (in the Mary Parkin role which Maureen O'Hara will have in The Christmas Box). Additionally, The Christmas Box is available in its entirety on YouTube.  It's a lovely movie, with a timeless, much-needed message, and I highly recommend it, whether at Christmastime or anytime during the year.

Happy viewing!

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

While football may be the new favorite sport of most people, my family remains firmly in the baseball camp.  Yes, we do love college football, but when it comes to professional sports, baseball---especially Boston Red Sox baseball---is where it's at in our house.  For that reason, we gravitate to baseball films, and my favorite, bar none, is 1942's The Pride of the Yankees.  Starring Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright, this 5-star film tells the story of baseball great Lou Gehrig, who as probably everyone knows, was struck down with ALS---the disease which now bears his name---in the prime of life.

The movie begins when Lou is about ten, and it chronicles his early baseball years, his hazing by the team, his courtship of Eleanor, his "Iron Horse" years, the beginning of his descent into the world of ALS, and ultimately, his "Luckiest Man" speech.  While the film has many comical moments, at its core, it remains the story of a man afflicted with a devastating illness. 

As my regular blog readers know, I am a mega-huge Coop fan. It's rare that I don't like one of his movies, rare that I don't like the character he is portraying. But this film is just about my absolute favorite. The Pride of the Yankees is my third favorite Cooper film, behind only Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Ten North Frederick.

Coop and Teresa Wright, who would be paired together again two years later in Casanova Brown, have terrific chemistry in this movie.

Both Cooper and Wright were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances here. Neither won; however, Teresa was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category that same year, for her role in MrsMiniver, and she did win that Oscar.  In all, The Pride of the Yankees received 11 Academy Award nominations, coming away with the win in the Best Film Editing category.

In my mind, The Pride of the Yankees is not only the best baseball film of all-time, but it is a delightful breath of fresh air. In this day of scandalous baseball, with its obscene salaries and rampant steroid use, we need to be reminded of what a "true baseball hero" Lou Gehrig was. He was an honorable man both on and off the field. Instead of whining about the devastating hand he had been dealt, he exhibited strength and courage in the face of great adversity. Our world needs more men like him. I think this film ought to be required viewing for today's professional athletes (along with 1950's The Jackie Robinson Story).

Besides Cooper and Wright, the film also features Walter Brennan and Dan Duryea.  And the legendary Babe Ruth takes to the screen too, playing himself.  In my Red Sox-lovin' household, a watching of this film provides my one and only allowed opportunity to look positively on a man wearing the Yankee pinstripes.

A definite must-see, The Pride of the Yankees is out on DVD, so it should be very easy to track down.  Do keep the tissues handy, as you're sure to need them.

Happy viewing!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

CMBA "Fabulous 40's" Blogathon---Sentimental Journey (1946)

Sentimental, sensitive,  and extremely emotional by nature, I am always on the lookout for touching, tender, heart-tugging films, and after finally tracking down 1946's Sentimental Journey---which had been on my "want to see" list for close to four years---I thought it would be the perfect addition to the Classic Movie Blog Association's "Fabulous Films of the 1940's" blogathon.  There are hundreds of wonderful films in that decade, and nearly four dozen of them are being showcased by other bloggers in this 6-day event.  To read the other entries, go here.

The second of four films Maureen O'Hara and John Payne made together, Sentimental Journey is a little-heard-of gem.  It features William Bendix and Sir Cedric Hardwicke in supporting roles and introduces child star Connie Marshall.  (While Miss Marshall had appeared in Sunday Dinner for a Soldier two years earlier, it is in Sentimental Journey that she is billed as being presented.)  Directed by Walter Lang, this lovely drama runs 94 minutes.

When stage actress Julie Beck (Maureen O'Hara) learns she is dying, her first thought is about her producer husband, Bill (John Payne).   Julie knows she is Bill's whole world, and she fears he will have no desire to go on without her. Wanting a child for Bill to cling to after she's gone, yet knowing she is unable to bear a child herself, Julie wonders if adoption might be the answer.

While walking on the beach shortly after recovering from a bad spell, Julie comes upon a group of children from a Brooklyn orphanage; she is immediately drawn to the one little girl sitting all alone.  A dreamy, fanciful child, Hitty (Connie Marshall) reminds Julie of herself at that age, and she approaches Bill about adopting her.  A somewhat selfish, possessive man, Bill---who has no idea Julie is dying---doesn't see the need for a child; in fact, he says, Julie is the only family he needs.  However, to please Julie, he agrees, and the two of them make a trip to the Martha Stone Orphanage.

Hitty is thrilled to see Julie again, and she happily accompanies the couple to their New York home.    Sweet and loving, and with a desire to please, Hitty quickly learns how to take care of Bill and make his home life comfortable.  But Bill is not comfortable---he's tense and agitated...and completely annoyed by Hitty's fanciful nature.  And when Julie chooses to stay home with a sick Hitty rather than attend an event with him, Bill is angry.  He doesn't like having to share his wife.

Knowing Bill can't change who he is, nor can Hitty change who she is, Julie finds herself in the position of having to choose between them.  Should she send Hitty back to the orphanage?   The stress of the situation brings about a fatal attack, and just before she dies, Julie begs Hitty to stay with Bill no matter watch over continue doing for him all the things they had done for him together.

Completely devastated by his wife's death, Bill can barely function.  He gets through her funeral and the days afterward as though in a trance.  He certainly wants no part of Hitty and her attempts to fill the void left by Julie's death.  And for Hitty, who is also grieving the loss of Julie, Bill's rejection is heartbreaking.  How these two hurting souls find peace and love will play out in the balance of this lovely, sob-inducing film.

Sentimental Journey is a wonderful, 4-star film for me.  Maureen O'Hara is the most beautiful I have ever seen her.  She's simply stunning here, and her character is a joy---kind, caring, gentle, accepting.  John Payne's character is---as is necessary for the story---self-centered and unlikable.  Still, though, I couldn't help rooting for him to come to his senses and realize what he was throwing away.  Though perhaps not on the same plain as Natalie Wood, Connie Marshall is, nevertheless, completely charming as little Hitty. She will easily capture your heart!  Just like Miss O'Hara and Miss Wood had super chemistry together in Miracle On 34th Street, so, too, do mother and daughter have a beautiful connection in this film.  As Julie's doctor, Cedric Hardwicke has a fairly small part, but he plays it well.  And William Bendix---as Bill and Julie's friend and Hitty's adopted "Uncle Donnelly"---adds a bit of lightheartedness. Given the film's title, it will come as no surprise that the lovely 1945 song "Sentimental Journey" is liberally interspersed throughout.  As Julie and Bill's song, that beautiful melody is heard over and over again.

Although Sentimental Journey touched me deeply and had the potential to be another Penny Serenade in my estimation, I have to admit that it fell just a trifle short, a result, I think, of it's 94-minute running time.  With Penny Serenade coming in at 119 minutes, there was a full 25 minutes more to develop the characters and situations.  As it was, I felt things were rushed and, therefore, a little less deep than they could have been.  Had the film been longer, I have no doubt it would have merited 5 stars, instead of the 4 I have given it.

Sadly, Sentimental Journey is a film that is not easy to track down---it's not out on DVD, and TCM never seems to air it (at least in the three to four years I've been looking for it, I've not noticed it on their schedule).  Finally, earlier this year, I found it in its entirety on YouTube; however, as of the day of this writing, it appears to be there no longer.  All that to say, finding a way to view Sentimental Journey may be rather difficult, but if you do get the opportunity, go for it.  It's a sweet and---as its name suggests---sentimental journey.

Happy viewing!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Madame X (5 stars)

In celebration of Lana Turner's February 8th birthday, I recently enjoyed a re-watch of my favorite of her films---Madame X---and since my review of it was way back on the very first day of this blog, I decided a re-write and expansion of that post was in order.

With Lana Turner in the title role and supporting help from John Forsythe, Constance Bennett, Ricardo Montalban, Burgess Meredith, and Keir Dullea, 1966's Madame X is not only my favorite Lana Turner film but my favorite film of the 1960's and among my top 7 movies of all-time.  It's an incredibly beautiful, heart-tugging movie...the one I consider to be the tearjerker of all tearjerkers (though Gary Cooper's Ten North Frederick is right up there too). It doesn't just cause me to weep...but to sob...almost to the point that I can barely breathe.  Sometimes, I pop the movie into the player and then fast-forward to the final 30 minutes just so I can sob my  heart out.  Strange, yes...but the absolute truth. 

The story is about Holly Anderson (Lana), a young woman who has married into a rich and powerful family.  Her husband, Clay (John Forsythe), has political aspirations and an extremely controlling mother (Constance Bennett) who wants to be sure her son becomes all that he aspires to be.  Although Holly and Clay seem happy and even have a son early into their marriage, Clay travels a great deal, leaving Holly very lonely.  Her mother-in-law, however, tells Holly that she simply must not sit home and long for Clay...that she has a role to fulfill...that she must continue to be seen socially.

Holly begins to attend social functions with another man (Ricardo Montalban), and eventually he falls in love with her.  When Holly informs him she cannot see him anymore, they fight, and he tumbles down a flight of stairs, dying immediately.  Mother-in-law insists that since it looks like Holly killed him, a scandal will ensue, thus ruining Clay's political future.  Determining that the best way to protect her son and grandson from Holly's "indiscretion" is to get Holly out of their lives, mother-in-law promises to cover everything up if Holly will just disappear forever. mother-in-law's urging and with her help, Holly "dies" in a tragic boat accident and then goes to Europe, where mother-in-law sends money for her support.

For twenty years, Holly spirals downward into alcoholism and addiction and perhaps prostitution (nothing is shown, so that possibility is left to the imagination). She is a shell of the beautiful woman she used to be. Eventually, a con man discovers who Holly really is, and he intends to use that information to extort money. Desperate to keep the man from destroying her husband's political hopes and her son's future ambitions, Holly shoots him and is sent to trial. The man appointed to defend her is none other than her now-grown-up son, and neither mother nor son has any idea who the other is.

At the time I first discovered Madame X, I didn't profess to be a huge Lana Turner fan; in fact, I really didn't care for her that much. While I loved the movie and the title character, Lana herself did nothing for me.  Since then, though, I've come to  love Lana and now deem her among my five favorite actresses of all time.  I truly believe her performance in Madame X has to be the finest performance of her career.  She is completely brilliant here...very definitely worthy of an Academy Award nomination, which, unbelievably, she did not receive.

It has recently come to my awareness that there is a 1937 version of Madame X, with Gladys George in the title role.  I would love an opportunity to see it and to compare the two films.

Since Madame X is out on DVD, it ought to be fairly easy to track down a copy.  Try to see it if you can, as it really is an amazingly beautiful, heart-tugging movie which I highly recommend.

Happy viewing!!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Waterloo Bridge (5 stars)

In honor of Robert Taylor's August birthday, I decided a re-watch of my favorite of his films was in order.  That film is 1940's Waterloo Bridge, a beautiful Mervyn LeRoy-directed romantic drama which pairs Mr. Taylor with Vivien Leigh.  Tender and touching and very much a tearjerker, Waterloo Bridge is not only my favorite Robert Taylor film, but it has made the jump from being one of my 20 all-time favorite movies to one of my 10 all-time faves.  Though I've reviewed it here before, that was way back when I first started this blog, so in celebration of Mr. Taylor's birthday, I decided to re-work that post a bit.

The story is set in England during the first world war.  Vivien Leigh is Myra, a beautiful ballerina, and Robert Taylor is Roy, a soldier home on brief leave. After a chance meeting in the middle of an air raid, the two fall in love and, in whirlwind fashion, plan to be married.

Unfortunately, before they are able to wed, Roy is called back to the front, and because she had missed a performance in order to bid Roy goodbye at the train station, Myra is fired from her job.  A few months later, Roy is reported as having been killed in battle, and at this news, Myra spirals downward. Devastated by his death, without hope, and now jobless and destitute, she falls into prostitution.

In typical melodramatic fashion, of course, Roy is not dead at all, and he soon returns to town. Myra happens to run into him at the train she is seeking that evening's pickup.

Amazingly, Roy has no idea that Myra is not the innocent girl she once was, and he fully intends to finalize their marriage plans. Alas, though, the shame over what she has become eats Myra alive.

Will Myra tell Roy of her actions during the war? Will it change his feelings for her? Will they get married after all? The answer to all those questions will play out in the remainder of this beautiful, but tragic, film.

This film is a remake of an early 30's film of the same name. I have never seen the original version, only this one, so I cannot compare the two.  If any of you have ever seen the original, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.  This particular film is out on DVD and should be fairly easy to track down.  Additionally, it is on the TCM schedule for Monday, November 5th, at 11:45 a.m. (ET).  Do try to catch it if you can.  I completely love this movie and deem it a definite must-see.

Happy viewing!!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Star Is Born (5 stars)

A Star Is Born, from 1937, is a tearjerker romantic drama starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March.  Directed by William Wellman, this touching film features a Max Steiner score and the supporting talents of Alophe Menjou, Lionel Stander, Andy Devine, and May Robson.  William Wellman and Robert Carson picked up the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story for their work here.

Fascinated by Hollywood and the moving pictures, North Dakota farm girl, Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor), dreams of becoming a famous actress.  Although she gets no support or encouragement for her dream from her father and aunt, Esther vows that she's going to be somebody, and her beloved granny (May Robson) not only validates the longings of Esther's heart, but she gives her the necessary funds to make the move to Hollywood.

With hopes high, Esther sets out to land her first job, but she soon finds out that her chances of making it are 1 in 100,000.  There are just hundreds more actresses than there are parts for.  Undaunted, however, Esther wonders if, perchance, she might be that one.

While on waitress duty at a film director's party, Esther meets film actor Norman Maine (Fredric March).  Though quite popular and famous, Maine's current drinking problems have gotten him into trouble.  While his producer, Oliver Niles (Adolphe Menjou), manages to keep the news of Norman's escapades out of the paper, directors no longer want to work with him due to his unsavory reputation.  Still, though, for Esther, the meeting with Norman is a great boost to her career, as he encourages Oliver to give her a screen test, after which, she is signed by him.

After having her name changed to the more suitable-sounding Vicki Lester, Esther is given the opportunity of a lifetime.  With Norman's current film in need of a female lead, Vicki Lester takes center stage.  In fact, she more than takes center stage---she steals the show. It is Vicki---not Norman---who the critics and public rave about.  It is Vicki's star which begins to rise, while Norman's penchant for drink and his erratic, undependable behavior, cause his star to plummet.

Eventually, Esther and Norman marry, but as Norman spirals ever-further downward, he finds himself unemployable and, thus, doing little more than taking phone messages for his incredibly popular, Academy Award-winning wife.  With one life soaring and another crashing, heartbreak is bound to follow.  How everything plays out is the balance of the film.

A Star Is Born is a beautiful, touching, well-acted film.  Both Janet Gaynor and Fredric March received Academy Award nominations---deservedly so---for their work here.  I'm not overly familiar with Miss Gaynor, having only seen maybe two other of her films; however, I am a huge Fredric March fan, and this is definitely one of my all-time favorite of his films.  Plus, while I think he was a terrific actor and gave many wonderful performances, his portrayal of Norman Maine is definitely one of his best.  (I think his work in Middle of the Night is his most brilliant work, however.)   For his work in Captains Courageous, Spencer Tracy beat out Mr. March for the 1938 Best Actor statue, and much as I love A Star Is Born and Mr. March's portrayal of Norman Maine, I am going to concur with The Academy's choice of Mr. Tracy, as he really was spectacular in Captains Courageous.)  In all, A Star Is Born received seven Academy Award nominations (which garnered one win).  Additionally, the film has a completely wonderful supporting cast.  Plus, it touches my heart and brings me to major tears---and I always love a film which does that!

This film has been remade twice---in 1954, with Judy Garland and James Mason in the lead roles, and in 1976, with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson taking center stage.  I have never seen the 70's film, so I cannot compare that one to the 1937 original, but I have seen the 1954 film, so I will share a few thoughts about that one.  Yes, it is beautiful and glamorous, and, yes, Judy Garland did an amazing job.  For me, though, it dragged on occasion and was about 45 minutes too long.  Because it was so long, I was relieved when it finally ended; therefore, I was only mildly misty-eyed.  It definitely didn't touch me (or bring me to sobs) like the original did.  Also, the Garland/Mason version lacked the sweet tenderness of the original.  Judy Garland never had the innocent air that Janet Gaynor did.  Also, while James Mason was very good in the role of Norman Maine, since I am a huge Fredric March fan and count this among my favorite of his films, Mason just didn't click for me.  If the original A Star Is Born wasn't already a beloved film, I might have enjoyed the remake more.  Definitely try to catch them both and see for yourself which one you prefer.

The film is out on DVD, plus it is available in its entirety on YouTube.  I think it is a must-see.

Happy viewing!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Fighting Sullivans (5 stars)

Very inspiring and incredibly moving, The Fighting Sullivans, from 1944, is a Memorial Day tradition in our home.  Last year, though, because I was out of town until June 10th, we didn't end up watching it (and we missed it tremendously); this year, my daughter will be gone over Memorial Day, and since she loves this film, she has requested that we wait until she returns to watch it.  So, we'll be catching it a few days AFTER the holiday this year. Starring Thomas Mitchell, Selena Royle, and Anne Baxter, this film is an extreme will definitely want to keep the tissues nearby.

The film is based on the true story of an Iowa family, whose five sons all enlisted in the United States Navy just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The boys wanted to serve their country together and were determined to be assigned to the same ship, so when their ship was attacked in the Pacific, all five boys perished.

There is very little in the way of battle scenes, as the movie focuses more on their family life when the boys were young.  Though not perfect by any means, they were a functional and loving family.  Thomas Mitchell portrays the boys' father, and he is alot of fun, especially when he decides that the boys' punishment for smoking is to treat them as "real men" by allowing them to smoke cigars.

The most haunting line in the movie is spoken by Ward Bond, who, as a Naval Officer, visits the Sullivan home to break the news of the deaths.  When Mother Sullivan asks, "Which one?", Bond responds, "All five."  Those words are haunting and devastating and serve to remind us of the truth that freedom isn't free.  The Sullivan family gave so very much for the cause of freedom, as do all our veterans.

The Fighting Sullivans is a perfect Memorial Day movie, so I wanted to review it now---before Memorial Day---so as to give a heads-up about it.  See if you can find it in time for the holiday, and if you can obtain a copy with bonus features, be sure to watch them.  You'll have a chance to meet a descendant of one of the Sullivan brothers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Stella Dallas (5 stars)

Stella Dallas, from 1937, is a sentimental tearjerker starring Barbara Stanwyck, in an Oscar-nominated role.  Also starring John Boles, Anne Shirley, Alan Hale, and Barbara O'Neil, this beautiful, touching King Vidor film is among my 20 all-time favorites.  It is one of my "mommy movies," and watching it every year on Mother's Day weekend is a must for our family.  Quite honestly, Mother's Day wouldn't be the same without my annual viewing of this very beautiful movie.

The story begins in 1919 in Massachusetts, where Stella Martin (Barbara Stanwyck) lives with her blue-collar family.  The daughter of one of the local mill-hands, Stella is definitely a girl from the "other side of the tracks."  After reading in the society section of the newspaper about the broken engagement of the mill's advertising manager, the very blue-blooded Steven Dallas (John Boles), Stella sets her cap for the man, and in due time, she has not only met him, but has married him.  Though the two come from completely different backgrounds, Steven assures Stella that he likes her just the way she is.

Within a year of their marriage, the Dallases have welcomed a baby girl, Laurel (also called Lolly), into their family, and while Stella adores her daughter, she also wants to have fun.  Against Steven's wishes, Stella begins spending time with Ed Munn (Alan Hale), a man of quite unrefined behavior.  Steven doesn't approve of Ed, and he tells Stella so, but, thinking he's just being a snobby stick-in-the-mud, she has no intention of severing the friendship.  When Steven's job transfers him to New York, Stella refuses to go with him, thus beginning several years of a long-distance marriage.

The years go by, and Laurel (now played by Anne Shirley) grows up.  She sees her father, who continues to live and work in New York, on vacations.  While Lolly and her father are close, Stella's bond with her daughter is even greater.  Stella adores Laurel/Lolly, and the girl is equally devoted to her.

Through the years, Stella has continued to hang around with Ed Munn, and her association with the man ultimately gives her an unsavory reputation, which negatively affects Lolly.

Eventually, Stella begins to feel that Lolly would be better off with Steven...especially because he has recently married a kind, financially stable widow.  Believing that Steven and his new wife, Helen (Barbara O'Neil), will be able to provide the kind of secure, respectable life Lolly needs to garner for herself a place in society, Stella puts into motion a plan which will require every ounce of strength she possesses.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

Stella Dallas is a beautiful, very touching film.  Without question, it is my favorite Barbara Stanwyck flick---and my favorite of her roles.  It's a rare role for her---she's vulnerable and maternal---and I think she played the part beautifully and perfectly.  I've read reviews of this film in which people call Stella selfish, but I absolutely don't see her that way at all.  Yes, she made some poor choices---running around with one man while married to another...refusing to move when her husband's job required it...choosing to dress in vulgar, gaudy ways; selfishness, however, was not among her character traits, as selfish people would never do what Stella did.  She truly loved her daughter, as evidenced by the supreme sacrifice she made.  After all, real love desires the best for the object of that love, and sometimes such a love requires sacrifice---which is exactly what Stella did.  Giving up your child to someone who can better care for her is not selfish; somehow in recent decades we've come to think it is, but I believe it is the truest, most unselfish, love of all.  Therefore, I see Stella as saintly in her willingness to do what was best for Lolly no matter how much it hurt her.

Anne Shirley was a total delight as Lolly.  She's sugary sweet and quite devoted to her mother, but the reality is that children of previous generations did honor their parents.  The "generation gap" mindset and disrespect for parents we accept as normal today is a relatively new phenomenon, so the reality is that Lolly's attitude toward her mother was quite the norm for that time.  What a welcome change from movies of today, when children are ashamed of their parents and look down their noses at them.  (By the way, the chemistry between Misses Stanwyck and Shirley was terrific.)  Also refreshing in this film was the mutual respect between mother (Stella) and stepmother (Helen)...a far cry from the backstabbing, jealous relationships often portrayed.

I cannot recommend this beautiful movie highly enough.  It is completely it, and expect your heart to be touched and the tears to fall.  The film is out on DVD, so it should be fairly easy to track down.  Also, it is on the TCM shedule for Tuesday, June 26th at 8:30 a.m. (ET).

Happy viewing!!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tomorrow Is Forever (5 stars)

Tomorrow Is Forever is a tender, heart-tugging 1946 drama starring Claudette Colbert, Orson Welles, and George Brent, with Lucile Watson, Richard Long, and a very young Natalie Wood taking on supporting roles.  I caught the last half of this film about three years ago when a local station aired it.  I totally loved what I saw and definitely wanted a chance to watch the whole movie; however, at that time, it wasn't out on DVD, so I patiently waited about a year for it to get on the TCM schedule, at which time I was able to view the entire film AND record my own copy on disc.  (Good things come to those who wait!!)  This is easily my second favorite George Brent film (just behind Dark Victory), and in celebration of his birthday month, I have recently enjoyed a re-watch.

Claudette Colbert is Elizabeth MacDonald, a recently married woman, whose husband, John (Orson Welles), enlists in the Army and departs for Europe in the final months of World War I.

John is horribly disfigured by a bomb and spends many months in a European hospital.

However, word is sent to Elizabeth that her husband has died.

When it is discovered that Elizabeth is pregnant, Larry Hamilton, the man Elizabeth works for (played by the the VERY dashing George Brent), invites her to come live at his home, where his aunt (Lucile Watson) will be able to care for her.

 Eventually, Larry falls in love with Elizabeth and marries her, raising her child as his own. The child isn't aware that his mother had been married before or that Larry is not his real father.

Fast-forward twenty years, to the beginnings of the second world war. Elizabeth and Larry's son (named John Andrew after his biological father) is all grown-up and wants to join the war effort in Europe. Elizabeth cannot bear the thought of her son going off to war----to lose him would be like losing John all over again.

Meanwhile, Larry's company has hired a new consultant, a newly-arrived European refugee with a young daughter (Natalie Wood, in her first credited role). This man, known as Erich Kessler , is none other than John MacDonald, and he, of course, recognizes Elizabeth immediately.

Will recognition dawn for Elizabeth? What will happen to her marriage to Larry? Will her obsession with the past and her fear of the past repeating itself tie her son to her apronstrings forever? Will Eric/John tell Drew that he is his father? All these questions will be answered by the end of this very touching film.

George Brent is completely wonderful in this film---he's the proverbial knight in shining armor.  And I love that little bit of gray which was added at the temples in order to age him 20 years.

Claudette Colbert is her usual elegant, classy-looking self.  Orson Welles, who I'm not overly familiar with, was very good in this role.  His chemistry with the young Natalie Wood was terrific.  And speaking of Natalie Wood, Robert Osborne said that Irving Pichel, director of this film, had seen her in an earlier uncredited role and when he needed a little girl for Tomorrow Is Forever, he remembered "the little girl with the big eyes" and sought her out.  Although her first screen test didn't "wow" him, at her mother's request, he gave her another test, and "voila!" a star was born.

Tomorrow Is Forever is a very heart-tugging movie. Though it doesn't bring sobs, it definitely gets me misty-eyed a few times. The film is now out on DVD (having been released last summer), so you ought to be able to track it down.  It is also available in its entirety on YouTube (HERE).  Definitely see it if you can---I think it's a beautiful film.

Happy viewing!!