Thursday, May 31, 2012

Friendly Persuasion (4 stars)

Friendly Persuasion, from 1956, is a Civil War-era drama starring Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire, with Anthony Perkins in a supporting role.  Produced and directed by William Wyler, this film, which is based on Jessamyn West's The Friendly Persuasion, is one I recently watched for the second time in celebration of my beloved Coop's May birthday.  Though the setting is during the Civil War, this is not a war film.  It's more the saga of a family and how they live out their moral convictions in the midst of the war.

As the Civil War rages in 1862, the Birdwell family of southern Indiana finds themselves having to re-examine many of their Quaker beliefs.  After a Union soldier makes a visit to their meeting house one Sunday,  Jess (Gary Cooper), patriarch of the family, begins to wrestle with whether it is right to maintain their non-violence policy.  While the Quakers are opposed to slavery, they don't believe it is right to kill one man to free another; however, when the soldier accuses the men of hiding behind their church to save their skin, son Josh (Anthony Perkins) isn't so sure staying out of the war is the right thing to do.

The matriarch of the family is Eliza (Dorothy McGuire), and as the town's preacher, she is bound and determined to live righteously.  Therefore, she is quite beside herself when a visit to the county fair exposes her children to the "evils" of dancing, wrestling, and gambling.  And when Jess, despite knowing that music is against the Quaker beliefs, purchases an organ, Eliza insists that he get rid of it...something he has no intention of doing.  Adding to the "sin" of the music, is Jess's habit of entering into a horse race with a neighbor as he drives the family to church each week.

How can the Birdwells live amidst all the unrighteousness and not be tainted by it themselves?  And what will they do when the Confederate Army approaches and they are forced to defend their home?  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

Friendly Persuasion is a very enjoyable film.  It is a bit on the long side (2 hours, 15 minutes), but, honestly, it never dragged.  Although the film is a drama, there are a few very comical moments...such as when Jess and Josh go calling on Jess's customers.  Marjorie Main portrays a widow with 3 VERY marriage-minded daughters who see Josh as a prime husband candidate.  Their "hospitality" towards Josh is quite a hoot.  Another funny scene is the one in which the church elders come calling on the possibly-wayward Birdwells.  With the forbidden organ hidden away in the attic, Jess begins to pray very loudly in order to camouflage the sound of his daughter making music on the instrument.  The always-delightful Charles Halton is one of the church elders, and I just love his reaction to Coop's prayer.

This is a very well-acted film.  Gary Cooper is perfect in his role as head of the family, and he and Dorothy McGuire are great together.  However, Anthony Perkins (in only his second screen role) more than holds his own with those two much-bigger names.  I was completely impressed by his portrayal of the coming-of-age Josh.

The Dimitri Tiomkin score of Friendly Persuasion is quite lovely, and the theme song, with music by Mr. Tiomkin, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, and vocals by Pat Boone, received the Best Music, Original Song Academy Award nomination.

In addition to its music nomination, the film received five others, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Perkins).  While it didn't come away with any wins, it is, nevertheless, a thoroughly entertaining film, which I highly recommend.

Out on DVD, this film should be easy to track down; however, it's also on the TCM schedule for Thursday, June 14th, at 9:00 a.m. (ET).  I hope you get a chance to see it.

Happy viewing!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blood and Sand (4 stars)

Blood and Sand, from 1941, is an action/adventure Technicolor film starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, and Rita Hayworth.  Featuring Laird Cregar, John Carradine, J. Carrol Naish, and Anthony Quinn in supporting roles, this film, which was brought to the screen in 1922 with Rudolph Valentino in the lead role, is based on the Vincente Blasco Ibanez novel of the same name.

Young Juan Gallardo (who will grow up to be Tyrone Power) dreams of being a bullfighter as his late father was.  Bragging that the bull which can kill him hasn't been born yet, the fearless Juan vows to be the greatest of all matadors.  After promising his childhood sweetheart, Carmen (Ann Todd, who will grow up to be Linda Darnell), that they will be married upon his return, Juan sets off for Madrid, where he will train and begin his bullfighting career.

Ten years later, Juan returns to his hometown, marries the lovely Carmen, and is very much at the top of his game.  While the bullfighting critic, Curro (Laird Cregar), was once unimpressed by Juan, the man is soon eating his words and declaring Juan to be "the greatest of the great."  Crowds are wild about Juan's abilities in the ring, and he soon becomes rich and famous.

At the height of Juan's fame, the beautiful Dona Sol (Rita Hayworth) returns to town, and in short order, the two of them have begun an affair.  As he pursues his relationship with the beautiful woman, Juan neglects all else.  His bullfighting skills falter, his critics rail against him, and his wealth disappears.  With up-and-comers on the move, and a fickle crowd always wanting something greater, will Juan be able to hang on to his fame?  Or will the illicit love of the beautiful woman bring him down?  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

The costumes and scenery in Blood and Sand are stunning!  The story is interesting and exciting and filled with non-stop action.  Ty Power is completely perfect in this role, and he is magical with the cape---the way it twirled in front of the bull is beautiful.  He looks spectacular in every costume he wears, and his acting is terrific.  Linda Darnell is lovelier than I have ever seen her, and she and Power, as in their other films together, have great chemistry here.  Rita Hayworth (who is rapidly climbing up my favorite actress list and is now close to #10) is completely gorgeous; I was especially captivated by her in a royal blue gown.  She even has a chance to "strut her stuff" in a beautiful, sensual dance sequence with Anthony Quinn.

While bullfighting is no longer an acceptable means of entertainment, Blood and Sand is a product of its times and, as such, is easily a 4-star, must-see film.  Besides, just enjoying this movie doesn't mean one condones bullfighting, anymore than loving Gone with the Wind means one condones slavery.  This film also includes marital infidelity, and I abhor that...but I still think the film is amazing!!  Out on DVD, it ought to be fairly easy to track down.

Happy viewing!!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bataan (5 stars)

Bataan, from 1943, is a World War II drama starring Robert Taylor and Thomas Mitchell.  Directed by Tay Garnett, this film features the large supporting cast of Lloyd Nolan, Robert Walker, Desi Arnaz, George Murphy, Kenneth Spencer, and Lee Bowman.  Included as part of our Memorial Day weekend viewing this year, Bataan is one of my family's favorite war movies.

The film begins after the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and the departure of American and Filipino troops from the Bataan Peninsula.  With only a handful of men, Sgt. Bill Dane (Robert Taylor) is assigned the task of defending a position and destroying an important peninsular bridge. Though heavily outnumbered by the enemy, Sgt. Dane and his men are determined to fight to the death.

With a well-armed Japanese army lurking unseen in the jungle, the ever-present threat of malaria, shortage of medicine, minimal food rations, and bodily weariness, this small band of men is fighting a nearly-hopeless battle.  However, in the words of Sgt. Dane, "the men who died here may have done more than we'll ever know to save this whole world."

The acting in Bataan is good, the dialogue realistic.  The gun and grenade scenes are extremely authentic, as is the fact that the soldiers represent people of all races.  The ending scene is powerful and quite of the best endings I have ever seen in a war film.  All in all, I think this film provides an amazingly realistic account of what happened on the Bataan Peninsula.

Bataan really is a must-see film...especially on Memorial Day.  While horribly depressing because nearly all the defenders die, the film serves as a vehicle to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  We all should watch this (and other films like it) and then give thanks for the men who gave everything so that we might live in freedom.  Out on DVD, it should be fairly easy to track this one down.

Happy viewing!!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Men in War (4 stars)

Men in War, from 1957, is a Korean War drama starring Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, and Robert Keith.   Directed by Anthony Mann and featuring the supporting cast of (among others) Phillip Pine, Nehemiah Persoff, Vic Morrow, and James Edwards, this film was part of my Memorial Day weekend viewing.  Additionally, it gave me an opportunity to satisfy my yearning for a Robert Ryan film.

Somewhere in Korea in September, 1950, a small regiment of men has been separated from their batallion.  With their communications equipment broken and their supply truck destroyed, the 17-man unit is quite cut off.  Under the command of Lt. Benson (Robert Ryan), and with their gear weighing them down, the men must march the 15 miles to where they hope to meet up with another division of American soldiers.

 As the men are marching, a Jeep appears out of nowhere, and Lt. Benson commandeers it for his regiment's use.  The two occupants of the vehicle are Sgt. Montana (Aldo Ray) and his Colonel (Robert Keith)---a man who is in a shell-shocked state and cannot speak.  Montana, concerned only with getting his commander to a hospital, tells Benson that the war is over and that he and the colonel are checking out, that they've had their share of action.  Benson, however, needs  not only Montana's vehicle, but also his able body; though Montana wants to rebel, since he is outranked, he cannot.

Against his will, Montana joins forces with Benson and his men.  With heavily-mined, artillery-filled miles to cross before reaching the platoon, the two men are going to have to put their animosity for each other aside and work together.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

Men in War is a gritty, ugly, sorrowful film; however, I do think it's one which accurately portrays the horrors tens of thousands of soldiers have endured for the cause of freedom.  Not only does the film explore the reality of the physical dangers of war, but it also explores the mental and emotional effects.  It's a film which serves to remind us that freedom isn't free, and for that reason alone, it ought to be watched.

Robert Ryan is super in his role as the squad leader; as is typical for my #1 guy, he gives a top-notch performance.  Aldo Ray and Robert Keith were exceptional as well---and Robert Keith barely spoke a word through the whole film.  By body language alone, he brought his character vividly to life.  The supporting cast all portrayed their parts perfectly as well.  Quite honestly, this didn't seem like a movie; rather, it seemed like a documentary of actual war footage.  It was definitely that realistic!  (I am quite close to 5 stars on this one.)

Available on DVD, this film out to be fairly easy to track down.  I do hope you get a chance to see it, especially as a way of honoring those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy today.

Happy viewing!!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Postman Always Rings Twice (5 stars)

The Postman Always Rings Twice, from 1946, is a great little film noir starring Lana Turner and John Garfield.  Based on the James M. Cain novel of the same name, the film features Cecil Kellaway, Leon Ames, and Hume Cronyn in supporting roles.  With this past Monday having been the 60th anniversary of Mr. Garfield's untimely death, I enjoyed a re-watch of this film in his honor.

While hitch-hiking his way to San Diego, drifter Frank Chambers stops at a little roadside gas station/hamburger joint just outside Los Angeles.  Though the owner, Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway), offers Frank employment as a handyman, Frank has no intention of staying any longer than it takes to grab a bite to eat---that is, until he gets a glimpse of Nick's beautiful wife, Cora (Lana Turner).  Much younger than her husband, Cora immediately sets Frank's blood to pounding, and although she initially fights it, Cora is attracted to the handsome stranger as well.  In short order, she gives in to her passion and embarks on an affair with Frank.

In love with Frank, Cora makes the decision to run off with him; however, they haven't gotten very far before she begins to have second thoughts.  Since divorcing Nick would leave her with nothing, Cora refuses to go through with it.  Instead, after a time, she convinces Frank that the only way for them to be together is to get Nick out of the picture by killing him.  At first resistant to the idea, Frank eventually realizes Cora is right, and the two of them develop an elaborate scheme to bring about Nick's demise.

Their first attempt at murder doesn't go as planned, and with a highly suspicious D.A. (Leon Ames) bearing down on them, they struggle to cover their tracks.  In due time, they have put together another plan---one which is successful---and the D.A., determined to convict them of their crime, pits one lover against the other.  Where there once was love between them, suddenly there is hatred and mistrust.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.  (I can't really say more than this without giving away too much of the plot.)

The Postman Always Rings Twice is a fantastic film, well-acted by all.  Lana Turner is stunningly beautiful here (then again, I think she almost always was!), and she makes a perfect femme fatale...icy, aloof, and mesmerizing in her beauty.  John Garfield is masculine, gorgeous, and oozing with virility.  The chemistry between the two of them is incredible.  No nude scenes necessary for them to exude passion and sensuality.

Really, they sizzled and smoked through this whole film, which wouldn't be anything amazing had I not known Lana Turner's opinion of working with Mr. Garfield.  (I quite adore Lana and it was through watching a documentary about her a couple months ago that I learned her feelings about Garfield.)  The two of them absolutely did not get along, and she was irritated that he had been given the role, saying, "Couldn't they at least hire someone attractive."  Say what?  Someone attractive?  John Garfield not attractive?  Oh, Lana, what were you thinking?  Mr. Garfield is beyond attractive here...he's quite gorgeous really (in a rugged, sexy, masculine way).  The older he got, the better looking he became, and at this point in his career, I think he was looking incredibly fabulous!

The supporting cast of Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn, and Leon Ames is outstanding as well, with each man playing his part to perfection; Tay Garnett's direction is fantastic too.  All in all, The Postman Always Rings Twice is an interesting, exciting, wonderful noir, and its final several minutes feature twists I never expected.  How true it is to the novel, I don't know, but the film adaption, as written, is terrific.

The film is out on DVD, plus it is on the TCM schedule for Friday, June 29th, at 2:45 p.m. (ET).  Fans of Turner, Garfield, and noir ought to totally love this film.

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 22, 2012

Excited About These New Stamps

Tomorrow, May 23rd, the United States Postal Service will be making available four beautiful new stamps.  The "Great Film Directors" stamp series features portraits of John Ford, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, and John Huston, with each director's face flanked by a scene from one of his iconic works.  (The Searchers for Ford, It Happened One Night for Capra, Some Like It Hot for Wilder, and The Maltese Falcon for Huston).

Should your post office not have these stamps on hand, they can be ordered directly from the postal service's website (HERE).   "Forever stamps," they will be sold in sheets of 20 (5 of each design) at the current postage rate of .45 per stamp.

You can bet I'll be buying them...and finding many reasons to send a card with one of those fabulous directors' faces affixed to the upper right-hand corner of my envelope.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Remembering John Garfield

It was 60 years ago today---May 21, 1952---that the incredibly talented John Garfield had a fatal heart attack and departed this world.  Mr. Garfield's final couple of years were very sad---and quite tragic---as he found himself caught up in the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings of the early 1950s.   Shortly after the completion of He Ran All the Way (a wonderful film, which I've reviewed HERE), Mr. Garfield was blacklisted in Hollywood due to his refusal to provide names to the committee.  The stress of the blacklist, coupled with the bad heart he'd had all his life, caused him to succumb to a heart attack at the young age of 39.  He was a very great talent...gone far too soon!!

Mr. Garfield's final resting place is in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Westchester County, New York.   HERE is the link to his Find A Grave website page, where you can see a photo of his headstone and read a short bio about him.  He was a completely sensational actor---the first of the method actors---and I appreciate him more with every viewing of one of his films.  He is easily one of my six favorite actors of all time and, as such, has "beloved" status.

Hard as it may be to believe, a boxed set of Mr. Garfield's films has never been released.  A fellow Garfield appreciator/fan recently informed me of a petition drive dedicated to changing that.  Since this amazing actor deserves to be known to and appreciated by a large audience, and since a boxed set of his films would definitely help in that regard, the petition is encouraging Warner Bros. and Turner Broadcasting to produce such a set.  If you agree that a boxed set of Garfield films is long overdue and that the petition is a worthwhile endeavor, I encourage you to visit the petition website  (HERE).  

The goal is 2,500 signatures, and they are currently at 91 (I was signature #56 about a month ago); obviously, that means there is still a very long way to go.  Given that this year marks the 60th anniversary of Mr. Garfield's tragic, untimely death and next year marks his 100th birthday, I think NOW is the time for the release of a boxed set of his films.

So, John "Julie" Garfield, on the 60th anniversary of your death, I am remembering you and what an incredible talent you were and how you were taken from us far too soon.  In the words of George Eliot, "Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them."   We have definitely not forgotten you, Mr. Garfield...nor will we ever.

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, May 13, 2012

Room for One More (5 stars)

Room for One More, a sweet and tender movie from 1952, stars the very dashing and distinguished Cary Grant and his then-wife, Betsy Drake. (Betsy was the third Mrs. Cary Grant, and they were married for a little over ten years...the longest of any of his five marriages.)   I reviewed this film over a year ago when I first started my blog---it was the 4th post I ever did.  However, with it being Mother's Day, I've enjoyed a re-watch---which found me going from 4 to 5 stars---so I thought a re-write of that post was in order.

The movie is based on a book of the same name and is based on the real-life experiences of the author. It is a touching movie, which got me misty-eyed on three occasions. It is rather a different role for Cary Grant...he plays paternal here, and I think he does it beautifully.  He and Miss Drake were in the early years of their marriage in this movie, and the chemistry between them is terrific.

The story is about George and Anna Rose (George is called "Poppy" through almost the whole movie...even by his wife.) George and Anna have three elementary-aged children, but Anna's heart is extremely tender, and when the head of The Children's Society expresses a need for homes for older children, Anna promises to talk with her husband about the possibility of them taking one.

Before long, Jane comes to their home. Jane has known the pain of parental neglect and, therefore, is hurting and afraid to trust anyone. With a sullen attitude, she joins the Rose family...on a two-week trial. However, by the end of the two-week period, ALL in the family (including Poppy) have grown to love her and do not want to let her return to the Children's Home.

Shortly thereafter, Anna hears of a young orphaned boy in need of a place to go for summer vacation. George says they already have more children than they can afford, so he is adamant that they cannot take the boy. However, when he goes to the boy's school to inform them of that, he is appalled to discover the treatment the boy has been getting. He has braces on both legs, which means he sticks his legs into the aisle; the teacher, however, punishes him for that, making him sit under her desk. After discovering that, Poppy decides that his family WILL, in fact, open their home to little Jimmy John.

The remainder of the movie chronicles how foster care worked to make Jane and Jimmy John a functioning and loved part of a family. It really is very sweet movie. No major dramatic moments...just several comical moments and some very tender ones. For Cary Grant fans, Room for One More is a definite must-see!! It is out on DVD, so you ought to be able to track it down.  Plus, it is on the TCM schedule For Sunday, July 29th, at 1:45 pm (ET).

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (3 stars)

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, from 1938, is a romantic comedy starring Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper, with Edward Everett Horton and David Niven taking on supporting roles.  Falling into the "screwball" genre, this film's screenplay was written by director Billy Wilder, with its directing duties going to Ernst Lubitsch.

At a department store on the French Riviera, American millionaire Michael Brandon (Gary Cooper) is shopping for size 42 pajamas.  Although the salesman attempts to sell cologne, neckwear, and other items to him, the man is in the market for only pajamas...and not just any pajamas...rather, he wants only the top, because, as he tells the clerk, he doesn't use---or need---the pants.  Since the salesclerk will not sell him only the top, a woman customer, Nicole de Loiselle (Claudette Colbert) steps in and offers to buy the trousers, as she doesn't want---or need---the top.

Although Michael assumes the pajamas are for Nicole's husband, she assures him she isn't married, which makes him wonder who in the world she is purchasing pajama pants for.  Without an answer to his wondering, the two go their separate ways.

Unable to sleep, and quite sure it is because of his room, Michael insists that he be moved to the fanciest suite in the hotel.  However, when he moves in, he finds that the previous tenant, Marquis De Loiselle (Edward Everett Horton), has not yet moved out.  To his surprise, the man is dressed in striped pajama pants---pants which are much too long for him, which causes Michael to realize that the Marquis is wearing the other half of his recently-purchased pajamas.  He soon discovers that the Marquis' daughter bought them for him.  Thus, the beautiful lady from the department store makes a re-entry into Michael's life.

Though Michael and Nicole's "courtship" starts off on a less than satisfactory note, in due time, they have fallen in love and are planning to be married.  However, only hours before the ceremony, Nicole discovers that Michael has been married before---seven times!!---and she calls off the wedding.  However, with a pre-marriage agreement in place, the cash-strapped Marquis urges his daughter to go through with the marriage---just so she can get a divorce and obtain the $100,000 settlement.

Michael, though, adopting a stubborn, tenacious streak, has no intention of granting Nicole a matter that they have separate bedrooms and separate lives or that she is trying to make him think she is involved with another man.  How it all plays out---in very screwball fashion---is the balance of the film.

This film, while enjoyable, is absolutely nothing spectacular.  Yes, Coop was his usual gorgeous self, and he looked fabulous in a tux; yes, Claudette was her usual classy, elegant self.  There's no denying that they were two beautiful stars and that the careers of both were on fire in 1938.  With Miss Colbert's Academy Award-winning performance in It Happened One Night only a few years prior and Coop's Oscar-nominated performance in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town two years earlier, it's obvious that they both had a flair for romantic comedy.  However, being totally honest, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife fell short for me.  I think both Coop and Colbert made far better films than this one.  For Coop, it may be that his character was a selfish millionaire...something light years away from his other roles of that time (or the bulk of his career, for that matter).  At any rate, he seemed completely miscast to me.  Oh, and by the way, there was a very brief scene when Coop was sporting a mustache...may I just say "NO WAY!"  Keep that gorgeous face clean-shaven!

So, though I did enjoy the film, it is certainly not a favorite; nor is it one I feel I ever need to watch again.  (However, a repeat viewing might cause the film to grow on me.)  I definitely think this is a must-see for Coop, Colbert, and screwball fans, though.  It is out on DVD as part of the Claudette Colbert Collection, so you ought to be able to track it down.

Happy viewing!!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Happy Birthday, Gary Cooper!!!

Happy 111th birthday to one of my absolute favorite actors---the sensational Gary Cooper.  (May 7, 1901-May 13, 1961)

Born Frank James Cooper, the tall, lanky, mild-mannered (not to mention extremely handsome!) 2-time Academy Award-winning Coop is one of my absolute most favorite #3 guy of all-time (and not too far behind the #1's).  From the moment I "discovered" him in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, I have been completely smitten  and have been on a quest to see all of his films.  So far, I'm over halfway there...I've seen 57 of the 96 films listed on his TCM filmography.  (Just less than half if you go by the IMDB, which lists 115 titles, many of which are silent films.)

Interestingly, in addition to being one of my favorite actors, when it comes to favorite film characters, three of my five favorite male characters are those played by Gary Cooper.  Far and away, he portrayed men of integrity, goodness, and honor, and since those are qualities I admire, it's natural that I am drawn to characters exhibiting those traits.  My tied-for-#1 favorite film character is Will Kane, Coop's role in High Noon.   After Kane, comes Thomas Thorn (They Came to Cordura) and Longfellow Deeds (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town).  I also love Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees and Alvin York in Sergeant York; however, since those were both real men---not characters---I am not counting them.  I readily admit that I have a hard time separating the man Gary Cooper from those honorable men he portrayed, so while I know Coop had his faults, I don't like to think about them; instead, I prefer to keep him on his pedestal.

My all-time favorite Gary Cooper film---by only the tiniest of margins over #2---is Ten North Frederick.  This gorgeous tearjerker (reviewed HERE) is a May-December romance, also starring Suzy Parker.  Coop displays a sensitivity and vulnerability I haven't seen him display in any other film.  This little-known gem is right up there with Madame X as the "tearjerker of all tearjerkers" for me; plus, with one viewing, it displaced Mr. Deeds Goes to Town as my favorite Coop film.  I hope you will read my review of this film, then watch it for yourself (it is on YouTube, at least as of today).  It deserves to be better known than it is.

Rounding out my list of five favorite Gary Cooper films are:

2.  Mr. Deeds Goes to Town  (with Jean Arthur, this is easily my favorite Frank Capra film---reviewed HERE)

3.  The Pride of the Yankees  (with Teresa Wright---reviewed HERE)

4.  They Came to Cordura  (with Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin, and Richard Conte)

5.  Good Sam  (with Ann Sheridan---reviewed HERE)

It was nearly impossible to stop with just five films.  I had to think long and hard before finalizing this list.  In the end, Ball of Fire lost out to Good Sam...but only by the tiniest of margins.

So, here's to you, Gary Cooper, on your 111th birthday!   You will always, always, always be one of my beloved guys and one of my absolute favorite actors.  Even though you died the very year I was born, you live on through your wonderful films.  And, in the words of George Eliot, "Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them."  Since we have not forgotten you (nor will we ever!), you live on!  Thanks for beautifying my life with so many incredible, cherished films!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Happy Birthday, Tyrone Power!!!

Happy 98th birthday to one of my top 10 favorite actors---the tremendously under-rated, positively gorgeous Tyrone Power  (May 5, 1914-November 15, 1958)

Capable in both comedic and dramatic roles, Mr. Power was an actor who never got the praise and recognition he deserved.  While he gave wonderful performances in many films, not a single Academy Award nomination ever came his way.  I think that is very sad...and a definite oversight on the part of the Academy.

In addition to excelling at both comedy and drama, Ty was also quite adept in adventure/swashbuckling films...Blood and Sand, The Mark of Zorro, Prince of Foxes, to name just a few.  Perhaps it was fitting that it was while doing just that, Mr. Power died.  While in Spain for the filming of Solomon and Sheba in 1958, Ty succumbed to a sudden heart attack in the midst of a dueling scene with George Sanders.  He died enroute to the incredibly talented man gone far too soon at the age of 44.

Besides entertaining audiences with a wonderful variety of films, Mr. Power also faithfully served his country as a pilot in the Marine Corp.  He saw action in the South Pacific in the Second World War, taking part in "the air supply and evacuation of wounded from Iwo Jima to Okinawa."  The California State Military Museum has a page about Mr. Power's service in the Marines HERE.

My all-time favorite Ty Power film is Witness for the Prosecution  (reviewed HERE).  Besides this being what I deem the very best performance of Mr. Power's career, it is also his final completed film, as he would die while making his next movie.

Rounding out my list of five favorite Tyrone Power films are:

2.  Abandon Ship!  (with Mai Zetterling and Lloyd Nolan---reviewed HERE)

3.  The Eddy Duchin Story  (with Kim Novak---reviewed HERE)

4.  I'll Never Forget You  (with Ann Blyth---reviewed HERE)

5.  The Long Gray Line  (with Maureen O'Hara)

6.  Crash Dive  (with Dana Andrews and Anne Baxter)

(Yes, I have to list six favorite films, because The Long Gray Line and Crash Dive are neck and neck.  I really don't prefer one over the other.  They're both wonderful and equally enjoyable.)

There is a movement underway to bring about a Tyrone Power postage stamp.  HERE is the Facebook page for more information about how to help the dream become a reality.  I would definitely love to see Mr. Power honored with a postage stamp, and should that happen, I can assure you, it's the only stamp I will be using for as long as it is available.

So, Mr. Tyrone Power, here's to you on your 98th birthday.  You were a wonderful, completely under-rated actor, and you will always be one of my favorites. Thanks for making so many terrific movies!

Friday, May 04, 2012

The Luck of the Irish (3 stars)

The Luck of the Irish, from 1948, is a fun little romantic comedy starring Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter.  Featuring Cecil Kellaway, who received a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his work here, Jayne Meadows, and Lee J. Cobb in supporting roles, this film was one our family enjoyed as part of our St. Patrick's Day celebration this year.

While traveling in Ireland, American newspaperman, Steven "Fitz" Fitzgerald (Ty Power), encounters car problems.

In a hurry to get back to New York and the job awaiting him there, Fitz sets out in search of assistance, and he soon discovers an old man (Cecil Kellaway) sitting beside a waterfall.

Though the man is a bit odd, he, nevertheless, directs Fitz to a nearby inn, where he makes the acquaintance of the beautiful Nora (Anne Baxer).  Fitz and Nora click immediately, and when Fitz mentions the old man and the waterfall to her, he is told that no such waterfall exists.  Sure enough, when he makes another visit to that location, there is no waterfall; however, he does come upon the old man, and he soon realizes the man is a leprechaun...unless, of course, it was all just a strange dream.

Leaving the lovely Nora behind, Fitz returns to America, where his writing abilities will be used developing speeches for his politically-minded boss (Lee J. Cobb).

Engaged to the boss's daughter, Frances (Jayne Meadows), and with a fancy apartment and servant to call his own, things appear to be looking very fine for Fitz.  But with Nora suddenly arriving in New York and his new servant none other than Horace, the Irish leprechaun---whose one goal is to give Fitz gold, instead of the pebble he is willing to settle for---Fitz's life is soon to be turned upside-down.

Will Horace and his "pot of gold" get Fitz's life back on track?  Or will Fitz continue to compromise his beliefs to satisfy his boss's political plans?  These are the questions which play out in the balance of this adorable little film.

While not a spectacular film, The Luck of the Irish is, nevertheless, very sweet and fun.  Ty Power is great in this is Anne Baxer.  Both of them are completely beautiful...and you will love the soft brogue Anne sports here.  Cecil Kellaway is absolutely delightful as the little leprechaun.  He more or less bounces around Ty's apartment and is quite adorable.  Though nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role here, quite honestly, since Walter Huston was nominated that year for Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Mr. Kellaway didn't have a hope of winning.  Even so, though, he was wonderful in the role and played the part perfectly.  Another delightful aspect of this film is the lovely Irish score.

This film is out on DVD as part of the Tyrone Power Matinee Idol Collection, so it ought to be fairly easy to track down. Plus, it's available in its entirety on YouTube (HERE). Really, it's loads of fun...and it's the perfect addition to a St. Patrick's Day movie night.  Put it on your "watch list" for next year.

Happy viewing!!