Thursday, December 22, 2011
During the 1930’s in Hollywood, the top brass at 20th Century-Fox knew a good thing when they saw it and they saw it in a little tyke named Shirley Temple. Depression weary audiences flocked to the movies of the grammer school cupie-doll in droves, allowing her to single-handedly save her home studio from bankruptcy. Already the top box office draw in America for two years running, Temple was starting to age by 1937 (she was all of 9 years-old) and Fox studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck handed over the newest Temple vehicle, Heidi, to director Allan Dwan to see what he could do with it. It would be the first of three film collaborations for Dwan and Temple and the most successful, being a perfect vehicle for the star and keeping her at the top of the box office for a third year in a row.
Based on the classic children’s story by Joanna Spyri, Heidi is a little orphan girl, thrust upon her brusque and bitter grandfather by a mercenary and unloving aunt in the Swiss Alps. Cold and indifferent at first, the Grandfather (Jean Hersholt) warms quickly to the natural and loving child and the two become very attached. Enter evil aunt Dete again, whisking Heidi away to sell her into servitude to a wealthy aristocrat. While the Grandfather searches high and low for his beloved grandchild, Heidi begs to be taken back to her Alpine haven, only to be told she must stay in the opulent household to entertain a sad crippled girl named Klara (Marcia Mae Jones). All this is overseen by Klara’s sinister governess Fraulein Rottenmeier (Mary Nash).
Temple could have easily taken this to the saccharine, and some may say she did, but her natural charm and good humor shines through and makes for a highly entertaining family film. The fake snow proved a problem though when little Shirley accidentally swallowed some and had to be off the set for a day or two to recuperate. But if the snow was phony the settings are authentic in look and feel and that is mostly attributed to the fact that much of the outdoors was shot at Lake Arrowhead in San Bernardino County, California.
A musical number, “In Our Little Wooden Shoes” was inserted in the middle of the picture, much influenced by the miniature star herself. As a personal observation, the scene seems tacked on. It’s actually a dream sequence but lends nothing at all to the story. However, it is a cute way to interject Shirley in a few ornate costumes.
Heidi is a favorite around the holiday season. The snow, the classic story for children, the curmudgeonly Santa look-alike in the Grandfather all come together to give a Christmas aura (plus, the film climaxes on Christmas Eve). I know I first saw it as a kid on Christmas break from school. It was actually the first Shirley Temple movie I ever saw and for anyone who hasn’t seen one and wonders what she’s all about, it is a good film to get started.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Classic Hollywood knew how to deck the halls (and the terrace and the pool house and the second story mezzanine and the....well, anyway) with all the glitz and glamour that only it could. Bet Elizabeth Taylor (above) knew the joys of icy diamonds even at this youthful age.
Alice Faye is definitely in the giving Yuletide spirit!
Gene Tierney makes a lovely and colorful Christmas card.
Cary Grant mugging as St. Nick with galpals Lucille Ball and Ann Sheridan egg(nog)ing him along.
Joan Bennett and daughter Melinda in the late 1930's.
Carole Lombard has been a good girl (or maybe a bad one), as evidenced by her haul of Christmas goodies.
June Allyson filling her stockings with care.
Posted by Rupert at 9:06 AM
Friday, December 9, 2011
It’s silly fun, like most Bob Hope movies, but an added attraction was a holiday ditty written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, called “Silver Bells”. It was sung by Hope and his female lead, blonde Marilyn Maxwell and became an instant hit and holiday standard. Story has it the song was originally going to be called “Tinkle Bells” but Mrs. Jay Livingston advised against it, making reference to childhood slang for urination, hence “Silver”.
It’s a fun story. Hope plays a small time swindler called, you guessed it, the Lemon Drop Kid, who hustles tips at a Florida horse racing track and touts a race to a gangster’s unsuspecting moll. The losing horse ends up costing the thug $10,000, and the mob comes a knocking. Kid heads back to his stomping grounds of NYC and tries to solicit help from his chorus girl cutie Maxwell. Instead he ends up concocting a scheme to collect money for a fake retirement home called, get this, the Nellie Thursday Home for Old Dolls! Classic. Bob gets to dress in a sad looking Santa suit (as do his band of shady elves) and even takes a turn in drag as one of the “old dolls”.
To many, Bob Hope is remembered for his television comedy specials, his USO tours or his numerous turns as Oscar host but after transitioning from vaudeville in the late 1930’s, he became a major film star at Paramount. His “Road” pictures with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour were mega hits and his non-Road films were box office gold as well. By the time he made The Lemon Drop Kid, he was top of his game.
The colorful characters of Runyon’s world were portrayed by a colorful roster of Hollywood supporting players. William Frawley (who made this film just before starting his run as Fred Mertz on the long running T.V. classic, “I Love Lucy”), Jane Darwell, Lloyd Nolan and Fred Clark are all hilarious or hilariously menacing. And then there’s the pretty Marilyn Maxwell, but when it’s all said and done, it’s Bob Hope film and Bob more than delivers.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Based on a Victor Herbert operetta from 1903, the film was a fantasy extravaganza without the use of the yet to be invented CGI. Set entirely in Toyland, bizarre almost grotesque looking costumes adorned inhabitants such as the Cat and the Fiddle, the Three Little Pigs and even a Mickey Mouse (almost) look-alike. THEN there were the Boogeymen, Sasquatch wannabes who hooted and hollered while terrorizing Toyland. Santa Clause even makes an appearance though he looks as if he made a stop at the North Pole Bar and Grill on his way in (make it a double Blitzen). But of all these weird and wonderful eccentrics two ‘humans’ were creepiest of all and perhaps that’s because they were real people. First, Silas Barnaby, the meanest man in Toyland, was a cross between Ebenezer Scrooge and the hated black clad villain in silent film melodramas. You know, the one who tied the virginal damsel in distress to the railroad? Henry Brandon, billed as his birth name Kleinbach here, would again play this Barnaby-like character in an Our Gang episode a few years down the road. Second, and perhaps most surprising was Mother Goose. I don’t know, when she walked out with her gray finger waved, Goldie locked hair set underneath that tall prick-a-finger-you-die pointy black witches hat, heavy framed glasses sloped down on her nose and Salem witch trial collar wrapped ‘round her neck, I just didn’t get a good vibe. On top of that, this was all heaped around a face that didn’t look a day over 25! Creepy…….
But these were mere window dressing for the deco grand guignol by producer Hal Roach. The film was really a vehicle for Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, whose massive popularity was catapulted further still by the release of this film in Fall 1934. As Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee, L and H tumble and bumble in the most celebrated way while trying to help Widow Peep and her daughter Little Bo Peep battle the nasty Barnaby, who holds the mortgage on the shoe they all live in together (get it, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe?). Bo Peep makes eyes at Tom-Tom, the Piper’s Son and he gets in on the action too.
Seems kind of odd that physical comedy giants L and H would be plunked down in the middle of a Herbert operetta but for celluloid whimsy it works and Stan and Ollie aren’t required to sing anyway (although Oliver Hardy did get his show business start singing). With the flood of television sets in the 1950’s and 60’s, March of the Wooden Soldiers, also like The Wizard of Oz, made annual appearances to generations of kiddies. Colorized at the end of the 20th century, the original black and white version is better, lending an even eerier feel to an already tantalizing funfest.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Set in the Missouri burg of the title in 1903, the film centers on the Smith family, middle class and ready to see and celebrate the coming Louisiana Exposition of 1904 but instead of a straight narrative, St. Louis is really a set of colorful, sentimental vignettes set to some of the catchiest tunes and loveliest melodies to come from Hollywood in the 1940’s, with Garland of course taking on the bulk of the lilting tones. Along with “The Boy Next Door” and “Under the Bamboo Tree” with the precocious moppet Margaret O’Brien, Judy and gang belt out one of the most glorious four minute interludes of musical magic known to the golden age of American cinema with “The Trolley Song”. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, “The Trolley Song” was not only nominated for an Academy Award as the year’s Best Song (it lost out to “Swinging on a Star” from Going My Way) but had several very popular renditions that hit the airwaves during the decade. The most enduring song to come from the St. Louis musical resume however, was Judy’s poignant holiday signature, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Hauntingly beautiful in its delivery both visually and audibly, “Christmas” has become a standard on Yuletide play lists.
In an auburn wig with very heavy bangs, Garland had shed the “baby fat” much discussed by her studio boss Louis B. Mayer, but her trimmer figure could still pack a vocal wallop and did so. She is handsomely supported by a superlative array of MGM talent including the above mentioned O’Brien, Lucille Bremer, Mary Astor, Leon Ames, Marjorie Main, Harry Davenport and Tom Drake, as the “boy next door”. The entire cast charms its way from scene to scene evoking the feel and sound of turn of the century Americana via the MGM backlot.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Posted by Rupert at 10:00 AM
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Friday, August 5, 2011
People from 5 to 105 love Lucy. Who? You know who, even if you aren’t one of the millions who DO love Lucy, you know who she is. She is the zany redhead we have watched since childhood on the hilarious 1950‘s comedy “I Love Lucy“. (We know she is a redhead because, well, just because we do. It’s not because we see her on her world famous T.V. show with red hair since it is in black and white). August 6th is the 100th anniversary of her birth in Jamestown, New York and much hoopla will be made in her honor, as well it should be.
Although she is known across the globe for her comedic genius, she got her start in none other than classic movies, first at RKO, then later as a Technicolor queen at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Many forget her dramatic film roots (pardon the hair coloring related pun, as she herself made quite joke of it often on her show) and it’s a part of “Lucy” history which should be brought to light for those who may not be aware of a pretty darn impressive career.
This post isn’t going to be a deep retrospective, as so many and so much has been written about this great performer, but just a gentle reminder of a few of her more interesting film roles. If you haven’t seen them, you might want to check them out. You might be surprised.
Stage Door (1937) ~ Ball shares the screen with some RKO heavyweights, Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers and tosses a few verbal punches in as well. Early Lucy.
Dance Girl, Dance (1940) ~ Although Maureen O’Hara is the technical star of this show, Lucy comes out ahead most of the time. As Bubbles, exotic dancer, she is brassy and sassy and extremely attractive (pictured below). Early Dramatic Lucy.
The Big Street (1942) ~ The first time I saw this film I couldn’t believe I was watching the fun and loving star of one of my favorite comedy shows! Ball is cold and callous as a nightclub performer who treats her mousy admirer (Henry Fonda) like something scraped off her dog’s paw, she shows a whole different side to our favorite redhead.
The Dark Corner (1946) ~ Lucy as a “girl Friday” in an intriguing film noir at the peak of the genres popularity. Can’t miss. Suspenseful Lucy.
Then there are the fun and frivolous musical comedy confections she made when she moved over to MGM. DuBarry Was a Lady, Best Foot Forward and others. These performances, along with her great television work, built a career than spanned over 50 years and showed just why so many “loved Lucy”.
Lead graphic by illustrator Glen Hanson
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Christmas Holiday. The name sets forth images of festive shoppers, skirting past lavishly decorated store windows, Yuletide parties, both hip and homespun, trees, lights, carols and mistletoe. Given these impressions, a film by such a title might seem to be filled with music, laughter and/or a warm hearted message of hope and happiness. Anyone who has ever seen Christmas Holiday (1944), knows that assessment is dead wrong, dead being the operative word. In fact, the production from low key, low cost Universal Studios, is a dark and brooding film noir directed by Robert Siodmak, no stranger to the genre.
Based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, the story centers around the relationship between a handsome and seemingly affable young man (Gene Kelly) and the pretty young woman (Deanna Durbin) he meets and marries. But it soon becomes clear that the young man, Robert, is a gambling, psychopathic mama’s boy, who murders a bookie. His naïve and trusting wife, Jackie, continues to love and believe in him, even after she discovers his shady alter ego. With hints of incest and gossamer veiled prostitution (Jackie’s self inflicted punishment for not “helping” her screwed up husband enough), Christmas Holiday is a psychoanalyst dream, complete with a mysterious, possessive mother (Gale Sondergaard, who was born to play such a part).
Casting the leads was the real surprise for moviegoers who saw the film in 1944. Deanna Durbin was the reigning sweetheart at Universal since she signed on almost a decade before. Unknown Durbin had made a short film called “Every Sunday” in 1936 at MGM with then also unknown 14 year-old Judy Garland. It was a screen test of sorts for the two young hopefuls. Metro kept Judy and Deanna signed with Universal. It is said that the lively Durbin’s popularity saved the struggling studio from bankruptcy. Her films were light as a feather and always featured her lilting operatic voice. Christmas Holiday was chosen as her first dramatic role and it was reportedly her favorite.
Like Durbin, Gene Kelly was cast strongly against type. Getting his start in musical theater on Broadway, Kelly had only been in films a couple of years, mostly starring in musicals. The role of Robert Manette was a complete about face for him. An interesting turn though and one that showed a different facet to a growing film star. The novelty of an already intriguing film was the casting of such fluffy and pleasant musical celebrities as dark downers in an offbeat offering.
Contrary to what one might think, the musical lilting heard by Deanna (after all, this IS a Durbin picture), has nothing to do with Yuletide yearnings but instead love ditties by lyric powerhouses including "Spring WIll Be A Little Late This Year" written by Frank Loesser and “Always” by Irving Belin. No dancing though, Kelly saved plenty of that for his other 1944 photoplay, Cover Girl, also on loan-out.
Friday, June 3, 2011
Vivacious, gorgeous, intelligent and bedecked with both jewels and men (one often contingent upon the other), Paulette Goddard led one of the most fascinating lives during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Upon the 101st (or 100th or even the 106th, depending on what source one accepts) anniversary of her birth, I’d like to bring to light a few interesting facts about the comely and much married star that you might not know.
1.) Three of her four husbands were celebrities, that’s fairly common knowledge, but her first marriage while still in her teens, was to a lumber tycoon from North Carolina. Much out of character with the glamorous image of Paulette wining, dining and being squired around Hollywood and New York, Goddard actually lived in Asheville, North Carolina. Although a beautiful city and surrounding area (the filthy rich Vanderbilt family constructed their castle, Biltmore House there), it wasn’t exactly the place in which she hoped to live out her days. Her tenure of rural living didn’t last long though, as two years later, she headed to Reno for divorce and a healthy financial settlement, then onto California.
2.) Before Vivien Leigh was signed, Paulette was the leading contender in the race to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind (1939). Other top candidates who were considered were Joan Bennett and Jean Arthur but Paulette was at the top of the heap. Her inability to produce a marriage certificate proving her domestic status with then husband (?) Charlie Chaplin, along with the entrance of Miss Leigh into the “Scarlett” pool, was enough to dismiss any hopes of securing the role. The strength of her screen test, along with all the publicity the part generated for her, did however help her snag a long term contract with Paramount Pictures. (The clip above shows several screen and make-up tests for Paulette and others. The portion dealing with Goddard begins at about three minutes in.)
3.) While still in her teens, Goddard landed a job with the famous Ziegfeld Follies in New York. Half a decade later, she was one of the original troupe of Goldwyn Girls, along with Betty Grable and Lucille Ball. The irony is not lost on me, when as Miriam Aarons in the classic comedy The Women (1939), Goddard is asked about her days in the chorus and all the material baubles she‘d accumulated, she replies: “If you mean diamond bracelets and boxes of orchids, that breed died out just before my time.” But it hadn’t! In real life she was right in the thick of the “chorus girl” heyday.
4.) Cast often in Cecil B. deMille’s color spectacles of the 1940’s Paulette fell out of favor with the infamous adventure director during filming of 1947’s Unconquered. The following has been drawn from an earlier article I wrote about the making of that film.
“But the big stink regarding Goddard was her refusal to appear in the big “Siege on Fort Pitt” scene where real firebombs were being hurled about the set. DeMille, who demanded bravery and complete cooperation from his actors, under any circumstances, was livid at the actress, berating her in front of the entire cast and crew, but to no avail. Paulette’s stand-in did the scenes instead, and in an ironic twist, suffered minor burns, to which Goddard felt all the more vindicated. It was the last time the actress was in a Cecil B. DeMille production, being discounted by the director for the role eventually given to Gloria Grahame in his extravaganza, The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), a film she let DeMille know in no uncertain terms that she greatly wanted to be involved with.”
5.) Paulette Goddard had no children, although she miscarried in the mid 40’s while married to actor Burgess Meredith. Upon her death in Ronco, Switzerland, where she had retired, she left $20 million to New York University. As a result, Goddard Hall, a freshman residence dorm located on Washington Square is named in her honor.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Movie legend Elizabeth Taylor has died at the age of 79. Arguably the biggest film icon, along with Marilyn Monroe, to come forth from the screen, Taylor was the much married, much publicized, much ridiculed and much loved star, known above all for her dark, sultry beauty.
Literal volumes have been written about Elizabeth Taylor, as there was a lot in her long and varied life to record. Born in Hampstead, England on February 27, 1932, she came to the United States and began her career as a child star. Her soft voice, violet eyes and dark good looks, set her apart from others and with National Velvet, made in 1944, she made a name for herself and a wad of dough for her studio, MGM. Unlike other child actors, she made the transition to adult roles almost seamlessly, due to her mature beauty at an early age (the girl looked like a goddess at 16 in A Date with Judy).
First married at 18 to hotel heir Nicky Hilton, she later married seven more times, twice to actor Richard Burton. Through them all, as well as her personal and public trials, tribulations and many health problems, the press followed her like a gossip hungry entourage. Heck, for an information hungry media, she was a veritable scandal buffet!
Not only a pretty face and name in the news, Taylor was also an Academy award winning actress. Her first Oscar came to her in 1960 for Butterfield 8 (some say as a consolation for nearly dying from pneumonia the previous year), her second for a much deserved performance with her then husband Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 1966. In 1999, La Liz was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. The title suited her.
Besides the afore mentioned films, Taylor appeared in such classics as Little Women (1948), the original Father of the Bride (1950), Giant (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and the massive Cleopatra (1963) the mega-bomb in which she met and fell in lust/love with Burton and became the first actress to be paid $1 million for a single film. (The thing about Cleopatra is, despite its woeful reception by critics, it was the highest grossing picture of 1963, but due to its enormous production costs ~ it was set to cost $2 million, but ended up with a $44 million price tag ~ it lost millions). Love her or hate her, Elizabeth Taylor was a true movie star.
Friday, January 14, 2011
The Forest Rangers (1942) isn’t high drama, it isn’t supposed to be. It IS a sometimes comedy, sometimes action, always colorful yarn from Paramount with some of the studios top stars of the day, tromping around among mile high timbers, dodging the flames of a raging forest fire. Along with striking Technicolor, The Forest Rangers sports a catchy tune, “I’ve Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle”, written by Frank Loesser and Joseph J. Lilley, which became a big hit on the airwaves.
Fred MacMurray is the forest ranger, Susan Hayward is a fetching lumber mill owner, who has the hots for Freddie boy, while he meets, gets the hots for and marries even more fetching city girl Paulette Goddard. Redheaded wildcat Hayward doesn’t take too kindly to the new bride (like it’s any of her business) and gives girlie girl Goddard the wilderness once-over. Think along the lines of of Hayley Mill’s treatment of tenderfoot Joanna Barnes in The Parent Trap some twenty years later. Both remained perfectly coiffed and glossed while fighting fires and each other, and MacMurray remains his ever stoic, yet capable self.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Madeline Carroll was originally to play Celia, the part Goddard ended up playing, and Goddard was to play Tana, the Hayward role. After seeing the film, and knowing the way Paramount worked such a treatment during this period, I could see the Carroll/Goddard combo working very nicely, even better than the finished product in fact, as Goddard had vivaciously conniving down pat (see Hold Back the Dawn (1941)).
Susan and Paulette had just come off the set of Cecil B. DeMille’s Reap the Wild Wind, so the two cuties were no strangers to sharing the screen and both did what was required of them in this lighthearted look at love in the lonesome pines. Also sharing the screen with the star trio was Eugene Pallette (always a rotund treat), Lynne Overman and Regis Toomey, who completes the love daisy chain as an airplane pilot who carries the torch (no pun intended….this time) for Hayward’s Tana.