Joan Crawford Goes To The Supermarket

Joan Crawford Roger Ebert
source: Eve Arnold

When scrolling around the internet, one must be careful not to click on anything unsavory. This happens sometimes – of course, but it’s basic computer safety to stay away from websites that try to get you to book a “trip” to Naples for the discount price of $150 bucks. 

Luckily, I managed to stay away from sites like that, but not before I ran into something absolutely horrid.  

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across a forum named The Data Lounge. Their main audience is mostly gay men, but, I tend to visit it because I love the banter that goes on during the different discussions. 

I also love the forum because there is a myriad of various conversations about classic Hollywood. There’s a search bar on the website that simultaneously functions as an archive. I often use it to look for threads that date back to 1995 – the year the website was founded.

This brings me to Joan Crawford.

Humoresque
source: Warner Bros.

In 1969, Joan Crawford starred in promotional short (featuring a TON of Pepsi- Cola advertising) that shows what she does on an average trip to the grocery store.

Oh. my. word.

This was the most absurd thing I’ve seen in a while.

Joan in supermarket
source: The Big Rock Candy Mountain

The video starts off with Joan walking out of her station wagon (like she ever drove one, oh, please!) then sauntering into what looks like your typical grocery chain. She’s joined by, what looks to be, a neighbor and her blonde-haired snotty nosed child. They shop for various things, including tomatoes, Spanish sausage and a multitude of several kinds of seafood.

The rest of the 4-minute video sees Joan picking up ingredients to make a paella, deeps thoughts about life and some witty teasing between her and this 5-year-old toddler.

If you’d like to see this masterpiece of filmmaking, click: here. It’ll show you a hilarious side to a silver screen legend that will leave you stunned (in a healthy way) for hours after you view it.

God Bless you Joan Crawford for making this, I deeply appreciate it.

 

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The Joan Fontaine Centenary Blogathon…

Letter From an Unknown Woman
source: Universal Pictures

Rainy nights, overcoats and star-crossed romance, Letter From an Unknown Woman is a heartbreakingly riveting movie about one man’s fall from grace.

What caused it, you may ask?

A woman, of course!

Louis Jourdan plays musical genius Stefan Brand. Once considered to be the next Mozart, his life has turned to ruin due to his boozy playboy lifestyle. One rainy night in Vienna while sitting in his study, Stefan gets news that he’s always been dreading to hear; his friends have warned him that he’ll be summoned for a duel at dawn.

Startled but not surprised, Stefan scoffs off this appointment and asks his mute butler, played by Art Smith, to prepare his carriage. As he’s getting ready to flee, he notices a letter meant for him sitting on his bedside.

letter-from-an-unknown-woman Joan and Louis
source: Universal Pictures

Intrigued by the letter’s rather morbid first sentence, Stefan’s quick getaway turns into an hour-long retrospective. This is the point in the film where director Max Ophüls changes perspective and introduces us to the letter’s writer named Lisa, played by Joan Fontaine.

The note begins with Lisa describing herself as a lovesick teenager. She writes about her first memories of seeing Stefan move into her building and how excited she was whenever she’d listen his music floating through the stagnant night air into her window.

Lisa doesn’t dare speak to him, but she does, however, manage to fall in love with him. Just as she was about to confess her undying admiration for him, her mother remarries and moves the family to Linz, 100 miles away from Vienna.

Taking up with another young man to get her mind off of Stefan, she eventually grows weary of him and calls off their relationship. Telling her mother she has a lover in Vienna, she reluctantly lets her daughter return to the city to make a living as a model in a dress store.

After her shift has ended for the night, Lisa waits for Stefan outside his apartment – essentially stalking him until he notices her. Luckily, he does and offers to take Lisa out to dinner.

letter-from-an-unknown-woman 2
source: Universal Pictures

White rose in one hand and a checkbook in the other, Stefan finds Lisa utterly charming and is flattered by her undying devotion. They finish their meal, then head to a local amusement park where they dance till dawn.

In the next scene, we see the pair in Stefan’s apartment in an intimate embrace. It’s implied that they made love, but, in true classic Hollywood fashion, the screen fades to black before anything could be seen.

The next day, Stefan visits Lisa while she’s at work and explains to her that he’s going to be out of town for the next 2 weeks. He promises that he’ll keep in touch with her, but, doesn’t keep his word.

A few months go by and Lisa believes that she’s heard the last of Stefan. It isn’t until she gives birth to their son, Stefan Jr. that she decides to move on from their relationship and marry an older, wealthier man.

After this scene, we return to the present day where Stefan is lovingly looking at the photos of his son enclosed in the envelope that had the letter. Desiring to know more about him, Stefan resumes reading the message, hoping to get a glimpse of his son’s life.

Letter From an Unknown Woman 3
source: Universal Pictures

The note continues when Stefan Jr. is about 9 years old and Lisa has married socialite Johann Stauffer, played by Marcel Journet. A night out to the opera turns sour for the pair when Lisa spots Stefan sitting in the opposite balcony out of the corner of her eye. Careful to avoid eye contact, she tells her husband that she has a headache and wants to return home immediately.

Stunned to see Stefan is such a state of disarray, Lisa stumbles out of theatre hoping (praying, even) that she doesn’t run into her old flame.

Too late.

Just as she’s about to step into her carriage, Stefan steps in front of her and asks if he could see her again. She ignores him and heads into the coach where – surprisingly – her husband’s waiting for her. He asks her what she’s going to do, Lisa tells him that she feels powerless around Stefan and declares that he needs her.

Fast forward to a couple days later, Lisa is sending Stefan Jr. off to school via The Vienna Express. They are quickly asked to move trains, however, when it is learned that the cabin they’ve been put in has been quarantined due to a previous passenger having a typhoid fever.

letter from an unknown woman 4
source: Universal Pictures

Lisa gets off the train platform and buys a bouquet of white roses to give to Stefan when she visits his apartment.

A couple of moments later, she arrives at his place and swiftly realizes that Stefan has no idea who she is. Dazed and heartbroken, Lisa spends the rest of her night wandering the streets of Vienna, and ultimately goes to see her son.

In the final scene of the picture, we overhear Lisa’s voice explaining to Stefan that his son died from typhus that night and by the time he receives this letter, she will be dead herself. Flushed with sadness, Stefan remembers who Lisa was and starts to feel remorse.

Realizing he has nothing to live for, he finishes getting dressed and changes his mind about going to a duel. But, before he steps out of the door, he plucks a single flower from a bouquet of white roses for good luck.

Conclusion

letter-from-an-unknown-woman 5
source: Universal Pictures

I quite enjoyed this film, to be completely honest. I, foolishly, went it believing that it would be another costume drama that would bore me to death.

I’m really glad that wasn’t the case.

Louis Jourdan gave Paul Henreid a run for his money. I was positively enchanted by him in this film. His portrayal of a down on his luck washed-up musician with an inclination for weak women spoke to my soul. He was simultaneously a jerk and a heartthrob; I thought he balanced the dichotomy very well.

Joan Fontaine was as delicate as a newly born rabbit in a cotton field in this film. She had to portray Lisa at 3 very different stages in her life and intricately played all of the extremely well.

As for the directing, Max Ophüls did a phenomenal job. He expertly captured the ambiance and feeling of early 20th century Vienna that gave the courtship and romance between Stefan and Lisa a feeling authentic intimacy.

Letter From an Unknown Woman is a real gem of a film. I didn’t expect it to be as good as I thought it was going to be. It went from being a picture that I would’ve watched once then left it alone, to a movie that I’m seriously thinking about purchasing on DVD. If you have the opportunity to watch this, I recommend that you do. It’ll be a nice addition to your classic movie repertoire and a very pleasant shock.

 

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

 

My Obsession With…Classic Westerns

The Searchers
source: Warner Bros.

The vast, dusty, open spaces of the western frontier are some of the most magnificent sights one can behold.

States like Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and countless others have all served as backdrops for film directors and actors who had dared dip their toes into the red-blooded, quintessentially American movie genre known as the classic western.

John Ford, Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, Linda Darnell, John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Howard Hawks, Otto Preminger, Nicholas Ray, John Huston, Micheal Curtiz and plethora of other classic Hollywood icons have, at one point or another in their careers, ventured to this extraordinary genre that heavily influenced my movie watching sensibilities.

Mackenna's Gold
source: Columbia Pictures

When I first began to submerge myself into the world of classic cinema, initially, I only watched what was comfortable to me; romance, comedies, dramas, musicals – whatever it was, I vigorously viewed them with the tenacity of a lion.

It wasn’t until I saw a rather peculiar film about a man’s rush to obtain wealth through gold, that I started to take the classic western seriously.

Mackenna’s Gold is a film, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

It broke the constraints in what it meant to be a “classic western.” With its special effects, subtly nudity, and coarse language, it left an indelible effect on me.

Starring an all-star cast of Gregory Peck, Omar Shariff, Julie Newmar, Edward G. Robinson, Ted Cassidy, Telly Savalas and Camilla Sparv, Mackenna’s Gold tells the story of a mild manner sheriff named Sam Mackenna (played by Peck) who gets kidnapped by a group of Mexican and Indian bandits (primarily played Omar Shariff, Jule Newmar and Ted Cassidy) who forced him to take them to this ‘so-called’ city of gold.

Mackenna insists that there is no ‘city of gold’ but, his pleas get met with more pistol whippings and beatings. For the rest of the film, I witnessed a cinematic spectacle that shaped the way I looked at the genre that I once loathed.

MacKennasGold
source: Columbia Pictures

There were scenes of violence, skinny dipping,g and mass canyon destruction and I utterly enjoyed every minute of it. I never knew that westerns could be this gritty and real.

Watching Mackenna’s Gold lead to an awakening to other westerns that I normally would’ve skipped over.

The Searchers, Giant, Wichita, The Naked Hills, The Unforgiven and many others I feverously poured over hoping to get the same feeling I did when I watched Mackenna’s Gold.

Luckily for me, I did.

Watching westerns make me feel free. They give me a feeling of pure spontaneity. The films I’ve watched usually involve a man just looking for a place to lay his roots and start a family. He doesn’t where he’ll start, but he knows he’ll start somewhere.

The beauty of the unknown, It gives me a thrill. Just imagine moving to a small, dusty town where the people are (relatively) friendly and the resources are abundant. The world is your oyster in the wild west, and I have Mackenna’s Gold to thank.

thesearchers
source: Warner Bros.

 

 

 

 

The Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon…

20000 Years in Sing Sing
source: Warner Bros.

Although this may be the “Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn blogathon” I took the liberty of choosing a lesser known movie starring the former.

20,000 Years in Sing Sing is a pre-code (one of my favorite eras) drama set in the real-life Sing Sing penitentiary location in Ossining New York- a few miles outside of the 5 boroughs of New York City.

Tommy Conners is a cocky, brash loud-mouthed gangster who has been sentenced to 5 to 30 years in prison at Sing Sing for robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.

Despite Sing Sing’s notorious reputation, Tommy is sure that ‘his boys’ on the outside will be able to get him out of this. His lawyer, Joe Finn (played by Louis Calhern) attempts to sweet-talk the warden (played by Arthur Byron) with bribes, to no avail – Tommy Connors is out of luck.

Connors wants to be taken seriously at Sing Sing, so much so that he’s strutting around the prison like he bought it with his own money. This shtick of his gets shut down fairly swiftly (after multiple beatings and seven months in solitary confinement) and Tommy begins rapidly learns his place.

20000 Years in Sing Sing
source: Warner Bros

Beaten but not broken, fellow prison mate Bud Saunders (played by Lyle Talbot) recruits Connors and another prisoner named Hype (played by Warren Hymer) for a highly elaborate escape plan.

All sides of the party agree, but, when the night of the getaway falls on a Saturday, which Tommy regards as a day that’s always unlucky for him, he backs out of it leaving Bud to adjust his idea ‘on the fly’.

Bud’s plan continues without him and fails – spectacularly.

The warden was tipped off to this scheme and preemptively sends guards to spoil it, losing two of them and one prisoner in the process.

When prisoners aren’t trying to flee the steely gray walls of Sing Sing, Tommy’s girlfriend Fay Wilson (played by Bette Davis) visits him regularly every weekend.

In a desperate plea to get him out of jail, Fay admits to Connors that she’s been intimately meeting with Finn with the hope that he could do her a favor and get him released from jail.

Sing Sing
source: Warner Bros.

Enraged by the thought of Fay with another man, Tommy forbids her from seeing him again, even if that means staying in jail for permanently.

A couple of days after their meeting, Connors gets called to the warden’s office where he’s handed a telegram with tragic news:

Fay’s on her deathbed, with life-threatening injuries from a car accident.

Seeing as this has physically and emotionally affected him, the warden, incredibly – gives Tommy 24 hours to see her before she passes away, on the condition that he was to return as soon as possible.

Tommy gives the warden his word and jumps at this opportunity to leave his jail cell. When he gets Fay’s apartment he sees her wounds, he is understandably upset. Wanting to know who did this to his sweetheart, he presses Fay into giving him the answer.

Sing Sing 2
source: Warner Bros.

Fay confesses that it was Finn driving the car she was in.

The first rule of Gangster flicks is to NEVER mess with their girlfriends, or else they go crazy.

Oops.

After learning about this, Tommy grabs the nearest gun and is on a one-man mission to kill Finn. Before he could step out of the door, however, Finn shows up with a letter exonerating Connors for the crimes he committed in exchange for the $5000 dollars Fay was going to use to get him discharged from prison.

Tommy lunges at him, striking Finn in the head with a fallen telephone. Just as it seemed Connors was about to be murdered, Fay in her weakened state picks up the gun Tommy dropped and shoots Finn in the back – killing him instantly.

Tommy bolts from the scene taking the gun and – unknowingly thanks to Fay – the $5000 dollars. The police arrive at Fay’s apartment a few moments after Tommy leaves but with just enough time for Finn to name him as his killer.

His confession leads police on a national manhunt and lands the warden in hot water due to his decision to let Connors walk free.

Just as the warden is about to resign, Tommy returns to Sing Sing fully knowing that he’ll be charged with murder.

He’s sentenced to death by electric chair, accepting complete responsibility. Fay, fully recovered, tries to explain to the warden that she was the one who shot Finn, but her cries land on deaf ears. In the final scene of the movie, Tommy and Fay comfort each other, realizing that this would be the last time that they would be together.

Conclusion

Sing Sing 3
source: Warner Bros.

Though this film has no Katharine Hepburn, I still very much enjoyed it.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing was positively wonderful.

I went in expecting it to be a dross and dreary gangster film that I’ve so often seen in classic films but luckily for me, this wasn’t the case.

The directing was impeccable, the shadows, the black and white contrast, and the quirky camera angle gave this movie an extra kick. The chemistry between Bette Davis and Spencer Tracy was excellent.

The scene where Bette‘s character Fay is at Sing Sing for conjugal visits, whispering sweet nothings to Tracy‘s Connors like it was the last time they’ll meet is heartbreakingly adorable.

As for the supporting cast, they did just as good a job as the two leads and further deepened my sense of immersion during the movie.

All in all, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing is a wonderful pre-code film with great acting, directing and set design. Even though there’s no Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis made a more than capable substitution.

I hope that you’ll have the chance to see this film because I genuinely believed it’s one of the more underrated pictures in both Tracy‘s and Davis‘ filmography.  It deserves to be seen, and I implore you to watch it as soon as possible.

5 Great Books That Every Classic Film Fan Should Read

Rita Hayworth
“Whenever somebody says black and white movies are boring…”

When I’m not watching classic films or laughing hysterically at What’s My Line? clips on YouTube, I spend my spare time reading.

Back in the day, I wasn’t a huge fan of reading; I would’ve much rather been working with my hands in some, unique, creative way, whether that may have been cooking, writing or playing an annoying soccer simulator on my phone that refused to let me win for some, frustrating, reason.

This toxic mindset of mine did a complete 180° when I discovered the love I have for classic movies my freshman year of high school. As I explained in a previous post, I was introduced to a number of classics through a very informative (and transformative) Film Appreciation class. It taught me that there’s more to movies than explosions, random sex scenes and lazy directing that were so prevalent in modern films.

From that point on, I found a new hobby – collecting, and reading, books about classic movies.

The more I watched these pictures, the more information I wanted to know about them. This lead me to seek out every and any book printed about that specific moment in time. I combed over a multitude of books that would help me get a better understanding of an era of movie history that I held so dearly.

The following are a list of books that I’ve read over the years. If you’re so inclined, I strongly suggest you pick up a couple. You’ll have a better understanding of the world of classic cinema and will certainly deepen your love and admiration for them.

5. By Myself and Then Some by Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall
Lauren Bacall, somewhere in Key Largo, I presume…

Written without the help of a ghostwriter, By Myself and Then Some is Lauren Bacall – unfiltered.

Ms. Bacall goes through each portion of her life with extraordinary detail.

It starts off with her birth in The Bronx, talking about her absentee father and being raised by her mother, then takes you through how she got her first job working as a theatre usher and how that lead her to be discovered by Howard Hawks‘ wife Silm thanks to a Harper’s Bazaar cover. Eventually, she takes us through the courtship, marriage and eventual death of Bogart, heartbreakingly describing the terrible night he passed away in 1957.

This sounds somber, yes, but there are quite a few upbeat moments as well. There several behind the scenes stories of rowdy on-set antics of some of Bacall‘s favorite films. The African Queen, How to Marry a Millionaire and To Have and Have Not are some of the many films that Bacall writes about in this book.

Since she wrote this herself, the book does run a little long, 500+ pages to be exact. But, it does provide a fascinating insight into what it must’ve been like living during the Golden age of Hollywood.


ISBN 10: 0061127914

ISBN 13: 978-0061127915


4. Grace by Robert Lacey

Grace by Robert Lacey
“I tried to be like Grace Kelly..”

Much has been written about Grace Kelly, so much, in fact, that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction.

Thank the Lord for Robert Lacey.

For a long time, I was trying to find a definitive Grace Kelly biography. I would search Amazon Books, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads to no avail.

Until I stumbled upon Grace by Robert Lacey.

Perhaps, the most lengthy biography of her, Grace covers every single aspect of Kelly‘s life. Now, the reason why I said I was searching so heavily for something like this is that there have been various, let’s just say – rumors, about Grace that no one would confirm or deny. I wanted a book that would clear up some of the stories that I’ve so often heard surrounding the Grace Kelly “legend.”

Lacey goes in-depth into Grace‘s life, from the highs (winning an Academy Award) to the lows (her overbearing parents rejecting every man she brought home to marry) and everything in between. If you always wanted to see the other side to Grace Kelly, this book is for you.


ISBN 10: 0399138722

ISBN 13: 978-0399138720


3. Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations by Peter Evans

Ava Gardner
The Ava Gardner Museum is absolutely fantastic.

I always wondered what it would be like to have a drink with Ava Gardner, luckily this book gave me the chance.

Written by Peter Evans, The Secret Conversations is a wild ride. Devilishly candid and wildly witty Ava Gardner sounds off on her life, loves and career in this recently released ‘memoir.’

The book is a hilarious look at Ava Gardner‘s stream of consciousness. With Peter Evans visiting her during her wine-fueled late night rants, this book is filled to the brim with juicy tidbits about Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Howard Hughes, and quite frankly, any person Ava came in contact with during her days in Hollywood.

It makes you feel like you’re eavesdropping into to a conversation between two friends, I think that’s what makes this book feel so…intimate. It feels real and down to earth, just like Ava.

I have to warn you, however, the book does get fairly explicit, and you may be shocked at some of the stuff you read, but, if you read it through the lens of modern-day Hollywood, I promise you, it’s less ‘pearl-clutching’ than you think.


ISBN 10: 145162770X

ISBN 13: 978-1451627701


2. Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Dawn of the Modern Woman.

Audrey Hepburn BAT
source: Paramount Pictures

Everyone loves Audrey Hepburn.

Everyone loves Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Why not combine the two?

That’s exactly what Sam Wasson does in Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman. My favorite piece of in-flight reading material, 5 A.M, reads like a warm cup of tea.

In the book, Wasson tells the behind the scenes history of the production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s against the backdrop of the personal lives of everyone involved. Truman Capote, Blake Edwards, and Audrey Hepburn all had a hand in making ‘BaT’ the cultural icon as we know it today. Sam Wasson compartmentalizes their lives in a fun read that every fan of this 1961 classic should have on their nightstand.


ISBN 13: 9780061774164


1. Conversations With Joan Crawford by Roy Newquist

Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford and husband, Alfred Steele in Italy, 1957.

The first and final book on this list is one that I enjoyed the most.

Joanie, Joanie, Joanie, what have you done?

Maybe the funniest and most enlightening on this list, Conversations with Joan Crawford left me in tears – the good kind.

I absolutely adored this book.

It made me see a side of Joan Crawford that I never knew she had. Printed in 1979, it took me a while to find a copy of this book in circulation, but when I did, I never looked back.

‘Conversations’ is basically 179 pages of a collection of interviews Joan has done talking about her career, lovers, children and anything else that may have been bothering her at the time. Boozier than a bar the night prohibition was implemented, Joan confesses to a lot of things that normal Crawford biographies wouldn’t touch.

Raucously funny, and at times very emotional, Conversations with Joan Crawford is an intriguing look at the last days of a Hollywood legend, and a fitting end to this list of books that would fill any classic movie fan with glee.


ISBN 10: 0425050467

ISBN 13: 9780061774164


 

Hidden Gems: Two For The Road (1967)

TwoForTheRoad
source: 20th Century Fox

The 1960s were a decade of change.

We went from the high & tight haircuts and skinny suits that were all too prevalent throughout the Kennedy Administration to the loose-fitting bell bottoms, civil unrest, and free-love that most people have come to associate with the decade.

The 1960s also saw Audrey Hepburn break out of stereotype that had plagued her for years.

The Eyes Wide Shut of its day, Two For the Road marked the beginning of the end of Hepburn‘s acting career. With a young son and a crumbling marriage (she and Mel would divorce a year after this film was released), Audrey would take an extended leave of absence from Hollywood in order to be a more present figure in her son’s life.

Much like the social and cultural shift that the decade experienced, Hepburn‘s film career in the 60s would be a reflection of the society that was quickly changing around her.

Arguably starting in 1961 with Breakfast at Tiffany‘s, the film roles Audrey would go on to star in betrayed the ‘waif-like’, ingénue typecast that she was known for earlier in her career.

TFTR 1967
source: 20th Century Fox

Films like The Children’s Hour, How to Steal a Million and Wait Until Dark – all staples of Hepburn‘s later career – have a surprising amount of depth and feeling to their plot compared to the rather ‘superficial’ (I use that word lightly) characters that Hepburn has previously portrayed.

One of these movies, with more emotional depth than the Grand Canyon, is the aforementioned romantic drama Two For the Road. 

Directed by the legendary Stanley Donen, Two For the Road or “TFTR” stars Audrey Hepburn and everyone’s favorite movie boyfriend Albert Finney as the bickering married pair of Mark and Joanna Wallace. Told in a non-linear format, Donen fabulously uses Joanna and Mark as an allegory for what can happen after 12 years of marriage.

In order to do that, Donen uses this format to present the couple at different stages of their marriage: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Good (Newlyweds – Year 1)


TFTR part 2 1967
source: 20th Century Fox

The film starts in France – the world’s most romantic country (or so they say.)

Current day Mark and Joanna are flying their white 1965 Mercedes 230SL up to the North of France, then down to St. Tropez in celebration of Mark’s latest architecture creation being completed. Right away, the tension between the couple is palpable and it escalates from there.

Before they even board their flight, there are already clear signs of contempt for one another. She asks for a box of cigarettes – he snaps back at her. He asks for his passport – she gives him the cold shoulder. He threatens her with divorce – she laughs in response.

As an audience member, this is hard to watch, but, it also makes you wonder.

What made them grow to hate each other so viciously?

Why don’t they get a divorce?

If they have them, what must their children think?

Just as I was asking myself these questions, Stanley Donen dives us head first into the Wallace’s tumultuous backstory.

TFTR 1967 4
source: 20th Century Fox

It was the summer of 1954; Mark was a struggling, ‘down on his luck’ architect looking to catch a break and Joanna was a shy, rather witty member of an all-girls choir group.

They first meet on a ferry crossing post. Mark, furiously rummaging through his backpack, is desperately searching for his passport. This would be a major problem because the crossing guard would refuse him entry into another country if he failed to identify himself.

Looking defeated and on the verge of tears, a dainty wrist draped in a red sweater reaches over his shoulder to return, what appears to be, his passport.

When Mark gets up to thank this good Samaritan, he turns around and is face to face with the future mother of his child.

Joanna was otherwise known as ‘Jo,’ was about to start a conversation with this handsome stranger, but Mark had other ideas. He swiftly gives his thanks and continues on his journey to self-discovery.

A couple of hours later while hitchhiking on a potato truck, Mark sees ‘Jo’ and a number of other girls stuck on the side of the road looking for a repairman. At first, his intention was to proceed on with his journey, but eventually, he slows down and helps them get back on the road.

Now hitchhiking with this girl’s choir, Joanna and Mark get an infinite amount of time to learn about each other.

TFTR 1967 part 7
source: 20th Century Fox

As darkness night falls, Mark and the choir group spend the night in a dilapidated, centuries old, French inn. The next morning, something terrible has happened.

All of the girls, except for Mark and Joanna, have come down with chickenpox. Instead of advancing to their destination, the choir’s director (played by Jacqueline Bisset) instructs the two to keep going without them.

So, they did.

The couple spent the rest of their time hitchhiking around the old cobblestone cities of France, stealing fruit from vendors and making love til dawn. Inevitably, Joanna believes that they should get married. After much trepidation, Mark excitedly agrees.

The Bad (Recent Past – Year 6)


TFTR 1967 6
source: 20th Century Fox

Giving us their backstory, Donen cleverly switches the timeline to 1960 – about 6 years into their marriage.

Skinny ties, cardigans and dark-rimmed glasses – galore!

The Wallaces have conformed.

Now with a child (this will come back to haunt the couple, later) Mark and Joanna have begun to lose the magnetism that initially attracted them towards one another in the first place.

This lack of attraction manifests itself in a carpool alongside Mark’s ex-girlfriend (played by Eleanor Bron) her husband (played by William Daniels) and their 5-year-old daughter Ruth (played by Gabrielle Middleton.) Normally laid back and agreeable folk, the Wallaces are more than happy to put up with a bratty 5-year-old for a few hours.

It isn’t until Ruth refuses to give up the location of her father’s missing car keys (which she threw out of the window out of spite) that Mark and Joanna reach their wit’s end.

After spending 12 hours in a car with a whiny toddler, Joanna has had enough. With nighttime imminent and hunger pains growing louder, Mrs. Wallace twists the little girl’s arm, forcing her to give up the location of the key.

She ultimately does, and before her parents can apologize Joanna and Mark decide to travel alone.

This is the moment where Mark and Joanna (Mark, especially) decide not to have children. But, little did he know that wouldn’t be the case.

The Ugly (Current – Year 12)


TFTR 1967 5
source: 20th Century Fox

When we return to the present day, Donen intercuts several different, defining, moments (all ones pertaining to the downfall of their marriage) during this current timeline.

Current day Mark and Joanna have reached their destination of St. Tropez and it appears that all hope is lost for their relationship.

“What kind of people can sit there without saying a word to each other?” Joanna asks. Mark replies, “Married people.”

As this scene ends, Donen turns our attention to another period where – again – we see Mark and Joanna on a trip to, somewhere. Donen doesn’t specify where, but, looking at the scenery, it resembles the French countryside, the same countryside where they originally fell in love.

It’s implied that Joanna chose this location specifically because it holds such a memorable place in her heart.

It’s also the place where ‘Jo’ tells Mark she’s pregnant. Mark is hesitant to become a father but is happy nonetheless. This announcement happens to coincide with Mark getting a job offer from a very wealthy Frenchman named Maurice Dalbert (played by Claude Dauphin.)

For the next few months, the Wallaces live in France while Mark makes a sizeable income as an architect for a rather demanding client.

two-for-the-road-1967-
source: 20th Century Fox

Everything seems to be going well for them until Mark confesses to stepping on her while on a business trip. Understandably hurt about his revelation, Donen cuts back to the present day before we could see her response.

The next story is perhaps the most emotionally heavy in the film. In another timeline shift, Donen shows Mark, Joanna, and their child Caroline in a hotel room after – what looks to be – another road trip of sorts.

While sleeping comfortably in her crib a few feet away from them, Caroline’s parents have heated discussion about whether or not that should’ve had her. This “conversation” (more like a shouting match leaves Joanna in tears and Mark in frustration.

For the last and final time in the movie, Donen cuts back to the modern day with Mark and Joanna on the verge of divorce.

Joanna’s *ahem* extracurricular activities with taller, skinnier, richer Frenchmen named David (played to perfection by Georges Descrières) leaves Mark a broken man.

What started as a fling, has now turned into a full-fledged affair that threatens the state of their marriage.

Mark concedes defeat and starts his journey back home.

TFTR 1967 part 7
source: 20th Century Fox

As this is happening, David and Joanna have a meal by the beachside.

Silence.

Ironically, this time it’s her lover David that asks the question,”what kind of people can sit there without a word to say to each other?”

Joanna emphatically responds,”Married people!” realizing she truly does love Mark.

In the film’s finale, Mark and Joanna have a heart to heart about their relationship and agree that they should stay together. As they cross the border of France into Italy, not only does it signal a change in scenery and clientele for Mark but, it also symbolically signals a new start for their relationship.


Why This Film is a ‘Hidden Gem.’

Stanley, Audrey and Albert
source: Stanley Donen, Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn on the set of Two For The Road (1967).

Two for The Road is an impeccably directed, acted, and presented movie, unfortunately not too many people know about it.

When people discuss Hepburn‘s filmography, they usually speak about her more popular films.

You know the ones.

Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, Charade, Breakfast at Tiffany‘s et cetera et cetera. Sadly, Two For the Road never makes the list and it should. This movie shows a different side to Audrey, and I have Stanley Donen to thank.

Donen created a film that showed the unglamorous side of marriage. His depictions of love, lust, and heartbreak were flawless. The pairing of Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn worked perfectly (too perfectly.) What Stanely Donen did was unprecedented, he created a movie that portrayed the realities of marriage using the (under-rated) technique of non-linear formatting.

With this method, he was showed the exact moments where the marriage went south, and how it could – possibly – be prevented.

I don’t think another movie like this could be made – and I don’t want it to be.

Bravo, Stanley Donen, Bravo.

The June Allyson Centenary Blogathon…

Music-for-Millions-1944-2
source: MGM

Have you ever watched a film and after it was finished thought to yourself, “That was very good, but, I don’t think I want to see it again.”

Schindler’s List, Se7en, Million Dollar Baby, and many other motion pictures have all earned the title of, “So Good, it’s Bad.”

This movie I’m about to discuss is no different.

Directed by Henry Koster, Music for Millions is a musical “comedy” that stars this blogathon’s subject June Allyson, a very young Margaret O’Brien and everyone’s favorite comedian Jimmy Durante.

Now, before I continue on with my review, I would like to explain what I meant when I said, “I never want to see this again.”

This movie is excellent, in fact, I’d enjoyed it so much that I vowed to never watch it again. Despite it being a “musical comedy” it felt much more like war-time romantic drama. There were comedic elements sprinkled throughout the film, but, never enough for me to seriously laugh at.

I didn’t expect it to make me fall down, clutching my sides in laughter pains, I merely believed that a few laughs will be sufficient enough to call this movie a comedy.

Perhaps it would be best if I lay out the plot in order for you to get a better understanding of what I’m trying to convey.

music for millions 1944
source: MGM

The synopsis for this film is fairly simple.

7-year-old ‘Mike’, played by O’Brien is sent from Connecticut to stay with her older, pregnant, sister Barbara ‘Babs’ Ainsworth, played by Allyson, in New York. Expecting her sister to meet her off the train ‘Mike’ panics when she doesn’t see her and quickly makes a scene.

Although she’s only seven years old, she wants to put up a brave front for her ‘no-show’ sister and the small crowd that’s gathering around her.

Increasingly growing concerned for this child’s well being, several policemen spend a couple of minutes talking to ‘Mike’ until they find out where she’s supposed to be heading to. They escort her to New York’s Symphony Hall where she spots her sister in the middle of a performance lead by real-life bandleader José Iturbi.

Overcome with delight, “Mike” can’t help herself and rushes the stage in search of her sister. She finds Barbara, but in doing so she prevents the band from finishing their piece, much to the dismay of her sister’s bandmates.

Sitting on a suitcase
source: MGM

Iturbi, naturally, is furious with this random little girl disrupting his orchestra and is a hair’s breadth away from firing whoever she’s related to.

Before Iturbi could bring down the full wrath of his discipline on this little girl’s sister, his righthand man Andy, played by Jimmy Durante, reminds him that if he were to fire ‘Babs’ he would be short staffed, seeing as though so many of the men in the band were off fighting in the war. With that new piece of information in mind, Iturbi changes his tune and let’s ‘Babs’ stay in her position.

Now that she’s had one problem solved, ‘Babs’ must find a way to solve another – her baby sister ‘Mike.’

Although she was completely blindsided by her aunt’s decision to send ‘Mike’ over, ‘Babs’ is grateful that she has someone to give her company while her husband’s on deployment.

After thinking about a myriad of ways to care for ‘Mike’ while she’s on her visit, ‘Babs’ decides (with the help of her roommates) to sneak her into the “No Children Allowed” boardinghouse that she currently resides in.

music for millions 1944
source: MGM

The stresses of this begin to weigh on ‘Babs’ and she faints from exhaustion. Her roommates take her to the hospital where ‘Mike’ finds out that her sister is pregnant. The doctor, for some reason, instructs ‘Mike’ to take care of her sister until she returns to full strength.

When ‘Babs’ doesn’t show up to rehearsals, Iturbi begins to get suspicious and demands an answer. Twisting their arm until they confess, her roommates comply as they tell their band leader why ‘Babs’ is really missing. They tell him what happened and he’s – weirdly-  sympathetic.

As ‘Babs’ is stuck inside her apartment on bedrest, she receives a telegram that coincides with her orchestra’s trip to Florida. Fearing that whatever is in the envelope may stress her out even further, her roommates agree to not tell ‘Babs’ what’s on the card until the baby is delivered.

Here’s the point in the film where I determined that I would never willingly subject myself to this movie again – not without tissues and some ice cream, however.

Music for Millions 1944 2
source: MGM

On their train ride to Florida ‘Mike’ and a few of ‘Bab’s’ roommates spot her quietly weeping in her bunker. They suspect they know what’s wrong, but anxiously wait until ‘Babs’ tell them before they inadvertently ‘spill the beans’.

She tells them, over a steady flow of tears, that she believes that her husband – Joe – may be dead/missing because he hasn’t written to her in four months.

‘Mike’ being an eternal optimist (and also a very optimistic 7-year-old) implores her sister to have a little faith in God if she were to ever see Joe again.

It was at this instant during the movie where the film turned from a light, romantic comedy featuring two sisters, to a heartwrenching romantic war drama between two lovesick lovers.

The orchestra’s train reaches Florida and the ladies head to their hotel room for the night. As they were getting ready for bed, a yelling match breaks out between ‘Mike’ and Rosalind, the roommate who discovered the telegram intended for ‘Babs.’ Just as things were beginning to calm down, ‘Babs’ saunters into the room to check on her sister.

Music for Millions 1944 3
source: MGM

Rosalind nervously tries to hide the telegram before ‘Babs’ has a chance to see who it’s addressed to with no luck. ‘Babs’ insists that everyone is hiding something from her, but, Rosalind lies and says it was sent to her.

The group returns to New York after a week-long concert series and ‘Babs’ still hasn’t gotten over her ills. Sensing that she could miscarry, the clarinetist Marie (one of ‘Bab’s’ other roommates) gives her uncle Ferdinand (What a name!) a call and asks him to forge a letter in Joe’s name.

Next the day, ‘Babs’ receives a letter that looks eerily similar to ones that the United States Army sends out when they, “Regret to inform you…”

As ‘Babs’ opens the letter, a wave of happiness washes over her face. Elated with the news, she rushes to find the nearest church to give thanks to God for keeping her husband safe. Her roommates thought that this forged telegram would give them some sort of solace, but, in the end, it made them feel guilty for betraying such a close friend

The final scene of the movie sure is a doozy, so, strap in folks – it’s going to be a good one.

Right before their next concert is supposed to start, ‘Babs’ goes into labor. As the band is at the concert hall impatiently waiting to hear the status of their friend’s child, they get a surprise visit from Marie’s uncle. He tells them that he didn’t have the audacity to lie to an army wife and that he didn’t forge the letter.

SURPRISE SURPRISE!

To my and everyone’s else shock, Joe is actually alive. Uncle Ferdinand’s letter wasn’t sent! All this time, they believed that he was M.I.A, in actuality he never was! He was perfectly fine! The film ends with everyone rejoicing with glee and leaves me on the floor in a puddle of tears and laughter.

Conclusion

Music for Millions 1944 4
source: MGM

I hate/love this movie.

This first time I watched it, I was in tears – genuinely. I’ve never been so happy/sad in my entire life. I’m not entirely sure why this movie is considered a musical “comedy”  because it made me cry at multiple points in the film.

Anyone who watches this should heed my warning: DO NOT LET THE MUSICAL COMEDY LABEL FOOL YOU. The final 10 minutes of this movie had my stomach in knots.

Did he live?

Is ‘Babs’ a widow?

Why did her roommates lie to her?

WHY WOULD YOU PUT POOR JUNE ALLYSON THROUGH SOMETHING LIKE THIS?

Besides my emotional objections to the ending (and the terrible way her roommates treated her), I honestly did enjoy the film.

June Allyson did a wonderful job of carrying the emotional weight of the film (isn’t she incredible?) As for Margaret O’Brien, normally I don’t like child actors (Bill Mumy being the exception) but, she did a great job being the comedic release in an otherwise somber plot.

All in all, Music for Millions is the best film I never want to see again. Not that it’s bad or anything, or that June Allyson and Margaret O’Brien were wretched in their roles, it’s just that it emotionally drained me, in the best way possible.

Surviving Hurricane Irma With Ava Gardner

Life has an interesting way of playing out.

About 3 weeks ago, I had to flee my humble abode due to Hurricane Irma.

Oh, boy.

It wasn’t an ideal situation, but, I made the most of it. My family and I packed up our things, loaded up our cars and took off. We didn’t know exactly where we were going, so, we drove until we couldn’t do it anymore. 2 days and many bags of Doritos and trail mix later, our final destination was Greenville, North Carolina.

Now, I wasn’t too keen on disrupting my life due to a hurricane (very selfish, I know) however, what I got to experience because of it was marvelous.

During this period of adjustment, I had the opportunity to visit a classic Hollywood attraction that not many people are aware of.


Nestled within a busy downtown shopping district, The Ava Gardner Museum is the crown jewel of Smithfield, North Carolina.

When I first walked into that lovely establishment, I was greeted by a ‘larger than life’ sized picture of Ava Gardner as her character Kitty Collins from the hit 1946 film noir The Killers.

That photo instantly caught my attention and set the tone for what was a fascinating look at the life and loves of this remarkable woman.
Picking up my jaw and wiping the drool off my bottom lip after what I’ve just witnessed, I was escorted to a dark room filled with various paintings and movie posters of Ava where I was shown a mini-biography of her life.

The film features numerous interviews and first-hand accounts from friends and family members discussing how Ava affected their lives.

The movie was quite charming and it certainly established the mood for the rest of my tour of the museum.

Following my excursion to the theatre, I was promptly submerged in all things, Ava Gardner. The exhibits ranged from Ava‘s early years growing in Garbtown, North Carolina to her lifelong friendship with Gregory Peck and even a few props from some of my favorite films she starred in.

What I particularly enjoyed about my walk around was how intimate it was. I truly felt like I knew Ava, it was as if I was alongside her through each and every stage of her life. These exhibits transcended her movies, they gave me a glimpse into the world of a Hollywood icon.

If you ever find yourself in Eastern North Carolina, I highly recommend stopping by this hidden treasure. Not only will you find yourself face to face with artifacts of a Hollywood legend, you may end up learning a thing or two and as a classic film fan, it gave me everything I wanted – and more.