Discussion of old movies and the culture that made them.
New York Film Academy ( nyfa.edu ) Acting for Film and Filmmaking programs work hand-in-hand, providing all of our students with resources such as film equipment, live film shoots, and a network of filmmakers, screenwriters, producers, and editors that is developed before entering the real world.
On "No Down Payment": Anne said...This is what makes me wonder if Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens'scharacters had even consumated thier marriageThe kid's got a broken radio, Jeff pulls out a screw driver and sets to work.Tony Randall gets smarmy with Jeff's wife and he's a frozen bystander...if Tony was mashing a radio, I think Jeff's character would have sprun into action. March 9, 2013
On "Trooper Hook": Vienna said...Wonderful review ! I haven't seen TROOPER HOOK for a long time but hope it becomes available on DVD. You describe Joel and Barbara's characters so well. An unusual role for Barbara. I guess she chose to do it for that reason. March 11, 2013
Anne said...Thank you for writing about this little gemOne can see this film on the encore west channel now and then and it's astonishingly good. With a budget not enough for a modern office pastry cart, it shows what can be done with excellent writing and acting....and directing. I love how we see the tiny stage from afar, then we see it though Nanches legs, we are right behind him, and we now know he's on their trail...it makes him almost a gonzilla of a threatChildren: let Mr. McCrea and Ms Stanwyck show you how it's done.They are hotter across a dusty feed store than many buck necked couples in love scenes today.March 7, 2013
On "Any Number Can Play": Vienna said...I love this film. Great cast, though I hate seeing Audrey Totter so totally wasted. All Audrey seemed to do was stand around with a glass in one hand and cigarette in the other.I thought Alexis Smith did well ,playing a woman whom I 'm sure was meant to be older than Alexis who was probably about 30 at the time.Great to see Mary Astor though,again, what a small role. And Marjorie Rambeau is always a joy.It could have been a play, with the only sets the gambling club and Gable's house.An unusual role for Gable and he was convincing.March 1, 2013
On Anita Sharp-Bolster: Vienna said...I've just see Anita in THE LONDON BLACKOUT MURDERS and she is so good as another battle-axe character , but with a touch of comedy . Nice tribute. Thanks.http//:dancing lady39.wordpress.com February 2, 2013
On Victor Jory - On Stage and Screen: Vienna said...Thanks for great tribute to Victor Jory whom I like, especially in a couple of films where he isn't the villain! In FIGHTING MAN OF THE PLAINS, Victor does his best to help Randolph Scott and becomes a good friend to Scott's character. Such a contrast to Victor's usual roles. I also liked him in a little B, THE UNKNOWN GUEST where he is the leading manI had no idea Victor and Alexis Smith did two plays together - thanks for the information. Oh to have seen them!January 24, 2013
On And Then There Were None: Ryan said...I bought this years ago on DVD, and it's still my favorite movie version of this story. The cast was perfect, and to tell you the truth, though I love the book, I almost prefer this ending. I think it's the hopeless romantic in me.February 19, 2013
One of the things I love most about old movies is you always know where you are.
You don't need any stupid GPS devices.
In fact, if you really need a GPS device to get anywhere, it's because you're too lazy to read a map.
Of course, maps can be difficult to fold back up sometimes.
And they don't give them away free at the gas station anymore.
But with old movies, the name of wherever you are is just plastered all across the sky. This is very convenient.
Jeez, I don't how that got in here. Sorry. I was on a roll.
I'll be speaking at the Chicopee Historical Society, meeting at the Chicopee
Public Library, Front Street, Chicopee, Massachusetts on Thursday, May 16th with a PowerPoint presentation about
topics from my recently published States of Mind: New England. That
book will be available for sale at this event.
“Danger Lights” (1930) is an offbeat amalgam of an Arthurian
love triangle and a nuts-and-bolts industrial film.Never before, or again, I suppose, has a
gritty steam locomotive or grimy rail yard lit up the silver screen with such
This Saturday, May 11,
2013, marks Amtrak's National Train Day here in the U.S., and this is our annual tribute
to the iron horse in the movies.
To be sure, the train is the star in this show, but it’s
supporting players, mere mortals, round out the cast nicely.Louis Wolheim plays the manager of a Midwest
train yard, a great bear of a man who barks orders, beats up hoboes, but with a
gentle side he shows to those in trouble.Unless they’re hoboes.
Robert Armstrong, who we love in “King Kong” (1933) here,
and I think last saw in “Dive Bomber” (1941), plays a smart-aleck ex-engineer
down on his luck, currently riding the rails with the hoboes.He’s a feisty troublemaker, but Mr. Wolheim,
after punching Mr. Armstrong’s lights out, gives him a job in these early
Depression days, and puts him on the road to redemption.And romance with his girl.
Wolheim’s girl is the much younger Jean Arthur, fresh-faced
and lovely as the doting daughter of a railroad man who can no longer work because
of an injury.Louis Wolheim took them in
and looked after them when Jean was a growing girl, and now that she’s grown,
he intends to marry her.Until Robert
Armstrong complicates matters.
Frank Sheridan is Jean’s da, who is more in love with his
benefactor Wolheim than is shy and diffident Jean.Mr. Sheridan praises Wolheim to the skies,
constantly hammers into Jean what they owe to him, and practically prostitutes
his daughter for the sake of paying an old debt.
Hugh Herbert has a small but memorable role as a hobo with
delusions of grandeur.
We start the movie with a shot of the engine face-on,
barreling towards us.Many shots have us
placed on top of the locomotive or on the coal car facing forward, looking over
the locomotive to the track ahead of us as if we are riding the shoulders of a
great beast. We enjoy the sensation
of movement in this film, the thrill of a fast ride, over
narrow trestles placed across deep river gorges, snaking around hillsides and
cutting through winding valleys.It
reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s poem, I
like to see it lap the miles:
I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step
Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare
To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill
And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop--docile and omnipotent--
At its own stable door.
The movie was shot on location in the upper Midwest, much of
it at Miles City, Montana, and also in Chicago.
Louis Wolheim was about 50 when this film was released (he
died the following year), and was known for his beat-up mug that got bashed in
when he played college football.The
story has it that Lionel Barrymore helped him out and advised him to try
theater, that his ugly mug—or rather, his face would be his fortune, as they
say.He was a success on Broadway in
Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape among
other hits, and when Hollywood called, this urbane, multilingual former college
math teacher made a career of playing Neanderthal palookas.
It’s an interesting aspect of old movies that the real age
of the actors is often ignored, as it is in the case of Jean Arthur, who here
plays a much younger woman.In real
life, she was 29 years old with already probably 50 or 60 silent films under
her belt.Robert Armstrong is 40 in real
life, hardly the up-and-coming hotshot youth he’s playing. However, Wolheim’s age, in real life 21 years
older than Jean, is brought to our attention and is used truthfully and most
poignantly in scenes where we see her discomfort at being pressured into a love
match with man to whom she is very grateful, but does not love.
Jean Arthur, far from the sassy roles that would be her
trademark in the coming decade, here delicately plays a troubled woman caught
in painful dilemma.She is passive, but no
less gutsy for being quiet about it, and she grabs our attention for her very
stillness in scenes where Wolheim is blustering, Armstrong is chewing the
scenery, and Sheridan is making with the silent movie techniques of agony
expressed in a claw-like hand clench.She is the still waters running deep.
Wolheim’s character is presented to us in ways that
keep us off balance.First, he is a
work-obsessed tyrant in the rail yard, “We got to keep the trains moving.That’s our religion.”He clobbers people who are slow to do what he
tells them.We may grow tired of Papa
Sheridan’s constant praising Wolheim to Herculean status, particularly as we
see Jean beaten down by that praise, flinching with guilt because she doesn’t
love him.Wolheim’s tenderness comes out
when comforting a fellow railroad man whose wife has just died.It’s a fine scene, and though we may suffer
for Jean, we cannot deny that Wolheim is a good man.A man everyone looks up to, but whose own
love for Jean, though certainly genuine, is expressed with all the passion of
patting a dog on the head.
But Wolheim unwittingly keeps putting Robert Armstrong and
Jean Arthur together.He sends Jean down
to the roundhouse with a message for Armstrong, where she meets him for the
first time. A lovely shot where Armstrong watches her walk away, delicately stepping across tracks, from the darkness of the roundhouse to the light-filled rail yard.
Wolheim invites Armstrong to
dinner at the house he shares with Jean and her father, and there is a meet
cute with Jean bringing the squalling Armstrong a towel when he has soap in his
eyes.Wolheim is unable to take Jean to
a company picnic, so he directs Armstrong to do it.Finally, at the house party where he
announces his upcoming wedding to Jean (Jean looks surprised and slightly sick), Wolheim pushes Armstrong to dance with
Robert Armstrong and Jean Arthur begin to fall for each
other, but knowing the arrangement with Wolheim, each is careful not to express
their love, both feel guilty, both owing something to Wolheim, and both
That the railroad is part of their forbidden courtship, used as a kind of metaphor to illustrate their passion, is
fascinating.At the company picnic, a nighttime
affair, Jean and Armstrong watch breathlessly, awed, in the crowd as
two locomotives have a kind of tug of war demonstration to see which is the
more powerful.Plumes of steam huff from
the engines and sparks light up the night.
When he walks her home, they take a route through the
countryside that brings them across a narrow train trestle perched high above a
gorge.The breeze billows her dress as
they walk, stepping gingerly over the railroad ties.It is a leisurely, adventuresome stroll,
testing each other’s company.Then,
horror at a moment’s notice, they hear an approaching train whistle and see a
light piercing the tunnel ahead of them.Armstrong pulls Jean to the side where there is a outcropping platform
for just such emergencies.The train
barrels past them, inches away, and the wake of night air whips Jean’s dress
and her hair.Mr. Armstrong’s hair stays
nicely put, but then that is what a gallon of Brilliantine will do.
The power, the rumble of the train makes the trestle shake
beneath their feet, and they suddenly, passionately kiss.
Such is the orgasmic excitement when a speeding train passes within 18 inches of you. So it would seem.
When the train has passed and all is quiet, Armstrong pulls
away from her and walks quickly away, leaving her there, bewildered and
breathless.We see he feels like a heel.
These scenes, by the way, are all location shooting.The realism is stunning in an era where we
are used to seeing more storybook-type controlled environments.
Another great romantic train shot is when Armstrong, at the
controls of a train, glances out the window.We see from our vantage point on the roof of the locomotive, that it
slides by a few old houses built near the tracks. (As Emily Dickinson might say: "And, supercilious, peer in shanties by the sides of roads...") One is the house where Jean and her father
live.Next, we are inside the house, and
Jean is silhouetted against the open windows facing the track.Again, the train creates a breeze, even from
this distance, sifts through her hair and, quietly captivated, she watches the
train slide by.Armstrong blows his
whistle, like a mating call.
By the way, he’s pulling a dynamometer car, which is a
maintenance car used for measuring a locomotive’s power and speed, etc., and it’s
been noted on IMDb and Wikipedia that this is likely the only film in existence
of a dynamometer carfor a steam
locomotive of this era.
If you’re not as thrilled by that as I am, I don’t want to
talk to you.
Mr. Armstrong and Miss Arthur eventually get around to
spilling their guts and telling each other how much in love they are, but in
the most miserable and guilty fashion. (They
are both half-lying across her bed when this scene takes place, a little pre-Code
When a track washout pulls Wolheim away from their engagement party,
Armstrong and Jean decide to run away.
It’s raining, pouring, like a Capra movie (only the director
here is George B. Seitz and I love how beautifully he films this movie).Jean and Armstrong, pummeled by the torrent,
trudge along the tracks (apparently it never occurs to them to walk on a
sidewalk), their raincoats shiny in the warning lights along the track.Danger Lights.
Armstrong gets his foot caught in a rail switch, and wouldn’t
you know it?A train is coming.
There’s a few frantic moments, and then Wolheim catches up
to them.Jean’s da discovered their
hanky-panky and squeals to Wolheim, who has arrived with the intention of killing
Armstrong.No need of course, the
oncoming train will do that in a matter of moments.
But as we said previously, Wolheim is really a good guy
underneath, and he wrestles Armstrong out of the way in time, only to be hit
by the train himself.Or rather, the dummy
dressed to look like him is graphically plowed over.
If you’re not squeamish about that, then you’re surely not
squeamish about spoilers.It’s a little late
for that anyway.
However, I’ll spare you the ending, except to say that it involves
a high-speed mission of mercy to get Wolheim to the medical specialists in
Chicago in time.Armstrong drives the
train, and we get a breakneck ride ourselves.It’s a real treat to find ourselves tearing all over the Milwaukee Road
until we at last pull into the yard at Chicago, and even get a few nice interior
shots of Union Station.
Let me end with a reminder that train travel is the most
economic and environmentally friendly way to move people across this great
nation of ours.Make your next trip by
train.Maybe Robert Armstrong will be at
I'll be speaking at the Chicopee Historical Society, meeting at the Chicopee
Public Library, Chicopee, Massachusetts on Thursday, May 16th with a PowerPoint presentation about
topics from my recently published States of Mind: New England. That
book will be available for sale at this event. Also available in paperback here from CreateSpace.
Mary Astor wrote one of the best “movie star”
autobiographies when she spoke intimately of the film industry and the studio
system, but with a surprisingly analytical and objective voice.Mary
Astor – A Life on Film (NY: Delacorte Press, 1971) presents a world that no
longer exists, revealed through the sharp eyes of an intelligent woman with a
gift for writing that is rare among biographies and autobiographies of
Hollywood’s great players.
Today we turn the blog over to Miss Astor.
On transitioning from silent to sound film:
“There was much talk
about ‘talking pictures,’ and most people thought that it would be a loss to an
art form.It was felt that instead of
being more realistic, it would be a sort of two-dimensions…Theatre had sound, and
color and three dimensions, and true reality.Actors from the theater had difficulty in the
movies—it was a real translation—and a movie-trained actor rarely made it in
the theater.There was a little
something called sustaining a scene which a film actor was never called upon to
do.His acting was done in bits and
pieces…But soon we were to be supplied with that most expressive organ of
emotion: the larynx.”(pp. 62-63)
“For while we did not
have to adhere as strictly to the words of a script, the words were there, and
had to be learned and spoken.Sometimes
when a scene was going well and a pair of actors were in step we would add
something or take a different tack.Today it’s called improvisation.” (p.74)
The movies had sound now, but because they had sound, the
“sound stages” had to be kept quiet during filming.
“I can remember I had
difficulty adjusting to the deathly silence after I started making sound
pictures; it was disconcerting, a hollow void.That pleasant murmur, the director’s voice saying little helpful things,
‘fine, now you hear footsteps—and freeze!” (p. 74)
On being isolated in Hollywood while the Depression
destroyed lives just outside the studio walls:
situation was tragic, but it wasn’t our tragedy.It was something that was happening ‘out
there’ and wasn’t it awful, but did you read Variety today?People stood in line at the employment
agencies but they also stood in line at the theaters.”(p.81)
“These were the years
called by the extravagant name of the Golden Years, maybe because nobody ever
had it so good as the movie-makers.In
our fortress of films we were safe from dust bowls and grinding poverty,
breadlines and alphabet agencies.”(p. 109)
On the peculiar subliminal tossing away of one’s personal
past when a star was born:
“It was as though
actors’ lives began the day they got their first check for acting, and to speak
of parents and peers, of schools, of activities in other lines of business
would decrease the actors, lessen them as individuals.Even their beginnings were spoken of as
discoveries rather than as strivings on their part.They might have had hard times, small parts,
done a little starving; but it was never spoken of as growth, of learning, of
becoming.They had always been there,
fully developed, just waiting for the spotlight to pick them up and reveal
On her MGM mother roles:
“I was in my late
thirties, and so it played hell with my image of myself.And my femme fatale image of the Diary days
[she refers to the famous scandal of her diary made public and nearly destroyed
her career] went right down the Culver
City drain.” (p. 171)
On the creativity of acting:
“I could form my
boundaries in the air, the proscenium, the limits wherein I could move—and they
were felt as though I could reach out and touch them.”(p.115)
In “Thousands Cheer (1943)”:
“I played the mother
of Kathryn Grayson, a very lovely girl with a fine coloratura soprano.She was quite fascinating in her total
concentration on music.Often we stood
together in front of the camera waiting for the lighting to be set, saying
nothing.Kitty would have a vague, lost
look on her face and I’d whisper, ‘Sing Kitty Cat!’ and out it would pour—the
song she’d been singing in her mind—no beginning, no hesitation, just another
breath, the middle of an aria, perhaps.It was like squeezing a Mama doll.”(p.173)
On modern film (of the late 1960s and early 1970s):
“…no one longed for
innovation, for change, more than I did, for I was often up to my knees in
dreck.What troubles me is the direction
that the changes and innovations have taken.For they are just as drecklich and boring in their own way.”(p. 187)
“I admire the young
film-makers for they try new things, new concepts, but I think they are just as
much in danger of getting trapped in clichés as at any time in film-making
history. Audiences will get just as
tired of people wrestling in bed as they did of Tom Mix kissing his horse.” (pp
identification that can purge but not lower one’s spirit…This is not
accomplished by shotgun stimulation.Multiple action, strobe lighting, flashing, psychedelic color, split
second subliminal outs.It’s exciting,
yes, but very tiring…Linear action can accomplish much more.It can build interest and tension, and then
resolve that tension by something satisfying or thought-provoking.”(p. 92).
“To ‘tell it like it
is’ is an impertinence, because it just isn’t, not everywhere.Therefore, it become propagandizing.”(p. 93)
“I watch the new ones,
the new breed, and when they do something great and fine, I’m proud.And when they do things that are blatantly
bad, I am ashamed.But I can’t
disinherit them, for no matter how much they may feel that it is a whole new
thing, it isn’t really.It is a
continuation.For what they have today
was built upon the great and fine and blatantly bad jobs we did—we old
It is in A Life on
Film where she leaves us with the remark most quoted: “There are five stages in the life of an actor:
Who's Mary Astor? Get me Mary Astor. Get me a Mary Astor type. Get me a young
Mary Astor. Who's Mary Astor?”
This post is my
contribution to the Mary Astor Blogathon, sponsored by Tales of the Easily
Distracted, and Silver Screenings.Please have a look at the other blogs participating in this fun event to
pay tribute to a wonderful actress and a remarkable lady.
I sometimes like to watch Christmas movies when it’s not
Christmas.I’m speaking of classic
films, of course, because as we’ve mentioned before, Christmas is usually only
part of the setting in these films, the background.It is hardly ever the single theme of the
movie.When watching a classic film with
a Christmas setting, it is usually a cozy, sentimental experience, and we are
never left—as we often are in modern-day Christmas movies—feeling as if the
yuletide is being shoved in our face with all the subtlety of being smacked with
a custard pie.
Cozy, sentimental, yes, but also classic films in a
Christmas setting usually have a dramatic edginess to them that heightens our
emotions and makes the sentimental denouement all the more powerful.What’s at stake is not the tiresome Best
Christmas Ever that so many modern stories are concerned with, but rather the
retribution for the crime committed, the redemption of a shattered, sinful
human…and sometimes you can toss in the angst of World War II.
The extra insight we get from watching a movie like
“I’llBe Seeing You” when it’s not
Christmas was first brought home to me many years ago.The first time I’d seen the movie was,
actually, during one Christmas when I was a teenager, but the next viewing was
several years later, on a hot summer day.Nothing Christmassy about it.I
can recall having to run some errands, though the only thing I remember clearly
is going to the bank.I delayed leaving
the house because the movie had me in its clutches.I think I stood in front of the TV with my
car keys in my hand for the longest time, unable to pull away.I remembered seeing it before, but now that
years had passed, and it was a hot summer day and there was no tinsel anywhere—I
was no longer focused on the Christmas week/New Year’s events of the movie, and
settled in on the wonderful everyday detail of this really underrated film.
William Dieterle directs, and his inclusion into the movie
of such mundane images as the jigsaw puzzle father Tom Tully has set up in the
living room, the claustrophobic room at the YMCA, the family around the table,
the exuberant New Year’s Eve party, the getting ready to go out to the party,
the baking, the housecleaning.The way
the actors fit into these settings is strikingly meaningful and neatly done.
Our attention is drawn to the jigsaw puzzle because Joseph
Cotten stoops to pick up a piece that has fallen on the floor, something so
common when we make jigsaw puzzles.The
pieces are always trying to escape.Picking up a piece is also a metaphor of sorts, if you want to stretch
it that far.
We experience the prison
cell of a room at the Y when Cotten enters and we see his heavy steps, his
waning strength sapped by indecision, his helpless anxiety when he enters.The room becomes all the worse for his
reactions.Later, of course, the horrific
panic attack and the room almost becomes alive with terror.
I love the clutter of the house, the tchotchkes on the
mantle, that extra chest of drawers in the upstairs hall.Shirley Temple’s room with the tennis rack
and pennants on the walls.(Though I am
puzzled by the closet in the living room entryway.Look at the set, where the windows on either
side are placed, and the outside of the house.It doesn’t seem as if a closet should fit into that wall there.)
I love the ornaments on the pine tree in the front yard.We are given so much to look at in this
The movie is almost a hybrid cross between William Wyler’s
“The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt”
(1943).In “Best Years,” we have the
troubled veterans returning to a society that is too much for them to handle, a
world that has passed them by, just as it as Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten in
this movie. The taxi ride Ginger Rogers
takes from the train station to her uncle and aunt’s house is similar to the
cab ride of the three vets.We see her
view from the back seat, the cozy, cottage-like house out the cab window, a
paperboy tossing a newspaper over the white picket fence.Homey, idyllic, and greeted warmly by Spring
Byington.Everything should be wonderful
from now on, but it isn’t.
Like a Hitchcock movie, all is not what it seems.There is a restless, even sinister
undercurrent here, and it takes a while for us to sort it out.What I really love is that though we learn
that Ginger Rogers on furlough from prison where she is serving a sentence for
manslaughter, and that Joseph Cotten is on furlough from the psychiatric ward
of a veterans hospital, they are not stereotypes of a convict and a mental
patient.We learn to like and accept
them before we know anything about them, and we must weigh our agreeable first
impression with an unsettling second glance.
Miss Rogers, who gives a really fine, nuanced, understated
performance, is pensive, and really the only one in complete control of her emotions
and philosophies.She has had plenty of
time to think in jail, about herself and about life in general.She is deeply troubled, but she has both feet
on the ground, so much so that angst-ridden Mr. Cotten quickly comes to lean on
her emotionally and she provides the foundation for his recovery.
The “nice” middle-class family has some interesting
Hitchcockian foibles.For instance, when
Spring Byington relates that life is full of accepting “second-best” choices,
we may conclude a dismal life or at least a dismal marriage between her and Tom
Tully.It takes several scenes more for
us to realize the first impression we have of her is incomplete, and that her
character and her life is many-layered.
Tom Tully first presents as a kind of stuffy, pontificating,
self-congratulatory mental lightweight.His first meeting with a clearly embarrassed Ginger Rogers is awkward as
they sort out their roles: the repentant, grateful niece, and the benefactor
who reminds her he paid for her lawyer.When he grandly announces that they should talk no more about it, as if
he is waving off all she owes him, we might expect him to keeping reminding her
about her imprisonment and his kindness to her, but he doesn’t.Tom Tully turns out to be a nice guy, a
little stuffy, but genuinely concerned, just a drug-store owner set in his
ways.Again, first impressions prove
false. I love his hesitation as he winds up his prayer, as if reviewing a mental list of people for whom he must pray. Then caps it with a satisfied, "Amen."
Shirley Temple, whose morbid curiosity over her elder
cousin’s imprisonment leads her to make one indelicate remark after another, but
gradually demonstrates she’s only putting her foot in her mouth through
ignorance and immaturity. She's not the Bad Seed after all, she's just a teenager.
Forgiveness is strangely sometimes harder to do over the
little things than the big things.We
find ourselves learning to shrug off the insensitivities of this crew in order to
see how really fine they are, just as Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten must
shrug off a thousand little pinpricks life is going to mete out to them if they
are to really move forward.
And I love the shot of Spring Byington and Shirley Temple
putting the ornaments back into the box, as if demonstrating that we can even
move on after Christmas, that the holiday can be managed sanely, without
overwhelming us.Also because I have a
decades-old ornament box just like that.Kind of beat up now, but I wouldn’t part with it.It’s older than me and deserves my respect.
When the movie ended and I finally left for the bank, the
story—as a really good movie will do—came with me on the ride.The hopeful, happy ending leads only to more
questions—as a really good movie will do.How long will the war be over before Ginger Rogers gets out of prison
and Joseph Cotten is released from the hospital?
Do they marry right away, and will they live in the same
town as their new adopted family that Spring Byington, Tom Tully, and Shirley
Scenarios fill the mind like jigsaw puzzle pieces.A post-war job. What kind of a job? Children.More family meals around that table on visits and holidays?Do they help look after Spring Byington and
Tom Tully in their dotage?
Does the mundane and “second best” form a protective blanket
around the troubled couple at last?
I'll be appearing with a number of other local authors at the Author Fair at
the Springfield City Library, Springfield, Massachusetts on Saturday, April
6th. This will be a meet-and-greet event with the public, and a selection of my
books will be available for sale.
The French Line
(1954) pairs Jane Russell and Gilbert Roland on a transatlantic voyage.He’s a playboy Frenchman, she’s a wealthy
Texan incognito trying to find somebody who’ll love her for herself and not her
There were other, more tawdry taglines to this Howard
Hughes-produced film, originally shown in theaters in 3-D to more fully capture
Jane’s most publicized attributes.To
her credit, her likeably good-old-gal charm rises above the costumes and dance
routines designed to keep her bra size the main focus.
I had been meaning to cover this one sometime or other, but
was spurred to move it up in the queue from the recent mention in the excellent
TCM interview of Kim Novak, noting that this was her film debut.She’s a chorus girl, and if you blink, you
miss her. She's on the left in this shot.
Kasey Rogers, who you’ll remember best as Louise Tate on TV’s
Bewitched shows up as Jane Russell’s
newly-married pal, whose marital bliss leaves Jane envious.
Our old pal Arthur Hunnicutt, who we saw here at a
prospector galoot in Split Second,
shows up as an oil wildcatting galoot, and Jane’s guardian.He’s a loveable old cuss, but a bit too
loud.HE SHOUTS EVERY LINE.
Craig Stevens has a minor role as Jane’s swell guy fiancé who
breaks off the wedding because he’s too intimated by her money.A pal reminds Jane, “You’ve been a
corporation since you were three.”
This is Jane’s tale of woe.Men are either attracted by her money, or overwhelmed by it.
Miss Russell sheds her Texas blue jeans and boots, and heads
to New York to meet her buddy, fashion designer Mary McCarty, and heads with
her to Paris.McCarty’s on business to
take her new line to a fashion show, and Jane pretends to be one of her models.
It’s a pleasure to see Mary McCarty in a comic relief
role.She pulls out a bottle of booze
from her desk drawer and offers it to Jane, “Tea, darling?”She’s probably more well known to theatre
buffs, including a featured role in “Follies” in 1971, and a Tony nomination
for “Anna Christie” in 1977.
Bess Flowers plays one of the sales ladies in her shop.Go Bess!
The film is famous for getting into trouble with the Breen
Office and with the Catholic National Legion of Decency.It’s been cut and censored here and there,
and the version you might see on TCM is considered the edited version.One uncensored excerpt of Jane’s “Lookin’ forTrouble” number is here on YouTube.
The songs are mostly cute.Jane bebops in a duet with her maid, Theresa
Harris, with several peek-a-boo moments as she’s bathing.Unfortunately, there’s no duet with Gilbert
Roland, and there should be.
He’s my favorite part of the movie.We’d noted his virile charm here in We Were Strangers. Mr. Roland’s charming manner and smooth, rich
baritone are really quite beautiful in “Wait Till You See Paris”, which he
croons to Jane on shipboard—one of those movie moonlit nights, with couples
gazing at the water over the ship’s rail.
“With a Kiss” is a kick-your-heels-up number he performs in
a hotel room full of female fans, but my favorite is “Comment Allez Vous,” which is a sweet, waltz-time melody he croons with lullaby softness to a couple
of kids fighting over a toy music box.It’s really a lovely song, and he could have used it just as capably to
seduce Jane as to quiet a couple of noisy kids.
The ship they’re sailing on is the Liberté, (French Line, of course), which had a busy year in 1954,
as I think that was the same ship Audrey Hepburn took to France inSabrina, which we covered here.
As long as we’re on the subject of Audrey Hepburn, their trip
to Paris to attend a fashion show reminds one of Miss Hepburn’s voyage to Paris
for the same purpose in Funny Face
Also, there’s a shot in The French Line at the fashion show
where a couple of guys toss rolls of fabric right at the camera, just like Kay
Thompson did so famously in Funny Face.I think Kay did it better.She had a good arm, and lots of pizzazz.
There’s a subplot involving mistaken identities, and a bit
where Mr. Roland attempts to cure Jane’s “mal de mer” with a mixture of stout
and champagne, which he says will also cure asthma and chicken pox.
A frothy film, that could have been better with closer
attention to the romance between the easy-going playboy and the reluctant
heiress, but still worth it if only to swoon over Gilbert Roland.
A photo of a sticker I noticed once on an old suitcase....
This will be the last blog post for a few weeks. See you in April.
Meet Me in Nuthatch - A publicity stunt to attract tourists to a small dying town results in the entire community turning the clock back to 1904. It is local Christmas tree farmer Everett Campbell’s idea, after watching the film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” his young daughter’s new favorite movie. What begins as half practical joke and half desperate ploy initiates the rebirth of Nuthatch, Massachusetts. Tourists do come, along with the media. To Everett’s dismay, his campaign to save their community results in also attracting representatives of a chain of theme parks who want to buy Nuthatch 1904. Everett now stands to lose his town in a way he never imagined, and the community is divided on which alternate future to choose. A local drug dealer, the longtime enemy of Everett, may hold their future in his hands unless Everett can pull off his most spectacular, and dangerous, practical joke.
“…a comforting, pleasant read that stays with you even after the last page is turned. After finishing the book, I found myself still musing about the relationships and how they'd changed and progressed. This book was a nice, hot chocolate sort of read.” Grace Krispy, "MotherLode" blog book review.
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