Hidden Gems: Spencer’s Mountain (1963)

Spencer's Mountain

source: Warner Brothers

If you ever longed to live in the vast, open spaces of the Grand Teton Mountains of Wyoming while drinking your favorite brand of bourbon till the sun goes down, annoying not only your significant other but also your fellow townsfolk, children and their friends, then Spencer’s Mountain is a movie that may pique your interest.

1200px-barns_grand_tetons

Where the Spencer’s laid down their roots.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Earl Hamner Jr. Spencer’s Mountain tells the story of Clay Spencer, played by Henry Fonda, and his struggles to build a better life for his family.

His wife, Olivia, played by Maureen O’Hara, tries her best to accommodate Clay and his ambitions but finds it difficult when he continually deviates from the path he stringently set for himself.

Among some of Clay’s ‘distractions’ include mild alcoholism, perpetual flirtations with other women, and the occasional adversarial comment about his wife’s religion.

Clay’s carelessness causes his family more harm than good.

The Spencer’s essentially live in the middle of nowhere. They don’t own any vehicles, horses or telephones, this leaves the family especially helpless during emergencies. When they do need some assistance, Clay just harrases his eldest son ‘Clayboy’ a freshly minted high school graduate, to run a couple of miles to the nearest police station.

It isn’t a very effective way to go about things, but, it’s the best they have.

‘Clayboy’ played by James MacArthur, is the only man to graduate high school in the Spencer family. He wants to make something out of himself, and he decides that living in the backwoods of, in his words,”the middle nowhere” is no way to live a life.

Strangely enough, his father agrees, and when ‘Clayboy’s’ teacher chooses him for one of the few scholarships that his school offers, he jumps at the chance.

Spencer's Mountain 2

source: Warner Brothers

This is where Clay’s redemption story begins.

‘Clayboy’s’ teacher nominates him for a “divinity” scholarship. It wasn’t necessarily the one he wanted, but it was better than nothing.

Knowing the elder Spencer’s general grumpiness about religion, he’s hesitant to agree to this. Olivia, on the other hand, is ecstatic that her baby boy is potentially pursuing a career as a pastor.

All the while this is happening, Clay begins renovating his home, hoping to use a plot of old Spencer land to create his dream residence. With ‘Clayboy’s’ dream of going to college, all of that is put on hold.

After letting this ruminate in his heart for a few days, Clay casts aside his prejudices and quietly accepts his son’s decision. Just as he came to terms with himself, it turns out that ‘Clayboy’s’ scores in Latin were too low for his scholarship to be accepted.

Frustrated, Clay drives up to the university to give the dean a piece of his mind. A couple of hours of contentious conversation later, the dean gives him an ultimatum: if ‘Clayboy’ can learn Latin before the semester starts, then he can enroll, but his scholarship will be dropped as a result.

Problem solved, right?

Well, not exactly.

It takes the Spencer’s a couple days to figure out where they could possibly find a Latin tutor in the middle of the dense backwoods of Wyoming. When they do, it comes as a shock to Clay when it’s the local priest that selflessly agrees to help his son.

Divine Intervention.

Spencer's Mountain 3

source: Warner Brothers

Preacher Goodman (played by Wally Cox) forces Clay to go to his services on Sunday in exchange for ‘Clayboy’s’ lessons. Sure enough, next Sunday Clay sticks to his word and attends the service, much to the delight of not only his wife but the entire town.

It appears that the hard-drinking, no-nonsense, Clay Spencer has finally begun to soften up a bit.

His newfound faith would be tested, however, when he and his father Grandpa Spencer (played by Donald Crisp) get crushed by an unsuspecting falling tree while trying to remove the stump before it grows into the family funeral plot.

The irony.

‘Clayboy’ arrives moments after the incident, bringing a pail of lunch the pair requested hours earlier. As he steps closer to the scene, ‘Clayboy’ knows that this is quickly turning into a life or death situation.

Scared out of his mind, he drops everything he’s doing and runs to the nearest ’emergency bell’ immediately alerting anyone near. Subsequently, everyone heads up the mountain bringing all the tools and medical supplies that are needed.

Spencer's Mountain 4

source: Warner Brothers

Clay escapes with a few injuries but it’s Grandpa Spencer that takes the brunt of the damage, ultimately losing his life.

Months go by after the accident.

Clay preoccupies himself with his new “dream house” project, expecting it to take his mind off of what happened. It does for a little while, but his ambitions only serve as a reminder of his dad who also shared the same dream.

The next day, Clay and ‘Clayboy’ head up to the dean’s office to show him that he successfully passed his lessons. The dean agrees and proudly scribbles ‘Clayboy’s’ name on the roster. Knowing that the last thing they need to do in order to enroll is a tuition deposit, Clay gives up on his dream of building a new home and literally sets the house on fire.

Once it simmers down and there’s nothing left but ash and disappointment, he sells the land for a hefty fee, which goes towards ‘Clayboy’s’ tuition.

The end of the movie sees the Spencer family send-off ‘Clayboy’ to college. With a clear conscience and a happy wife, Clay Spencer can definitely rest easy knowing that he made his dad proud.

Conclusion

spencers-mountain-the-end

source: Warner Brothers

This movie is the equivalent of drinking iced tea on the banks of a canal that sits a couple of feet behind your home, watching the sunset while you quietly ignore your responsibilities.

Director Delmer Daves truly outdid himself with this one. Not only does the movie give you a sense of familiarity, it shows a different side to what one would call a “nuclear family.”

Everything is not what it seems in Spencer’s Mountain.

I’ve always seen Henry Fonda as the soft, brooding type of guy. So it came as a bit of a surprise when I saw him acting “out of character” – so to speak – in this film.  Maybe I need to watch a couple of more of his movies to break this stereotype, but I’d say that his portrayal of Clay Spencer did a perfect job of that.

As for the film itself, it’s certainly a fun one. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the acting performances put on, particularly James MacArthur who, I have to admit, made my heart flutter during multiple instances in the movie.

If you have the chance to check out this film, I recommend that you do. It may not be the most exciting, or the most angst-inducing, but it’ll have you compelled to cast aside some selfish need for the sake of your family.

 

Advertisements

The Clark Gable Blogathon…

MMELODRAMA

source: MGM

A story of principle.

There have been many movies over the years that exemplify this precious sentiment. What there hasn’t been, however, is a film that makes sticking to what you believe in a matter of life or death.

Manhattan Melodrama is a film about convictions, love, and how far one is willing to go to keep them together.

Director W.S Van Dyke tells the story of two boys who grow up together, and how time and different circumstances lead them to live different lives.

Clark Gable and William Powell star as ‘Blackie’ Gallagher and Jim Wade, the two boys whose friendship is thicker than blood. Their friendship goes through countless ups and downs, through several trials and tribulations, but despite those hardships, Wade and ‘Blackie’ were inseparable.


Their misfortunes begin at the beginning of the film when the cruise liner they were traveling on catches fire, leaving everyone to fend for themselves.

This unlucky accident has both of their parents die in the frenzied blaze, leaving both of the boys parentless. As the boys and other survivors swim to safety, they run into a homely man named Poppa Rosen (played by George Sidney.) It’s shown that he also lost a family member, a son, the same age as ‘Blackie’ and Wade.

MMELODRAMA2

source: MGM

As the trio grieve together, Rosen offers to become their guardian. With nowhere else to go, the boys jump at the opportunity.

A couple of years pass by and everything seems to be going well for the boys (well, at least for one of them.) Wade is studying to become a district attorney and ‘Blackie’ is dipping his toes into the grimy world of petty crime.

After living comfortably with Rosen for a few years, he’s accidentally trampled to death by a policeman’s horse at a pro-Communism rally.


The movie skips ahead to the year 1920, where Wade has triumphantly become District Attorney and ‘Blackie’ runs an illegal gambling ‘joint’.

Both boys have found success in very, very different lines of work.

The law is the only thing that keeps them separated.

The two boys – now men – run into each other one night at a boxing match. They laugh, and joke around like old pals, prompting ‘Blackie’ to invite Jim out for drinks. Jim declines citing work as his excuse. That doesn’t deter ‘Blackie’ though. If he couldn’t be there he’ll send the next best thing, Eleanor – his mistress girlfriend (played by Myrna Loy.)

When Eleanor and Jim meet, she’s immediately impressed by the class and charms that oozes out of Wade, the polar opposite of ‘Blackie’s’ brash and coarse demeanor.

Eleanor returns from her impromptu ‘date’ and she realizes that she doesn’t want to live the “gangster” lifestyle anymore and ends her romance with ‘Blackie,’ eventually marrying Jim.

MMELODRAMA3

source: MGM

Her decision proves to be the correct one when a couple of days later a man who owed ‘Blackie’ money is mysteriously shot in his hotel room.

The man behind the crime?

Edward J. ‘Blackie’ Gallagher.

But, Wade doesn’t know that.

Run he starts his campaign for governor later that year, his assistant Richard Snow essentially harasses him into looking deeper into the murder case. If Jim doesn’t comply with his wishes, Snow would expose his close friendship to ‘Blackie’ thus ruining his chances of winning the race.

Coincidentally, Eleanor and ‘Blackie’ reunite at a horse track, where Eleanor explains the predicament that Wade has got himself into.

‘Blackie’ being an all-around “bad guy” tells her that she shouldn’t worry and that he’ll “take care of this, himself.”

We all know what this means.

Lo and behold, ‘Blackie’ shoots Wade’s assistant point blank in a restroom during a hockey game in Madison Square Garden. Because, why not?

MMELODRAMA4

source: MGM

What ‘Blackie’ thought to be a blind man sitting outside the restroom when he committed the crime turned out to be a concerned citizen who quickly reports the crime to the police.

Jim is now forced to choose between two of the things that he loves the most: his career or persecuting ‘Blackie.’ He wins his gubernatorial race, but his mind can’t shake the obvious conflict of interests.

Ultimately, his conscience takes over, as much as it pains him to do so and against the objections of his wife, he prosecutes ‘Blackie’ for both murders sentencing him to death by electric chair.

He almost retracts his sentencing, however, when Jim visits ‘Blackie’ in prison, he reiterates to him that he’s proud that he stuck to his conscience and didn’t relent in his charges. Agreeing, Wade gives up and lets ‘Blackie’ have a peaceful death.

The movie ends with Jim tendering his resignation from his governor seat, stating that a murder influenced the result of his election, therefore, making it invalid.

Conclusion

MMELODRAMA5

source: MGM

When you combine the genius of Joseph L. Mankiewicz and the directorial magic of W.S Van Dyke, you’re bound to get magic on the silver screen.

That’s exactly what makes Manhattan Melodrama a film that deserves more recognition. This movie has it all: excellent writing (absolutely incredible, I can’t stress that enough), outstanding acting, and exceptional directing – the trifecta.

W.S Van Dyke has quickly become one of my favorite directors because of pictures like this. He has the magic touch when it comes to movies where you need to have that delicate balance of drama and comedy (e.g The Thin Man.) Though ‘MMD’ isn’t necessarily a comedy, there were several moments in the film where the witty banter between Powell and Gable flowed organically, like they’ve known each other all their life.

For that, we have Mr. Mankiewicz to thank.


Manhattan Melodrama is a film that will make you reflect on what you truly believe and whether or not you can stand for it when the going gets tough. Not only is the film visually stunning and terrifically written, it also has an underlying message of morality and virtue.

There are not many movies that could do this, but ‘Melodrama’ is one of the few that does it so well.


If you wish to read the rest of the entries in the blogathon, click here.

 

 

The Best of M-G-M: The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)

Ginger and Fred on Broadway

source: MGM

When discussing famous dynamic duos of yesteryear, there are a number of different couples that spring to mind; Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis are more than enough to satisfy anyone’s movie watching sensibilities.

Perhaps one of the more popular and sexier pairings is the timeless coupling of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

Filming 10 movies in the span of 17 years (9 with RKO and just 1 with MGM) Rogers and Astaire were truly a force to be reckoned with. If you’ve ever heard the saying “She gave him sex, while he gave her class” more often than not that quote can be attributed to their relationship.

From Top Hat to The Gay Divorcee, everyone and their mother (whether they like to admit or not) has a favorite Rogers and Astaire film. One picture that doesn’t nearly that get enough recognition and love is their musical swan-song, The Barkleys of Broadway.


Released in 1949, The Barkleys of Broadway is a comedic look at the hardships of being a Broadway star and the unintentional consequences and stresses of working with your significant other.

Ginger and Fred on Broadway 2

source: MGM

In the film, Rogers and Astaire play married couple Josh and Dinah Barkley. It’s the opening night of their new play in downtown Manhattan, and despite getting a standing ovation from the audience, behind the scenes tells a much different story.

As as the Barkleys step behind the satin curtain, quickly deafening the roar of the crowd the veneer of stability is tarnished when we find out that Josh is irate at his wife’s brazen flirtation with French playwright Jacques Pierre Barredout (played by Jacques François.)

Naturally being a red-blooded, American male, Josh doesn’t take too kindly to some foreigner ogling his very attractive wife. In retaliation, he confronts Dinah – and not her French boy toy – about the debacle, which only fans the flames even further.

In actuality, Dinah was speaking with Jacques after he made an off the cuff remark about her lack of dramatic roles. Tensions increase further when later that night at an art gallery, another artist compares Josh to Svengali and that Dinah’s entire career hinged on Josh’s command.

After a couple of days of contemplation, Dinah found herself agreeing with the Frenchmen and secretly began shopping scripts with the hope of starring in one.

Astaire and Rogers on Broadway

source: MGM

One weekend, Dinah would get her wish when she and Josh are invited up to Jacques’ bungalow in the cozy fictional town of Danbridge, where he’s celebrating the completion of his new script.

While Josh meanders out into the garden, Dinah questions Jacques’ judgment when she learns that actress Pamela Driscoll (who she’s not very fond of) is cast in the starring role.  Jacques agrees with her sentiments and smoothly asks Dinah if she would like the role instead; guilt-ridden, she accepts his offer.

A couple days later after the twosome returns to New York after their weekend getaway, Josh discovers his wife’s secret when he accidentally sees her rehearsing lines from a script that obviously didn’t pertain to their stage act.

Jumping to a conclusion faster than Wile E. Coyote plots to catch Road Runner, Josh accuses Dinah of having an affair. She scoffs at this accusation and promptly walks out on not only Josh but everything they’ve worked for.

With the freedom to be an independent woman and a chip on her shoulder, Dinah scurries back to Jacques, cementing her place as the new leading actress in his latest play.

Fred and Ginger on Broadway

source: MGM

Josh attempts to perform the next batch of “Barkley” shows alone, while Dinah spends her newfound freedom rehearsing for Jacques’ upcoming play. Seeing as though Dinah spent the majority of her career as a comedic actress, the transition to more serious roles proved to be a challenge.

Things for the Barkleys get worse when their sardonic family friend Ezra Miller (played by Oscar Levant) deceives them into performing together again at a hospital benefit.

Being the iconic duo that they were, their performance receives a standing ovation. Josh suggests that they get back together, feeling a bit nostalgic about their past accomplishments. Dinah rejects his offer, claiming that he’s, “taken her services for granted for too long.”

Fair enough.

But, that doesn’t stop Josh from being a doting husband.

When Dinah isn’t paying attention during rehearsals, Josh has a habit of watching her practice through a small window hidden behind various curtains and props. When he sees her struggling with some of the lines one day, he takes the initiative to call her using a very fake French accent disguised as Barredout using a nearby payphone.

How scary thoughtful!

Astaire and Rogers on Broadway

source: MGM

A few days and many painstaking practices later, Jacques’ play finally premieres. With Josh watching from behind the curtain, he stands in awe of his wife as she pours her heart out on stage.

The play ends and Dinah’s performance passes with flying colors. While tears are being shed and champagne is getting popped backstage, Dinah finds out that it was, in fact, her husband who was giving her the tips that she initially believed were from Barredout.

What Josh thought would be a pleasant surprise for his wife turned out to be one of disgust. Dinah is “shocked and annoyed” at Josh’s harmless ‘prank’ and she admits to him that she was, indeed, having an affair with her director.

Naturally, this leaves Josh absolutely devasted and on the verge tears, until Dinah relents and quickly retracts her statement revealing to her husband that this was just, as he would put it, a ‘harmless prank.’

In the end, the Barkleys reconcile not only as a musical duo but as a couple, thus forgetting all hardships they went through for the past couple of months.

Conclusion and Some Interesting Behind The Scenes Information

Astaire-Rogers on Broadway

source: MGM

The Barkleys of Broadway is a very good musical. It’s not the best, nor is it the worst Astaire/Rogers collaboration, but it holds its own.

Many classic movie fans may not consider it to be on par with some of their other films, but it can still be considered a picture worthy of praise.

The film is impeccably directed and flawlessly paced; there was never a dull moment in this movie. Bringing together Ginger and Fred again for what I thought was an unnecessary nostalgia trip is a decision that should be lauded.

The intriguing thing about this is that the role of Dinah almost went to MGM’s resident musical expert Judy Garland.


In 1948, Astaire and Garland gained raved reviews for their performances in the musical comedy Easter Parade. This prompted producer Arthur Freed to give the ‘go ahead’ to the writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green to begin a new screenplay that would reunite Judy and Fred in another musical.

The title? The Barkleys of Broadway.

Things were all going to plan for Freed and Garland until her long battle with depression started to catch up with her, forcing her to drop out of the project. The stars finally aligned when a couple of days later after the first reviews were released for Easter Parade, Rogers sent Freed a telegram congratulating him on his success. 

Fully aware that he needs a replacement for his film – and fast, Freed reached out to Ginger again and delicately asked her if she’d care to work again with her former dance partner.

Ginger-and-Fred on Broadway

source: MGM

Apparently, Ginger was rather irritated the question but it was a necessary evil for Freed. Out of a leading actress for his upcoming movie, desperate times called for desperate measures, right?

Luckily for Freed (and the movie watching public for that matter), Ginger accepted the offer making The Barkleys of Broadway their 10th and final movie together.


As far as musicals go, The Barkleys of Broadway is certainly not the best, but for what it lacks in plot, it more than makes up for it in the chemistry between Astaire and Rogers.

I supposed that’s the biggest appeal of this movie.

It isn’t something you watch to enjoy with friends, it’s a movie you keep hidden away in your personal collection, only bringing it out when you’ve finished binge-watching the rest of the Rogers and Astaire‘s filmography.

A perfect ending to 10 years of cinematic excellence.

 

Late Nights, Early Flights, Green Tea, and Lisa Carol Fremont

tumblr_otnygyeah81qk2y5po2_500

esource: Paramount Pictures

I adore TCM.

Thanks to Ted Turner‘s genius, thousands of tasty morsels from the wonderful world of classic cinema are merely a couple of remote clicks away. Despite the abundance of good that TCM provides to the starving film fan, there is a downside to having only a handful of movies stored in their archive. Usually, this means that the network has the tendency to replay a lot of movies.

This would irritate me, normally, but there’s always an actor (or director in this case) that’s an exception to this phenomenon.

In this case, it’s Alfred Hitchcock.


A couple of months ago, I was on my way to visit some family members in the northern part of the United States.

I’m an anxious flyer so, naturally, to calm my pre-flight jitters, I turned on TCM just a few hours before my flight left the following morning. Fortunately, all throughout that month, the network decided to sporadically play Hitchcock‘s voyeuristic masterpiece Rear Window in celebration of what would have been Grace Kelly‘s 88th birthday.

Grace's Window

sources: Paramount Pictures

I’ve seen Rear Window about a dozen times on several different occasions (I even own it on Blu-ray) but, for some reason, this viewing felt very unusual.

Instead of enjoying the cheeky humor, incredible sets, and the brilliant screenwriting, I took an active effort at trying to understand the intricate fusion between the character of Lisa Carol Fremont and Grace Kelly – the actress.

As you may know, it has often been said that Grace Kelly had a ‘dual persona.’

This is in reference to the “ice queen” image that plagued her throughout her career. There’s no denying that Kelly was a pretty reserved person in her personal life – depending on which biography you read, but what about her movies?

This is where my re-viewing of Rear Window helped me to understand that this dichotomy that followed her career (and to a lesser extent her private life) wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.


Lisa Carol Fremont as a character was at times rather selfish, stubborn, and oftentimes just plain rude. That’s understandable, of course, when you realize she’s dealing with a man with a proclivity for adventure and a fear of commitment (played to perfection by James Stewart), yet as I was re-watching Grace as Lisa with a different set of eyes, I quickly recognized, “well, of course, she would act this way.”

Alfred Hitchcock specifically picked Grace for this role due to this persona. Lisa was a fashionista, she loves clothing and even would forgo going on a trip with her boyfriend because she didn’t have the “proper attire” for the environment she’d be traveling in.

Who in their right mind would do something like that?

Right! An “ice queen” who gives off an air of entitlement and impenetrability.

Late Night Grace

source: Paramount Pictures

There are some moments in the film where Lisa could be extraordinarily cold and distant, but it only ever happened when she was in crisis or when Jeff wasn’t conforming to her standards of what their relationship should look like.

Grace’s “ice queen persona” helps a lot in this aspect; she was the only actress that could’ve taken this role. Hitchcock deliberately crafted the role of Lisa Carol Fremont for Grace, he knew that if any other woman stepped into that role, the entire tone of the film could have been something that he didn’t intend to mean.

Hitch’ has always carefully crafted his pictures this way, it doesn’t surprise me that he chose Grace for this role. This same sentiment could be applied to her role in 1955’s To Catch a Thief as well.

If it wasn’t for Hitchcock‘s cinema IQ and Grace’s typecast, I don’t believe Rear Window would’ve been as good as it is.

It’s funny, all it took for me to understand this was my fear of flying and my love for overanalyzing movies.

Go figure.

The Influence of Paris On Classic Hollywood Cinema

Hollywood in Paris

source: Paramount Pictures

Lise: Paris has ways of making people forget.

Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It’s too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way.

-Leslie Caron as Lise and Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan in An American In Paris (1951)

Paris.

Since it’s industrial revolution in the mid-1800s, the self-proclaimed,”City of Lights” has grown to represent a number of different things in the human psyche.

Whether it be the sound of the cobblestone streets beneath your feet as you walk beside the Seine River, the monotone “bonjour” as you stride into your favorite Boulangerie or the thousands of tourists who are jostling with each other in a race to see who can snap the most cliché selfie, Paris has been tourism hot-spot for decades.

In the eyes of the classic film fan, however, Paris holds a special connotation in our hearts.


Arguably starting with Humphrey Bogart‘s legendary quote during the climax of Casablanca, the City of Paris has been a staple in pop culture since the advent of the movie camera. It’s no wonder that many classic film directors have chosen “The City of Love” as the backdrop to several of their movies.

Paris in movies

“……French New Wave at it’s finest.”

So, what makes Paris so special?

In the classic film sense, it encapsulates everything that’s so extraordinary about that specific era in movie history.

Paris is the place where a lonely writer can turn into an international marvel, where an ex-GI can chase his dreams of being a painter, and where a homely librarian can turn into a top model; Paris is the place where dreams become reality.


There are several movies that embody this feeling.

An American in Paris, Funny Face, and Moulin Rouge! are some of the better examples of this phenomenon. Other films in this category include The Last Time I Saw Paris, Les Girls, and 1958’s Academy Award Winning film GigiEven the plot of light-hearted romantic comedies like Stanley Donen‘s Charade has a feeling of improbability and absurdity that could only to recreated in a city like Paris.

 

Paris in Hollywood 2

When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” 
― Oscar Wilde

In summation, Paris’ importance to classic Hollywood has been immense. Filmmakers, actors, actresses, producers, and screenwriters have all come together to help create a lore to this city that’s been so prevalent in our movie history.

The next time you happen to view a film that takes place in the ‘City of Love’, be sure to take a good look at its surroundings, you never know what magic Paris will conjure up this time.

Classic Film Reviews: Vivacious Lady (1938)

Vivacious Lady

source: RKO

Every now and then, one stumbles across a movie that completely subverts your expectations.

Whether it be a comedy that makes you cry or a drama that makes you laugh, it’s always good every once and a while to have your assumptions thrown into a tizzy; that’s one of the many reasons why the romantic comedy Vivacious Lady works so well.

Released in 1938 and directed by George Stevens, the movie stars Ginger Rogers, James Stewart, and Charles Cogburn, plus a talented supporting cast including James Ellison, Beulah Bondi, and Frances Mercer.

The movie tells the story of Peter, a homely botany professor who falls in love with a nightclub singer (played by Ginger Rogers) while on a trip to the city to retrieve his playboy cousin Keith (played by James Ellison) who’s been “painting the town red.”

The catch? Peter’s parents (specifically his overbearing father) would no doubt disapprove of his new relationship.

Sounds amusing? Well, it is.

Vivacious-Lady-1938 1

source: RKO Pictures

Peter spends the bulk of the film trying to convince his dad Peter Morgan Sr. (played by Charles Coburn) that his “floozy” girl he picked is actually his new fiancée. The only dilemma is Peter isn’t the most assertive chap, so, emphatically proclaiming his love for an “uneducated” showgirl won’t sit too well with his father.


As stated earlier, the movie starts in lively fashion when Peter is forcibly removed from his office by his domineering father and forced to search for his rowdy cousin Keith who’s cavalierly traversing through each and every Manhattan nightclub.

After exhausting every resource he had to look for Keith, Peter finds him in a nightclub trying to ‘take home’ (if you catch my drift) a blonde showgirl who wants nothing to do with him.

Francey or “Fran” (played by Rogers) was initially infatuated by Keith’s charms, but, in typical classic Hollywood fashion, her eyes quickly moved towards Peter after realizing his “better-looking family member” is a bit of a lush.

After pulling an all-nighter and walking around the snow-covered streets of Manhattan till their heart’s content, Francey, and Peter decide to elope.

vivacious-lady-1938 3

source: RKO Pictures

The trio return to the Morgan household located in the sleepy town of Old Sharon, New York where Fran finds out how seriously Peter takes his day job.

Seeing as though his father is a very egotistical man, Peter is apprehensive about telling him about his recent marriage. When he does muster up the courage to tell his dad, not only does the elder Morgan brush off his son’s concerns, he mistakenly believes that this “blonde hussy” is just another student at the college Peter teaches at.

Uh, oh.

Being the soft-spoken man that he is, Peter tries to broach the subject again, only to be rejected for the third and final time.

vivacious lady 1938 4

source: RKO Pictures

It isn’t his father who spurns his advances this time, however, but his mother Mrs. Morgan who apparently has a chronic heart issue. Naturally, with her nervous disposition, this makes it fairly difficult to bring up the subject that Peter so desperately wants to get off his chest.

Sick and tired of being walked over, Peter decides it would be a good idea to reveal the true identity of his wife during the College’s semi-annual student-faculty prom (apparently this something that happened back in the day…). With the help of his cousin, Peter coerces Keith (despite having a fiancée) into taking Francey to the dance as his own date.

Increasingly growing frustrated that she has to continue to pose as a student, Fran inadvertently develops a close friendship with Peter’s mother (this will be very important later.) Fran’s cover is almost when Keith’s fiancée Helen (played by Frances Mercer) picks a fight with her in a jealous rage which eventually has Fran accidentally punching Peter’s father in the face.

Sidenote: this scene genuinely had me on the ground howling with laughter, I couldn’t gain my composure for a good 10 minutes. 

vivacious lady 1938 5

source: RKO Pictures

After un-pausing the movie and regaining my senses, the film continues with Peter candidly shouting at his dad (mostly due to frustration) that the blonde-haired student that’s been following him everywhere is actually his wife.

“Finally,” he thought. “I’m no longer burdened with this secret that’s been shredding my heart to smithereens.”

Not so fast.

It turns out that his dad was about to give a “state of the union,” – so to speak – to the higher-ups at the college board. This results in a quarrel between the two which causes Mrs. Morgan, who’s sitting a few steps away, to have another heart “flare up”. Concerned for her well being, Peter orders Fran to take Mrs. Morgan back to her dormitory.

This is where Mrs. Morgan comes clean about everything. She confesses to Fran that she knew who she was the entire time and that she regularly fakes her heart ailments to get out of arguments with her husband (I should try this when I get married.)

Thanks to George Stevens, we get this hilarious scene where Keith, Mrs. Morgan, and Fran essentially celebrate having a couple of minutes away from the insolent spirit of the elder Morgan.

Vivaciouslady8

source: RKO Pictures

After their brief moment of bliss, Mr. Morgan confronts Fran and demands her to separate from Peter. When that doesn’t work, he threatens Peter’s job security. Ultimately, Francey gets the hint and begrudgingly leaves.

Mr. Morgan’s strong statements prompt Mrs. Morgan to drudge up some hidden feelings about the state of their marriage that have been ruminating inside her for years. Taken aback by his words, she hitches her wagon to Francey’s one-way ticket out of Old Sharon.

Free from the clutches of the elder Morgan, both women get on the first train down to Reno.

Peter’s resolution to the problem is to create possibly the most disrespectful situation a child could possibly subject their parents to – public drunkenness. As you can imagine he makes a complete fool of himself.

He loosens his tie, takes off his shoes, and downs about 7 glasses of whiskey in his classroom’s broom closet accompanied by who’s Keith cheering him on a couple paces away. Peter claims he’ll continue on this downward spiral until his father retracts the statements he spewed so flippantly a few hours earlier, even if this stunt costs him his cushy office job.

Vivacious Lady 1938 9

source: RKO Pictures

Several hours and many bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue later, Peter hits the hypothetical brick wall of drunkenness. This sees him miss the train that was carrying his emotionally distraught wife and mother.

When this was happening, Fran (being the typical woman) expects her ‘knight and shining armor’ to come galavanting down the train tracks, enter the convoy, sweep her off her feet then ride off into the sunset hoping to reconcile their failed marriage. When that doesn’t happen, she accepts her fate and proceeds to cry into Mrs. Morgan’s supportive shoulder.

Surprisingly, while Peter is knocked from his all-day ‘bender’, Mr. Morgan swallows his pride, finds the train before it leaves the station and takes it upon himself to apologize to both his wife and daughter- in- law.

You may be wondering, “how does one man stop a 100,000+ pound train dead in its tracks?” “Surely, it must be impossible.”

Well, if your first answer isn’t to park your car it in front of its path, then you may be a heartless jerk (according to what the movie says, anyway.)

Miraculously, Mr. Morgan finds his way onto the train tracks and hobbles his way into the shared cabin of Francey and Mrs. Morgan. With Peter not too far behind, the elder Morgan manages to weasel his way back into the loving clutches of his wife, profusely apologizes to both women. As for Peter and Francey, everything appeared to go smoothly for them.

Fortunately for the duo, they reunited without a hitch and forgave each other fairly quickly. Unfortunately for the audience, that happened to be the last scene of the movie, but based on their reactions, I have it on good authority that something as petty as this  probably won’t happen again to the Morgan clan.

Conclusion

Vivacious Lady 1938 7

source: RKO Pictures

Vivacious Lady is a picture that made my heart soar. Since the plot wasn’t as convoluted as some other romantic comedies from this era, the sole focus revolves around Ginger and James‘ incredible chemistry that permeated every inch of this movie.

Filled with pure amusement and warmth. The phenomenal attraction between Rogers and Stewart is what makes this movie tick. If this film had any other pair of leading actors, It might not have worked as well.

We can thank George Stevens for masterfully crafting a romantic comedy that genuinely feels romantic. Now, that sounds a bit redundant, but, there have been plenty of times where I’ve watched romantic dramas/comedies where I felt no connection to the characters, plot, or outcome. With Vivacious Lady, however, I was very interested in whether or not Fran and Peter (and to a lesser extent Peter’s parents) would be able to fix their issues.

All in all, Vivacious Lady is charming romp about star-crossed lovers and the many forces that threaten to derail their relationship. The movie is funny, touching, and slightly sensual (thanks to the pre-existing real-life relationship between Ginger and Jimmy.)

What more, as a classic film fan, could you possibly want in a movie?

It’s perfect.

 

 

 

The Greta Garbo Blogathon…

As You Desire Me 1932 1

source: MGM

Greta Garbo was my favorite actress in the world.  For three years I’d come out of my dressing room every day, run past hers, and call ‘Good morning!’ I could hear her deep voice talking to her maid but she never did speak to me. I’d see her occasionally on the lot. Never a word! Then one morning there was a rush call.

Someone was ill and couldn’t show up for still art in the gallery. Wouldn’t I come and pose in their place? I went sprinting past Garbo‘s dressing room in such a hurry I forgot to yell ‘Good morning.’

An instant later I heard her door open, then a resonant ‘Allooooo!’” – Joan Crawford speaking about her experiences with Garbo on the set of 1932’s  Grand Hotel.


Greta Garbo was a generational talent.

So many classic Hollywood actresses (and heck, even some actors) have been inspired by her smooth Swedish inflection. It’s no surprise that her 1932 effort As You Desire Me, co-starring Melvyn Douglas, Erich Von Stroheim and Hedda Hopper is dripping with that Garbo charm that we all know too well.

Directed by George Fitzmaurice, this pre-code film tells the story of Zara, a flirty Budapest nightclub singer who’s down on her luck. When she’s not entertaining hundreds of drunken patrons, she lives with acclaimed Hungarian novelist, Karl Salter (played by Von Stronheim.)

As You Desire Me 1932 2

source: MGM

Zara finds her ticket out that lifestyle when a man named ‘Tony’ (played by Owen Moore) approaches her by calling her the name, “Maria” as if he knew her personally. It’s soon learned that Tony is harassing Zara because he believes that she’s his best friend’s long-lost wife.

Zara vehemently denies this, but when faced with the prospect of going back to her smutty job she swiftly joins Tony in his quest to return her where she “rightly belongs.”

At the estate, we’re introduced to Bruno Varelli (played by Melvyn Douglas) – the man who’s patiently waited 10 years to be reunited with his lover. When Zara arrives, however, no one (not even the family dog Rex) recognizes her.

She’s cold, distant, and completely foreign, but she sticks with it.

Overcome with guilt, she confesses to Bruno that she isn’t his beloved Maria. Shocked but not saddened, he presses Zara into staying anyway, conforming to the mold left by his wife a decade ago.

As You Desire Me 1932 3

source: MGM

Back in Budapest, Karl is fuming with rage.

Taking the matter into his own hands, he travels to ‘Maison de Varelli’ and confronts Maria’s sister Ines Montari (played by HEDDA HOPPER, I still can’t believe that) insisting that they have an imposter living with them. As Zara and Bruno get to know each other better, they genuinely start falling in love.

Believing that happiness truly is possible, Zara comfortably starts adjusting to her new lifestyle. It all comes crashing down, however, when she spots Karl from afar addressing Ines.

Karl walks over to her and explains that Bruno’s estate was a week and a day away from being it being reverted back to Maria’s sister Ines. Zara reluctantly believes him and confronts Bruno, who tells her it’s all a lie. Karl retorts, saying that the real Maria has been locked up in a sanatorium since the war. For more proof, he brings in “the real Maria” wrapped in a headscarf and shivering from shock.

As You Desire Me 1932 4

source: MGM

She shuffles in and proceeds to name Ines and their maid Lena (played by Rafaela Ottiano) as familiar faces. The family slowly start to accepts her as Maria until Zara intervenes, causing a stir.

She starts to question,”Maria’s” intentions; so much so that when her memory starts to come back she begins to speak incoherently and it turns out “Maria” wasn’t Maria at all, but a woman who lived on the estate during the war.

With all of that out in open, nobody seems to care – really. The movie ends with Bruno and Zara confessing their love for each other with everyone else going about their regular schedule, including the heartbroken novelist Karl Salter.

Conclusion

 

As You Desire Me ending

source: MGM

I thought this film was quite peculiar.

The first 15 minutes didn’t quite hold my attention like I thought it would. It started off a bit slow, but when Owen Moore‘s character stepped into the frame, the plot started to pick up a bit. The storyline was very interesting. I really enjoyed the “Parent Trap” aspect to it.

Erich Von Stroheim was excellent in his role of the abusive, over controlling novelist, Karl Salter. He really brought another dimension to the lie Zara was caught in.

Speaking of Zara, Greta Garbo was phenomenal – per usual – in this role. She played it with such a breezy realness that I certainly felt bad for when the family started to believe she wasn’t the real Maria.

In summation, As You Desire Me is a fabulous pre-code movie about deceit and is most worthy of being included in this lovely blogathon.

 

 

Click: here to read more entries in this blogathon.

Hitchcock’s Masterful Use of Colors in 1958’s Vertigo

vertigo 1958

source: Paramount Pictures

Vertigo is one of the best films ever to be put on the silver screen.

Directed by the incomparable Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo is a movie unlike anything I’ve ever seen. With its compelling storyline, fantastic acting and incredible location shots, it’s hard to label this film with anything other than the word “perfection.”

An underrated aspect of this movie, however, is the way Hitchcock uses color. There are multiple scenes in the film where color is (in some shape or form) used as a part of the story. For example, the color green is used to symbolize Scottie’s feelings of uneasiness, or more specifically – a dreamlike state. It’s no coincidence that every scene involving Judy or Madeliene the color green in somehow squeezed into the frame.

Vertigo 1958 2

source: Paramount Pictures

Even when green isn’t the focal point, Hitchcock‘s liberal use of color touches every single fiber of this movie.

Vertigo 1958 3

source: Paramount Pictures

Vertigo 1958 4

source: Paramount Pictures

Vertigo 1958 5

source: Paramount Pictures

The next time you have the luxury of watching Vertigo, look of for these intriguing tidbits of cinematic genius. It’s most certainly the least appreciated part of such a legendary movie.

Thank you, Alfred, we greatly appreciate it.

 

The Third Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon…

tumblr_oyfgizwsaw1wy4x3ro3_500

Doses of Grace Tumblr

Grace Kelly‘s name is forever woven into the fabric of classic Hollywood. Despite only starring in 11 films, her cinematic footprint will live on for eternity.

Unfortunately for the classic movie connoisseur, 11 movies aren’t nearly enough to satisfy our natural inclination. Some wonder what Grace‘s career would’ve looked like had she not relocated to Monaco and married Prince Rainier.

Would there be more Hitchcock in her future?

Would she win manage to win another Academy Award?

Who knows? I’d like to think she’d go in a different direction.


In 1956, Grace Patricia Kelly wed Prince Rainier of Monaco in a wedding ceremony that would rival anything you’d see in Game of Thrones. Flowers, champagne, the sound of 1,000 trumpets – ‘the whole shebang’; it was truly a remarkable sight to behold. Coincidentally, just a couple months earlier, Grace was in Hollywood filming what would be the last movie she’d ever perform in.

high-society

source: MGM

High Society is a musical comedy romp that stars a marvelous cast of actors and actresses that include Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra Celeste Holm, and John Lund.

Directed by Charles Walters the film tells the story of wealthy socialite Tracy “Samantha” Lord and her journey to self-discovery as she falls in love with three men: C.K Dexter Haven (her ex), George Kittredge (her very dull and insipid fiancé) and Mike Connor (the magazine photographer sent to her residence to catalog her upcoming wedding.)

Throughout the movie, we see Sam and her many suitors go through a number of different situations like, getting drunk and going for a “romantic swim” (aka skinny dipping in classic Hollywood terms) in the family pool, speeding around the various mansions of Newport, Rhode Island and revisiting old memories with her estranged ex-husband.

Watching Grace Kelly as Samantha Lord juggle these three men so effortlessly was a joy to watch.

High Society 1956 2

source: MGM

Her comedic timing was impeccable; her delivery was impressive for an actress who was primarily known for her dramatic roles.

I suppose that’s why it’s so unfortunate that Grace quit Hollywood when she did. High Society seemed like the type of movie Grace could’ve continued to make had she not married royalty. Don’t get me wrong, I adore her love story with Rainier, but, it would’ve been interesting to see what direction her career would’ve taken if she stayed in Hollywood’s ‘dream factory.’

I envision her career going the way of a Rosalind Russell or even Katharine Hepburn; actresses who’ve starred in dramatic pictures but, are also very well known for their work in comedy.

In the end, all this speculation is in vain. Although it would have been wonderful if Grace continued with her movie career, I can’t help but think that she found her natural calling of being a princess.

How could you go wrong with that?

 

To read more entries in this blogathon, click: here.

Poor Lizabeth Scott….or should I say, Van Heflin?

Lizabeth and Van in TSLOMI

source: Paramount Pictures

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a peculiar film.

It pretends to be one thing, then by the end of the movie, it horrifyingly surprises you. At first, you believe it’s going to be a tender movie, celebrating the bond of love and friendship; 15 minutes in, however, that all changes for the worst.

If you’re a classic film watcher, you’ve probably seen this picture recently. Seeing as though TCM has become the sole purveyor in distributing these classic morsels, it’s become more and more common for folks in our blogosphere to overlap reviews of certain movies – this happens to be one of them.

In summation, the film follows the life and loves of a woman named Martha (played by Barbara Stanwyck) and the people around her that become collateral damage due to her actions.

Starting in her youth, Martha invariably had a habit of using people. Whether it be hiding away in a boxcar to get away from her overbearing aunt, to eventually killing her out of spite, Martha Ivers always knew that her past would catch up with her- and boy did it come back with a vengeance.

Van and Lizabeth

source: Paramount Pictures

18 years after that fateful incident, childhood friend (and modern day drifter) Sam Masterson finds himself back in the same town that he vigorously fled almost 2 decades earlier.

He returns to find a city cloaked with the name of a former friend: Ivers.

Shocked but slightly amused, Sam takes his freshly crashed car into a ‘Ma and Pa’ shop to get it repaired. While kicking back with a cigarette in one hand and a ball of money in the other (Sam’s known to have a serious gambling problem) he overhears on the radio that Walter O’Neil (played by Kirk Douglas in his screen debut) is running for public office.

“This scared, meekly kid that I knew is making his living in politics?” Sam says to himself. “How could he garner the gusto to do this?”

“Ivers” the shop owner retorts; “Martha Ivers.”

Van and Liz in TSLOMI

source: Paramount Pictures

When you view “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” your focus instantly goes to Walter and Martha and the intricacies of their relationship. What doesn’t get enough attention is the great worry and distress that Sam (and later his ex-con paramour ‘Toni’ Marachek expertly played by Lizabeth Scott) go through due to the tyrannical decisions of Martha and her submissive husband.

The pair meet when Sam takes the liberty to stroll past his old stomping grounds while his car’s being mended.

‘Fixing’ for a drink, he runs into Ms. Marachek, standing there with her perfectly coiffed hair and a sense of sadness surrounding her. They go for a drink and Toni tells Sam that she recently got out of jail and is dangerously close to going back if she violates her probation.

Being the slick guy he is, Sam believes he can sweet talk his old pal Walter (the county’s current D.A) into letting Toni get off easy.

The-Strange-Love-of-Martha-Ivers-1946

source: Paramount Pictures

Sam goes into Walter’s office and strikes up a conversation with his old acquaintance; about 10 minutes into their chat, in walks his wife, Martha Ivers. She reacts to his presence like her husband wasn’t even there. Martha smothers him with love and affection, essentially “cuckolding” her husband in plain sight.

This hurts Walter’s already crushed ego and from that point on, Sam’s life would be made a living hell.


First, Walter strong-arms Toni into setting Sam up, which leads him to be badly beaten by a bunch of Walter’s “friends” and Toni to reach her emotional breaking point. Then, they try to force him out of town, but Sam is far too proud to let that happen. Lastly, (and perhaps the most gruesome) Walter attempts to kill Sam himself hoping to conceal the secret that’s been haunting him and his wife for years.

Feeling bad about what her husband is putting him through, Martha takes Sam out on a late evening drive. She confesses everything to him, including the culprit of her aunt’s murder.

The only catch is Sam didn’t have a clue that Martha was the one who pushed her aunt down those set of stairs that night.

TSLOMI

source: Paramount Pictures

Martha uses this opportunity to rekindle her romance with Sam, leaving his new lover, Toni home alone sobbing into her pillow. Sam, being a red-blooded American male, is torn between his new love and his old. This is just another example of Martha using anyone around her to get what she wants.

Toni is an emotional wreck and contemplating leaving Sam in favor of her old life. Sam is confused over whether or not he should continue pursuing this relationship with Martha, and Walter? Well, he’s given up on life. He’s had it with everything including his wife, Martha. He decides to end it once and for all.

In the film’s iconic finale, Sam is invited to the Ivers’ manor to settle the situation. Drunk and rowdy, Martha finds out about this meeting and wants to be apart of it.

A couple of moments later, Walter falls down the stairs due to his drunkenness, echoing shades of how Martha’s aunt passed away. Martha urges Sam to take the gun that Walter keeps in his drawer and use it to kill him. Sam scoffs at this idea and carries Walter to his study to sober him up.

the Strange Love

source: Paramount Pictures

Martha doesn’t like this and threatens to shoot Sam in “self-defense.”

“It could work,” he says, “only if I was there to witness it.” With that being said, he leaves and doesn’t look back. As he’s walking away he hears gunshots, a murder-suicide.

What a relief.

All of that he went through, everything Martha put him through, everything Toni went through. The suffering, the heartbreak, the stress – pure torture. Fortunately, he finds Toni about to leave the hotel room they’ve been sharing for weeks and tells her what happened.

“It’s over, he says. “It’s finally over.”

The pair drive off into the sunset, never to look back at the grief and pain they suffered in a little wretched city named “Iverstown.”