You should watch ‘Harold and Maude’: an unconventional romance

Every time I try to explain the concept of Harold and Maude to people, I’m met with skepticism and sometimes, a bit of revulsion. To be fair, it’s not a film which sounds like it should work. When it was originally released in the 70’s, Variety said of the film, “[it] has all the fun and gaiety of a burning orphanage.”

I know, with Valentine’s Day and all that this month, people will be turning to romance. Well, couples will be turning to romance. Single people will be eating a family-size pack of Doritos and wondering where it all went wrong, which is why I think, no matter what your relationship status, Harold and Maude will lift your spirits.

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She kinda looks like little red riding hood.

If you’re unfamiliar, Harold and Maude, made in 1971, follows a young rich teenage boy, Harold (Bud Cort). Though he’s wealthy, he has nothing in common with the Gossip Girl crowd. He’s obsessed with death and has great fun creating upsetting suicide scenes for his mother (Vivian Pickles) to find, though she is unimpressed most of the time. Harold also has another pastime: attending funerals. There, he meets Maude, (Ruth Gordon), a kooky, young at heart seventy-nine year old. Harold is set up on a series of dates by his mother, but he’s disinterested in all of them. Harold’s friendship with Maude grows into love, much to the dismay of literally everyone around them. Drama/BIG LAUGHS ensue obvi…

Here are just a few reasons Harold and Maude should be required viewing this Valentine’s Day:

The Cast

This movie is almost half about the casting. If it had the wrong people in it, the film just wouldn’t work. The part of Harold was written for another young actor/musician, John Rubinstein, a character actor who still guests on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and This is Us. However, Hal Ashby, the film’s director liked Bud Cort, who had recently had a bit part in Robert Altman’s war comedy, M*A*S*H. He was 23 at the time he made Harold and Maude and was already a fantastic actor. His facial expressions ARE EVERYTHING.

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Subtle. Also, am I the only one who thinks he is WAY TOO PALE?

Ruth Gordon was a bit younger than her character was supposed to be, in her mid-60’s during the shoot. She had, just a few years earlier, won an Academy Award for her role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. She gives life to Maude and makes you understand why Harold is charmed by her. Gordon was a writer early in her career. She actually co-wrote one of Judy Holliday‘s comedies: The Marrying Kind. Her performance as Maude is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.

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Maude created #YOLO

Vivien Pickles is also fantastic as Harold’s mother. To me, her shining scene is when she’s filling out Harold’s dating profile.

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Good parenting.

Charles Tyner also has a good turn as Harold’s army uncle, who’s missing an arm. You might recognize Tyner from Cool Hand Luke where he played the sadistic prison guard.

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LOL the Nixon photo…

The Script

Colin Higgins had originally developed the project for his UCLA thesis film. However, after showing the script to his landlady, Mildred Lewis, who was the wife of a Hollywood producer, they formed a production company and began to shop it around to different studios. The script is obviously most often categorized as a dark comedy, which, of course, it is. But, it’s also a drama and a romance and it’s surprising how effective the dramatic moments end up being.

For the time, the way this story is told was so completely original. Since then, I feel like other writers have tried to replicate Higgins style and wit to the point where a current filmgoer might see the film and call it cliched. Higgins was first. The ending will break your heart and uplift you simultaneously.

Higgins went on to direct 9 to 5 and Foul Play and unfortunately died of AIDS in 1988.

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#RealTalk

The Direction

Paramount exec Peter Bart had faith in the story and in Colin, although he didn’t believe Higgins was ready to direct. Bart had seen The Landlord and appreciated the way its director had made the sensitive material funny with satire. Thus, Hal Ashby was brought on to direct Harold and Maude with Higgins blessing. It’s difficult to separate how much was Ashby and how much was Higgins. However, Ashby brought a distinct style to the film. He went on to direct Shampoo, The Last Detail, and Being There.

“In shooting Harold and Maude, Ruth Gordon recalled in her autobiography, Ashby ‘followed the Gertrude Stein theory: chronology has nothing to do with anything. We shot where and when and what Hal said to. Hal is his own man. Do you care about sequence? Not me. We don’t think in sequence, we rarely talk in sequence, we don’t rehearse a play in sequence, so why shoot a script that way?'” – Ruth Gordon, (TCM Article).

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❤ ❤ ❤

The Music

Elton John was originally supposed to provide a score for the film. However, after dropping out, he suggested Cat Stevens. Cat Stevens’ music provides an atmosphere and a perspective from which to see the story from.

Give a listen:

Harold’s Deaths

Basically, they’re hilarious and horrible and these gifs say it all:

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SO MUCH BLOOD.
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Quite normal…or at least, Harold’s mother thinks it is.
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This is when Harold’s mother is filling out his dating profile.
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Dating can be dangerous…lol

The Romance

Some people can’t watch this film without being grossed out. The idea of a teenage boy and an elderly woman falling in love is societally inappropriate. What I think is most fascinating is that their love affair, although consummated offscreen, is more an emotional love affair than a sexual one. Similarly to my favorite film, Brief Encounter, the romance in Harold and Maude is about their souls, about a connection that is more than just sexual attraction.

Harold doesn’t connect with any girls his age. He finds something in Maude; she understands him and she pushes him to live his life. There’s something truly beautiful about that. To those who are still grossed out, well, all I can say, is, at least the film challenged you, made you look at life from a different point of view. I say love is love. Also, there are plenty of May-December romances with an older man and a younger woman and it seems to be more accepted.

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It’s an existential, hilarious, completely unconventional rom-com.

After the film was panned and subsequently, flopped, something amazing happened. College students fell in love with the film. Colin Higgins had a theory on why they related to it when the older generation did not: “We’re all Harold, and we all want to be Maude. We’re all repressed and trying to be free, to be ourselves, to be vitally interested in living, to be everything we want” (Higgins, TCM Article).

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This SONG and MOMENT are EVERYTHING.

Vintage trailer is below:

Gifs and photos property of Paramount Pictures.

The Relevance of Judy Holliday and ‘It Should Happen to You’

It’s fortuitous that just last week I was introduced to this 1954 film. Many people turned to A Face in the Crowd, the 1957 drama starring Andy Griffith in the face of Trump’s inauguration. The film I want to discuss today was made a few years earlier and is considerably less dark, but deals with similar subject matter. It questions what fame is and why society values it, all while Judy Holliday cracks us up.

It Should Happen to You follows Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday), a young woman who’s close to broke and living in the big apple. On a walk, she meets a young photographer, Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon) and they start a’courtin’. Later, on her walk, she notices an empty billboard and decides to take what little funds she has to rent it. What, you may ask, does she advertise? Herself, of course! Enter a mega advertising firm and Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford), who will do anything to get the billboard away from her, including leasing several other billboards to Gladys. Pretty soon, Gladys’s name is everywhere and people think, Well, she must be someone if she has her name on a billboard. Her fame soon rises and she secures endorsementsall while Pete just wants to marry her. But, of course, Gladys is oblivious. Obvi, drama ensues because OF COURSE IT DOES.

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THAT LAWFORD THO.

Here are just a few reasons why It Should Happen to You is still relevant:

IMHO, the Casting!

For real, guys. Casting counts for so much, but especially in this film. I’d seen a few of Judy Holliday’s other films, like Born Yesterday and Bells are Ringing!, but I don’t think I really appreciated her until I saw her in this. While she can easily be discounted as a ditzy blonde in the vain of Marilyn Monroe, Holliday was really special. For one, she looked like a real person, which especially in this day and age, I appreciate. Our present movie stars all look like models and as such, there’s sometimes a difficulty in really relating to them.

She had real talent too, in singing and dancing. She was, after all, a broadway star. In this film though, I felt like she really had a chance to shine as an actress. The film is first and foremost a comedy, but she switches from comedy to drama easily, and makes the heavier moments lighter with her ditzy, hilarious charm.

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I wish people still wore hats. I think I have FOMO about the 50’s…

Jack Lemmon was just 29 in this film and it marked his film debut. And let me just say, he was dreamy even then…maybe I should say, especially then! His Lemmon schtick wasn’t completely set in stone yet. You can tell he’s still figuring it out…but he is so appealing, so effortlessly funny, you can’t but fall in love with him. It would be six years till he starred in one of my favorite films of all time, The Apartment.

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I love that eyebrow lift! ❤ ❤ ❤

Although Holliday had just given birth to her son a few months before shooting the film, it’s well known that she and Peter Lawford had an affair on the film. Their love scenes certainly do have a certain chemistry, but I have to say, I’ll aways be team Lemmon!

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Easy on the eyes though, no?

The Script Tho…

Garson Kanin penned the script and looking at his filmography, it almost looks like he was Miss Holliday’s personal screenwriter. He also wrote the screenplay for The Marrying Kind and Born Yesterday. He was also big in the Tracy-Hepburn films. Suffice it to say, he knew how to write a great screwball comedy.

The subject matter for this story wasn’t based on anything or anyone specific, but focuses on something even more relevant today than it was then: celebrity. We all grow up, putting people who are in the public eye on a pedestal. They’re famous, so they must be special, right? That’s what Gladys thinks too. Her yearning for fame has less to do with what fame actually is and more with a longing to be special, to belong. She learns in her journey that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In the TCM article for the film, Jeff Stafford, quotes the director of this film, George Cukor as saying:

“The idea of becoming a great celebrity without being able to do anything is a very important notion,” Cukor stated in an interview with author Gavin Lambert. “Publicity can really do it, too. Today it makes Presidents. It’s really the name of the game.”

It’s difficult to read that statement and realize that that has never been more true. Jack Lemmon’s character routinely tells Gladys that fame is nothing if the real person behind it stands for nothing. I’ll just let that sit with you for a moment. *Cough* Trump *Cough*

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We’ve all had that dream…though hopefully we’ve grown out of it.

The Director

I mean, George Cukor is just a legend. He directed too many classics to name, but my favorites are My Fair Lady, Gone with the Wind (where he was one of many directors) and The Philadelphia Story. He knew a thing or two about romance and comedy…

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Case in point: THIS SCENE.

The gowns ❤ ❤ ❤

Jean Louis was a PROLIFIC costume designer and his gowns in this film are the epitome of 1950’s style! Incidentally, costume design was the only category the film received an Oscar nomination for.

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I NEED this outfit. 

The SNAP of the Dialogue

As a writer, I obvi appreciate wit and this one delivers the wit tenfold. Judy Holliday delivers them zingers well!

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GOLD. 

It’s hilarious, romantic, and most importantly, thought provoking!

Celebrity is a huge currency in our society, especially now that the internet has given rise to social media influencers. Last week, the U.S. inaugurated a president who’s famous because of his money. He hasn’t done anything worthy of our recognition. He’s rude and uncouth. His qualifications to be president are zilch.

In a way, we as a society, gave ourselves Trump because we view celebrities as special and worthy of our attention. We give celebrity status to people who shouldn’t have it. This film may not be profound, but it’s a nice reminder that fame for the sake of fame, to quote Jack Lemmon’s character, Pete, means nothing.

Vintage trailer below:

Gifs and photos property of Columbia Pictures/Sony.

 

Veronica Lake is my #WCW in ‘I Married A Witch’

Well, October is here and you all know what that means? Yes, that’s right. Halloween! I’ve never been super into the whole dressing up thing. I was Hermione up until 7th grade and then I just stopped. My parents didn’t want to buy me a new costume. So, I got very into Halloween movies. I should be clear; I’m not a huge horror movie fan. But, I love the fun Halloween classics – BeetleJuice, Halloweentown, Hocus Pocus, Poltergeist…that kind of stuff.

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Debbie Reynolds taught me: WITCHES ARE COOL.

If you’ve been following my movie musings, then you know that I’m also a huge screwball comedy fan. So, to kick off October, I thought I’d discuss one of my recent discoveries: Rene Clair’s I Married A Witch. I found it a few months ago when I raided my dad’s DVD collection and found a Criterion copy of the film. The cover intrigued me so I gave it a shot and let me tell you, it is a TREAT!

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Beautiful Artwork, AMIRIGHT?

Here’s a quick synopsis: I Married A Witch, made in 1942, follows Jennifer (Veronica Lake), a witch and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway), burned at the stake in the 1600’s and buried underneath a tree. Jennifer places a curse on the man who turned them in: all the generations to follow shall have unhappy marriages. Jennifer and Daniel are revived in the early 1940’s, just wisps of smoke before they find bodies to hop into. They decide to wreak more havoc by torturing Wallace Wooley (Fredric March) and making him fall in love with Jennifer. As always drama and LOTS OF COMEDY ensues!

Here are just a few reasons you should add I Married A Witch to your Halloween movie-binge!

The Cast

After I finished watching the movie, I called my dad and told him how much I loved the chemistry between March and Lake. My dad laughed, telling me, “Yeah, too bad they hated each other.” And indeed, they did hate each other…a LOT. According to Jeff Stafford of TCM, “…prior to meeting his co-star, Fredric March had reportedly said Lake was ‘a brainless little blonde sexpot, void of any acting ability,’ a comment that made its way back to her. In retaliation, Lake called March a ‘pompous poseur’ and their adversarial working relationship proceeded from there (Stafford, TCM Article).”The shoot was apparently very contentious and included Lake regularly pranking March and some very nasty shouting matches.

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In LOVE?

Lake was just coming off of her starring role in Sullivan’s Travels, another great screwball comedy. She has the very famous peek-a-boo haircut in this film and is charming beyond belief. Fredric March was a few years away from his most famous role in The Best Years of Our Lives. His befuddlement in this film is pure joy. He doesn’t know what’s going on half the time. Whatever their drama was IRL, it didn’t hurt the film. Their chemistry is palpable and IMHO, is what makes the film work.

In addition to its fabulous leads, the film also boasted great character actors such as Cecil Kellaway and Robert Benchley. Many of the supporting characters are Preston Sturges regulars and they add fun and whimsy to the film.

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Jennifer’s dad is seriously CRAY. #RealTalk

The Producer

Unofficially, Preston Sturges agreed to produce this film with Clair and you can definitely tell he had a hand in it. Like his greatest films, I Married A Witch is funny, farcical, and romantic. If you like this film, you should binge all the Sturges films – Christmas In July, The Lady Eve, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Sullivan’s Travels…the list goes on. He’s wonderful.

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Shown: Screenwriter and director Preston Sturges, circa 1947

The Director

French director Rene Clair had only just made his first American film, The Flame of New Orleans, and it apparently hadn’t gone very well box-office wise. His agent sent a copy of a book called The Passionate Witch by Norman Matson and Thorne Smith. It was really because of Veronica Lake’s involvement that the film actually got made.

Clair’s name isn’t one that is remembered often enough. He was one of France’s first great comedy directors and his cache really became films that somehow mixed fantasy elements with humor and romance. AKA everything I LOVE. Some of his other great films to check out: Beauties of the Night, A Nous a Liberte and The Grand Maneuver.

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Rene in the 1920’s…NEED THAT CAMERA

The Script

This is my favorite era precisely because screwball comedies were in vogue. Though I know no one talks that fast IRL, I don’t care! It’s fun, witty, and FAST FAST FAST. Funnily though, this film had many cooks (writers) in the mix. Five writers are credited on IMDB for having some hand in the script. Rene Clair and Andre Rigaud apparently just helped in punching up the dialogue, which is ON POINT.

Even with all the cooks, the film turned out to be HILARIOUS.

Some of my favorite lines in this film:

“Ever hear of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire? That was our crowd.”

“Pistol, pistol, let there be/Murder in the first degree.”

Wallace Wooley: “I’m afraid you’ve got a hangover.” Daniel: “Don’t tell me what I’ve got! I invented the hangover. It was in 1892… B.C.”

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She looks sincerely in love, right?? #GoodActing

The Incredible Effects

One of my major problems with film today is that they over-indulge in special effects. I have no issue with trying to make a film’s fantastical elements come to life. But, many times, today, things look so perfect they actually look less real. While some might say these 1940’s effects are a bit hokey, I can’t help but be wowed by them.

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Just some wisps of smoke taking a broom ride…

The Cinematography

Going along with the effects is the beautiful black and white cinematography! Ted Tetzlaff was the cinematographer and with films like Notorious, My Man Godfrey and The Talk of The Town on his resume, I can’t say I’m surprised at the atmosphere and beauty. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on The Talk of The Town.

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Romance + Black and White = PERFECTION

Veronica Lake’s Dresses

Famous costume designer Edith Head was behind Lake’s gorgeous ensembles in this film and I want them ALL…👗

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That 40’s Style!

It’s a whimsical, charming, fun, fantastical comedy delight.

This movie is everything you want it to be. It’s funny, romantic, and beautiful. But most importantly, it’s FUN. At just 77 mins long, I Married A Witch takes you on a fast, crazy, ridiculous ride and lets you enjoy its fantastical premise. Veronica Lake didn’t have a great reputation in Hollywood, but as an actress, her appeal cannot be denied! And of course, the film inspired the very popular 60’s sitcom, Bewitched.

Drinking game idea: Drink every time Jennifer pouts. You’ll end up drinking A LOT.

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I wanna be a witch too!

Trailer below. And if you have Hulu, you can watch the full film RIGHT NOW. And if that’s the case, seriously, what are you waiting for? An engraved invitation? Go watch it NOW.

Halloweentown Gif is property of Disney.

I Married A Witch Gifs Property of Paramount Pictures.

 

 

Re-examining ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

This past weekend, I watched Ron Howard’s wonderful new documentary about the Beatles during their touring years, Eight Days a Week. As a huge Beatles fan, I saw A Hard Day’s Night several times in my adolescence, never quite understanding all the things the film was, but enjoying it nonetheless.

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BEATLEMANIA…#ThoseGirlsAreCray

After watching the documentary, I felt like I had a little more context for the film. A Hard Day’s Night was made in 1964 and was meant to capitalize on the Beatlemania which was sweeping the world. Director Richard Lester was brought in to make a film which was a comedy, a documentary, and a musical film all in one.

When mentioning this film to other young people, I found that most people thought it was an actual documentary or they simply had never heard of it which is a MAJOR BUMMER cause this film is fantastic!

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Lennon being Lennon… 

So, without further adieu, here are just a few reasons you need to watch A Hard Day’s Night:

The Script

So, I know many of you out there might be like, “What script? There was a script.” Because of the naturalistic style of the film, many don’t realize that the film was almost one-hundred percent scripted. The only one who ad-libbed was John Lennon, who let’s face it, probably couldn’t help it.

Alun Owen penned the script after spending time with John, Paul, George and Ringo. He listened to the way they spoke and tried to put words in their mouths that would sound natural for them to say. He also used the script to satirize television, the press, and The Beatles’ own celebrity.

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Love me some 1960s insults. #SUCHADRAG

The Comedy

Really, to me, this is what makes the film more than just one long music video. Even though the film was fully scripted, it doesn’t feel like it. The camaraderie between the boys is effortless and hilarious. Their cheekiness is everything.

They picked great character actors for the smaller bit roles and it helped to make the film feel like it had a real narrative we were following. Paul’s grandfather (NOT REALLY HIS GRANDFATHER) is hilarious…and very CLEAN.

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THOSE GLASSES THOUGH. 
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The BEST joke. 

The Direction

Director Richard Lester’s only real experience before A Hard Day’s Night was in television. Two years ago, during the 50th anniversary’s BFI screening, Lester was interviewed by NME where he said,”The idea of the film came from the film department of United Artists at the beginning of 1964, and they said they’d only do it if it was cheap and in black and white and if we could get it done by July. They thought The Beatles were going to be a spent force by the end of the summer (Lester, NME Article).” Lester went on to direct The Beatles’ second film, Help! as well as Superman II and Superman III.

His direction brims with enthusiasm and energy, possibly due to the fact that he was not much older (Lester was just 32!) than The Beatles themselves. Oh, and the fans that you see in the film…they’re real. He just let them do whatever they wanted to do. So, of course, they went NUTS.

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Genuine NUTSO Beatles fans…

The Music

The music is EVERYTHING. You have to remember, this was before MTV or TRL (which honestly are references that are both kind of before my time). There was no such thing as music videos and I can imagine, being a young person during that time and seeing this film must have been like a dream come true, like a private concert for Beatles fans around the world. And the music is SOOOOO GOOD.

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You can’t buy love, man. If the Beatles say it, it must be true. #RealTalk

The Characters

This film’s strength very much rests on the wonderful character actors. Wilfrid Brambell was cast as Paul’s grandfather and his performance makes the film, IMHO. He had been in a popular BBC show called Steptoe and Son where he’d apparently been called a dirty old man, which is where the big joke came from, “He’s very clean.” Norman Rossington and John Junkin were also wonderful as the band’s fake managers. Comedian Anna Quayle (of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame) was also thrown in for good measure.

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Weirdos…

And of course, THE BEATLES!!

The Beatles’ fame and fandom was unlike anything or anyone up until that point. United Artists thought they were a passing fad. Little did they know that their influence on culture would stand the test of time, or at least the next fifty years. Their chemistry, both as musicians and friends, make A Hard Day’s Night a joy from start to finish. You should have a smile on your face throughout. Or…at least I did!

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#SWOON

Trailer below:

Gifs and Main Photo property of United Artists.

 

#FeministClassics: ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’

I first saw this film as a teenager. I wasn’t super excited when my dad pitched this movie to me. I had seen Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and though I had liked both of them, I found them to be fairly male oriented films. The female characters seemed secondary. My dad countered, telling me that it wasn’t really Scorsese’s film. It was Actress Ellen Burstyn’s.

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Ellen Burstyn had just finished making a little picture called The Exorcist and after seeing dailies, Warner Brothers told Burstyn they wanted to make another picture with her. They sent her several scripts, but in each of them, the woman wasn’t the protagonist. Her agent found the script for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Burstyn ended up bringing everyone on board, from producers to Director Martin Scorsese.

If you’re not familiar, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore follows Alice (Ellen Burstyn), a woman in her mid-thirties whose semi-neglectful husband dies suddenly. This leaves Alice with no money and her eleven year-old smart ass son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter III), to take care of. She decides to get back to Monterey, California, where she grew up. But since she has very little money, she stops along the way to save up, meets a couple of men, makes a few mistakes, and in the process finds out who she is and what she wants.

Here are just a few reasons Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a feminist classic:

The Cast

As I mentioned, this film belongs to Ellen Burstyn. She really was the driving force behind getting it made and in watching her performance, you can see she put a lot of her personal experiences into it. Also, she won the Oscar that year, though she wasn’t there to accept the award. Since she was in a Broadway show at the time, Scorsese accepted the award on her behalf, thanking everyone she had to told him to thank, including himself.

Alfred Lutter III made his feature debut in this film playing Burstyn’s eleven year-old son, Tommy. I’ve talked about him once before in my post on The Bad News Bears. He was only in four films before he retired from acting at the age of fifteen. Still, Lutter made quite the impression, in this film especially. He seemed like a real kid and he could be both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.

Funny side story: On the drive to set one day, Martin Scorsese was riding with Alfred. Alfred told Marty a story over and over, asking if he understood. By the time they got to set, Marty was completely annoyed but also thought it was hilarious – so much so that he put it in the movie (seen in the gif below).

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Poor Ellen Burstyn. #IStillDontUnderstandThisStory

Kris Kristofferson was relatively new to film when he played David, Burstyn’s love interest. Scorsese tried to put him at ease, telling him to ignore the script and say the lines in the way that felt most natural to him. He was understated and (even with that crazy beard) incredibly sexy. You just can’t NOT like him.

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A man’s MAN if I ever saw one. #SWOON

Harvey Keitel wasn’t in much of the film, but he certainly made an impression during his few scenes. Keitel played a man Alice meets while working as a singer, but he reveals himself to be CRAY. When I first saw this film, he scared the shit out of me. He still kinda does…

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Keitel is TERRIFYING, amiright?

Diane Ladd was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Alice’s co-worker, Flo. When her character is first shown onscreen, she kind of seems like a bitch. The best part is that Flo and Alice’s relationship very organically becomes a friendship and their scenes together maybe mean more than Alice’s scenes with David.

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That hair THOUGH. #1970sStyle

Special mentions:

Two young, very talented actresses. The first is a twelve year-old Jodie Foster. She played Audrey, Tommy’s friend. As with Keitel, her part is not a big one, but she makes a major impression.

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Oh, the 70’s…#shorthairdontcare

The second is actress Laura Dern, who was just seven years-old. She, of course, is Diane Ladd’s daughter and so, was in a scene in the diner, eating an ice cream cone.

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Does your eye spy little Laura Dern?

The Script

The script was written by Robert Getchell, who also wrote Mommie Dearest and This Boy’s Life. This is where the feminist aspect comes in. Although, of course, Robert Getchell is a man, this story was told from a female point of view. It was making a statement about what it was like to be a woman at that time and exploring how we define our happiness as human beings.

There was a major controversy over how to end the film. Burstyn believed the film was about Alice standing on her own two feet without a man by her side. The studio wanted David and Alice to get married at the end. They needed to find a compromise. So, Kris said, “Jeez, if he loves this girl – if I did – I’d just say pack your fuckin’ bags. I’ll go with you” (Kristofferson, Second Chances Doc). I  actually really loved the ending because it wasn’t saying that you needed a man to make you happy. Alice stood up for the things she wanted and she ended up getting all of them, including David.

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Her face THOUGH. 

The Direction

Even though Scorsese was a hired hand on this film, he made it his own. He told Burstyn from the get-go that he didn’t know much about women, but that he was eager to learn. He was only 34 years old when he directed the film, but already he was experienced. He had already made Mean Streets, which is what got him the meeting with Burstyn in the first place and as my dad reminded me, he was an assistant director on Woodstock.

It was Scorsese’s idea to start the film with a semi-fantasy sequence which was shot on the old Colombia Pictures lot. It was weird and interesting and kind of gritty, much like the film itself. As a film buff himself, Scorsese saw the film as a Joan Crawford or Bette Davis vehicle. Without his direction, I believe the film would have been more of just a straight melodrama. He added humor, sensitivity and humanity to the story.

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Scorsese on set with Burstyn and Kristofferson

It’s funny, sad, and brilliant in its simplicity.

At its core, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is about human beings – all imperfect, all trying to figure out what’s going to make them happy. Beyond the style and music, the film hasn’t aged a day and I think that’s ultimately because it’s about human beings. It’s not a big story, but it hits on an emotional level. Burstyn’s contributions were major – she wanted to make sure this film was told through the eyes of a woman.

The film went on to be adapted to a very successful tv sitcom which ran from 1976-1985. With great performances and a legendary director, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is well worth the watch. IMHO, it’s a film which doesn’t get praised often enough, probably because Scorsese has gone on to direct so many classics.

My challenge to you: watch the film and try to tell the “Shoot the Dog” story to someone. I don’t know why. That just sounds fun.

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I feel so bad for Alice here…

Vintage trailer below:

Damn the Torpedoes!

If you read my blog, you’ll know that last weekend, I attended the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood, California. While I saw a good many films this year, there were a few bright standouts. One of them I had seen years ago, but didn’t really remember. I had such a good time watching it, I knew I was gonna have to write about it. That film is 1943’s The More the Merrier.

The More the Merrier was one of director George Stevens’ last comedies. When the war started, Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and headed a film crew, shooting footage of D-Day as well as concentration camps. Consequently, after seeing the horrors of the holocaust, Stevens was only interested in making dramatic films. After the war, he made such classics as A Place in the Sun, Shane, and The Diary of Anne Frank.

While it makes sense that Stevens would have little interest in comedies after the war, it’s easy to see in watching The More the Merrier that he had great talent in that arena. The More the Merrier follows Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) who, in trying to be a good samaritan, decides to rent out half her apartment given the Washington D.C. housing shortage. Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn), an older gentleman, talks her into renting to him even though she initially wanted a female roommate. Dingle decides Milligan needs a man. Dingle rents half his room to Joe Carter (Joel McCrea) in the hopes that sparks will fly. But, Milligan has a fiance….DRAMA. CONFLICT. COMEDY, ETC.

This film does so many things right, but the main reason it succeeds is  because of the actors. Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn are superb, their comic timing exact.

Jean Arthur doesn’t get talked about enough. She paved the way for so many female comedians. She was beautiful in a simple way. She was smart. She had heart. She gave countless Oscar worthy performances and was Frank Capra’s favorite leading lady. It’s also worth noting that Arthur was in her early forties when she starred in this film and that her age didn’t matter…at all! Oh, how the industry has changed…

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Coburn almost outshines the whole group as Benjamin Dingle. He’s bumbling and conniving, but at heart, a very sweet old man. Coburn had great success as a character actor, having noteworthy roles in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bachelor Mother. But, he ended up taking home the Oscar in 1943 for Best Supporting Actor in The More the Merrier. And believe me, it was well deserved!

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Joel McCrea…I don’t even know how to express my feelings about. He had such a natural charm. He was just automatically likable. Cari Beauchamp introduced the film at the festival Saturday morning, saying, “It’s never too early for Joel McCrea.” I heartily agree!

The scene on the porch stoop is said to be one of the best love scenes in American cinema. Like many films of that era, it’s all suggestion. The sensuality and eroticism are all implied, but never directly dealt with. If you can watch this scene without having the hots for Joel McCrea, well, I’ll be honest, I don’t understand you. Just look at that face…

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This film could have easily been a stage play. Most of the action takes place inside the apartment and the dialogue is, like most screwball comedies, fast and superbly quippy. The laughs are countless and even 73 years later, it’s a joy to watch.

Just a warning: After watching this film, you will, one, want to make “Damn the torpedoes!” your new catch phrase and two, be filled with sadness that Joel McCrea is not a possible suitor…or maybe that’s just me. 😍

Trailer (sort of – more just an elongated clip) below:

I leave you with this gif. If it doesn’t convince you to watch this film, I don’t know what will…

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