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.

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. ;-)

William Holden Wednesday

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)

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Today’s movie for William Holden Wednesday is one of the biggest commercial successes of Holden’s career, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.  It’s a movie that’s problematic for modern audiences in many ways, most especially in the casting of Jennifer Jones in the role of a Eurasian woman.  The thought of casting anyone but an actor of Asian descent is bizarre to us now, and seeing Jones made up to be half Chinese is jarring.

Still, it’s a movie that had aspirations to open-mindedness, with its exploration of the cultural clashes between East and West and of the racial prejudices of the day.  Plus it’s a romantic and beautiful film, with its scenic vistas of Hong Kong and its gorgeous score by Alfred Newman.  The movie also features a memorable theme song which became a pop hit for various artists in the 1950s and ‘60s.  (Andy Williams’ version is my favorite.)

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Love is a Many-Splendored Thing is the story of Han Suyin, a doctor working in a hospital in Hong Kong during the time of China’s communist revolution.  Though she has strong ties with the Chinese side of her heritage, she is also half English and is part of the European set in Hong Kong.

She meets American journalist Mark Elliott (Holden) at a cocktail party and they quickly make a connection.  In spite of her hesitation – she is a widow whose focus is now her work, he’s a married-but-separated man whose wife won’t give him a divorce – a passionate romance soon blossoms between the two.

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Holden and Jones are at their most gorgeous in this movie, and in spite of the fact that they couldn’t stand each other in real life (about which more below) they have great chemistry.

That’s especially apparent during a scene on the beach, with the pair of them in bathing suits.  Holden lights Jones’s cigarette with his in the most blatant use of smoking as a substitute for onscreen consummation since Paul Henreid and Bette Davis blew smoke in each other’s faces in Now, Voyager.  See it below beginning at about 8:30.

It’s a little cheesy, sure, but also pretty steamy and suggestive.  With Picnic’’s release the same year, 1955 was a good year for Holden’s image as a sex symbol.  As I said a couple of weeks ago, one of the nicest things about Bill Holden is how often he was shirtless in his movies!

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In the end pressure from both Suyin’s Chinese relatives and the prejudices of the European community in Hong Kong put a strain on the couple’s romance before the dangers of wartime tear them even further apart.  I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but I will say that I can never get through this movie without having a good weep.

But back to the gossip!  From Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden by Bob Thomas:

The love scenes between Holden and Jennifer Jones evoked tears from millions of American women, but the film was a rare instance when he lacked affection for his leading lady.  Miss Jones complained about her makeup, her costumes, the dialogue; and when Holden failed to sympathize, she complained about him.  “I’m going to tell David about this,” she said repeatedly; and her husband, David O. Selznick, sent a stream of memos to Fox about her complaints.

The acrimony reached the point where the two stars were scarcely speaking to each other except during their love scenes. Holden decided to seek a truce, and he presented Miss Jones with a bouquet of white roses.  She threw them in his face.

Yikes!  I’ve read elsewhere that Jones was so disturbed by Holden’s reputation for romancing his leading ladies off-screen as well as on that she did things like chew garlic prior to scenes in which she and Holden had to kiss.  Can you believe it?  Given her obnoxious behavior, I’m not sure garlic breath was the most off-putting thing about Jennifer Jones.  She probably needn’t have worried about Bill throwing himself at her feet.  She was no Audrey Hepburn, let’s put it that way!

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While Holden may not have fallen for his co-star in this movie, he did fall in love with Hong Kong and eventually owned an apartment there.  In 1960 he starred in another story of interracial romance also filmed in Hong Kong, The World of Suzie Wong, and that time he had an Asian co-star in the beautiful Nancy Kwan.

See you next Wednesday for more William Holden!

William Holden Wednesday: On the set of Sabrina

I might’ve known that as soon as I committed to doing a weekly series on the blog, life would throw a few personal and work emergencies at me!  Because of all that, this week’s offering is going to be low on content, but high in pretty pictures.

William Holden and Audrey Hepburn fell in love while filming 1954’s SabrinaIt didn’t work out in the end, of course.  He was married, albeit unhappily, and though he wanted to leave his wife for her Audrey broke off the relationship.

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From Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden by Bob Thomas:

Ernie Lehman [Sabrina’s screenwriter] recognized what was happening when he dropped into Bill’s dressing room one day.  Lehman had been working so hard on rewrites of the Sabrina script that he had broken down in a weeping fit in a corner of the stage.  “Go home and get some rest; you deserve it,” [director Billy] Wilder said.  Before leaving, Lehman wanted to say goodbye to Bill Holden.

He walked into Holden’s dressing room unannounced.  He found Bill and Audrey standing a foot apart facing each other, their eyes meeting.  Lehman said his farewell and departed, realizing that something profound was happening between Bill Holden and Audrey Hepburn.

In these pictures from the set of Sabrina, it’s pretty clear to us, too.  They look so besotted with one another.

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William Holden eventually divorced his wife and went on to have other relationships (including one with Stefanie Powers, a/k/a Jennifer Hart), but he called Audrey the love of his life.  He was so wrecked by working with her again on Paris When it Sizzles ten years after Sabrina that he pretty much spent the whole time intoxicated.

A sad end to their relationship, but the chemistry between Holden and Hepburn in Sabrina is delightful.  For me the most enjoyable parts of the movie are their scenes together, beginning when Sabrina returns home from Paris a sophisticated and elegant young lady.

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We’re supposed to root for Sabrina to get together with Humphrey Bogart’s Linus Larrabee, but I’m afraid I’m always a little disappointed when she doesn’t get together with Holden’s David Larrabee.  Even though I know he’s a shallow playboy who would’ve probably broken Sabrina’s heart, I still find him much more appealing with Hepburn than the miscast and slightly ancient Bogart.

More from Golden Boy:

One scene called for [Holden] to vault over a fence as he approached Audrey.  He performed the leap with total ease on the first take.  “That was good, Bill,” said Wilder, “but a little too fast.  Could you do it a little slower, please.”  To the astonishment of the director and everyone else, Holden repeated the leap and seemed almost to pause in the air before landing.”

It’s a great moment, and one of my favorites in the movie.  Sabrina’s dream must truly seem to her to finally be coming true, with this handsome man she’s loved for years entranced by her and blithely leaping over a wall to take her in his arms.  You can see it below, at about 4:40.

Oh, that dress by Hubert de Givenchy!  It’s the most divine gown ever made for the movies.  Or maybe just the most divine gown ever made, period.

For a more detailed and insightful look at Sabrina, I recommend Jacqueline Lynch’s two-part discussion of the film at Another Old Movie Blog. She captures the mid-century dreaminess of the movie so well.  She says:

It is a time when dancing was a social accomplishment and seduction took time. We see it is a time of a single strand of pearls and strapless evening gowns with full skirts. Young people at this period did not want to be young, for to be young was to be gauche. Young people yearned for sophistication and experience, to emulate their elders, as Sabrina does when she spies the party from the branches of a tree on the estate.

Check it out, it’s a lovely read about a lovely film.  More Bill Holden next week, and something more substantial than pictures and quotes, I hope!

William Holden Wednesday

I thought it would be fun to try another monthly series, since I haven’t done that – or much of anything on this blog – in a long while.  So, during the month of February I’ll be writing a little something each Wednesday about a man who has long been one of my favorite actors in a low key kind of way, but who has lately become my #1 classic movie obsession – William Holden.

Here he is in New York during the filming of the first movie I ever saw him in, Sabrina. I love this picture!  Beautiful city, beautiful car, beautiful man.

In many ways Bill Holden was the quintessential All-American leading man for the 1950s, able to portray wealthy playboys, hardened soldiers, idealistic journalists, ambitious businessmen, and aimless wanderers with equal ease.  He acted in war movies and melodramas, as well as in light-as-air romantic comedies and dark film noirs.  With his muscular build, strong jaw, deep voice and sensitive yet knowing eyes, Holden embodied much of the post-war masculine ideal.  I’ve often thought that Jon Hamm’s Don Draper has more than a little William Holden in him.

Holden was a very versatile actor and one who, once he got away from the fluffy, Mr. Good Guy roles given to him by Columbia Studios in the 1940s, made some very interesting and risky choices.  He often played world-weary men with a bit of a cynical edge — or a lot of a cynical edge, as in Stalag 17.

(I’ll be honest, though, I like a lot of those fluffy, Mr. Good Guy roles, too!  Meet the Stewarts and Father is a Bachelor, for instance, are very pleasant and fun to watch, even if they aren’t great filmmaking.)

On a shallower note, Holden wasn’t exactly hard to look at!  He was incredibly handsome, especially in his movies from the 1950s.  He had the most gorgeous, dreamy smile.  You can see that swoon-causing grin in this video of him giving Audrey Hepburn her Oscar.  How adorable are those two?  Super adorable!  (More on the love affair between Hepburn and Holden later this month.)

Holden was quite the hunky sex symbol, often appearing on screen shirtless.  In Picnic, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Sunset Boulevard and many more, if Bill was on screen that shirt was coming off.  I can’t exactly complain about that aspect of his screen presence!

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Holden didn’t seem to be stuffy, or to take himself too seriously.  The episode of I Love Lucy in which he guest stars is my favorite from the entire series, in large part because of how much fun he is in it.

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He led a fascinating off-screen life and was an intelligent man with many varied interests.  The wildlife foundation which bears his name is testament to just one of those interests.  Of course his life had a dark side too – an unhappy marriage, multiple infidelities, and the alcoholism which would eventually lead to a tragic and senseless death at too young an age.

But it’s William Holden’s many wonderful movies and fine performances I want to focus on this month, because ultimately they’re why he should be remembered and celebrated.

For the first William Holden Wednesday of the month I want to talk briefly about two movies from his career, made 20 years apart.  Looking  at these two films together, you can’t help but marvel at just how much the world and the movie industry changed between the 1950s and the 1970s.

The Moon is Blue (1953)

The Moon is Blue stars William Holden along with Maggie McNamara (probably best remembered for her role in 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain) and David Niven.  It’s an innocent little romantic comedy when seen today, but when it came out in 1953 it was terribly scandalous.

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The characters use the words “virgin” and “pregnant.”  McNamara’s character bluntly asks Holden’s if he has a mistress, and hopes he won’t be too bored with her virginity since she’d enjoy a little affection, even if she doesn’t want to go all the way.

It’s implied that William Holden’s character has slept with his ex-girlfriend, who tries to lure him back by meeting him dressed in nothing but a mink coat. “She has a very pretty chin,” says McNamara, looking at the girl’s picture. “She’s very pretty all over,” says Holden appreciatively.

David Niven is the ex-girlfriend’s playboy father, who is much less distressed by his daughter’s shenanigans than he ought to be.  Niven has some great lines in this movie, and he delivers them with his usual polished wit.

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The film’s director, Otto Preminger, refused to change the play on which the movie was based in order to clean up the story’s “immoral” words and attitudes, thus forgoing the approval of the almighty Hays office.  Watching the movie now it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about. It’s fairly tame and mildly cute, though Maggie McNamara is a little on the annoying side. For me it’s the presence of Holden at his most gorgeous and Niven at his most roguish that makes the movie worth checking out.

Plus, it’s an interesting bit of Hollywood history, since it was one of the first movies to take a crack at the Production Code that had been in effect since 1934. Here’s an excerpt. Don’t you feel faint when the word “virgin” is uttered? Shocking, my dears, just shocking!

Breezy (1973)

Fast-forward 20 years, and oh how things have changed!  Breezy, directed by Clint Eastwood, is far less innocent and tame than The Moon is Blue, and yet to my knowledge it caused no great scandal upon its release.  On the contrary,  Eastwood’s biographer Richard Schickel believed that the sexual content of the film’s love scenes was too tame, which probably led to the movie not being a success when it came out.  This in spite of nudity and some frank, if not explicit, sexuality.

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Breezy is the story of a sweet-natured, free-spirited 19-year-old hippie (Kay Lenz in the title role) who meets and falls in love with a jaded middle-aged man played by William Holden.

Holden is bitterly divorced and has no interest in committing to another woman or in opening his heart to anyone again.  Lenz’s Breezy, on the other hand, is all open heart, full of love and hope in spite of the sadness in her past.   Against his will and better judgment, and in the face of ridicule from his friends, the fiftysomething man finds himself falling hard for the wise-beyond-her-years flower child.  Here’s the trailer.

Breezy is surprisingly sweet and oddly romantic in spite of the May/December (really more like February/December!) angle.  Although Holden’s looks weren’t what they used to be, years of alcoholism having taken their toll, he was still a wonderful actor.  It was a brave role for him to have taken on, I think, and his portrayal is touching in its vulnerability.  I wasn’t sure I’d like Breezy when I first started watching it, I suppose because I feared a love story about a very young woman and a much older man might be creepy or exploitative.  It didn’t strike me that way, however. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The Moon is Blue is available from the Warner Archive and also airs on TCM now and then.  Breezy is available on DVD and streams free for Amazon Prime members.  Both are well worth checking out.

See you next week for more William Holden!

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.