Classic Film Review – That Certain Woman (1937)

SUMMARY
Mary Donnell has bad luck with men. She begins That Certain Woman as the widow of a slain bootlegger having married him at the young age of 15 thinking that she could change him. But, she has turned her life around, keeping a low profile as the secretary to an attorney, despite newspaper attempts to sniff out her whereabouts for a “where are they now” story.
Her older married boss is just getting ready to confess his feelings for his faithful secretary, when he discovers that Mary is in love with irresponsible playboy heir Jack Merrick Jr. Jack talks Mary into eloping and with her boss’ blessing, she agrees, only to be confronted with Jack’s strict, heartless father who objects to Mary as a daughter-in-law thanks to a less then pristine background. Mary is an honorable woman whose past has been tainted by her dead husband’s behavior, but Jack Sr. manages to annul the marriage, because Junior has never had the backbone to oppose his father. However, he can’t annul her pregnancy and as years pass, the senior Merrick’s ruthless meddling continues to play out, bringing heartbreak to everyone.
MY THOUGHTS
I have watched my fair share of Bette Davis films and although she is not my go-to actress, she certainly deserves all the praise she received for her acting skills. For some reason, she really snagged my interest in this film. Perhaps it is because as the film starts she plays Mary Donnell as a quiet, loving young woman still with an air of innocence and vulnerability about her in spite of her past. Davis’ usual onscreen intensity is muted yet slowly builds as the film progresses and she displays Mary’s sacrificial love wrapped around a steel spine. For all of Davis’ innate skill, I often have a hard time relating to her stark confidence and assertive onscreen nature and sometimes find her a bit abrasive for my taste. But this is not the case with That Certain Woman. Her role as a mother is one of my favorite mother portrayals in any of her films as she is so tender, playful and practical with her young son.
Davis is joined by another film legend, Henry Fonda, who plays the spineless Jack Merrick Jr. At first glance he seems a bit like a stereotype but as you see his interaction with his harsh father, you begin to realize why he fears taking a stand against him for any reason that doesn’t require it. His father is one of the coldest, cruelest parent’s I’ve seen onscreen in a long time and the absence of Jack Jr.’s mother means that he rarely experienced any love or encouragement in his life. Fonda often played opposite strong leading ladies such as Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Claudette Colbert, so he is right at home as a man who is used to being the weaker character in a romantic pairing.

Although I could sympathize with Merrick Jr. because of his weakness, I found myself rooting for Mary to end up with her boss, despite their difference in age and the fact that he is married. His care and concern for her is evident even becoming sacrificial to a certain extent. He is clearly the better man for her, but unfortunately Mary seems to fall in love with weaker men thanks to a fix-it complex.

Mary with her boss/wannabe lover.
Overall, this was a Bette Davis film I really enjoyed although the last third of it devolved into a melodramatic soap opera. I liked seeing the growth of Mary’s character and strength. Having watched That Certain Woman very soon after seeing Golden Arrow another Davis film (a comedy) which I really enjoyed, just may be shifting my preference for her films. Although Dark Victory  will probably always be my favorite Davis film.
That Certain Woman is available on DVD and Amazon streaming services.

Classic Film Review -Charade (1963)

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn are both considered film and fashion icons. Their contributions and legacies have endured and are still looked on with reverence today.

Fortunately, these two superstars collaborated on the film Charade. The film is a romantic comedy with strong elements of suspense, which is just as witty and stylish as its’ two leading actors.

SUMMARY

Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) is a young American wife living in Paris who plans to divorce her husband. Before she has the chance to do so, he completely strips their luxury apartment, selling all of their belongings. He then promptly gets himself killed while fleeing Paris by train. To read the rest of my review, please follow me over to The Silver Petticoat Review.

Reel Infatuation -Crushing on Elwood P Dowd of Harvey (1950)

 

I can’t remember the first time I watched the fantasy comedy film Harvey. I first began watching classic films in the days before Turner Classic Movies made them readily available and easier to access.

But somehow I stumbled across Harvey, this film about Elwood P. Dowd and his pooka best friend, a very tall white and invisible rabbit. I watched it many times during my childhood and since. It has never failed to lose its’ wonder or to make me laugh. Part of the reason for that is an affinity for Elwood P, as he calls himself.

Every time I view this film, I am struck by how much I admire and in some ways even wish to be like the easy-going Elwood played by James Stewart. Even though he is a chronic drinker and his sister and niece wish to commit him to a sanitarium thanks to the havoc his friendship with the invisible Harvey causes them, still he has so many exemplary character traits.

It is alluded to that Mr. Dowd used to be a man of position and some influence before this unusual friendship changed his life. But although now he has neither of these, he is happier and contented with his life. Elwood P. Dowd never meets a stranger and greets everyone as a friend, immediately inviting them into his inner circle and listening attentively to the stories of their lives.

” Dowd’s my name. Elwood P. Here, let me give you one of my cards. Now if you should ever want to call me, call me at this number. “

He is extremely considerate of others, particularly of his best friend, but also of those who don’t have his best in mind. He accepts people as he finds them, making no assumptions or demands, taking everyone at their word and trusting in their innate goodness.

“I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whomever I’m with.”

Elwood also pays the loveliest compliments while giving the receiver, a beautiful nurse, his full attention.

“Miss Kelly, you know, when you wear my flower you make it beautiful.”

He sees the world through rose colored glasses and with the wonder and innocence of a child. Although it may seem he is ignorant to others’ thoughts and responses of his eccentricities, I believe he genuinely doesn’t worry about their opinions, glossing over anything which would create conflict.

“Years ago, my mother used to say to me, she’d say “In this world, Elwood, you can be oh so so smart, or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart… I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

He is calm and accepting even when faced with the loss of his best friend. He respects Harvey’s right to make his own choices even if it isn’t what he would wish. He is a man of grace and kindness who believes the best of others even if they don’t deserve it.

Dr. Chumley: “This sister of yours is at the bottom of a conspiracy against you. She’s trying to persuade me to lock you up. Today, she had commitment papers drawn up. She has your power of attorney and the key to your safety box, and she brought you here!”

Elwood P. Dowd: “My sister did all that in one afternoon. That Veta certainly is a whirlwind, isn’t she?”

In the end, despite opinions that he might be a crazy drunk, he proves that love and kindness win over even the hardest, most skeptical heart.

“Well, thank you Harvey! I prefer you too.”

This is my contribution to the 2017 Reel Infatuations Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Font & Frock

Classic Film Review -Pillow to Post (1945)

SUMMARY

Idle Jean Howard wants to do her part for the war effort. Since there is a shortage of men, her father’s oil company has no salesmen. Jean volunteers for the job and despite her father’s resistance heads out onto the road to try to save some company accounts.

Although she gives it her best efforts in her cross-country sales tour, Jean has no success. She finally lands at the Black Hills Oil Co. where Earl “Slim” Clark agrees to listen to her pitch. But only if she wines and dines him first. Of course, Slim’s motives are suspect as it is clear he finds Jean extremely attractive. Jean agrees and heads out to look for a place to stay for the night

Unfortunately, Jean finds herself looking for accommodations in an overcrowded army base town. There is absolutely nothing available until a last minute cancellation secures Jean a reservation. The only problem is, the room available is in a motor court which only caters to married couples. So Jean, manages to coerce a lieutenant from the local base to register with her as her husband with the plan being that he can leave once she has checked into the room.

The Lieutenant and Jean discuss arrangements.

But of course, as usual in this type of movie, nothing goes according to plan. Lieutenant Don Mallory’s commanding officer is staying at the same place and happens across Don and Jean as the bellboy is taking them to their room. Things go from bad to worse and hijinks ensue as more misunderstandings arise and Slim arrives to take Jean to their “business” dinner.  Being fake-married to a stranger can be challenging enough, but never has it been so hard to keep up appearances as the motor court is full of female busy bodies and both Don and Jean’s parents eventually show up unexpectedly.

Will Jean manage to land the sales account Slim is dangling before her? Will Don get kicked out of the army for breaking the morals clause by lying about the fake marriage?

MY THOUGHTS

Pillow to Post is a sweet little romantic comedy, that borders on ridiculous sometimes, but is still so much fun. Ida Lupino plays Jean Howard with a slightly scatter brained but determined air. Lupino generally starred in drama films and is a good actress but not one I typically choose to watch. However, she manages to play this comedic role well taking it almost to the edge of obnoxious but not quite. It doesn’t hurt that she slightly resembles an adult Shirley Temple which lends her an air of innocence as she juggles two men and a complicated situation.

Don & Jean contemplate their predicament.

I’m unfamiliar with the two actors who played the male leads, but I have no complaints with their acting skills.

One of the highlights of this film for me is seeing one of my favorite character actors Sydney Greenstreet play Don’s commanding officer, Colonel Otley. Greenstreet was known for being fat and several of his films would reference his weight as a joke in their dialogue. This film is no exception as it shows the Colonel on a strict diet to prepare him for being shipped overseas. He also gets the rare chance to play a comedic role as he often played the “bad” man in films.  I prefer him in comedies because he has such a jolly laugh and often comes across as a devious little boy.

Don explaining his “wife” to his commanding officer.

There is a running gag about one of the service man staying at the motor court, who is constantly on the search for avocados for his pregnant wife. The end of the film has her giving birth to multiples and he blames it on the avocados.

There is also a cameo appearance by musician Louis Armstrong who not only plays his trumpet but briefly sings in a scene where Jean, Don and Slim are at a dinner club.

Pillow to Post is not a groundbreaking film but it is a fun one to watch with a run time of just over 90 minutes. It is available on DVD and occasionally makes an appearance on TV.

Classic Film Review -Honky Tonk (1941)

FILM SUMMARY
In Honky Tonk grifter and con-man Candy Johnson is tired of being run out of every town he visits whenever the citizens discover who he is. So he and his partner hop on a train determined to find a small town which he can shape and control for even larger payouts such as graft. On the train, Candy’s eye is drawn by beautiful blonde Elizabeth Cotton who is traveling west to meet her father, a man she believes is an upstanding, honest judge. Elizabeth refuses to be tempted by Candy’s smooth line, resisting his obvious flirtation. Upon debarking in Yellow Creek, Candy recognizes Elizabeth’s father as a fellow con-artist, but keeps his secret for Elizabeth’s sake.
Candy soon begins his campaign to take over the town of Yellow Creek and Elizabeth’s affections. After winning a large stake in a gamble of Russian roulette, Candy builds his own saloon and donates money to build a town mission as a civic gesture. After a little light manhandling from Candy and a talk with the Reverend’s wife, Elizabeth admits her attraction to Candy and decides she will marry him with the mission to reform him. It’s not long before Candy is running the town and Elizabeth is running their home, but a wrench is thrown into this happy setup when the Judge grows a conscience for his daughter’s sake and decides to spill the beans on Candy’s real intentions.
Papa grows a conscience
MY THOUGHTS
This may just be my second favorite Clark Gable film, after Gone With the Wind. Actually, Honky Tonk has several things in common with that incomparable classic, not the least of which is that Candy Johnson is very similar to Rhett Butler and all the characteristics of that lovable rogue. Like Rhett, Candy is an admittedly selfish character, only interested in what profits him, who also displays a lethal dose of masculine charm. Candy’s pursuit of Elizabeth is determined and aggressive, yet with a touch of tenderness. Although, there is a bit of a power struggle between them at first, he makes sure that she knows who is boss, yet she also ends up with the upper hand in the end owing to his love for her.
This is the first of four films that Gable made with Lana Turner and it is a pairing which I really love. His dominant masculinity is a good match with her innocently sexy self and her soothing child-like voice. Too, the contrast between his dark looks and her wide eyed blonde curves is appealing as well. Gable was paired more frequently with other and better actresses (including acting greats, Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow), but I prefer seeing him with Turner even though she cannot match the acting skill of some of his other partners. Her Elizabeth is just as determined as her man, she just tends to take a more subtle path towards her end goals. Elizabeth lends Candy a veneer of respectability and her love and faith in her weak father is sweet.
Belle Watling never had a hat like that!

Another similarity with Gone With the Wind, is the presence of Claire Trevor, the saloon girl with the heart of gold, who is secretly in love with Candy, but stands by him as his friend, even when he marries another. Trevor gives Gold Dust depth and warmth, displaying her yearning and resignation in her eyes and through her subtle body language.

Honky Tonk fits a mix of genres, with some action and romance, dramatic and comedic moments. It’s setting as a mining town could also classify it as a Western. It really has something to appeal to everyone and is just downright fun to watch. It is too bad it wasn’t filmed in color as some of the costumes both Candy and Elizabeth wear in the film beg to be seen in multiple spectrum and not just black and white. I would love to have Elizabeth’s glamorous wardrobe.
If you are a fan of Rhett Butler, give Candy Johnson and Honky Tonk a watch. It’s Clark Gable at his roguish best. It’s available on DVD or you can catch it on the TCM channel this Wednesday May 24.

Five Stars Blogathon -My Five Favorite Film Stars

Today, I am excited to be participating in the Five Stars Blogathon which is being hosted by Classic FIlm TV Cafe.

Anyone who has been following my posts will know that I absolutely love movies. This being the case, asking me to pick five, and only five favorite stars was an almost impossible task! I mean really, it would be like asking me to choose my favorite book (another impossible task) or my favorite breath for that matter. But for the sake of following the rules, I have managed to narrow it down to the requested five. Just don’t get the idea that I don’t have other favorite film stars. And since this blogathon is in honor of National Classic Movie Day, I am sharing my favorite classic film stars.

CARY GRANT

Be still my beating heart!

Any one who knows me knows of my love for Cary Grant. His film Bringing Up Baby was my first introduction to him, to classic film and to screwball comedy, all of which remain favorites to this day. Cary Grant was a versatile actor who was equally at home in both comedies and dramas. His characters tended not to take themselves or life too seriously and yet also retained a darker edge about them which was highlighted more in his dramatic roles. And while I enjoy his later dramatic films, my preference will always be for his pre-war comedies. Who else could pull of playing men of sophistication and privilege who were able to laugh and make fun at their own expense? Not only was I ruined for mortal men by his onscreen style, humor and well-cut suits, but after reading numerous books about Cary Grant I also have great admiration for the man himself. He is a man who despite being raised in a working class home and  lacking in formal education, through determination, persistence and self-education created a persona who is still known the world over for his class and artistry. It takes incredible discipline to re-create one’s self and that is just what he did, doing it so entirely that he didn’t just create a character, but actually became one who is still famous and respected today not only as a film icon, but also a fashion icon and respected man of business despite being long gone. For further details on Cary Grant and my regard for him, read my introduction to Cary Grant.

KATHARINE HEPBURN

Katharine the Great

Hepburn was the other half of my introduction to classic film when I first saw Bringing Up Baby. And despite the fact that she doesn’t fit the mold of women I usually enjoy seeing on film and which were usually featured in classic films, it is precisely for that reason that she is my favorite actress. Like Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn was equally skilled in both comedic and dramatic roles including historical films, which Grant unfortunately never conquered. The women she played were generally of strong character and refused to be pigeon holed, an attribute that Hepburn also exhibited in real life. Although she appeared in some real stinker films which didn’t suit her, once she finally took full control of her career she had few misses. She could break your heart as she did in Alice Adams, The Rainmaker and Summertime, leave you trembling in shock and awe like she did in The Lion in Winter, or make you fall in love with her belief in her own worth as she does in Christopher Strong, Little Women, The Philadelphia Story and Adam’s Rib. She was a woman ahead of her time and it is for this reason that many of her films do not appear dated and still have something to say to modern audiences. Thankfully, this acting pioneer is well-regarded for her contributions to the art of film.

CLARK GABLE

That particular devil may care smirk.

One of the reasons I am a fan of Clark Gable is that he generally plays lovable rogues, which is one of my favorite type of characters in any story. He started out in films playing villains, but his onscreen charisma soon led him into better parts. But he never really loses some of the villain attributes, often playing he-men with an edge of danger attached who are eventually tamed by the women they love. Who else but Gable could get away with onscreen physical violence and threats against women and have female viewers still panting after him like he’s a hero? He just had that certain spark, that allowed his characters to get away with despicable behavior while also making him desirable to women and men alike, if for different reasons. Of course, the fact that his characters are redeemed by the love of a good woman helps, or perhaps it’s the fact that though they fall in love, they are often bewildered by how they come to become domesticated. Of course, even when he plays very masculine men, there is also something of the little boy about him, tender and eager for approval. And even though his personal life isn’t exactly something to emulate, by most accounts he was very down to earth and modest of his great success. All this combines to explain why he was voted King of Hollywood and remained so until his death.

NORMA SHEARER

This modern woman salutes you.

I can’t remember my first exposure to a Norma Shearer film.  But somehow she remained memorable enough for me to seek out her other films. Although her career suffered at the end thanks to the enforcement of the moral Hays Code and the death of her husband and champion of her career, Shearer’s films made a tremendous impact and left quite a legacy. It is her pre-Code films which I fell in love with, watching her play women who pushed the boundaries and enjoyed it. Women who thought themselves equal to men and went out to prove it, while still dressing in sexy, slinky dresses and tempting the so-called stronger sex with her tinkling laugh. She forged a path not only for women onscreen but those who watched by playing roles which demanded women be respected, listened to and even feared for their strength, intellect and femininity. I thought I could not appreciate Shearer any more than I did, but then I started watching her earlier roles in silent films. I was mesmerized by her acting abilities which required a different set of skills than she used in her talking pictures. In any film or any role she is astounding. And even more astounding is her grit and determination to become an actress after multiple rejections and criticisms of her lazy eye and body shape. This is a woman who even challenged her husband, second in command at MGM, for a role she believed she could play. And she proved herself right while proving everyone else wrong. Despite the decades which have passed, she is still proving herself right and challenging the mistaken notions some have about classic film being outdated and boring.

WILLIAM POWELL

Mr. Debonaire

My love for William Powell just kind of crept up on me. Even after reading and hearing numerous recommendations for his most famous film The Thin Man, I had no desire to see it, partly because the leading man didn’t seem appealing. Finally, I gave it a chance because of my interest in Myrna Loy. And it was so much fun. But still, an appreciation for Powell alluded me. I gained more exposure through his other film pairings with Loy and I think it must have been Manhattan Melodrama (featuring another favorite actor, Clark Gable) which sealed the deal for me. Thus began a quest to watch as many of Powell’s films as I could. Although I have yet to see any of his silent films in which he generally plays villains, I have seen the majority of his talking films and have never been disappointed. In some ways, he plays characters similar to Cary Grant, those of sophistication and humor. Yet there is a subtle difference which I just can’t put my finger on. He is suave and charming and his ability to deliver a quip has few equals. He often comes across mischievous and yet still trustworthy. I always know what I’m getting when I watch one of his films and they are always a pleasure to view.

Okay, I know I said I would follow the rules and stick to five, but I can’t talk about Norma Shearer without also mentioning my awe for her husband. So I guess, you will have to forgive me for not only breaking the rule of five, but breaking the rule of choosing film stars.

IRVING THALBERG

Film pioneer and genius

As I stated, how can I mention Shearer without also talking about her husband Irving Thalberg? Though he was not a film star onscreen, it can be argued that he was a star of film off screen. Along with Louis B Mayer, Thalberg was an instrumental and guiding force in creating MGM, the studio known as “having the most stars under Heaven” and also being the most powerful and influential of classic film studios. Thalberg was second in command as head of production answerable only to studio head Mayer. It was he who discovered and championed many of classic film’s beloved stars, including Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore and future wife Norma Shearer, among others. He oversaw over four hundred films in his tenure and was a visionary and risk taker whose ideas and accomplishments are too numerable to name here. The reason I admire him so much is that he did all of this in a little over fifteen years, starting at the young age of twenty and knowing that he would die young thanks to a weak heart. How many men of such a young age would be capable enough to basically run, manage and grow a business of such size and also do it well enough to gain the respect of not only his peers and competitors, but the world at large. And to do so while battling ill health is an even greater accomplishment. Few people are able to leave behind such a legacy even when living their lives to the fullness of old age. His commitment, determination and work-ethic are to be admired as is his character, strength and presence which allowed him to stand his ground with resolve in a business inhabited by strong personalities with strong opinions. And that is why I break the rules to share my favorite off-screen film star.

Who are some of your favorite film stars?

Classic Film Review – Midnight (1939)

“Don’t forget, every Cinderella has her midnight.”

This quote perfectly sums up the title of the screwball comedy, Midnight.

SUMMARY

In the opening scene, a train arrives in Paris with a glamorously dressed woman sleeping on a bench in one of the cars. Upon awakening, she arises, grabs her evening bag and steps off of the train into the rain with no luggage. Eve  Peabody quickly explains to the porter that she left her belongings in a pawn shop in Monte Carlo.

As she leaves the train station, she is accosted by taxi drivers offering her a ride which she can’t afford. One in particular seems sympathetic to her plight, so she arranges a deal with him to drive her around town to look for a job. Once she secures one, she will pay him double the rate she owes.

Love at first sight

After Tibor Czerny agrees and spends part of his evening helping her she is no closer to securing a job and the taxi meter is climbing higher. But Eve is in luck, because Tibor is kind and has fallen in love with her at first sight, even though she admits that her long-term plan is to marry wealth. She’s a charming and honest gold-digger.

Eve Peabody: [Discussing her career as a gold-digger] I landed a lord, almost.

Tibor Czerny: Almost?

Eve Peabody: Well, the family came between us. His mother came to my hotel and offered me a bribe.

Tibor Czerny: You threw her out, I hope!

Eve Peabody: How could I, with my hands full of money?

Not wanting to take advantage of him or to feed their mutual attraction, she escapes and manages to wander into a society party in the only thing she owns, her gold evening gown. She passes off her pawn ticket as a party invite to the oblivious major domo.

Once inside, she sinks into an open seat to rest her tired body, but the party is disturbed by the announcement that an unwanted guest has somehow managed to sneak in. The man sitting next to her notices her and keeps sending studying glances her way.

Suspicious mind

Meanwhile, Tibor, wanting to track down his mysterious, missing passenger arranges for a money pool with the other taxi drivers, promising the winnings to whomever manages to locate his runaway love.

Things really begin to get crazy when Eve is drawn into a high stakes card game, and gives her alias as the Baroness Czerny. She loses, but finds herself with an unexpected benefactor -the man who was watching her earlier and has figured out her secret. You see, his wife is in love with a playboy who can’t seem to take his eyes off Eve.  Wealthy Mr. Flammarion offers Eve a way to kill two birds with one stone. He will back her story, cover all of her expenses and provide her with a personal line of credit if she will use her wiles to seduce the playboy away from his wife. They both will benefit. Flammarion will have his wife back and Eve will have landed a rich husband.

Striking a deal

But things, don’t always go according to plan and in a screwball comedy, you can count on the most ridiculous and incredible occurences throwing more than a few curve balls into said plan.

REVIEW

I have finally learned that comedy and screwball comedy in particular is my favorite film genre. Midnight is not as well known as some other screwball titles, but it has quickly become one of my favorites.

Outstanding performances by lead actors Claudette Colbert (Eve Peabody) Don Ameche (Tibor Czerny) and John Barrymore (Flammarion, yes, this Barrymore is Drew’s grandfather) make this film shine. I’ve seen other pictures by all three actors. I wouldn’t say that any of them are particular favorites, but together, with this story, in this film, they are magic.

Like most films in this genre, the dialogue is quick-paced and characterized by witty repartee. The humor in Midnight, continues to build and grow, until the last third of the film had me laughing to tears. Eve’s quick thinking lies to explain her “husband’s” (remember she borrowed his last name) appearance when he finally tracks her down are outrageous, yet she sells them so well.

It is the role of Don Ameche’s Czerny simply to react to Eve’s statements and actions. Somehow, he manages to make me believe that he really fell in love at first sight with an admittedly broke gold digger. All he wants is to convince her that they belong together, while Eve fights her attraction to him until the bitter end, convinced that money will make her happy. I mean, who hasn’t had that internal battle before? That is what makes Eve a sympathetic character. She owns up to the truth about herself, even when it is unpleasant.

 

All’s well that ends well

John Barrymore has a plum role as Flammarion, the catalyst for Eve’s Cinderella story. (FYI, Mary Astor who plays Helene Flammarion had been engaged in a torrid love affair with Barrymore years before.) By this time, he was only three years away from death to his alcoholism and could no longer remember his lines. But his immense and well-respected talent was such that the studios still hired him for parts, because he was the great John Barrymore. They just managed to work around his penchant for drunkenness. Even at that, he still pulled off a credible performance that looks like he was having the time of his life.

CONCLUSION

Midnight is a ridiculously funny film and a good example of what is classified as screwball comedy. If you don’t mind having the bounds of believability stretched and are looking for a good laugh, I highly recommend this gem. It is available on DVD and streaming on many platforms including Amazon, iTunes, YouTube and others.

 

 

 

Classic Film Recommendations for May

As usual, I am sharing my recommendations for classic films airing on the TCM channel in May. TCM just happens to be focusing on the films of actor Clark Gable this month, so if you have only seen him in Gone with the Wind, this is a good chance to see some of his other many lovable films.  All times are Central Standard Time

Gilda (1946) -This is the film that made Rita Hayworth a big star. It’s a moody drama about the love/hate relationship between Hayworth and co-star Glenn-Ford. It’s also a fine example of film noir.  Showing May 1 at 8:30 AM

It Happened One Night (1934) -Gable won an Oscar for this film about a newspaper man who chases a flighty heiress around the country. One of the early examples of screwball comedy, it’s still considered a masterpiece. Showing May 2 at 7:00 PM

A Free Soul (1931) -Another Gable film with Lionel Barrymore (yes, one of those Barrymores) and Norma Shearer, one-time queen of MGM. If you think classic films are boring and sedate, this pre-code title will prove you wrong. It’s pretty darn sexy. Showing May 3 at 2:00 AM

Spartacus (1960) -If you haven’t seen this famous film starring Kirk Douglas about a slave who leads a revolt against Rome, you really should. Showing May 6 at 3:30 PM

The Children’s Hour (1961) -If you think of Audrey Hepburn as sweet and dainty, then her role in this film will come as a surprise. She co-stars with Shirley MacLaine and James Garner in this story about how gossip and rumor can ruin lives. Showing May 7 at 5:00 PM

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) -The last of Katharine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy’s many films together. It was one of the first to tackle the subject of interracial marriage. Also starring Sidney Poitier. Showing May 12 at 11 PM

You Were Never Lovelier (1942) -People always link Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers together thanks to their multiple film pairings. However Rita Hayworth, like Fred  Astaire was brought up as a dancer and their pairing in this film shows their natural grace and chemistry together. Showing May 20 at 9:15 PM

Boys Night Out (1962) – I love a young James Garner and this is a fun little comedy about a young woman who shares and apartment with four men so that she can use them as research in a psychology study. Showing May 21 at 5:00 PM

Pride and Prejudice (1940) -If you’ve never seen the original film version of Jane Austen’s story, don’t miss this one. It has its’ faults, but is still fun and stars Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Showing May 22 at 8:15 AM

Fury (1936) -Starring Spencer Tracy, this is a film that will really stick with you.  Tracy is an innocent man who is mistaken for a criminal. It shows the scary results of mob rule/violence. Showing May 23 at 8:15 AM

Gone With The Wind (1939) -Seriously, if you haven’t already seen this book and film classic then you need to watch it. It is still one of the highest grossing films of all time and part of our cultural history. Showing May 23 at 7:00 PM

Test Pilot (1938) -One of my favorite Clark Gable films, it also stars Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy. Gable is, what else, a test pilot, with Loy acting as his supportive wife and Tracy rounds out their trio as the best friend. This is just a fun film. Showing May 24 at 1:15 AM

Bringing Up Baby (1938) -My very first introduction to classic film, this screwball comedy stars my favorite actors Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in a story about an heiress who shanghais a nerdy professor into helping her deliver a pet leopard to her grandmother. Yes, it is as crazy as it sound and also makes me laugh every time! Showing May 30 at 6:45 AM.

If you only watch one film, it has to be Gone with the Wind. If you have already seen that, then I recommend Bringing Up Baby.

 

Classic Film Review -Voice in the Wind (1944)

 

SUMMARY

Voice in the Wind is a relatively obscure film which tells the story of Jan Volny (pronounced with a soft J like the French name Jean), a Czech citizen and his beloved wife Marya. We are first introduced to Jan on the island of Guadalupe, a safe haven for refugees of the Nazi regime. Jan is only known as El Hombre or the crazy one, as none of the other island occupants know his true identity since he himself has forgotten it and lost his memories.

Jan is treated with some wariness, but is befriended by the morally challenged Angelo, who along with his brothers owns a ship and preys on unfortunate refugees, promising to take them to America, only to steal their valuables, kill them and toss them into the sea.

The local bar owner, another friend, allows Jan the use of his piano on which Jan continually plays the same song over and over while staring into space.  In flash backs we see Jan as a popular concert pianist preparing for his last concert in his home country before emigrating to America with Marya to escape the Nazi occupation. A Nazi soldier stops by to warn him not to play The Moldau, a musical symbol of Czech patriotism, but during his encore Jan defies this order.

A tortured pianist trying to recall his past.

Following the concert Jan arranges for Marya to escape to Paris without him, despite her insistent cries that she won’t go and her fear that she will never see him again. He is soon arrested, questioned and tortured by the Nazi’s and it is their brutality which leads to his fragile mental state and transformation into something a little less than human.

Unbeknownst to him, Marya also happens to be on the same island suffering from pneumonia, but when she hears Jan playing the beloved Moldau, she knows that he has kept his promise to return to her and climbs out of her bed to search out his location by following the music.

REVIEW

Voice in the Wind is a very dark film and yet I feel a very important one, particularly since many comparisons can be made between the events portrayed and the genocide happening in the Middle East today. Hollywood released many propaganda films during WWII to stir up sentiment against the Nazis. Although this would qualify as one of those, it is not nearly as well known as others. Yet I believe it is one of the more effective and powerful ones, specifically due to its’ desolate plot. Unlike other propaganda films, this one does not have a happy ending and many of the characters die, but it is precisely that risk of showing the realism with no happy ending which makes this film so powerful.

The cruelty of the occupying forces against Jan and Marya, not only in driving them apart, but the torturous treatment of Jan at their hands and the theft of their hope is disturbing. In making Jan a famous pianist, the film underscores that no one is truly safe in such circumstances, as many might assume that Jan’s prominence in his homeland would protect him.

This movie also shows the wickedness of those who prey on the innocent and helpless refugees. Such people take advantage of those who have already lost everything and endured much trauma, using their desperation against them and profiting at their expense. In my opinion, this is as equally tragic as the circumstances which have caused the refugees to flee, because it is another blow to their hope. Sometimes, it’s not the blow which knocks you to your knees, but the final one that knocks you on the ground which is the most painful.

Francis Lederer who plays Jan was himself a Czech citizen whose career had begun in German cinema. So this part would have been rather personal, I think. Lederer appeared in other propaganda films against the Nazis so I assume that even though Germany gave him his start, like other Hollywood emigres, he was against their regime. I have seen him playing supporting characters in other films, but aside from his starring role as an illegal immigrant in the Ginger Rogers film Romance in Manhattan (which I highly recommend), this really is one of the more memorable roles I’ve seen him play.

Voice in the Wind is shot in the cinematic style of film noir, with almost all the scenes happening at night and the emphasis on light and shadow, particularly the shadow, heightening the impact of the story and its’ bleakness. Additionally, the use of The Moldau as a plot device is one of the main threads that runs through this film tying the present and past together.

The background sounds also play an important part in setting the tone of the film with marching footsteps emphasizing the dominance of the Nazis in the flashbacks and the continual whistle of the refugee ships lurking as a melancholy reminder that the hope of escape is not guaranteed.

The opening and closing scenes of the choppy ocean waves drive home the effects of feeling overwhelmed and overcome that Jan and Marya experience as they fight not to sink beneath the darkness of their circumstances.

Despite the fact that this films ends in tragedy, it is also a very realistic ending. But that despair is somewhat lifted by the lingering final shot of a lit candle signalling that darkness cannot ever truly conquer the light.

Hitchcock’s Romantic Films

WHO IS ALFRED HITCHCOCK?

Alfred Hitchcock earned his title as the Master of Suspense and it is one that he certainly deserves. Unlike other directors who worked in multiple genres, Hitchcock remained true to his preferred theme.

Whether directing gothic mysteries, international intrigues, courtroom dramas or thrillers, Hitchcock managed to titillate his audience with the tension inherent in the suspense of the unknown, feeding their fear with mystery.

Romantic tension is a recurring sub-theme. While usually not the focus, it is often the boiling undercurrent which adds to the overall suspense inherent to his films. Hitchcock does not display the contented happy side of romance, but rather the darker aspects of love and desire. He generally shows the male and female leads wrestling with a vital question and component of any relationship – trust, all while already finding themselves in murky circumstances.

I have seen a large number of Hitchcock films and have made a list of a few which highlight his view of romance. Hopefully, this will give a new perspective to Hitchcock’s title as the Master of Suspense. Here are five romantic films, Hitchcock style.

To see the list, please follow me here to The Silver Petticoat Review.