Friday, June 30, 2017

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR JULY ON TCM



Bonbons at the ready, ladies. Also, help yourself to a large glass of your favourite libation. It is soap opera time. Gentlemen, you needn't pretend you don't occasional enjoy a large helping of mid-century melodrama. I know better since the day I returned home from feminine pursuits outside the home to discover the hubby knee deep in a double bill of The Help and A Summer Place.

Has director Jean Negulesco ever let you down? He gave us Humoresque, Road House, Three Came Home, Titanic and Johnny Belinda. Negulesco also proved himself a master in the popular sub-genre of three girls vs. life which dates back at least as far as 1928s Our Dancing Daughters and includes such titles as 1932s The Greeks Had a Word for Them and Three on a Match, 1946s Three Little Girls in Blue, and 1951s Painting the Clouds with Sunshine which was a reworking of Golddiggers of 1933. Jean Negulesco's contributions, beyond our feature, include How to Marry a Millionaire, Three Coins in the Fountain, Woman's World and The Pleasure Seekers.


And another hundred people just got off of the train...

Rona Jaffe's first novel The Best of Everything was purchased by Twentieth Century Fox prior to its publication in 1958 and the confluence of publicity guaranteed success for both. There is a built-in audience for the story of young women in the big city making their way in Life (capital L intended). New York City is the big city in the film and the location filming adds a lot to the allure of The Best of Everything.


Three Little Maids from School.
Hope Lange, Suzy Parker, Diane Baker

Hope Lange stars as Carolyn Bender, a young woman from a solid Connecticut background and an equally solid university education. Her emotional side belongs to boyfriend Eddie Harris played by Bret Halsey. He's a businessman embarking on a year long assignment in England while Carolyn begins work as a secretary at Fabian Publishing in the big town. At work Carolyn makes friends with April Morrison played by Diane Baker and Gregg Adams played by Suzy Parker. April is a small town girl from Nebraska with romantic notions. Gregg is a beauty with stage aspirations. Her sophisticated facade is a soft shell for a soft heart. They share an apartment, their dreams and their heartbreaks.

Back burner romance adds interest.
Don Harron, Martha Hyer

Fabian Publishing is a hive of worker women in the bottom rung in the steno pool. The women in executive positions are Amanda Farrow played by Joan Crawford and Barbara Lamont played by Martha Hyer. Miss Farrow is an editor who has sacrificed her personal life to a married man. She is smart, tough and bitter. Secretaries call her "the witch". Mrs. Lamont is a divorced mother of a young child. She finds herself in love with a married man played by Don Harron (Charlie Farquharson!). Theirs is a relationship played out mostly in longing looks. It gives the subplot an interesting and complicated quality.

Mike is less than thrilled with Carolyn's success. Men!
Stephen Boyd, Hope Lange

The other men we get to know are Mike Rice played by Stephen Boyd. Mike has unresolved personal issues that make him a bit of a lush. He needs a reason to pull himself together. Perhaps Carolyn is that reason. Brian Aherne plays Fred Shalimar. Fred may be good at his job, but the girls at the firm learn not to work late in his office and know who has just passed by if they feel a pinch.


Carolyn participates in the business tradition of meeting for a drink after work.
Hope Lange, extras

Gregg falls for a womanizing Broadway director David Savage played by Louis Jourdan. She falls hard. He is a player. It is, as Miss Farrow predicted, a recipe for disaster. April is swept off her feet by rich country club louse called Dexter Key played by Robert Evans. The only thing that will save her is her sincerity.

Joan Crawford brings years of experience to Amanda Farrow.

At this time and place there was very little, if any, talk of the balance of home and work life. One made a choice between the two. The mindset and the pressure was always to choose romance and the home over whatever minor benefits one might derive from the pursuit of a career. You cannot have the best of everything. The opening theme song courtesy of Johnny Mathis' rendering of the Alfred Newman tune and Sammy Cahn lyrics lays it all out.

We've proven romance is still the best of everything
That sudden thrill, the best of everything
That one little sigh is a treasure you cannot buy
Or measure, by any test, the best of everything

You've found the moon and the sun
Yes, he's the one, it seems
But soon it's done
And not the fun it seemed

You walk through the night just groping
It's still alright, you're hoping
Love can be all or nothing, but even when it's nothing
It's still the best, the best of everything
We've proven romance is still the best of everything

Most of us have to have a job. Some of us have a calling. Either way, our relationships with others, romantic in nature or not, ultimately define the success of our lives. I think we can have the best of everything, but it is a matter of priorities and attitude. Whatever we consider success isn't handed to us, it is created by us.

The mid-town skyscraper workplace in The Best of Everything is a dream of mid-century design with its clean lines and bold colours. Costume designer Adele Palmer was nominated for an Oscar for The Best of Everything. The two years she spent at Twentieth Century Fox at this, the end of her career, capped decades of solid work at Republic Studios. The movie is a veritable fashion show without stopping the story to point it out.

TCM is airing The Best of Everything on Monday, July 10 at 10:00 PM during an evening salute to Mid-Century Modern. Ah yes, mid-century modern, the design, the dress, and the cock-eyed philosophy. Let's take that time machine.










Friday, June 23, 2017

REEL INFATUATION BLOGATHON: The dashing Gilbert of The Lady Vanishes (1938)


Who is the movie character that sets your heart aflutter? Font and Frock and Silver Scenes are hosting, for the second year, the Reel Infatuation Blogathon running from June 23 to June 25.  Day 1 recap   Day 2 recap   Day 3 recap

The delightful comic-thriller The Lady Vanishes was adapted by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder from Ethel Lina White's novel The Wheel Spins. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the film was a huge international hit that has retained its popularity through the years.

Jam manufacturing heiress Iris Henderson played by Margaret Lockwood is winding down her European tour prior to settling down to married life. The wedding is not a love match, but merely the next expected life step.

A snowy stopover at a wayside inn places Iris smack dab in the middle of an adventure. She unknowingly becomes the confederate of a British spy in the guise of a sweet little old lady, Miss Froy played by Dame May Whitty. In short order Iris is concussed by an errant attempt on the life of Miss Froy, Miss Froy is kidnapped, and Iris' attempts to get her fellow train passengers to become involved in the search are for naught. Iris is persecuted, patronized and attacked. However, it is all worth it because Iris gets a willing partner in her plight in the form of Gilbert played by Michael Redgrave. Two heads are better than one when dealing with espionage on a train.

In his first film role, 6'3" Redgrave cuts a figure full of dash and wry humour. Given the circumstances he is a knight in figurative shining armour. Given Gilbert's character as we come to know him, he is a most unlikely rescuer.

I never thought to count the number of times I watch a favourite movie, but somewhere I imagine around the 17th time or so, I realized watching The Lady Vanishes that I was in love with Gilbert. I loved his looks. I loved his easy and self-deprecating sense of humour. I loved his quick thinking. I loved his interest in music and history. I loved his protectiveness of Iris. 



Gilbert first comes into Iris' life as an annoyance. Researching his book on folk music, Gilbert encourages lively dancing over the heads of hotel patrons. This disturbs Iris' rest as well as Miss Froy's covert receipt of critical spy stuff.



Iris and Miss Froy are of a like mind concerning the "gentleman" upstairs.
Miss Froy: "Some people have no consideration, which makes life more difficult."



Iris' first look at Gilbert.
Caftan Woman: "Sigh."

Iris uses her influence and money to get Gilbert kicked out of his room. Much to our heroine's distress, Gilbert pays Iris a visit demonstrating every intention of moving in bag and baggage. He is quite nonchalant in attitude, but obviously determined. Iris relents and calls the manager, reinstating Gilbert to his quarters.

Iris: "You're the most contemptible person I've ever met in my life!"
Gilbert: "Confidentially, I think you're a bit of a stinker too."



The next day on the train we get Gilbert's idea of sweet talk.

Gilbert: "What's the trouble?"
Iris: "If you must know something fell on my head."
Gilbert: "When, infancy?"



Oh, my!
The look on Gilbert's face when he discovers Iris is engaged.



Adventure!

Gilbert and Iris join forces against the enemy. Nothing bonds a couple like bashing a magician in the employ of foreign agents who kidnap sweet little old ladies.



More of Gilbert's sweet talk.

Gilbert: "Do you know why you fascinate me? I'll tell you. You've got two great qualities I always admired in father. You haven't any manners at all and you're always seeing things."



Gilbert, the hero! 

He's memorized the coded tune, helped Miss Froy to escape, and is now barreling down the track to safety. Gilbert is an amazing mix of qualities: good looks, a quick wit and foolhardy bravery. 



Oh, my!
The look on Gilbert's face when Iris jumps into a cab to hide from her fiance.

Like jam manufacturing heiress Iris Henderson, I found Gilbert irresistible. Personally, I fell sooner than our leading lady, but we must cut her some slack due to the concussion.










Sunday, June 18, 2017

A FAVE MOVIE DAD: Constable Edmund Kockenlocker



The movies are filled with interesting and lovable characters, and quite a few of them happen to be dads. On this Father's Day here's a tribute to one of my all-time favourite movie dads.



Betty Hutton, William Demarest, Diana Lynn

Only a genius like Preston Sturges could spoof motherhood, apple pie and the flag in the middle of wartime and get away with it, but that is just what he did in 1944s The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (see also Hail the Conquering Hero).

Bona fide, paid up dues member of the Sturges stock company, William Demarest plays Constable Edmund Kockenlocker in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. Constable Kockenlocker is a man who goes through life in a constant state of apoplexy. Well, after all folks, he has two daughters. That's enough to drive any man around the bend.

Constable Kockenlocker's philosophy:  "Daughters. Phooey."

Trudy, the eldest played by Betty Hutton finds herself in the "family way". It seems she went to a party and there were soldiers and somebody said something about getting married, and the lemonade tasted funny. She can't remember the fellow. His name may have been Razkywatzky or something like it. This is all very distressing to Norval Jones played by Eddie Bracken. Noval has loved Trudy forever and he is certainly willing to help her out in her present difficulties. These difficulties get more complicated and more funny as the movie progresses.

Constable Kockenlocker's parenting skills are limited and basically encompass the ability to shout. The younger daughter, Emmy played by Diana Lynn, is a bright young thing with a facility for sarcasm that confounds dear old dad on one level, but seems to impress him on another.

 Dad Kockenlocker to Emmy: "Listen, Zipper-puss! Some day they're just gonna find your hair ribbon and an axe someplace. The mystery of Morgan's Creek."



Diana Lynn, William Demarest, Betty Hutton

Nonetheless, it must be noted that Constable Kockenlocker's love for his offspring knows no boundaries. Whatever he has to do to protect them and the fair name of Kockenlocker, it will be done. No man in no comedy, before or since, has ever suffered such indignities in the name of fatherhood!

Edmund the Annoyed: "The trouble with kids is they always figure they're smarter than their parents. Never stop to think if their old man could get by for 50 years and feed 'em and clothe 'em - he maybe had something up here to get by with. Things that seem like brain twisters to you might be very simple for him."

Seeing as this is a Preston Sturges comedy, we can't say that The Miracle of Morgan's Creek has a happy ending, or even that it has an ending. There is a satisfactory resolution, and space for the characters and the audience to breathe. We are then left to ponder the devotion of fathers and raise a glass in a Father's Day toast to Dad Kockenlocker.










Thursday, June 8, 2017

THE JUDY GARLAND BLOGATHON: Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937)



Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting a blogathon tribute to Judy Garland running from June 8 - 10. Click HERE to enjoy the appreciations.


Cricket West. Isn't that a darling name for a darling girl? Cricket is the character 15-year-old Judy Garland plays in 1937s Thoroughbreds Don't Cry. This MGM "young people" showcase is the first film to feature Judy and frequent co-star Mickey Rooney.




Our three main characters are unencumbered by parents. Roger Calverton is played by Ronald Sinclair of the Five Little Peppers movies. Roger is an orphaned rich boy who lives with his grandfather Sir Peter played by C. Aubrey Smith. The Calvertons arrive in America for the racing season with groom Wilkins and race horse Pooka. Searching for the best jockey, they settle on Tim Donovan played by Mickey Rooney. Timmy is a swell-headed kid who is really a softy at heart. A friendship strikes up between the two vastly different youngsters. Roger wants to emulate the jockey he idolizes and Timmy yearns for education and the opportunity to rub off his rough edges.

Cricket is the girl in the middle. She lives with her aunt, played by Sophie Tucker, who runs a boarding house for jockeys. Cricket is someday going to be a great singer or actress, or both! She is given to bursting into melodramatic speeches or into song upon a moment's notice. She stands up to trouble. She sticks up for her friends. And she has a thing for Roger. He rather likes her as well. What could possibly go wrong with this set-up?




Timmy was a kid when his father abandoned him and when that father played by Charles D. Brown shows up in our picture you can bet it means nothing but trouble. The older Donovan uses trickery and sentiment to get Timmy to throw a race. Feigning illness he convinces Timmy that the only way to get needed funds for medical attention is for Timmy to throw the big race. Facing the prospect of his father's life on the line, Timmy agrees. When the Pooka looses, old Sir Calverton dies of a heart attack. Roger is left with nothing and must sell the horse. Not if Timmy has anything to say about it! There are more double-crosses than you can shake a stick at and, as you can well imagine, it all works out in the end following an exciting horse race.

Sophie Tucker is a riot as the pushy and self-assured aunt. It is a shame and truly a missed opportunity that she didn't have a solo number or even a duet with young Judy. Also outstanding in support as the maid at the boarding house is Helen Troy. Her mile-a-minute stream-of-consciousness routines are very funny.

Judy's big number in the movie is Got a Pair of New Shoes by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. It is played over the opening credits, the closing credits and in a very cute bit in the film. Everything Judy does in this film is a precursor of the singer/actress we will come to love in countless films over the next decades. Her winning personality and her outsized talent leave no doubt that Judy Garland was on her way to show business immortality.




PS: Look for Elisha Cook Jr. at the dinner table, and George Chandler, Chester Clute, Jack Norton and even Francis X. Bushman at the track.







Monday, June 5, 2017

READING NOOK: Two from John Greco


Perhaps you are familiar with John Greco's photography or his sites John Greco Writer/Photogapher and the film blog Twenty Four Frames. If so, you already know he is quite the perceptive and insightful observer.

Lessons in the Dark is a compilation of essays in which John discerns the truths for today's world and audience that can be found in the films of different, sometimes long ago, eras.

It is my contention that people haven't changed much in our time on this earth. Technology, fashions, mores - they have changed, but people, with all our simplicity and complication, are still able to relate to the core of our ancestors quite easily. John's look at specific movies and issues seem to bear that out.

Divided into seven sections, John takes specific issues, i.e., economics, war, social injustice, discrimination, morality and presents a thorough discussion of specific films that reacted to such matters in their time. We discover how the filmmakers dealt with these concerns within the parameters of the pre-code or code enforcement eras that define Hollywood output. We see how these matters relate to today, and will relate to tomorrow.

Some of the titles covered include Busby Berkeley's Golddiggers of 1933 with an impressive review of the heartbreaking Forgotten Man finale. William Wellman's almost glorious Wild Boys of the Road and the gut-wrenching They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd and Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole will be eye-opening to a younger and, presumably media savvy crowd, with their trenchant look at the power wielded by those who control the message.

John takes us across the years from Mervyn LeRoy's I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang in 1932 to Michael Roemer's Nothing But a Man in 1964, from Anatole Litvak's The Snake Pit to Bob Fosse's Lenny in 1974. Across the decades we are given insights into people, personalities and the controversies that are always a part of life. There are many lessons to be learned in the dark.

Anyone interested in film or in history would be edified by Lessons in the Dark and entertained by its author's style.

Available on Amazon.




How do you like your short stories? With finely drawn characters who leap from the page as living, breathing people you might see in your neighbourhood? Do you like getting inside the heads of these characters? Does the one-two punch of an unexpected twist, or even an expected twist, make you set aside a book with a satisfied smile? Okay. You are looking for John Greco's Devious Tales. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and CreateSpace.










Thursday, June 1, 2017

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR JUNE ON TCM


"A pilgrimage can be either to receive a blessing or to do penance."

In the 15th century Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, telling the tales of millers and knights and monks, and others on the road to the shrine at Canterbury. Humanity is revealed in all its glory and disgrace, its struggle and its silliness.

In 1944 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger wrote, produced and directed their own amusing and fantastical version with A Canterbury Tale. Humanity is revealed in all its glory and disgrace, its struggle and its silliness.



Our 20th century pilgrims.
John Sweet, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price, Eric Portman

The village of Chillingbourne is one ten minute train stop from Canterbury, and a 50 mile walk. To Chillingbourne comes Alison Smith, assigned by the Land Army as a farm worker in the area. British Army Sgt. Peter Gibbs is joining his battalion stationed outside of the village. American Army Sgt. Bob Johnson is on furlough and has promised his mother he would see Canterbury Cathedral. Bob mistakenly took Chillingbourne for his stop. Perhaps he was meant to be here.



Everyone wants to help Alison out of her sticky situation.

Our trio is beset by a local phenomenon when poor Alison has glue poured on her hair. This has happened to many girls walking in the dark. The culprit has not been caught and these incidents are playing havoc with the social life of young ladies and nearby soldiers alike. Alison is determined to track her attacker down with the active support of both Peter and Bob.



Bob with his junior detectives.

The quirky glue phantom storyline occupies our intrepid trio and amuses the viewer. It is the interactions of the characters that keeps us emotionally involved with A Canterbury Tale. The detecting endeavours bring our wayfarers into contact with locals and widens their experience. Bob, in particular, reaches out to the children of the village. They are a ragtag lot who play by their own rules and bow down to no adult law. They are more than willing to join in the adventure. The group's main suspect is Magistrate Colpepper, who runs a gentleman's farm and gives lectures on the land and its history. He is a man of a suspicious nature and deep convictions.

It is in unexpected ways that we learn to care for these characters. After all, it is war and war has shaped each in a different way. Also, in their own way each character is on a pilgrimage even if they believe themselves to be standing still. Alison is haunted by lost love. Peter's self assurance covers up the chip on his shoulder due to a career decision. Bob is learning about the world outside his home and the suspected perfidy of others.

Blessings are received by this unlikely group of pilgrims when the journey to Canterbury is ended. It is a satisfying and charming ending to a gentle comedy-fantasy.



Alison: "If ever a man looked right, he did."

Eric Portman plays Colpepper in this, his third film with the Archers following 49th Parallel and One of Our Aircraft is missing. You may also have seen the Shakespearean stage actor in The Bedford Incident and The Colditz Story.



Alison and her memories.

Sheila Sim plays Alison Smith. She was 22 years old at the time of the filming and the following year would marry Richard Attenborough. Their marriage lasted 69 years until his passing. Sheila's other films include The Magic Box and Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.



Sgt. Gibbs prepares to climb a mountain.

Dennis Price plays Sgt. Peter Gibbs. His most famous film role would be the murderous Louis in Kind Hearts and Coronets. His most famous television role would be the inestimable Jeeves in The World of Wooster (1965-1968).



Bob gains a love for this ancient land.

Sgt. John Sweet plays Sgt. Bob Johnson and he is a delight. The non-professional was appearing in an Army tour of Our Town in the U.K. when the Archers tagged him for this role. It was his only film and, due to regulations which made him unable to keep his salary, he donated it to the NAACP. After the war Mr. Sweet returned to his teaching career.



The bright side of the Blitz.
"It is an awful mess ... but you get a very good view of the cathedral now."

TCM is airing A Canterbury Tale on Wednesday, June 14th at 3:45 a.m. in a night devoted to the films of Powell and Pressburger. The leisurely told and warm-hearted film is well worth the investment of your time.





Note: The Archers did not have a success with A Canterbury Tale upon its UK release. Prior to releasing the film in the U.S. extensive cuts of 20 minutes were made to the film. Stars of an upcoming production, Stairway to Heaven aka A Matter of Life and Death, Raymond Massey and Kim Hunter filmed additional scenes. Massey narrates an amusing prologue aimed at the new market. Hunter plays Bob's wife, to whom he narrates his adventures in Chillingbourne. I would not be brave enough to see this film with 20 minutes cut, or even one. 











THE DUO DOUBLE FEATURE BLOGATHON: Susan Hayward and Tyrone Power in Rawhide (1951) and Untamed (1955)

The Flapper Dame and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies have come up with a fabulous idea. It is The Duo Double Feature Blogathon , and it ...