Pillow Talk (1959)

Pillow Talk 1959

Decorator Jan Morrow (Doris Day) has a pretty good life. She’s got a good career, a nice apartment in New York, a perpetually-hungover housekeeper named Alma (Thelma Ritter). Two things she doesn’t have are a husband and her own phone line. Jan is forced to share a party line with playboy songwriter Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) and she can never get her calls through because Brad is constantly on the phone serenading his many female admirers. Anytime Jan complains, Brad just dismisses her as jealous of his active love life.

Fed up with the situation, Jan tries to get the phone company to give her her own phone line, but to no avail. Neither of them can stand the other, but that all changes one night when Brad goes out to a nightclub where Jan also happens to be. He recognizes her voice and when he sees how beautiful she is, he would love to introduce himself. But he knows that if she knew who he really was, she’d want nothing to do with him. So he creates the persona of Rex, an rich Texan rancher. Jan falls head over heels for Rex, but things get even more complicated when it turns out that Brad’s friend Jonathan (Tony Randall) is one of Jan’s clients and has been trying his hardest to win Jan’s heart.

Pillow Talk is simply one of the greatest comedies ever made. It’s the kind of movie that, if I’m having a bad day, I can always put that movie in and it will never fail to make me smile. Romantic comedies and lighthearted entertainment in general tend to never get the credit they deserve because people often mistake lightheartedness doesn’t take any talent. Pillow Talk may be fluff, but it is quality fluff in every way. Doris Day and Rock Hudson are both on top of their games. If you’ve never seen any of their other movies, you can watch Pillow Talk and understand exactly why they were such a celebrated on-screen duo. Not only are the leads fantastic, the supporting cast is equally great. Thelma Ritter and Tony Randall are so amazing. The writing is clever and the direction is sharp. The only way you can’t win with this movie is if you don’t like romantic comedies because Pillow Talk is romantic comedy at its finest; a complete and total delight.

Harper (1966)

Harper 1966When Elaine Sampson’s (Lauren Bacall) wealthy disappears, she calls detective Lew Harper (Paul Newman) to track him down. Elaine doesn’t care if her husband is dead or alive, but she knows he’s likely drunk and with another woman and she just wants to find out where he is before he gets too generous in his drunken state and gives away something valuable yet again. He starts by talking to Sampson’s daughter Miranda (Pamela Triffin) and personal pilot Allan Taggert (Robert Wagner). After finding out Sampson had been keeping a bungalow in Los Angeles, Harper takes a trip there to investigate and finds a picture of washed-up starlet Fay Eastabrook (Shelley Winters). Harper spends an evening with Fay, and when he brings her home very drunk, he answers a mysterious phone call from a woman thinking she was talking to Fay’s husband.  The woman calling says she saw Fay out with a strange man that night and that she ought to get rid of before “the truck comes through.” From there, he keeps following lead after lead until he finds himself tied up in a conspiracy involving Taggert, Fay, Troy, drug-addicted singer Betty Fraley (Julie Harris), a cult leader, and that mysterious truck.

This movie is just plain awesome. I absolutely loved Paul Newman in this role. Lauren Bacall was a flawless choice to play the jaded, bitter wife. Pamela Triffin was so campy and over the top, but when she was on screen with Lauren Bacall, their two attitudes were so big, that it was just too much and I mean that the best possible way. If drag queens are not already re-enacting that scene in their acts, they are missing a golden opportunity. But fun, campy moments aside, Harper is a quality mystery.  The story’s got enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes the whole time and there’s a great twist at the end. From start to finish, it’s nothing but good, quality entertainment.

It’s a Wonderful World (1939)

It's a Wonderful World

After millionaire Willie Heyward (Ernest Truex) is accused of murdering his girlfriend, detective Guy Johnson (Jimmy Stewart) gets the job of defending him. Since there is so much evidence to suggest that Heyward is guilty, Guy tries to hide him until he can break the case. But then Guy gets arrested for hiding Heyward and is sentenced to a year in prison. Determined to prove Heyward’s innocence, Guy escapes on his way to prison. Since Guy was handcuffed to a police officer at the time, Guy has to knock him out to get away and poet Edwina Corday (Claudette Colbert) witnesses the whole thing. To keep her from talking, Guy kidnaps her and takes her car.

After hearing Guy’s story, Edwina insists on helping him prove Heyward’s innocence. The last thing Guy wants is to have Edwina tagging along, but despite his best efforts, he just can’t seem to shake her. Together they make their way to upstate New York where Guy believes he can crack the case by joining a theater troupe so he can do some undercover investigating. With help from his colleague Cap Streeter (Guy Kibbee) and Edwina, they manage to capture the real culprit.

I love Jimmy Stewart and Claudette Colbert, so there’s no way I could resist seeing a movie that stars both of them. I was certainly not disappointed; It’s a Wonderful World (not to be confused with Jimmy Stewart’s other, more famous film) was a real delight. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know how much I love finding those often overlooked movie gems and that’s precisely what It’s a Wonderful World is. It’s a great little screwball comedy that absolutely deserves to be more well-known. It may not be one of the best movies of either Colbert or Stewarts’ careers, but when you consider the careers they both had, even their second tier movies are still better than a lot of other actors’ best films. And you’ve got to see It’s a Wonderful World if only to see Jimmy Stewart wearing a ridiculous scoutmaster disguise.

Marriage is a Private Affair (1944)

Marriage is a Private AffairWhen man-hungry heiress Theo Scofield (Lana Turner) playfully agrees to marry soldier Lt. Tom Cochrane West (John Hodiak), the last thing she expects is for him to actually taker her up on the offer. They’ve only known each other for three days, but Theo goes through with the wedding anyway, much to the dismay of her mother Irene (Natalie Schafer) and admirer Captain Miles Lancer (James Craig). But it doesn’t take long before Theo begins to question whether or not she’s really meant to be married. She’s used to being pursued by many men and it’s not like she’s grown up with a positive example of what marriage can be. Her mother has been married and divorced several times and Theo is worried that perhaps she’ll inevitably end up following in her mother’s footsteps. Tom is more positive about their marriage; his parents have been married for over 30 years and he idealizes the marriage between his friends Ted (Herbert Rudley) and Sissy (Frances Gifford).

Theo and Tom are married just before Tom is supposed to report for military duty, so they spend their honeymoon trying to get to know each other better. Their plans suddenly change and Tom is sent to take over his father’s optical company. Tom’s friend Joe (Hugh Marlowe) was the head of the company, but his behavior has become too erratic. Theo barely has time to adjust to marriage when she has a baby and then struggles to cope with motherhood.

On her son’s first birthday, she runs into her old admirer Miles, who is now stationed nearby. Frustrated by Tom’s long hours at work and desperate to feel attractive again, Theo goes out to meet Miles that night. When Tom finds out where she is, he’s furious at her for her not being home to celebrate their son’s first birthday. In dire need of some marriage advice, she goes to see Sissy, but is shocked to discover Sissy has been having an affair. After seeing that even someone like Sissy is capable of being unfaithful, Theo wonders if she’s truly a lost cause.

Marriage is a Private Affair probably would have worked better if it had been made in 1934, not 1944. IMDB lists it as a comedy, but it’s really more of a drama with some light moments. With the production codes being enforced in 1944, it would have been very hard to get the OK to produce a movie that could be seen as making fun of adultery. That’s something The Seven Year Itch had problems with over ten years later. In fact, this was originally announced as a project for Myrna Loy and Robert Taylor in 1941, but it faced so many problems with the Hays Office, the project was shelved. When it finally ended up being produced in 1944, the result wasn’t anything spectacular, but it’s still a likable movie. If nothing else, it’s interesting to see a Hays Code era film that depicts a woman seriously questioning whether or not she’s cut out for things like marriage and motherhood.

Murder! (1930)

Murder! 1930When a young actress Edna Druce is found dead in her flat, all circumstantial evidence points to her friend/rival Diana Baring (Norah Baring) being the culprit. Diana has absolutely no memory of what happened, but most of the jury at the trial agrees that she is guilty. The lone objector, Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall), believes she is innocent, but eventually submits to pressure to vote that she is guilty. Diana is sentenced to be hanged, making Menier feel riddled with guilt.

Determined to save Diana from death, he starts doing a little investigation of his own. Not only does he feel guilty for voting her guilty, but he has another reason to want to save her –Menier is an established stage actor and had suggested Diana take the job in the theater troupe with the murder victim as a way to gain experience. So if it weren’t for him, she wouldn’t have ended up in this mess at all. After talking to Diana for a while, he finds out there was another man in the flat that night, but she won’t say who. Using his theatre connections, Menier concocts a way to get to find the real killer.

Murder! is probably one of the least interesting Alfred Hitchcock movies I’ve ever seen. Although the story sounded interesting on the surface, it just didn’t hold my interest very well in action. It has a few moments of cleverness and I thought the climax was good. On the whole though, this just did absolutely nothing for me. Dull, dull, dull.

The Happening (1967)

The Happening 1967

After an all-night party they had been attending is broken up, hippies Sandy (Faye Dunaway), Sureshot (Michael Parks), Taurus (George Maharis), and Herby (Robert Walker, Jr.) head off on a boat looking for adventure. Along the way, they stop to play soldiers with some kids they see and in the excitement, they all run into the home of former mafia kingpin turned legitimate businessman Roc Delmonaco (Anthony Quinn). When Roc wakes up to all the commotion, he fears some of his old enemies have come to kidnap his children and insists they take him instead.  The hippies figure, hey why not, and decide to hold Roc hostage.

But there’s one little problem the hippies never considered — nobody wants to pay the $200,000 ransom they’re demanding. Roc tries getting the money from his wife Monica (Martha Hyer), his business partner Fred (Milton Berle), his old mob cohort Sam (Oskar Homolka), even his mother, but nobody is willing to come up with the money. Angry that his dearest friends won’t pay his ransom, he decides to kidnap himself and blackmails his wife, friends, and mother into giving him $3,000,000. Roc takes control of the whole gang and teaches them everything they need to know to have a successful life of crime.

The Happening is only really noteworthy for two reasons: being Faye Dunaway’s first film and for its theme song by The Supremes.  This is the sort of movie where I saw the description “A kidnapped gangster joins forces with the hippies who abducted him,” saw that the cast included Faye Dunaway, Anthony Quinn, and Milton Berle, and decided I needed to see this movie just because it sounded so insane. Pretty much the only reason to watch The Happening is just for the pure ridiculousness of it all. Definitely don’t watch it for the plot; it’s an hour-long story that got dragged out to an hour and 40 minutes. It might be tempting to watch it for the cast, but it will just leave you thinking that everybody in this movie deserves so much better. (And I’ve really got to hand it to Faye Dunaway because she made The Happening very shortly before doing Bonnie and Clyde and The Thomas Crown Affair. Faye knows how to upgrade fast.) But at least it has a good theme song, I’ll give it that.

The Pilgrim (1923)

Chaplin The PilgrimAfter escaping from prison, the Pilgrim (Charlie Chaplin) steals a minister’s outfit to replace his prison uniform and goes to the train station. Picking a destination at random, he heads out toward Devil’s Gulch, Texas. It just so happens that a church in Devil’s Gulch is awaiting the arrival of a new minister, so when the Pilgrim gets off the train, he is greeted by a sheriff waiting to escort him to his new parish, forcing him to keep up the minister rouse.

Parishioner Mrs. Brown has invited the church’s new minister to come live with her and her daughter (Edna Purviance). The Pilgrim and the daughter are attracted to each other, but some of the visitors to the Brown household are not quite as pleasant, including a couple with an obnoxious child and the Pilgrim’s former cell mate. Knowing his former cell mate plans to steal Mrs. Brown’s mortgage payment, he does everything he can to stop him. When his cellmate gets away with the money anyway, the Pilgrim goes after him and gets the money back. But while he was away, the sheriff shows up at the Brown residence and tells them who their new boarder really is.

Even though I’m a huge Chaplin fan, I admit that I have a tendency to stick to his major features and tend to overlook the shorter ones he did before becoming an independent artist. The Pilgrim reminded me of how wrong I am for doing that. The Pilgrim has a lot of really great comedy bits, particularly the scenes involving the disastrous afternoon visit with the poorly behaved child and the hat cake. The Pilgrim is also the last film Chaplin starred in with one of his greatest leading ladies, Edna Purviance, who I’ve always been quite fond of. If anything, The Pilgrim made me want to revisit more of Chaplin’s shorter films because they often have much of the brilliance and fun of the features but in a shorter time frame.