Saturday, December 28, 2019

THE SECOND FRED ASTAIRE AND GINGER ROGERS BLOGATHON: Professional Sweetheart, 1933


Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood and Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood are hosting The Second Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon on December 28-30th. Enjoy the tributes HERE and HERE.


Ginger Rogers made her Broadway debut at the age of 19 in a featured role in the Ruby and Kalmar 1929 musical Top Speed. Among the ensemble was Ginger's future RKO dance compatriot, Hermes Pan. The following season saw Ginger in the Gershwin's Girl Crazy as well as with the release of her first five film roles filmed in New York City for Paramount. The first of these movies, Young Man in Manhattan starred future Ginger leading man Norman Foster with his then-wife Claudette Colbert (1928-1935).

Ginger Rogers as Molly Gray in Girl Crazy, 1930

Young Ginger had talent to burn and would need all of her energy when her career continued under contract to RKO in Hollywood. 1931 would find her finishing up one last Paramount picture and making two films at her new studio. In 1932 Ginger appeared in five releases, and in 1933 audiences would see the appealing newcomer in ten features including well-remembered supporting roles in Gold Diggers of 1933 and 42nd Street for Warner Brothers, and Flying Down to Rio for her home studio pairing her for the first time with Fred Astaire. Ginger was placed in a mix of dramas, comedies, and musicals and Professional Sweetheart was one of those comedies.

Maurine Watkins, the playwright who gave the world Chicago wrote the screenplay for Professional Sweetheart as well as for Hat Check Girl, another of Ginger's 1933 movies. In 1942 Ginger would play the lead in Roxie Hart, based on Chicago. Professional Sweetheart's director William A. Seiter worked with Ginger and Norman Foster again in Rafter Romance, and with Ginger in Chance at Heaven, Roberta, and In Person.

Frank Darien, Franklin Pangborn, Frank McHugh, Gregory Ratoff, Ginger Rogers

The premise of our movie has Ginger as Glory Eden, the Purity Girl, the singing star of a popular radio program sponsored by The Ippsy Wippsy Wash Cloth Company. The product has been well-represented by the Purity Girl and the product is all. Gregory Ratoff is president of the company, Frank McHugh the public relations genius, Franklin Pangborn the designer of the Purity Girl's image, and Frank Darien the legal advisor. They all have a stake in maintaining the status quo for the product. Their only problem is maintaining that status quo with their temperamental star.

The listed group of scene-stealers, along with Lucien Littlefield as a radio announcer are at the top of their game with the amusing and trenchant script which points out the hypocrisy of the advertising game and the audience's knowledge of the same. Throw in Zasu Pitts as a sob sister Sunday Supplement writer and Allen Jenkins working the corporate espionage angle for rival washcloth magnate Edgar Kennedy and you have a recipe for success.

Ginger Rogers, Theresa Harris

Glory Eden was practically plucked from an orphan's home and put in the role of radio star. New York City and her sequestered lifestyle does not equal her vision of life in the big city. 

Glory: "I want a playboy. An international playboy. All the girls got 'em. I think they're cute."

Glory's maid Vera, in a decent-sized role for criminally uncredited Theresa Harris, teaches new dance steps and fuels Glory's desire for dens of inequity, gambling, and dives.

Ginger Rogers, Norman Foster

The plan is to keep Glory happy by giving her a "professional sweetheart" chosen from the thousands of fan letters on file. The process of elimination and chance brings Norman Foster as Jim Davey, a poetry-spouting backwoodsman from Kentucky. They bring the fellow north, and that's when the script goes south. Foster's character is unbelievably naive and the supposed relationship with Glory is never fleshed out. The he-man and little-woman scenes back in Kentucky are best forgotten. It is as if we are suddenly watching an entirely different, and less entertaining movie.

Professional Sweetheart begins as a clever and witty spoof, but once the romance angle appears it slows to a muddled mess, sputtering to an improbable and hurried wrap-up for our leading players, and more frustration for fans of jazzy Vera played by Theresa Harris.

It is easy to enjoy the first part of Professional Sweetheart with Ginger, the relative rookie, holding her own among a cast of well-honed pros. It will be best to imagine your own, better finale. Nonetheless, fans should take a look at the busy young performer at the beginning of her stellar career. Ginger Rogers always had the goods!












Friday, December 20, 2019

JOAN BLONDELL CELEBRATES CHRISTMAS EVE, 1947

Joan Blondell
1906 - 1979

Joan Blondell is the TCM Star of the Month this December. It is safe to assume that rights issues have stood in the way of the network programming two of Joan's most acclaimed performances in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1945 and Nightmare Alley, 1947. However, I can't imagine anything standing in their way of giving us the holiday-themed Christmas Eve, 1947. A late night or early morning time slot would suit the oddball little film. TCM Underground, anyone?

Independent producer Benedict Bogeaus (Captain Kidd, Dark Waters, The Crooked Way) was the man in charge. The story is from Arch Oboler (Lights Out) with a screenplay by Laurence Stallings (What Price Glory) and Richard H. Landau (Back to Bataan).

My first viewing (yes, there have been more than one) of Christmas Eve occurred in my teen years in the wee small hours. I think that is the proper venue for this episodic (or we might say "choppy") movie with a great cast and a strange story.


Ann Harding plays Aunt Matilda, a wealthy New Yorker in a battle with her nephew Phillip played by Reginald Denny. Phillip is trying to take control of her finances by having Matilda declared incompetent. Aunt Matilda's kind habits can be considered "eccentric" when viewed a certain way and Phillip is counting on that view.

Christmas Eve was my introduction to Ann Harding, the uniquely glamorous leading lady of the 1930s. Ann was a mere 45 when she took on the role of senior citizen Matilda. Also released in 1947 is another Christmas mainstay featuring Ann as a wealthy woman more within her demographic, It Happened on Fifth Avenue.

Reginald Denny appeared in two other films produced by Benedict Bogeaus, The Mocamber Affair also from 1947 and Escape to Burma in 1955. 

Judge Alston played by Clarence Kolb agrees to give Matilda time to reach out to her three adopted sons in her defense. The trouble is that these sons have gone out into the world and are not aware of Matilda's dilemma. Matilda hires a private eye played by Joe Sawyer to track down these men, and we are frequently updated on their whereabouts as we head to the film's finale, 90 minutes hence.

George Brent is Michael, a ne'er-do-well playboy who has often clashed with Phillip over Aunt Matilda and her business holdings. Michael wins and loses fortunes and girlfriends. Joan Blondell is Ann, the one girl he can't shake. She trusts and believes in Michael or, let's say, she wants to trust and believe in Michael.

Joan still had looks and personality to burn, and she was at the top of her considerable game. During this decade, she was moving into the character actress phase of her career after those busy 1930s at Warner Brothers. That this curiosity of a film was released the same year as her Oscar-worthy turn in Nightmare Alley boggles the mind. 


George Raft is Mario and he is on the lam in South America, one step ahead of the Feds represented by John Litel. Mario also has a girl he loves, Claire played by Virginia Field. Does Claire love Mario or is she part of the unsavory crowd of Nazis led by Konstantin Shayne who threatens Mario's freedom and life?

George and producer Bogeaus worked together on two other movies, Mr. Ace in 1946 and Jet Over the Atlantic in 1959.

The son, as well as the plot given the shortest shrift in this kooky script, is Jonathan played by Randolph Scott. A cowboy on the rodeo circuit, he returns to the fold on Christmas Eve and becomes involved in a stolen baby racket being investigated by reporter Jean Bradford played by Dolores Moran. Douglas Dumbrille is the bad guy who didn't see them coming.

Scott's only other film with Benedict Bogeaus is Captain Kidd, 1945 with Charles Laughton.

Will Aunt Matilda's boys make it home in time, especially Mario? What plot twists are waiting for us? What will the future hold for Aunt Matilda and her devoted sons and staff? Maybe you can guess, but that's alright. You've stayed awake this long, so you might as well stick it out to the end. And by next Christmas, you'll find yourself unexpectedly thinking about that peculiar little movie you watched last year and wondering if you'll find it again.















Friday, December 13, 2019

FAVOURITE MOVIES: The Bishop's Wife, 1947


Robert Nathan's (Portrait of Jennie) 1928 story The Bishop's Wife became the movie project of independent producer Samuel Goldwyn, and a costly one. Originally cast with Teresa Wright, Cary Grant as the Bishop and David Niven as the Angel, and directed by William Seiter (If You Could Only Cook), Goldwyn decided to make changes when he was less than pleased with the first few weeks of shooting. Henry Koster (Harvey) became the director, Loretta Young was borrowed from RKO to replace a pregnant Teresa Wright, and Cary became the Angel and David, the Bishop.

The exemplary leading players are supported by the talented Gladys Cooper, Elsa Lanchester, Monty Woolley, Sara Haden, James Gleason, Regis Toomey, and Isabel Jewell.


Nathan's novel was of a darker tinge than the film, urging the reader to consider matters of theology and spirituality in the midst of the weight of a post-industrial era and a rapidly changing civilization. The Robert E. Sherwood screenplay, uncredited rewrites by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, handles these issues in a mostly lighter manner with the hint of strangely comforting melancholy.

David Niven

Episcopalian Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) has risen quickly in his career thanks to the backing of the wealthy Mrs. Hamilton (Gladys Cooper) who desires the building of a cathedral dedicated to the memory of her late husband. The work of raising funds for the project adds to Henry's worries and takes time away from his wife and daughter. He prays for guidance and assistance.

Loretta Young

Julia Brougham (Loretta Young) is a supportive wife but feels the pang of the fun and friendships that have gone out of their lives since leaving their old and poorer parish. She is lonely for the old times and friends and worn out from the endless round of boring committees. She prays for guidance and assistance.

Cary Grant

Dudley (Cary Grant) is the Heavenly answer to their prayers. "I'm not one of the more important angels. I just happen to be assigned to this district temporarily. You see, we're everywhere, helping people who deserve to be helped."

Dudley, the immortal trouble-shooter must divine the difference between what these people in his care think they want and what they truly need. "I didn't come down here to do silly tricks" is Dudley's response to Henry's request for a miracle, for example, make a desk fly around the room.

Henry must find a balance between his professional and personal obligations, as well as get himself out from the debt of political favour owed Mrs. Hamilton. Julia must not despair in her efforts to maintain a happy family.

Dudley has a fun-loving side that is evident when he and Julia visit the Brougham's friend, Professor Wutheridge (Monty Woolley). There is no other way to describe the "miracle" of the constantly refilling bottle of wine. The Professor will be comforted by Dudley's promise that he will have time to complete his history of Rome. Yes, it is at the close of the year that while we rejoice in the comforts of the holiday, our minds also go to questions of mortality.


A meeting between Henry and Mrs. Hamilton is filled with subtle slapstick. You may not think those words go together appropriately, yet there is no other way to describe the delights of David Niven stuck in a chair and Gladys Cooper's attempts to help. This amusing scene is followed by the Mitchell Boychoir and their glorious singing of Charles Gounod's Noel. We are expertly led from amusement to the lump-in-the-throat thrill of music.

Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young

Dudley performs his minor (if minor they be) miracles of tree decorating and index file organizing, and snowball throwing. However, his main business is reminding these people, Mrs. Hamilton included, of the truly important things in their lives; their relationships. What they do with these reminders, such as Henry's jealousy of Julia and Dudley's closeness, is entirely up to them.

Dudley: "I know it isn't easy but you've got to take me on faith."
Henry: "Yes, but for how long?"
Dudley: "For just long enough. Until you can utter another prayer and say that you have no further need of me. Then I'll be gone and forgotten."

Yes, Dudley will be forgotten as life continues for those for whom he has given an immeasurable Christmas gift.

The Bishop's Wife as traditional holiday viewing has become dearer to me with the passing years. May you enjoy it by the lights of your tree, with a loved one, with your memories, and an ever-refilling bottle of wine.


Classic Christmas movie connection:



It's a Wonderful Life, 1946 cast members featured in The Bishop's Wife, 1947 include Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu Bailey/Debby Brougham), Robert J. Anderson (young George Bailey/Captain of the Opposition Snowballers), and Sarah Edwards (Mrs. Hatch, Mary's mother/Mrs. Duffy, the organist).












Friday, December 6, 2019

THE HAPPY HOLIDAYS BLOGATHON: Stubby Pringle's Christmas, 1978


Today's article is part of The Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. The good cheer runs from December 6th - 8th and you click HERE to enjoy the contributions.

Television's long-running and acclaimed anthology series Hallmark Hall of Fame sponsored by the Kansas City based Hallmark Cards began on radio in the 1940s and began broadcasting stories on the small screen in 1951 with the December 24th live production of Gian Carlo Menotti's written-for-television opera, Amahl and The Night Visitors. The Peabody Award won by the production is just one of the hundreds given to the Hallmark Hall of Fame throughout its history, including the Emmy, the Golden Globe, and the Humanitas.

During my formative years, the prestige of Hallmark Hall of Fame was indicated by a Close-up in the TV Guide highlighting the creative talents both on and off the screen of the current presentation. It was always a highly anticipated television event.


The work of Jack Schaefer (Shane, Mavericks, Monte Walsh) is distinguished by vivid character studies. Each character, be it lead or supporting is presented in a knowing and understanding totality. A word or an action speaks to the reader creating the whole fabric of life.


Jack Schaefer's Stubby Pringle's Christmas was presented on NBC on the evening of Sunday, December 17, 1978. The story was adapted by James Lee Barrett (Shenandoah), directed by Burt Brinckerhoff (Lou Grant) and filmed on location in Colorado.

Beau Bridges plays Stubby Pringle, a young cowboy with big plans. Stubby has been dreaming of attending the Christmas Eve dance in the settlement 25 miles away from the Harper Ranch where he is employed. At last year's dance Stubby kissed a girl, whose name he failed to get. Has this girl been thinking of Stubby all of these months as well? It is an important question that hasn't stopped Stubby from making plans. He has bought presents of dress goods and candy, and he will make the long and cold journey.

Edward Binns as Stubby's fellow ranch hand Red is of the opinion that he personally was never as young as his friend. Their fellow bunkmate Old Hollander played by Strother Martin is of the opinion that Stubby is a selfish fellow for not sharing the candy with him. Stubby is of the opinion that you can't gift a young lady with an already opened box of candy, and there the matter stands.

Mrs. Harper, the boss's wife played by Kim Hunter sees Stubby as an unusually thoughtful and almost poetic young man when he compliments the emotional warmth of her home. She is rooting for the young cowboy and that girl with no name.


On his way to the Christmas Eve dance, Stubby hears the sound of chopping and comes across Georgia Henderson played by Julie Harris. The family was displaced from their Georgia farm and has been working inhospitable land for the past year. Mr. Henderson has become ill and it is left to the harried woman to care for the family which includes a young son and daughter. Stubby stops and finishes the onerous chore.

Mrs. Henderson offers coffee and, all the while professing he has somewhere to be, they share life stories and philosophy. Stubby sees that no Christmas will be awaiting the Henderson children. He chides and then helps Mrs. Henderson to create an unexpected Christmas morning for the family. Stubby's act of kindness takes time. Much time has passed when Stubby reaches the schoolhouse where the dance had been held. Will that kissable young lady be waiting another year?

Back at the Harper ranch, Red and Old Hollander have been waiting to hear of Stubby's night. The young cowboy spins a grand yarn about the dancing and the music, and the food, and all the pretty girls before falling asleep to the sound of sleigh bells in the air. "Santa" Stubby will spend another year of dreaming.

The genuine act of kindness by Stubby Pringle embodies the true spirit of Christmas giving for its own sake. Stubby Pringle's Christmas is a simple, sweet, and memorable story.

















Sunday, December 1, 2019

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR DECEMBER ON TCM


The newspaper game has long been grist for the play and movie mill. The inebriated newshound became a cliche with his first entrance on the stage, along with the overeager "cub" and the noble journalist. All are on display in The Famous Ferguson Case released by Warner Brothers in 1932.

An internationally prominent financier is murdered in his upstate summer home. The police and local officials have no reason to suspect the banker's wife and her friend, but the newspaper lads need a story. After all, they have traveled to this burg and must have something to show for their trouble.

Joan Blondell is top-billed as Maizie Dickson in her first of eight movies with director Lloyd Bacon (Marked Woman). Joan began her film career at Warner Brothers in 1930 and would make 55 movies throughout the decade, ten of them in 1932. Maizie is a young woman, but a seasoned reporter of the "sob sister" type. Her cynicism is struggling with her finer feelings.

Vivienne Osborne

Tom Brown is Bruce Foster, the young sincere-type editor of the Cornwell Courier who breaks the story, bringing the NYC crowd to his town. Foster has stars in his eyes about the big time and maybe this will be his ticket out. His co-worker and girlfriend Toni played by Adrienne Dore has even brighter stars in her eyes when it comes to the big time and the glamorous life she reads about in magazines. 

Grant Mitchell plays Martin Collins, an old-school reporter of the respectable type. Collins and his co-workers have a job to do and choices to make. Do you look for the story or the headline? Sometimes Collins hates his job, but more often he considers it a calling.

Kenneth Thomson plays Bob Parks, a reporter of the hard-drinking type. Parks and his crowd have stories to create. They snoop and badger when they can find time away from their drinking. If they pin the murder on some innocent party, it will all come out in the end, and no harm done.

Vivienne Osborne and Leon Ames are the suspects in The Famous Ferguson Case. Hounded by the press, their lives will never be the same. Nor anyone else's in Cornwell.

Only one of a slate of newspaper stories to come out of the studio in this era, The Famous Ferguson Case is based on a story by Courtney Terrett (Love is a Racket), adapted by Harvey F. Thew (Public Enemy). It is a fast-paced indictment of yellow journalism and well-worth a look for fans of the sub-genre. 

Joan Blondell, Tom Brown

Joan Blondell is the TCM Star of the Month for December. The short-lived Broadway play Penny Arcade attracted the attention of Warner Brothers and they filmed it as Sinner's Holiday, casting two members of the original cast, Joan Blondell and James Cagney. The play also featured Don Beddoe, Paul Guilfoyle, and Millard Mitchell. 

Joan's vibrant personality and versatility were on full display during these years and TCM is screening many of her films from the trenchant comedies to wacky musicals to the sensationalistic drama of The Famous Ferguson Case airing on Friday, December 6th in the early morning of their broadcast day.












THE 7TH ANNUAL RULE BRITANNIA BLOGATHON: I See a Dark Stranger, 1946

Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting his 7th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon on September 25, 26, and 27. It is alw...