Judy Holliday and ‘Born Yesterday’ aka the movie that made glasses sexy!

Every year, when I tell people I’m paying 600+ dollars for a four-day classic film festival, I’m met with wide eyes and general confusion. The reason I do it, besides the fact that it’s a good father-daughter bonding activity, is to remind myself why movies are important and less pretentiously, to experience that indescribable feeling when you discover something incredible for the first time.

That was my experience watching Born Yesterday for the first time. If you’re unfamiliar, Born Yesterday follows Billie Dawn (Judy Holliday), the seven-years engaged, uncouth girlfriend of Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), a Trump-like tycoon. They move to Washington for Harry to follow some political ambitions. There’s only one problem: Billie. In a turn taken out of Pygmalion, Harry hires Billie a tutor, one Paul Verrall (William Holden) and as with all my reviews, chaos ensues and a lot of laughter.

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LOVE THIS MOMENT

Here are a few reasons Born Yesterday needs to be added to your watch list NOW:

The Writing 

Sometimes, I get myself in trouble by saying that the writing in old movies is better than the writing for movies today. And while I concede that there are a lot of great writers working in film today, one thing the old films had was time. They would take the time to really rehearse something and make sure it was right before even turning the cameras on.

Now, in the case of Born Yesterday, it was a broadway play before it was made into a film so the original script by Garson Kanin was well-tested, a lost art IMHO. The dialogue is sharp and witty and the timing is always on point.

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Paul Verrall for President!

The Cast

Is there a better cast out there? It’d be hard to find one, especially with actors like Judy Holliday and William Holden. Judy Holliday was a great discovery for me and after watching her in this film, I feel confident in saying there was no else like her. She was so unique and hilarious and this movie IS her.

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Me late at night listening to pop songs

William Holden was never someone I thought much about. I associated him mostly with Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. In this film, he is well-spoken and nerdy and beautiful and a great contrast to Holliday’s character.

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Making glasses sexy since 1950 🤓

But, as with most old movies, it’s not just the leads that carry the film. Born Yesterday was blessed with wonderful characters including Broderick Crawford and Howard St. John. 

The Romanceeeeeeeee

Are you detecting a theme on this blog? Why, yes, I am a fan of the romance. I believe I’ve said that before. Before the wonderful Aaron Sorkin came in and made politics sexy again (i.e. The American President and The West Wing), movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Born Yesterday held that mantle.

Very much in turn with a 90s romcom, Paul Verrall tries to make Billie Dawn over again, teaching her about the world and how it works, the simple pleasure in a well constructed sentence and what’s really important.

It’s a bevy of swoon-inducing memes. Want proof? Okayyyyyy.

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The Message

This film’s message is just as timely today as it was in 1950. We all have the power to be whoever we want to be, no matter our station in life or what we’ve been told we can achieve. Billie Dawn thinks her lot in life is set and through her “study sessions” with Paul, learns that her wants, needs and desires are important. Empowered Billie Dawn in 1950 must have been quite a sight for audiences. A complicated, beautiful, funny, curious heroine…what a concept!

Additionally, I love the idea that knowledge is power. None of us come into the world knowing everything. Not even the smartest people in the world know everything. In my opinion, the smartest people know that and are always interested in learning more about the world around them. 💖

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My favorite line in the movie

Judy’s Only Oscar Win

Judy won her only Oscar for her performance in this film and it’s more than well-deserved. She went on to be blacklisted and a few years after that, she died at the age of 43 from breast cancer.

It’s an awe-inspiring classic film that should be required viewing for everyone!

If you’re still looking for reasons to watch this movie, let me put it to you like this. We give our time to so many useless things. Spend two hours watching something that will (a) make you laugh (b) make you swoon and (c) make you think.

If you do not enjoy using your brain, you can skip it! 😉

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Reading is SEXY 📚

 

Vintage trailer below:

Gifs property of Columbia Pictures.

 

 

 

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‘Love Finds Andy Hardy’ aka the one where Judy Garland can do BETTER!

Okay, guys. In this post, we’re gonna be tackling significantly lighter fare. This one was wasn’t on my list for the TCM Film Festival. But, my dad was insistent – especially for 9am, this was the movie to see! And, I have to say, I’m glad I went. But, I have a lot of thoughts and I’ll obviously be using this post to release them all.

If you’ve never heard any reference to Andy Hardy, the 16 films made in the series follow Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney), a typical teenager in 1930s America.😏 His big problem in this film: which girl will he take to the Christmas country club dance? And his options are:

Lana Turner

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Ann Rutherford 

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and…Judy Garland

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In other words, Andy Hardy’s got real problems. 😒 

Here are just a few reasons you should look past the corniness and watch Love Finds Andy Hardy!

Mickey Rooney

Okay, so if you’re a millennial like me, you probably know Mickey Rooney from the Disney Channel Original movie…and CLASSIC, The Phantom of the Megaplex. If you need a reminder, here’s his signature monologue.

I always thought of him as a kindly and very weird old man. This is the…I was about to say it’s the opposite of the Mickey in Love Finds Andy Hardy. But that’s not true. Mickey Rooney was weird then, at sixteen, just as he was weird at seventy. He’s just a weird guy. But, you can’t say he didn’t have charisma. Low-key, I think he might be on speed in Love Finds Andy Hardy though…

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HE’S TOO MUCH

The Sweetness

Yeah, it’s corny but also, there’s a sweetness in this film that is so refreshing. Obviously, just like the Rogers/Astaire films, these movies were made for an audience that wanted an escape out of their lives. They didn’t want to see the struggle they were going through; they wanted to see something inspirational or aspirational I should say – the “perfect” family.

What pleasantly surprised me the most were the scenes between Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) and Andy. His advice was so honest and heartwarming, without being sentimental gush. Also, interesting to see how much Andy thinks his dad is out-of-touch with the current world. Whether it’s 1938 or 2018, we all think our parents don’t know what we’re going through.

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LOL

Judy Garland, Judy Garland, Did I mention JUDY GARLAND??!

This was Judy before The Wizard of Oz, 16 year-old Judy in all of her amazing talent. I’ve talked a bit about her in my post on Deanna Durbin who was, at the beginning of her career, her greatest rival.

MGM wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to Garland until she sang at the birthday party of one Clark Gable and made a big impression…

Her role as Betsy Booth is at times, frustrating. She’s after Rooney’s Andy Hardy and he treats her like sh–I mean, garbage. He uses her and it’s so relatable you want to scream at the movie screen.

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YES JUDY YOU ARE! DUMP HIMMMMMM!

She literally helps him in every way she can. She tries to buy his love through money and favors. It’s revolting how relatable it is. I came out of this movie and was like, JUDY CAN DO BETTER!! lol

The 1930s Version of “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet a Woman”

Okay, I was a 90s baby so yes, I was a Britney Spears fan. Hey! I can be into old movies and bubblegum pop. (DON’T JUDGE ME!) When Britney sang about not being a girl, but not quite a woman, I felt it! In case you need a reminder:

I’d venture to say the songwriters of Britney’s tween classic may have seen a recording of Judy singing In Between, a literal 1930s version. I mean, okay, not really – like, they’re very different styles. But, in essence, SAME MEANING, SAME SONG!

It’s a fun, campy, cute film about the ideal American family

Here’s the deal: don’t take this film too seriously and you’ll have a great time watching it. It’s basically a sitcom before there were sitcoms. And Judy’s great. And Mickey’s insane. And it’s just a load of fun. Happy watching!

P.S. – Fun Fact – Rooney’s first wife, the lovely Ava Gardner called Rooney “Andy Hard-On.”😉

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THIS IS NOT ATTRACTIVE IMHO

Vintage trailer below:

The timeliness of Ida Lupino’s ‘Outrage’

Ida Lupino was a very special person. As you know if you read my blog, I only recently discovered Ida and in my last post I covered Ida’s acting, which was stupendous in its own right. However, she was a female director in a time when that was basically unheard of and the most incredible thing is that she didn’t just make fluff. Like one of her female predecessors, Lois Weber, Ida wanted to make films about social issues, things that mattered and she did.

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These old film cameras are everything!

I saw Outrage at the TCM Film Festival this year and was blown away by how modern it feels. Yes, there are certain period things that make you remember it’s an old movie, but the subject matter and how Lupino deals with it, are more topical than ever today.

Outrage follows Ann Walton (Mala Powers), a young woman recently engaged to a man she loves.

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Happy Ann 

Everything seems to be going well, except for one slightly annoying thing: a man who runs the food cart at her work verbally harasses her on an almost daily basis. Like most women, Ann deals with it because what else could she do?

However, one night, when walking to her car, that man goes from verbal harassment to rape, leaving Ann shameful and confused. The rest of the film finds Anne running from her shame, unable to come to terms with what’s happened to her.

Here are a few reasons you need to check out this film!

 

Ida Lupino, Ida Lupino, um did I mention Ida Lupino?

As a young woman trying to make it in this business, I bow down to the goddess that is Ida Lupino. I’m currently in the midst of reading a biography of her life and am so fascinated at the way she carried herself, despite the heartache and the struggle she endured.

She found her way into directing when the director of one of the film’s she was producing fell ill early into the shoot. Ida simply took over to save the film and the rest is history. She wanted to make films outside the studio system, what we would now call independent film. Thus, her films were filled with unknown actors.

Ida tackled difficult subject matter with patience and didn’t believe in traditional happy endings, one of the many things I love her movies for.

This tribute is a great introduction to Ida. 🙂

Mala Powers

This film hinged on whether or not you believed in Ann’s distress, her psychological trauma. Many dramatic moments in Outrage simply focus on Ann’s face. Mala Powers is exceptional in the role; she almost feels like a stand-in for Lupino had she acted the part. You feel Ida in Mala Power’s performance. And quite honestly, she moved me to tears.

She didn’t go on to many other projects of note, but continued to work well into her 70s.

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Literally bawling 😭

The Direction and Cinematography

I know I already said Ida Lupino, but for a film not shot in the studio system, with a very low budget, the direction and noir-esque shots are gorgeous and suspenseful.

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Terrifying!

Sadly, it’s just as relevant today as it was then. Even, more so. 

This movie doesn’t preach to its audience. It doesn’t tell women how to feel or how to cope or even that you ever really heal from an experience like this. However, I feel like one message the movie sends loud and clear is that victims of sexual assault should not feel shameful. They didn’t bring it on themselves by wearing too short a skirt or being too nice or leading someone on. The blame lies with the person who assaulted them and I think that for 1950, when no one was paying attention to this issue, that message is radical.

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Get ready to be emotional

Just in the past year, we’ve finally seen some strides being taken in society to not only discuss this issue but say clear and unequivocally that harassment is wrong and will no longer be tolerated. I’m an idealistic person and I’d like to believe things will change, but too often, movements fade and people forget the fervor that incited it.

Ida Lupino made this film seventy years ago, because even then, sexual harassment and assault was an unspoken thing many women had to deal with, often with shame and secrecy. I hope in another seventy years this status quo will not exist.

I was gonna link the trailer below, but the whole film is on youtube. You’re welcome. 🙂

If you watch the film and like it, drop me a comment or send me an email at thegirlwhoknewtoomuch46@gmail.com!

 

Ida Lupino, John Garfield and “The Sea Wolf”

I’ve been woefully negligent of this page for the last six months. Life got in the way.  Isn’t that the way of things? But, now, with renewed energy, I want to continue my movie posts and tell you what you need to be watching…because I need to tell someone!

In April, I attended the TCM Film Fest, as I do every year, and of course, was happily surprised by a number of movies that I never would have watched otherwise. One of those brilliant standouts was Michael Curtiz’s The Sea Wolf.

Now, if you’re like me, there could be two things standing in your way of watching this film: its blah title and those dreaded words…film noir. My dad’s rolling his eyes, but I think it’s well known from this blog, that film noir doesn’t tend to be my favorite genre. I know. I know. It’s not a genre, it’s a style. Whatever. I associate film noir with death and femme fatales and generally that’s just not my thing.

However, this movie is so much more than it appears to be. It’s a great example of the complex, layered acting that took place in the studio era. And, I won’t lie, it’s helped by some very specific and severely underrated actors, John Garfield and Ida Lupino. If you’ve never heard of either of them, you’re going to be obsessed, BELIEVE ME. 

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I know smoking is bad for you, but they do make it look sexy. 

If you’re unfamiliar, The Sea Wolf follows a three fugitives who find themselves aboard a ship captained by the tyrannical Wolf Larsen. They talk about philosophy, fall in love and may or may not make it off the ship alive!

Here’s why you must add The Sea Wolf to your queue ASAP!

The amazing performances of severely underrated character actors! 

Ida Lupino is someone that a year ago I had never heard of. But, through a midnight watch of Devotion in which Ida played author Emily Bronte, I went down the Ida rabbit hole, learning about not only her prowess as an actress, but her major strides behind the camera, working as one of the only female directors in the studio era. Her story is fascinating and so inspiring TBH. 

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John Garfield is another fascinating character actor. He was a predecessor to actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando, an actor who didn’t play by the rules, who was unconventional and gritty and real in every part he played. The Sea Wolf is the first John Garfield movie I saw and let me tell you, I think I have a very real crush on him…it’s too bad he’s dead/his character was not real and he was acting. Garfield died very young, partially from an illness that hit him as a child, partially it is thought from the stress of being one of the many accused during the Hollywood Blacklist era. 

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John Garfield ❤️

And you can’t forget Edward G. Robinson who really owns the movie. His complex portrayal of Wolf Larsen, Captain of the vessel Ida and Garfield are being held captive on is more than a reason to watch the film by itself. 

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Edward G don’t mess around

The Story

It’s obviously based on an early 20th century novel by Jack London…but again, don’t let that put you off. It’s really a story quite like something like Lord of the Flies. The plot is not the star…it’s more of a pondering of philosophical ideas. What is right? What is wrong? Does a person start evil or do they become evil through a turn of events? 

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Edward G is downright terrifying!

This discussion is had through the conversations between Wolf Larsen and Humphrey van Weyden (Alexander Knox), a young author and writer Wolf takes a liking to. Wolf tells him that by the end of his journey aboard Wolf’s ship, Van Weyden will be a different person. He will make choices that a good person wouldn’t make. 

Intrigue! Scandal! Philosophy! C’mon, you’re dying to watch it, aren’t you?

BTW – James Cameron definitely stole a few things from The Sea Wolf!

In case you need more of a reason…you like Titanic, right? I mean, c’mon, you love it. You can say it’s a guilty pleasure, but you know that’s a lie. You love it because who could resist Leo and Kate falling in love aboard a sinking ship…”You jump, I jump, Jack!” Well, what if I told you that Mr. Cameron took a little inspiration from classic film, specifically this film for his 1997 blockbuster? 

I don’t just say this because The Sea Wolf takes place aboard a ship or because there’s a love story. I say it because there are specific moments where you’ll be like…was that a line in Titanic?

I wanted to show you a gif from The Sea Wolf where there’s an eerily similar line, but couldn’t find it, but I swear it’s in there!

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The Sea Wolf is an underrated gem with understated performances and moody cinematography!

I did not reveal many of the plot points of this film on purpose. I so enjoyed going into it with zero expectations. It was a pleasant surprise and I was mesmerized by its fabulous performances. So few films make you really worry for the main characters safety. This gritty, no-nonsense, layered complex film is so worth it, even with the entire movie having been shot on a sound stage.

I wish more people would check it out!

Vintage trailer below:

 

 

 

It’s “a matter of life and death” that you watch this movie ASAP!

As a movie snob, it can sometimes feel like I’ve seen all the good movies out there. A ridiculous notion, I know. Still, when I do randomly come upon a spectacular film that I had yet to see, I can’t help but feel like I’ve uncovered treasure.

One of the reasons I started this blog in the first place was to introduce classic films to a new generation; to appeal to my peers and give them a reason to give a movie made before 2000 a second look. The movie I want to discuss today is one that I feel should be required viewing for anyone who says they’re interested in film.

A Matter of Life and Death, also known by the name Stairway to Heaven , was made in 1946 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. I’ve discussed another Powell/Pressburger film on this blog, one of my favorites, The Red Shoes. Strangely, I had yet to see many of their others films.

The film follows Peter D. Carter (David Niven), a British wartime aviator who we meet as he’s hurling towards the earth. Knowing he’s going to die, he spends what he believes to be his last minutes talking to June (Kim Hunter), an American radio operator. He wakes up on a beach and happens upon June, who’s cycling home. You could call it love at first sight – it doesn’t matter how it happens, they fall in love. The only problem is Conductor 71 (Marius Goring), a French – like, of the French revolution – angel who tells Peter he was meant to die. In love, Peter fights him on it, asking for an appeal before the celestial court…and he gets one!

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I love Technicolor SO MUCH

Here’s why you need to watch A Matter of Life and Death ASAP!

The Cast

Guys, David Niven. Can we just talk about how amazing he truly is?! The plot in this movie is truly bonkers, but somehow, David Niven sells it. He makes you feel every emotion.

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Am I the only one in love with this guy?!

Kim Hunter, who’s most famous for her role as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, is completely relatable in this film. She makes June special enough that you understand why Peter would do anything to stay with her, even after only knowing her for, like, 20 hours.

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Lipstick ON POINT

Marius Goring was so multi-talented. He’s wonderful in The Red Shoes, but his comedic chops are on display in this movie and he delivers! Agh, he was just fantastic.

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when your friend can’t make up their mind…

And Raymond Massey adds some much fun humor as Abraham Farlan, the prosecutor for…heaven, I guess.

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Boy. This guy would be depressed to see the stats today.

The Cinematography

Jack Cardiff. Jack Cardiff. Jack Cardiff. ❤️ 💛 💚

I mean, technicolor was on his side, but man, have you ever seen cinematography this gorgeous?

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Creepily mesmerizing…
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The feeling of being lost in a dream…
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so creepy

The Story

Many films have danced around the afterlife, or heaven, or as in the case of A Matter of Life and Death, the next world. It’s a fantastical imagining of what might happen when your time comes. In this movie, heaven is black & white and its angels have some real interesting personalities.

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Also, young Richard Attenborough

Powell and Pressburger were clearly trying to comment on the time period they were living in as well as the relations between countries. This movie came out in 1946 when tensions in the world were high.

In the court scenes, the prosecutor for heaven tries to prejudice the jury against Peter for being British. The prosecutor’s American. Peter’s lawyer, Dr. Frank Reeves (Roger Livesey) makes a case stating that the jury then should be made up of Americans – he still thinks the jury will find in favor of Peter!

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Good point, counselor. 

It’s a comical scene but there’s real sentiment behind it. When you put relations between governments and different nationalities into the context of an afterlife, it makes you realize how ridiculous our differences are, a lesson we still could take a page from today.

The Romance

If you’ve followed my blog, you know I’m a fan of the romance. Like Mindy Kaling, I don’t know where this obsession of watching people fall in love came from, but nevertheless, it’s there. And this movie delivers on the romance front by showing just how simple it can be.

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SWOON 💚 💙 💜

They’re both put on trial by the celestial court and asked to prove their love for the other. How do you prove love? Peter says, “Well give me time, sir. Fifty years.” They’re asked if they would die for the other. Indeed, is there any other question that matters.

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Truer words were never spoken.

Also, they’re played by David Niven and Kim Hunter – that helps…obviously!

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literal meet-cute

It’s a beautiful, original, thought-provoking, fantastical love story!

It’s rare to see a movie so willing to take chances, to tell a story in a non-conventional way. Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s personal editor, was married to Michael Powell in his later years. In a feaurette of the film, Schoonmaker said this was Powell’s favorite movie that he made because he just got to play, like in the silent days.

I was taken by this quote from Roger Ebert’s 1995 review of the film, “Today’s movies are infatuated with special effects, but often they’re used to create the sight of things we can easily imagine: crashes, explosions, battles in space. The special effects in “Stairway to Heaven” show a universe that never existed until this movie was made, and the vision is breathtaking in its originality.”

A Matter of life and Death is an example of what makes the art of movie-making so special. It makes you feel through images and dares to imagine a world that does not exist. I was blown away watching it a few days ago. It became an instant favorite. Just…watch it and I swear you’ll understand!

Trailer below:

 

‘Finishing School’: A Female Narrative in 1934

Whenever I talk about classic movies, I tend to hear from women that they’re not interested because there are no female-told, female-driven stories. And it’s true, that after sound came in, women were no longer prominent behind the camera. Female writers and directors were scarce. Only a small handful were really successful and even then, many of them were remain uncredited on films they wrote or directed.

Finishing School, made in 1934, is astoundingly a female-driven, female-written, and female co-directed studio film. There are only two prominent male parts and they’re supporting roles!

The pre-code film follows Virginia (Frances Dee), a teenager untainted by all the bad things teenagers get involved with, starts at a finishing school for girls called Crocket Hall. There, she meets Pony (Ginger Rogers) and quickly begins to do all the bad-girl things, drinking, smoking, lying, and *gasp* having premarital sex. On a girl’s outing to New York city, Virginia meets Mac (Bruce Cabot), a hospital intern who moonlights at a hotel to make ends meet. But, of course, her wealthy parents couldn’t possibly approve and the school, which pretends to be helping young women is more like a prison, keeping the girls they deem insubordinate hostage.

Here are just a few reasons why you need to add Finishing School to your watchlist!

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I love the lettering – I know that’s beside the point

You get to see an early, pre-partnership with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers

Ginger was just 23 in Finishing School and hadn’t quite perfected what would become her signature schtick. But the sass we all love and expect from Ginger was there and it’s fascinating to see her when she was that young and green.

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Her pal! Can you believe Ginger wasn’t the star??

Frances Dee Shines as Virginia!

Frances Dee may not be a familiar name to you. It certainly wasn’t to me before this film. She was extremely popular during the early 1930’s, but now she’s best known for having been Joel McCrea’s wife. She was also 23 at the time she made this and is very appealing. It’s fun to watch her journey from sweet and sheltered to tough and assertive.

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I love that she’s called “the girl.” LOL.

Billie Burke and John Halliday are cliche, but hilarious as Virginia’s uber wealthy parents.

Finishing School’s tropes are by no means new and many modern moviegoers will watch this film and recognize the cliches, especially when it comes to Bille Burke and John Halliday. Burke played the absentee rich mother who disapproves in Virginia’s choice of beau – he’s just a lowly waiter/doctor-in-training.

Meanwhile, Halliday plays the sympathetic father who actually listens to his daughter and maybe thinks his wife is crazy and kind of annoying.

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SNOBBISH, BUT STYLISH
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LOOK AT THOSE SYMPATHETIC FATHER EYES. AND THE MUSTACHE, OF COURSE

And, of course, Virginia’s confident beau, Mac, played by Bruce Cabot. Best known for his role in the original King Kong, Cabot is all but forgotten at this point. He has great charisma in this film and it makes you wonder why he didn’t became a popular romantic lead.

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Love the bow tie. Why his hair is slicked back though eludes me.

Finishing School was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency

The fact that this film was set for release in May 1934 is important as the code was not actually enforced until June 1934. Thus, this film with its condemnation of the rich, its depiction of drinking and smoking (aka un-ladylike behavior), and it’s thinly veiled almost abortion would not have passed the censors if it had been released one month later.

The pre-code films are always interesting for this reason. They got away with a lot more and it’s sort of seemed like a tiny form of rebellion. Film was still (and still is) a young medium and the rules were still being written. It’s kind of comforting to know that these issues that still plague our society today, people cared about then. It’s just that after June 1934, they were no longer allowed to make a film about it.

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Pony telling Virginia how to deal with boys.

It’s a female-driven, female-written and female-directed miracle

Okay, perhaps I’m being bombastic but I think, that in 1934 it’s pretty incredible that a woman wrote and directed a film ABOUT WOMEN. What a concept. The sadness is this is Wanda Tuchock’s only directing credit apart from a TV credit in the 50s. She contributed to many films over the years including Little Women, Frances Marion’s The Champ, and Little Orphan Annie.

Although Tuchock continued to write after the pre-code era, it’s clear that her opportunities diminished after that as they did for many women behind the camera. Finishing School is by no means a perfect film, but in an industry currently going through a feminist revolution, it’s important to remember the all-but-forgotten women who paved the way.

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Wanda Tuchock, Circa 1930s
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The wit!

The film is available through the WB archive collection.

Gifs and photos property of Warner Bros.

Amsterdam, Tolerance, and George Stevens’ ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’

In September, I spent a month traveling Europe with my best friend. I’d never been to Europe. Heck, I’d never even been on a plane. Thus, this trip was a little frightening but also terribly, terribly exciting.

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My bestie and I in Dublin, Ireland

I thought that since it’s been a while since I’ve posted, it’d be fun to cover one movie for each of the places I visited. So, of course, I’m starting with the most depressing.

The first is Amsterdam. I was lucky enough a few years back to attend a screening of this film at the TCM Film Fest. Its stars Diane Baker and Millie Perkins were even in attendance to discuss the film afterwards. It’s a film which is not easy to forget. It was only made twenty years after and so, the events were still fresh. The film’s director, Mr. George Stevens, had seen the consequences of the holocaust firsthand.

I, myself, read the book when I was in middle school. I remember the overwhelming nature of the story – I was still in my phase of always wanting a happy ending. I knew before I read it that it did not end happily, but reading it was still a more emotional experience than I expected it to be. I was 13, just as Anne was at the beginning of her diary and it was hard for me to grasp that this wasn’t just a story, that this had really happened, that a girl not dissimilar from me had been murdered.

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Anne in the first class of Jewish Secondary school, 1941

I saw the movie afterwards and remember liking it, though when I saw it on the big screen at the TCM Fest, I was absorbed in a completely different way. The claustrophobia and anxiety was palpable and I was a mess (even through my mother constantly leaning over to ask me how much was left – she’s not good in long movies).

When I sat down to write, this was the first movie which popped into my head, mostly because with recent events like what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, I have been thinking about Anne’s diary and George Steven’s adaptation a lot. I think, more than ever before, this film and Anne’s outlook on the world is of the utmost importance.

Believe it or not, the actress that director George Stevens first had in mind to play Anne was not an unknown. Instead, it was a little actress by the name of Audrey Hepburn. At the time, Hepburn was twenty-eight, not to mention the fact that she was not Jewish. Hepburn had, however lived through that period in Amsterdam and witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust.

Still, either because of scheduling conflicts or mixed feelings, Hepburn turned down the part and Stevens was forced to do a large casting call where he finally found Millie Perkins, a model from Passaic, New Jersey. Perkins was twenty at the time and completely green, which I think ultimately, made her the perfect actress to play Anne. She was unassuming and tenacious, just like Anne, and she hit every dramatic beat perfectly.

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Love the B&W cinematography

Diane Baker was also a newcomer, playing Anne’s older sister, Margot. She brought a vulnerability and sweetness to the part and obviously, went on to do great things in movies like The Silence of the Lambs and many others.

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The main cast crowded into one photo

Shelley Winters was totally committed to her role of Mrs. Van Daan. She was asked by George Stevens to gain twenty-five pounds for the role. She said she’d gain fifty if necessary. She and Stevens had collaborated once before on A Place in the Sun and she had the utmost respect and confidence for him.

Someone who doesn’t get his due is Richard Beymer, who plays Anne’s love interest, Peter. Though Beymer maybe shouldn’t have been cast as Tony in West Side Story, his charm can’t be discarded. You can totally see why Anne falls for him.

My Amsterdam Experience (Visiting the Anne Frank House)

Amsterdam was my favorite place. I’m not sure if it was the great food, or the friendly people, or the gorgeous canals. Regardless, it was beautiful and fascinating city, even if they do make you press a button to get off the train at your stop (TBH the transportation was so confusing).

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The canals were gorgeous!

Having grown up hearing stories about the Holocaust in Hebrew school as well as reading the diary itself, I thought I was fairly knowledgable about the subject. Still, when the tour guide started taking us through the history, the gravity of the situation hit me. At many points leading up to the Holocaust, many people, including the Franks thought it impossible. No one could imagine such horror would actually take place, that people would give in to hatred and bigotry.

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Anne and Otto Frank

Walking through the Anne Frank house itself was different than what I expected. It was a lot smaller than I imagined it to be, especially Anne and Margot’s room. There was newspaper clippings, all over the walls, movie stars they liked. Funnily enough, there were quite a few photos of Deanna Durbin.

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This, for some reason, got me the most. 

It was an emotional experience, but an important one. Whether or not Anne’s diary was given some help by her father after his death or not, the feelings behind it, what her diary represented is what matters. In such a cynical time, Anne’s optimistic view of humanity is vital.

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The first page of Anne’s diary

Living in a country where we, the people elected Donald Trump doesn’t feel a step in the direction of tolerance. Still, I can either be cynical and rant about how it feels like the world is ending or I can do my part: pay attention, speak out against injustices, promote tolerance, and try my hardest to see the good in people.

This film may not be cheerful, but it’s poignancy can’t be denied. George Stevens was known for his comedic sensibility. He directed Swing Time, the best Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film IMHO, and a string of great screwball comedies like Woman of the Year and The More the Merrier. However, when after he came back from being part of a film unit which documented the war, he didn’t make comedies anymore. Instead, he chose to direct important dramas like A Place in the Sun and Giant.

While there have been other adaptations of Anne’s diary, Stevens’ is IMHO the best. I’ve spoken before on this blog about our inability to grasp events that happened before we were born. It’s one of the reasons film is such a powerful medium. We can watch The Diary of Anne Frank and gain a new perspective; understand that these events did take place and that we all need to do our part to make sure they never happen again.

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I love this quote. Words matter. 

Photos property of Twentieth Century Fox.

Carole Lombard and the Vitality of “Nothing Sacred”

This past week, I got a summer cold; one of those sneezing, wheezing head-achy colds where you basically can’t do anything except watch movies. Though I do not enjoy being sick, I do enjoy any excuse to binge watch movies. I don’t know about you but when I’m sick, I go for comfort food, both in terms of actual food (Hail Matzos Ball Soup!) and in terms of the movies I watch. Screwball comedies are the best medicine.

One such screwball comedy I revisited was 1937’s Nothing Sacred starring Frederic March and the luminous and truly hilarious Carole Lombard. If you’re unfamiliar, the film features Frederic March as Wally Cook, a reporter who’s just lost credibility on a story and thus, been designated to writing obituaries. In an attempt to win back his editor, Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly), Cook travels to Warsaw, Virginia to track down Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a girl who’s dying of radium poisoning. Only one problem; just before they meet, Flagg is given a clean bill of health, but wanting a free trip out of Warsaw, keeps up the charade. As always, DRAMA ENSUES.

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500 emotions by Carole Lombard

Here are some reasons you should put Nothing Sacred on your summer watchlist!

The Cast

I’ve discussed Frederic March once before on this blog when I wrote about I Married a Witch!, another screwball favorite. Unlike that film, in which he and his co-star, Veronica Lake despised one another, the experience of filming Nothing Sacred was apparently filled with pranks and lots of laughter. March and Lombard got along very well, something that’s apparent in watching them together.

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Always so serious…

Lombard was in her late twenties and was at the top of her game. She had already made Twentieth Century and My Man Godfrey, two other wonderful screwball comedies you should all watch. Like when I was introduced to Judy Holliday, I couldn’t stop thinking of Lucille Ball when watching Lombard. She was so expressive and zany and just free. You can’t help but fall in love with her excitement, whether it’s justified or not.

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This is me when someone takes my picture.

As with many screwball comedies, the film had an impressive supporting cast of character actors which included Charles Winniger, Walter Connolly, and one strange, but very funny scene featuring Margaret Hamilton, aka the Wicked Witch of the West.

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Shaving cream everywhere!

The Script

Ben Hecht was hired by David O. Selznick to write a comedy vehicle for Lombard, but as was his style, Ben made it a bit darker than Selznick wanted and his version didn’t include a happy ending. Additionally, Hecht meant for the doctor part to go to his friend, John Barrymore, but by that time, Barrymore was a known alcoholic and Selznick wouldn’t allow it. Hecht ended up walking off the picture and the script was handed over to new writers who would punch up the dialogue and deliver a “happy ending.”

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Her “suicide note.” Love that she’s gonna face the end like an elephant.

Despite what went on behind the scenes, the script is a great balance of screwball antics and smart satire. It seems Hecht was covering the same ground as It Should Happen to You, the Judy Holliday film I discussed a while back. Both films comment on celebrity; how we define the criteria for celebrities and also, how we, as a society react to them. New York City obsesses over Hazel Flagg’s tragedy. It makes them feel better about themselves to be paying tribute to a dying girl.

At first, Hazel enjoys the attention and the benefits of her newfound celebrity, but soon, her conscience weighs on her, especially because she knows that when she comes out as a fake, her beloved reporter will be blamed. March yells at his editor at one point, accusing him of not really caring about Miss Flagg at all, only the headlines her death will bring. When March finds out that Hazel’s been lying about her ailment, he’s elated because he’s in love with her, but everyone else is actually angry that a girl who was supposed to die isn’t going to die after all. Kinda messed up, isn’t it?

The Romance

Okay, you all know I’m a sucker for anything romantic, even if it’s not technically the point of the movie. This film is no exception. Carole Lombard has great chemistry with Frederic March and now I’m going to show you a series of gifs which prove just that.

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How cute are they? 

Their Famous Fight

So, not to give everything away but towards the end of the film, Lombard and March have a physical fight…which is IMHO hilarious. I, of course, do not condone this kind of fighting, but it’s more Marx bros. slapstick than straight-up abuse. Lombard grew up with boys and knew how to box, so she was excited when she got the chance to throw punches. Apparently, the day after they shot the scene, Lombard had to take a day off to deal with her bruises. I mean, it looks to me like she actually got punched!

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According to an article in The Guardian, March did try to seduce Lombard off-set and Carole dealt with it much like one of her characters might. She called March to her dressing room and lifted her skirt to reveal that she was wearing a large dildo. Suffice it to say, March didn’t bother her again.

Because it’s a great showcase of Lombard’s talent and it’s just plain entertaining!

Carole Lombard died in a plane crash at the age of 33. Like Judy Holliday, Lombard’s talent was enormous and her life was also cut tragically short. But, because of film, we can still watch Lombard and experience her zany charm forever. This was apparently one of her favorites of her films and it’s one of my favorites as well, next to the genius that is My Man Godfrey of course.

Usually, I post a link to the trailer but this film is in the public domain, so if you have the time, simply press play on the link below.

Human imperfection and ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’

I know it’s been a bit since I’ve posted. Life and other writing endeavors have gotten in the way. But, now I’m back to discuss a movie I’ve only just discovered. I recently made a trip home to see my parents and my dad sent me back to my L.A. homestead with some new *old* films to watch. Among them was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The only knowledge I had of this film was the casting. I knew that a young Maggie Smith, aka Professor McGonnagall, was the lead and that Pamela Franklin, aka one of the scary children from The Innocents had a part. I had a certain idea of what this film was going to be before I sat down to watch it and it completely subverted all expectations.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie follows Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith), a thirtysomething teacher at a private girls school in 1930s Scotland. Her teaching methods are unorthodox to be sure, but there’s no doubt, she inspires her students. She talks to them about her own life, the choices she’s made, and the fact that she is currently in her prime…apparently. Strangely though, she doesn’t discuss history and literature much, which is what she’s actually being paid to teach. As always, DRAMA ENSUES.

Here are just a few reasons you should put The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on your watchlist:

The Cast

Before this film, I had only seen Maggie Smith as an older actress. But, she had a long career before she was in Harry Potter or even A Room With a View. At the time she made this film, Smith was virtually unknown. The part of Jean Brodie had been played by Vanessa Redgrave in the stage version.

Smith was around thirty-five when she played Jean Brodie and it’s a completely different Maggie Smith than you’ve seen before. Unlike her professor character in Potter or her chaperon character in Room with a View, Smith is free and wild in this film. She’s sexual and flirtatious and egotistical and charming. Her performance won her a Best Actress Oscar and it was well deserved.

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A bit dramatic, no?

Pamela Franklin, who’ve I talked about before on this blog, is famous really for two performances, her role in The Innocents and for playing Sandy in this film. I was surprised, watching her in this film, at how different she is. The scenes she shares with Robert Stephens I thought were quite scandalous. She’s nude and she looks like such a young girl. However, she was nineteen when she made this film and since this film was made just after the production code ended, this was a specific period where they were trying to see how far they could push the envelope.

Her portrayal is layered and interesting. Sandy is several things, conniving and kind of a bully. She’s curious about her own sexuality. But, she’s the only one of Miss Brodie’s pupils who questions her methods and their validity. It’s a shame Franklin left acting.

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Don’t underestimate a girl who wears glasses. 🙂

The other wonderful surprise in this film was getting to see Celia Johnson, who played one of the leads in my favorite film, Brief Encounter, in an older, much different part. In  a way, it was a reverse of my knowing Maggie Smith only as an older actress. I only knew Celia Johnson as a younger actress, so seeing her in this was fascinating. In this film, Celia plays the headmistress of the school, a tough woman who’s skeptical of Miss Brodie. And, as usual, she kills it.

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She still looks like she’s thinking a lot though, right?

The Script

The screenplay was written by Jay Presson Allen who also had written the play. It was adapted from the novel by Muriel Spark. I talked about how the film subverted my expectations for the genre and that really comes down to story.

I think what really shocked me was the fact that the character of Jean Brodie was so incredibly flawed and kind of bordering on unlikable. As children, we assume that our teachers have their lives together. Actually, we pretty much apply that principle to any adult. Jean Brodie is, to me, still very immature. She thinks of herself as a savior to her students, as a guide and example for how they should live their adult lives.

We see the effect that the charismatic Jean Brodie has on two students in particular – Mary, played by Jane Carr, a shy, impressionable girl who listens to Brodie dutifully and Sandy, played as I already discussed by Pamela Franklin, who is more skeptical and adventurous and ultimately, strong.

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No fear here!

Because it’s a reminder that perfection is unattainable!

Miss Brodie ultimately is quite immature. Her actions are not of a together person and yet, despite her actions, you do feel sympathy for her when she loses everything. That’s what makes this story so compelling – it’s about real people, people who are imperfect and make mistakes, even when they have the best of intentions.

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Aka immaturity. HUMANS ARE IMPERFECT. 

Vintage trailer below:

The Prime of Miss Brodie trailer

Gifs and photos property of 20th Century Fox.

“13 Reasons Why,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” and the Agony of Loneliness

A few months back, I was with my dad at a small Los Angeles cafe. My dad suddenly had a wide grin on his face. He recognized someone. I looked over at an older man holding his laptop. My dad said to him, “Excuse me, but are you Chuck McCann?” He smiled and replied, “I used to be.” We had a lovely twenty-minute conversation with him and afterwards I asked my dad, “Who is Chuck McCann?”

As a result of this unexpected interaction, my dad showed me a small, independent sixties film called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. McCann has a small, but important role in the film. This was one of those times, just like with Caught, where I felt that click when you discover a forgotten film, when you’re genuinely moved and completely absorbed in the story that’s being told.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, based on the novel of the same name by Carson McCullers follows John Singer (Alan Arkin), a deaf and mute silverware engraver. He lives a pretty quiet existence. His only real friend is a mentally challenged man named Spiros (Chuck McCann). When Spiros is put in a mental institution a few towns over, Singer uproots his life and moves into a family’s home where he befriends their sixteen year-old daughter, Mick (Sondra Locke). As usual, drama ensues…but this is slightly quieter drama.

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So polite and nice calligraphy, RIGHT?

Here are just a few reasons why you need to see The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

The Cast

Alan Arkin carries this film. At the time he made this, he was just starting out, having just made the film which made him: The Russians are Coming, the Russians are coming! He was an interesting choice for the part as we usually think of Arkin in a comic and verbal context…or maybe that’s just cause I know him best from Little Miss Sunshine. Either way, Arkin delivers possibly his greatest performance without uttering one word. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in the film, but lost to Cliff Robertson.

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His expression is EVERYTHING

Sondra Locke is also a revelation in this film. At 21 years old, Locke gave Mick a vulnerability and toughness that I daresay, most actresses today don’t have. She was the perfect counterpart to Arkin. They complimented each other. Though she didn’t go on to be a movie star, she’s continued to work in the film industry as an actor and producer. Locke was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but lost to Ruth Gordon.

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One of my favorite scenes in the film

Chuck McCann’s screen time may be a short, but he certainly makes his mark in the film. He was known for most of his career as a comic actor, but this film showcases his dramatic range. He is also famous for having a relationship with Stan Laurel. He apparently just found his number in the phone book and called him up. Fascinating…

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All Chuck McCann’s character wants to do this in this film is eat and I totally get it. 

Percy Rodrigues, Cicely Tyson, and Stacy Keach also give great supporting performances.

The Story

I had not read McCullers book when I saw the film, but feel compelled now to do so. Similarly to To Kill a Mockingbird, McCullers book discusses the South as well as racism and other social issues. To me, the film is ultimately about what it feels like to be lonely. It’s less about the plot and more how these significantly different people deal with their loneliness.

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No overacting. Arkin, man. He’s great.

In this way, the film reminds me of Netflix’s recent adaptation of the YA bestseller 13 Reasons Why. Everything Arkin’s Singer does is to bring people closer together. Even though ultimately, he’ll never feel that closeness with the people around him, he tries to help people where he can, even when he’s met with derision and anger. In 13 Reasons Why, the real message to take away is that our actions matter, both in positive and negative ways. We never know what anguish and pain the people around us are going through, but in our small way, we can do our part to make their lives a little brighter.

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“We have to do better.” – Clay

The Direction

In true indie style, you’ve probably never heard of the director of this film. I hadn’t. His name was Robert Ellis Miller and he actually passed away in January of this year. He directed the film very much like a play. He let moments play out organically. You never felt like you were being manipulated. It all felt genuine and real.

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So sweet

Carson McCullers

I think it’s amazing that Carson McCullers got this published at the age of 22. Her life was filled with pain. She attempted suicide, but was not successful. Carson had a tumultuous childhood and a rough adulthood, which was cut short when she died of a brain hemorrhage, just before filming began for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

As such, I think there’s a melancholy nature to all her works, but especially this novel. She took her pain and turned it into something meaningful, art that serves as a reminder that we all experience loneliness and that feeling that way is part of the human experience.

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She’s also famous for “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.”

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a poignant portrait of what it’s like to feel lonely.

It’s completely forgotten, but I don’t find its themes any less relevant than those expressed in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. We all get lonely to different degrees and we truly can all do our part to reach out and connect with the people around us. In this strange age we’re in, I think this film’s message is of the utmost importance.

 

Gifs and photos property of Warner Bros.