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. Ellenberger 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”
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.
43 films/series total (not including Hallmark films)
24 new classic films
6 TV series
1 foreign film
Biggest Disappointment:Yellowface: Asian Whitewashing and Racism in Hollywood, The Return of Peter Grimm and Rosalie
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.
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.
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.
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.
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