Monday, July 27, 2009

The Major and the Minor (1942) 5/5, and pre-war cinema

Tonight I exposed my celluloid-weary Dad and his Girlfriend to one of my favorite movies, Billy Wilder's "The Major and the Minor". It is a hilarious and really well-made movie that makes some interesting points about the latter half of 1941, sex, and disguises, while maintaining the conventions of its genre as a well-constructed and witty comedy.
We begin with Susan Applegate, an attractive girl in her late 20s (?-Ginger was 30 during production). She gives up on New York and the promise of excitement after the last in a million pinches and cat calls comes from Mr. Osburne, a greasy older man who has called her for a scalp massage (played well by Robert Benchley). The one thing New York doesn't get out of Sue Applegate is $27.50, the fare back home to Stevenson, Iowa. There's only one problem: the rate has been raised, and all Susan can afford is a half fare ticket, which means she will have to masquerade as a soon-to-be 12-year-old "SuSu" to get back home.

Her guise is soon discovered, and she runs in to the drawing room and arms of Major Philip Kirby, played by the dreamy Ray Milland. She is immediately smitten, but, for obvious reasons cannot reveal her true identity, especially not after they are discovered by his suspicious fiance. All this nonsense means she will have to go to the Wallace Military Institute with "Uncle Philip" so that he can make his case and avoid scandal. What follows is so funny and also complicated, that I will let you watch it on your own and find out!
I cannot tell you how much I love this movie. For obvious reasons, I love it because Ginger is especially adorable and hilarious in this part. What a role to take on, especially right after such dramas as "Primrose Path" and "Kitty Foyle", her Oscar-winning role. This is truly a statement to her bravery and security in her talent. We also have her to thank for Billy Wilder's coming to the United States. This was his first American picture, and he would have never been trusted to direct it had Ginger not requested him specifically.
Above all of those charming details, what I love most of all is Lela Rogers' appearance as Mrs. Applegate, Susan's mother in the end of the film. I had never heard Lela speak or see her move. Gosh, Ginger is a little clone of her. Here is a picture of Lela, Ginger, and Lela's father Walter Owens on the set of the film:

Most of the time when I'm watching more recent movies, I try to imagine how it could (or could not) have been made in the past. This film is the opposite: a movie that can never be made again. It was remade in the 50s as "You're Never Too Young" with Jerry Lewis and Diana Lynn, who appears in the original as a smart-aleck young girl who wasn't fooled for a second. There are so many strange lines in this film that had no trouble with the code in '41, yet wouldn't be touched by any sensible studio today. I suppose the issue of Pedophilia was not a common one in that day. Not to say that it didn't happen, but that it was rarely, if ever seen in courts or talked about. It must have been a non-issue for it to be the subject of a comedy!
Another element of this film that I enjoy are the comments about the impending war. Although the film was made in'41, it was released, like Casablanca, in 1942 after the US entered the war. I love looking at films made in these two years and their sentiments about the war effort. Warner Brothers, for example, strongly supported FDR and the New Deal.In Warner Brothers pictures during this time (including Casablanca), they would discuss when the war was going to happen, not if. The Major and the Minor, which was a Paramount picture, is more cautious. They say "if" several times, but it is not just an "if". There are clear preparations, but not firm and unbridled support. Hopefully I will soon watch more pictures from this year to provide some more comparison.
I've been blabbing long enough. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie. It is available on DVD from Amazon for $12.99 (it's also uploaded on a certain video website that I won't name). More people need to know about this gem of a movie! I'll leave you with the trailer.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

links and followers

I was excited to see that my "following" has grown to 5 today! I've added link list to the side bar. If you would like to be linked, please let me know, and I would appreciate the same!

Also, have this nice picture of Ginger, a lovely early color photo from a Life magazine shoot:
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The Circle Cinema Slumber Party

WARNING: There is lots of blood in this entry!
While a part of me (a very large part) loves the innocence of classic movies, musicals, screwball sex comedies etc, another part loves gore films from the 70s and 80s. I like them much better than straight horror because they rarely jump out and try to scare you. In gore, you pretty much know every death about three minutes before it happens. Gore films are hilarious and satisfying.
I had the pleasure of attending the 1st ever Circle Cinema Slumber Party. We met up at 10:00 pm for a night of cult horror classics, keeping in mind the promised $10 cash back on our $20 tickets if we could handle an all-night gore fest. The 110-seat theatre sold out quickly, and nearly all of us stayed the entire night to watch some of the best worst movies ever made.
About my last sentence: there is a stark difference between “best worst” movies and “worst best” movies. The order is key in telling the difference. Best Worst movies are cult cult classics and other bad movies that happen to be so terrible that they inadvertently become immensely enjoyable, while Worst Best movies are those that we know are classics and should be revered, but tend to be staunch and difficult to sit through. Everyone has different Worst Best movies, but mine happen to be 60s and 70s European Cinema, especially Fellini and Godard.
Our first movie was “Return of the Living Dead” (1985), an enjoyable satire of zombie movies, specifically “Night of the Living Dead”. After two dim-witted employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally bust open a tank with a radioactive dead body inside, The gases leak in to the air and wake up the neighboring cemetery. Yes, there are blatant factual errors about the story of “Night of the Living Dead”, like saying it happened in ’69 when the movie was made in ’61, but it’s all in good fun. You can see the strings that make the skeletons move, and at one point a puppeteer is visible. It’s still a really fun movie.

Number two was a surprise to the guests until it started. “Hausu” is a Japanese horror flick from 1977, we knew from the first minute that this was going to be fun. It is summer vacation, and seven teenage girls are heading to Gorgeous’ (yes, that’s her name) aunt’s house to spend some of their vacation in the country. Of course, the house is haunted and systematically eats them (or maybe it’s the aunt controlling it? It’s really hard to tell). Basically, this is a feature-length acid trip without the acid. Cats have sparkling eyes, a girl is eaten by a piano while giggling, etc. To tell more would make it seem unbelievable.

Hopefully this film will soon have a DVD release. The print I watched had a Janus Films logo, so some restoration has occured.
After a shortbreak to return to planet earth, we watched “The Burning”, the embarrassing debut of the Weinstein brothers, Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter. A camp caretaker is horribly burned after a prank gone wrong (dubbed by my friends and me as the best prank ever!!). He returns to the camp,bent on revenge. Who cares if all of the offending campers are long gone? He’s going to kill everyone in his path, including this group, out rafting to find one of the canoes that mysteriously went missing in the night.

The fourth, and my second favorite aside House was “Night Warning”, a reverse-oedipus complex thriller from 1983. It stars Susan Tyrell as Aunt Cheryl (you may recognize her as Ramona from Cry Baby), who is in love with her nephew who is in her care after his parents’ freak death (an awesome beheading followed by the car going down a cliff, then exploding!). As she descends in to madness, Billy begins to figure things out. But is it too late?
This movie was the best one for re-enacting “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. In fact, one man deemed me “the winner” for a comment that I added. Unfortunately, it was too dirty to share here.
The only youtube clip that I can find is the opening car crash, and for some reason they cut the explosion, which happens literally one second after this video ends.Oh well, you get the idea:

The final movie was the other surprise listing. It was “Race with the Devil” (1975), starring Peter Fonda. It is a car chase/occult thriller hybrid. Unfortunately, it started at abuot 5:30 am, and after the first ten minutes, I succumbed to my urge to sleep. I couldn’t help it! I’m one of those people who likes at least 8 hours of sleep a night, and I had to sing at church in the morning. My friends seemed to enjoy it.
I had a wonderful time at the Circle Slumber Party. I can’t wait for next year!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Favorite Star Combinations: Lover Come Back (5/5)

The second of three Rock Hudson/Doris Day vehicles, Lover Come Back (1961) is a hilarious romp through the lucrative world of New York Advertising agencies. After Carol Templeton loses a huge deal to Jerry Webster, she begins investigating his means of securing deals, which often include large amounts of alcohol and less-than-clothed ladies.
After Jerry is reported to the Ad Council for unethical activity, he creates a new product called VIP to woo the star witness out of a testimony and in to commercials. Carol hears about VIP and does everything in her power to stop it-even by falling in love with who she thinks is the inventor.
Like the other two Rock and Doris pictures, Lover Come Back is very stylized-very early sixties. Doris wears some truly terriblehats, like these, which surface during their obligatory dating montage:

It's like a lavender christmas tree! At least the swim suit is adorable.
There is really only one word to describe these movies: Delightful! Now that I have the Rock Hudson/Doris Day Collection, these movies will always be there for a pick-me-up.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Ginger!!!

It's here!
I'm sure you guys have heard these stories thousands of times, but here's a brief overview of her life.
Ginger was born Virginia Katherine McMath in Independence Kansas on July 16th, 1911. Her mother Lela was separated from her father, and she was raised largely by her grandparents while Lela was traveling to New York and LA, trying to make enough money as a writer for her daughter to join her.

Eventually Ginger (a nickname developed when her cousin could not say Virginia, and called her "Ginya") did join her in Fort Worth, TX, where Lela landed a job with a newspaper. Through her mother's work reviewing theatrical productions, Ginger caught the performance bug, and entered a Charleston contest, which she (of course) won. She went on to win the state Charleston contest, and began touring the Southern Orpheum circuit. Ginger no doubt made several stops through my town, Tulsa Oklahoma. Tulsa was an oil boom town that boasted two Orpheum theatres. Neither are standing today, but eventually I will make my way over to the Historical society to look for a program of "Ginger and the Redheads".
Vaudeville lead Ginger to Broadway, where she won a lead role in "Top Speed" and the Gershwin musical "Girl Crazy". Ginger was the first to expose the world to such classics as "Embraceable You" and "But Not For Me". She was an instant hit in New York, and began making small pictures in New York with Paramount, and then RKO Pathe pictures. After the closing of Girl Crazy, Ginger left New York for Tinseltown, and the rest is history.

After her stint with Fred, Ginger went on to act in both serious dramas and hilarious comedies. Ginger even won an Oscar in 1940 for Kitty Foyle, beating Bette Davis for the Letter, Katharine Hepburn for The Philadelphia Story, and Joan Fontaine for Rebecca. Many consider the results of the best actress race to be one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history.

Ginger with James Stewart, a former boyfriend and fellow winner in 1940.
Ginger continued to make great films through the 40s, and a couple of good ones in the 50s (though some in the 50s were total DUDS!). After leaving the business with the Jean Harlow biopic "Harlow" in 1965, Ginger retired to the "Rogers Rogue River Ranch" in Oregon. Here's the view from the Rogers Rogue River Ranch Roof (say that 5 times fast!)

To sum up this post, here are two rare old "Merrie Melodies" cartoons from 1937 and 1940 respectively. Both feature caricatures of Ginger.

Both of these cartoons use a clip from the very end of "The Gay Divorcee". I love the attention to detail-the fact that Ginger never touches the second chair, just like in the movie.
Have a great day!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ginger's 98th

Tomorrow marks the 98th birthday of none other than Miss Ginger Rogers. I have made some special celebration plans:
I'm going to watch at least 2 pictures of hers that I have never before seen. I bought Black Widow about a month ago, but I've never gotten around to watching it. My mom is also very interested in seeing that one, so I'll probably watch that one in the evening. I'll likely watch Vivacious Lady on Youtube earlier in the day.
I have also not yet seen The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to watch that one yet. They were discussing it on Reelcast a couple of months ago, that a lot of the fans saved one for a long time before watching it, because they were sad about it being the last one. I think that's definitely the case for me. After I watch Vernon and Irene, there will be nothing else of Fred and Ginger for me to see. kind of depressing. Anyway, who knows how I'll feel about it tomorrow.
I'll be wearing something pink tomorrow.
I'm going to mix up the Ginger Rogers cocktail. Yes, Ginger never drank, and I'm sure she would be less than thrilled to know that there is a cocktail named after her, but this sounds too delicious to pass up, and I need to use up the Ginger syrup that I made the other day. I suppose I could serve Ginger snaps or Gingerbread men as well, if I'm feeling crazy.
Now for some pre-birthday pic spam. Don't worry, there will be PLENTY more tomorrow :D
(I know these are messing with the layout,sorry. This layout just isn't working for me. I'll tryto find another one this afternoon)
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Friday, July 10, 2009

Layout Help

I can't seem to find the right layout. The current one Is too narrow, and I don't know how to customize it. I don't hink a thing about HTML, so I'm just copying and pasting whatever I find. Do you know of any good websites that offer free or relatively cheap and customizable layouts?
I really love the design at She Blogged By Night and TCM's Movie Morlocks, with a seamless header that flows in to the sidebar. If anyone can give me some tips, I would really appreciate it!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Away We Go (2009) 5/5

I know classic cinema is my usual thing, but I loved this movie so much that I need to tell you about it.
"Away We Go" is about Bert and Verona. Along with their pregnancy, they also discover that Bert's parents are moving to Belgium one month before Verona's due date. They no longer need to live in this town (never mentioned) where they stayed to be close to his family, so they start looking around. From Phoenix to Montreal, until they find home in a heart wrenching scene.
This was one of the most visually stunning movies I have ever seen. The lighting and colors in this picture were superb, especially in an early scene when Bert is lighting candles, and Verona's face is subtly filled with light. It was perfectly timed and operated. Kudos to lighting.
This film was also very well-acted. I'm sure it's impossible to make John Krasinski unlikable in a movie, but still, he was great. I almost love him more as Bert than I do as Jim. Maya Rudolph was also great. Wonderfully tender and sincere. Supporting players included cameos by Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
If I could sum up "Away We Go" in fewer words than above, I would say that "Away We Go" did for me today what "Juno" did for me last year. It's a great moment of tenderness, with a good heaping of humor.
See this movie!!!!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Wonderful Giveaway!

Kate-Gabrielle at Silents and Talkies is giving away some fabulous stuff! Head on over to her blog to win one of three fabulous gift sets. I've got my eye on those prints in prize #2!

She sells awesome prints of everyone from Louise Brooks to Barbara Stanwyck.

I've talked enough. Now git!

Mash Game: Predict Your Future at eSPIN-the-Bottle

Behold... My Future
  I will marry Cary Grant.  
  After a wild honeymoon, We will settle down in Hollywood in our fabulous Mansion.  
  We will have 1 kid(s) together.  
  Our family will zoom around in a White 1936 Ford.
  I will spend my days as a actress, and live happily ever after.  
whats your future


I don't think I've discussed my collection before on this blog. I collect sheet music from movie musicals, specifically trying to get every sheet from all 10 Fred and Ginger films. I will do a more comprehensive post once I locate my camera cord (grr).
Anyway, last night I stayed up pretty late to win this item.
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It's the music to "I Used to be Color Blind" from Carefree, but that's not all: It's autographed by BOTH Fred and Ginger. The sheet for this music is rare already (it has never come up on ebay since I began collecting 5 months ago), but adding both of the signatures makes this an astronomical find! Obviously, it was autographed at different times (Ginger signed in '92, 5 years after Fred's death), making this an even greater testament to the devotion someone had to getting their signatures. It comes with a certificate of authenticity, but I don't need it to tell me that it's Ginger. She wished him "blessings" as she has in 99% of the autographs I've seen.
As you can see, I ended up paying $67 for it. It's a lot for one piece of sheet music, but it's the prize of my collection, and I know it's worth much more. I can't wait to get it in the mail!
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Monday, July 6, 2009

Another interest of mine: Triviatown (4/5)

Do you have what it takes?
Triviatown (2006) is a documentary by Patrick Cady and Brit McAdams about the world's largest trivia event, the 90FM Trivia in Stephen's Point Wisconsin. It chronicles several teams in their 54-hour fight for the title.
The trivia contest is held over the radio by the local college radio station. A question is asked every two songs, and each team has the duration of those songs to submit their answer via telephone. Any source can be used for answering purposes-computer, books, calling people on the other side of the world.
But don't think that makes it easy. These questions are crazy-specific, like "In (some) scenein the kitchen in Close Encounters of the Third kind, what is the brand of milk that is sitting on the table?". For these questions, team members prepared all year by watching movies, TV and commercials (yes, even commercials are fair game), and writing down every detail. In one scene, we see team Dyslexics of the world Untie! retrieve a dvd from the trunk of a car to see what book a man brings to his ailing wife in the hospital. The operator at the radio stations answers just as the second song fades away. They get the answer in in time, and it is correct. I was on as little of my seat as they were!
Of course, as a trivia junkie I relate more heavily to this film than the average viewer. I began playing quizbowl in high school, and have continued to this day. Quizbowl is a triviagame played on teams of four. Schools compete against one another and, like all school sports, eligibility is a factor (though it was never a problem with us...haha). I even auditioned for jeopardy last November, but I didn't make it. I still have another year to try and qualify for the college version, and if not that, I have the rest of my life for the adult version!
I digress. Triviatown was a well-made documentary with one pitfall: the perennial winning team, Network, were portrayed somewhat as the villains, while the liquor store that was team Cakers was the protagonist of the story, finally making their way in to the top 10 after umpteen years of play. Yes, the members of Network were very cold individuals, but from my experience with quizbowl I have learned that even the most hardcore nerd can be nice when he wants to. They were kind of portrayed as if they didn't have fun with the competition, as seen in their disappointment with finishing second for the first time in years. It's not that at all: winning is their fun. They enjoy playing, but that doesn't mean they have to get drunk and dance to "Come on Eileen" to express it. I and many of my fellow nerds I'm sure will sympathize with the characterization of Network.
Still, this was a wonderful film, and I nice break from my classic cinema purge.They're great, but every once in a while one needs a break to stay interested.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Favorite Star Combinations: The Awful Truth (1937) 5/5

Now I will present one of my favorite acting combinations: Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. What chemistry, what timing! This pairing is one of the Golden Age's most electric.
After hitting the nail on the head with "Theadora Goes Wild" in 1936, Irene came back for more comedy in 1937. Although she was apprehensive at first about her comedic abilities, no one else doubted her talent. Early glimpses of her humor can be seenin a very short clip from the wonderful and underrated 1936 version of "Showboat", when she takes over the lead role in the play:

The person who uploaded that video considers the moment to be unintentionally funny, but if they had seen some later Dunne pictures, I think they would retract that statement.
On to The Awful Truth!
The Awful Truth is about Jerry and Lucy Warriner, a couple who have never been faithful to one another. After a public disagreement about suspicion and fidelity, the couple decides to split, but they continue to see one another because they share custody of their precocious dog Mr. Smith (a delightful appearance by Skippy, also known as Asta in the Thin Man series). It is obvious that they are still crazy for each other, though they are both too cowardly to admit it. Instead, Lucy jumps in to a serious relationship witha rancher and oilman from Oklahoma (an early appearance by Ralph Bellamy). Jerry hooks up with an heiress and they intend to marry as well. In a hilarious scene, Lucy visits Jerry on the night that their divorce becomes final, and answers the phone when Barbara calls.

After some automobile sabotage, Lucy sneaks Jerry away to spend the night in her aunt's cabin. There, they have some trouble keeping the door closed that separates their respective bedrooms, perhaps a sign that there should be no walls between them. They reconcile just as the clock strikes midnight, and they are no longer married. Time for another wedding!
This is such a hilarious film from start to finish. Like all films of the 1930s, it is not completely relevant to today;s society, making some parts a little slow, but still enjoyable.
My favorite jokes stem out of Lucy's impending marriage and move to Oklahoma. As a lifelong resident of Oklahoma, Jerry's jokes had me on the floor laughing! Especially when he says that if she gets bored with Oklahoma City, she can always come to Tulsa! I go to school just south of Oklahoma City, and was born and raised in Tulsa. I can safely say that neither are terribly entertaining towns.
I just read on the IMDB trivia that this film was improvised heavily. Of course, there was a working script for plot purposes, but jokes were made up during shooting. They make it look so easy!
My favorite thing about Irene Dunne comedies are her facial expressions (many can be seen in the phone scene above, when he's making up that she is his sister). I also love her snoody voice when she talks about people she doesn't like. My favorite example of this is from "My Favorite Wife" (1940, my favorite of their pictures) when they are "practicing" for him to tell Bianca that she has come back, and she repeats Bianca's name in this ugly character voice and does her high society snicker. Priceless.
Another great feature of "The Awful Truth" is Skippy. Although he is known worldwide as Asta from the Thin Man series and from Bringing Up Baby, he turns in an adorable performance in the Awful Truth. My favorite Mr. Smith part is when Lucy is playing hide the toy with him, and she makes him go hide his eyes. Here is a screencap:

Then she sas "no peeking!" and he looks up briefly. Too cute! I want to train my dog to do this.
In conclusion, see The Awful Truth. This is what comedy is and is supposed to be.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Adam's Rib (3.5/5)

I have never been much of a Hepburn fan, especially after reading accounts of her interactions with Ginger (nobody messes with my Ginge!!). I decided to give "Adam's Rib" a try anyway, because it was one of my Great-Grandma's favorites. She passed away a year ago tomorrow, and it was a nice way to connect to her.
From Netflix:
Husband-and-wife attorneys Adam and Amanda Bonner (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) sit at opposing sides of the courtroom in this comedy directed by George Cukor. Amanda decides to defend Doris (Judy Holliday), who stands accused of the attempted murder of her husband (Tom Ewell) and his mistress (Jean Hagen), while Adam signs on as the prosecuting attorney. The sensational trial rules the headlines and strains the Bonners' marriage.

This is the first Tracy/Hepburn picture that I have seen, and many say that it is their best. If this is their best, I can't say I'm totally interested in seeing the others. While Adam's Rib was moderately funny, it didn't hold a candle to earlier battle of the sexes comedies like Bringing Up Baby or The Awful Truth (more on that one later :)).
Jusy Holliday was fun in this movie as the wife who attempted to murder her husband. Jean Hagen gave a delightful performance, which I later found out was her screen debut.
The most memorable scenes for me were the under-the-table conversations between Adam and Amanda; especially the first when she lifts her skirt and gives him a peek of her slip. The home movies at the farmhouse were also quite cute, and of course the massage scenes. All of these captured the chemistry between Tracy and Kate that I found missing in many other parts of the movie.
There are certainly a lot of symbols of the impending sexual revolution in this picture-maybe this is a paper or an article in my future. The instance that sticks out most is the naming of Adam and A(man)da. Women in screwball and sex comedies have always interested me (I should post the paper I wrote on Carefree sometime soon...).
Like I said at the beginning, I'm not an enormous Katharine Hepburn fan. Adam's Rib certainly helped me to hate her a little less. Production stories maintain that Judy Holliday's shaking during her interrogation scene was not a character choice, but nerves because she loved Katharine so much. Hepburn also did a lot of campaigning for Holliday-urging Cukor to use Holliday's Reaction shots during the courtroom scenes over shots of Hepburn speaking. This helped Holliday nab the starring role in her break-out movie "Born Yesterday".

Friday, July 3, 2009

I'm sorry...I'm a procrastinator

I'm so terrible at this. The problem is that my computer is in a place where it's really uncomfortable to sit and type for extended periods of time. Ack!
Even though I haven't kept up with watching a movie every day, I've come pretty close. I'm not going to write about all of them, but I'll do my best to keep you updated on my favorites.
I've now seen 30 of Ginger's films...almost to the halfway mark! Now that I've seen most of what people consider her best films, I'm working myway through the lesser-known stuff; either because it has fallen in to obscurity or because it was just plain BAD (read: The Groom Wore Spurs).
Like I said, I will try harder to give you more entries.