Why it’s important to remember a movie is not old if you’ve never seen it

Yesterday, film historian and TCM host Robert Osborne passed away. While some of you who read my blog may not be familiar with his name or even his face, his death is one of the “celebrity” deaths which has hit me the hardest. I’ve spoken about TCM a lot on this blog as well as the experiences I’ve had attending the TCM Film Festival the last seven years (omg how has that much time passed?!), but I haven’t said much about Osborne himself.

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My favorite quote…

To be fair, most people who meet me wouldn’t think I had much in common with Osborne. I grew up in the age of social media and smartphones. Many friends and acquaintances think my classic film obsession is strange…even though they don’t say it. They don’t quite understand it. Some of my favorites reactions…”They [classic films] just don’t hold my attention” or “they’re too slow” or “Ugh, they’re in black & white”or “the acting was not real enough.”

So, to put it mildly, I spend a good deal of time defending classic film. Nevertheless, I take pride in introducing my favorites to friends/random people I meet on the street. I feel that I’m one of the lucky ones. I was indoctrinated with a love for classic film through my dad. His encyclopedic knowledge and love of film had a huge impact on me. We would routinely spend nights together watching a movie on TCM and so, I got used to Mr. Osborne and his intros. He was a part of the family, in our living room, almost every night.

Osborne, who died at the age of 84 was the host of TCM was for over twenty years. But, he had had a career before that. He started as an actor in the fifties, knew all the greats, and was first and foremost, a film fan. There’s a reason he was so believable in his intros – he knew this stuff forward and back, and genuinely LOVED IT.

In college, I had to do a fake campaign about an issue I cared about. So, of course, what did I choose? Classic film. My campaign poster is below. This is really the crux of why I started this blog in the first place. The only way to keep these films alive is through new, young audiences. After reading an obit article about Robert yesterday, I realized that my brilliant marketing slogan was low-key stolen from Robert’s mouth.

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such good movies! 

I was lucky enough to meet Robert at the first TCM Festival when I was just seventeen years old. Though our interaction was brief, his kindness, openness, and passion was apparent. I think he really enjoyed that we’d attended the festival as a family, something that was rare the first year. My brothers routinely made fun of my dad’s adoration for Osborne, but it was all in good fun.

Though he may not have realized it, he was just as important as the people he interviewed. Literally, he would get a standing ovation at every TCM Festival event he hosted. People cared about him, they felt like they knew him. I felt like I knew him. The best way to honor him is to continuing to pass on the gift that is classic film. Keep introducing classic film to the next generation because really, when you think about it, is a movie old if you’ve never seen it?

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Ignore how truly awful I look in this photo. #Oy #Braces

RIP Robert Osborne. You’ll be missed.

Featured photo: Beauty and the Boss, pre-code movie

The Genius of Natalie Wood in ‘Splendor in the Grass’

I’ve discussed Natalie Wood once before on this blog in my post about West Side Story. Natalie was given the role of Maria based on the film I want to discuss today, Splendor in the Grass. Even more than West Side Story, Natalie Wood’s performance in this film affected me profoundly.

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This scene THOUGH. #ImNotCryingYoureCrying

I first saw this film in high school. So, of course, it struck a cord with me since I was in that stage where obsessing over a guy was eh, extremely common. Crushes felt like life or death situations. Thus, I immediately felt a kinship to Natalie Wood’s Deannie, a girl who felt stuck between following her heart and making her parents proud. She wanted to be the good girl her parents believed her to be, but also would do anything to keep Bud Stamper interested.

If you’re unfamiliar with the film, here’s my short synopsis. Splendor in the Grass, made in 1961, follows Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) and Deannie Loomis (Natalie Wood) in 1920s Kansas. They’re teenagers in love for the first time. But, they have one overwhelming obstacle: sex. While both of them are ready and willing to give that part of themselves to the other, they’re both fed poor advice by their parents and so, end up breaking up. Deannie doesn’t handle it well. In fact, she has a nervous breakdown. And of course, drama ensues.

Here are a few reasons Splendor in the Grass is a classic film staple:

Natalie Wood

Without Natalie Wood, this film would be only moderately interesting. She was 23 when she starred in this film, but was already a seasoned actress. She had been in the business since she was five years old. Still, Splendor in the Grass was really her foray into adult roles. And though she was young, her talent was clear. She had something inside her. Her vulnerabilities and emotions were out for everyone to see and that’s especially true in this film. Her range as an actress was clear – she was interested in characters and wanted desperately to be taken seriously as an actress.

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I mean, Felicity wasn’t the first girl to cut her hair after a breakup…

Warren Beatty

Beatty made his feature film debut in this film. William Inge, the writer, had cast him in a play a few years earlier, and so when Splendor in the Grass came along, he’s who Inge first thought of. Beatty and Wood apparently had an affair on the project, which Elia Kazan (the director) only encouraged, believing it would only make their love scenes better. Beatty was given this chance and it catapulted him to stardom overnight. There’s no doubt that he was very attractive, but like Wood, he had a certain X factor which made him a star. His intensity with his father and with Wood in the film is palpable.

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He definitely could have been like a hunky football player or something, amiright?

The Supporting Cast

Kazan and Inge knew how important the supporting players were and chose well, casting Pat Hingle as Bud’s father and Audrey Christie as Deannie’s mother. He also cast Barbara Loden as Bud’s wild sister, Ginny. They all brought gusto to their roles and Barbara Loden actually ended up becoming Mrs. Kazan a few years later. Loden also went on to write and direct Wanda in 1970, a raw film which was completely from the female point of view!

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A woman doesn’t enjoy sex. Just a male thing….obviously. #1920s

The Screenplay

The screenplay was written by the famous playwright and author, William Inge. His other film credits include Bus Stop, Picnic, and All Fall Down. Inge and Kazan worked together on a play and wanted to find another project to collaborate on. Inge told Kazan about an idea he had based on people he knew growing up in Kansas. Inge first wrote the book and then adapted it into a screenplay.

As a story, the film reminds me of a musical from a few years back: Spring Awakening. While Spring Awakening took place in the 1890’s, both stories were essentially about the same thing – society presenting misinformation and prudishness regarding sex. The conflict in Splendor in the Grass comes regarding a young couple’s inability to be together without sex being a factor.

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Aw, Spring Awakening…

Deannie’s mother tells her sex is not something a woman does because she wants to. A “good girl” doesn’t have those feelings, her mother tells her. Conversely, Bud’s father understands his son’s sexual urges and tells him to find solace in another kind of a girl. When Bud dumps Deannie, she goes mad, unable to eat, sleep, or find meaning in her life.

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This bath scene seriously is frightening…

The Score

Splendor in the Grass’s score was composed by David Amram who’s also known for his score for The Manchurian Candidate. His score is sweeping, melancholy, and somehow reflective of the 1920’s.

The Cinematography

Boris Kaufman, who also shot On the Waterfront and 12 Angry Men shot the film beautifully, with rich color and fascinating close ups.

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I don’t think she’s alright. #NervousBreakdown

The Direction

This is the biggy. Elia Kazan, known for many other films including On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire, knew how to get the best performances out of his actors. Natalie Wood, who was famously afraid of water, had apprehension even about shooting the bathtub scene. Kazan told her that he would focus the camera on Christie and just get reaction shots. This got Wood upset and thus, she shot the scene in one take and it may be her strongest scene in anything she ever did.

Kazan said “It’s not my favorite of my films, but the last reel is my favorite last reel, at once the saddest and the happiest…What I like about this ending is its bittersweet ambivalence, full of what Bill had learned from his own life; that you have to accept limited happiness, because all happiness is limited, and that to expect perfection is the most neurotic thing of all; you must live with the sadness as well as with the joy” (Kazan, TCM Article).

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Kazan on set with Beatty and Wood

Those Random things…

Trivia tidbit – Natalie Wood and husband Robert Wagner named their boat the Splendour after the film. It was that boat that Natalie fell off in 1981, drowning.

I came across this video of Robert Redford discussing Natalie Wood and just thought it was too good not to share. It gives you a view into who Natalie was as a person, separate from her on-screen persona.

I love this film because it’s honest. It’s about idealistic love and the idea that life doesn’t work out the way you think it will. It’s also commenting on a time period where sex was very much a taboo thing. At that time, there was no sex education. As such, their was a stigma with sex before marriage. There were no open lines of communication.

The last scene in the film, there’s a lot that’s left unsaid. But, it doesn’t need to be. Natalie Wood, with just a glance, could express everything she was feeling. And thus, her performance makes this film what it is: a true classic.

Plus, it’s just fun to watch the crazy parents give their awful advice which ends up messing everything up!

Vintage trailer below:

 

The Weight of ‘A Place in the Sun’

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.

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Just look at that boyish smile…

If you’ve never seen the film, here are just a few reasons A Place in the Sun still affects me:

The Cast

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.

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That dress though…#FashionGoals

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!

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Isn’t this just heartbreaking? 

The Direction

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.

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George Stevens on set with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift

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.

The Score

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

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.

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Awwww. 

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.

Critical Reception

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.

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I’m not crying. YOU’RE CRYING.

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.

Vintage trailer is below:

 

The Charm of ‘So Long at the Fair’

In one of my first posts for this blog, I talked about my love for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. When I was a teenager, I was shown a film which, in plot, is quite similar – So Long at the Fair.

When I first saw this film, my dad had recently stumbled upon it while watching TCM. He thought I’d enjoy it because of my love for The Lady Vanishes. It’s a small British film with two (at the time, obvi!) up and coming stars: Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde.

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A meet-cute if I ever saw one…

The film follows Vicky Barton (Jean Simmons) who travels with her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) to Paris in 1889 for the World’s Fair. Their first night in Paris, they’re having a grand old time…

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That background looks SO real…

The brother-sister relationship is one of the fun parts of the film. Jean Simmons is so delightfully sweet and genuine. You can’t help but feel for her.

That night, she bids her brother goodnight and one of the hotel managers grabs their room keys…

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17 and 19 for all you non-French speakers…

The next morning, something strange has occurred. When Vicky goes to wake her brother, his room has disappeared.

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Um, WHAT?

And thus, begins the premise of the film. Where is Vicky’s brother’s room and why is everyone insisting that he was never there at all?

There are so many reasons I love this film, but here are just a few:

Jean Simmons

This film was my introduction to Jean Simmons, not to be confused with Kiss’s lead singer. I hadn’t yet seen Guys and Dolls which is fitting considering she made So Long at the Fair first. She’s so genuine in every moment, you can’t help but be drawn into her grief.

Dirk Bogarde, her co-star, said of her, “Jean is about the sweetest girl you could wish to meet and all you read about her being natural and unsophisticated is absolutely true” (Jeff Stafford’s TCM article).

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19th century insults…amiright?

The Period

This would not usually be one I’d point out, but I so love the time period they recreate in So Long at the Fair. There is so much precision in the costumes and settings that you really believe that they’re in 19th century France. Of course, they do use some stock backgrounds, but that doesn’t bother me much.

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Just look at Jean’s hair alone! Classic…

The Romance

The film’s main plot can be more precisely classified as mystery or suspense. However, I really enjoy the romance in this film. Dirk Bogarde plays a British artist who learns about Jean’s predicament and decides to help her.

In interviews, Dirk seemed to assert that them being in the film together was a publicity stunt, meant to pair them together. Jean said in interviews that she was very much in love with Dirk during the making of the film. Whatever is true, Jean was with actor Stewart Granger by the end of the film and Dirk ended up being gay. But, no matter what the behind the scenes truth is, they did right in this film.

I remember telling my dad my biggest problem with the film the first time I saw it – Why don’t Jean and Dirk kiss or something? They needed to complete that storyline. 😉

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Dirk’s eyebrows, amiright?

The Premise

I don’t want to give away what happens, but I will say that it doesn’t go where you think it will. When I originally saw the film, I was genuinely surprised by its ending. The story is based on an urban legend that apparently took place during the Paris exposition. It has been the inspiration for several stories, including  Covered Tracks and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The film was based on a book by Anthony Thorne and was co-directed by Terence Fisher and Antony Darnborough. Fisher was an editor, but also a director known for his horror films The Mummy, The Curse of Frankenstein and The Curse of Dracula. 

It’s such a wonderful idea for a story, so simple and intriguing. What makes the premise so wonderful is that you’re always questioning if it is simply all in her head, which, to me, is scarier than anything else!

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Vicky when she finds out what happened to her brother…

It’s FUN

So Long at the Fair is a small film, not an epic. It will not be remembered in the same class as The Lady Vanishes, but for all its flaws, it’s fun nonetheless. I think it’s worth it just to see Jean Simmons in one of her first roles. She carries the film.

I assume, like most people, that you’ve never seen the film. It’s only about an hour and twenty minutes. And…it’s on youtube (aka perfect afternoon watch). I love sharing this film because it is forgotten. It may not have been a film that changed the world or furthered filmmaking technique, but it’s charming, accessible and truly suspenseful.

Sit back and enjoy the charms of So Long at the Fair. Please leave comments letting me know your thoughts!

#FeministClassics: ‘The Heiress’

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. 

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Black & White + Rain + Love Scene = Perfection

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!

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Catherine, I feel you! #AwkwardGirlProblems

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.

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De Havilland and Clift on set with Director William Wyler

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.

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Montgomery Clift, DON’T COME ANY CLOSER!

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.

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I would’ve probably kicked him a few times too. #AwkwardGirlProblems

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.

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Catherine’s father = Father of the Year #NOT

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!

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Just an independent woman doing her thing!

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.

Tinkers, Letters, Laughter and Ghosts

Odds Bodkins!

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If you haven’t heard of Abbott and Costello, you are in for a treat. When I was in elementary school, there was only so much my dad could show to me. So, he stuck to comedies mostly and some of my favorite films featured the famous comedy duo, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

They started in radio and are most famous for their “Who’s on First?” sketch. As a kid, I watched them in a very simplistic way. Abbott was the straight man, Costello was the funny one. They were out to make people laugh, plain and simple.

 

 

The Time of Their Lives, made in 1946, stuck with me though as something more than a comical farce. I was a seven or eight when I first saw it and vividly remember running out of the room because I was scared. My dad yelled behind me, “It’s supposed to be funny!” Let me tell you. I was truly terrified of Abbott and Costello. True Story.

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To give you a little background, The Time of Their Lives follows Horatio Prim (Lou Costello), a Revolutionary War hero, who’s set on marrying his sweetheart, Nora (Anna Gillis). She’s a maid in Danbury manor and decides to take Horatio’s letter of commendation from George Washington to Mistress Melanie (Marjorie Reynolds).

One thing leads to another that results in the wrongful executions of Melanie and Horatio by soldiers who believe they are traitors. They throw their bodies in a well and curse their souls to be bound to Danbury Manor until crack of doom….unless some evidence proves them patriots. Melanie and Horatio hang around as ghosts until what was modern day (1946) when new tenants move in. One of them is an ancestor of a butler (who treated Lou like crap) from the revolutionary era, Dr. Ralph Greenway (Bud Abbott).

 

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Costello and Melanie decide to haunt the new tenants and fun antics ensue including the most terrifying while at the same time hilarious seance ever on screen. While this film is a lot of fun to watch, it was apparently not as fun to make. Costello and Abbott were having a feud during shooting and halfway through, Costello called the director and told him he wanted to switch roles with Abbott or he wouldn’t come back to set. Well, they waited him out and he was lovely when he finally returned.

 

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The great formula of the Abbott and Costello movies is real horror movie tropes contrasting the comedy antics of Bud and Lou. In Time of their Lives, there are parts that I truly find scary, despite knowing that it’s a comedy. It makes the laughs bigger when you feel it grounded in something as opposed to just watch a comedy sketch.

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I’m also a sucker for ghost stories and think this one is a lot of fun! There’s something for everyone genre-wise. Additionally, the special effects are great. Their rudimentary quality strangely makes me suspend my disbelief more. They don’t look perfect, but they don’t need to.

Also, Lou trying to dematerialize…you’ll understand.

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Vintage Trailer below:

Coachella for Shut-Ins: What you’re Missing at the TCM Film Festival

At a screening of the cult classic Eraserhead, comedian Patton Oswalt described the TCM Film Festival as “Coachella for Shut-ins.” He wasn’t far off. While every year, young twenty-somethings descend on Indio, California for the Coachella Music Festival, I (and many others) take Hollywood by storm, attending the annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival.

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Norman Lloyd and TCM host, Ben Mankiewicz

For those who are not familiar, The TCM Film Festival is a four day classic film festival which includes little time for sleep or food. By the end, you feel wasted (probably similar to how Coachella attendees feel-but for different reasons). When I first attended the festival I was 17, just a senior in high school. I had no idea what I wanted to do, only that I probably would land somewhere in entertainment.

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2010: My brothers and I with Ben Mankiewicz

My connection to Turner Classic Movies started in the early 2000’s. My dad, a self-made ultra film buff, started watching the channel. He was hooked, having himself grown up watching these films on television. However, it had been years since he had seen them and he was eager to share them with myself, and my two brothers (I have one older, one younger. Yes, I’m the glorious middle child).

At the time, my two siblings and I were young, at ages where we could easily be melded into little film buffs ourselves. My dad showed us popular films, things he thought we’d appreciate (The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, Capra). However, he also showed us the small ones, the ones that maybe he and only a select group of people remembered and/or cared about. My dad and I bonded over genres my brothers weren’t interested in: romantic comedies and musicals. Movies were never just for entertainment. They were an inextricable part of our lives.

In 2009, Turner Classic Movies announced that they would be holding a film festival in Hollywood. The tickets were expensive, around the same price of Coachella. It was an experiment really. It could have been a complete failure for the company.

Nevertheless, my dad took a chance and took my brothers and I out to Hollywood for a week in April of 2010. It was a whirlwind four days. We watched about five movies (yes, really!) a day. At each one, there was a special guest; an actor or producer, a film historian.

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Grauman’s Chinese Theater: one of the TCM Film Festivals Venues

I’ll be honest. At that first festival, we were kind of an anomaly. My brother even made a joke (maybe a little in bad taste) that the average age of the festival-goers was deceased. We were really the only family and because of that, we stood out. We got to speak to actors and producers one-on-one because it was a small group and let’s be honest, my little brother was cute. People always are willing to talk to you if you have a cute kid around.

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#Squadgoals: My brothers and dad en route to the next film

That year we saw screenings of some major classics, but strangely the ones that stick in my memory are the small ones. We saw a film called Sunnyside Up, one of the first sound musicals. Made in 1929, we were told before we saw the film, that we were seeing it in better quality than audiences did when it was originally shown. I remember watching a scene where a girl (Janet Gaynor) writes in her diary, smitten and hopeful. It was kind of shocking actually. I think, for some reason, it struck a cord with me in establishing that whether or not this girl was living in the 1920s, she was still accessible and relatable.

I also saw a film that year called Leave Her to Heaven. Made in 1945, the film is a fantastic film noir (fancy film speak for a film which had a, “…style marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace”….Yes I did copy that from Google) The only living cast member, Darryl Hickman, was there to give insight into what Gene Tierney was like and how they shot a crucial scene in the film.

One of the most interesting things I experienced during the festival was the constant shock from fellow attendees that my brothers and I were interested in classic films, let alone an awe that we had attended the festival. I’m surprised they aren’t more young people (there’s obviously many out there that love classic films). I’ve had the joy over the past five years of seeing the festival expand and grow.

A lot of people underestimate the importance of classic films. To me, they  are our visual history, or as my dad likes to say, “a living museum.” Many of the guests who have come to the festival throughout the years have since passed away. I got to hear Eli Wallach talk about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and had the opportunity to listen to Mickey Rooney talk about It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World. These experiences were truly once-in-a-lifetime. Moreover though, they established for me that though these stars, directors, writers, editors, etc. may pass away, their films will live forever if audiences continue to appreciate them.

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TCM Host, Robert Osbourne and Eli Wallach

I have gone back to the festival every year, despite the fact that I’m now footing the bill. It awakened my love not just for classic films, but for seeing films the way they were meant to be seen: in a theater where there aren’t distractions (Cell phones, Facebook, C’mon people!). It’s just you and the movie and it’s true magic. In 2014, I graduated from school and began working in the industry. There have been moments during my working life where I’ve felt disheartened and had my ideals torn down, but The TCM Festival has become something of a marker for me. It’s not just something I share with my dad. It’s a gathering of like-minded souls. I’ve met people there who have become great friends. It’s impossible not to feel inspired in that environment.

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Myself and Michelle Matiskiel, a close friend I met at the 2011 festival

I just bought my 2016 pass this morning. It’s expensive, but in my opinion, well worth it. I look forward to those four days all year long.

Extra Bonus: My brother and dad are in this old promo. Can you find them?

The Legacy of Frances Marion

A few years back, in a community college film class, I saw a documentary called Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood. The TCM-produced documentary was based on a book of the same name by film historian and Vanity Fair writer, Cari Beauchamp. It was about one of the most prominent screenwriters in early Hollywood,  Frances Marion.

My impression of the industry up until that point was that it was always male dominated, at least behind the scenes. Nothing could be further from the truth as the early film industry was very much female driven. Prolific female filmmakers like Lois Weber, Alice Guy-Blache, Anita Loos and June Mathis were hugely successful.

But, there was something about Frances’s story which stood out to me. She started as a journalist in San Francisco and worked her way up as a writing assistant to Lois Weber, another prominent female filmmaker. Frances was also an actress in the silent days, something she definitely could have pursued given that she was gorgeous.

She wrote over 100 films and was the first screenwriter to win two Academy awards, one for The Champ and one for The Big House. But while all of that is amazing and super interesting, it’s her personal life which intrigued me the most. She was married twice before entering the industry and was on her own for the first time in her adult life at 26 years old.

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At the forefront was her friendship with famous film star, Mary Pickford. They were first introduced by Owen Moore who was Pickford’s husband at the time.

Their mutual sense of ambition united the two women immediately and, although Mary was initially more reticent than Marion, they quickly established that they had both been married a few months shy of their eighteenth birthdays and shared a sense of failure in their respective marriages as well. – Cari Beauchamp, Film Historian

Their friendship was so close that Mary had it written into her contracts that Frances would write the scripts. They both worked hard and were very independent and driven. They went on to collaborate several times, making The Poor Little Rich Girl, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and The Little Princess.

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She was a true film pioneer and wrote up until her death in 1973. She stood out as a writer among both men and women. We owe her a debt for paving the way and inspiring all the female filmmakers who have come after her.

 

Whoops…I think that lady just vanished…

Okay, let’s get real. Hitchcock is legendary. But, if I were to ask an average person on the street to name a Hitchcock film, my guess is that most people would probably say Psycho which, although a great movie, makes me sad because Hitchcock has so much more to offer than a skeleton turning around in a chair.

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Before we get to The Lady Vanishes, let’s do a little Hitchcock recap. Hitchcock started in the early 20th century, directing silent films in England. There, he learned how to tell a story visually, without sound. He made several films during that time and some of his British movies are actually my favorites.

Alright. Let’s get to The Lady Vanishes.

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This film was made in 1938 and was Hitchcock’s last British film. Hitchcock (because he was a genius!) chose leads that were about to become huge British stars: Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgraves. The premise is simple. Margaret Lockwood is taking the train, on her way to get married. An old woman sits next to her on the train. And when Margaret Lockwood wakes up, the old woman is gone and everyone insists that she was never there to begin with. With the help of Michael Redgraves, Margaret tries to figure out what’s really going on.

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This movie is one of my favorites for many reasons. One, it takes place on a train. I know it sounds weird, but a lot of my favorite movies have taken place on trains. I’ve never been on a plane so maybe I just have some weird attachment to trains. I don’t know. But, regardless, the train is a great stage for the drama to unfold – maybe because it’s an enclosed space.

Also, I would be lying to you if I said the romance wasn’t a huge selling point. I love the dynamic between the two leads – the witty banter and the fact that they hate each other for most of the film. Well, she hates him.

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The other great thing is the humor. Now, it’s British humor so it can be a little dry – not really a problem for me, but I know some people who can’t take it. Hitchcock knew that the suspenseful moments hit harder if there was light and the movie has some very humorous moments.

I’ve shown this movie to maybe 10 people and it’s never once disappointed. Even my friends who are not into classic film appreciated it. Hopefully, you’ll fall in love with it like I did. Just don’t be surprised if you have a dream that night about it. I had the strangest dream right after I watched..I was on a train and there was an old man next to me..and you know what, never mind. You don’t care. Just watch the movie.

Vintage trailer below.

Well, hello, blogosphere!

Hello interweb. Welcome to THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. My name is Lindsay Grossman and I’m 23 years old. That’s right, everyone. I’m a millennial.

You could say I had a very rough childhood. From a very young age, I was repeatedly sat down on a couch and forced to…..watch classic movies. Okay, so maybe it’s not the definition of torture, but because of it, I have all this knowledge of classic movies: when they were made, who directed them, who were the stars….also known as useless information to…pretty much everyone in the world. So, what happened to me? What effect did this have on my life?

Well, I grew up and now have a constant need to show others the classic films that were forced upon me. I’m serious. My friends…they don’t want to hear about it anymore. That’s why I started this blog, so that I can finally use all this “useless info” and have an outlet for it, because god knows, if I don’t, I may just start a classic film fan club. Cringe.

I love meeting people who have never seen a black & white movie because I can show them what they’re missing. If you’re coming to this site and you’re a classic film newbie, don’t be afraid or turned off by the lack of color or shoddy sound. Your classic film journey is about to begin and your life will be richer for it, I promise.

Here, you can read my weekly reviews of my favorite classic films and occasionally some, well, fangirling about current pop culture. Just so you know where I’m coming from (sensibility-wise), I love musicals, romances, dramas, and comedies. Wow, that’s general. Let’s get a little more specific. I love 30’s films, particularly ones of the pre-code persuasion. I love Abbott and Costello and The Marx Brothers. I love screwball comedies, particularly ones with Cary Grant or William Powell. My movie taste is varied and vast. Although, what I would emphasize is that the movies I love, I feel that modern movie connoisseurs would not have trouble loving either.

In my opinion, the best films are the timeless ones, the ones that feel fresh because they’re ultimately about human beings, relationships: aka things that never go out of style…STAY TUNED.

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