My other movie goal for 2014

In addition to the 10 Classics for 2014 challenge I wrote about yesterday, my other movie-related goal for the year is to make a dent in the number of unseen movies in my possession. Ever since I got a DVD recorder about three years ago, I’ve been recording movies and saving them for a rainy day. Between those hundreds of recordings and the DVDs I’ve purchased over the years I have a lot of movies saved up — so many that I have to have an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of them all.

Of the movies on the sheet I’ve only seen about half, so this year I’m hoping to watch at least a couple of new-to-me films every week, picked at random based simply on what I’m in the mood for. Not a lofty ambition, but a fun one.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve watched so far in 2014. No doubt my viewing will slow down as the year goes on, but I’m off to a strong start. Cold, wintry weather makes for good movie watching , after all! So far everything I’ve seen has been very enjoyable and worth recommending. None have been great classics, but all are quality movies that made for fun viewing.

william-holden-jeanne-crain-edmund-gwenn-apartment-for-peggyApartment for Peggy (1948) is a sweet, funny film starring Jeanne Crain, William Holden, and Edmund Gwenn. Crain and Holden are a young married couple. He’s going to college on the GI Bill, and they can’t find anyplace to live because of the post-war housing shortage. Gwenn is a retired, widowed philosophy professor whose son died in the war. He feels his life has no meaning anymore and plans to commit suicide, until Crain talks her way into renting his attic as an apartment for her and her husband. (And their cat, and the dog she brings home one day, and their soon-to-be-born baby…)

The young couple, especially the sweet but slightly kooky girl, upsets the old man’s household and his plans to kill himself in lots of amusing and touching ways, giving him a reason to live as he grows to love them and to get interested in life again through all their ups and downs. A lovely little film. Edmund Gwenn (who played Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street) is good at playing loveable old men.

I watched this movie on a Fox MOD DVD, and I have to say the quality of the picture and sound was atrocious! This movie deserves better treatment than it got from Fox. Warner Archive does a much better job at releasing films. Honestly, just watch it on YouTube rather than buying the DVD. The quality couldn’t be any worse there than it was on the  disc.

Orchestra Wives (1942) is one of the two movies in which the Glenn Miller Orchestra was featured, the other being Sun Valley Serenade, which I was very happy to finally be able to watch during my Christmas vacation thanks to TCM. The plot — starstruck, innocent girl marries trumpet player she just met and is drawn into life on the road with other orchestra wives — is pretty simple, but the wives’ cattiness is amusing in a The Women-lite kind of way. As with Sun Valley Serenade, however, the real point of the movie is Glenn Miller’s music, which is simply wonderful.

First Love (1939) is a modern (well, 1939 modern) retelling of the Cinderella story, starring Deanna Durbin. This is the second Durbin movie I’ve seen (the other was 1941’s It Started With Eve) and I’ve enjoyed them both. Durbin’s musical style is probably hard for people today to appreciate, I don’t know, but I think she’s lovely. Her acting is so natural. She has great comic timing and can also break your heart. Plus her singing is gorgeous. This movie co-starred a very young Robert Stack in what I think was his first movie role.

I bought myself several Deanna Durbin movies with Christmas gift money after watching It Started With Eve on TCM, so I’m sure more of her stuff will be coming up for me in the weeks ahead.  It’s so fun discovering a new star to love!

Double Harness (1933) stars William Powell as a playboy who has no interest in either work or marriage, and Ann Harding as a woman who sees marriage as a business and sets out William Powell - by George Hurrell 1935to catch him and make him into the successful man she believes he can be. I completely loved this one. It’s a sophisticated look at relationships, and Powell and Harding have great chemistry. I’m starting to think Powell had great chemistry with all women, though!

Pre-Code movies never stop surprising me with how forthright they are about so many things. They’re still tame by today’s standards, of course, but compared to movies from the years after the Code began being strictly enforced they’re shockingly open. For instance Powell and Harding start sleeping together after just a few dates, and there are no punches pulled about this fact. Nothing like that would’ve happened in a movie just a few years later.

Vivacious Lady (1938) had been on my to-watch list for ages, and I don’t know why I waited so long to see it because it’s really good. Jimmy viv ladyStewart plays a quiet, reserved botany professor from a small college town who falls in love at first sight with a spunky nightclub performer, played by Ginger Rogers. They marry after a whirlwind one-day courtship, then head to his hometown to introduce her to his stuffy father, the college president.

Once back home, Stewart can’t seem to find the right moment or the necessary backbone to tell his father he’s married to a blonde singer he met a few days before. Lots of silliness ensues.

Charles Coburn plays Stewart’s father and Beulah Bondi plays his mother. Those two alone make pretty much anything worth watching, and they’re as good as always in this.

In The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936), William Powell plays a medical doctor and Jean Arthur plays his murder mystery author ex-wife. They’re still obviously in love in spite of being divorced, and when they get caught up in a real life murder when a jockey falls off his horse and dies under mysterious circumstances, there’s lots of mystery and even more witty banter.

This movie struck me as a wannabe Thin Man film. It isn’t on a par with that series, but it’s still lots of fun. Jean Arthur is one of my favorite actresses, and of course William Powell is always perfect. The wry wit combined with silliness, the jaunty walk, the mustache, the dimples…sigh. I’m feeling very smitten with him lately, the way my girlfriends are feeling about their Cumberbatches or whoever. Granted, my crush was born 122 years ago this year, but that doesn’t make my love any less real. ;-)

I watch them so you don’t have to!

As much as I’d love to do long, loving write-ups of everything I watch, there’s not enough time or energy for that. Anyway, lots of movies don’t deserve loving write-ups! I encounter plenty of stinkers in my quest for good new-to-me films.

Here are quick reviews of two such recently endured flops. I went into both of them with high hopes, but those hopes were quickly dashed.

The Richest Girl in the World (1934)

 This romantic comedy was produced by Pandro S. Berman, written by Norman Krasna, and starred Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea. In spite of all those people’s involvement, it was still disappointingly half-baked.

richest girl in the worldMiriam Hopkins plays Dorothy Hunter, a fabulously wealthy heiress and the titular richest girl in the world. Since returning from Europe to live in the US she’s been keeping a low profile, having her pretty secretary (Fay Wray) pretend to be her in public so she’s not hassled.  She meets Tony Travers (McCrea) at a party where the secretary is pretending to be her and she is pretending to be the secretary.

She swiftly falls for Tony, who seems to like her pretty well, too. However, she’s concerned that no man will ever see past her riches and love her just for herself, so she carries on with the ruse of being a secretary. She decides to test Tony by throwing the real secretary, the faux heiress, in his path. That way she can see if he chooses the supposedly rich girl for her wealth, or goes instead for the “secretary” he truly fancies.

Tony is a confusing character whose motives are hard to pin down. Not because he’s so complex and richly drawn, mind you, just because the script can’t decide who he is. He seems to want Miriam Hopkins’ character, but when she encourages him to pursue the secretary/faux heiress he goes along with that just fine, too. He didn’t seem to care too much which woman he got, actually. In the end, after some misunderstandings and further ill-conceived “love tests” concocted by Dorothy, Tony proves his love for her. Or something.  They end up married, him still thinking she is a secretary.

Having recently watched 1933’s Design for Living (a fabulous movie that deserves and will get a post of its own sometime soon), I was anxious to see more of Miriam Hopkins. And of course I’m a lovestruck fool for Mr. McCrea these days. There just wasn’t enough good stuff for either of them to work with in this movie, though. Their characters and the whole story were underdeveloped and didn’t make a huge amount of sense.

I didn’t hate the movie.  In fact parts were amusing and I kept thinking about how it could’ve been really good with some changes and more fleshing out of the characters.  As it is, it’s simply very forgettable.  On the plus side, Joel McCrea looks really young and handsome!

 A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)

 Here’s where I drive away half of this blog’s already small readership by admitting that I find John Wayne completely off-putting. Every now and then I watch one of his movies, either because I’ve heard so many good things about it (like The Quiet Man) or because it also stars someone I love (like lady-takes-a-chance-john-wayne-jean-arthur-1943Montgomery Clift in Red River), but no matter how good the movie may otherwise be, I just can’t get past my antipathy for Wayne. His swaggering, macho persona is not my cup of tea.

This time I put aside my feelings and gave A Lady Takes a Chance a try because it co-stars Jean Arthur, an actress I pretty much think hung the moon. She has her cute moments in the movie, but not so many that I wasn’t checking my watch every ten minutes, wondering when this uncomfortable experience would end.

Arthur plays Molly Truesdale, a career girl who has multiple men fighting over her in New York, but who isn’t keen on any of them. Having seen these fellows, I don’t really blame her for that.  She escapes the clamoring throng of goofy boyfriends at home and takes a vacation bus trip out West.

At one of the stops on her tour she attends a rodeo. Cowboy Duke Hudkins (Wayne) is thrown from his horse and into the stands, landing right on top of Molly. He tries to get up, but she pulls him back down on top of her, so thunderstruck is she by his cowboy manliness.

After the rodeo she chases him down for an autograph and they end up spending the evening together. During most of the evening they don’t have much to say to each other, since they clearly have very little in common. They hit a couple of bars and, of course, get into a brawl in which Duke punches people out. (I know I haven’t seen many Wayne movies, but if there’s one in which he doesn’t punch someone that’s news to me.)

Molly is interested in marriage and true love, but all Duke wants is a roll in the (literal) hay. The blatant way in which he shows and tells her that that’s all he’s interested in was surprising to me for a 1943 movie. Molly is offended by this prairie wolf and ditches him.

Having missed the tour bus during her night with Duke, Molly hitchhikes her way to meet up with the rest of the group. One of the drivers she reluctantly gets a ride with is Duke and his “better half,” an old cowboy codger portrayed by Charles Winninger. They all end up camping out together.

That night Molly makes Duke’s horse sick by stealing the poor animal’s blanket so she’d have a second one for herself, a move which made me dislike her almost as much as I disliked the charmless Duke. The poor horse got pneumonia and nearly died!  Somehow Duke is able to forgive all and take back up with Molly in spite of this, once it’s clear that the horse will be okay.

Then some more stuff happens, mostly consisting of Molly trying to use her feminine wiles to trap Duke into a life of domesticity and home cooking, Duke running away horrified, and Molly going back to New York alone. It’s no surprise when Duke follows after her, not because the two are so made for each other, but because it’s just an inevitability for this hokey film.  He meets her when she arrives at the bus station, snatching her up in his arms (after punching one of her boyfriends, if I recall correctly) and taking her back on the bus headed West.  So long to his old cowboy pal — she’s going to be his new “better half.”

I just couldn’t get into this movie at all. Duke Hudkins was kind of a jerk and Molly was much too desperate to catch him. Plus, she almost killed his horse! It was just bad.

For a city girl/cowboy romance with likeable characters and much more charm, I’d recommend Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon in The Cowboy and the Lady, which I reviewed here last week.

For a movie featuring a much more interesting bus trip, you can’t beat the incomparable It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.  That was my palate-cleanser of choice after A Lady Takes a Chance. It cheered me up immensely, as it always does.

What a wonderful scene!  One of many perfect moments in the movie. If only all romantic comedies could be as delightful and intelligent as that one.  Here’s the hitchhiking scene.  It just doesn’t get any better than this!

My search for hidden gems as great as the well-known classics like It Happened One Night is fun, and sometimes turns up something obscure but enjoyable.  On the other hand, sometimes movies are obscure for good reason.

The More the Merrier and WWII

I just read the most wonderful, detailed, discussion of The More the Merrier at Another Old Movie Blog.  As you can probably tell from my blog’s header, The More the Merrier is one of my favorite movies, and one I’m always trying to talk other people into watching.

So much so that when the grocery store had copies of it for sale, displayed side-by-side with lots of terrible old ’80s movies and sure to be ignored by 99.9% of my fellow Kroger shoppers, I was seriously tempted to buy the DVDs myself just to give them a good home.  Ha!  Really though, then I’d have extra copies to thrust at unsuspecting friends and family members, telling them to just watch it already.

Anyway, do check out the write-up on Another Old Movie Blog, preferably after having watched the film.  The post’s focus is not only on the comic and romantic plot points and the brilliant performances by Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn and Joel McCrea, but also on the World War II homefront setting of the movie.  Housing shortages, eligible man shortages, gasoline rationing, the bittersweet poignancy of wartime romance — it’s all there.

As great as the post is, I think my favorite part is this screencap of Joel McCrea.  I’m such a shallow person.

Joel McCrea, where have you been all my life?

Joel McCrea It really is amazing how many actors and actresses I’ve overlooked all these years, in spite of being a big classic movie fan and TCM viewer.  I’ve been in a rut, I suppose, watching the same actors and often the same movies over and over to the neglect of others.

I’m almost glad, though, since now I’m having the fun of discovering the work of people I hadn’t seen much of before, like Joel McCrea.

McCrea’s so wonderful in The More the Merrier – laconic, masculine, funny, decent, and oh so handsome and sexy.

There’s so much heat between his character, Joe Carter, and Jean Arthur’s Connie Milligan.  The air in any room they’re in together seems electrically charged.  Even before they meet it’s there, with her dancing her little bottom-wiggling rumba in her bedroom and him dancing his in the hallway.  And once they do meet the rest of the movie is a delicious exercise in unresolved sexual tension, epitomized by the famous scene on the front stoop.

I love the way Joe puts her fur on her as they walk along, removes it, and puts it back again, all as an excuse to touch her bare shoulders.  And of course once they collapse onto the steps he can’t stop putting his big hands all over her neck, back and waist.

Yet there’s nothing at all unpleasantly groping about it, in spite of Connie’s halfhearted, short-lived attempts to push his hands away.  It’s intensely romantic, in fact, with her nattering on about the merits of her boring fiancé, Mr. Pendergast, while getting more and more distracted by the way Joe’s looking at and touching her.  She almost collapses when she tries to stand up after they kiss, so weak-kneed is she after all of that.

Wonderful stuff.  They don’t make scenes like this anymore.  In a film today they’d have been pushing each other up the stairs and tearing each other’s clothes off.  I don’t say that in moral judgment, really.  I’m just glad for these kinds of tension-filled scenes in older movies.

Right after this Joe and Connie go to bed in their separate rooms and talk through the thin wall between them in what is another incredibly romantic moment.  And of course all of this intensity is heightened by the fact that it’s wartime and Joe is about to leave, possibly never to return.

mtm bed

I’m not sure what the point of all this is, exactly.  Mostly that I fancy Joel McCrea in The More the Merrier, I suppose, and am looking forward to seeing more of him in other movies. 

Bird of Paradise

For more on the hotness that is Joel McCrea, check out this article from Bright Lights Film Journal:  Golden Boy: The Sexy Ways of Joel McCrea.

 

 

McCrea with Dolores del Rio in the racy pre-code Bird of Paradise (1932)

Husbands and Wives

For some reason the movies I watched this weekend all had a marital theme.  It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just grabbed DVDs that looked like fun, but maybe  on some level I was preparing myself for another season of watching Don and Betty Draper’s early ‘60s battle of the sexes. 

Too Many Husbands (1940)

too many husbands

Too Many Husbands came out the same year as another, more popular “extra spouse” movie, My Favorite Wife, and to be honest it’s not as funny or memorable as the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne film.  The three leads, Jean Arthur, Melvyn Douglas and Fred MacMurray, are all good though, and the movie has its humorous moments.

One thing that sets Too Many Husbands apart from My Favorite Wife is its more risqué premise. Jean Arthur’s character, Vicky Lowndes, isn’t a newlywed “kissless” bride, as Cary Grant’s new wife is. Her first husband Bill Cardew (MacMurray) has been “dead” (like Dunne’s character in My Favorite Wife he was lost at sea and presumed drowned) for a year.  Vicky has been married to husband number two, Henry (Douglas), Bill’s best friend and business partner, for six months.

Once Bill returns Vicky can’t decide which man she loves more and which one she wants to stay married to. She seems quite excited by the prospect of bigamy, in fact, if only because she enjoys having two men paying attention to her and vying for her affections. She gets a wicked gleam in her eyes the night of Bill’s return, contemplating the fact that two attractive men are downstairs fighting over who has the right to join her in bed.

Her two husbands argue and tussle and show off for her. (One of the funniest parts of the movie is seeing these two grown men running around the living room like fools, hurdling armchairs to prove their manly prowess.) She spends time with each of them alone, in an attempt to make her decision, and ends up more confused.

Eventually the law has to step in and make the choice for her, but in spite of her winding up married to only one of the men, it’s clear from the movie’s ending, with Vicky dancing with both at the same time, each clinging to one of her arms, that things aren’t really settled at all.  The whole movie has a slightly perverse vibe, like maybe Vicky would be just as happy with a threesome situation, which was an interesting take for 1940, that’s for sure.

All in all a funny little screwball comedy, though not one of the greats. For me it suffers in comparison to My Favorite Wife, both in terms of humor and heart, but it’s still worth checking out for the wonderful Jean Arthur. Also for the sight of Fred MacMurray in his first scene, bearded and as wild looking as Tom Hanks in Cast Away, but considerably more happy-go-lucky about the whole desert island rescue scenario.

Dream Wife (1953)

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 I’ve watched An Affair to Remember over and over recently,which inspired me watch the other Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr collaborations, inferior though they both are to Leo McCarey’s 1957 gem. (It may be sentimental and imperfect, but for me An Affair to Remember is the movie equivalent of comfort food. Not necessarily as nutritious as some other meals, but good for the soul nonetheless.)

Grant and Kerr first starred together in 1953’s Dream Wife, a movie I should probably hate, but don’t. For one thing it’s really not that good, objectively speaking. Sidney Sheldon wrote and directed it, and at times it feels like an episode of I Dream of Jeannie, only without the supernatural angle. It gets very slapstick silly at times.

For another, it’s so sexist.  Grant plays Clemson Reade, an American businessman engaged to a State Department employee, Priscilla “Effie” Effington (Kerr). She’s a workaholic and doesn’t spend enough time with him, so Clem gets fed up, breaks the engagement, and proposes to an Arab princess whose father is involved in a business deal with him. The princess has been raised to cater to her husband’s every whim and live only to make her man happy, something that appeals greatly to Clem after being repeatedly brushed aside by Effie.

Check out this conversation Clem has with some fellas at the office.  It’s awful!  It’s like a scene out of Mad Men!  And yet it makes me laugh anyway, because Cary Grant’s delivery is so good.  He can turn almost anything into comedy gold.

 

Ex-fiancee Effie has to be involved in Clem’s wedding preparations by virtue of her job at the State Department (there’s an impending oil crisis involving the princess’s country), and she throws a wrench in the engagement by teaching the princess all about Amelia Bloomer and Susan B. Anthony, helping her break free of all that subservient female stuff.

Dream Wife is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, I guess.  I enjoy it in spite of its flaws.  Cary Grant plays his trademark crankiness to the hilt, and if his character is unpleasant at times, he at least makes it funny to watch. Deborah Kerr is lovely and beautifully dressed, and if her character really is focused on work to the neglect of her fiancé, she at least makes it funny to watch.

Dumb but cute is probably the best way to describe this movie. If it had starred anyone other than Grant and Kerr I probably wouldn’t have liked it much, but their charisma and chemistry go a long way.

In this movie, at least. Not so much in their final collaboration.

The Grass is Greener (1960)

grass is greener

 Every few years I pop this movie in the DVD player, hoping that this will be the time I really like it, but every time I’m disappointed. You would think that with Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum starring and Stanley Donen directing it would be fantastic, but it’s not.

Grant is an English aristocrat, Victor, Earl of Rhyall, who has opened up his stately home to tourists in order to pay for its upkeep. Kerr is his wife, Hilary, who keeps busy with their two children, gardening, and growing and selling mushrooms in the village. They’re a comfortable, loving couple, and in their first scenes together they’re quite adorable to watch.

Then Robert Mitchum’s Charles Delacro, an American tourist and (of course) oil tycoon appears, brazenly pushing his way into the family’s private quarters and making a play for Hilary. She falls for him almost immediately, and after just half an hour spent together is in love and ready to sneak off to London for a tryst with him.

Which she does, even though Victor knows what’s going on, and she knows Victor knows what’s going on. Jean Simmons is Hilary’s kooky friend Hattie, who has a designs on Victor and gets mixed up in the situation, too.  It all winds up in a silly duel between Victor and Charles and a lot of yakking about the meaning of marriage, fidelity, and love between Victor and Hilary.

It’s all supposed to be very sophisticated, but it just icks me out. There are ways to handle adultery intelligently and entertainingly in a movie, whether as a comedy (The Awful Truth) or a drama (Brief Encounter), but The Grass is Greener isn’t good at doing it either way. It’s unbelievable to me that anyone involved could’ve dealt with the situation in such a cool, collected manner as the characters in this movie. 

More shallowly, what I really find implausible about the movie is the notion that anyone would risk losing Cary Grant’s sweet if stodgy Victor because of an infatuation with Robert Mitchum’s not too attractive and dull as toast Charles.  I know that’s my biased inner fangirl talking,  but honestly.  It’s Cary Grant!  Even at age 56, wearing comfy cardigans and thick black-framed glasses, he’s more charming and attractive than anyone has ever been.  I mean, would you throw over a husband who looked at you like this while you were in the bath?  For Robert Mitchum?

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No, I didn’t think so.

Easy Living

Part of the fun of watching classic movies is getting a glimpse at a world that doesn’t exist anymore, one that contained things like supper clubs, party lines, and automats.

Automats especially have fascinated me since I was a child. It seemed so magical to put coins into a slot in the wall and have a window pop open on a plate of roast beef or a piece of pie. I’m sure the food at automats wasn’t any better than what I got on family trips to Luby’s Cafeteria, but it seemed like it would be better. At any rate, it was more excitingly procured.

Even as an adult I still get a kick out of movie scenes set in automats, like the one Audrey Meadows’ character works at in That Touch of Mink. All that hustle and bustle behind the wall of windows, and if you know someone on the inside you just might get your chicken pot pie for free! 

ThatTouchOfMink00 ttom - automat1 

This weekend I watched Easy Living, a 1937 comedy starring Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold and Ray Milland, which contains a really funny, slapstick-filled scene in an automat – just one of many hilarious moments in the movie.

Easy_Living_1937_1 

Arthur plays Mary Smith, a working girl whose life is turned upside down when Arnold’s character, J.B. Ball, a Wall Street fat cat, throws his wife’s $58,000 sable coat out the window in a fit of pique. The coat lands on Mary’s head, and when she tries to return it to Mr. Ball he insists that she keep it. He also insists that she let him buy her a new hat, since the coat smashed hers, and that she allow him to drive her to work.

He means to be kind, but his good deeds lead to one crazy thing after another, from her losing her job to being mistakenly thought to be his mistress. Wearing the coat and being seen at the hat shop with Mr. Ball gets gossipy tongues wagging, and suddenly everyone wants to give Mary fancy things and put her up in swanky digs, thinking she has the ear of this wealthy man.

easyliving

Meanwhile, she meets and falls for Mr. Ball’s son (Milland), who is rebelling against his father and trying to make his own way in the world by working (not very successfully) at the automat. She doesn’t know he’s Ball’s son, though, which leads to even more complications, including a crash in the steel market. 

EasyLiving1

The script was written by Preston Sturges, so of course there are plenty of eccentric, characters, zany situations and misunderstandings. Jean Arthur is, as usual, fantastic – smart, sassy, and so, so funny. Take this scene, for example. No dialogue, just the unemployed Mary Smith searching for some money so she can eat. The blindfold on the piggy bank! Ha! She’s so stinking adorable.

 

I’ve never been particularly crazy about Ray Milland, whom I mostly remember as Grace Kelly’s murderous husband in Dial M for Murder and as Ryan O’Neal’s cold patrician father in Love Story, but he’s quite charming and handsome in Easy Living. At first I couldn’t help thinking how much better Cary Grant would have been in the role (apparently I want him and Jean Arthur to be in everything together right now), but he grew on me as the movie went along.

Such a fun, breezy, wacky screwball comedy – one of the best I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them, especially lately. And the scene in the automat? Well, that was just icing on an already yummy slice of cake. Cake I wish I could buy at an automat, of course.