James Stewart

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.

Made For Each Other (1939)

Made For Each Other 1939

When up-and-coming attorney John Mason (James Stewart) impulsively marries Jane (Carole Lombard), most of his friends and co-workers are happy for him. However, two very important people in his life aren’t so happy — his boss Joseph Doolitle (Charles Coburn) and his mother Harriet (Lucile Watson). Joseph had been hoping John would marry his daughter Eunice and Harriet would have much rather had Eunice for a daughter-in-law. Joseph and Harriet make their displeasure known from day one and do everything in their power to make things difficult for the newlyweds. First Joseph and Jane have to cancel their honeymoon because of an important case John has to work on. Then Jane has to tolerate Harriet living with them in their very small apartment. But through it all, Jane and John do their best to keep their heads up.

One night, Jane hosts an important dinner for Joseph and some of the other lawyers at John’s firm. John is expecting to be made partner that night, so Jane wants everything to be perfect. But Harriet does everything she can to sabotage Jane’s efforts and to make things worse, Joseph brings Eunice along to the dinner. Everything that can go wrong does and worst of all, John doesn’t even make partner that night. John isn’t making much money at the law firm and times are tough for him and Jane. Things get even tougher when they have a baby. Just as John gets the courage to demand a promotion and raise, Joseph announces that everyone at the firm will have to take a pay cut. The bills keep piling up and Jane is forced to look for work.

Tensions continue to rise until they reach a breaking point on New Year’s Eve when John and Jane decide to separate while at a party. But before they even have a chance to leave the party, Jane finds out their baby is seriously ill. If the baby doesn’t get a special medicine, he will not survive, and the medicine would have to be flown in from Salt Lake City, which is snowed in. The only pilot willing to make the trip would need to be paid $5,000. With no one else to turn to, John turns to Joseph for the money

Made For Each Other starts out as a run-of-the-mill drama about a young couple trying their best, then it turns the melodrama up to 11 for the ending. The standard drama parts probably would have been pretty forgettable if it weren’t for the first-rate cast. As wonderful as Carole Lombard, Jimmy Stewart, and Charles Coburn are, Lucile Watson did a fantastic job of stealing her scenes. Watson did a phenomenal job of playing one of those completely insufferable bitter old hags you’d just love to give a good smack across the face. Made for Each Other also does a great job of creating a sense of tension and frustration. I liked the movie, but I found myself getting so frustrated for Jane and John that I don’t think I’ll be watching it again anytime soon just because it made me so tense. The movie just lost me when it it suddenly switched from being about fairly believable situations to being a total melodrama at the very end.

Come Live With Me (1941)

Come Live With Me 1941After fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria, Johnny Jones (Hedy Lamarr) comes to America, starts a career as a showgirl, and starts dating book publisher Barton Kendrick (Ian Hunter). But when her passport expires, she continues to stay in America illegally and eventually, the government catches up with her. When an agent comes to see her, he tells her she’ll have to leave the country unless she marries an American citizen. But the real problem is that she can’t even marry Barton, he’s already married. Later that night, she goes out to a restaurant and meets Bill Smith (James Stewart), a writer going through a rough patch and in dire need of money. Since Johnny has money and Bill is an American citizen, she suggests a marriage of convenience: he marries her and she pays him $17.80 a week to be her husband. Bill agrees.

Two months go by and Johnny is happy with the arrangement. She keeps seeing Barton, but he’s clueless about how Johnny solved her citizenship dilemma. At least Johnny is happy with the arrangement until Barton tells her he’s leaving his wife Diana (Verree Teasdale) to marry Johnny. When Johnny tells Bill she wants a divorce, he’s reluctant to agree to it. Not because he wants the money, but he’s become infatuated with Johnny and has started writing a book about his unusual marriage.

When Bill finishes his book, he sends it to several publishers, including Barton. Both Barton and Diana read the book and want to publish it. But during a meeting with Bill, the Kendricks realize what’s really going on. Bill uses the money from his advance to buy a car and take Johnny on a trip before he’ll agree to the divorce. He wants to get to know her better before they divorce and hopes she’ll reconsider. During a visit to Bill’s grandmother’s home, Johnny realizes that maybe Bill is the one she really wants to be with after all.

People getting married for the sake of solving a citizenship problem is hardly a unique plot device for movies or TV shows, but Come Live With Me manages to stand out from the others. Come Live With Me offers enough twists and charm that it doesn’t feel like you’re watching something that’s been done time and time again. Jimmy Stewart and Hedy Lamarr are so likeable together, it’s easy to want them to end up together at the end. It’s all very sweet, gentle, and extremely enjoyable. Come Live With Me is exactly the type of movie I talk about when I call a movie a hidden gem — not exactly well known, but with a great cast, good writing, it’s anything but mediocre.

My Dinner With Zuzu

For me, no holiday season is complete without a trip (or two) to Detroit’s Redford Theatre.  Going there to see Christmas classics like White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street never fails to get me in the holiday spirit.  Not only is it a treat see my favorite holiday movies on the big screen, the theater is also beautifully decorated and there is always such a nice feeling of community in the audience during those movies.

2013-11-23 19.14.35Christmas came to the Redford a little early this year with three very special screenings of It’s a Wonderful Life. Actress Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu Bailey, made appearances at all three shows. But before the final screening on Saturday night, Karolyn joined a small group of VIPs for dinner at the Charles T. Fisher mansion in Detroit’s historic Boston-Edison district.  The Boston-Edison district is full of beautiful old homes, many of them built by or lived in by some of Detroit’s most famous residents including Henry Ford, Joe Louis, and Berry Gordy.  My mom and I were among the lucky attendees for this event and we couldn’t have been more thrilled to be there.

The Charles T. Fisher Mansion

The Charles T. Fisher Mansion

Before dinner, Karolyn briefly spoke to us about her career and answered a few questions.  Once dinner got started, Karolyn came around to each table to say hello and answer more questions.  Since Karolyn also starred in The Bishop’s Wife, I couldn’t resist asking what it was like to work with Cary Grant and Loretta Young.  She said Cary was just wonderful, but remembered Loretta as being a bit aloof.  However, she and Loretta started corresponding more when they were a bit older and Loretta would often send her prayer devotionals.  While they were filming The Bishop’s Wife, Loretta put a “curse box” on set and anytime somebody cursed, they had to put money in the box.  When the movie was finished, Loretta donated the money to a Catholic church.

As soon as we were finished with dinner and dessert, we headed over to the Redford Theatre to watch It’s a Wonderful Life.  I saw It’s a Wonderful Life at the Redford a couple of years ago and there was a great crowd then, but this time, it was even better — it was a sold out house!  Before the show, Karolyn signed autographs and took pictures with fans in the lobby.  If you ever have the opportunity to meet Karolyn, don’t be shy to say hello!  She’s extremely approachable and very sweet.

Me with Karolyn.

Me with Karolyn.

When stars make appearances at the Redford, they come onstage and give an introduction before the movie starts.  Typically this lasts about 5 to 10 minutes, but Karolyn went above and beyond and spent about half an hour talking about It’s a Wonderful Life trivia, her memories of making the movie, and what it was like working with Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra.  She didn’t have a single unkind word to say about working on It’s a Wonderful Life.  The experience was very stress-free for her and Jimmy and Frank made it very fun to be on the set.

Photo from the Redford's Facebook page.  This picture perfectly captures the essence of being at the Redford during Christmas.

Photo from the Redford’s Facebook page. This picture perfectly captures the essence of being at the Redford during the Christmas season.

It truly was a wonderful night, pun fully intended.  Being able to see It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen is always a joyous occasion, but having Karolyn there made it exceptional.  It was the perfect way to kick off the Christmas season.

IAWL Book Autograph2On a side note, I got an autographed copy of Karolyn’s book “Celebrating It’s a Wonderful Life: How the Movie’s Message of Hope Lives On.”  If you’re looking for a gift for someone who is a big fan of the movie, this book would be a great choice.  It’s a very cute little book full of trivia, Karolyn’s memories, recipes inspired by the movie, and comments from fans about what the movie means to them.

What’s on TCM: May 2013

Humphrey Bogart in High SierraHappy May, everyone!

Rather than have just one Star of the Month for may, there will actually be several.  Every Tuesday night this month, TCM will be spotlighting some of cinema’s greatest tough guys, so that includes people like Bogart, Cagney, McQueen, and Robinson, just to name a few.

Friday Night Spotlight will be back with Illeana Douglas as the guest co-host.  Illeana has chosen the theme of “Second Looks.”  All of the movies she’s chosen weren’t particularly well-received when they were first released, but she thinks they’re deserving of a second chance.  I agree with several of her selections and since I’m all about those hidden gems, I’m really looking forward to seeing some of her other choices.

If you’re a Harold Lloyd fan, mark May 23rd on your calendar because TCM will be playing his feature movies and short films all night long, the vast majority of which have never been shown on TCM before.

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What’s on TCM: January 2013

Annex - Young, Loretta (He Stayed for Breakfast)_03Happy new year, everyone!  With winter officially underway, it’s very tempting to spend every night at home watching movies with a cup of hot chocolate, and TCM has plenty of reasons to do just that.

Loretta Young is January’s Star of the Month, in honor of her 100th birthday, and will be spotlighted every Wednesday night this month.  If you’re a fan of pre-codes, you’re bound to adore the first two Loretta Young nights.  I tend to enjoy heist films, so I’m really looking forward to every Tuesday night this month being dedicated to movies about big robberies.

Another star who would be celebrating their 100th birthday this month is Danny Kaye.  If you only know him from White Christmas, be sure to tune in on January 20th because TCM will be playing his movies for a full 24 hours, including an episode of The Danny Kaye Show and an interview he did on The Dick Cavett Show.

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Rose-Marie (1936)

Marie de Flor (Jeanette MacDonald) is one of the most renowned opera singers in the world.  She’s on top of the world, and although she has plenty of wealthy men throwing themselves at her, she doesn’t feel the need to accept any of their advances.  The only man she’s concerned with is her brother John (James Stewart), who is serving a prison sentence.  She’d been hoping he would get out on parole, so when she finds out his request was denied, she decides to wield her influence and hosts a dinner party for the Premier of Quebec.  But on the night of the party, Marie gets a message from Boniface (George Regas), informing her that her brother has escaped and killed a Mounty in the process.

Boniface knows where John is hiding, so he takes Marie out to Lake Shibuga so she can find him.  But once they get to town, Marie stops in the store to buy some clothes and she discovers Boniface has stolen her money.  The shopkeeper tells her to report it to Sergeant Bruce (Nelson Eddy), the new Mounty in town, but she doesn’t want to call attention to herself and decides to try earning some money singing at the local bar instead.  The local drunks just don’t appreciate her operatic style, but she does catch Sergeant Bruce’s attention, who just happened to be in the bar at the time.  He had heard all about her money being stolen, and even though she tries to downplay who she is, he’d recognize her voice anywhere.

Bruce takes Marie to a festival where he knows Boniface will be.  Marie gets her money back and forces Boniface to take her to her brother.  But by the time Bruce figures out that Marie and John must be related, she and Boniface are already on their way so he follows them.  Along the way, Boniface ditches Marie again and Bruce takes care of her.  Alone in the wilderness together, the two of them fall madly in love with each other.  Eventually, Marie makes her way to John, but she doesn’t realize that Bruce had followed her and he arrests John. Marie returns to the stage, absolutely devastated by Bruce’s betrayal.  Soon, the stress of performing becomes too much for her and she takes a vacation in the mountains, where she and Bruce are finally reunited.

Rose-Marie is the Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy movie that I’ve seen and it definitely made me want to see some of the others they did together.  The operetta style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I don’t mind it and I can see why Eddy and MacDonald were such a successful duo.  It’s lighthearted and predictable, but who cares? It’s entertainment for entertainment’s sake.  As long as that’s what you’re in the mood for, it’s a very enjoyable movie.

Vivacious Lady (1938)

After his cousin Keith (James Ellison) runs off to Manhattan, Peter Morgan, Jr. (James Stewart) is sent after him to bring him home again.  Peter finds Keith, all right, but he also finds Francey (Ginger Rogers), a night club singer.  It’s love at first sight for Francey and Peter and after knowing each other for one whole day, they get married before getting on a train with Keith to Old Sharon, Peter’s hometown.  Peter’s parents, Peter Morgan, Sr. (Charles Coburn) and Martha (Beulah Bondi), have no idea about Francey and they’re pretty conservative, so they wouldn’t be too wild about Peter having eloped with a nightclub singer.

When Peter’s parents meet them at the train station, they assume that Francey came with Keith.  Peter really wants to tell his parents, but every time his father starts going on about Francey, his mother feels weak from a heart condition.  So then he decides to tell his parents during the prom held at the university where Peter teaches and Peter, Sr. is president.  There’s one other person Peter needs to break the news to: his first fiancée Helen (Frances Mercer).  Francey poses as a new student and Keith’s date to get into the prom.  She even meets Martha and hits it off with her.  But just as Peter is ready to tell everyone the news, Francey and Helen get into a fistfight that ends with Francey accidentally punching Peter, Sr.

Francey moves into an apartment and continues posing as a student so she can see Peter during his classes.  Peter does eventually manage to break the news to his father by blurting it out right before Peter, Sr. has to make a speech.  As expected, Peter, Sr. is not happy and Martha’s heart problems suddenly flare up again.  Except Martha missed the part where Peter said he was married to Francey and Peter, Sr. orders Peter to not tell Martha so she won’t get upset.  By now, Francey is getting frustrated with the situation and starts considering going back to Manhattan.  But when Helen catches Peter sneaking out of Francey’s apartment one night, she decides to tell Martha that Peter and Francey are together.  Martha goes to Francey’s apartment to investigate further and Francey accidentally admits to being married to Peter.  But rather than be upset, she’s happy.  She likes Francey and we quickly find out she’s not as uptight as Peter, Sr.  When Peter, Sr. insists that Francey and Peter divorce, Martha decides she’s fed up with his controlling behavior and leaves him.  Francey also reluctantly decides to leave Peter.  Martha and Francey unintentionally get on the same train together, but while they’re headed out of town, Peter and his father are trying to chase the train down and get their wives back.

I loved Vivacious Lady!  It instantly became one of my favorite Ginger Rogers movies, she was hilarious in it.  This was a perfect vehicle to show off Ginger’s comedic skills and she had wonderful chemistry with Jimmy Stewart.  Actually, this had a fantastic cast all around.  Jimmy was excellent, Beulah Bondi’s scenes with Ginger were so much fun, James Ellison made a great playboy type, and of course, if you want a stuffy, rich, older guy with good comedic timing, you can’t go wrong with Charles Coburn.  A wonderful bit of purely cheerful entertainment!

What’s on TCM: August 2011


It’s that time of year again!  Let Summer Under the Stars commence!  I love this year’s line-up.  Even though there are plenty of the usual SUTS suspects like Bette Davis, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart, more than half of this year’s stars have never been part of SUTS before.  And many of those who have been featured before, haven’t been featured in quite a few years.  Let’s take a look at the full list of stars:

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Born to Dance (1936)

In Casablanca, everyone comes to Rick’s.  In Born to Dance, everyone comes to Jenny Saks’ (Una Merkel) Lonely Hearts Club in New York.  Jenny is married to Gunny Saks (Sid Silvers), but she barely knows him since he’s a sailor who has been away with the Navy for four years.  When Gunny finally comes back to New York, he takes his sailor friend Ted Barker (Jimmy Stewart) with him and heads straight for the Lonely Hearts Club to see his wife.  But Gunny and Ted aren’t the only ones arriving in New York this day.  Nora Paige (Eleanor Powell) has just come to town looking to become a Broadway star and hits it off with Jenny.  When Gunny and Ted show up at the club, Ted and Nora fall in love, but things aren’t as warm between Jenny and Gunny.  Jenny has a daughter named Sally that Gunny doesn’t know about and Jenny doesn’t want him to know about her until she’s sure whether or not she really loves him.

However, actress Lucy James (Virginia Bruce) soon ends up driving a wedge between Ted and Nora.  When Lucy shows up on Gunny and Ted’s ship for some publicity pictures, her little dog ends up falling overboard and Ted is the lucky sailor to jump in and save it.  Lucy’s press agent sees the potential for more publicity out of this incident and gets Lucy to invite Ted out to dinner to thank him.  When her agent puts word out to the press about their date, Nora assumes that Ted loves her instead and refuses to see him.  But even though Ted still loves Nora, Lucy is smitten by Ted.  When Lucy’s agent suggests telling the press the two of them are engaged, she is outraged because she absolutely does not want to use Ted like that and threatens to back out of her new show if he does.

Meanwhile, Nora has gotten a job as Lucy’s understudy in her new show.  So what does Ted do to win Nora back?  He tells the press that he and Lucy are engaged, Lucy backs out of the show, and of course Nora goes on in her place and becomes a sensation!  Nora and Ted get back together and they all lived happily ever after.  Well, except for Gunny and Jenny.  Gunny was thrilled to find out he was Sally’s father, but he didn’t find out until after he signed up for another four years in the Navy.

In the book Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince, there’s a page that talks about how one day, Irving had been asked to come to a meeting with Cole Porter and the main cast of Born to Dance to hear songs written for the movie.  When he walked into the meeting, Irving was clearly unhappy about being asked to be there.  This wasn’t one of his movies, he was a busy man and had plenty of other things to be doing.  But by the end of the meeting, Irving was smiling and jumping up to congratulate Porter on what he called one of the finest movie scores he’d ever heard.  I think that story really sums up what kind of movie Born to Dance is — something you can watch when you’re in a bad mood and by the time it’s over, it’s awfully hard to resist smiling.  1930s musicals were all about fantasy and escapism and that is precisely what Born to Dance is.

I loved everything about Born to Dance.  It’s pure, exuberant fun, the cast is delightful, the songs are extremely catchy.  It’s got lots of great lines like, “Sally, you’re going to drive me to stop drinking,” and “He went out fifteen minutes ago for five minutes and won’t be back for a half hour.”  And there’s no going wrong will all that spectacular tap dancing by Eleanor Powell.  When I say the cast is delightful, that includes Jimmy Stewart.  This is a very unusual movie for Jimmy Stewart since he was so not meant for musicals.  But I’ve really got to hand it to him, because you can’t accuse him of not being a good sport about being put in this movie.  He was no Bing Crosby, but he doesn’t pretend to be Bing Crosby, either.  There are moments where you can tell that he felt out of his element, but he gave it his all anyway and managed to make that awkwardness totally endearing.  He may not have been a great singer, but he was completely adorable in it anyway.