The movie star I’d most like to have dinner with

You might think I’d say Cary Grant would be my dream dinner companion, right?  And I certainly would’ve loved to be anywhere in his vicinity at any time in his life, don’t get me wrong.

I don’t think I’d have been able to do anything but silently gape in wonder and awe if seated next to Cary, however, and it just would have been humiliating.  Worse even than when dear Audrey Hepburn had dinner with him before filming Charade and spilled red wine on his light colored suit!

No, these days I think my ideal classic movie star dinner companion would be the dapper David Niven.  I started reading his autobiography The Moon’s a Balloon this weekend, and oh my gosh is it ever hilarious!  Truly laugh out loud funny.

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David Niven and Jacqueline Kennedy partying with great chicness at the Waldorf Astoria in 1956

In the book Niven comes across as witty, bawdy, charming, wicked, intelligent and so much fun.  And I haven’t even gotten to the Hollywood bits yet.  Yes, a seat next to a tuxedo-clad Mr. Niven would be perfect.  He could tell risqué, gossipy stories all night while we laughed, sipped champagne, and shared a dance or two.

So which classic star would you most like to chat with at a dinner party?

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The eyes have it

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I am neither a young rebel nor an old rebel nor a tired rebel, but quite simply an actor who tries to do his job with the maximum of conviction and sincerity.”

–Montgomery Clift

I’ve neglected this blog for so many months that I can’t imagine there’s anyone around to read it, but nonetheless I’m back!  My interest in things tends to come in big, sweeping waves, and lately that’s meant reading everything I could get my hands on about FDR and obsessively watching Mad Men and Glee.

The classic movie wave is back again, though.  That one always comes back.  Right now my movie love is all for the actor who never fails to move me with the intelligence, sensitivity and realism of his performances, Montgomery Clift.

There are many actors I think are wonderful.  Cary Grant tops the list, of course, and Gregory Peck and Jack Lemmon are way up there, too.  None has ever affected me quite as deeply as Clift, however.  Both in his performances and in who he was as a person, with his pain and his demons, he just breaks my heart.  Those eyes!  It’s so corny and cliche to say they’re the windows to his soul, but watch his films and you see it’s really true.

The Search (1948)

The Search was released by the Warner Archive recently and I’m so happy about that.  It would’ve been nice to have it available some other way, where more people would have a chance to see it (I wish Netflix would stock movies from the Warner Archive), but at least it’s on DVD at all.

The film is set in post-WWII Germany and was directed by Fred Zinneman, who gave it an almost documentary style. You really see the terrible wartime destruction of lives and families in this story of a little boy who is thought to be orphaned, his mother who is desperately searching for him after her time in a concentration camp, and the G.I. (Clift) who takes the boy under his wing and grows to love him.  If you can make it through this movie without weeping, you’re much tougher than I am!

Clift is so good in this, giving a wonderfully real, warm, understated performance.  He was such a modern actor. Brando seems to get all the credit for bringing that kind of realism to movies but it was really Clift who did it first.

 

The Heiress (1949)

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Clift’s role as fortune hunting Morris Townsend in The Heiress could have been a straightforward villain, but as with everything else in this great film directed by William Wyler, things are more complex and indecipherable than that.  Clift gives Townsend charm, vulnerability, and maybe even an appreciation of the sweetness of his shy, mousy bride-to-be (Olivia de Havilland), who has been dominated by her father all her life.

If things had gone differently and they’d married, perhaps he’d have learned to really love her, and maybe they’d both have blossomed into better people – she more sure of herself, he less shallow.  Who knows?  In the end Catherine gains strength and self-possession, but at the expense of her trust in everyone around her, and Morris seems to gain nothing at all.  Neither wealth nor wisdom.  Such a sad and completely enthralling movie.

A Place in the Sun (1951)

Every time I see Montgomery Clift as George Eastman in George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun, I can’t help thinking how amazing it would have been if he could’ve portrayed Jay Gatsby at some point in his career.  He would have been brilliant in that role.

I love this scene.  Both Clift and Elizabeth Taylor are so physically beautiful you can’t even believe they’re real, and they have such chemistry together.  “Tell Mama.  Tell Mama all…”  Wow.  Paging Dr. Freud.  (Whom Clift portrayed in a 1962 film, by the way!)

I Confess (1951)

I have a confession of my own to make.  I had never seen I Confess until this week!  And I call myself a Montgomery Clift fan, not to mention an Alfred Hitchcock fan.  It’s quite a dark, serious film, and one that reminded me much more of a film noir than a typical Hitchcock thriller.  I enjoyed it a lot.

Clift’s Father Logan doesn’t say much in the movie, but  you never feel you don’t know exactly what he’s going through.  The emotions and thoughts play across his face and show in those expressive eyes from the moment we see him hear a murderer’s confession until the end, when the killer dies in his arms.  The struggle between Father Logan’s duty to God and his fear of being unjustly accused is all there on that beautiful face.

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Wonderful Monty (3)

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Oh Monty, Monty.  I love him so.  If you ever get a chance to read Patricia Bosworth’s biography of Clift, I highly recommend it.  It’s one of the best actor bios I’ve ever read.  He was a fascinating, tormented, and incredibly gifted man.  He didn’t make that many movies, but I’m so glad to have the ones he did.

Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Amelia Earhart, 1934

This is so cool!  No doubt it’s a publicity photo for the Grant/Loy aviation drama Wings in the Dark, which I watched recently and talk about here.

I don’t know why, but this picture blows my mind a little.  Amelia Earhart, my girlhood idol, with Cary Grant, my idol of all time.  I get really geekily excited when I come across things like this.  No wonder Myrna Loy was so believable playing a daring aviatrix in Wings in the Dark – she’d met the real thing!

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Happy 97th birthday to Gene Kelly!

“If Fred Astaire is the Cary Grant of dance, I’m the Marlon Brando.”

– Gene Kelly

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Gene Kelly would have been 97 years old today.  Time to celebrate with a few of my favorite moments from his MGM musicals.  There are so many more I could have included!  The hours of happiness this man has brought me…

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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.

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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. 

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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)

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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)

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 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.