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!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Quiet Man (1952)

Hard as it may be to believe, one of the most beloved of all classic films---1952's The Quiet Man---did not cross my radar until just this past weekend---nearly seven years into my classic film journey. Not a John Wayne fan, I've never made The Quiet Man a priority, despite the fact that nearly everyone who claims to be a classic film fanatic has seen (and loves) this film. Choosing to put my lack of enthusiasm for Mr. Wayne aside, I had always intended to view this film for Maureen O'Hara month; however, when I realized that it was going to be showing on the big screen of Boise's Egyptian Theatre, and introduced by Miss O'Hara herself, I knew that was how I would catch it for the first time.  Wow, what an amazing first-time experience it was---big screen, vintage theatre, 700+ crowd, introduction by Maureen O'Hara.  All those things---plus the stunning scenery, the gorgeous musical score, and the beauty of the story itself---worked their magic on me, and I found myself absolutely loving this film (and even liking John Wayne).  Without question, it is a 5-star film for me---making 8 such discoveries already this year, 2 of which are Maureen O'Hara films.  It's been only 4 days since I saw it, and I find myself with an intense longing to watch it again.

Winner of two Academy Awards (Best Director and Best Cinematography, Color) and nominated for five others (including Best Picture), The Quiet Man was filmed on location in Ireland.  Directed by John Ford, the film stars John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, and Barry Fitzgerald, with Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond, and Midred Natwick among the supporting players.  Although a romantic drama, there are enough lighthearted, comical moments that the film could be considered a dramedy.

Sean Thornton (John Wayne), an ex-boxer with a past so tragic he has vowed to never fight again, has returned to his native Innisfree, Ireland, after many years of living in America. Desiring to live simply and quietly in the house in which he was born, he approaches the current owner, widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick), about the possibility of her selling.  Although "Red" Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) had already made an offer for the property, the widow chooses to sell to Thornton instead, which, naturally, causes strife between the two men. Thus, when Sean desires to court Danaher's sister, Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara), he is forbidden to do so.  While in America it might be acceptable for a young woman to be courted without the consent of her father or brother, in Ireland it is not, so Mary Kate and Sean are unable to pursue a relationship.

With the help of the local matchmaker (Barry Fitzgerald, in a wonderful, memorable performance) and the local preacher and priest, Will is tricked into consenting to a courtship between his sister and Sean, and the two are soon married.  However, when Will discovers he has been set up, he furiously denies Mary Kate her dowry, which while not bothering Sean, greatly upsets his bride. She demands that he obtain her full dowry from her brother, even if it means fighting him to do so. How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

Everything about The Quiet Man is perfect.  The scenery is spectacular---if I didn't already want to visit Ireland, I certain do after viewing this film.   The Academy Award-winning color cinematography captures the country's beauty completely. Maureen O'Hara is simply stunning, and she is terrific in this role.  She's fiery, feisty, and incredibly passionate, and her chemistry with John Wayne is magical---it's easy to see why they were such a successful team. John Wayne (who, as noted, I don't ordinarily care for) is wonderful in his role.  He brings Sean Thornton beautifully to life. I quite love his character---in love with the woman, not the money she will bring into the marriage. Of course, having been living in America and now unused to Irish customs, he has a bit of learning to do. All of the supporting players are wonderful too; I especially love Barry Fitzgerald and Ward Bond.  Finally, the Victor Young score is gorgeous and greatly adds to the charm of the film. The story is incredibly romantic and passionate---sensual even---and all without being trashy.  (If you doubt a film without a bit of nudity or gratuitous sex can be sensual, this scene will change your mind.)

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While The Quiet Man is not going to topple A Place in the Sun from its place as my favorite film of the 1950's, it's not far off.  Definitely, it's in my top 10---probably even my top 6 of the entire 1950's---and in my top 25 of all time.  It's a complete gem of a film, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  (I only wish you could all catch it on the "big screen" of a beautiful historic theatre, like I did.)

Out on DVD, The Quiet Man should be fairly easy to track down; it would make a great film for St. Patrick's Day viewing . . . if you can wait that long!  (I can't, so even if I do make it my annual St. Patrick's Day movie, I'll be watching it again long before then.)

Happy viewing!

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

Still Beautiful at 93

Accompanied by her grandson, Conor FitzSimons, and looking incredibly beautiful in a fuchsia-colored blouse and black slacks, Maureen O'Hara made a public appearance at Boise's Egyptian Theatre this past Saturday, in order to introduce The Quiet Man---one of six of her films being shown at the historic theatre in celebration of the lovely lady's 93rd birthday. Because Miss O'Hara is in a wheelchair, she didn't ascend to the stage to address the audience but, instead, spoke to them from the front left-center floor area.  I was sitting just to the right of center in the floor's middle section, meaning that I was about 10 rows back from her and about 8 people in.  However, with the large crowd all clamoring for photos and my extremely sub-par photography skills, I might as well have been on the moon, for I was unable to get a decent picture.  While I did get a few shots, they are all so horribly blurry that I am embarrassed to post them. Suffice to say (and you will have to take my word for it) that the lovely Irish lass is still exceedingly elegant and beautiful.

Speaking for about three minutes---in a voice as strong and vibrant as ever---Maureen introduced The Quiet Man as her "favorite movie," quipping that she "even got paid for it." Lovingly referring to director John Ford as "the old divil himself," she stressed what a terrific opportunity it was to have worked under him. (Yes, in Miss O'Hara's delightful Irish brogue, the word "devil" became "divil".) Smiling all the while and introducing the audience to her doting grandson, Miss O'Hara worked her charm on the 700+ crowd.  We were brought to our feet twice, and before she departed the room, the audience serenaded her with "happy birthday."

The real downside to a live event like this, of course, is that there is no opportunity to hit the rewind button.  If you miss something (because you're fussing with your camera or just because you're overwhelmed with the experience), you miss it forever.  There's no rewind with live---so I can't remember much more than those few snippets of her address.  I was so enthralled with the whole experience (really, a "once in a lifetime" thing for me) that I was in a bit of a daze.  I felt somewhat felt like I was dreaming, or that I was looking in from somewhere outside myself.   At any rate, because of my "overwhelmed" status, much of Maureen's introduction went by in a bit of a blur (like my photographs).

The Quiet Man was the only film being introduced by Maureen O'Hara herself, so naturally, it was the star attraction.  According to the Egyptian's website, the theatre seats 745 people, and since I saw very few empty seats, my guess is that there were almost that many in attendance. Disappointingly, though, the other films (at least the two I saw) were shown to audiences of less than 50.  Of course, since How Green Was My Valley was showing at the same time as the benefit dinner was taking place, that may have affected its attendance; after all, we humans still haven't learned how to be in two places at the same time! The evening showings (The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Only the Lonely) may have seen attendance on the rise---I hope so, as I don't like the idea of Miss O'Hara's new city of residence giving her anything less than a wholehearted reception.

Y'all are no doubt wondering what I thought of the three films I saw?  Well, by the time my 6+ hours of viewing were finished, I had made another 5-star film discovery for the year; been powerfully and deeply moved by and moved to 5-star, "love it" status, a film which I didn't care for and gave 2 stars upon my first viewing; and made it through (and enjoyed) a film I had previously turned off in boredom after only 20 minutes.  That makes two 5's and one 3 for me this weekend---and I call that highly successful movie viewing. Over the next few days, I'll be sharing my thoughts about each of those films.  First up will be the star of the day---The Quiet Man, now my newest 5-star film discovery of the year.

NOTE:  You can see photos of the event at the official Maureen O'Hara Magazine Facebook page.  (HERE)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Happy Birthday, Maureen O'Hara!

Happy 93rd birthday to one of my top-20 favorite actresses---the lovely, talented, Miss Maureen O'Hara (August 17, 1920).  This beautiful lady is not only still alive, but she's in remarkably good health and will even be making a public appearance on her birthday---and I will be among those helping her celebrate.

Born Maureen FitzSimons in a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, the beautiful Miss O'Hara has a film and television career spanning six decades.  After being "discovered" in London by Charles Laughton, and hand-picked by him to star opposite him in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she made the move to Hollywood, where she worked with a variety of big-name directors and leading men.

                                                                  image source

Miss O'Hara came into my life many years ago through The Parent Trap, which I watched as a child and then as an adult with my own young children.  Little did I know back in the 1960's or even in the 1990's that this lovely lady was destined to become one of my all-time favorite actresses.  I find her completely delightful in every role she's taken on; plus, she's so incredibly beautiful that it's breathtaking to look upon her. With several "new to me" O'Hara films on my must-watch list this month, I may find that my current fave will be displaced.  I'll weigh-in at the end of the month, with my blog readers' favorite O'Hara film as well as my own.

I'll be helping this gorgeous gal celebrate her birthday today by taking part in the "bash" she is throwing here in her new city of residence, Boise, Idaho.  With big screen showings of three of Miss O'Hara's films---The Quiet Man, The Black Swan, and How Green Was My Valley---on my agenda for the day, I'm sure to have a stupendous Saturday. The birthday girl herself will be introducing The Quiet Man, and not only am I thrilled to have an opportunity to see her (and those three films), I'm excited to be part of an event which will benefit a cause near and dear to the lovely redhead's heart---the prevention of elder abuse.

                                                                 image source

So, Miss Maureen O'Hara, happy 93rd birthday to you!!  I'm thrilled that you are in good health and surrounded by family and friends as you celebrate another year of life.  What a joy it is to be among those sharing in your special day at Boise's Egyptian Theatre. You will always be one of my very favorite actresses, and I thank you for bringing so much enjoyment to my life through your many wonderful films!

NOTE:  For more information about this lovely lady's life and career, visit the Maureen O'Hara Magazine, "the only site on the internet endorsed by Miss O'Hara herself." (HERE).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

This Land Is Mine (1943)

Although many people define courage as being fearless---completely unafraid---I don't think of it that way at all.  Rather, I think of courage as being afraid of something, yet facing the object of that fear head-on...not letting it render you powerless or cause you to turn and run the other way. Really, if there is no fear, then it takes no courage to face a situation.  So, for me, courage can only be exhibited in the presence of fear, and that is precisely the theme of 1943's This Land Is Mine. Winner of an Academy Award for Best Sound, this Jean Renoir-directed film stars Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara, with George Sanders, Kent Smith, Walter Slezak, and Una O'Connor among those taking on supporting roles.

                                                                Image Source

Somewhere in Europe, the Nazis are on the march, conquering one city after another. While the citizens of each occupied city are encouraged to trust the new regime, resistance literature urges them to drive the conquerors out, lest they become their slaves. In one such town, the word has come down that several of the school's textbooks have unacceptable pages which must be destroyed.  While timid, milque-toasty schoolmaster, Albert Lorry (Charles Laughton), meekly instructs his students to remove the offending pages from their books, his fellow teacher, Louise Martin (Maureen O'Hara), with whom Albert is secretly in love, vehemently announces that the day will come when she will paste the pages back.

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In the midst of the school day, the air raid siren blares, and the students and their teachers take to the shelter, with Albert's controlling, overbearing mother (Una O'Connor), who lives nearby, joining them. As the planes roar overhead, Albert cowers in his mother's arms.  Later, Albert admits his cowardice to the schoolmaster, who reminds him that the truth can be kept alive if the children believe in them and admire them, because those whom children admire, they will follow; therefore, in order to conquer the Nazis, they all must be the kind of men the children will desire to follow.

Other residents of this little village are Paul Martin (Kent Smith), Louise's brother and a resistance worker, and George Lambert (George Sanders), Louise's fiance, who, unbeknownst to her, is a Nazi sympathizer.  Believing that democratic ideas ruined his country, George wants the "new order" and works in collaboration with them to achieve it.

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When a grenade thrown by a resistance fighter kills two German soldiers, ten of the local townspeople are taken hostage and threatened with execution unless the criminal gives himself up. Albert, eventually, is one of those arrested, and when he is put on trial---and comes face to face with his fear of what the Nazis will do to him---he finds that he is not a coward after all.  With his courage shining brightly in the face of fear, Albert uses the courtroom to inspire people everywhere to keep on resisting the invading evil.

What they call a "propaganda piece," This Land Is Mine is an inspiring, encouraging, well-acted drama.  Made in the middle of the war, when the tide had not yet turned and there was no way of knowing how much longer it would go on, this film was obviously a boost to homefront morale. Mr. Laughton's performance is spectacular...not quite up there with The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which, as I said in a review earlier this week (HERE), I think has to be the performance of his career), but terrific nonetheless.  The way he changed from a cowering bowl of jello to a man of conviction and strength was beautiful to watch.  And his speeches---wow. Such great truth in every word he uttered, and that truth is as relevant today as it was 70 years ago.

Maureen O'Hara is quite wonderful in her role as well.  She brings her fiery, passionate character to life with much believability.  Plus, she's so lovely, and it is always a delight to watch her.  The supporting players---Una O'Connor, Kent Smith, George Sanders, and Walter Slezak---all are very good in their roles.

This Land Is Mine is out on DVD and is available through Classic Flix.  It is also on the TCM schedule for Sunday, November 17th, at 6:15 a.m. (ET).  I hope you get a chance to see it, as it is a very inspiring film.

Happy viewing!

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

My latest 5-star film discovery of 2013 is an early work of beautiful star of the month, Miss Maureen O'Hara. That film is 1939's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Based on Victor Hugo's classic novel, this masterpiece of a film also stars Charles Laughton and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, with Thomas Mitchell, Edmond O'Brien, Alan Marshal, and Harry Davenport among the supporting players. Nominated for two Academy Awards, this lavish production was directed by William Dieterle.

Set in 15th century France, during the reign of Louis XI (Harry Davenport), Hunchback is the story of the beautiful Gypsy girl, Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara), who has danced in the streets and attracted the attention of many, including the Chief Justice, Frollo (Sir Cedric Hardwicke).  Lusting after the ravishing beauty, yet despising himself for doing so, Frollo brings Esmeralda before the court on a trumped-up charge of murder.  Convicted, Esmeralda is sentenced to hang, but is saved from that fate by Quasimodo (Charles Laughton), the deaf, nearly mute, deformed bell ringer of Notre Dame, who is hopelessly in love with her.  Some of the themes tackled in this timeless story are:

Superstition:  Because Quasimodo is deformed, the people fear him and believe him to be possessed.

Handicaps:  Not only is Quasimodo deformed, but he is deaf and barely speaks.

Prejudice:  Chief Justice Frollo despises all Gypsies and deems them unfit to enter France.

Fear:  The printing press has been invented, and Frollo fears what will happen if the people are able to read certain truths for themselves.

Places of refuge:  The Cathedral of Notre Dame is a safe refuge for all.  Once within its walls, those being sought have sanctuary.

Love:  Esmeralda's love for her people and for the soldier, Phoebus (Alan Marshal); poet Gringoire's (Edmond O'Brien) love for Esmeralda; Quasimodo's love for the bells; and, of course, his heartbreaking love for the beautiful Esmeralda, which culminates in one of the most memorable lines I have ever heard, "Why was I not made of stone like thee?"

Hypocrisy:  Though Frollo disapproves of Esmeralda and claims her dancing to be evil, he secretly lusts after her.  He gives the appearance of righteousness and purity, all the while longing for the very thing he claims must be destroyed.  Blaming Esmeralda for inciting the sinful thoughts in him, he is determined to punish her, and he does so by convicting her of crimes she did not commit.

Self-loathing:  Frollo is not all bad, as evidenced by the fact that he has been Quasimodo's protector and benefactor ever since rescuing him as an abandoned infant years earlier; Esmeralda herself believed there was love in him. It is not wickedness---but rather shame over his fall into lust---which drives the Chief Justice to persecute Esmeralda.

Mercy and kindness:  Posssessed with a good and kind heart, Esmeralda desires to help her people---the Gypsies---find freedom from persecution, and when Quasimodo is publicly flogged and left in the pillory, Esmeralda takes pity on him and satisfies his cries for water.

To be honest, though The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a classic and very well-known piece of literature, I haven't ever read it.  I struggled greatly with Mr. Hugo's Les Miserables, so I was never keen on reading another of his works.  Thus, I have no idea how close this film is to the novel.  As I've stated before, though, whether a film is true to its book counterpart or not rarely matters to me.  I think both have merit of their own---and this film version has incredible merit.

Quite honestly, I think this production is nothing short of spectacular.  While it came away with an Academy Award nomination for its Alfred Newman score, as well as a Best Sound, Recording nomination, I can't believe it didn't receive many more nominations.  For sure, I think it ought to have received a Best Picture nomination, as well as a Best Director, a Best Costume Design, and last but not least, a Lead Actor nomination for Mr. Laughton.  I haven't seen Laughton's entire filmography, of course, but I can't help but believe his work in Hunchback was the performance of his career. He is beyond brilliant in this role.  The way he brings the deformed Quasimodo to life is absolutely breathtaking . . . and heartbreaking. Yes, 1939 was the year Clark Gable and James Stewart gave terrific ("should have won an Oscar") performances in Gone with the Wind and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but Mr. Laughton was right there with them.  Not nominating him for a Lead Actor award was a gross oversight on the part of the Academy.

In addition to Mr. Laughton, I believe the costume designer and makeup artists ought to have received Oscar nominations.  (Of course, that wasn't go to happen, because those categories didn't become part of the Academy Awards until 1948 and 1981.)  Whether acknowledged with an award or not, however, the people responsible for transforming Mr. Laughton into a grotesque "hunchback" did a phenomenal job   Though made in 1939, the artistry of this film was very ahead of its time.

Nineteen years old and incredibly beautiful here, Maureen O'Hara plays the part of the kind-hearted Esmeralda perfectly.  This is her 4th film, and its easy to see why she would go on to be a major Hollywood star.  Harry Davenport is his usual, fairly-lovable self (not at all in keeping with other film portrayals of King Louis XI).  Edmond O'Brien, in his film debut at age 24, is incredibly handsome (and thinner than I have ever seen him).  What fun seeing him at such a young age.

Finally, Sir Cedric Hardwicke gives a superb performance as well.  Frollo is a complex character---not completely evil, just power hungry, controlling, and disgusted by the awakening of desires from which he had pledged to abstain.  Hardwicke does a fantastic job bringing all the nuances of the troubled Frollo to life.  He, too, ought to have received an Academy Award nomination.

Out on DVD, this 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame ought to be fairly easy to track down.  I highly recommend seeing it.  It is a spectacular work of art.

Happy viewing!

By the way, Hunchback is one of the films being screened at Boise's Egyptian Theatre this coming Saturday (August 17th), for Maureen's 93rd birthday bash.  Much as I love it and would be thrilled to catch it on the big screen, I won't be doing so.  I have tickets for The Quiet ManThe Black Swan, and How Green Was My Valley, which run consecutively, so I'll already be sitting through over 6 hours of movies.  Hunchback follows How Green Was My Valley, so that would be pretty much 8+ solid hours of sitting.  The 6 hours is pushing it, so I know I wouldn't make it through 8.

NOTE:  All photos obtained from Doctor Macro  (HERE)

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!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Spencer's Mountain (1963)

The inspiration for the long-running, award-winning television series The Waltons came in the form of 1963's heartwarming drama, Spencer's Mountain.  Starring Henry Fonda, Maureen O'Hara, and James MacArthur, with Donald Crisp (in his final film), Wally Cox, and Mimsy Farmer taking on supporting roles, this Delmer Daves Technicolor film is based on the novel by Earl Hamner, Jr. While Mr. Hamner's novel and The Waltons have an Appalachian Mountain setting, for this film, the locale was changed to the more rugged mountains of Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park.

For three generations, the Spencer family has been living in the Snake River area of Wyoming. Old Hannibal Spencer, who is now buried in the family plot, was the first of the family to arrive there, and his son (Donald Crisp) stayed on and raised a family of ten sons.  Each of those sons has remained in the area and is now raising a family of his own.  The film focuses on the life of son Clay (Henry Fonda), his wife, Livvy (Maureen O'Hara), and their nine children.

Rich in love, but poor in cash, the Spencer family has dreams.  Father Clay yearns to build a grand home for his large brood.  Whenever possible, he steals time away to work a bit on the dream house. Mother Livvy wants a graduation ring for son Clayboy (James MacArthur), and Clayboy yearns to attend college, a dream that seems as far away as the moon, even with the partial scholarship he has received.  For any or all of the family's dreams to be accomplished, much sacrifice will have to be made.  How it all plays out---in ways which will sometimes remind you vividly of The Waltons---is the balance of the film.

Filmed on location in the Grand Tetons and the surrounding area, the movie's scenery is incredibly gorgeous.  It is also very familiar (and beloved) to me.  Living within a day's drive from Grand Teton National Park, our family has vacationed there on four different occasions. The beautiful mountain peaks in the film are ones we have enjoyed photographing ourselves; and the little church in the film is the Chapel of the Transfiguration, which sits at the south end of the park, and which our family has visited on every trip.  (With a view like this, can you imagine the difficulty of keeping your mind on the preacher's sermon?!  My photo, taken on a 2006 family vacation.)

At times, I thought Spencer's Mountain was a 4-star "like it a lot" film, while at others it was a 3-star "good, enjoyable, like it okay" film.  So, while I'm going with 3 stars, it's more like 3.5. The overzealous girlfriend scenes grew a bit tedious, as did some of the hymn-singing.  The story is sweet, sentimental, and morally appealing, and the performances of all are solid.  Miss O'Hara is her usual beautiful self, and although I'm not much of a Henry Fonda fan, I have to admit, he is terrific in this role.  Donald Crisp, in his final film appearance, doesn't have much to do, but he does it well.  I think he ended his career on a high note.  One of the youngest children is played by Kym Karath, who portrayed the youngest Von Trapp daughter, Gretel, in The Sound of Music.  She is a bit precocious here in Spencer's Mountain, but she's also adorable and sweet.  I was completely charmed by her.

Out on DVD, Spencer's Mountain should be fairly easy to track down.  Additionally, it is on the TCM schedule for this coming, Sunday, August 11th, at 9:30 a.m. ET (as part of Henry Fonda's day in Summer Under the Stars).  If you are a fan of The Waltons, you will definitely want to see the film which inspired it.

Happy viewing!!

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Welcoming Maureen O'Hara

A hearty welcome to the beautiful Maureen O'Hara, who will be taking over as star of the month here at They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To.  While I intend to get started on a painting project and will likely need to limit my computer time a bit, I hope to have an opportunity to watch and review between seven and ten of Miss O'Hara's films, some of which I'll be catching for the very first time.

The big highlight of the month is that I am going to be taking in three of the beautiful Irish lass's films on the big screen of Boise's Egyptian Theatre.  To celebrate her 93rd birthday, Miss O'Hara is having a big bash right here in her current home city of Boise, Idaho.  Seven of the birthday girl's films are being screened for the event, and I will be attending the showing of three of them---The Quiet Man (which is going to be introduced by Miss O'Hara), The Black Swan, and How Green Was My Valley.  For more information about the birthday bash, go HERE.

Incidentally, when I was visiting my parents last month, my dad mentioned that he considers Maureen O'Hara to be Hollywood's most beautiful woman ever.  While for me, Grace Kelly holds that title, I don't think my dad is far off.  Miss O'Hara is definitely a stunning beauty (especially in Technicolor).  I am looking forward to a month of blogging in her honor.  I trust y'all will enjoy yourselves as well.  (Oh, be sure to weigh-in on your favorite Maureen O'Hara film by taking part in the poll on my sidebar.)