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:
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.”😉
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
As most of you know, I don’t think of myself as someone who loves film noir. I’m generally turned off by the words as I associate them with films about angry men and murder. There are great movies often put in the category of film noir which subvert these stereotypes. And don’t get me wrong, I know I’m being unfair – some of those gangster, angry men films about murder are really good!
All this to say, I wasn’t over-the-moon excited to see Detective Story at this year’s TCM Film Festival. However, this was on my dad’s must list, so it was required viewing for me, just like Bye Bye Birdie was required viewing for him. Surprisingly, I was so mesmerized by Detective Story and Kirk Douglas’s insane performance that I ended up counting it as one of my favorite experiences from this year’s festival.
If you’ve never seen Detective Story, (which, y’know, no judgement), it follows Detective Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas), a hardworking guy in love with his beautiful wife, Mary (Eleanor Parker). We see a day in his life at the police station, where he fights for justice. However, when one of his cases ends up connecting to Mary and a secret in her past, James is not exactly levelheaded. Also at the station that day are a cast of crazy characters including a shoplifter (Lee Grant) and Charley Gennini (Joseph Wiseman). And, as usual, things go CRAY.
Here are just a few reasons you should give Detective Story a watch:
Kirk Douglas has been crazy in many of his performances, but Detective Story was when he graduated to straight up CRAY. He also made Billy Wilder’s acclaimed satire, Ace in the Hole, the same year. I almost feel like Kirk’s acting style was ahead of his time. Although the film is basically a filmed play, Kirk’s intense performance makes you feel like he was really trying to “live” his role. He apparently did follow around New York City police detectives to prepare for the role.
At the festival, Actress Lee Grant was interviewed about her experience working on the film and how she dealt with being on the Hollywood blacklist for more than a decade. She really is quite the revelation in this film. Lee plays the “shoplifter,” a part she desperately wanted. She was originally offered the part of the ingenue in the stage play, but thought it was a boring part and so fought for this one. She was 24 at the time and just after she was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar, Grant was blacklisted for speaking at a known Communist’s funeral. She lost several years of her film career, but filled her time working on the stage. Now, she’s an accomplished writer and director who aims to represent the people who can’t speak for themselves.
Lee is so incredibly funny in Detective Story and she literally steals every scene she’s in.
Eleanor Parker is also wonderful as Kirk’s wife with a secret past. She’s feminist and speaks truth to stupid. #TheFutureIsFemale
The supporting players are also wonderful – William Bendix, Cathy O’Donnell, George MacReady, and Horace McHanon.
Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Sidney Knight wrote the stage play of Detective Story, which was adapted for the screen by Robert Wyler. I love plays so to me, it’s no shocker why this film hit with me. It’s, in my mom’s coined phrase, “talky, talky, shit, shit, shit.” I love it though because it’s all about the character development, about the small moments. Also, as heavy as the film can be, there’s a lot of humor which I always appreciate.
William Wyler was no stranger to adapting stage plays for the screen. In fact, one such adaptation, The Heiress, I’ve already discussed on this blog and it’s one of my favorite films. Wyler was wonderful with actors and in a film so dependent on performances, he certainly deserves credit.
Lee Garmes of Scarface and Duel in the Sun took a filmed play and added new dimensions, using deep focus. He makes it feel cinematic.
The Production Code
This film was obviously made while the production code was in effect and the Breen office had several problems with Kingsley’s play as it was. Most specifically, they took issue with the play having an abortionist character. In the film, the dialogue is vague, but looking at it today, it’s pretty easy to see that’s what they’re talking about. Additionally, they had a problem with any law enforcement officer being killed, but they made an exception for this film.
It’s a thought-provoking, emotional, hilarious crime drama
And it’s one-hundred percent worth your time, mostly for the outstanding performances by Kirk Douglas and a very young Lee Grant. Times have changed and there are moments of this film that feel very outdated, but that to me, is the magic of film. It’s a snapshot of a time and a place and specifically, in this film, how the country addressed difficult issues such as abortion.
First things first – so sorry I have been MIA over the last month! The movie watching has not stopped (if it had you know something would have to be SERIOUSLY wrong). I have been watching ’em and making my list of movies to discuss and over the next several weeks, I’m finally going to get to it!
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the brilliant, hilarious and extremely relevant film Broadcast News. This was a movie I had seen several years ago, as a young teenager. Although I remember liking the film a lot, this second viewing at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, was surprising. Some films just have to be seen as an older person to be appreciated and I think Broadcast News is definitely one of them.
Prolific producer/writer/director James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News follows Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), a quickly rising tv news producer. She’s smart as a whip and literally thinks twelve steps ahead of everyone else around her. Her best friend is the hilarious, smart and IMHO very cute Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks). He’s one-hundred percent in love with Jane, something you can see five minutes into watching their relationship. A new anchor, Tom Grunick (William Hurt) comes onto the scene, pulling both at Jane’s heartstrings and encroaching on Aaron’s professional territory. In other words…DRAMA ENSUESSSSSSS.
Here are just a few reasons Broadcast News is a movie you honestly should’ve put on your rundown (bad news pun)…like years ago!
As I’ve said a bajillion times on this blog, casting is so important to how a movie turns out. If you cast people that are fun and relatable and just plain entertaining to watch, the characters can grow beyond just some lines of dialogue on a piece of paper. This film is a classic example of quite honestly, perfect casting.
One of the revelations from the TCM fest panel with James L. Brooks and Albert Brooks (no relation, guys, I swear) was that Holly Hunter was cast at the last minute and another unnamed actress almost got the part. Hunter was a virtual unknown at the time. She had just filmed Raising Arizona, a film which was only released a few months before Broadcast News. Hunter is the true anchor of the film, a confusing choice of words because she plays the executive producer of the news show in the film.
As a young woman, I find her portrayal of Jane to be so relatable. She’s so human and so complicated and filled with contradictions and you could never watch her and feel disconnected to her struggles.
Albert Brooks is so completely underrated. In the Q&A between Albert Brooks and James L. Brooks which was helmed by Ben Mankiewicz, Albert said he felt that Jane was never going to ultimately get with Aaron. Watching the film again, which was after the Q&A, I was like outrageously angry at Jane. If you were Jane, WHY WOULDN’T YOU GET WITH AARON? I mean, he’s intelligent, he’s funny, he’s self deprecating. He’s cute and a good person. I mean, come on, really though! I think this really goes to the heart of two arguments for me: one is attraction is about MORE than looks. The other is that I’m tired of movies never letting the actual good guy, the “underdog” get the girl. I mean, this is another Pretty in Pink scenario, guys. She belonged with Duckie, not that rich asshole.
Whew, thanks for letting me get out, y’all. Back to Albert Brooks being awesome. He, separate from his character, is smart and literally hilarious. If you need some proof, just watch this clip from The Tonight Show back in the 70’s.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – I just wrote a literal lovefest about Albert Brooks. How am I possibly going to sing William Hurt’s praises too? Well, you’re about to find out. I do understand Jane’s attraction to Hurt’s Tom Grunick. Grunick is charming and obviously adorable. And, the thing is, Hurt is extremely intelligent so his portrayal of a dunce is actually quite funny. He’s also a fantastic actor who was already an Academy Award winner at the time they filmed Broadcast News.
The supporting players are also fantastic – Robert Prosky, a wonderful character actor plays the head of the news division. Jack Nicholson plays Bill Rorish, the top news anchor with an ego, quite a stretch for Nicholson! Cough, cough.
The real supporting MVP of the film though is one Joan Cusack. I’ve heard people refer to her as John Cusack’s sister which, is, of course, true but also infuriating. Do you think people refer to John Cusack as Joan Cusack’s brother? I think not! Okay, now I’m getting off topic. The upshot of it is she is a star in her own right and she is fantastic in this film. For real though, she delivers my favorite line in the film which she says to Holly Hunter’s Jane in tears: “Except for socially, you’re my role model.” Laugh-cry are the only words that can describe that moment.
Beyond the cast, the other essential piece of this film is the script. It is so wildly funny while also being relatable, relevant and moving. James L. Brooks wrote this as a romantic comedy which kind of cracks me up considering how the film ends.
Still, what movie being made today covers the same ground as Broadcast News? It’s essentially about people, but it’s also about the current (at the time obvi) state of television news, the ethics in telling a story, the moral obligation to be truthful. In this way, it’s an obvious precursor to Sorkin’s The Newsroom. His characters, too, are very preoccupied with the ethics of being a news reporter.
I especially liked the focus on the three main characters since they were all so different, but still human and likable.
Tom is the handsome idiot, except he isn’t. Tom has a skill set that both Aaron and Jane are missing. He knows how to present information in a trustworthy, confident way.
Jane is a career girl and I think the real reason she struggles socially is not because she’s incapable, but because she believes the only way to excel in her career is to block out everything else.
Aaron, on the other hand, is intensely smart but also neurotic, which is what ultimately is blocking him. He can’t stop thinking for a minute…which of course, I don’t relate to at all.
As you all know from reading my movie musings, I’m a fan of the romance. Whether the romance is a fan of me is another story…lol. But, seriously, the romance in this film is wonderful because like some of my other all time favorites, this film covers mature romantic struggles.
With Aaron and Jane, we are presented with one of the most used stereotypes from romcoms: the best friend who’s in love with the main character. I think they both want to love each other in that way, but the timing gets in the way. Jane’s not ready to let someone in while Aaron is more than ready.
And then Tom enters their lives and catches Jane’s attention. He’s attractive and confident and interested…and they do actually feel real things for each other. But, again, Jane lets her walls get in the way, because, timing-wise, she’s just not ready.
I think this is something not generally discussed in romantic films, the idea of not being ready for someone when they come into your life. There’s a reality there, so much so that when you see these three characters meet each other again at the end of the film, it doesn’t feel forced.
Because it’s still relevant, absolutely hilarious, and filled with brilliant dialogue and fantastic performances!
If you’ve never seen Broadcast News, you need to watch ASAP. If you have seen it, I guarantee it warrants another look, if only to realize just how much you relate to Holly Hunter’s character…or maybe that’s just me. I don’t think so…lol.
One of my biggest pet peeves in talking to my peers about classic film is when they tell me, “How can you like movies without complex female characters?” I’m not sure where this assumption started, but a lot of people believe that there is a lack of strong female characters in classic cinema.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially in the pre-code era, complex women were everywhere! If you don’t believe me, just look up Baby Face or The Divorcee. The movie I want to discuss today, Mildred Pierce, is ALL about complicated women.
I first saw this movie back in high school. I didn’t know anything about it and so, each melodramatic twist hit me hard! What surprised me the most was that the film didn’t shy away from making the characters unlikable. Even the titular Mildred is far from being a perfect person!
If you’re not familiar, Mildred Pierce, made in 1945, follows Mildred (Joan Crawford), a mother blinded by the love for her two daughters, Veda (Ann Blyth) and Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe). When she splits with her husband, Bert (Bruce Bennett), Mildred works to give her daughters the life she believes they deserve. She becomes a successful businesswoman and even finds a new man, Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott), but is it enough to win her daughters’ respect and love? Let’s just say, lots of momma drama ensues!
Here are just a few reasons you need to watch Mildred Pierce NOW:
Joan Crawford won an Oscar for her career-defining performance as Mildred, but she was not the original choice for the role. In fact, they offered the role to three other actresses including Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck before finally offering it to Joan. Michael Curtiz, the film’s director thought Stanwyck a has-been and apparently really didn’t like her shoulder pads. She surprised them all by giving a truly Oscar-worthy, nuanced performance as Mildred.
I had the pleasure of seeing this film at the TCM Film Festival a few years back with Ann Blyth in attendance for a Q&A afterwards. Blyth was just seventeen years old when she played Veda, Mildred’s vapid, beautiful daughter. She’s deliciously evil and obnoxious. Apparently, the Academy thought so as well since they gave her an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress.
Of working with Crawford, Blyth “…remembered her as “the kindest, most helpful human being I’ve ever worked with. We remained friends for many years after the film. I never knew that other Joan Crawford that people wrote about (Blyth, TCM Article).”
Also, this is a fascinating piece TCM put together a few years ago. Lots of interesting tidbits! Ann talks about THE SLAP. It’s great.
Eve Arden is also wonderful as Ida, Mildred’s business party and best friend. She takes snark to a whole new level.
Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Bruce Bennett, and Jo Ann Marlowe also give great performances.
The script was based on a James M. Cain novel. He also wrote Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Mildred Pierce wasn’t one of his bestselling novels, but nevertheless, it caught the attention of producer Jerry Wald, who took charge of the project.
There’s much debate about whether the film is really a film noir or a women’s melodrama. Certainly, the subject matter seems more female oriented than most film noirs. But, still, the main plot surrounds a murder (very film noir). Certainly, this film is more a character drama than anything else. Mildred is fascinating. She’s not a bad person. But, she does do bad things for her daughter. She has blinders on, only seeing the goal of trying to provide for her daughter.
Blyth’s Veda is similarly complex. We wonder how she became this way, this self centered, money hungry young girl. She will, like Mildred, go to any lengths to achieve her goal, even if that means spurning her mother. But, there are moments when she seems human and child-like, and that makes her difficult to hate completely.
To me, the film feels like it’s partially about not seeing what’s really there. To an extent, we see what we want to see, in our family members especially. When Mildred really does see Veda, it’s devastating.
Michael Curtiz’s name is not as well known as it should be. After all, he directed such classics as Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy. He apparently did not see eye to eye with Crawford, “…referring to her as “Phony Joanie” and “the rotten bitch,” laying into her mercilessly in front of cast and crew (Rob Nixon and Stephanie Thames, TCM Article).” They apparently did build a respect as the film went on, but Jerry Wald often acted as referee between them. Despite the feeling behind the scenes, the film Curtiz made is nuanced and masterfully directed. Given the fact that it was so female-oriented, I thought he did a great job portraying their struggles without belittling them.
Max Steiner is most well known for scoring Gone with the Wind, which makes complete sense when you listen to Mildred Pierce‘s score. It has an epic quality to it. There are moments of the film which may have benefited from a lack of score, but still, Steiner’s score is pretty hard to hate. It lends a dramatic quality to literally every line.
Like the score, Mildred Pierce also borrowed Gone with the Wind DP Ernest Haller. Haller also shot Rebel Without a Cause and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane in his long career. Film noir, despite the way it’s discussed now, is really a style. Haller helps create that style, the shadowy darkness. The black and white is gorgeous and haunting.
It’s a bombastic, affecting, female-driven film noir.
You watch this movie now and you can’t not be amazed – that they got the story and dialogue past the censors, that Crawford and Blyth are SO good, and that it is completely female driven. It was a true game-changer. It revitalized Crawford’s career and started Blyth’s. Is it melodramatic? Yes, of course. But, that’s the fun of it.
The book was remade into a miniseries by HBO in 2011 and although I love Kate Winslet and Evan Rachel Wood, the movie still reigns supreme. If you’ve never seen Mildred Pierce, you’re in for a treat and some really fun momma drama!
Vintage trailer below:
BONUS: I came across this wonderful parody of Mildred Pierce, which was done on the Carol Burnett show in the 1970’s. Carol as Joan is ON POINT.
Images and gifs property of Warner Bros. Pictures.
I didn’t always like A Place in the Sun. In fact, I pretty adamantly hated it. I still remember the first time I saw it. I turned to my dad after the film ended and said, “That’s it?” He nodded, “Yep, that’s it.” I was LIVID. What was the point?
I felt like the time I had put in to watching the film was a waste. I was young, maybe twelve or so. I think, at that point, I still believed that every story needed to have a happy ending. Since A Place in the Sun did not, I dismissed it. It wasn’t until a few years after that when I decided to watch the film again, that I realized everything I had been missing.
A Place in the Sun, made in 1951, follows George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), a poor young man who moves to the big city just looking for a job. His uncle gives him a job at his factory. There, George meets and starts a relationship with Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), a quiet young woman who works at the factory. Feeling obligated, George’s uncle invites George to a party at his house. There, everything changes because he meets Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), a gorgeous, young socialite. They quickly fall in love. Only problem is Alice becomes pregnant. Let’s just say DRAMA ENSUES.
Since TCM is honoring Montgomery Clift this month, I decided this would be a perfect time to discuss this film and my introduction to him as an actor. I’ve spoken about him on this blog before, when I discussed The Heiress. He made that film a few years earlier, in 1949.
If you’ve never seen the film, here are just a few reasons A Place in the Sun still affects me:
I don’t think there have ever been two parts more perfectly cast than George Eastman and Angela Vickers. Elizabeth Taylor was a child star, known for the Lassie films and National Velvet. She credited Clift with teaching her what acting was, for he, of course, was one of the first method actors. Their chemistry is palpable and really is the major reason the film works. Both of them seem so genuinely in love with each other. Taylor was in love with Clift, even though he was gay. Their friendship is legendary and Taylor was fierce about protecting Clift.
Shelley Winters had the unfortunate circumstance of being cast as Alice Tripp, aka the only thing that stands in the way of George and Angela’s great love. The audience feels contentious towards her which she doesn’t deserve. Funnily enough, I found in my research that she campaigned for the part and only got it when she agreed to play the part sans makeup with an unflattering hairstyle.
Looking back at it, Winters playing her part so well is a huge reason the film works. She’s not evil, but she certainly can manipulate and is fierce about staking her claim on George. She has a way of making her human, complex, more than one thing – the mark of a great performance!
I’ve already discussed a George Stevens movie already on this blog, although it was very different tonally. The More the Merrier was a light screwball comedy. As I discussed in that post, Stevens was changed after witnessing the horrors of World War 2. He didn’t see the point in making comedies anymore – he wanted to make films that meant something.
Stevens was meticulous and precise. He spent two years making A Place in the Sun. Years later, Shelley Winters recalled working with Stevens in her autobiography, saying, “He was the greatest director I’ve ever worked for. He made me understand that acting, especially film acting, is not emotion, but thinking. He had been a famous cameraman since the Keystone Kops days, and he showed me how the camera photographs your thoughts and sometimes your soul.” (Shelley Winters).
Stevens won an Academy Award for his direction of the film, but lost out on Best Picture to An American in Paris.
Franz Waxman won an Academy Award for composing the score of A Place in the Sun and it was well deserved. It’s melancholy and full of jazzy emotion. Don’t believe me: just take a listen!
The screenplay was written by Michael Wilson and Harry Brown, but was adapted from a novel called An American Tragedy which was written by Theodore Dreiser. Dreiser based his novel on a real trial from 1906. A young woman’s body was found in a lake, having been overturned by a boat. The man she was with stood trial for killing her, even though he insisted she committed suicide. He was executed by electric chair in 1908.
The novel had already been adapted for the screen once in 1931 when it was directed Josef von Sternberg. Apparently, Dreiser did not like how it was adapted. Wilson and Brown treated the story with delicacy. The film was revolutionary in that it dealt with complex human beings. The characters weren’t simply the good guy or the bad guy. They were shades of grey. This is especially true with Clift’s character. We go through everything with him and so, at the end, when he’s pleading for his life, we don’t know how to feel.
Michael Wilson and Harry Brown won the Academy Award that year for Best Screenplay.
The Legendary Friendship
Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift met on this film and became lifelong friends. They both give wonderful performances and obviously brought out the best in one another. A few years back, before Elizabeth Taylor passed away, TCM made a tribute video for Clift narrated by Taylor. It’s a great view into their relationship.
Charlie Chaplin went to an advanced screening of the film in Hollywood and told director George Stevens that “This is the greatest movie ever made about America.” Only, now, looking back on it, do I understand what he meant. It certainly made an impression on me. I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen at The TCM Film Festival a few years back, just after Elizabeth Taylor passed away.
It’s a powerful film and one that takes maturity to appreciate. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wish you could go back in time and steal all of Elizabeth Taylor’s outfits. I sure did.
Olivia de Havilland, who you might know as Melanie from Gone with the Wind, recently celebrated her 100th birthday. The occasion reminded me of a movie I saw a few years back at The TCM Classic Film Festival – William Wyler’s 1949 classic The Heiress.
Turner Classic Movies, celebrating Olivia as their star of the month this July, had the film on their digital counterpart, available to stream. I expected to be able to get other things done while the movie was on, but that proved impossible. I was too caught up in the drama and the emotions.
If you’re unfamiliar with the film, The Heiress follows Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), a young, introverted heiress lacking proper social skills by 19th century societal standards. At a party, she meets Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), a poor, but handsome man who woos Catherine with great tenacity. Catherine falls for him easily, having not been paid attention to very often, if at all. Catherine’s father (Ralph Richardson) disapproves of the union because he believes Morris’s intentions dishonorable. Simply put, her father believes Morris only wants her for her money. Catherine wishes to give up her inheritance if it means Morris and her can be together. So I don’t ruin its ending, let’s just say, drama ensues!
A little background on the film itself – the film was adapted from a stage play which was adapted from a Henry James novel called Washington Square. De Havilland saw the play and knew she had to play Catherine in a film adaptation. She approached director William Wyler and then sought the film rights.
Clift was originally not wanted for the role of Morris as it was thought that he would appear too modern to be a 19th century gentleman. Clift and de Havilland apparently didn’t see eye to eye on their acting techniques either. Clift believed Olivia came to set knowing her lines and nothing else. He believed she put everything into the direction she was given which he didn’t believe to be “real acting.” Olivia respected Clift, but thought that everything he did acting-wise was for himself. Still, she said it helped her give the best possible performance as Catherine is supposed to feel isolated.
I remember seeing this film at the festival at the end of a very long day. I was ready for bed and honestly thought I might fall asleep in it. As it turned out though, the film was so mesmerizing I was overcome by a second wind. Much of that was due to Olivia’s performance – she was so incredibly understated and nuanced. A less talented actress could have made Catherine seem wooden or boring. Olivia makes you feel for her – you can see the thoughts behind her expressive face. The scenes between Clift and De Havilland at the party are some of my favorites because they so remind me of how I feel at parties.
Taking place in the late 19th century, it’s fascinating to examine the gender roles. This film almost feels like the anti-Pride and Prejudice. In Pride and Prejudice, you have a poor, but intelligent woman rejecting the concept of marriage without love, even if it means security. Whereas, in The Heiress, you have a wealthy, but naive girl rejecting the idea of a life without love, even if the person doesn’t necessarily want her for her.
The most gut-wrenching bit of the film for me is when Catherine’s father and aunt tell her they believe Morris only wants her for her money. Moreover, her father tells her she has nothing else that anyone could love her for. I was so angry on Catherine’s behalf. Just because a girl is introverted and slightly awkward and can’t play the piano, she’s not worthy of love? Absolutely ridiculous! But the idea that the two people Catherine is closest to see her as nothing is emotionally terrifying. It made me think about how much of our sense of self is built on the validation of the people around us.
The film is absolutely beautiful – the cinematography, the music, the costumes. However, at its core, the film is a classic because it is still relevant. It questions societal norms, especially in regards to an unmarried woman. Olivia’s performance is stunning and by the end, unsettling. She won her second Academy Award for the role. Her speech captures her essence – it doesn’t seem that Gone with the Wind‘s ‘Melanie’ is far from who the real Olivia is.
Also, small BTS story – When Catherine climbs the stairs, dejected in the second half of the movie, Wyler began to get frustrated. Olivia, who was known for her professionalism, ended up throwing the suitcase she had been carrying at Wyler. Wyler, seeing it was empty, told the crew to fill it up so that when she walked up the stairs, she’d feel the full weight of Catherine’s despair. And I’ve got to say, it kind of worked!
The film was apparently going to be remade in 1993 by Director Mike Nichols and Tom Cruise. However, after screening the film, they didn’t believe it could be improved upon. A remake was finally made in 1997 with Jennifer Jason Leigh, though, of course, it didn’t surpass the success and critical acclaim of the original.
The vintage trailer for The Heiress is below.
WARNING: do not plan to get anything done while watching this film. IT WON’T HAPPEN.
I was not enthusiastic when my dad suggested we see Michael Curtiz’s Yankee Doodle Dandy. We were at the TCM Film Festival and I was pushing to see something else. I was finally convinced when my dad mentioned that actor Malcolm McDowell would be introducing the film.
I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I know McDowell spoke a lot about the genius of James Cagney. In a 2011 interview with The Guardian, McDowell discussed Cagney’s influence on his life and career.
“He influences me all the time. If you love somebody that much, if you admire somebody that much, it’s sort of woven into your DNA. I don’t really have to think about it. Cagney’s just there” (McDowell).
Cagney was known for his roles as tough criminals and all around jerks.
That’s why Yankee Doodle Dandy was such a revelation. It was a completely different part for him. If you’re not familiar, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) follows the life of George M. Cohan, the composer, actor and producer known for patriotic songs such as “Over There” and “You’re a Grand, Old Flag.” Cohan’s family was a famous vaudeville act during the late 1800’s and early 20th century. They were called The Four Cohans. The film follows them behind the scenes in the theatre.
Here are just a few reasons watching Yankee Doodle Dandy should be on your fourth of july to-do list.
The first, and most important reason to watch this film is James Cagney’s performance. He’s energetic, sincere and absolutely brilliant. As much as I love Fred Astaire (who was also offered the role), Cagney was the only man for the part. He shined, in both the dramatic moments and the musical numbers.
THE SUPPORTING CAST
In addition to Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy is filled with wonderful character actors including Joan Leslie as Mary (George’s sweetheart), Walter Huston as Jerry Cohan (George’s father) and Jeanne Cagney as Josie Cohan (George’s sister). Of course, Jeanne was actually James’s sister.
The music, written by George M. Cohan is incredible. Featuring songs like “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Mary’s A Grand Old Name,” and “Over There,” you can’t help but tap your foot and sing along. George M. Cohan received the Gongressional Gold Medal by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his composition of patriotic songs.
Here’s one of my favorite numbers, a song Cohan wrote for his wife, Mary:
The film definitely shouldn’t be categorized as a romance, but the scenes between Cagney and Joan Leslie are particularly fun. My favorite scene might be the scene when Cohan first meets Mary. Mary thinks he’s an old man (since he’s dressed like one) and he’s going along with it. To watch the scene: Being Eighteen is Very Wise
IT WON SOME OSCARS
I say it’s great, but don’t take my word for it. It also won three Oscars, including Best Score and Best Actor for James Cagney. In 1974, Cagney was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. His speech is pretty great.
IT’S IDEALISTIC AND PATRIOTIC
This is why it’s perfect viewing for Independence Day. It promotes patriotic values and is really, at its heart, about the love of a family. The scene where Cagney is at his father’s death bed is said to have been so powerful that director Michael Curtiz started balling and ruined a take.
Also, Cagney improvised one of the best moments of the film where he comes down the stairs at the White House dancing.
I’m telling you this is a good one. It’s pure fun and will make you sing the lyrics to Yankee Doodle Dandy even if you don’t want to. It’s that powerful.