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”
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.
40 films/series total (not including Hallmark films)
26 new classic films
3 TV series
1 foreign film
Biggest Disappointment:Cynara and Follow the Boys
Favorite Discovery:Betty White: A Celebration, Come September and Redeeming Love
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
When a group of strangers hear the confession of a dying man who leaves a mysterious clue about the whereabouts of a large sum of cash, they aren’t convinced he’s on the level. Yet, when they suspect each other of going after the money, they pause to discuss how to locate it and also how to split it when it’s found. Talks quickly break down and it becomes, “every man (and woman) for himself!”
Next thing you know, five different groups of people are racing to be the first one to find the dough, unaware that they are being tracked by the cops who have long wished to recover the money from a robbery case. Their attempts to beat each other out lead to the involvement of other strangers and motorists as well as crazy situations that quickly become destructive. Continue reading “The Umpteenth Blogathon – It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)”
Despite ongoing life challenges and demands (or maybe because of them), 2021 turned out to be a good film and entertainment year for me. Or at least a prolific one as I watched just at 500 titles.
This year I worked my way through some of the Poirot films, re-watched the Narnia franchise and some of my old favorites from Disney. I also branched out a bit to give 1970’s-80’s films a try though I’m normally not a fan of their aesthetic. In other big news (to me anyway), I got the Hallmark channel back after a two year absence, right around the holidays. So I spent a lot of time at the end of the year catching up on all their Christmas films.
The big decision I made in 2021 was to focus on classic musicals which is a genre that is usually more miss than hit with me. And while it still isn’t my favorite, I’ve learned to appreciate it more. I’ve found I have a decided preference for the dancing performances over singing ones. Continue reading “2021 Film Year in Review”