Blogging Under the Stars

Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945)

Her Highness and the Bellboy 1945

Jimmy Dobson (Robert Walker) has a humble job working as a bellboy at a swanky hotel. When he’s not working at the hotel, he spends his spare time with his friend and co-worker Albert (Rags Ragland), trying to keep him from getting mixed up with gangsters, and their neighbor Leslie (June Allyson), a former dancer who is now disabled and bedridden. Albert and Jimmy like to cheer Leslie up by taking her up to the roof and telling her stories, but Jimmy is completely unaware that Leslie is in love with him.

When Princess Veronica (Hedy Lamarr) arrives in America, she stays at the hotel where Jimmy works. But when she arrives, she accidentally walks into the employee area, she isn’t recognized by Jimmy, who thinks she’s a new maid. He invites Veronica to join him for a walk in the park and they have a lovely time together, but when they go back to the hotel, Jimmy nearly gets fired for hanging around with such an important guest, but Veronica saves him by arranging for him to be her personal attendant while she’s in town.

As Jimmy and Veronica spend more and more time with each other, they become great friends and Jimmy starts to fall in love with her, much to Leslie’s dismay. But Veronica is really in love with Paul (Warner Anderson), a reporter she had been in love with several years before but ultimately left to marry her now-deceased husband. In fact, the whole reason she’s in America is so she can try to win him back. Paul is still too hurt to give her another chance, but she’s not ready to give up. Meanwhile, due to a misunderstanding, Jimmy ends up thinking Veronica is in love with him, too, and at one point, he does have the chance to go back to her home country with her. But when he goes to say goodbye to Leslie, she has some news for him that makes him change his mind.

Her Highness and the Bellboy is what I like to think of as a great Sunday afternoon movie — it’s not great cinema or anything, but it’s simple, charming, lighthearted entertainment that was never meant to do anything more than make the audience smile at the end. Those are the types of movies that always just feel so perfect to me on a Sunday afternoon, hence why I call them “Sunday afternoon movies.” Sure, it’s predictable and hardly innovative, but that’s not always a bad thing. It’s like cinematic comfort food; it just makes you feel good and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a cute, fluffy little movie with a happy ending, a few laughs, and a great cast. I ended up liking it a lot more than I really expected to, actually, and look forward to watching it again someday.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

The Scarlet Pimpernel 1934It’s the middle of the French Revolution and many French aristocrats are meeting their demise at the guillotine. But much to the dismay to the people of France, many of the aristocrats are being rescued from facing the guillotine with help from the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel and his band of 19 men. French leader Robespierre (Ernest Milton) is eager to put a stop to this and orders Chauvelin (Raymond Massey) to find out who the Scarlet Pimpernel is and arrest him.

The elusive Scarlet Pimpernel is none other than Sir Percy Blakeney (Leslie Howard), who is so good about keeping his identity as the Scarlet Pimpernel a secret, not even his wife Marguerite (Merle Oberon) knows the truth. He doesn’t want her to know, either, because she denounced one of the executed aristocrats, something he doesn’t agree with. Marguerite’s brother is also part of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s band of men and when Chauvelin finds this out, he forces her to help him find the Scarlet Pimpernel.

When Chauvelin gets word that the Scarlet Pimpernel will be at a ball, he makes a point to be there. During the party, Chauvelin finds out the Scarlet Pimpernel will be in the library at midnight. When he goes to wait for him, he only finds Percy sound asleep on a couch. After dozing off himself, Chauvelin wakes up to find he’s been bested by the Pimpernel. But when Marguerite tells Percy about her brother being arrested and explains her reasons for denouncing the aristocrat, Percy has to do anything he can to save her brother. But when Marguerite realizes her husband is the Pimpernel, she has to try to save Percy.

The Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t one of my absolute favorite movies, but it was well produced, well written, and very enjoyable. This is Leslie Howard’s signature film role with very good reason. He had the perfect demeanor for the role and does a fantastic job delivering his lines. Not to mention that seeing him disguised as an old woman is truly something to behold. Raymond Massey was a perfect fit as the villain Chauvelin. On the whole, I really liked The Scarlet Pimpernel a lot more than I expected to as, I just said in my review of The Lion in Winter, historical sagas aren’t always my kind of thing. But this is so smartly written, very witty, it still feels very fresh even over 80 years later. It’s an absolute pleasure to watch and I’d gladly watch it again someday.

The Lion in Winter (1968)

The Lion in Winter 1968

Just before Christmas in the year 1183, King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) knows the time has come for him to choose an heir to his throne. He has three surviving sons, Richard (Anthony Hopkins), John (Nigel Terry), and Geoffrey (John Castle), with his wife Eleanor of Aquatine (Katharine Hepburn). Henry ordered Eleanor imprisoned for organizing several civil wars against him, but he allows her to be released for holiday courts and other special events. Henry would prefer for John to inherit the throne, but Eleanor wants the crown to go to Richard, and Geoffrey isn’t happy about being overlooked by both parents.

When Eleanor arrives to join Henry, their sons, Henry’s mistress Princess Alais (Jane Merrow), and Alais’s brother Phillip II (Timothy Dalton), the King of France, for Christmas court at the family’s primary residence at Chinon, choosing an heir to the throne is the primary subject for discussion. Henry and Eleanor are both very conniving and do everything they can to get the son they want next in line for the throne, while Geoffrey is busy making plans of his own to be the next king. All of their schemes and plots unfold over the holiday, culminating with Henry deciding that none of his sons will do and he’d rather have his marriage to Eleanor annulled so he can marry Alais and have new sons. Henry throws all of his sons down in the wine cellar and plans to kill them, for the sake of protecting his future heirs with Alais, but Eleanor refuses to let that happen.

I’m not generally the biggest fan of these types of historical dramas, but The Lion in Winter is most definitely an exception to the rule. For all of the incredible roles Katharine Hepburn had the chance to play over the course of her career, trying to pick the absolute best of all of them isn’t an easy task, but it’s safe to put Eleanor of Aquatine pretty high on that list. It’s truly a role she was born to play; she’s an absolute tour de force. Not only is Katharine Hepburn absolutely phenomenal in it, she’s got an incredible supporting cast with Peter O’Toole, Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton, Nigel Terry, and John Castle. Everybody involved in the film brought their “A” game. The script is full of razor-sharp dialogue and much more humor than you might expect. I keep trying to think of something I didn’t like about The Lion in Winter, but I just can’t think of anything. A truly magnificent film.

Pulp (1972)

Pulp 1972

Mickey King (Michael Caine) is an author who specializes in writing sleazy pulp novels under dirty pseudonyms. When meeting with his publisher one day, Mickey is given the chance to ghostwrite the memoir of a legendary Hollywood actor. The book would be a guaranteed best seller and Mickey would be quite handsomely for the job, so he accepts, despite the fact that he has no idea who the mystery celebrity is.

Before finding out who his employer is, Mickey has to travel to Malta and wait to be met by a contact. Along the way, he meets a man who he thinks is his contact, but Mickey finds the man dead in a hotel room, it isn’t long before Mickey begins to suspect someone might have been trying to kill him instead. Eventually, Mickey meets his contact and finds out he’ll be working on the memoir of Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney), a retired actor famous for playing tough gangsters on film and hanging around with them in real life.

Preston has recently been diagnosed with cancer and wants to be sure his wild life story will be immortalized. Preston is also a notorious prankster so when a person appears to shoot Preston during a party, his guests think it’s just another one of his jokes. But Preston really is dead and Mickey has reason to think he also may have been a target. After all, Preston was friends with many criminals who may not want Mickey to make their stories known to the public. But it’s up to Mickey to find out who might be trying to kill him.

When I started watching Pulp, it seemed like the type of movie that would be right up my alley. I have a bit of a dark sense of humor and Pulp has dark, offbeat humor in spades and Michael Caine was perfect at delivering those dry lines. The story sounds like a murder mystery, but Pulp is really more of a dark satire of detective films. Although I really appreciated the movie’s style of comedy and liked seeing all the beautiful scenery (the movie was filmed on location in Malta), but the pacing was a little slow for my liking. It felt like it was a longer movie than it really was and the dark humor wasn’t enough to keep me interested in it. Perhaps I’m biased because I was tired when I watched it; I might be willing to give it another shot just because I really want to like this movie.

You Were Never Lovelier (1942)

You Were Never LovelierIn desperate need of work after gambling away all his money, performer Robert Davis (Fred Astaire) goes to ask hotel owner Eduardo Acuna (Adolphe Menjou) for a job. Eduardo is too busy getting ready for his oldest daughter’s wedding, but Robert runs into his old friend Xavier Cugat (as himself), who works at the hotel. Xavier will be working at Eduardo’s wedding and suggests that Robert try to get the boss’s attention by performing with his band during the wedding.

The Acuna family has some odd traditions regarding marriage, the biggest one being that daughters are to be married off in order of their age. With the oldest sister of the family now being married, next in line is Maria (Rita Hayworth), who has no interest in getting married, much to the dismay of her two youngest sisters who are both eager to take a trip down the aisle. At the wedding reception, Robert is immediately smitten with Maria, but his attempt to get close to her doesn’t work out as planned.

Knowing how eager his youngest two daughters are to get married, Eduardo decides to try to change Maria’s ideas about romance by writing phony anonymous love letters and sending flowers to her everyday, in hopes that it will be enough to get her excited about a man. During one of his attempts to get a job working at Eduardo’s hotel, Fred is mistaken for a delivery boy and is sent to deliver a letter and flowers to Maria. But when Maria catches a glimpse of Robert delivering the message, she falls madly in love with him. When Eduardo finds out what’s happened, Eduardo does not approve and he tries to make it worth Robert’s while to end it by offering him a job if he drives Maria away. Despite some mishaps along the way, it turns out you just can’t break up true love.

What a charming movie! You Were Never Lovelier isn’t the best remembered movie of Fred Astaire’s career, nor is it one of Rita Hayworth’s best remembered movies, but it’s a really delightful and funny movie full of spectacular dance numbers. My goodness, did Astaire and Hayworth make amazing dance partners! It’s too bad they only made two movies together because I would have loved to see more musicals with the two of them. The story may be a bit convoluted, but overall, it’s just so darn much fun and entertaining to watch that I can’t help but love it. It’s everything I want when I watch a musical from this era.

The Actress (1953)

The Actress 1953

Clinton Jones (Spencer Tracy), his wife Annie (Teresa Wright), and their teenage daughter Ruth Gordon (Jean Simmons) live together in a modest apartment outside of Boston. They’re a pretty typical family, but Ruth dreams of being anything but typical. More than anything else in the world, Ruth wants to become a great actress. She adores the actress Hazel Dawn and dreams of being able to have a career just like Hazel’s. Ruth’s stage aspirations are well-known to everyone close to her, except for her father. She doesn’t think he would approve of her going into the theater and it’s true, he’d much rather see her go off to school to become a physical education teacher. Annie would rather see Ruth just settle down and marry her boyfriend Fred (Anthony Perkins)

Ruth’s dreams of stage stardom only get bigger when she gets a response to a fan letter from her idol Hazel Dawn inviting her to come meet her backstage after a performance. Hazel knows about Ruth’s desire to be an actress and later sends Ruth a message saying she’s arranged for a Ruth to meet an important director. Eventually, she has to tell her father about her dreams of stardom when he insists on filling out her application to go to school to become a gym teacher. He has her doubts about whether or not she could make it as an actress, but is surprisingly supportive. However, he really wants her to finish school first and absolutely doesn’t want her to go to her interview with the director.

Part of the reason Clinton isn’t so willing to give Ruth his unrelenting support is because financial instability is a big concern for him. Not only for her, but because he’s worried about his own job and doesn’t think he’d be able to support her studying to become an actress. When he gets some news that assures him his job is secure, he promises to send her to acting school. Ruth is thrilled, but when something goes wrong at the last minute and Clinton loses his job, she refuses to let it hold her back. And sure enough, Clinton finds a way to help.

The Actress is based on actress Ruth Gordon’s own experiences as a teenager. Although it’s a story about Ruth, Spencer Tracy is the one who gets the richest role in the movie. Spencer Tracy was an expert at playing characters who could seem gruff and stern, but still had a soft side to them, and this is very much on display here. This was very much intended to be a tribute to Ruth Gordon’s father and Spencer certainly did him justice.

On the whole, it’s a very pleasant movie with just the right amount of sentiment. It may not be anything truly spectacular, but it’s still likable enough that I’d give it another watch if there wasn’t much else on television. The Actress is also noteworthy for being the film debut of Anthony Perkins.

Father Takes a Wife (1941)

Father Takes a Wife 1941When Frederic Osborne Senior (Adolphe Menjou), a man who has a reputation for never missing a day at the office, suddenly seems to have lost all interest in his business, his son, Junior (John Howard) is both frustrated and confused as to what’s brought on this sudden change in attitude. One day, Senior comes in and informs Junior he’ll be in charge of running the family business from now on because he’s fallen in love and is getting married.

The woman Senior has fallen madly in love with is Leslie Collier (Gloria Swanson), a famous actress who is planning to give up the stage to marry Senior. But the relationship between Leslie and Senior starts to become strained before they even make it to the altar. When Senior, Junior, and Junior’s wife Enid (Florence Rice) go to see her final performance in her play, Senior becomes extremely jealous of her over-affectionate leading man. Then before the wedding, they squabble over her insistence on continuing to use her maiden name. But they go through with the wedding and head off on their honeymoon cruise.

After they’ve set sail, Leslie and Senior find out Carlos Bardez (Desi Arnaz) has been found as a stowaway. Senior allows him to stay, and it turns out Carlos has been a successful singer in other countries and Leslie wants to help him launch his career in America. She becomes his impresario and Senior becomes extremely jealous of all the attention Carlos is getting from Leslie. It nearly drives Leslie and Senior to divorce, but when Junior and Enid try to help, Carlos ends up nearly driving them apart, too. Can Junior and Senior save their marriages and get Carlos out of the picture?

Father Takes a Wife is cute, but not remarkable. Adolphe Menjou has some nice comedic moments and Gloria Swanson isn’t bad in it, but the story falls flat. On the surface, the story sounded like it might have potential, but even with the decent amount of talent involved, Father Takes a Wife just doesn’t measure up. As a Gloria Swanson fan, I thought it was somewhat interesting mostly because it gave me a chance to see her in something that came after her silent films and before Sunset Blvd.; she didn’t make too many movies during that time frame. If you’re a particularly big fan of Swanson, Menjou, or Arnaz, you might want to give it a shot, but otherwise, you’re not missing much.

In This Our Life (1942)

In This Our Life 1942

Sisters Stanley (Bette Davis) and Roy Timberlake (Olivia de Havilland) both come from a prominent family, but lead very different lives. Roy is the more humble and sensible sister and is married to Peter (Dennis Morgan) while Stanley is very selfish and is much more wild than Roy. Stanley isn’t a particularly likable person, but her uncle William (Charles Coburn) adores her and loves giving her expensive gifts and foots the bill for her reckless lifestyle. Stanley is engaged to Craig (George Brent), a lawyer, but the night before they are to be married, Roy runs off with Peter, marries him, and they leave for Baltimore.

Roy isn’t one to wallow in self-pity so she gladly divorces Peter and channels her energies into her work. One day, she runs into Craig and the two of them hit it off and start seeing each other. Craig is a very good man; an honest lawyer and even gives a job to Parry Clay (Ernest Anderson), the son of the Timberlake family’s maid Minerva (Hattie McDaniel), so he can put himself through law school. Meanwhile, Roy and Peter’s marriage is a complete disaster. Roy is still incredibly selfish and Peter doesn’t approve of her spending habits; they’re both completely miserable. Eventually, it drives Peter to kill himself, just as Roy and Craig decide to get married.

Stanley comes back home and it isn’t long before she’s bored and wants to leave. However, she needs money to leave and she can’t get it from her father or her uncle, so she tries talking to Craig to see about getting money from Paul’s insurance policy early. She invites him to come join her for dinner one night and when he stands her up, she gets raging drunk and tries to drive home. Along the way, she hits a child, who dies. Stanley’s car is pretty recognizable to people around town so it isn’t long before the police come to see her. Desperate to avoid accepting responsibility, Stanley tries to pin it all on Parry, but she doesn’t realize how protective Roy is of Troy.

In This Our Life is a really overlooked movie. With lesser stars and a lesser director, it easily could have become a completely forgotten film. But Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland are both so perfect for their roles in it, plus the supporting cast is fantastic, as is John Huston’s direction. Together, they all took what easily could have been a mid-rate melodrama and made it something memorable. Stanley is exactly the type of character Bette Davis reveled in playing and Olivia de Havilland made the perfect calm, yet strong, contrast to Davis. If you’re a fan of Davis or de Havilland, there’s a lot to love about this movie. In This Our Life is also very noteworthy for having a rather progressive representation of African-American characters, which is indeed refreshing to see in a 1940s-era film. Definitely keep an eye out for this on the TCM lineup; it’s well worth a watch.

Black Widow (1954)

Black Widow 1954

After saying goodbye to his actress wife Iris (Gene Tierney) at the airport, Broadway producer Peter Denver (Van Heflin) decides to make an appearance at a party being thrown by their neighbor, Lottie (Ginger Rogers), a fellow actress. Peter really doesn’t want to go, but he finds it hard to make excuses not to when he lives in the same building as the host. At the party, he meets 20-something-year-old Nancy “Nanny” Ordway (Peggy Ann Garner).

Like lots of young people, Nanny has recently come to New York City full of ambition and looking to start a successful career as a writer. Peter is very happily married and has no interest in having an affair, but he likes to help people who are just getting started, so he offers to take her out to dinner, making his platonic intentions very clear. After that night, he continues his friendship with Nanny and when she says her apartment isn’t very conducive to writing, he agrees to let her work from his luxurious apartment while he’s at work during the day.

When Iris returns from her trip, she and Peter arrive at their apartment and discover that Nanny has committed suicide. But once the police get involved, it becomes clear there was foul play involved. Iris was well aware of Peter’s friendship with Nanny and never felt threatened by it…until the investigation gets underway. Once the police investigation begins, though, some evidence comes forward that makes Peter look like the prime suspect. Determined to prove his innocence, Peter has to do some investigating to clear his name.

Black Widow isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not a great movie, either. The story is nothing innovative or groundbreaking, but it’s entertaining enough to watch at least once. There are certainly far worse ways you could spend 95 minutes. But I have a slight soft spot for it since there’s something about film noir movies that were filmed in Technicolor that I really like (I don’t know why really, just one of my many random fixations.) Also, because it has a poster that is far more scandalous than the movie actually is. (Seriously, why does the woman on this poster have long hair? Nanny has super short hair, nor is she nearly that vampy.)

Black Widow has a lot of big stars, but none of them are at their best in it. Gene Tierney in particular is extremely under utilized in it, so if you’re watching it for her, you may be disappointed. George Raft was pretty underwhelming in his role as a detective working the case. And although I liked some of Lottie’s sassier quips, it’s not one of Ginger’s finest roles, but it’s not a terrible one, either, especially considering where she was at that point in her career.  This was one of the last feature films she made before mostly moving into television and stage roles, so while Black Widow is no Kitty Foyle, it doesn’t even come close to Trog or Sextette territory, either. The best performance of the movie comes from Peggy Ann Garner, who unfortunately, doesn’t get top billing even though she deserved it more than most of the other actors in this movie.

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.