Book Review – Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel by Allan R Ellenberger

Apart from hardcore classic film fans, actress Miriam Hopkins is not often  mentioned, which is a great shame in my opinion. She was an electric screen presence who achieved her greatest film success during the Pre-Code era. As a fan of her work, I’ve always wanted to know more about her and after eyeballing her biography for several years, finally made the time.

Though I’ve never encountered any of Allan R Ellenberger’s work before. he has written a handful of books on other film celebrities. Using multiple source materials he fleshes out a full-bodied portrait of the actress that has been sorely needed. Right away he sets the tone for his subject in his title choice, naming Miriam the Hollywood rebel that she was. Allanberger paints a portrait of a cunningly intelligent, often appealing woman whose independence and determination helped her succeed in a difficult business while also occasionally alienating people along the way. Continue reading “Book Review – Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel by Allan R Ellenberger”

MGM Blogathon – Six Fun Eleanor Powell Dancing Numbers

When the ladies of Silver Scenes Classics announced this blogathon honoring MGM, I was ecstatic. MGM was the premier studio for decades of Hollywood’s history for many, many reasons. These reasons are precisely what made it so difficult to narrow down the topic of my post. There were so many options to focus on, so many things worth writing about, not the least of which is my long-term fascination with Irving Thalberg.

As I dithered about undecided, I finally had one of those a-ha! moments. Having discovered a new-found love for Eleanor Powell in the  past year, I felt she was a great choice as she perfectly encapsulates for me the joy of watching MGM films; their history of producing top notch musical pictures as well as their propensity for collecting and developing talented performers, not to mention their gorgeous sets and costumes (which is another topic I seriously considered covering.)

In a career spanning two decades and only fifteen film credits Eleanor Powell certainly made a lasting impression. Though she would never win any acting awards, her undisputed talent for dance more than made up for anything she might have lacked.

In the annals of dancing actors, others may still remain more popular, but few if any could match or exceed her skill and joie de vivre on the screen. Even Fred Astaire has been quoted as saying, “Eleanor Powell, one of our greatest talents, is a bit too powerful for me.” Continue reading “MGM Blogathon – Six Fun Eleanor Powell Dancing Numbers”

May 2022 Quickie Reviews

May 2022 BREAKDOWN
  • 43 films/series total (not including Hallmark films)
  • 24 new classic films
  • 9 re-watches
  • 6 TV series
  • 2 documentaries
  • 1 foreign film

Biggest Disappointment: Yellowface: Asian Whitewashing and Racism in Hollywood, The Return of Peter Grimm and Rosalie

Robert Young & Jeanette MacDonald in Cairo

Favorite Discovery: It’s a bit hard to narrow down the choice this month, but two of them both star Jeanette McDonald; Cairo and The Sun Comes Up. The other is a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney musical, Girl Crazy.

Television Series

Sister Boniface Mysteries (2022) – This spin-off from the beloved Father Brown isn’t as good as I hoped it would be. For one the Sister seems to know everything and is always the one solving the crime with little real help from the police. It shows nothing of her  actually pursuing her religious vocation. There’s very little character development and the mysteries aren’t that compelling. The most interesting character is the beautiful, feminist, newspaper reporter. I didn’t hate it, but it was really just a filler show for me while I was doing other things.

RFDS (2021) – After experiencing major heartbreak a British doctor moves with her son to Australia to work with the Royal Flying Doctor Service there. I love the premise of this show, watching the pilots, doctors and nurses provide medical care to remote areas. The inter-personal drama among all the personnel, helped to develop each character’s background and story arc. I’m already developing personal favorites in this debut season. There are a few aspects  I didn’t love about certain characters or plots, but overall this was pretty compelling drama and I’m looking forward to the next season.

Call the Midwife Season 11 – Ooh, I love the slowly developing relationship between Trixie and Matthew. Cyril and Lucille continue to be one of the sweetest things about the show even with the tragedy they experience together this season. How this show continues to remain relevant and engaging after ten years, I don’t know.

I Love Lucy Season 2 – This first half of the season is all about the new addition to the Ricardo household. We also see the addition of Lucy’s frenemy Carolyn as well as more scenes outside the Ricardo’s home. There are some pretty funny episodes in season 2 although they are generally not the most famous ones.

Corner Gas Season 1 – A family favorite, this is my second or third time through this series that is now showing on Freevee. It reminds me a bit of Seinfeld if Seinfeld was set in a country town in Canada. The episodes are short and follow some of the townspeople in their daily lives where nothing much happens but everyone is a character. It’s silly and not to everyone’s taste but it makes me giggle.

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2022) – This mini-series was a fun take on an Agatha Christie mystery I knew nothing about. Plus, it was cool to see two child actors Will Poulter (who played Eustace in The Chronicles of Narnia) and Lucy Boynton who I loved as as Margaret Dashwood in the Sense and Sensibility series, as the grown up leads here. The British village setting is always a win for me as are the 1950’s costumes. I liked the interactions and relationship between them. The mystery kept me guessing. The only thing that I took issue with was the quick acceleration of their relationship at the end.

DOCUMENTARIES

Yellowface: Asian Whitewashing and Racism in Hollywood (2019) – This documentary had great potential, especially as racism towards Asians is less discussed in the public forum than other cultures. The title unfortunately is a bit misleading in that it doesn’t exclusively focus on what the title implies.  The doc lacks focus and spends a lot of time discussing actual history such as America’s relocation camps for the Japanese.  It also focuses mostly on Japanese representation in film without mentioning any other Asian culture. Hollywood history is replete with examples of this prejudice and yet only a few examples are touched on. With an expanded scope this documentary could have had a real impact. The lack of depth and complexity in examining this bigotry is disappointing, but at least it serves as an introduction.

The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh (2014) – Raoul Walsh is not a director I’ve paid much attention to though I’ve seen many of his films, so I enjoyed learning more about him. He certainly had more adventures than most including the time he was directed a film with Pancho Villa and captured a mass murder on film. I didn’t realize that he discovered both John Wayne and Rock Hudson. The narration of this documentary was in Walsh’s own words which I’m assuming came from his own writings about his life. Both his personal and professional life are covered including many of his most well known films and friendships.

Foreign Films and Series

The Sound of Magic (2022) – This K-drama was only six episodes and therefore a shorter time commitment than most. Plus I have a little crush on one of its’ leads Ji Chang-wook, who stars as a mysterious magician in an abandoned theme park. He forms a friendship with a young woman just trying to hold it all together. I had no idea this was a musical series and was reminded immediately upon seeing the opening scenes of The Greatest Showman. The visuals in this series are stunning along with the magic.  But this was the first Korean series I have not become addicted too. I wasn’t quite sure what the message was until the end and then I didn’t quite agree with what it was trying to say. The lead female character has a miserable, hard life with no breaks and at times I felt the magician didn’t take her problems seriously when trying to encourage and help her.

Classics

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) – I keep trying to gain an appreciation for Henry Fonda and watched this Joh Ford directed picture to that end. Fonda is a great fit for the role, but just like with all Fonda films, he seems to be typecast and all I can see is Fonda and not the character. Otherwise this is an excellent production, with a good but less recognizable cast that reinforces the home-spun quality of the subject matter. The case Lincoln defends in court was compelling and unpredictable in its’ ending. Despite my ambivalence for Fonda, I do recommend this as a very interesting film.

The Return of Peter Grimm (1935) – I was hoping to like this obscure Lionel Barrymore film a bit more, but unfortunately, I quickly bored of all the dialogue and the central theme of whether ghosts exist or not. Barrymore believes they don’t and argues this with his friend who takes the opposite view. But he quickly finds out he was wrong when he dies and can’t seem to communicate with those still living. The picture quality was a bit blurred and the supporting actors mostly gave wooden performances. It’s not bad, but it’s also not that good.

Strange Bedfellows (1965) – Rock Hudson and Gina Lollibrigida star in their second film together and unfortunately it is not as good as the first. They play estranged spouses whose opposite interests and personalities make their eventual reunion very difficult. There are a few funny moments sprinkled throughout, but overall, the quality of the writing and sets are subpar.

Lucky 7 (2003) – For some reason I remembered this as  a Hallmark movie, but it is definitely not, although it does feel like it was made for TV Patrick Dempsey and KImberly Williams star in this cute romance about a woman who makes decisions based on a dating timeline her mother gave her before dying. Williams and Duffy are both adorable and the Seattle and coastal island settings just add to the charm.

Rome Adventure (1962) – As a travelogue this is an absolutely stunning tour of Italy and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. But as cinematic entertainment , it left much to be desired. The plot was thin, the acting a bit uneven. Troy Donahue is beautiful, but a bit wooden. Suzanne Plesette was a bit too mature for a young woman experiencing love and Italy for the first time.  And honestly, I didn’t care about or believe the great passion between their two characters.  I always love seeing Rossano Brazzi and he’s very sexy here.  Angie Dickinson’s performance is the most interesting thing about this picture. It’s sweet and vicious all at once.

Cinderella Jones (1946) – An absolutely silly, ridiculous comedy about a ditzy young woman who has a surprise inheritance but one that comes with strings. Joan Leslie is adorable and it’s nice to see Edward Everett Horton and S.Z. Sakall pop up. The few musical numbers feel tacked on and unnecessary.  There is a gag about an ax murderer they keep crossing paths with that is cute.  Leslie’s character has a love triangle, the conclusion of which surprised me. It’s not a clever film or a well-made one, but I liked it all the same.

For Me and My Gal (1942) – Gene Kelly co-stars with Judy Garland. The two are vaudeville partners. It’s an emotionally dramatic musical and Kelly’s debut. It’s been a couple of days since I watched it and I’ve already forgotten most of the musical numbers, but the dramatic performances by the two leads are good. I felt their pain and angst. Kelly’s character was a bit smarmy but he redeems himself in the end. I wouldn’t mind watching this again sometime, but it also won’t be at the top of my list.

Lucky Partners (1940) – This film doesn’t have much to recommend it. The plot doesn’t make much sense. But Ginger Rogers and Ronald Colman make it watchable. The two are strangers who share a lottery ticket and then go on vacation together to the irritation of her fiance played by Jack Carson. The hotel lobby they walk through looks very much like the one in My Favorite Wife. Rogers has some beautiful dresses, though her hair is too dark. The final scene in a courtroom is very amusing.

Without Love (1945) – One of nine films Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn made together. Most don’t consider it their best, but I like it. The two agree to a marriage of convenience since they have both sworn off love for different reasons. But the best reason to watch it in my opinion, is Keenan Wynn and Lucille Ball who have supporting roles. This is one of my favorite of Ball’s films performances. Her character is so direct and no-nonsense. Wynne’s role is a bit different for him and I like it too. I have to confess, it’s taken me years to realize Tracy and Hepburn films are good, but not my favorites. I think I’ve been so snowed by other people’s opinions of their partnership, that I agreed without really considering my own opinion.

Young Dr. Kildare (1938) – I’ve heard of this series for years and finally gave the first film a chance. I can’t say I found it all that interesting. Maybe the proliferation of today’s medical dramas, have dulled the intrigue of this one.  Lew Ayres is pleasant but unremarkable  as the intern in a big city hospital. Lionel Barrymore is interesting but bombastic as his potential mentor. It’s not bad, I just found it average.

The Sun Comes Up (1949) -I’ve been working my way through the Lassie series in no particular order. This is the fifth in the series and the fifth one I’ve seen and may be my favorite. I love the focus on the surrogate mother-son relationship between Jeannette McDonald and Claude Jarman Jr. They are both so good at portraying the yearning and fear of their losses in their need for each other. As expected from a Lassie picture, the cinematography is stunning. My main complaint is that Lloyd Nolan is severely underused and only shows up in the last part of the film.

Edge of Darkness (1943) – This is a pretty intense drama about the Norwegian resistance in a small village occupied by the Nazi’s in WWII. Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan are the stars and are joined by Walter Huston, Nancy Coleman and others. Sheridan has the intensity to play her character, but unfortunately Flynn does not, although he gives it his best. There are actually a lot of characters in this story, but they serve to illustrate the various responses people have towards tyranny and bullies. It’s also pretty violent for a classic film, but that just underscores how evil the villians/Nazis are.

Daddy Long Legs (1955) – Having read this book last year, I do appreciate that the film remains faithful to the bare bones of the story.  Fred Astaire stars as the older man who ends up falling for the young woman whose education he has sponsored played by Leslie Caron. Their age difference works fairly well here although, it does push the bounds of credibility. Caron has some lovely costumes and I love the supporting characters played by Thelma Ritter and Fred Clark. They add the needed humor to this May-December romance. Caron’s ballet number was overly long for me, but I loved their ballroom dance on the hotel terrace.

Hot Millions (1968) – I’ve discovered a recent admiration for Peter Ustinov and have been exploring his films. I was really excited for this comedy in which he plays a conman who sets up a complicated embezzlement plan, while also falling for his secretary at his new job. I think perhaps my expectations for this were too high and thus led to disappointment. It was not really funny like I anticipated. Ustinov is joined by a great cast including Maggie Smith, Karl Malden and Bob Newhart.

The Captain is a Lady (1940) – An inconsequential but entertaining comedy, that stars some great character actors like Charles Coburn, Beulah Bondi, Virginia Grey, Billie Burke and others. Coburn plays against type as a working class sea captain who moves into a ladies retirement home with his wife after losing their home.  I was amused by the various ladies and the their interactions with each other and the Captain.

Daughter of Shanghai (1937) – For a shorter film with a grainy texture, this was a film worth watching, not only because it stars two Asian actors in the leads but also because it addresses an issue that is still relevant today; the sex slave trade. Anna Wong gets a rare starring role as a young woman who goes undercover to track down her father’s killer. She is joined by Philip Ahn who is an FBI agent on the trail of the human smugglers. The choice for the main villain was an unusual one for a classic film, but an effective one. It is a compelling story made better by compelling performances

Cairo (1942) – After enjoying Jeanette McDonald in The Sun Comes Up, I decided to try more of her films.  The best way to describe this one is fun. She is a movie star and Robert Young  plays a journalist who is her romantic interest. Both thinks the other is a spy. Neither McDonald nor Young take themselves too seriously and that’s what makes this picture such a joy. The rest of the movie is just as irreverent as it spoofs the spy genre. McDonald gets to sing as usual, and my favorite number was the silly duet between herself and her maid Ethel Waters that takes place in her bathroom.

The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947) – It’s a shame this film starring Betty Grable isn’t better known because it’s charming. She stars as an early working girl who challenges the expectations of society and her boss. Grable is a practical, reasonable feminist. Her first number, Changing My Tune was so sweet but that should be expected when the music is written by the Gershwins.  I love the society of outcasts she lives with at her boarding house led by Elizabeth Patterson. Even Dick Haymes comes out well in this movie as her lovestruck boss.

The Woman on Pier 13 (1949) – A pure propaganda film. Laraine Day learns her new husband played by Robert Ryan has ties to the Communist party. The commies are bad, real bad and blackmail Ryan to return to their fold. Their tactics include sex and murder. Day is kept in the dark about her husband and her brother’s ties to this evil until the last minute. Ryan is good as usual in this type of role, but it’s not his best.

Rosalie (1937) –  I’m a fan of Eleanor Powell whose joy of dancing enchants me though her acting is average. Here she is also joined by Nelson Eddy, Frank Morgan, Edna Oliver, Reginald Owen and Ray Bolger which set my expectations high. Powell is a princess undercover who falls for Eddy’s West Point hero and sports star. They fall in love quickly and then must resolve the conflict of their responsibilities that keep them apart. This is a bloated picture that doesn’t fully utilize its best assets. The only dance number that is signature Powell is the last one, the rest are sub-par and the camera often cuts her nimble feet out of the frame. Bolger gets one brief fun number and Eddy gets to sing a bit, but none of them get to really show the best of their talent. The screen time runs long and I had to force myself to finish it.

Girl Crazy (1943) – This has been described as one of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney’s best film pairings and I can see why. They are both so comfortable together and so natural on screen.  Rooney is sent to the middle of nowhere Colorado to a boys only college by his father to grow up. His character really grew on me as he matured and learned to care about others beside himself.  I think this may be my favorite of Judy Garland’s performances. She’s not the starry-eyed ingenue or tortured performer, but a normal, everyday girl. The Busby Berkley directed number I Got Rhythm may be the most popular musical scene from this film but I loved Garland’s performance of Embraceable You more.

Broadway Serenade (1939) – My third Jeannette McDonald film this month and my least favorite of the three. It covers that old chestnut of a story, a couple split up by success in the theater. McDonald is paired with Lew Ayres, who is good, but who has never been memorable to me. This film is made better by its; supporting cast including Frank Morgan, Ian Hunter and Franklin Pangborn. Since I’m not a fan of operatic music, I skipped through some of McDonald’s songs, although her first theater number at a ski lodge is fun. But the masked musical finale at the end was weird and eery. I do have to say, this features one of my pet peeves in classic film, a jerk of a husband whom the wife forgives in the end, though he doesn’t deserve it.

Ride the High Country (1962) – Westerns have never really appealed to me, but I’m trying to branch out more and this one is highly rated. I can see why. Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott both give wonderful performances as aged gun-men who have learned their way of life has faded. However, there are a lot of unpleasant things in this picture that I had a hard time watching, including the attack on a young woman in a mining town. I did like the message about integrity and doing what is right, but I doubt I will be re-visiting this one any time soon.

Too Hot to Handle (1938) – Some times I just need a dose of Clark Gable and this is one I’ve been wanting to watch again for a while. It’s the last but not the best of his collaborations with Myrna Loy due to an uneven story, and a longer than necessary run time. They are joined by Walter Pidgeon. Gable and Pidgeon are newsreel reporters and Loy is the girl between them whose main interest is to find her missing brother. Gable as usual is a bit of a scoundrel in love and work, making up news to his own benefit, which makes this interesting as we still have the problem of wondering if the news we receive is the truth. Unlike many of Gable’s pictures, I don’t think the story does a good job redeeming his character, and Loy’s choice to be with him in the end is inexplicable. But still any Gable picture is a win in my book.

My Name is Julia Ross (1945) – I was surprised to see how pretty the young Nina Foch is, since I’ve only seen her play Moses mother in The Ten Commandments. She’s great as the title character, who resists a mother and son duo who try to gaslight her into believing she is someone else, playing it vulnerable, frightened but also as a woman of inner strength. Dame May Whitty and George Macready (who also played Ballin Munson in Gilda) are appropriately creepy as the villains of the story. The setting for the house in which Foch is imprisoned is a pretty stunning setting for all the drama and suspense to play out.

The Singing Nun (1966) – Meh, I wanted to like this one about what else, a singing nun, better than I did. It sounded like it could be interesting, especially with people like Debbie Reynolds, Greer Garson, Agnes Moorehead and Ricardo Montalban starring, but it wasn’t anything special. Reynolds nun felt a bit naive and judgmental in the way she tried to help people.

She Had to Say Yes (1933) – Loretta Young stars in this pre-code drama and is the only good thing about it. The story is an awful one in which the male bosses of a store basically prostitute out their female employees for their own benefit. Young of course is an innocent who doesn’t want to participate but is forced into compromising situations thanks to two men who claim to love her.

Little Nellie Kelly (1940) – I really enjoyed the first half of this musical in which Judy Garland first plays a mother and then in later years her own daughter.  It’s rare to see Judy in a historical and she does well here as the first Nellie Kelly living in Ireland who marries a man of whom her father disapproves. I started to lose interest half way through when the film moved into hte current day and story line of Nellie Kelly the second. Charles Winninger and Dick Powell play the father/grandfather and husband/father of the two Nellie Kellys. Powell plays an honorable character but Winninger’s performance as the selfish, manipulative patriarch just about ruined this picture for me. Why any of his family put up with him at all, I don’t know.

Zero Hour! (1957) – Apparently, this was on the forefront of disaster films and I can see why. Despite a shorter run time, the conflict and tension remains taut and compelling to the viewer. Dana Andrews stars as a former fighter pilot with marital problems who must confront his PTSD issues from the war, when he is forced into piloting a commercial flight after disaster strikes the crew. He plays the tortured man so well, and is matched by Sterling Hayden who must guide him in from the ground. I would have wished for a bit more depth in exploring the issues between himself and his wife as well as the aftermath of that dangerous flight, but otherwise felt this was very well done.

The Sisters (1938) – Having only seen this once before, my memories are of an average film and that did not change after watching it again. Bette Davis and Errol Flynn are the stars of this movie that focuses on the lives of three sisters in the early 1900’s. Davis is great as always but is mis-cast here as the long-suffering wife. She is better suited for roles where the woman is strong and assertive. Flynn is believable as the husband who loves her but whose dreams and wanderlust threaten their marriage. I do love all the scenes when the sisters are together. And the opening sequence showing the family getting ready for a party is one of my favorites in the way it portrays real, everyday, family life.

Breakfast for Two (1937) – This is an inconsequential but still under-rated comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck and Herbert Marshall as an heir and heiress who bump heads when she decides to reform him into husband material. There are so many funny scenes that make me laugh. And fans of Eric Blore will be thrilled by the amount of screen time he receives. Donald Meek also makes an appearance and has a running gag where he can’t remember the correct pronunciation of Marshall’s onscreen name. It’s just a fun film.

Post 1980’s

Enchanted April (1991) This is an old favorite I wanted to see again after finally reading the book a month ago. It’s nice to know the script sticks pretty close to the plot and characterization of the novel.  It’s even more impressive, since the book is narrative heavy and dialogue lite as it explores each woman’s inner world. As always, I was completely charmed by this lovely movie, its beautiful setting and the ladies’ interactions.

.Music and Lyrics (2007) – Such a cheesy, but fun movie made better by Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. Although the older I get the less I appreciate Grant’s onscreen persona. Barrymore’s character is rather adorable. I like the plot concept about the two has-beens teaming up to write a hit song for an international pop star.

Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022) – After a couple of delays to the release date, I was thrilled to finally watch this with my mom who is a fellow Downton lover. It’s amazing that the show has yet to run out of interesting plot and character developments after all these years. Although the main cast members are really starting to show their age. I adored that one of the story lines took some of the Crawley family to southern France, it’s such a gorgeous setting and the reason for their trip was rather a good mystery. But I also enjoyed the plot for those left at Downton where a movie was being filmed. I also appreciated how the show kept Matthew and Sybil’s memories alive by allowing them to come up in natural conversations. Of course, the end made me cry, but in a good way. While this would be a good way to end things, if another Downton film is made in the future, I will be first in line to see it.

Hallmark Movies: (favorites are in bold) Love on Harbor Island. Butlers in Love, Love to the Rescue, Country at Heart, High Flying Romance,  Rip in Time, Mystery 101,  Over the Moon in Love, Mystery 101 Playing Dead, Mystery 101 Words Can Kill

Top Ten Tuesday – My Comfort Films

Today’s Topic: Comfort Reads (Share which books or kinds of books you turn to when you need to escape. You can either share specific titles if you love to re-read, or you could share qualities of books you look for in a comfort read.)

Hosted by: That Artsy Reader Girl

I’m thinking slightly outside the box with this week’s topic and sharing some of my favorite comfort films. In case the name of my website doesn’t clue you in, I love a good story, whether it comes from a book or a movie or even another source.  Both a book and a film can transport you to another world, but a film provides the visuals that a book does not and gives you a slightly different experience. No matter what the source I do love to re-visit books or films I’ve loved. It feesl like coming home, gives me a sense of safety and familiarity in knowing how it all will end and seeing people I’ve missed.  So without further ado…. Continue reading “Top Ten Tuesday – My Comfort Films”

Classic Film Review – The Toy Wife (1938) for The Bustles and Bonnets Costume Blogathon

When I heard about The Bustles and Bonnets: Costume Blogathon being hosted by Paul at Silver Screen Classics and Gabriela at Pale Writer, celebrating costume dramas, I couldn’t wait to participate.

In recent years, I’ve developed a particular interest in costume design and have been reading up on various designers. Needless to say, I wracked my brain trying to decide which film I wanted to feature here, until I stumbled across The Toy Wife, a rather unknown pre-Civil War drama.

Based on the French play Froufrou written by Ludovic Halévy and Henri Meilhac, it was adapted for the American screen during the time when Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was large in the public conscious and in the middle of being filmed.  Warner Brothers’ answer to the popularity of Mitchell’s book was the release of Jezebel starring Bette Davis. MGM too wanted to capitalize on public interest with their own antebellum story and so Froufrou became The Toy Wife.

Set in New Orleans, The Toy Wife is the story of Gilberte Brigard (Luise Ranier), otherwise known as Frou Frou. Having been raised in France, she is finally returning home with her older sister Louise (Barbara O’Neil). Frou Frou is a shallow, silly girl despite the influence of her sensible older sister. Upon her return she meets two men; the dashing Andre Valliare (Robert Young) and George Sartoris (Melvyn Doulas), an upright, responsible man who is the secret desire of Louise’ heart. Continue reading “Classic Film Review – The Toy Wife (1938) for The Bustles and Bonnets Costume Blogathon”

Top Ten Tuesday – Dynamic Duos

Today’s Topic: Dynamic Duos

Hosted by: That Artsy Reader Girl

Ugh, I’m so terrible at remembering names, that when I tried to come up with examples for this week’s list, I really struggled. It’s challenging enough trying to remember the main character’s names in a book without adding in supporting characters who are friends or family.

So, I decided to go a different route. Instead,  this week you get some of my favorite duos from films. Continue reading “Top Ten Tuesday – Dynamic Duos”

January 2022 Quickie Reviews

January 2022 BREAKDOWN
  • 40 films/series total (not including Hallmark films)
  • 26 new classic films
  • 7 re-watches
  • 3 TV series
  • 3 silents
  • 2 documentaries
  • 1 foreign film

Biggest Disappointment: Cynara and Follow the Boys

Come September with Gina Lollabrigida and Rock Hudson

Favorite Discovery: Betty White: A Celebration, Come September and Redeeming Love

series

Republic of Doyle Season 5 – Ugh, just when things are going well with Jake and Leslie, a new challenge arises. I’m also not loving the addition of Sloane, a troubled young teenager who joins the Doyle gang. It’s nice however to finally see some progress in Des and Tinny’s relationship and to see some of the series re-occuring characters pop up in an episode or two.

The Indian Doctor Seasons 2 & 3 – This was a re-watch for me. It’s such a pleasant, likable show and season 2 is my favorite of all three. I particularly like the addition of Emlyn the cop.

Ladies of Letters Season 2 – The second and final season of this comedy series is still funny, but feels too far-fetched to be real. The scenarios are ridiculous, but the snarky relationship between the two women is still reason enough to watch this.

Documentaries:

That’s Entertainment II (1976) – Since I’ve only recently been making an effort to expand my knowledge and experience with classic musicals, I thought I ought to watch this series hosted by Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. It was very disappointing. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the clips they chose and no cohesive narrative. I’m not embarrassed to say I fast forwarded through several of the chosen clips. At times it felt more like the Gene Kelly show than anything else.

Betty White: A Celebration (2022) – I saw this in the theater with some girlfriends and what a fun experience it was! Originally this documentary was meant to be a celebration for Betty’s one hundredth birthday, but it also became a way to honor her after her death. Aside from her role as Rose in The Golden Girls, I knew next to nothing about Betty, so I really appreciate how this doc really delved into her early years in television, even showing a full episode of one of her earlier series, Date With the Angels. I had no idea Betty was a pioneer in the early years of television and gained a new found respect for her  because of it.  Her love story with husband Allen Ludden was another highlight. It was such a pleasure hearing from friends and former co-workers of Betty as well as from Betty herself.

Foreign

Elena and Her Men (1956) – Even Ingrid Bergman couldn’t save this film, nor her co-stars Jean Marais and Mel Ferrer.  It was a convoluted mess of a sex farce, comedy and political maneuvers. Directed by Jean Renoir, it bore many similarities to his highly lauded The Rules of the Game, without copying any of its’ intelligence.

Silents

A Christmas Past (1925) 6 Shorts- I’ve been meaning to watch this compilation of early, silent Christmas shorts, most of which were produced by the Edison Film Manufacturing Corp. There’s even one directed by D. W. Griffith. It also includes the earliest version of A Christmas Carol which manages to cover the main points of the famous story, but which loses the deeper impact of the details. Several of these featured stories about Santa and kind of run together in my mind. The one I enjoyed the best didn’t have a narrative like the rest. It just depicts a group of adults having a fun group snow day which made me want to join in…and I hate the cold!

Our Modern Maidens (1929) – This film starring Joan Crawford and her first husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr. has it’s place in film history. Not only because they newlyweds co-starred together, but also for it’s depiction of youth and because it straddles the transitional line between silents and talking pictures. In fact, in several ways, it feels very contemporary in the actions of its’ characters. The Crawford of silent films is different than that of talking ones, but in either case she is a spark plug on screen who draws all attention to herself. I wasn’t fond of how the lovers seem easily interchangeable which felt like a plot device more than anything. Fairbanks does a fabulous impression of his own father as well as John Barrymore and John Gilbert which is worth the price of admission alone.

Three Women (1924) – My second experience with a silent Ernst Lubitsch film left me more satisfied. The visual quality of this romantic drama was much better, with very clear shots. I did feel like I was watching two films though as the first half has more of Lubitsch’ humorous touch, while the second half transitions into tragedy and drama.  I thought the plot was an interesting one for the director as it depicted a middle aged mother obsessed with retaining her youth, struggling to bond with her adult daughter who really feels neglected. The conflict comes when the gold digger who has been courting the mother, ends up marrying the daughter instead! Pauline Frederick does excellent work in portraying the mother’s thoughts and emotions. I also have to mention the sets and some of the costumes are stunning.

Classics:

Annie Get Your Gun (1950) – Ooh, I hate to say it, but as much as this musical is beloved by classic film fans, I found myself cringing through a lot of it. I don’t know if it was the way the character was written or the way Betty Hutton portrayed her, but they made a farce out of Annie Oakley, a woman who deserves to be admired for her strength and talent. And then that ending where she chooses to subvert her talent and skill in order to win the love of Frank Butler really made me mad. However, the musical numbers were pretty exceptional, particularly There’s No Business Like Show Business and Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better. I had no idea these songs originated with this musical and the way they were performed only added to the joy of that discovery.

Christmas Eve (1947) – In my quest to watch as many classic holiday films as I can, I gave this one a shot. With a good cast, including Ann Harding, George Brent, Randolph Scott and George Raft I expected a good experience. Plus, the plot about an elderly spinster searching for her three adopted sons had great potential, but this film failed to capitalize on those strengths. It felt like three separate pictures depicting each son and had almost no transition at all between those stories.

Compliments of the Season (1930) I had never heard of this Christmas short about a newly released convict who wavers between new temptations and the desire to reform. I think the poor quality of the film itself detracted from my ability to appreciate it. The picture and sound were both fuzzy. However, the twist at the end displayed the Christmas spirit of kindness and generosity.

Come September (1961)  – As long as I’ve been looking forward to finally seeing this comedy starring Rock Hudson and Gina Lollabrigida, it did not disappoint! It was just as delightful as his battle of the sexes rom-coms with Doris Day, except in a gorgeous European setting. I really loved seeing Hudson’s playboy constantly being blocked from his amorous attentions only to see him turn fatherly stern over the group of girls staying at his villa turned hotel. This will be one I watch over and over again, now that I own it.

Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952)– I had never heard of this before, which is surprising as it has Rock Hudson in one of his earliest screen appearances as well as Charles Coburn, one of my favorite character actors. Coburn stars as a wealthy old bachelor who decides to bestow part of his fortune on the family of an old love and moves in with them under an assumed identity. Then he sees the havoc his money wreaks on the lives of that family. Coburn and Gigi Perreau as the youngster of the family completely steal the show between them and make this worth watching. This also features James Dean in a cameo appearance.

We’re No Angels (1955) – After discovering this holiday comedy last year, I couldn’t wait to watch it again. Who would have thought a story about three escaped convicts playing Santa to a local family would be so interesting and funny? This is the film that finally made me a fan of Peter Ustinov. The man is an under-rated comedic genius.

Don’t Go Near the Water (1957) – Glenn Ford and crew are naval PR men stationed on an island in WWII where they never see any action.  They are under the command of the idiotic Fred Clark who insists they keep the visiting (and blackmailing) reporter played by Keenan Wynne happy. It was a joy to see Russ Tamblyn and Jeff Richards co-star together again as I’ve always loved them in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Tamblyn in particular had an interesting role in this film.

First Lady (1937) -Strong performances by Kay Francis and Verree Teesdale as behind the scenes political nemesis and king makers make this worth watching. I love how it focuses on how women influence important events, even if the two main characters feel more like petty mean girls playing a game of one-upmanship than women truly concerned about the integrity of the candidates they support.

The Bachelor Father (1931) – A creaky production with an engaging story line about a wealthy bachelor who invites his grown illegitimate children whom he’s never met, to come live with him.  I appreciated how the plot has the adult children bonding quickly and acting as a team in their common interests with their newly discovered father. It’s also rare to see, that they are all more interested in a relationship with him than his money. C Aubrey Smith is great as the man who learns to love his offspring and of course Marion Davies is charming as one of his daughters who may or may not actually be his. A very young and almost unrecognizable Ray Milland plays the son.

Ship Ahoy (1942) – This is one of the few Eleanor Powell films, I had yet to see and I didn’t expect to enjoy it because it also features Red Skelton, who I often find obnoxious. However, he gave a more understated performance which I actually thought a bit endearing, even if I had a hard time believing him as a love interest for Powell. The flimsy plot has Powell acting as a courier for the enemy while believing it is for the government. But no one watches a Powell film for the plot anyway. It’s all about the dancing and she has some memorable numbers. I especially liked how they utilized her dance skill to tap out Morse code messages. It was a nice creative touch.

The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1950) – Not a bad musical, but also not one that will be a favorite. I’m rarely a fan of films that cover the vaudeville era, though I can’t explain why. The over-bearing but loving father act was annoying, but I appreciated the glimpse of family life featuring the three sisters. This was Debbie Reynolds first speaking role and you can see glimpses of the actress she would become. My biggest complaint here is there was not enough Gordon MacRae.

Stolen Holiday (1937) – Kay Francis and Claude Rains make for an odd couple here. He’s a high class con-man and she is his ambitious but unsuspecting and loyal partner. Rains as always can be counted on for a good performance and Francis as usual is garbed in gorgeous gowns in her role as an haute couture designer. It was too hard to believe that she was naive to his schemes and that she would then sacrifice herself to save him knowing how he used her. Ian Hunter had a bland supporting role as Francis love interest.

The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944) – The first half of this bio-pic was very entertaining in its depiction of Twain’s early years before fame including the origin of some of his tall tales. I especially enjoyed the frog jumping contest. Frederic March completely embodied the famous author in his performance. The second half of the picture seemed to move so slowly and yet it raced through the last half of Twain’s life glossing over his success and fame. The wonderful supporting cast including Alexis Smith, Alan Hale, C. Aubrey Smith and John Carradine add to the prestige of the picture, even if they only pop up in small parts and then disappear again.

The Last Gangster (1937) – Another Edward G Robinson gangster pic, this one is a little different in that his gangster character spends the first half of the film behind bars and is also obsessed with his legacy in the form of his son. His ex-wife disappears with said son and remarries a very nice man in the form of James Stewart. But the past catches up with all of them when Robinson’s enemies kidnap the boy. It’s a bit jarring to switch back and forth between the happy family scenes and the darker ones surrounding Robinson. It’s fun to see a roughed up, ungroomed Robinson grow a heart, at least where it concerns his son.

Cynara (1932) – Kay Francis and Ronald Colman star in this melodrama about an upstanding man in love with his wife who has an affair with a working class girl. His secret is exposed when the girl kills herself and there is a public inquest. Francis is wasted in the role of the understanding wife whose long absence from home leaves her husband susceptible to temptation. Colman can’t give a bad performance, but I despised his character who claims to be madly in love with his wife, but can’t resist the non-existent charms of a shop girl. It makes him look weak and also like a liar. Not to mention, the mistress is so dull as to make one wonder why he would be interested in jeopardizing his marriage and social standing for her.  I despise stories about adultery that end with the wife being understanding and forgiving as if it is no big deal and with the implication that men just can’t help themselves. Even the fact that this was directed by King Vidor couldn’t save this one for me.

Anthony Adverse (1936) – I’ve decided to pay more attention to Frederic March this year and this is one of his bigger films. It’s very grand both in story scope and setting. March is the title character, an orphan who comes of age  in 18th & 19th century France. I’m learning to appreciate March’s understated performances and his ability to inhabit a character so that you forget you are watching the actor.  He’s joined by a wonderful supporting cast including Claude Rains, Olivia de Havilland, Edmund Gwenn and Gale Sondergaard in an Oscar winning performance. There are some lulls in the action, which caused me to lose interest and some circumstances that felt rather improbable. But overall, I felt this was an epic film which generally isn’t considered epic.

This Happy Breed (1944) – One of director David Lean’s earlier films, this chronicles the life of a British family between world wars. It’s an interesting family drama and gave me a good feel for British life, and not the Hollywood version of the British. Celia Johnson and Robert Newton give this picture heart as the husband and wife whose grown children and other relatives live with them. Their marriage is strong, quiet and full of committed love. The pace lagged a bit here and there, but I’m glad I watched it.

Always In My Heart (1942) – My overall impression of this Kay Francis picture is too much music and not enough story.  But seeing as how both the father and daughter of the story are musicians, the inclusion of music makes sense, though not at the expense of character and plot development. Yet this drama about the secret return of a husband and father after his release from prison, could have been really rich with detail and emotion. Walter Huston certainly did his best as the father in question. I also thought Gloria Warren as the daughter and aspiring singer was rather charming and Patti Hale as the young, rambunctious, eavesdropping Booley was adorable. Despite this film’s flaws, I still found it rather likable.

Merrily We Live (1938) – This shares many similarities to the more popular My Man Godfrey. I actually prefer it, but then I’ve always liked both Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne. Aherne is sardonic as a man mistaken for homeless who becomes the family’s newest butler and Bennett is the sophisticated glue holding her family together. This film also boasts a great supporting cast, particularly Bonita Granville in the role of the wise-cracking younger sister. I love the gag with the various remaining kitchen utensils after the family’s silver is stolen.

Undercurrent (1946) – This film fared better in my estimation after a re-watch. I had a memory of disliking it due to the opinion that the lead actors had been miscast. This time around, I still feel that the casting keeps the film feeling off balance, but that it actually serves the underlying uncertainty in the plot. Katharine Hepburn is actually good at portraying vulnerability on screen as she does here playing a shy, insecure wallflower in love with Robert Taylor’s successful, confident scientist. Taylor does a good job appearing harmless, until his occasional bursts of anger indicate elsewise. I still believe Robert Mitchum was miscast, but I don’t mind that too much. This is not a perfect film, by any means, but it’s definitely more interesting than I originally thought.

Night Into Morning (1951) – I can’t claim to be a Ray Milland fan but the premise of this drama that has him portraying a man reacting to the deaths of his wife and son from a senseless accident intrigued me. Milland explores the unpredictability of grief and the human reaction to it in a believable way. Nancy Davis and John Hodiak act as his friends and show the way others respond to those who grieve. Davis gives the story it’s only hope in a her sympathetic performance as a woman who is already on the other side of grieving tragedy and who is able to offer Milland some perspective.

Some Came Running (1958) – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine make for a formidable trio in this melodrama directed by Vincente Minnelli. Despite their presence, the story was a bit too sad and seedy for me to truly enjoy. MacLaine’s gives the most memorable performance as the tragic woman in unrequited love with Sinatra. Her character alternately annoyed me, impressed me and also made me feel sorry for her.

Repeat Performance (1947) – An interesting film noir about a woman, who after shooting her husband dead, gets the chance to live the past year over again and attempts to change the outcome. Joan Leslie is sweet and stunning. She’s perhaps still a bit too much of an ingenue for her part as a successful theater actress in love with and trying to hold on to her alcoholic, womanizing husband. Louis Hayward really made the husband too despicable to be believed.  Richard Basehart was fabulous as Leslie’s poet friend and Virginia Field sinks her teeth into a juicy role as the “other woman”. Field’s and Leslie’s costumes by Oleg Cassini were also a highlight. Though film noir isn’t my favorite genre, this is one I’ll remember and watch again.

Follow the Boys (1963) – The best thing about this dull comedy is Paula Prentiss and the gorgeous European locales where it was filmed. Russ Tamblyn comes in a nice second. The plot about women who follow their Navy men around to meet up with them in various ports could have been cute, but wasn’t. Fellow female co-stars Janis Paige and the French Dany Robin seemed too mature overall for this type of storyline, although their presence gave the film some gravitas. The men were ridiculous playboys. Also, I can understand why Connie Francis didn’t make many more films after this. She is at best, a mediocre actress.

The Cross of Lorraine (1943) – An unusual cast including Jean-Pierre Aumont, Gene Kelley, Wallace Ford, Cedric Hardwick, Joseph Calleia, Hume Cronyn and Peter Lorre meant I had to see this WWII drama about a group of French soldiers living in a Nazi prison camp. It’s pretty well made despite the fact that only Aumont is believable as a Frenchman. The depictions of how the hardships and torture of life in the camp impact each man is a character study that could have used a bit more depth, but manages to get its’ point across. The ending is very dramatic and obvious propaganda, but I didn’t mind.

To Be or Not to Be (1942) – My first viewing of this Lubitsch classic left me less than impressed, but the second time around I had a much better experience. Of course, my overall opinion of Carole Lombard has improved since I first saw it. But I can’t say Jack Benny has won me over yet. My favorite thing about this Ernst Lubitsch directed classic, is all the small character roles of the theater actors that make of Lombard and Benny’s troup. They add so much humor, interest and context to the whole plot.

Post 1980’s

Anne of Green Gables (1985) – The Canadian mini-series is one my mom and I re-visit every year around the New Year.  It’s so charming and adorable and the characters feel like old friends. I still laugh over Rachel Lynde’s busybody ways, sigh over Matthew’s love for Anne, warm to the softening of Marilla’s heart and cheer over Anne’s positive and imaginative outlook as she adapts to her new life.

Anne of Avonlea (1987) – Before I became more knowlegable about classic film, I had no idea that it was Dame Wendy Hiller playing the role of the irascible Mrs. Harris. I do like seeing Anne’s adventures and character growth away from home, but I always miss the Green Gables crowd. The very best part is the end when Anne and Gilbert FINALLY get together.

The Hating Game (2021) – Well, I’m gonna be one of those annoying people who proclaim the book better than the movie.  Though in all fairness I went in with bias. The basics of the story remain the same, but of course, it loses the depth and richness of the details that made the book so good. Lucy Hale did a good job as Lucy Hutton. She was strong and sassy, like in the book. But I did feel her wardrobe was a bit juvenile  and did not reflect that position of authority her character held. After finishing the movie, I had to go back and re-read the book again for comparison’s sake.

Downton Abbey (2019) – With the new Downton Abbey film coming out this spring, I felt it was time to re-watch this one. Getting back to these characters always feels like a visit with old friends. I still think the plot about Downton preparing for a visit from the king and queen was a really good one, which fit seamlessly into the Downton world and which also provided many moments of drama for the family and the staff below stairs. The battle between the Downton servants and those of the royal household made me laugh several times.

Redeeming Love (2022) – I’ve waited a long time to see a film adaptation of one of the best selling Christian fiction books ever released. The original story was an updated Western version of the biblical story of the Old Testament prophet Hosea who was commanded by God to marry a harlot and to remain faithful to her even as she was continuously unfaithful.  Though it’s been a while since I read the book, I’m happy to say I experienced no disappointment and felt it remained pretty true to the Francine Rivers’ popular story.  Though not necessarily marketed as a Christian movie, it is of course based on a faith based book, so I confess it was a little jarring to hear a few profanities as well as see some sex scenes in the film. However upon reflection I feel that most Christian films sanitize and gloss over the dark parts of humanity which make them feel false. The inclusion of these surprising elements, made this film feel more real to life, particularly since this is a story of a prostitute and the abuses she suffers prior to her rescue. Abigail Cowen and Tom Lewis who played the leads, really impressed me with their performances.  Cowen in particular was convincing. Her delicate appearance belies the skeptical, world-weary prostitute who has seen it all and who keeps running back to what is familiar because she doesn’t trust the kindness of the man who rescues her.

 

27 Hallmark Movies – Having been without Hallmark for the past two years, I’m still playing catch-up on all their movies from that time frame. I have to say, having taken a break and watching their films now, I can see an overall improvement in their plots, musical scores, character development etc. They still rely on some old stereotypes and can be cheesy, but not nearly as much as they used to. Favorites are in bold.

Trading Christmas, A Gift Wrapped Christmas, Christmas at Castle Hart, Where Your Heart Belongs, Love in Winterland, Taking the Reins, Hearts of Winter, It Was Always You, A New Year’s Resolution, The Wedding Veil, South Beach Love, North to Home, Finding Love in Mountain View, Sweet Pecan Summer, Chasing Waterfalls, Boyfriends of Christmas Past, Sweet Autumn, Dater’s Handbook, Snowkissed, Journey of My Heart, As Luck Would Have It, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, Rise and Shine Benedict Stone, Sand Dollar Cove, Baby, It’s Cold Inside, Love Strikes Twice, Just My Type