Springtime In Italy: Rome Adventure

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At last it’s time to start my armchair vacation to Italy!  The first film in this year’s movie holiday is Rome Adventure, directed by Delmer Daves and starring Troy Donahue, Angie Dickinson, Rossano Brazzi, and Suzanne Pleshette.  It’s one of the most visually stunning of all the Italy-based movies I’ve seen, and contrary to what the title implies it’s not set only in Rome.  We get a look at many beautifully filmed locations.  The scenery really should’ve received top billing — for me it’s the real star of the movie.

Rome Adventure tells the story of Prudence Bell (Pleshette), a young woman from New England who quits her job as a librarian at a girl’s school after being taken to task for sharing a racy novel called Lovers Must Learn with one of her students.  She doesn’t like the teachers’ prudish attitudes toward sex, and doesn’t want to turn into a loveless old spinster like her colleagues, so she declares she’s off to someplace where they really know about love — Italy.

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While on board the ship taking her to Europe, Prudence is attended to by two men — nerdy but kind Etruscologist Albert Stillwell (Hampton Fancher), the son of a family friend, and dreamy Italian ladies’ man Roberto Orlandi (Brazzi).

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Once in Italy, Roberto gives the two Americans a tour of the sights, then finds them lodgings at a boarding house owned by a Contessa.  Also staying there is Roberto’s friend, American architecture student Don Porter, played by Troy Donahue.

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When we first see Don he’s in a huff, rushing off to the train station to try and stop his girlfriend Lydia Kent (a gorgeous Angie Dickinson) from leaving him.  They’ve had a carnal, tempestuous relationship, and Don doesn’t want to let her go.  “Hasn’t anyone ever tried to cut your heart out?” Don asks Roberto as he shows him the Dear John letter Lydia left him.  “I doubt, my passionate friend, that it’s your heart that’s involved,” Roberto replies.  Ha!  Lydia leaves Don in spite of his pleas for her to stay, and he subsequently mopes around the boarding house in a grumpy huff.

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In the meantime Prudence is being wooed by Roberto, whom she likes but doesn’t feel romantic about.  When he kisses her she doesn’t hear wild bells ringing like she wants to.  Instead there are just distant tinkles.  Being a big fan of Brazzi and finding him quite attractive myself, I don’t really understand this! But to each her own.

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She explores Rome on her own, and gets a job at a bookstore owned by Daisy Bronson (Constance Ford), another American who escaped provincial life in the US to experience the lustiness of Italian men who pinch her bottom and make her feel like a real woman.

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One afternoon Prudence runs into Don at a sidewalk cafe and he apologizes for being such a grouchy jerk to her. They spend the day together and begin to fall in love.

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That evening they visit a nightclub and hear a beautiful song that becomes their musical theme as the movie progresses — “Al Di La.”  It’s a lushly romantic scene, as the camera moves back and forth from the singer on stage to the couple as they look into each other’s eyes and hold hands.

Jazz trumpet player Al Hirt is also at the nightclub.  He plays himself, or a version of himself, in a rather odd scene in which he introduces his girlfriend to Don and Prudence and has her show them the knife she keeps strapped to her thigh. Later, while Hirt performs on stage, the girlfriend makes out with another man and a brawl breaks out.

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As Don and Prudence continue to spend time together, they try to hide it from the curious and judgmental fellow inhabitants of the boarding house.

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To get away from prying eyes they take a trip around Italy together, seeing all the tourist spots and facing embarrassing decisions every time they come to a hotel.  Should they pose as a married couple or not?  One room or two?  Will they or won’t they?  Prudence insists on separate rooms, or on Don staying on the balcony when they only have one room, but she’s tempted to give in and sleep with him.  Her prim New England upbringing is at war with the more passionate side Italy is bringing out in her.

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When Prudence runs into Albert and his mother while shopping at a street market in a small town, she panics and lies to them, saying she’s on a bus tour with a group and rushing off before they get a glimpse of her with Don.  At first she and Don try to continue their trip, but in the end Prudence decides they need to stop traveling around alone together.  What if her parents found out?  Her conscience is getting the better of her, she says, so they return to Rome.

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Back at the boarding house, who should be waiting in Don’s bedroom but Lydia.  She regrets letting him go and greets him with a kiss, which Prudence walks in on.

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Lydia invites Prudence, Albert and Don to her house for dinner, and uses the occasion to give Prudence the mean girl treatment. She shows her around her bedroom, pointing out the big bed she and Don shared, the photograph he signed to her declaring his love.  Feeling she can’t compete with this sexy siren, Prudence breaks down crying, leaves the party and parts ways with Don, who seems confused about which woman he really wants to be with.

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She tries to prove to herself that she can lose her virginal ways and be like Lydia if she has to,  inviting herself to Roberto’s for the weekend with plans to seduce him. Roberto is a good guy, however, so he refuses her advances and tries to get her to go back to the man she really loves.

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Prudence decides it’s better to go back to America and takes the next ship home.  When she gets there her parents are waiting or her, but so is Don.  He took a plane to meet her there and declare his love.

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Rome Adventure isn’t going to make it onto anyone’s list of the best movies ever.  The dialogue can be extremely hokey at times, especially during the love scenes between Don and Prudence.  Suzanne Pleshette does the best she can with some terrible lines, and with her husky voice and intelligent demeanor she basically pulls it off.  Troy Donahue is no great shakes as an actor, however, and can be a little painful to listen to.

I also don’t get his romantic appeal at all, myself.  He’s bland and uninteresting — especially compared to Rossano Brazzi!  But obviously he had his fans back in the day, one of whom was Suzanne Pleshette herself.  They married in 1964, although it was short-lived and they divorced only nine months later.

Whatever its shortcomings of writing and acting, Rome Adventure is still fun to watch.  Getting a glimpse of Italy in the early 1960s is such a treat.  There’s just something about the country during the 1950s and ’60s that seems so magical, at least if the movies are to be believed.  The cinematography by Charles Lawton is beautiful, as is the memorable score by Max Steiner.  It had been several years since I saw Rome Adventure, and I enjoyed re-watching it.  It was a fluffy and fun way to kick off Springtime in Italy.

Doris Day and Jack Carson

Happiest of happy birthdays to the movie star and singer who has brought me more joy than just about any entertainer I can think of – the one and only Doris Day, who turns 90 today. I love her movies and watch them over and over. I never get tired of basking in the onscreen sunniness, charm, and delight that is Doris!

I’ve written before about how great Doris Day and Rock Hudson were together, particularly in my favorite of their three films, Pillow Talk. Rock and Doris are one of the all-time great movie couples. However, earlier in her career Day was paired with fellow Warner Bros. actor Jack Carson in three Technicolor musicals – Romance on the High Seas, My Dream is Yours, and It’s a Great Feeling. They too made a fantastic duo.

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Romance on the High Seas (1948)

This was Doris’s screen debut, and what a debut it was! It’s hard to believe it was her first movie, as natural and at ease as she was in front of the camera. In her recent interview with TCM’s Robert Osborne, Doris said that the movie’s director, Michael Curtiz, told her not to take any acting lessons. She didn’t need them! She was that good right off the bat.

Romance-on-the-High-Seas-doris-day-5171996-490-355Doris plays a spunky nightclub singer who’s hired by a society lady (Janis Paige) to pretend to be her while on a cruise. The society gal thinks her husband is cheating on her, you see, so she wants to stay home and keep a covert eye on him. Meanwhile the husband (Don DeFore), who thinks his wife is cheating on him, hires a private detective (Jack Carson) to go on the ship and spy on his wife’s shenanigans. Mayhem, misunderstandings, romance, and hilarity ensue.

In addition to Day, Carson, DeFore and Paige in the lead roles, Oscar Levant and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall have supporting parts and both are great.

sakallDoris is adorable in Romance on the High Seas – sassy and vivacious, with sex appeal to spare. She and Jack Carson sparkle together. Plus Doris gets to sing some of the best songs of her career, including “It’s Magic” and my personal favorite from the film, “Put ‘Em In A Box, Tie ‘Em With A Ribbon (And Throw ‘Em In The Deep Blue Sea)”.  Check out her snazzy outfit!  She wears some great clothes by costume designer Milo Anderson in the movie.

My Dream is Yours (1949)

2438858,YbaW+S0Nk9IrXO0QCnIQawdIBHTqZL2AId_hyIjlV1i5vlLma+InCuf+WGyZGONpFG54BcGDKzs2m9EcdXUIwQ==Doris co-starred with Jack Carson again in this movie, playing another aspiring singer. This time she’s the widowed mother of a young son who must decide between the famous yet smarmy singer she falls in love with and the manager who is always there to support her and loves her son like his own. Some decision, huh? My pro-Jack Carson bias is coming through here, but he’s so sweet and funny as Doris’s manager. For me there’d be no problem deciding which man to go for!

Doris-Day-in-My-Dream-Is-Yours-doris-day-27502691-1067-800There’s a hint of A Star is Born in the film, with the famous singer (Lee Bowman) taking to the bottle and the up-and-coming female talent he’s involved with eclipsing him, but it’s far less dramatic and serious than that movie. In fact, the movie is often very funny and whimsical, as when Doris Day sings an energetic “Tic Tic Tic” to audition for a radio show, or when her son dreams of Bugs Bunny.

doris-bunnyEve Arden plays one of her patented wisecracking best friend roles in My Dream is Yours, portraying Jack Carson’s assistant who gets roped into housing Doris and her son and selling her fur coat when money gets tight, among other things. She’s so funny and a total treat to watch. The movie also features Adolph Menjou and S.Z. Sakall, and like Romance on the High Seas was directed by Michael Curtiz.

 It’s a Great Feeling (1949)

This movie is similar to Hollywood Canteen and other films like that, where there isn’t much in the way of plot, but there’s lots of fun and many cameo appearances by big stars. Superstars like Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Jane Wyman, Danny Kaye, Eleanor Parker, Edward G. Robinson, Errol Flynn, and others all show up.

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Doris plays an aspiring movie actress from a small Midwestern town. She’s been in Hollywood for a while and has had no luck getting her foot in the door.

Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan, playing goofy versions of their real-life selves, take Doris under their wings and try to get her a job.  The actors, in hilarious frenemy mode as they compete for Doris’s attention, put her through all sorts of silly things while attempting to get her the lead in their next picture.

All three of Doris Day’s movies with Jack Carson are worth checking out – the first two because they’re good romantic comedies, the last because of all the fun Hollywood spoofing and the appearances of so many big stars.

If you only see one of their films, though, I’d recommend Romance on the High Seas. It’s a wonderful movie full of catchy songs, Technicolor eye candy, and a breakout performance by Doris Day that makes it clear why she became such a huge star.

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Myrna Loy on Family Affair (1967)

This post is part of the Big Stars on the Small Screen Blogathon hosted by Aurora of the How Sweet It Was blog. Be sure to check out the many posts from other bloggers.  I can’t wait to read them all, myself!

family affairFor those of you who may not be familiar with it, Family Affair was a sitcom that aired on CBS from 1966 to 1971.  It’s the story of the three orphaned Davis children — teenager Cissy (Kathy Garver) and young twins Buffy (Anissa Jones) and Jody (Johnny Whitaker) who come to live with their bachelor uncle, civil engineer Bill Davis (Brian Keith) and Bill’s proper English gentleman’s gentleman Giles French (Sebastian Cabot).

Family Affair is far from the best sitcom of the 1960s.  The storylines were never too original.  The younger children, while adorable, could be a bit hammy at times.  Production values weren’t always the greatest — the fake New York City skyline outside the Davises’ apartment patio, for example, and the astroturf grass and plastic flowers in Central Park, where the children often played under Mr. French’s watchful eye.

None of that matters to me, though.  The show has a charm and sweetness that I really like.  Of all the many TV shows featuring children who lost one or both parents, like Bachelor Father, The Brady Bunch, My Three Sons, and even The Andy Griffith Show, none dealt as directly and as movingly with the kids’ ongoing feelings of loss and grief the way Family Affair did throughout its five season run.  For all its silly storylines and frequent corniness, Family Affair family affair pichad a huge heart and a loving gentleness I can’t help admiring.

Plus, those kids really were cute, and Brian Keith’s interactions with all three of them were always wonderful, even in the later seasons when it felt like he’d mentally checked out of the show in other respects.  And Sebastian Cabot was never less than perfect and amusing as the stuffy Mr. French.  Watching him go from barely tolerating the children to loving them like a parent is one of the best things about the series.

Unfortunately, however, Sebastian Cabot wasn’t in today’s episode, season one’s “A Helping Hand.”  For a period during the first season Cabot was ill and the wonderful John Williams (Sabrina, Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief) filled in as Giles French’s brother Nigel, who takes charge of the Davis household when Giles is summoned back into temporary service by Queen Elizabeth II.  Yep, he’s just that good a butler!  And yet he works for Bill Davis and the three children, a much less prestigious assignment I’m sure you’d agree.  That’s love!

As the episode begins, Buffy and Jody are working on a school project — building a model of McKenzie Dam.  Realistically, I don’t think kindergartners would be assigned a project like that, but it works for the storyline, so let’s just go with it.  Things aren’t going well — the dam won’t stay together and the children are discouraged.

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They tell Uncle Bill about it when he gets home from work and he volunteers to help them out.  Not that night, though — he’s throwing a dinner party, and Cissy is going to be his hostess.

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I love Cissy’s quilted bathrobe. Seems like every girl had one of those in the ’60s!

Mr. French has hired a maid from an agency to help him with the party.   (Giles French could’ve handled it alone, with one hand tied behind his back, but maybe that’s my preference for the “real” Mr. French coming through!)  The maid, Adele Prentiss, arrives at the servants’ entrance, and who should she be but the one and only Myrna Loy!

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The first time I saw this episode I did a double take.  I just couldn’t believe someone I considered one of the greatest movie stars of all time would be guest starring on lowly little Family Affair.  A 61-year-old actress has to pay the bills, however.  And actually quite a few greats from the good old days guest starred on the show, among them Dana Andrews, Ann Sothern, Martha Hyer, and Joan Blondell.

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Adele is running late and comes in full of excuses — she forgot to wind her watch so she didn’t know what time it was, plus the bus driver failed to announce her stop and she missed it.  Mr. French is less than impressed, but he puts her to work.  It does not go well.  She melts the chilled shrimp by putting the platter next to a steaming teakettle and makes a mess while trying to whip cream.

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image018Mr. French is not amused.  “Sabotage!” he exclaims, then proceeds to tell the hapless Adele that her services are no longer required.  In fact he can’t understand why the agency sent her in the first place, as incompetent as she is.

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Adele admits that she lied to the agency just to get the job.  She’s been out of work and this was her last hope of finding employment.  She’s so pitiful and sad that Mr. French relents and allows her to stay and finish the assignment.  Things go well enough that soon Bill’s neighbor offers her a job as their cook/housekeeper.

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See what I mean about the city skyline? It’s so delightfully fake.

Adele accepts the position.  Who cares if she doesn’t know what she’s doing?  She has Mr. French right there in the building to help out, after all.  She runs to him for help when the dishwasher goes haywire, covering her and her kitchen with suds…

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and while he’s downstairs helping her, his scones burn and the kitchen fills with smoke.

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Later Adele skips her cooking lesson with Mr. French, claiming she was too exhausted after the dishwasher incident and just had to take a rest.  She helps herself to one of the two dishes of curried chicken he’s prepared, planning to serve it to her new employers for dinner.

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Corningware’s “Blue Cornflower” design. Nothing says ’60s quite like that!

Adele returns soon afterwards, crying.  The dogs ate the curried chicken and she has nothing to serve!  Mr. French wouldn’t mind if she took the dish he made for the Davises’ dinner, would he?  After all, Mr. Davis is a kind man, he wouldn’t want her to lose her job.  Once again, French caves in at the sight of Adele’s tears.

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Meanwhile, Buffy and Jody rush to meet Uncle Bill when he comes home from work.  They have some new cardboard and glue and are ready to work with him on building their model dam.  Bill tells them not to worry about it.  He has it covered and they can just help him with the finishing touches.  The kids are puzzled, but they go along.

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The next day Bill runs into his neighbor, who tells him what an absolute treasure Adele is.  She makes the best curried chicken!  She wishes he could’ve tasted it himself.  Bill, who missed out on his favorite dish the night before and was stuck eating omelettes and frozen dinners instead, wishes he could’ve tasted it, too.

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Bill brings home the model dam he and his fellow engineers made down at the office.  The kids can hardly believe their eyes!  They seem dubious about turning in something they didn’t work on at all, but clueless new parent Bill thinks he’s done them a big favor.

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Soon both Mr. French and Bill find out that no good deed goes unpunished.  First Adele storms in and returns some cookbooks to Mr. French.  When he failed to help her with her bosses’ dinner party the night before, the whole thing was a disaster.  She ended up serving hamburgers and spaghetti, setting the kitchen on fire, and getting fired.  She’s livid that Mr. French convinced her to take the job.  You just can’t rely on men!

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Next, Uncle Bill gets a note from Buffy and Jody’s teacher, telling him in no uncertain terms that while it’s fine to encourage and guide your children, the work needs to be their own, not contracted out to the civil engineering firm of Davis and Associates.

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Bill and Mr. French decide they’ve had enough of getting involved with other people’s problems.  From now on everyone is on their own.  Just then Cissy runs back into the room and tells her uncle that the kids understand why he built the model for them.  It’s because he loves them and cares enough to get involved.  She says she admires Mr. French for trying to help Adele, too.  Too many people these days just look away from others, but not them, making a home for her and the children and really caring.

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So much for their new life philosophy.  Bill cancels his plans to go out for dinner, and instead says he’ll be staying home to oversee Buffy and Jody while they do the model dam project themselves.  Mr. French volunteers to help.  It’s a very sweet moment.  That’s the thing about Family Affair – it’s a show with a lot of heart.  Unfortunately, this particular episode wasn’t one with a lot of laughs to go with all that heart.  It was mildly amusing at best.

As for Myrna Loy, hers seemed like a fairly thankless role, playing a somewhat unlikeable character who used Mr. French and then blamed him when things went wrong.  Still, it was fun to see her at all, since her movie career was more or less over by this time and she wasn’t doing much TV either.  One of the best things about watching television from the ’60s through ’80s is catching glimpses of classic movie stars on the small screen, after all, as the other Big Stars on the Small Screen blogathon participants will no doubt agree!

Coming Attractions – Myrna, Monty, Italy, and more!

Just a brief post about what’s coming up on the blog in the coming days and weeks…

On Friday I’ll be participating in the Big Stars on the Small Screen blogathon hosted by Aurora of the How Sweet It Was blog. My first blogathon! I’ll be writing about Myrna Loy’s guest starring appearance on a season 1 episode of the 1960s sitcom Family Affair.

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In other news, it’s become  clear to me that trying to fit all  I want to say about Montgomery Clift and his career into just one month is utterly impossible!  So I’m giving Montgomery Clift March the heave-ho, and will instead do my best to write something about him at least once a month, but hopefully more, for the rest of 2014. So I guess it’s becoming the Year of Monty, not just the month. To be honest, I think he deserves a year’s worth of attention!

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In March of 2011 I did a series called Springtime in Italy, writing about a classic movie set in that country every week for a month. The ones I covered back then were Three Coins in the Fountain, It Started in Naples, Come September, and Summertime.

I thought it would be fun to bring the series back in April, so next month I’ll  feature four more Italy-based films – Roman Holiday, Light in the Piazza, Rome Adventure, and Journey to Italy.

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Oh, and I need to get started on my 10 Classics for 2014 project too, don’t I?  After all, we’re almost into the 2nd quarter of the year.  Good grief, 2014 is going way too quickly.  There’s just too much I want to watch and to write about, and there’s never enough time.

Montgomery Clift in The Big Lift

Director George Seaton’s The Big Lift, released in 1950, is one of the new-to-me movies I’ve watched during this month of focusing on Montgomery Clift’s career.  It’s an interesting film from a historic perspective, as an artifact of a particular time after World War II when the Cold War was really ramping up, but as an entertaining movie I found it somewhat lacking.

To keep this from turning into another book-length review like that last two I posted, I’ll keep it simple and break it down into the Good, the Bad, and the Random.

The Good

big liftMontgomery Clift, of course!  He plays Sgt. Danny MacCullough, an Air Force engineer who is assigned to fly food and supplies into Berlin during the Berlin Airlift.  As always, Monty turns in a very good performance, believably portraying a nice if too-trusting guy who is burned when the German woman he falls for turns out to be a double-crosser.

Like Clift’s character in The Search, MacCullough is a relatively uncomplicated, angst-free fellow (at least until things go wrong with his girl and he’s forced to become a little more circumspect about people), especially compared to some of the characters he would portray for the remainder of his career.  Monty is believably romantic and smitten during his love scenes, and heartbreaking when he realizes he’s been used and betrayed.

Paul Douglas. Although he and Montgomery Clift didn’t get along at all (a theme you’ll see recurring throughout Clift’s career is that many of the men actors and directors didn’t like him, while many of the women he worked with adored and mothered him), Douglas and Clift have a good rapport as Air Force buddies with different ways of looking at Germans in the years after the war.  Douglas’s character, Sgt. Hank Kowalski, loathes Germans and is angry when he’s assigned to ground duty in support of the Airlift.  His Polish background plus the fact that he was held in a German prison camp during the war make his feelings understandable, but his character not always very likeable.

Kowalski takes up with an adorable German woman named Gerda (Bruni Löbel), whom he treats very disrespectfully, to the point where you wonder why she puts up with his verbal abuse.  He also encounters the prison guard who physically and mentally tortured him during the war and brutally beats the man almost to death.  Kowalski makes a big turnaround by the end of the movie, however, realizing that hurting the man who hurt him didn’t ease his mind at all, and that while some Germans were terrible people some were good, the same as everywhere in the world.

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Cornell Borchers as Clift’s love interest, the duplicitous Frederica Burkhardt.  Borchers isn’t overwhelmingly pretty (almost any woman would have a hard time looking pretty next to Montgomery Clift), but it’s easy to believe that Sgt. MacCullough would be smitten with her intelligence, her apparent anti-Nazi sympathies, and her sad tale of war widowhood.  Unfortunately for him, the story of her life is a big lie – she has a former-S.S. boyfriend living in St. Louis, Missouri and is playing MacCullough for a sap.  She wants to marry him as a way to get to the States and reunite with her lover.

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O.E. Hasse as a good-natured if cynical German named Stieber who befriends MacCullough.  Stieber is Frederica’s neighbor and a spy for the Russians.  He doesn’t have any particular sympathy for communists, however, he’s in it because he needs the money and because everyone in Berlin is spying on someone.  He’s an amusing, likeable character and eventually saves MacCullough from making a big mistake and marrying Frederica.

History.  Getting a good look at bombed out, post-war Berlin as it was during the years when it was divided among the Allies is genuinely fascinating and disturbing.  The Annex - Clift, Montgomery (Big Lift, The)_01privations experienced by Berliners during those years and the tension people of all western countries felt as the Soviet Union became more aggressive are well portrayed.

At one point in the movie MacCullough’s uniform becomes stained by paint and he ends up traveling though the Soviet section of Berlin in civilian clothes – dangerous because not only would he be in huge trouble with the U.S. military if he was found out of uniform, but because his safety is much more at risk without the protection of his military status.  It’s a stressful sequence as you wonder whether or not MacCullough will be caught by the Russians, and also if he might not be ratted out by Frederica, who by now we have some reason to suspect.

Choo Choo!  While in the Soviet part of Berlin MacCullough, Kowalski, and their girlfriends visit a nightclub that’s raided by Soviet soldiers.  In order not to be caught without his papers, MacCullough hops on stage with the German singers and joins their part-English, part-German rendition of “Chatanooga Choo Choo.”  It’s pretty much worth watching the movie just to see Monty Clift dancing and singing, if only for a moment.  Not the kind of thing that came up too often in his other films.

The Bad

Oh good grief, when will the story actually start?  That’s what kept running through my mind for about the first half hour of the movie, as I watched airmen talking about going to Berlin, getting on planes to go to Berlin, and discussing what they were going to do in Berlin, including a too-long explanation of how radar works.  Montgomery Clift and Paul Douglas don’t have a lot to do or say for quite a while. It’s not until the groundwork is set and about 30 minutes have passed that we finally get to know our two stars’ characters and the plot really gets in motion.

Annex - Clift, Montgomery (Big Lift, The)_02All military roles with the exception of those played by Clift and Douglas were portrayed by actual military personnel stationed in Berlin.  And oh boy, can you tell it!  Remember how I said that when Monty portrayed a soldier in The Search, audience members thought director Fred Zinnemann had cast an actual soldier in the part?  Yeah, they wouldn’t have thought that if they’d compared him to real military men like the ones attempting to act in The Big Lift.  God bless those wonderful men, WWII veterans who saved the world from tyranny, but they really weren’t so great as actors – especially when sharing the screen with people like Paul Douglas and Montgomery Clift.

Propaganda.  The movie is preachily pro-America and pro-democracy.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of both those things, but after a while I felt like I’d been hit over the head with a hammer.  The scenes with Kowalski and his girlfriend Gerda were the worst offenders, with him abrasively espousing US views and her trying her best to sort through her thoughts about politics while defending herself against his rude remarks as best she can.

The saving grace of their storyline is that eventually Gerda reads the US Constitution for herself and realizes that the American political system means she has the right to think and speak for herself, and that she doesn’t have to put up with Kowalski’s bullying anymore.  Of course by that time he’s had his own “not all Germans are the devil” epiphany and is impressed by her spunk and newfound love of liberty.

It all just could’ve been a lot subtler and less obvious, is what I’m saying.

The Random

What might have been.  Montgomery Clift’s schedule was freed up to film this rather so-so movie when he turned down Sunset Boulevard. Billy Wilder had written the part of Joe Gillis specifically with Clift in mind and he had previously agreed to do it.  Apparently he was dissuaded from taking the part by his acting teacher, Mira Rostova, and by his close friend/lover/who knows, the much older cabaret singer Libby Holman.  The two thought the story of a young man being kept by an older woman was a little too close to Monty’s reality.  William Holden played Gillis, of course, and was absolutely wonderful in the part.  Still, I can’t help wondering what kind of brilliant performance Clift would have turned in.  Alas.

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Naughty Monty!  George Seaton went to all sorts of trouble to find a nice apartment for Clift and Rostova (with whom Monty was joined at the hip on every movie set) to live in while filming – not the easiest thing in the war-ravaged Berlin of 1949.  Upon arriving and seeing the place Monty complained that the apartment didn’t have a garden, persistently enough that eventually General Lucius Clay, Commander of the American Occupation in Berlin, moved himself and his family out of their own home and gave it to Clift for the duration of filming.  Not the nicest way to act, Monty dear!  He was the hottest young actor around after the release of The Search, Red River, and The Heiress and evidently it had gone to his head.

Baby, it’s cold out there.  After a lot of political wrangling with Soviet authorities, George Seaton was able to film parts of The Big Lift inside the Brandenberg Gate leading into East Berlin.  However, on the day of shooting, the Russians set up loudspeakers and harassed the cast and crew with communist propaganda. The scene was shot without sound and dialogue had to be dubbed in at a later time.

So there you have it, a quick look at The Big Lift.  As a slice of Cold War history, it’s well worth watching…once.  If I ever watch it again, however, I’ll be fast forwarding to the Montgomery Clift bits and leaving out the rest.

Montgomery Clift on TCM

I’ll be back later this week to continue my month of Montgomery Clift with a review of his 1950 film The Big Lift.  In the meantime, I thought I’d mention the Clift films coming up on TCM in March and April.  Set your DVRs!

Red River (1948) - Monday, March 24th at 5:45 p.m. and Thursday, April 24th at 8:00 p.m.

RR

Raintree County (1957) – Monday, March 31st at 12:30 a.m.

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The Misfits (1961) – Saturday, April 12th at 9:45 p.m.

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Lonelyhearts (1958) – Sunday, April 27th at 10:00 a.m.

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The Young Lions (1958) – Tuesday, April 29th at 8:00 p.m.

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Montgomery Clift Linkfest

A few Monty-themed links from around the Internet…

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Self-Styled Siren writes insightfully On the Manliness of Montgomery Clift.  I love this essay and agree with every word.

It’s often observed that the post-war Method actors redefined masculinity. It is more precise to say that Montgomery Clift (who was not entirely a Method actor anyway) expanded the definition. Forever afterward, a man on screen would seem half-formed if the actor could not suggest some sort of inner life, no matter how much derring-do was shown. And exposing that inner life takes nerve, nerve that Clift had in abundance. Rosalind Russell said “acting is standing up naked and turning around slowly.” Showing yourself naked doesn’t sound so bad–but the Siren wouldn’t do it. You probably wouldn’t. John Wayne wouldn’t have either. Montgomery Clift did, in every role he ever played.

And if that isn’t manly, the Siren would like to know what is.

The ever-marvelous Sheila O’Malley’s birthday tribute, an epic post full of quotes about and from Montgomery Clift.

From The Hairpin’s Anne Helen Peterson, Scandals of Classic Hollywood: The Long Suicide of Montgomery Clift. Peterson’s series can be a little sensationalistic, as the “Scandals of Classic Hollywood” title would suggest, but the pieces are invariably interesting, as this one is.  She knows how to pierce my Monty-loving heart, that’s for sure!

Clift once told someone that the closer we come to death, the more we blossom. He took himself to that precipice, but he fell straight in. And so he remains, frozen in the popular imagination, circa From Here to Eternity – those high cheekbones, that set jaw, the firm stare: a magnificent, proud, tragically broken thing to behold.

From Vanity Fair, “a long-forgotten trove of the actor’s personal photos has recently surfaced in the archives of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Bequeathed to the library soon after Clift’s untimely death in 1966, at the age of 45, the scrapbooks and portraits of fellow stars reveal Clift’s gift with a lens. The N.Y.P.L.’s treasure chest also houses previously unpublished photos taken of Clift throughout his life and career.”

I especially like this picture Monty took of his Lonelyhearts co-star and dear friend, Myrna Loy.

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Myrna Loy, photograph by Montgomery Clift

These Life magazine photos of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift on the Paramount lot during the filming of 1950’s A Place in the Sun are quite simply stunning.  They were two stars at the height of their beauty and the beginning of their lifelong friendship.  The playfulness and intimacy between Monty and the girl he called Bessie Mae are very apparent in these shots.

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Monty and his Bessie Mae

Clift Notes – a Tumblr featuring lots and lots of photos and GIFs of Montgomery Clift.  Because sometimes you just want to enjoy the pretty!

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Hellooooo Monty!