If you have never heard of Robin Cavendish before, you aren’t the only one. If not for how he lived with a severe disability, most likely nobody ever would have. In 1958, two years into his marriage to Diana, Robin contracted polio and was paralyzed from the neck down. Initially given less than a year to live, Robin indicated his wish to die. But Diana refused to allow this. She entreated him to live for the sake of their son.
Robin gradually improved to the point that he could swallow and speak. But for the rest of his life he was dependent on the use of artificial respirators to help him keep him alive. Eventually, Diana and some hospital staff literally broke him out of the hospital against his doctor’s advice. At this time, no one with his level of disability had ever been released or survived outside of a hospital.
Over the next thirty years of his life, Robin and Diana became champions for disabled people. They also helped inspire and pioneer ways to integrate people like himself into everyday society. Some of these ideas include a mobile wheelchair with a built in respirator, a hydraulic chair lift for his van, as well as equipment that allowed him to perform simple tasks by moving his head. He was also instrumental in creating the first list of people who used iron lungs as well as in fundraising efforts to improve their quality of life. In their personal lives the two pushed Robin’s boundaries, living as adventurously as possible, while raising their son and remaining committed to each other.
There are few groups more loyal than classic film fans. Many of us have our favorite movies, genres, actors and actresses and can passionately articulate what we love about each. Equal to our love is our dislike of those things that don’t live up to our standards or that we find disappointing. Actors and actresses particularly earn our derision, though we usually only discuss this within our own circles.
George Brent is an actor I’ve often heard mentioned with disdain. Many classic film fans denounce him as wooden, his performances lacking emotional depth. I won’t deny that he is compared unfavorably to his contemporary counterparts. But unlike some, I’ve always enjoyed Brent’s films. I believe he has been unfairly and too harshly judged. I’m here today to convince you of the same. Continue reading “In Defense of George Brent”
Arsène Lupin -The Gentleman Thief of French Literature
The gentleman thief is a much beloved character in both literature and film. Arsène Lupin is one such character, first birthed by the pen of French writer Maurice Leblanc in the early 1900’s. Over the course of the next two decades Leblanc published many novellas, novels and even plays featuring his popular creation. These stories were contemporary with another, perhaps more famous, thief and master of disguise, that of the English gentleman Raffles. Without the underrated gift of classic film, I might never have heard of or been introduced to either.
The Arsène Lupin character also made appearances in television, stage and over twenty films. It is the pre-code 1932 version starring the Barrymore brothers, Lionel and John that I fell in love with. According to an introduction given by Dave Karger for this film on TCM, the Barrymore brothers were highly regarded by the two most important men at MGM during the early Thirties. Louis B Mayer believed Lionel to be one of the best actors of his time, while Irving Thalberg felt the same about John. When John’s contract with Warner Bros. expired, MGM snapped him up. He was cast with Lionel in Arsène Lupin, the first of five films in which the brothers would appear together in the years 1932-1933. Of those five only one would also star their equally famous sister Ethel. Sadly, after 1933 there would be no more films co-starring Lionel and John. Continue reading “Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon -Arsène Lupin (1932)”
Though long gone, Judy Garland is still famous for her singing voice and her film musicals. Of her forty film credits, there are only three in which she does not sing or dance. The first of these three is The Clock and it proves that Judy was a talented actress in her own right, even without her musical skills.
Joe Allen (Robert Walker), a country boy turned soldier, arrives in New York City for a 48 hour leave. Immediately, he is overwhelmed by the hustle and bustled of the city and seeks to lessen the effect by making conversation with strangers. While taking refuge in the train station, an accident brings him and Alice Mayberry (Judy Garland) together. Though she has other plans, he convinces her to pass some time with him. Feeling compassion for this soldier Alice first allows herself to be talked into a walk in the park, then an afternoon at a museum and finally a dinner date. Alice’s roommate warns her not to fall under the spell of a man who will soon be shipping out.
Alice tries to resist and a few awkward moments and misunderstandings tempt her to abandon Joe. But neither one can deny a strong connection and many things in common. Despite differing plans for their futures, the pair find themselves in love. An accidental separation leaves them both desperate to find the other. Unfortunately, they haven’t even exchanged last names, so their odds of finding each other before Joe leaves the city are very low. By chance, they meet again and are so overjoyed and relieved that they decide to get married. But they have less than 24 hours to complete all the necessary steps so that a judge can marry them. And as Shakespeare wrote, “the course of true love never did run smooth.”
Maria Laura, aka Mala, is an aspiring actress whose outspoken views make it difficult for her to win roles. Fortunately, her roommate Kika is understanding as to why she is behind on her rent. Kika is also convinced her boyfriend is cheating on her. She coerces Mala into flirting with him to determine if he will be faithful. Though reluctant Mala is also successful and eventually word gets around about her unusual talent. Before she knows it, she is earning good money testing the loyalty of other women’s boyfriends.
However, when she finally lands a major role in a television series she is ready to leave her odd career behind. But the producer only agrees to guarantee the part if Mala will seduce her ex as a means of revenge. There is just one problem. Mala has already had an unfortunate encounter with wealthy businessmen Santiago and they can’t stand each other. Still, Mala’s big break depends on making Santiago fall in love with her so that she can break his heart. Further complications arise when she develops conflicted feelings towards him and her unpleasant task. Will Mala be convincing enough to snag the heart of this wealthy bachelor? Even more importantly, will she be able to protect her own heart while doing so?
The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.
Fred Rogers and his television program Mister Rogers Neighborhood have been a consistent staple in the lives of children for decades. I did not grow up watching this childhood favorite. Still I remained aware of the identity of Mr. Rogers and the influence of his show.
It’s not often I have the opportunity to watch a documentary in my small city. As I am a fan of ordinary, everyday heroes, I knew I had to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? when it actually came to my local theater.
This documentary, produced with care and respect, is a beautiful portrait of a man who dedicated his life to the education of children. Whereas we generally think of education as facts and dates we learn in school, Fred Rogers chose to educate the hearts and souls of children as to the truth of their identity. Much like the famous quote from the film The Help, “you is smart, you is kind, you is important” Fred’s mission was to teach children to believe that same truth. Continue reading “Documentary Review -Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)”
For access to British programming, Amazon Prime is becoming one of my go-to streaming sites for beloved series like Downton Abbey, Poldark, Endeavour, Call the Midwife, Victoria and others. Although, two of my favorite series, North and South and The Paradise can be found on Netflix.
But Amazon Prime is also a source for many other lesser known British series productions, as I am happily discovering. Many of these are based on true stories or literature by well-known authors. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised so far by how much I am enjoying some of these series. Here are just a few which I have seen lately and can recommend. Continue reading “Six Lesser Known Series Adaptations on Amazon Prime”
Bringing Up Baby was my first introduction to the world of classic film. It was also my first experience with the screwball comedy genre as well as Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. With such an auspicious initiation, is it any wonder that I not only adore classic films, but that both Grant and Hepburn along with the screwball comedy genre remain my very favorites. No matter how many (countless) times I watch this picture, it never fails to entertain and to lift my spirits.SUMMARY
David Huxley is a paleontologist who is THIS close to completing the skeleton of a Brontosaurus. He just lacks installation of the final bone (the intercostal clavicle) and funding in the form of a million dollar donation by the wealthy Mrs. Carlton Random. He is also one day away from a marriage of convenience to the dull and practical Alice Swallow.
David’s meeting with Mrs. Random’s attorney, Mr. Peabody, is unfortunately disrupted by Susan Vance. After a meet cute filled with confusion, theft and mishaps, David is forced to reschedule his meeting for that same evening. However, David’s bad luck continues as he once again runs into Susan who once again ruins his meeting.
Susan, however is besotted and decides David is the man for her. Believing him to be a zoologist, Susan tracks him down to request his help. Her brother has sent a tame pet leopard as a gift for their aunt. Despite David’s refusal to help Susan deliver ‘Baby’, Susan coerces him by promising to speak to Mr. Peabody on his behalf. Unknown to David, Mrs. Random just happens to be Susan’s aunt.
David and Susan head off to the family’s Connecticut farm to deliver Baby. But Susan being Susan, everything that can go wrong does. Add in the family dog George who buries the intercostal clavicle, an escaped killer leopard, a visit from a family friend who is a big-game hunter and Susan’s introduction of David as a man recovering from a nervous breakdown and you’ve got the recipe for one of the funniest movies ever.
Not too many years ago, I happened across a Ginger Rogers film I had never seen or even heard of before. Romance in Manhattan turned out to be not only a lovely little movie, but also became one of my favorites. As much as I love the pairing of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce others to this lesser known charmer which co-stars Ginger with Francis Lederer.
Karel Novak (Lederer) has worked hard to achieve his dream of immigrating to America. A native of Czechoslovakia, he meets all the legal requirements for entry. However, upon his arrival he learns that one of those requirements has changed and he is to be deported back to his home country.
Karel can’t bear the thought that he must return home. Leaving his belongings and money behind, he escapes into New York City, where he is certain he will find work. However, the only luck Karel has is meeting the kind and compassionate show girl Sylvia Dennis (Rogers). Sylvia is the sole caretaker for her younger brother Frank (Jimmy Butler) and is barely making ends meet herself. But she offers Karel food, a place to sleep and help in finding a job.
As weeks and months pass, Karel becomes a welcome addition to the lives of Sylvia and her brother Frank. Karel finds a job as a taxi driver and helps contribute to the household. He also manages to befriend police officer Murphy (J. Farrell McDonald), despite living in fear of discovery and deportation.
Sylvia and Karel begin to fall for each other, but Sylvia prefers to marry a millionaire. She is sick of poverty and seeks security for herself and Frank. This desire becomes even more important when both she and Karel find themselves out of work just as social services threaten to take Frank away from her. Karel however, is convinced that love will find a way and proposes to Sylvia. But their problems are far from over. A shady lawyer reports Karel’s immigrant status and Frank is taken from Sylvia. But with a little help from Officer Murphy, Karel and Sylvia may just have a chance.
In today’s climate, it would be easy to politicize a film like Romance in Manhattan. Especially as it features the story of an immigrant whose dream of America motivates him to break the law when one subjective requirement threatens to obliterate his hope and sacrifice. But in my opinion, this would be a mistake, because you might miss the sweetness of this story and it’s characters.
This film came at a time of transition in Ginger Rogers’ career and is one of five films she made in 1935. Ginger already had numerous credits to her name, but mostly as a supporting or character actress. However, prior to the release of Romance in Manhattan, she was paired with Fred Astaire in two of the nine films in which they would appear together. Her star was just starting to rise. Within the following several years she appeared in six more films with Astaire and also branched out into serious dramatic roles, one of which (Kitty Foyle) won her an Oscar.
Ginger’s portrayal of Sylvia Dennis is one of my favorite’s. Sylvia is practical and realistic, but she has not allowed the challenges of life to harden her or make her cynical. She has retained her innocence but is also wise to the ways of the world. Though Sylvia has little, she doesn’t think twice about sharing it with someone who has even less. And even though she espouses a desire to marry wealth, Sylvia doesn’t really fit the definition of a gold-digger. She is playful yet sincere in her wish, but when it comes down to it, she realizes that love is more valuable. Rogers never overplays her performance as Sylvia, keeping it genuine with an underlying sense of humor. In her capable hands, Sylvia is a believable depiction of an average, quietly heroic, every day American.
As much as I love Ginger Roger’s portrayal of Sylvia though, this is really Francis Lederer’s film. From his first appearance onscreen he draws you in to the heart of Karel Novak. You feel his excitement, disappointment, determination and every emotion in between in his pursuit to become an American. His earnestness, innocence and optimism help you to experience the poignancy of his plight. Here is a man who truly wants to follow the laws of his adopted country, but who also refuses to allow his inability to meet one subjective requirement make all his sacrifice for naught. Even though he begins with nothing and needs every spare penny, Karel willingly contributes to the Dennis household. He also risks the threat of deportation in order to keep Sylvia and Frank together, willing to give up his dream for their sake. I particularly appreciate how his immigrant perspective helps Sylvia to see her native country through new, appreciative eyes.
Romance in Manhattan also benefits from the performances of Jimmy Butler and J Farrell McDonald as Frank and Officer Murphy. I’m not familiar with Butler’s other work, but his portrayal of Sylvia’s brother is quietly convincing. Unlike some child actors, his personality doesn’t overpower the part, but he doesn’t disappear into it either. Butler really makes Frank his own. It is a shame that he died young in combat in WWII. It would have been interesting to see what he might have done as an adult actor.
McDonald was a familiar face to me as he should be. In his career he amassed over 300 credits in small parts (some uncredited). Here he has the chance to shine as a soft-hearted Irish cop who doesn’t let the law crush an otherwise good man. And of course, what 1930’s film would be complete without the presence of Donald Meek? Sadly, he doesn’t appear until the end of the picture. But it’s still a pleasure to see him play a small role as a minister.
Romance in Manhattan celebrates self-sacrifice, compassion, human kindness, understanding and love. It’s focus on these attributes reminds us not only of the best qualities of America but also of mankind.
Unfortunately, this film rarely airs on TCM. But it is available to rent through Amazon, iTunes and Vudu. Or you could always buy the DVD like I did.
Lucy Hill (Renee Zelweger) is the sole female executive for Munck Foods in Miami. Her career is her priority. When her boss mentions that one of their blue collar manufacturing plants needs some restructuring, Lucy volunteers. She is less than enthused however, when she learns that she will have to temporarily relocate to a small town in wintry Minnesota.
Lucy’s arrival in New Ulm is less than promising. The town’s citizens and plant employees are prejudiced against her. Lucy’s chilly attitude does nothing to endear her to them. Things go from bad to worse when she unintentionally antagonizes both the local union representative, Ted (Harry Connick Jr.) and Stu (J.K. Simmons), the plant foreman. Her only ally is her overly friendly secretary Blanche (Siobhan Fallon Hogan).
Thanks to Blanche’s efforts, Lucy slowly begins to warm up to the people of New Ulm. She begins to see them as individuals with something to offer, instead of names and statistics related to her job. As Lucy starts to involve herself in the community she finds she has more in common with these small town folk than she wants to admit. Her relationship with Ted also begins to heat up, though Stu still resists all of her efforts at reconciliation.