Happy 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.
Posted in TCM
Tagged Bob Hope, Busby Berkeley, Elsa Lanchester, Glenn Ford, Harold Lloyd, James Stewart, Judy Garland, King Vidor, Orson Welles, Priscilla Lane, Rudolph Valentino
While sailing on a yacht in the South Seas, Johnny Baker (Joel McCrea) and his friends meet a bunch of natives while sailing close to their island. But when Johnny sees a shark swimming nearby, he tries to catch it, and is pulled overboard. Luckily for him, a beautiful native girl named Luana (Dolores del Rio) dives in to save him. There is an immediate attraction between them, but when Johnny and his friends spend an evening with the natives, he’s told that she’s supposed to marry a prince on a nearby island.
That doesn’t stop Johnny from pursing her, though, and she feels the same way toward him. They sneak away to see each other during the night, but when Luana’s father finds out what’s going on, he forces her to marry that prince immediately. When Johnny finds out what’s happening, he crashes the wedding and whisks her away to a nearby island. They build some shelter and spend weeks basking in their own, private tropical paradise.
Even though they are blissfully happy on the island, Johnny would like to bring Luana home with him. Before he can do that, though, the volcano Pele begins to erupt and Luana knows that she will soon have to be sacrificed to appease the volcano god. Sure enough, it isn’t long before Luana is dragged back to her island for the sacrifice. Johnny follows, but he’s captured and is set to be sacrificed alongside Luana. Johnny’s friends arrive to rescue them just in the nick of time. He still wants Luana to come home with him, but Luana believes it would be best if she allowed herself to be sacrificed to the volcano god.
Bird of Paradise is likeable, but it just didn’t grab my attention enough for me to get terribly invested in it. However, it’s a very beautifully shot movie. Even though it’s filmed in black and white so we don’t get to see any lush, tropical colors, King Vidor really captured the essence of this tropical paradise. There’s one scene where Luana and Johnny go swimming together and Luana isn’t wearing anything. At first, I thought it was very reminiscent of the infamous swimming scene from Tarzan and His Mate, but then I realized that Bird of Paradise actually pre-dates Tarzan and His Mate by two years.
Joel McCrea and Dolores del Rio are both certainly fun to watch, but the movie also has a some other noteworthy names working behind the scenes. Bird of Paradise has the distinction of being the first sound film to have a full symphonic musical score, which was created by none other than Max Steiner. Busby Berkeley, who was still an up-and-coming choreographer at the time, choreographed the film’s jungle dance scenes. Less than a year after working on Bird of Paradise, Berkeley would move on to bigger and better things when he went to Warner Brothers and made 42nd Street.
Harry Pulham (Robert Young) has always lived his life by the book. He came from a wealthy background, went to all the right schools, has a respectable job, has two children, and is married to Kay Motford (Ruth Hussey), an ideal woman for a man of his stature. Now middle-aged, he meets up with some of his old college friends for lunch one day and is put in charge of getting all their classmates’ biographies together for their 25-year reunion. Later, he gets a phone call from his ex-girlfriend Marvin Myles (Hedy Lamarr) inviting him out for a drink. He accepts, but when he gets to the restaurant and sees her again, he can’t bear to talk to her.
He goes home and starts to write his biography, but when he starts looking back on his life, he realizes that he has never lived life on his own terms. Everything he’s done in life has been because his family expected it of him. After graduating from Harvard, he fights in World War I, and after the war, his college friend Bill (Van Heflin) gets him a job at an advertising agency in New York City. Marvin was working at the same agency and was kind of a 1940s Peggy Olson. Bill had certainly never met an independent girl like Marvin in any of his upper-class schools and they soon fall deeply in love with each other.
However, Harry’s family back home in Boston just doesn’t understand his new life. His parents (Charles Coburn and Fay Holden) wish he would just come home and settle down with Kay, who he has known since he was a child. Harry has never had any real interest in Kay and certainly doesn’t want to marry her, but he wants to marry Marvin instead. But Marvin isn’t ready to get married yet and she realizes she just doesn’t fit in with Harry’s privileged background. They go their separate ways, but Marvin promises to always be waiting for him if he wants to come back to her. Harry decides to settle into his predetermined life in Boston and marry Kay, even though he doesn’t really love her. After looking back on it all, he decides to call Marvin back to see if her offer still stands. They meet for lunch, but are still things still the same between them?
I loved this movie! First of all, this is a King Vidor movie through and through. It reminded me a bit of The Crowd in the sense that both movies deal with men who aren’t satisfied with where they’re at in life and are yearning for something more. This is the kind of material that King Vidor was best suited to direct. The cast in general was pretty stellar; Robert Young and Hedy Lamarr had good chemistry together. Hedy Lamarr may seem like kind of an odd choice to play a free-spirited, independent woman, but she gave a very thoughtful and nuanced performance. Ruth Hussey, Van Heflin, and Charles Coburn were all excellent supporting players. My only complaint about it is that it could have stood being about fifteen minutes shorter. But if you’re in the mood for something bittersweet, I very highly recommend H.M. Pulham, Esq. It’s another one of those overlooked gems that deserves to be better remembered today.
If you have an interest in silent film, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s thirteen-part documentary series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film is essential viewing. This series truly is a treat for silent film fans. It’s very insightful, has a great narration by James Mason, and is chock full of interviews with actors and actresses, directors, producers, writers, cameramen, stuntmen, and journalists who were all part of the film industry during that era.
Quite a few big names were still alive at the time and were able to be interviewed for this documentary including Gloria Swanson, Janet Gaynor, Anita Loos, King Vidor, Hal Roach, Bessie Love, Mary Astor, Lillian Gish, Jackie Coogan, Colleen Moore, Louise Brooks, Frank Capra, and Charles “Buddy” Rogers, just to name a few. Interviews with some of these people were quite rare, which makes this documentary an extremely important resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the silent film era.
Although the series was released on VHS and Laserdisc, due to copyright issues, it has yet to make its way to DVD. Copies of the complete series on VHS are for sale on Amazon, but the asking prices are pretty ridiculous ($989 for a set? Get out of here.) I really hope the copyright issues can be worked out someday and it can be released on DVD, because it absolutely deserves to be seen. In the meantime, the whole series is currently up on YouTube. Each episode is just under an hour long, so it will take you a while to make your way through the series, but the time investment is absolutely worth it. I’ve included a link to each episode along with my episode summaries.
Posted in Documentaries
Tagged Anita Loos, Bessie Love, Charles "Buddy" Rogers, David Gill, Frank Capra, Gloria Swanson, Hal Roach, Jackie Coogan, James Mason, Janet Gaynor, John Wayne, Kevin Brownlow, King Vidor, Louise Brooks, Mary Astor
Barbara Stanwyck plays Stella Martin, a working class girl who has a thing for factory executive Stephen Dallas (John Boles). The class difference would pose a problem, but Stephen’s family isn’t as wealthy as they once were, which had just resulted in Stephen having to end his engagement to another woman. After running into Stella one day, the two of them begin seeing each other and they soon are married. Things are great at first, but eventually Stella gets bored with her new life and starts reverting to some of her old low-class behaviors, which Stephen doesn’t like at all. Even though they’ve recently had a baby girl, Laurel (Anne Shirley), Stephen begins spending more and more time away on business. When they do officially separate, he lets Stella have custody of Laurel because even though he could offer Laurel a better life, Stella loves her more than anything. And it’s true that Stella can’t give Laurel everything that Stephen can, but she does what she can to give her the best and builds an excellent relationship with her daughter as she grows up.
But despite Stella’s best efforts, the class differences between her and Stephen become more and more apparent as Laurel gets older. After Laurel goes to visit his father, she gets a taste of the high life and likes it. When Stella finds out that Stephen wants a divorce so he can remarry, she refuses and demands more money from him so she can keep Laurel happy. One of the things Stella does for Laurel is take her to a very upscale resort. Unfortunately, Stella is ill during part of their stay and stays in her room, but Laurel has a great time and makes lots of friends. When Stella finally does make her grand appearance, she wants to look her best, so she goes all out for the occasion. Only she goes a little too far and ends up looking horribly tacky and winds up being the talk of the resort for all the wrong reasons. Laurel had never been embarrassed by her mother before, but she can’t take listening to everyone talk about her mother like that. After Stella overhears some of the things being said about her, she realizes the only way to give Laurel the best in life is for her to step out of it.
Even though I wouldn’t call Stella Dallas one of my favorite Barbara Stanwyck movies (it’s awfully hard to beat Double Indemnity, Baby Face, and The Lady Eve in my book), it is one of my favorite performances of hers. I can’t think of any other actress from that era who could have played that part as well as she did. Even though Ruth Chatterton was the original choice for the role (and she wouldn’t have been a bad choice), Barbara Stanwyck was the queen of playing women who were rough around the edges. She delivered a perfect mix of that lack of refinement and her signature toughness, but also brought a lot of softness and sentimentality. Not only that, I loved her chemistry with Anne Shirley. All in all, it’s a very enjoyable movie. Just beware that the ending is a total tearjerker.
Another week, another ten movies! This week, I’ve got lots of musicals, some silents that have only gotten better with age, and movies with some of my favorite snappy lines. Now, onto the movies!
Posted in Lists, NaBloPoMo 2010
Tagged Alfred Hitchcock, Bette Davis, Billy Wilder, Busby Berkeley, Cary Grant, Charlie Chaplin, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, James Cagney, Joan Blondell, King Vidor, Rosalind Russell