Monday, September 30, 2013

Recapping Claudette Colbert Month

Wow, the months are flying by at an alarming pace.  It seems like September began only yesterday, and now here it is, the middle of the afternoon on the 30th.  I enjoyed having Claudette Colbert as my star of the month, and while I didn't review (or even watch) as many of her films as I had originally intended, it was still a good month.  I enjoyed re-watches of some tried and true faves, plus I discovered some terrific "new to me" films.  Here's how everything panned out.

Over 75% of my readers (76%), count It Happened One Night as their favorite Colbert film. I am not at all surprised by that.  After all, it's Claudette's Academy Award-winning role, not to mention a best picture winner.  I figured it would probably be the most popular of all her films. In the far distant second place, with 12% of the vote, is Since You Went Away; Drums Along the Mohawk took third place, with 8%; and The Egg and I got a single vote to take fourth place, with 4% of the vote.  Garnering zero votes in the poll were Cleopatra and Imitation of Life.

No votes for Imitation of Life?  Say it isn't so!  I love that film, and I count it as my favorite of Miss Colbert's films.  It Happened One Night, however, is very beloved to me as well, and it can sometimes be my favorite of her films---if I am in a comedy mood that is.  Most of the time, though, Imitation of Life (reviewed HERE) takes the top position, with It Happened One Night (reviewed HERE) in second place.

Rounding out my list of 5 favorite Claudette Colbert films are:

3.  Tomorrow Is Forever  (1946---reviewed HERE)  Also starring George Brent and Orson Welles, this very touching war-time drama always brings me to tears.  After learning that husband Orson Welles has been killed in WWI, Claudette marries George Brent and raises a family.  Alas, Orson wasn't really killed, and he re-enters Claudette's life.  A definite sobber for me.

4.  Three Came Home  (1950)  Also starring Patric Knowles and Sessue Hayakawa, this WWII-era drama tells the story of American author Agnes Keith, who, along with her husband and young son, was living on a South Pacific island when the Japanese Army invaded.  Agnes and her son were sent to one prison camp, while her husband was sent to another.  An inspiring story, revealing the fortitude of the human spirit.

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5.  Remember the Day  (1941---reviewed HERE)  Also starring John Payne, this touching, sentimental film was one of my "discoveries" this month.  After only one viewing, it went immediately to my "5 favorites" list.  The film features Claudette as a schoolteacher reminiscing about one of her former students on the eve of his hoped-for presidential nomination.

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Thanks to everyone who joined me this month in celebration of Claudette.  Beginning tomorrow, Montgomery Clift will be moving front and center.

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

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lonelyhearts (1958)

Although Montgomery Clift won't be taking center stage here at They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To until next month, he's making an appearance a week early, as the 1958 drama Lonelyhearts is my contribution to the "Breaking News" blogathon.  Hosted by Comet over Hollywood and Lindsay's Movie Musings, this blogathon is all about journalism in classic film. It's sure to be a fantastic event, so you'll want to visit as many of the entries as you can.  Go HERE to get involved.

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Lonelyhearts, from 1958, is a bold, mature-themed drama, starring Montgomery Clift, Robert Ryan, Myrna Loy and Dolores Hart and featuring Maureen Stapleton in her Academy Award-nominated film debut. Based on the 1933 Nathanael West novel, Miss Lonelyhearts, this story had a 12-day run as a Broadway stage play in 1957.  I originally sought the film out because I was on a quest to see all of Monty Clift's work; however, subsequent viewings are more to enjoy the brilliance of Robert Ryan, who I believe is one of the most under-rated actors ever.

Adam White (Montgomery Clift), a kind, gentle young man with a desire to do right, hopes to land his dream job on the local newspaper, The Chronicle.  Having made the acquaintance of Florence Shrike (Myrna Loy), the wife of the paper's managing editor, he hopes to garner an introduction to said editor (Robert Ryan, who is absolutely stellar in this role).  Although Adam makes a bad first impression, Bill Shrike offers him a job.

Bill Shrike is a cynical, unlikeable man who believes it is impossible for people to be good, that people are all frauds and can't be trusted.  His relationship with his wife is condescending and ugly; ever since he caught her in an affair ten years earlier, he has treated her like a tramp, never forgiving her and constantly belittling her and humiliating her.

Bill promises Florence that he'll hire Adam, but only to prove the point that the man is a phony. It's not just Shrike's wife who is the target of his contempt---he informs one of his employees that he is as important to the department as Shrike's tonsils, which were lost 40 years earlier.

Adam is given the job as the editor of the Lonelyhearts column, and his responsibility is to respond to the advice-seeking letters that are sent to him.  At first, Adam laughs about the problems his readers are experiencing, but eventually, he begins to really care about the people behind each letter.  He longs to give them sound advice to help their hurting hearts; he begins to care too much and is somewhat emotionally involved with his audience.  For his part, Bill Shrike insists that the readers are all frauds and that they deserve what they have gotten; he challenges Adam to meet with one of the letter writers, just to prove his point.

Adam does meet with one of Miss Lonelyhearts' readers---Faye Doyle (Maureen Stapleton)---and she informs him that her husband was injured in an accident and that, as a result, they haven't had physical relations for seven years.  She needs advice as to what to do...but, within minutes, Mrs. Doyle is after more than advice---she wants Adam to kiss her, which he does, and before long, they are sexually intimate, an act which causes Adam to feel ashamed and Bill Shrike to triumphantly gloat that he was right all along, that Adam really is nothing more than a phony do-gooder.  How everything plays out is the balance of the film.

Upon my first viewing of Lonelyhearts, I gave it 3 stars (on Net Flix).  While it is an interesting, extremely well-acted drama, it is quite painful for me to watch, mostly because of the appearance of Montgomery Clift.  Right up there with Rock Hudson and Tyrone Power as one of the most beautiful men I have ever seen, Monty is fabulously gorgeous in all of his early works;  however, his 1956 car accident dramatically altered his appearance, and it was here in Lonelyhearts that I caught my first glimpse of the post-accident Monty. I have to admit, like movie-going audiences of the 1950's, I was shocked by the change in his facial appearance. (I think he even sounds different post-accident.) Since seeing Lonelyhearts for the first time, I've read Clift's biography, and I know how deeply grieved he was by the loss of his perfect looks. "While the man had confidence in himself as a creative artist, as a damaged commodity in an era of handsome rebels, he did not, and he continually wondered if his new face would keep him from being considered for parts." (p. 313-314)   "Self-conscious about his new face, Monty even took down most of the mirrors in his home...and he hated being photographed." (p 314)

Besides his distress over his appearance, here in the late '50's, Monty was in a deep, dark, troubled period (which would last the remainder of his too-short life); he was in poor health and constant pain, addicted to drugs and alcohol, angst-filled over his sexuality, and, due to his bizarre, erratic behavior, on the "outs" in Hollywood. Because I love Monty so much, and because Lonelyhearts was made during such a difficult time in his life, this film is exceedingly painful for me to watch (as are all his post-accident works).  Looks and personal demons aside, though, Monty, who was always adept at portraying men with deep inner struggles, gives his usual top-notch performance here in Lonelyhearts. Knowing the severe drug and alcohol addiction Mr. Clift was facing at this time of his life, I find it remarkable that he was able to perform at all, let alone to do so as wonderfully as he does.  His portrayal of the troubled, guilt-ridden Adam is really great, and his chemistry with Dolores Hart, who plays his girlfriend, Justy, is terrific, as is his chemistry with Ryan and Loy.

Clift's chemistry with Loy may well have been no acting job.  According to Montgomery Clift, a Biography, "Monty was impressed with Loy---by her wit, her compassion, her commitment to liberal causes...For several years, she was entangled in his romantic life.  They saw each other frequently and traveled together...Many of Myrna's friends thought she was deeply in love with Monty and that she wanted to marry him."  (p. 336-337)   

While my first-time viewing of Lonelyhearts garnered 3 stars, subsequent viewings have seen me going with 4 stars.  Yes, it's still painful watching the troubled Montgomery Clift, but I've gotten past that and am able to concentrate on the good.  For one thing, it is a very bold, mature story. (I love meaty dramas and will take one any day of the week.)  And the performance of Robert Ryan, who was always super at playing the unlikeable, is totally spectacular.  I love Ryan when he is playing nasty...he is simply brilliant.  In my opinion, he is even better than Clift here; in fact, I feel he steals the show.  Mr. Ryan was in his late 40's here, and I must say, I think he aged well...I love the little touch of gray at his temples.

Myrna Loy's part is fairly small and it is out of character for her, but she does a great job. She is in her early 50's here, and I think she, too, aged well.

Maureen Stapleton is spectacular in her screen debut.  It's easy to see why she received a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination.

Finally, and I greatly appreciate this, the sexual encounter is left totally to the imagination, unlike today, when graphic sex and nudity fill the screen.  I really don't need to see everything we're privy to today; for me, less is more.

While some people might find the film's ending (which differs from the book) to be lame and unrealistic, I rather like it.  As one who believes in the power of forgiveness, I can easily accept what happens.  (I won't say more, so as not to give anything away.)

To my knowledge, Lonelyhearts is not out on DVD (at least in Region 1); however, it is available on You Tube, both as a whole and in several parts.  I hope you get a chance to see it...even if just for the opportunity to watch Robert Ryan doing what he does so well---playing a cynical, hardened, unlikeable man---and to catch Monty Clift doing what he does so well---portraying a deeply troubled man in the midst of a moral crisis.

Happy viewing!!

NOTE:  All quoted material from Montgomery Clift, a Biography, by Patricia Bosworth, Limelight Editions, 1978.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Remember the Day (1941)

When was the last time you found yourself thinking about that middle school teacher you had such a crush on?  You know, the teacher you adored so much that you wished the entire school day belonged to English (or math, or whatever) class, just so you could be in his (or her) presence...the teacher you so wanted to impress that you worked your tail off in his (or her) class, knowing he (or she) would be proud of your efforts and accomplishments...the teacher who, in the fantasy world of the "tween," you imagined might "like you back."  Never mind that we now know it would be foolhardy, not to mention illegal, for a teacher to get involved with one of his students; in the dream world of a 1970's middle schooler, a love affair with the teacher was possible. For me, the teacher who inspired those things was 6th grade English teacher, Richard Barnett---oh, was he dreamy! Though the man hasn't crossed my mind in close to 40 years, after watching the very charming, heartwarming, and sentimental Remember the Day last night, I found myself thinking about him, even vividly visualizing his handsome face and friendly smile.  One of the "new to me" films I had on my agenda for Claudette Colbert month, this lovely 1941 romantic drama also stars John Payne and features Douglas Croft, Ann Todd, Anne Revere, and Jane Seymour in supporting roles.  If you are anything like I am, this Henry King-directed film will take you on a trip down memory lane, bringing those crush-inducing teachers to your mind front and center.

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Mostly told in flashback, the story begins in the present day, as presidential nominee Dewey Roberts (John Sheppard, aka Shepperd Strudwick) prepares to  speak at a Washington, D.C. event. Among those in attendance is a somewhat-older-looking woman, Nora Trinell (Claudette Colbert), who hopes for an opportunity to meet with Mr. Roberts.  After handing a note to the bellboy, Miss Trinell allows her mind to travel back to April, 1916, when she first met little boy Dewey (Douglas Croft).

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A student at Auburn Grammar School, the school where Nora has just begun teaching, Dewey Roberts is a bright and friendly young man.  In very short order, a special bond is formed between the boy and his teacher, with Miss Trinell even stopping by Dewey's home when he is absent due to a knee injury and with Dewey naming his model ship the Miss Trinell. Although Dewey's plan has long been to attend his father's old prep school the following year, because of his attachment to Miss Trinell, he changes his mind.  Telling his beloved teacher that she's beautiful, Dewey informs her that he is going to stay on at Auburn and play football under Mr. Hopkins (John Payne).

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A fellow teacher at Auburn, Dan Hopkins coaches the baseball and football teams.  He and Nora fall in love, yet with their positions at the school to be considered, they don't publicly declare their love. Both Nora and Dan are quite close to Dewey, and through postcards they each send him, their relationship comes to the attention of the school principal.  Mindful that his teachers need to be setting a good moral example for the students, Mr. Steele requests a resignation.  (I don't want to give too much of the story away, so I won't reveal more than that.)

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The years go by...Dewey Roberts grows to be a successful man with presidential aspirations...Nora Trinell gets older, touching the lives of countless other students along the way.  Now, here in 1941, will they have a chance to speak with one another?  And if they do, will Dewey even remember the teacher he used to love so dearly?  These questions will play out in the remainder of the film.

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Remember the Day is a charming, extremely sentimental movie, with enjoyable performances from all. Miss Colbert and Mr. Payne have terrific chemistry together, and Ann Todd (Ann E. Todd, not British actress Ann Todd) is her usual delightful self.  Douglas Croft, who would grow up to be Gary Cooper in Pride of the Yankees and James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, is another child actor I enjoy watching.  He does a great job here.  Incredibly heartwarming, this film didn't just get me misty-eyed---it had me heartily weeping.

The film was released shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in December, 1941, so, obviously it did much more than simply entertain; with its nostalgic, patriotic tone, I'm sure it inspired audiences as well.  It definitely worked its nostalgia on me, reminding me of one of the most wonderful, inspiring (and crushable) teachers I ever had---6th grade English teacher, Richard Barnett. I think now is a good time to pull those boxes of yearbooks out of the far recesses of the garage!

Remember the Day is out on DVD (and available through Classic Flix); it used to be available on YouTube, but I can't find it there anymore.  I do hope you get a chance to see it, as it is a lovely, heartwarming story and, easily, a 4-star film for me.

Happy viewing!!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sleep, My Love (1948)

Though Douglas Sirk is mostly known for romantic melodramas, he did venture into other genre...including film noir.  One such example is 1948's Sleep, My Love, which stars Claudette Colbert, Robert Cummings, and Don Ameche.  Another of those "wife being driven to madness" films, Sleep, My Love features Queenie Smith, Hazel Brooks, Rita Johnson, and George Coulouris in supporting roles.

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Wealthy Allison Courtland (Claudette Colbert) awakens in the sleeper car of a New York-to-Boston train, hysterical because she has no recollection of how she got there. Despite the fact that witnesses claim to have seen her in Grand Central Station before departure, Allison insists that she did not board the train and had, in fact, gone to bed in her own home.  After phoning her husband, Richard (Don Ameche), to tell him where she is, Allison boards a plane for the flight back to New York. Although panicked by the situation in which she finds herself, Allison does manage to strike up a friendship with her seat-mate, Bruce Elcott (Robert Cummings).

Richard Courtland is relieved to have his wife back home; however, after informing her that she shot him the previous evening and reminding her that she has disappeared on other occasions, he convinces her that it's time to see a psychiatrist.  Allison reluctantly agrees, and Dr. Rinehart (George Coulouris) is called in---but Dr. Rinehart isn't a doctor at all. He is actually a man in cahoots with Richard Courtland, and the plan is to drive Allison to suicide and then cash in on her wealth.  Allison's only hope lies in new friend Bruce.  Will he figure things out in time to rescue her?  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

While solid and interesting, Sleep, My Love fell a bit short for me. Although all the leads are fine in their roles, since I had been expecting something the caliber of Gaslight, I was letdown by this.  I found Miss Colbert and Mr. Cummings to be a rather strange pairing, plus the storyline was a bit too farfetched for me.  Also, the scene with the Chinese wedding seemed rather pointless.  Still, though, I enjoyed the film and deem it a solid 3-stars.  Another 3-star Claudette Colbert "woman being driven insane" film is The Secret Fury, which pairs Miss Colbert with (the wonderful and under-rated) Robert Ryan  (reviewed HERE).

To my knowledge, Sleep, My Love is not out on DVD; however, it is available on YouTube (HERE), plus, through instant streaming on Amazon.

Happy viewing!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Happy Birthday, Claudette Colbert!!

Happy 110th birthday to one of the classiest gals of Hollywood's golden era (or any era!)---the lovely Miss Claudette Colbert (September 13, 1903 - July 30, 1996).

Born Emilie Lily Chauchoin (or Lily Emilie, depending on the source) in Paris, Claudette Colbert was one of those actresses who could do it all---comedy, drama, stage, silents, talkies, TV.  Having moved to New York with her family when she was nine years old, Lily---who had changed her named to Lily Claudette---began her show business career on the Broadway stage. The stage would remain a love, and it would draw her back regularly through the years.

In a career spanning over six decades, Claudette made 62 films, earning a Best Actress Academy Award for her work in Frank Capra's It Happened One Night.  She would be nominated two more times for that award.  Her appearance in the 1987 TV mini-series, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, garnered her an Emmy Award nomination (Best Supporting Actress) and a Golden Globe win.  Her stage work brought a Tony Award nomination her way.  Not many actresses can boast of having Oscar, Emmy, and Tony nominations, but this "can do it all" gal did.  Over the course of her long career, Miss Colbert was paired with a variety of leading men, including Don Ameche, Clark Gable, and, for seven films, Fred MacMurray.

The lovely, classy Claudette came into my life through It Happened One Night.  It was close to seven years ago, when, having long-loved It's a Wonderful Life, I went on a quest to see more of Frank Capra's works and discovered the completely charming "bus movie."  I promptly fell in love with Miss Colbert, and she has been among my 20 favorite actresses ever since.  I think she's classy, elegant, sophisticated, and feminine.  She's always a delight to watch!

So, Miss Claudette Colbert, here's to you on your 110th birthday.  You were a wonderful actress, and you will always be one of my favorites.  Thank you for making so many terrific movies, including two (It Happened One Night and Imitation of Life) which are among my 20 favorites of all time.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Torch Singer (1933)

While I'm very familiar with Claudette Colbert's "code" work, with the exception of Imitation of Life and It Happened One Night---both of which were from the year the code went into effect---I've not seen any of her pre-code films.  I decided that during her reign as star of the month here at They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To, I would make it a point to expose myself to some of her pre-code works.  The first of those is Torch Singer, a 1933 drama also starring Ricardo Cortez, with David Manners, Lyda Roberti, and Charley Grapewin also making appearances.

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After giving birth to a baby girl, unmarried, unemployed Sally Trent (Claudette Colbert) tries to make it on her own.  When the friend she is living with loses her job and moves away, Sally finds herself in dire straits---she's behind on her rent, locked out of her apartment, and unable to find a job.  With no ability to support herself, let alone a child, Sally approaches the wealthy aunt of her former boyfriend, Michael Gardner (David Manners, though you won't see him until 45 minutes into the film), hoping that the woman will take her little girl. Although Sally promises to give up all claim to the child, the older woman will have no part of it; in fact, she's not even sure the child is that of her nephew

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With nowhere else to turn, Sally returns to the hospital where she gave birth, putting her child into the hands of the kindly nun who had helped her months earlier.  Although warned by the sister that things will be permanent, that she'll be giving up her daughter forever, Sally knows she has no choice.

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Now without a child, Sally changes her image and takes on the name Mimi Benton, finding success as a nightclub singer and garnering an unsavory reputation.

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A few years later, Sally/Mimi helps a friend out of a bind by stepping up to the mike when the storyteller of his children's radio program bails on him.  Although she is Mimi Benton---torch singer---and not the wholesome Aunt Jenny she is slated to be, children all over the country love her.  With ratings soaring, Sally is given the role permanently.

By now, Michael has returned from his trip to China, and he sets out to track down the woman he left behind and whom he still loves.  Upon locating Sally, he is disconcerted by both her attitude towards him and the change in her demeanor. Gone is Sally Trent, he says, and in her place is a selfish, hard woman. Michael vows to do what it takes to win his love back.  Sally, too, desires to do some winning back---she intends to use her radio show to track down the little girl she gave away.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

This film is the youngest I have ever seen Miss Colbert, and I think she is beautiful. Her performance in this role is terrific.  She is one of those stars who shines as readily in drama as she does in comedy.  Oh, and she gets an opportunity to belt out a few tunes here.  Who knew she could sing? The other stars, as well, do a great job in their roles.  In fact, this film had the potential for being a 4-star gem; in the end, though, because  the ending is lame, rushed, unrealistic, and leaves a lot of unanswered questions, I downgraded to 3 stars---but it's more like 3.5. Definitely, Torch Singer is a solid, very enjoyable film.

Out on DVD as part of a Pre-code Hollywood collection, Torch Singer should be fairly easy to track down.  It is also available on YouTube, in parts.  HERE is the link to the first part. If you enjoy pre-code films, or if you'd like to catch Claudette Colbert in her very young years, you'll definitely want to see this.

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An Invaluable Resource

During Audie Murphy month, I discovered a wonderful book, newly-published, and written by lifelong Audie fan, David Williams.  Since I didn't have an opportunity to finish the book until just a few weeks ago, I wasn't able to review it during Audie's month, so I am interrupting Claudette Colbert's "reign" to bring Mr. Williams' terrific book to y'all's attention.

Audie Murphy's Film and Television Co-Stars, From A to Z is much more than just a book---it’s a well-researched, tremendously informational, invaluable resource! Recognizing that the supporting players of a film are every bit as important as the "star," author David Williams, has spotlighted 600 of Audie's co-stars, providing information about their lives and careers.

Want to know a bit about frequent Audie co-star, James Best?  Or maybe you want to know where else you've seen Barbara Rush, Jay C. Flippen, Susan Cabot, or any of 600 others?  This book will tell you.  Plus, the book also contains hundreds of terrific photos, a complete listing of Audie Murphy's film and television works, 40 trivia questions---the answers for which will be discovered by reading the book---and even a brief biography of Mr. Murphy.

While Audie Murphy has gone down in history as the most-decorated soldier of WWII, that singled-out status was not something with which Mr. Murphy was comfortable.  Adamant that he didn't win the war alone---that it took teamwork and every man doing his part---Audie felt that his medals really belonged to his entire regiment. It’s the same with movies; the lesser-known character actors are just as essential to a film's success as the star.  They bring storyline, chemistry, and richness that would be sorely lacking without them. Recognizing the importance of supporting players---and paying homage to them through a book---seems exactly what an Audie Murphy appreciator would do.  In fact, it seems like something Murphy himself would do.

This resource isn't beneficial only for Audie Murphy films.  For instance, the Red River remake came on TV recently, and seeing Guy Madison's name on the cast, the person I was with said, "I'm pretty sure Guy Madison was in a TV Western, but I don't know which one." Since Guy Madison was in an early Audie film and, thus, is covered in Mr. Williams' book, I immediately was able to tell that person that the show was The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok.

On another occasion, while watching an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Theatre, the person I was with commented that she thought actress Joanna Moore had played Sheriff Taylor's girlfriend in The Andy Griffith Show.  Knowing that Joanna Moore had been in Audie Murphy's Ride a Crooked Trail and would be profiled in Mr. Williams' book, I quickly grabbed my copy and, within seconds, was able to tell the person that she was right...Joanna Moore had been in a few episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, and not only that...she was Tatum O'Neal's mother.

This is a book I will be referring to on a regular basis.  Highly recommended...worth every penny I paid for it.  A 5-star book, for sure.

By the way, Mr. Williams hopes to do a series of books like this; he's currently working on one highlighting the co-stars of Audrey Hepburn.  The goal is to have that book finished by 2015, after which he may tackle Tyrone Power's co-stars.  They will both be definite additions to my bookshelf.

Visit Amazon's page (HERE) for both the Kindle and paperback editions of this fantastic book.

NOTE:  All photos obtained from the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website  (HERE)

Monday, September 09, 2013

Claudette on "What's My Line"

It's always fun catching the great classic film stars when they appeared as the "Mystery Challenger" on that wonderful little '50's and 60's game show, What's My Line.  Here's Claudette Colbert's appearance.  That delightful little giggle of hers would betray her anywhere.


Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Whales of August (1987)

To celebrate the 101st anniversary of the Gish sisters' (Lillian and Dorothy) screen debut, Movies Silently and The Motion Pictures are hosting a blogathon in their honor. This is my contribution to the event.  Go HERE for a list of the others who are participating.

Deep into their twilight years, screen legends Lillian Gish and Bette Davis joined forces in The Whales of August, a poignant film which explores how people cope with the aging process and the thought of approaching death.  Also starring Vincent Price, and featuring Ann Sothern and Harry Carey, Jr. in supporting roles, this 1987 film was adapted from the David Berry play of the same name.  It saw Miss Sothern receiving a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination.

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Widowed elderly sisters Libby Strong (Bette Davis) and Sarah Webber (Lillian Gish) have been spending their summers in a cottage on the coast of Maine all their lives.  As young girls, they, along with their friend Tisha (Ann Sothern), used to watch expectantly for the annual August arrival of the migrating whales.  Eventually, the whales no longer made an appearance, but that is not the only change the women have known.

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Libby is blind . . . and bitter.  Somewhat estranged from her daughter, she is now dependent upon Sarah to take care of her.  Yet far from being grateful for Sarah’s love and care, Libby is crotchety, unhappy, and extremely negative.  She believes death is right at her door, even suggesting to Sarah that they are too old to consider new things, that their lives are over and the grim reaper will be along for them any day now.

Sarah, who lost her husband in the war, enjoys painting and gardening.  Kind and friendly, she has struck the fancy of Mr. Maranov (Vincent Price), a down on his luck Russian nobleman.  After inviting him to dine with her and Libby, Sarah spends some time primping and reminiscing about her late husband.

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A true gentleman, Mr. Maranov accepts Sarah's dinner invitation, even bringing along that morning's catch to share with the sisters. Libby is rude to him, though, saying there is no need for him in their house.  Although Sarah would be interested in seeing the kindly gentleman, with Libby’s negativity, it doesn’t seem likely that she will.  Sarah very much wants to go on with living for what time she has left, while Libby feels that her life is already over. Tisha suggests to Sarah that she make other arrangements for Libby and then move in with her.

Will Libby ever be able to enjoy the time she has left, thus enabling Sarah to do the same?  Or will Sarah be forced to make other arrangements for her sister so that she will be able to embrace the remaining years of her life?  These are the questions which play out in the balance of this touching drama.

The Whales of August is a lovely, sentimental, heart-tugging movie, made all the more so by the knowledge that it is, essentially, a goodbye song---and not just for Libby and Sarah.  This is the final film of both Miss Gish and Miss Sothern and the next to last of Miss Davis.  Vincent Price would make less than a half dozen more films after this one, so he is in the final stages of his career as well, and director Lindsay Anderson made no more feature films after this.  In a touching and beautiful way, The Whales of August gives us--and each of them---the chance to say goodbye.

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Hard to believe that Miss Gish is 93 years old here---she definitely aged beautifully and looks years younger than her age. Gracious, spry, and lovely, she gives a moving performance, ending her seven-and-a-half decade career on a beautiful, grace-filled note. By taking on this role "at the age of 93, Miss Gish became the oldest actress to have appeared in a starring role."[1]

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Bette Davis, two years away from her death here, is very clearly in poor health.  Earlier in the decade, she had battled cancer (which would ultimately return and be the cause of her death) and been afflicted with a series of strokes, resulting in partial paralysis of the left side of her face.  The effects of the paralysis are obvious. Still, though, she does her usual great job of bringing an unkind, largely unlikable character to life, and she plays blind very believably. Without all the bizarre makeup so prevalent in her late-career films, Bette looks less harsh---younger-looking even---than in some of her 1960's works.  Even here at the end of her career, she remains my #1 gal.

Putting these two screen legends together, of course, had the potential for contention and rivalry.  However, according to Bette Davis, Larger Than Life“Miss Gish proved far tougher and more impervious to Davis’s barbs than many lesser players by simply switching off her hearing aid whenever any nonsense occurred.”  [1] Touche for Lilllian!  That is definitely one way to tune out those who drive us crazy!

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Vincent Price, while not having a whole lot to do, is well-suited to this role.  Given that I have a predisposed negativity towards Mr. Price (the result of The House of Usher as a child), for me to see him in a positive light says a lot for the man’s acting skills.  I enjoyed his chivalrous character here.  Ann Sothern received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work here, and while she doesn't have much to do, she's funny and sweet in her role.  

Besides Misses Gish and Davis, the other star of The Whales of August is the stunning scenery.  Who wouldn’t enjoy a trip to the coast of Maine after finishing this. Although the film is slow-moving and without any dramatic action scenes or special effects, the characters, the stars’ performances, the scenery, and the touching story are enough to make it quite charming. 

Out on DVD, The Whales of August ought to be fairly easy to track down.  Fans of any of these four wonderful stars will enjoy catching them in their final years.  I'm calling this a 4-star film---one definitely worth a watch.

Happy viewing!

[1]  Bette Davis, Larger Than Life, by Richard Schickel and George Perry, Running Press Book Publishers, 2009

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.

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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.

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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)

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Maureen's Films Stack Up Like This

Yes, I'm a couple days late with the wrap-up of Maureen O'Hara month, but that was never my intent. I had an article written and all ready to go on the 31st, but then, just after uploading one final photograph and only moments before publishing, my piece vanished.  Oh, I tried to recapture it; in fact, I was near to pounding on the "undo" button.  All to no avail---my article had disappeared for good and needed to be reconstructed from scratch...and today is the first day I've had the time available to do that.  So...three days late, here is the wrap-up of Maureen O'Hara month.

Having the beautiful Maureen O'Hara as my guest in August made for a wonderful month of blogging.  The highlight of the month, of course, was my participation in this lovely lady's birthday celebration, which culminated in having an opportunity to see her in person as well as to catch three of her films on the big screen of Boise's historic Egyptian Theatre.  I've already raved about how incredible it was having a first-time viewing of The Quiet Man in such an environment, and I've already shared how I was deeply and powerfully moved by How Green Was My Valley.  Time precluded me from telling you all about my 3rd big screen experience of the day.  That film---The Black Swan---was one I grew bored with and turned off on my first viewing of it last year.  This time, though, I stuck with it all the way through. (Perhaps that's because I was in a theatre and wasn't just going to get up and walk out, whereas at home, I can turn the movie off and watch something else instead.)  I must say, I did like the film.  No, it's not a favorite, but it is definitely a solid viewing experience---interesting, entertaining, and enjoyable.  Plus, it gave me Tyrone Power on the big screen---in Technicolor.  You can't get much better than that!

The favorite O'Hara film of They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To's blog readers is a tie between The Quiet Man and Miracle on 34th Street.  Both films had exactly the same number of votes---10---meaning they each took 1/3 of the vote. The remaining 1/3 of the vote was split between How Green Was My Valley (in 2nd place with 5 votes---16%), McLintock (in 3rd place with 3 votes---10%), and Against All Flags (in 4th place with 2 votes---6%).  In last place---with zero votes---is The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Thanks to all who took part in the poll.  It's always fun to have my readers weigh-in with their own favorites, so I really appreciate you taking the time to do so.

Here's how my favorites list plays out:

1.  The Quiet Man  (1952---reviewed HERE)  Everything about this movie captivated me---the music, the scenery, the characters, the acting, the storyline.  It's a completely beautiful movie, and I feel so privileged to have had a big screen showing of it.

2.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame  (1939---reviewed HERE)  A masterpiece of a film. The costumes, the makeup, the score, the acting---all are terrific. Charles Laughton's portrayal of Quasimodo, the bell-ringer of Notre Dame, is nothing short of brilliant.

3.  The Christmas Box  (1995---reviewed HERE)  Going into the month of August, this heart-tugging story of a workaholic dad who, through a feisty, elderly woman, discovers what is most important in life, was my favorite of  Maureen's films.  It is still very beloved---and will always be part of my family's holiday viewing schedule---but "discovering" The Quiet Man and Hunchback this month meant a bit of a de-throning for The Christmas Box.

4.  The Parent Trap  (1961)  This film has been a part of my life since seeing it at the theatre with my beloved maternal grandmother way back in the late 1960's.  I loved the film then, and I turned my own kids onto it when they were growing up. Despite the fact that I think Dennis Quaid has a beautiful smile, the remake can't hold a candle to the original.

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5.  Sentimental Journey  (1946---reviewed HERE)  The second of Maureen's pairings with John Payne, Sentimental Journey is a total sobber.  It's the story of a dying woman, a selfish husband, and a precious little orphan girl.

6.  How Green Was My Valley  (1941---reviewed HERE)  Since I couldn't decide whether Sentimental Journey or How Green Was My Valley got 5th position, I included both. This film takes place in a Welsh coal mining village during the latter part of the 19th century. With a coal mining heritage of my own, as well as Welsh and English ancestors, I found this film to be very personal, and for that reason it moved me deeply.

Thanks so much for joining me in celebration of the lovely Miss O'Hara this past month.  I enjoyed sharing all these great films with all of you.

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