Happy New Year!

Has it really been almost a year since I posted here?  I have such a hard time sticking with projects like this one.  I’ve been watching and loving classic movies for the past 12 months, of course, but the time and motivation to write about them have been hard to come by.

But it’s New Year’s resolution time and besides that I’m on a bit of a movie-watching spree right now, so it seems as good a time as any to make another attempt to keep the blog alive.  After all, I need somewhere to write about all the wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) things I’ve seen.

Not to mention somewhere to gush without shame about my newest movie star crush, Gary Cooper.  I’m completely obsessed with tracking down as many of his movies as I can find and watching them as soon as possible.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve seen: Morocco, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Meet John Doe, Ball of Fire and Casanova Brown, all for the first time.

My DVR contains Sergeant York and The Pride of the Yankees, and Wedding Night is winging its way to me from Netflix as I type this.  I’ve also scoured the TCM listings for the next couple of months and have Along Came Jones, Friendly Persuasion, The Fountainhead, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Cowboy and the Lady to look forward to.

See what I mean?  When I get interested in something, I really get interested! I’d first seen and enjoyed High Noon and Love in the Afternoon years ago, because they co-starred Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn respectively, but neither of those movies made in the 1950s gave me a real clue as to how wonderful (and wonderful looking) Cooper had been in his younger days.

Then sometime last year I watched 1939′s Beau Geste on TCM and realized just what I’d been missing. The man was beautiful. Tall, gorgeous and very sexy. Thanks to the Christmas holidays I finally had time to immerse myself in some of the movies on my to-watch list and it was a lovely experience.  Not only was Gary Cooper easy on the eyes,  he was also an extremely charismatic, subtle, talented actor.  Stay tuned for lots of Coop chat in the coming days and weeks!

I also hope to write some more about Joel McCrea, having recently seen him in two fabulous movies (The Palm Beach Story and Foreign Correspondent) and one strange, disjointed film (Preston Sturges’s The Great Moment).  I can’t wait to write about those three, especially The Palm Beach Story, which is one of the best movies I’ve seen in ages.  It’s absolutely hilarious from start to finish.  Plus McCrea once again demonstrates the uber-hotness I first discovered in The More the Merrier.

Not that it’s all about the men!  I’ve also been delving into Claudette Colbert’s work quite a bit in recent weeks and having lots of fun getting to know her better.  The Gilded Lily, part of the newly released Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray Romantic Comedy Collection, was an especially entertaining trifle.  Colbert and MacMurray had great chemistry and were always fun to watch together.

So that’s some of what’s coming up here very soon.  I have no idea if anyone is even reading this blog anymore, it’s been so long, but I’m excited to give it another try.  There are few things I enjoy as much as rambling on and on about classic movies and movie stars.

Miss Barbara Stanwyck

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I’m sorry to confess that until relatively recently I knew Barbara Stanwyck mostly from her brilliant Emmy-winning performance as Mary Carson in The Thorn Birds and from her role as Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley, which I used to watch with my mom as a child.  Oh, I’d seen Double Indemnity, but otherwise I was pretty ignorant of her movies from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s.  Not sure why, I just never sought them out. 

Then last Christmas TCM aired Remember the Night, a 1940 film co-starring Fred MacMurray, and ever since then I’ve been madly in love with Miss Barbara Stanwyck (as she was grandly billed on The Big Valley).  She is amazing in everything I’ve seen so far, with such vulnerability beneath the tough exteriors of the women she portrays.  She’s drop dead gorgeous, has the greatest husky voice, is absolutely hilarious, and can break your heart into a million pieces, too.  Her acting has such subtlety and truthfulness, even in the silliest of movies, like The Lady Eve.

(Discovering her and Jean Arthur within the same year has been an amazing, joyous revelation.  I keep slapping myself on the forehead and asking myself how I could’ve been blind to these ladies for so many years, while blithely calling myself a classic movie fan.)

Just look at her!  Such movie star glamour.  She was absolutely beautiful.

Barbara Stanwyck

There are still many, many Stanwyck movies left for me to see, but here’s a bit about a few I’ve watched lately.

Remember the Night (1940)

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This movie is a treasure, and I have no idea why it isn’t a better known Christmas classic.  Remember the Night was written by Preston Sturges (someone I’m really starting to believe was the greatest screenwriter ever…well, aside from Ben Hecht) and directed by Mitchell Leisen, so it’s a classy, quality affair.  Stanwyck plays cynical, brassy shoplifter, Lee Leander.  MacMurray is John Sargent, the District Attorney prosecuting her.  The trial, which is taking place just before Christmas, is postponed until after the holiday, which means Lee will spend it in jail.  John begins to feel sorry for her and one thing leads to another until he’s finally bailing her out and taking her home to Indiana to spend the holiday with his family.

There are some funny, screwball moments, like when the two end up crashing their car, spending the night in a field, milking a cow, and being arrested for trespassing.  Also funny are the courtroom scenes that open the film.  (Lee’s attorney’s defense of her shoplifting, and John’s reaction to it, are a stitch.)

At heart, though, the movie is a sweet, sentimental one of love and redemption.  Lee’s own family is truly awful (the scene in which she visits them is heartbreaking, and John’s graceful extrication of her from the situation is one of the sweetest moments imaginable), so to see her with John’s kindhearted family, who takes her in like one of their own, is lovely.  The marvelous Beulah Bondi plays Mrs. Sargent, John’s mother, Elizabeth Patterson plays his darling Aunt Emma, and Sterling Holloway is their funny (and occasionally yodeling) farmhand.

This is one of the most truly romantic movies I’ve ever seen.  Stanwyck and MacMurray have wonderful chemistry.  I appreciate stories where the characters have time to get to know one another and you can believe that they really have fallen in love.  So many movies have people meet and fall immediately and based on pretty much nothing. 

In Remember the Night  John begins to see that beneath her hard shell, Lee is a kind, decent girl who has had a difficult life.  Lee sees where John came from, how he worked his way up from a poor but loving home to be a success, and how it’s possible to be part of a happy family.  That makes it sound so schmaltzy, but it’s really not.  It’s sentimental, but in a genuine, heartfelt way.  Anyway, if you can’t have some honest sentiment at Christmastime, when can you?

This movie isn’t out on DVD, which is a terrible shame, but it appears on TCM now and then.  It’s well worth checking out.

The Lady Eve (1941)

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Another one written by Preston Sturges, who also directed it.  This movie is hilarious!  Fall-on-the-floor, laugh-out-loud crazy.  Just look at the expression on Henry Fonda’s face!  Stanwyck is so funny and sexy in that scene.  She drives poor Henry Fonda right out of his mind with lust.  It’s fantastic, and rightfully one of the most famous scenes in screwball comedy history.

Fonda plays Charles Pike, a brewery heir, ophiologist, and bumbling geek in spite of all his wealth and good looks.  Stanwyck is Jean Harrington, a cardsharp and con artist who works with her father, my dear old Charles Coburn.  The relationship between Coburn and Stanwyck is one of the best things in the movie.  They’re both cynical and crooked, but there’s love there, too.  Charles Coburn was the best.

with coburn

They meet on board a ship heading from South America to New York.  Jean sets out to seduce Charles and trick him out of a fortune, but of course she winds up truly falling in love with him.  He finds out who she really is just before their ship docks, and in spite of her attempts to explain he is terribly hurt and dumps her.  That’s when the really crazy stuff begins.

The premise of this movie is so insane (Jean poses as an English aristocrat, “Lady Eve,” at a party at Charles Pike’s father’s mansion, and without changing her appearance at all manages to dupe Charles into thinking she’s really someone else), but somehow it works.  I don’t want to say too much in case you haven’t seen it, but the way it all works out is truly nuts.  Funny, but nuts.

The Mad Miss Manton (1938)

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This movie, also co-starring Stanwyck with Henry Fonda, is fairly entertaining, though a far cry from the perfection created with their pairing in The Lady Eve a few years later.  Stanwyck plays a dizzy socialite, Melsa Manton, who discovers a dead body which inconveniently disappears right after she calls the police.  Miss Manton has a reputation for pranks and getting into trouble, and the cops think this is just another of the silly stunts she and her rich, idle friends pull.

Also skeptical is Fonda as a newspaperman named Peter Ames.  He eventually comes to believe Melsa, however.  And of course he falls in love with her.  He and Melsa, along with her society friends, eventually solve the crime.

Not the greatest movie, but it’s a lighthearted, fun screwball/murder mystery.  This movie plays on TCM now and then, and was also recently released through the Warner Archives.

Golden Boy (1939)

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Based on a Clifford Odets play, this is the story of a gifted violinist, Joe Bonaparte, who comes from a loving, immigrant family.  To his father’s dismay and in spite of his own doubts about what the right thing is, Joe gives up the violin in order to gain wealth and fame as a prize fighter.

William Holden plays Joe Bonaparte, in his first movie role.  He had basically no credits at all when he was cast in this film, and he turns in a really moving, passionate performance.  He was only 21 years old!  Remarkable.  I love Bill Holden.

Stanwyck plays the girlfriend of Joe’s manager (Adolph Menjou), who at first uses her feminine wiles to get Joe to keep fighting when he wants to give it up and return to music, and who later truly falls in love with him and begins to hate what all the money and fighting are turning him into.  Once again she’s a tough on the outside, tender on the inside gal, and she’s wonderful.

Partway through production Columbia Pictures got cold feet about having a newcomer in such a big role, and Stanwyck stood up for Holden and fought for him to stay.  She believed in him and he was always grateful for that.  For the rest of his life, Bill Holden sent Barbara Stanwyck flowers on the anniversary of their first day of shooting Golden Boy.

Stanwyck seemed to inspire that kind of love and loyalty.  Just think of how discreet and gentlemanly Robert Wagner was about their love affair for decades, only revealing it in his memoir last year.  In the caption of a photograph of the two of them in the book he says simply My love, Barbara Stanwyck.  (Excuse me while I swoon a little.)

Miss Barbara Stanwyck.  A great lady and a great talent, as I am happily discovering these days.

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! 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.