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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Spotlight on Movie Mothers - Mothers Dearest and Screenwriter Birthday - Isobel Lennart

Star Birthday - Isobel Lennart

Isobel Lennart was born on 18 May 1915 and was responsible for writing a number of popular comedies. She began working for MGM in the mail room, but lost her job after she attempted to organise a union.

Lennart joined the Communist Party in 1939, and in order to save her career,  in 1947 she was forced to testify and name 21 individuals whom she knew had been members of the Communist Party.

Recommended viewing

Keeping with the spotlight on Movie Mothers throughout May, I have selected her screenplay for Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960), which starred Doris Day and David Niven for my blog.

Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960)

Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) is a very funny comedy starring Doris Day and David Niven as Kate and Lawrence Mackay.

The film was directed by Charles Walters, produced by Joe Pasternak and screenplay written by Isobel Lennart, based on the book (of the same name) by Jean Kerr.

The movie tells of a theatre critic Lawrence Mackay, his wife Kate, their four sons (David, Gabriel, George and baby Adam), and their dog Hobo. It co-stars Janis Paige, Richard Haydn and Spring Byington in her final film.

Between George eating the daisies, and baby Adam dropping water bombs from their apartment window onto the heads of unsuspecting people outside, the Mackays have a difficult time keeping their out of control kids behaved. They are also forced to keep baby Adam padlocked in his playpen, which resembles a cage. They do this so "he won't get out."

Musical highlights

Doris Day sings three songs in this film: "Please Don't Eat the Daisies", "Anyway the Wind Blows" and her signature tune "Whatever Will Be Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)". "Anyway the Wind Blows" was originally meant to be included in Day's previous film "Pillow Talk", and is the musical highlight from the film.

Concluding remarks

Aside from being one of Doris Day's favourite films from her career, it also one of mine. Having the seen this film at least 8 times, I enjoy it more and more each time I see it.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Spotlight on Movie Mothers - Mothers Dearest and Star Birthday - James Stewart

Star Birthday - James Stewart 

James Stewart was born on 20 May 1908 and is still known today for a number of memorable films including The Philadelphia Story (1940), Rear Window (1954) and It's A Wonderful Life (1946).

Recommended viewing

Keeping with the spotlight on Movie Mothers throughout May, I have selected his performance with Doris Day in Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) for my blog.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is a suspense film starring James Stewart  and Doris Day, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was the third of four films  James Stewart made with Alfred Hitchcock, and by starring Doris Day, this is the closest Hitchcock came to making a musical.

Hitchcock had previously filmed 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' in 1934. In the interview book 'Hitchcock/Truffaut', Hitchcock said the 1934 version was the work of a "talented amateur", and the 1956 version was the work of a "professional".

The film is best known today as the film in which Doris Day first sung one of her signature tunes, 'Whatever Will Be Will Be (Que Sera Sera)', which won the Oscar for Best Song. In this film, Doris Day proves she can act, and she's not just a pretty face who can sing. 

The film tells of Dr Ben McKenna (played by James Stewart) and his wife Jo (played by Doris Day) traveling around Morocco with their son. During the course of their travels, Ben sees a man murdered. Before he dies, he gives Ben some information. As Ben knows too much, his son is kidnapped.

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo

Alfred Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in almost all his film. In this film Hitchcock can be seen from behind watching acrobatics in the Moroccan market place just before the spy is killed. Refer to the yellow highlighted image.

Concluding remarks

Although not one of Hitchcock's best films, the film is worth watching to see Doris Day's true acting ability.

Spotlight on Movie Mothers - Mothers Dearest and Star Birthday - Maureen O'Sullivan

Star Birthday - Maureen O'Sullivan 

Maureen O'Sullivan was born on 17 May 1911 and is the mother of actress of Mia Farrow. She is most famous for playing the role of Jane in the original Tarzan the Ape Man (1932).

Recommended viewing

Keeping with the spotlight on Movie Mothers throughout May, I have selected her performance as Kitty in Anna Karenina (1935) for my blog.

Anna Karenina (1935)

Anna Karenina (1935) starring Greta Garbo is the most famous and critically acclaimed film version of the Tolstoy novel. 

The film tells of Anna Karenina, the wife of an official who falls in love with a military officer while she is on a trip. The indiscreet affair causes the ruin of her marriage, and her ability to see her son.

As usual Garbo is both glamorous and tragic in this film. Her first appearance in the film is magical as she emerges from the train in a cloud of smoke. Garbo received a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress.

Anna's relationship with her son

**Spoiler alert**
At the beginning of the film, Anna misses her son, and says: "My only child. I've never left him before". During their scenes together, the camera frames Anna and Sergei quite close together, to symbolise the mother-son bond they share. Sergei even says to Anna: "When I'm as big as you are, I won't let you travel alone. I'll take you every place." As Anna is saying goodbye to Sergei he tells her, "You know I can't sleep unless you kiss me good night."

Ironically, after her husband refuses to give her a divorce Anna chooses life with her lover over her son. At the end of the film when Anna chooses to throw herself in front of the train, we can't help but wonder who Anna loved more, her love or her son.

Concluding remarks

I have seen this film a few times now, and every time I watch it, I seem to enjoy it more and more. This is one of Garbo's greatest films, and strongly recommend watching this film. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Breakdowns of 1938 (1938)

"All right, I'll give you radio. Why, I'll produce the gosh damnedest blowouts for 1938."

Breakdowns of 1938 is a short Warner Bros. studio blooper reel featuring popular stars forgetting lines, muddling lines and having difficulties with props.

Blooper highlights include:

  • Basil Rathbone trying on 17 different helmets (until he finds one which fits) during the filming of 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1938)
  • Bette Davis struggling to get her bracelet off during 'That Certain Woman' (1938) - "Son of a bitch, it won't come off!"
  • Bette Davis forgetting her line to Henry Fonda in 'Jezebel' (1938) - "Well, I'm a son of a bitch"
  • Claude Rains forgetting his lines from 'White Banners' (1938)
  • Claudette Colbert muddling up her lines from 'Tovarich' (1938)
  • Errol Flynn and Eugene Pallette in 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1938)
  • Humphrey Bogart forgetting his lines from 'Kid Galahad' (1938) - "I can't remember the line! God damn it!"
  • Humphrey Bogart and Frank McHugh muddling lines from 'Swing Your Girl' (1938)
  • Paul Muni forgetting his lines from 'The Life of Emile Zola' (1938)
  • Ronald Reagan having trouble with a faulty prop gun in 'Love is on the Air' (1938) - "Well that goddamn thing locked up again!"

Other stars featured in this short film include Eddie Acuff, Katharine Alexander, Fay Bainter, Robert Barrat, Ralph Bellamy, George Brent, Sheila Bromley, Walter Connolly, Richard Cromwell, Glenda Farrell, Louise Fazenda, Dick Foran, Kay Francis, Margorie Gateson, Gregory Gaye, Edmund Goulding, Eddie Graham, Bonita Granville, Fernand Gravey, William Haade, Raymond Hatton, Hugh Herbert, Ian Hunter, Isabel Jeans, Allen Jenkins, Paul Kelly, Tom Kennedy, Anita Kerry, Patric Knowles, Margaret Lindsay, John Litel, Al Lloyd, Carole Lombard, Anita Louise, Wilfred Lucas, Mary Maguire, Michael Mark, Robert J. Mauch, Pat O'Brien, Hugh O'Connell, Nat Pendleton, Mary Philips, Dick Powell, Dick Purcell, Marcia Ralston, Marjorie Rambeau, Addison Richards, Rosalind Russell, Daniel Boone Savage, Ann Sheridan, Penny Singleton, Verree Teasdale, Rudy Vallee, Emmett Vogan, Patricia Walthall, Ben Welden, Sammy White and Walter Young.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

Spotlight on Movie Mothers - Mothers Dearest and Director Birthday - Frank Capra

Director Birthday - Frank Capra

Frank Capra was born on 18 May 1897 in Palermo, Sicily, Italy. Capra migrated to America and is still considered to be one of the greatest film directors of all time. His most memorable film is It's A Wonderful Life (1946).

Recommended viewing

Keeping with the spotlight on Movie Mothers throughout May, I have selected Capra's final Pocketful of Miracles (1961), starring Bette Davis for my blog.

Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

Pocketful of Miracles (1961) is a heartwarming, yet unfunny comedy directed by Frank Capra and starring Bette Davis and Glenn Ford. The film is essentially a remake of Capra's 1933 film Lady for a Day. Actor Peter Falk was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

The 1960s was an interesting decade for Bette Davis, in which she made some of her best and some of her worse films. Pocketful of Miracles falls into the mediocre mid-point. It is not great, but it is not awful. The film has potential, but just isn't as enjoyable to watch as many of Capra's other films. I think the biggest drawback of the film is its pace and duration. The film runs for 2 and a quarter hours, and it takes almost 45 minutes for the main storyline to begin. Had Capra cut the film down to 90 minutes, it may have been better received and remembered.

That said, the film is notable for being a beginning and an end for three Hollywood greats:

The plot

Bette Davis stars as Apple Annie. A gin-drinking apple seller who sells lucky apples to fund her daughter's European education. Her most loyal customer is gangster Dave the Dude (played by Glenn Ford), who believes Annie's apples bring him luck. 

During the film Annie receives a letter from her daughter Louise (played by Ann-Margret), bringing news she will be visiting with her aristocrat boyfriend Carlos and his father Count Alfonso Romero. The trouble is due to many white lies, Louise believes her mother to be wealthy socialite, Mrs. E. Worthington Manville, who lives in a luxurious hotel.

Dave's girlfriend Queenie Martin (played by Hope Lange) persuades Dave to help Annie out by giving her a glamorous makeover, moving her into an expensive hotel, giving her a pretend husband (played by Thomas Mitchell) and a butler (played by Edward Everett Horton).

Without giving too much away, the outcome of the film is very predictable and extremely unrealistic.

Apple Annie's relationship with Louise

Apple Annie is devoted to her daughter, despite telling many lies about who she is. During one scene, Annie yells at a cat for sleeping against a photo frame with Louise's picture on it, and then kisses the photo. It is out of her strong love for her daughter that she lies about who she is, and helps her daughter secure a wealthy husband.

Did you know...

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Spotlight on Movie Mothers - Mothers Dearest and Star Birthday - Joseph Cotten

Star Birthday - Joseph Cotten

Joseph Cotten was born on 15 May 1905, and
enjoyed a prolific career of over 130 films and television appearances in almost 50 years.

Recommended viewing

Keeping with the spotlight on Movie Mothers throughout May, I have selected 'Shadow of a Doubt' (1943), one of the rare films where he played the villain, to celebrate the life and career of Joseph Cotten. 

Shadow of a Doubt

**spoiler alert - this blog may spoil the outcome of the film for those who may not have seen it**

'Shadow of a Doubt' (1943) is one of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces of mystery and suspense. It stars Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright and Macdonald Carey (best known for his role as Dr. Tom Horton on 'Days of Our Lives').  The film is an ambiguous character study into the mind of a misogynist serial killer.

The film is significant for several reasons:
  • It was director Alfred Hitchcock's personal favorite of all his films
  • It was Hitchcock's first true American film, which was made in America and set in America
  • It was one of the rare instances where Joseph Cotten played the villain, instead of the romantic lead
After a mysterious opening scene, Uncle Charlie visits his sister, and her family after being away for a long time. His sister, Emmy, adores Uncle Charlie, and has named her eldest daughter Charlie. As the film progresses, through the eyes of young Charlie, we (the spectator) begin to suspect Uncle Charlie is not the man he seems to be, hence the film's title 'Shadow of a Doubt'.

The famous dinner scene

A very famous dinner scene occurs during the film. Through the point of view of young Charlie, we see Uncle Charlie's nasty side with a misogynist monologue:
"And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands. Drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bride, playing all day and all night. Smelling of money. Proud of their jewellery but nothing else. Horrible... fat, faded, greedy women."
This monologue shocks young Charlie, as she replies with: "But they're alive! They're human beings!", to which Uncle Charlie responds with: "Are they? Are they, Charlie?"

It is the glare in his eyes when he says this, which sends a chill down our spine and confirms Charlie's (and our) suspicions of Uncle Charlie being the wanted murderer.

Watch the YouTube video to see this scene. It's fascinating to see the photographic technique Hitchcock has used in this scene, particularly towards the end of the monologue.
  • the scene begins with a shot of the full table - notice Uncle Charlie is seated at the head of the table, giving him a sense of power and control
  • as he begins the monologue, the camera cuts from Emmy to young Charlie, showing the concerned look on her face, before cutting back to Uncle Charlie
  • as the monologue climaxes, the camera continues to move closer to Uncle Charlie's face until we get to an extreme close up - notice Uncle Charlie's eyes never blink during the monologue, adding to the suspence
  • as young Charlie says "But they're alive! They're human beings!", the camera continues to stay focused on Uncle Charlie's face - it is fascinating Hitchcock decided to keep young Charlie's dialogue off screen, as most directors would have cut to young Charlie
  • as Uncle Charlie says "Are they?" Are they, Charlie?", Uncle Charlie turns his head towards the camera - this is intended to force the spectator to see what young Charlie would have seen, and puts us into her character, giving this scene further impact

Significance of the train

The motif of the train recurs throughout the film:

  • Uncle Charlie arrives by train
  • as young Charlie learns her Uncle's secret, we hear a train whistle
  • and finally Uncle Charlie is killed whilst travelling on the train.
This recurring motif is not a coincidence. Hitchcock is using the train as a mechanism of suspense and to help the spectator in putting together the pieces of the film by subconsciously thinking about the train. 

Charlie's relationship with Uncle Charlie

At the start of the film, young Charlie refers to Uncle Charlie as the only person who can make things better. She worships Uncle Charlie and everything he stands for. There is a strong rapport between the two, and Uncle Charlie even presents her with a ring, which ultimately becomes the catalyst for the destruction in the relationship. 
This is likely to shatter not only young Charlie's perception of her Uncle, but also her perception of the world. If her Uncle can be so horrible, is there goodness anywhere in the rest of the world. Consequently, young Charlie (the person who loves Uncle Charlie the most) is ultimately the one who turns against him. 

Significance of the the mother

We see Charlie protective of her mother several times in the film. After her younger sister Ann yells at their mother, Charlie questions Emmy, "I don't see why you let that child yell at you like that." 
Once we find out Uncle Charlie's secret, young Charlie tells him: "I don't want you to touch my mother. Go away or I'll kill you myself!"
We see Emmy reciprocate this protection when Charlie trips down the stairs, and after her near-death suffocation. It is young Charlie's desire to protect her mother from the truth which prevents her from telling Emmy about Uncle Charlie's secret.

Emmy is blind to her brother's unusual behaviour. She does not feel intimidated or offended by Uncle Charlie's monologue at the dinner table.

Why is Emmy so blinded by her brother's behaviour? It could be because she is desperate to remember their childhood together. Uncle Charlie knows his sister well, and to provoke this sense of nostalgia he presents Emmy with photos of their parents early in the film.

After Uncle Charlie is killed, we subconsciously sympathise with Emmys. Hitchcock made an interesting decision to not include Emmy in the final funeral scene. This allows us (the film spectator) to make our own judgement on how Emmy is feeling.

Closing thoughts

I have seen 'Shadow of a Doubt' a number of times, and no matter how many times I watch it, I always feel a shiver down my spine during the chilling dinner scene.

Although there are more well known Hitchcock films, I strongly recommend watching 'Shadow of a Doubt' if you've not yet seen it.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Yours, Mine and Ours (1968)

Spotlight on Movie Mothers - Mothers Dearest and Star Birthday - Henry Fonda

Star Birthday - Henry Fonda

Henry Fonda was born on 16 May 1905, and enjoyed a prolific career of over 100 films and television appearances over 50 years. He was the father of actress Jane Fonda and Peter Fonda, and the grandfather of actor Bridget Fonda. Fonda won an Oscar for his final film 'On Golden Pond' (1981).

Recommended viewing

Keeping with the spotlight on Movie Mothers throughout May, I have selected 'Yours, Mine and Ours' (1968), to celebrate the life and career of Henry Fonda.

Yours, Mine and Ours

Anything with Lucille Ball is always a lot of fun, and 'Yours, Mine and Ours' (1968) is no exception.

The film is based on the true story of Frank and Helen Beardsley, and is far superior to the 2005 remake with Dennie Quaid and Rene Russo (I guess the only good thing about bad remakes of old films is being able to enjoy the original).

The film was written by Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll, who were responsible for writing many of Lucille Ball's TV show episodes from 'I Love Lucy', 'The Lucy Show' and 'Here's Lucy'. I guess this was the closest thing we ever got to a 'The Lucy Show' movie.

Lucille Ball (looking quite good for 57), and Henry Fonda (also looking youthful for 63) are cast as Helen and Frank. Screen legend Van Johnson also appears as Frank's navy buddy.

Homage to Vitameatavegamin

In one scene, Frank's children spike Helen's drink with vodka, gin and scotch. This is a fascinating homage to the classic 'Lucy Makes a TV Commerical' episode of 'I Love Lucy', where Lucy starred in the vitameatavegamin commerical (see video below). 

The super mother
Helen is committed to her children, working part time as a nurse close to their school. As she is walking down the aisle, on her wedding day to Frank, we hear Helen's voice over "How can I do it to them?", showing she is having second thoughts, and considers sacrificing her happiness for her children. After her wedding, she cancels her honeymoon because her son has a temperature: "If Philip is sick I can't go".

If you thought a single mother capable of juggling part time work, a household, and 8 kids of her own was impressive, try adding 10 step children to the equation. If this is not a super mother, what is? Every morning breakfast consists of "5 pounds of bacon, 2 gallons of oatmeal, 3 dozen eggs and 40 pieces of toast".

In order to integrate the two families, Frank and Helen mutually agree to adopt their step children.

Did you know...

Lucille Ball's real life daughter Lucie Arnaz, screen tested for the role of Colleen. Footage from this screen test is included as an special feature on the 'Here's Lucy Series 1' DVD set.