Joan of Paris (1942)

Joan of Paris PosterWhen five RAF pilots are shot down over Nazi-occupied France, the pilots, led by Paul Lavallier (Paul Henreid), head to a bar to steal some civilian clothing so they can blend in until they can find a way out. They’re found by a German soldier, but they knock him out, take his wallet, and decide to split up and meet again at a cathedral in Paris. Before they can get away, more German soldiers arrive and start shooting at the pilots, hitting the pilot nicknamed Baby (Alan Ladd) in the shoulder. When word about the German soldier gets back to Gestapo leader Herr Funk (Laird Cregar), he puts the word out for shopkeepers to be on the watch for the stolen money, which was marked with a distinctive stamp.

Father Antoine (Thomas Mitchell) is an old friend of Paul’s and he’s the father at the cathedral where the pilots are meeting. Paul gets Father Antoine to help him hide the pilots and make contact with British intelligence. At Father Antoine’s suggestion, the pilots hide in the sewers while Paul, who suspects he’s being followed, goes into a nearby cafe to get away. There, he accidentally tears barmaid Joan’s (Michèle Morgan) dress sleeve and sneaks upstairs to hide from his pursuer. Unbeknownst to him, he sneaks into Joan’s room and when she comes in to change her dress, he overhears her praying for a new dress. Paul comes out of hiding to offer Joan the money he stole and tells her to buy a new dress and asks her to deliver a message to Father Antoine.

Joan buys the dress as Paul told her to, but the stamp on the money gets the attention of the shopkeeper. When Paul goes to see Father Antoine, he’s followed and arrested by the Gestapo. He’s brought to Herr Funk and talks his way out of it, but Funk only pretends to buy his story in hopes Paul will lead him to the other pilots. When Paul gets the name of an important British intelligence contact, he needs Joan’s help to get the information he needs to escape and get the pilots to safety. While working together, Joan and Paul fall in love and Joan is willing to risk anything for the sake of helping Paul.

What a way to end this year’s installment of Blogging Under the Stars! The whole point of doing this event every year is to get myself to watch movies I’ve never seen before and hopefully discover some great stuff I might have otherwise overlooked. Joan of Paris is exactly the type of movie I spent this month wanting to find. I loved everything about it. A wonderfully romantic story full of non-stop intrigue and suspense; phenomenal direction by Robert Stevenson; beautifully lit and designed sets. Paul Henreid and Michèle Morgan both gave great performances; Morgan in particular seemed so perfectly understated. Definitely keep an eye out for this one, it doesn’t get nearly as much recognition as it should.

The Dolly Sisters (1945)

The Dolly Sisters 1945

As little girls, twin sisters Jenny (Betty Grable) and Rosie Dolly(June Haver) immigrate to America with their uncle Latsie (S.Z. Sakall). They arrive in New York and are a  hit dancing for diners in a restaurant. Years later, they’re still dancing in that restaurant, but decide to go into vaudeville to help Latsie with a debt he owes. On the train to their first job, they meet Harry Fox (John Payne), who leads them into believing he’s a big star and is left in an awkward position when he arrives at the theater and finds himself being billed beneath a seal and the Dolly Sisters. It isn’t long before Harry and Jenny fall in love.

Harry and the Dolly Sisters go their separate ways, but Jenny and Harry promise to wait for each other. When they cross paths with Harry again, he helps them get the attention of Oscar Hammerstein, who launches their career. While the Dolly Sisters’ career is on fire, Harry’s isn’t doing as well and struggles with the fact that Jenny is so much more successful than him. They’re on the verge of ending their relationship when one of his songs catches the attention of a big publisher and Jenny decides to retire to marry Harry.

Jenny’s retirement is short lived, as just before Harry’s first show is set to open, he enlists in the Army and is sent overseas. Jenny and Rosie take the stage again and are a smash hit in Paris and London. Jenny still loves Harry, but when he sees a picture in a magazine of her talking to Tony, the Duke of Breck (Reginald Gardiner), he becomes extremely jealous and demands she come back to America with him. Jenny is forced to choose between Harry and Rosie, as she and Rosie already have a contract to perform in Paris again. She ultimately chooses Rosie and her career, but her divorce from Harry absolutely devastates her.

A depressed Jenny turns to gambling and Tony to ease her pain, while Rosie falls in love with Irving Netcher (Frank Latimore). Tony wants to marry Jenny, but she refuses to leave her sister until she overhears Rosie telling Irving she won’t marry him and leave Jenny all alone. Reluctantly, she agrees to marry Tony, but as they’re on their way to get married, they get into a car accident, disfiguring Jenny. After some plastic surgery, Jenny and Rosie hit the stage together one more time as part of an all-star benefit show, where she’s reunited with Harry.

The Dolly Sisters were a real sister act who got their start in vaudeville and rose to starring in shows produced by Florenz Ziegfeld. Like most biopics, The Dolly Sisters is pretty highly fictionalized. First of all, Jenny and Dolly are played by Betty Grable and June Haver, two blondes. The real Dolly Sisters were not blonde. The movie shows them as being devoted to being a sister act, but in reality, the Dolly Sisters did attempt to have careers separate from each other. The real Rosie Dolly also did not wait until her sister was on the verge of her second marriage to get married herself; she and Jenny each married their first husbands fairly close in time to each other. The Dolly Sisters also suggest that Jenny was the only one notorious for her gambling, but in reality, they both were.

Despite The Dolly Sisters creative liberties with reality, it’s still a pretty enjoyable movie. Betty Grable and June Haver are extremely believable as sisters. The only movies where I’ve seen more convincing looking twins are in cases when an actor is doing a dual role. The Dolly Sisters is full of extravagant musical numbers, which I have a such a weakness for (except for the musical number involving blackface.) The story is full of melodrama and soapiness, but it’s entertaining and when I watch Betty Grable movies, that’s exactly what I’m looking for — pure entertainment.

What’s on TCM: September 2014

Melvyn Douglas Greta Garbo Ninotchka

Happy September, everyone! Summer Under the Stars is always a tough act to follow, but TCM does an awesome job of doing so. There are two huge things that I am very excited for. The first of which is Melvyn Douglas as Star of the Month. I have always loved Melvyn Douglas and he never seems to quite get as much credit as he deserves. There’s also a ton of his movies I’ve never seen, so I’m really happy to have the chance to see more of his work.

The second thing I am so, so excited to see is that every Friday this month will be a 24-hour marathon of pre-code movies! That’s right, 24 glorious hours of wild, fast-paced, innuendo-laden movies! Friday Night Spotlight isn’t just for prime time this month! With my annual 30 Days of Pre-Codes event, it’s no secret that I adore the pre-code era. If you have yet to explore much of this wild and fascinating era of film making, this is a golden opportunity because you’ll have the chance to see so many of the pre-code essentials (Baby Face, Three on a Match, Red Headed Woman, Design for Living, just to name a few) as well as many other great ones. Don’t miss The Story of Temple Drake on September 12 at 2:30 AM or Call Her Savage September 26 at 2:15 AM. They’re on late at night so it might be easy to overlook those, but they’re a couple of my favorite pre-codes and I don’t see them on TCM very often. If you only know Clara Bow as a silent film star, you’re going to be in for a real treat with Call Her Savage. 

Now, onto the rest of the schedule…

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Lydia (1941)

Lydia PosterAfter dedicating her new home for blind children, Lydia MacMillan (Merle Oberon) gets a surprise visit from her former lover Michael Fitzpatrick (Joseph Cotten).  Lydia is an elderly philanthropist who, despite having some grand romances in her lifetime, never married and had children of her own. Instead, she dedicated her life to helping blind children. The reunion soon grows to include her other past loves, Bob Willard (George Reeves) and Frank Andre (Hans Jaray). She hasn’t seen any of them in years and they naturally start reminiscing about their times together.

Michael first met Lydia when she was a young girl living with her wealthy grandmother Sarah (Edna May Oliver). His father was the family’s butler at the time and when Michael, then a recent med school graduate, comes to visit, Sarah gives him a job as the family physician. Lydia likes Michael and gets him to escort her to her first ever formal ball. However, it’s immediately clear to Michael that she really loves football player Bob Willard (George Reeves). Sarah is extremely unimpressed with Bob, but Lydia nearly elopes with him.

After her failed relationship with Bob, Michael heads off to war and Lydia has a chance encounter with a blind child. Seeing the deplorable conditions the child lived in, she was inspired to start a school for blind children. The school is her true passion in life and she’s willing to sacrifice love for it if she has to. However, she does fall in love with Frank, a blind pianist who comes to teach at the school. The only man she comes close to marrying is Richard Mason (Alan Marshal), who she was met to marry one New Year’s Eve, but Lydia is left standing at the altar.

The heartbreak of being left by Frank drives Lydia to accept a proposal from Michael, but she calls it off after the death of her grandmother, preferring to focus on helping blind children instead. All the reminiscing makes Lydia realize that she meant something different to each of the men in her life.

When I decided to write about Lydia today, I didn’t have terribly high expectations for it based on the 6.6 stars it currently has on IMDB. However, I was pleasantly surprised. A little slowly paced, but there were moments that I loved. The movie’s finest moment is when Lydia is reminiscing about walking into her first formal ball and how breathtaking it all was for her. It’s a wonderfully dreamlike sequence that is made even greater when it’s juxtaposed against Michael’s less-rose tinted recollections of the same ball. The story may not be particularly unique, but I liked Merle Oberon and Joseph Cotten enough for it to be worth watching  just for them.

Watch the Birdie (1950)

Watch the Birdie 1950

Rusty Cammeron (Red Skelton) works at his family’s camera shop, but business isn’t going too swimmingly. The bank is coming after them for money they owe, so when a customer comes in and tells Rusty there’s money in taking pictures of famous people and selling them, Rusty convinces the customer to leave his camera so he can use it to go out and try to get some shots. Rusty tries getting footage of Lucia Coraline’s (Arlene Dahl) yacht being christened, but only succeeds in taking an unplanned swim. Lucia rescues him, but the borrowed camera is at the bottom of the lake.

Lucia has a soft spot for Rusty and after hearing his financial woes, she sends some of her employees to his store the next day to buy enough stuff for him to pay off everything he owes.  She also hires him to come shoot footage of the groundbreaking ceremony at the Lucky Vista Housing Project, which she’s an investor in. Rusty’s attempts to film the ceremony are a complete disaster, but he does unwittingly end up getting footage of Lucia’s manager, Grantland Farns (Leon Ames), making plans to sabotage the housing project.

When Rusty screens the footage, the audio and the footage don’t match up, but Grantland wants that footage back before he can get it straightened out. He sends Miss Lucky Vista (Ann Miller) to seduce him and get the film back, and despite her best efforts, he doesn’t fall for her. But Lucia does catch them together and assumes the worst. By now, Rusty and Lucia have fallen in love, so the whole incident is very upsetting to both of them, but they both straighten everything out to reveal the truth about Grandland.

Watch the Birdie is basically a very loose remake of Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman. The overall plots aren’t particularly similar, but a number of sequences are lifted straight out of The Cameraman. While Watch the Birdie never even comes close to touching the genius that is The Cameraman, it is good for some laughs. I loved beginning exchange between Rusty and a kid who came into his store and I got a kick out of Red Skelton narrating the opening credits. But, unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. It’s not terrible, it’s just not as good as it could have been.

D.O.A. (1950)

D.O.A. 1950 Poster

When Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) announces he’s taking a quick trip to San Francisco, his girlfriend Paula (Pamela Britton) is nervous about him going alone, but reluctantly agrees to let him go. As soon as he gets to his hotel, Pamela calls to tell him Eugene Phillips has been urgently trying to contact him and refuses to leave a message. Frank also meets Sam Haskell (Jess Kirkpatrick) who invites him to join a party in his hotel room.

The party moves to a nearby bar and when Frank notices his drink tasting strangely, he doesn’t think anything of it. When he wakes up the next morning not feeling well, he goes to a doctor and finds out his drink had been spiked with a lethal poison that has no known antidote. He only has a few days to live and plans to spend it finding out who could have poisoned him and why. Sam is nowhere to be found and the bar they visited is closed. Later, Pamela calls to let him know that Eugene Phillips had suddenly died, the reason for his important call still unknown.

Sensing there may be a connection between his poisoning and Eugene’s death, Frank goes to Eugene’s place in Los Angeles and finds out he had committed suicide. Everybody close to Eugene is acting strangely and nobody knows why he’d want to talk to Frank. Meanwhile, back home, Paula has finally found Eugene’s connection to Frank — Frank had notarized a bill of sale for a purchase of Iridium that Eugene had been involved in. When Frank discovers that Eugene’s death was actually a murder, he suddenly finds himself caught in the dangerous position of knowing too much.

Three words for D.O.A.: essential film noir. D.O.A. is anything but dead on arrival; it has one of those opening scenes that grabs your attention instantly and holds onto it with a tight grip until the last frame. Does it get any more purely film noir than an opening scene of a man staggering into a police station to report his own murder? An extremely intriguing story that is very effective without trying too hard. D.O.A. is everything I want from a good film noir.

More Than a Miracle (1967)

More Than a Miracle PosterSpanish prince Rodrigo Fernandez (Omar Sharif) could have his choice of any princess his mother (Dolores del Rio) wants him to marry, but Rodrigo refuses to have anything to do with them. One day, he meets a magical monk and when Rodrigo explains who his ideal woman is, the monk gives him a sack of flour and a donkey. He is to find a woman who will make him seven dumplings with the flour and the donkey is to take him to her. As he rides along on the donkey, he meets the beautiful peasant Isabella (Sophia Loren). Isabella detests him, but he can’t resist her beauty and convinces her to make him the dumplings.

However, she gives him six dumplings, not seven — she ate the seventh one herself. To teach her a lesson for disobeying her, he plays dead, attracting the attention of the neighbors, then suddenly vanishes. In an attempt to bring him back, Isabella gets some help from some local witches, who create a spell for her. But when Isabella tries to cast the spell, she doesn’t do it right and instead casts a spell that paralyzes him and can only be broken with a magical kiss.

The prince’s guards find Isabella and bring her to the palace to break the spell and even though they have both fallen in love with each other, he still punishes her by sealing her in a barrel and sending her out to sea. That’s not enough to stand between, though, and Isabella is rescued by some children who help her get back to the palace. She gets in by working as a maid, but Rodrigo is under more pressure than ever to get married within seven days and to pick a bride, there will be a competition between the princesses. Rodrigo disguises Isabella as a princess and arranges a dishwashing competition, figuring she’d be a shoo-in to win. But when a rival sabotages Isabella’s plates, Isabella is about ready to end it all when she’s encouraged to make one last attempt to be with her true love.

More Than a Miracle isn’t a particularly noteworthy movie, but I enjoyed it just because it’s very different from the types of movies I typically go for and I was really craving something different today. It’s a cute movie; a pretty standard fairy tale fantasy story with some comedy thrown in for good measure. A pleasant little diversion that’s purely entertainment for entertainment’s sake. It’s certainly not one of the best movies Sophia Loren, Omar Sharif, or Dolores del Rio (who I was pleasantly surprised to see; until now, I don’t think I’d seen anything she made after Flying Down to Rio) ever made, but for what it is, there are far worse ways to spend a little over an hour and a half.