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. 😉

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Pretty Baby (1950)

Pretty Baby stars Betsy Drake as Patsy Douglas, an ambitious girl who runs the mimeograph machine at an advertising agency.  After mornings spent trying in vain to get a seat on the subway, she passes her days cranking out copies of soap opera scripts while daydreaming of becoming a copywriter.  She also daydreams about her boss, Sam Morley (Dennis Morgan), on whom she has a crush.

When the agency loses its biggest account, Baxter’s Baby Food, Patsy takes a baby doll (nicknamed Cyrus, after  Mr. Baxter) from the disassembled display in the agency’s lobby, wraps it in a blanket, and uses it to get a seat on the subway.  Men may not give up their seats for all ladies, but they do give them up for mothers carrying babies!

One evening Patsy sits next to a grumpy old man (Edmund Gwenn), telling him that her baby is Cyrus Baxter Douglas, and that he’s named after the wonderful man who runs Baxter’s Baby Food.  Unbeknownst to her, the old man whose leg she is pulling is Mr. Cyrus Baxter himself.  Mr. Baxter is so touched that this young woman has named her baby after him that he determines to help her and her child however he can.  He gets her a promotion at work, which her bosses at the agency go along with only because they think Patsy has a relationship with Mr. Baxter that will help them win back his business.

The rest is a round of  predictably wacky misunderstandings.  All three men think Patsy is an unwed mother.  Mr. Baxter suspects one of the bosses of being the baby’s father.  Patsy has to hide the doll from Mr. Baxter every time he unexpectedly drops by, for fear of letting him know the truth of her deception.  Her bosses don’t want her to ruin their chances to win back the account, after all.  Besides, Patsy doesn’t want to hurt Baxter, whose tough shell has been cracked by his affection for Patsy and the fake baby he’s never even seen.

Meanwhile, Patsy shows no talent for copywriting (her jingles are awful), but she does inspire Mr. Morley to be true to himself creatively.  Of course he falls in love with her.

Betsy Drake is cute, Edmund Gwenn is hilarious and touching, and even Dennis Morgan, who normally doesn’t do much for me, is lots of fun.  At one point he sings “Pretty Baby” to Drake through a transom window, which is utterly goofy.  He had a lovely voice, though!

Barbara Billingsley and William Frawley have small parts in the movie, a few years before they’d become famous on TV as June Cleaver and Fred Mertz.

Pretty Baby is a completely pleasant, silly, amusing diversion — sort of Every Girl Should be Married meets Bachelor Mother.  Well, maybe Bundle of Joy more than Bachelor Mother, quality-wise.  If you’re in the mood for something heartwarming, fun, and not too much of a strain on the brain, this is it.  TCM airs it sometimes, and it’s also available from the Warner Archive.