Movie of the Month

Benjamin Braddock: Moving Against the Current

The most prominent theme in The Graduate is not wanting to wind up trapped in a world that isn’t right for you.  Benjamin Braddock is one of those people who was raised with the expectation he would follow in his parents’ footsteps rather than be his own person.  His father is a successful business man, so of course it’s assumed Benjamin would naturally want to go down the same road. Benjamin’s father seems absolutely shocked by the notion that Benjamin might not want that for himself. Note that at the graduation party, Benjamin doesn’t seem to have a single friend his own age there, only his parents’ friends and business partners.

Benjamin doesn’t know what he wants out of life yet, he just knows he doesn’t want to live his father’s life. He resists being pushed into that world so strongly that he spends much of the movie not going anywhere at all. Although there are lines of dialogue addressing Benjamin’s aimlessness, The Graduate also does a brilliant job of conveying that feeling without words.

The Graduate Opening Credits

Most notably, during the opening credits, we see Benjamin in motion without actually getting anywhere.  As Benjamin walks through the airport, he steps onto a motorized walkway. If the camera stayed in one place, Benjamin would be moving across the frame from right to left. Since we read from left to right, seeing something move from right to left tends to feel a little unnatural. But since the camera moves to keep Benjamin in the far right side of the frame, it creates the feeling that he’s like a fish trying to swim against the current.

The Graduate Hotel Door

Later, as Benjamin tries to enter the hotel after calling Mrs. Robinson, he opens the door only to have a long line of older people walk out, blocking him from getting in.  Again, here’s Benjamin trying to move against the current.   In this case, he’s literally facing an onslaught of people who are probably the types of people his parents aspired to be when they were his age.   It’s worth noting that after the line of older people cleared, a handful of younger people hurry in, heading in Benjamin’s direction.

My favorite scene in The Graduate is the montage of Benjamin emotionlessly moving through his existence of floating in the pool, shutting himself off from his parents, and Mrs. Robinson. A masterpiece of match-action editing. The montage opens with Benjamin idly laying near the center of the frame. He keeps getting up and moving around, but no matter what he does or where he goes, he just keeps ending up right where he started — laying still in the middle of the frame.

Ten Little Things I Love About The Graduate

The first moment we see Mrs. Robinson at the party.

Mrs. Robinson The Graduate

She looks so utterly lost and alone even though she’s surrounded by friends, just like Benjamin.

The Robinsons’ bar area.

The Graduate Mrs. Robinson

Mrs. Braddock’s poolside outfit.

Mrs. Braddock The Graduate

Although I’m sure that jacket would cause some really unfortunate tan lines.

The beads of sweat on Benjamin’s forehead when the clerk at the hotel desk asks if he’s there for an affair.

Benjamin Braddock The Graduate

Alice Ghostley!

Alice Ghostley The Graduate

This shot.

Benjamin Mrs. Robinson The Graduate

Mrs. Robinson’s leopard print coat.

Mrs. Robinson The Graduate

“Oh, it’s not. It’s completely baked.”

Benjamin Braddock The Graduate

Richard Dreyfuss!

Richard Dreyfuss The Graduate

The fact that Harold Lloyd was an advisor for the final sequence of the movie, which was inspired by his movie Girl Shy.

Benjamin Braddock Elaine Robinson The Graduate

A Tribute to “The Shadow Waltz” from Gold Diggers of 1933

Shadow Waltz Gold Diggers of 1933

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Busby Berkeley musical numbers.  “42nd Street,” “We’re in the Money,” “By a Waterfall,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” I just can’t tear myself away from the TV if one of his numbers is playing.  Picking just one to call my favorite is definitely a challenge, but “The Shadow Waltz” from Gold Diggers of 1933 is certainly very close to the top of the list.

I’ve heard people say that all Busby Berkeley had to do for inspiration is look into a kaleidoscope, but I think that really does a disservice to Busby Berkeley’s creativity.  A musical number like “The Shadow Waltz” would have required a lot more thought than that.  And to be able to translate that vision into what we see on screen would have required a great deal of creativity, precision, and persistence, not just from Busby, but from the dancers as well.

Shadow Waltz Skirt Gold Diggers of 1933One thing that sets “The Shadow Waltz” apart from other Busby Berkeley musical numbers is how heavily it relies on the movement of the skirts worn by the chorus girls.  These aren’t skirts that were designed to be particularly pretty or fashionable, their main purpose is to move in a very specific way.  If one person’s skirt didn’t spin just right or got caught on something, the whole shot wouldn’t look right and they’d have to do another take. There’s even a couple moments when two circles of dancers move back and forth between each other, their skirts sort of meshing together as they pass.  It must have taken a lot of practice to get those skirts to move between each other like that.

The big thing I love about “The Shadow Waltz” is that it’s fantasy for the sake of fantasy.  This isn’t the kind of musical number that furthers the story or offers any kind of commentary.  “The Shadow Waltz” is supposed to be part of a show taking place on a stage in front of a live audience, but Busby Berkeley seems totally aware of the fact that this number could never actually happen on a stage. Dissolves, sideways shots with mirrors, that bit where all the dancers stand in the shape of a violin and a bow comes out and moves across them, he knows how unbelievable this all is. But he’s trusting the audience to put aside their disbelief and let themselves get lost in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.

The only thing “The Shadow Waltz” was ever meant to be was a few minutes of pure escapism.  Gold Diggers of 1933 was released in the midst of the Great Depression and these are the kind of moments audiences loved. And even though it isn’t 1933 anymore, isn’t it nice to lose yourself in the moment like that every now and then?

Aline MacMahon: The Underrated Gold Digger of 1933

Aline MacMahon Gold Diggers of 1933

Gold Diggers of 1933 has a wonderful ensemble cast, but if anyone doesn’t get enough love, it’s Aline MacMahon.  Busby Berkeley tends to get a lot of the credit for Gold Diggers of 1933 thanks to his unforgettable musical numbers. After Busby, people tend to think of Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, and Dick Powell. Keeler, Blondell, and Powell are some of the stars most strongly associated with Busby Berkeley musicals and Ginger’s part may be small, but she sure made a splash in the opening “We’re in the Money” number. Poor Aline MacMahon as Trixie tends to go overlooked.

Ruby Keeler may get to be the cute, girl next door and Joan Blondell may be the pretty one, but Aline MacMahon gets to be funny one in Gold Diggers of 1933. Busby Berkeley musicals aren’t just great because of the dazzling, kaleidoscopic musical numbers; they also have a lot of humor in the non-musical scenes as well. So while Keeler, Blondell, and Powell may get to shine in the musical numbers, Aline steals the spotlight in the other scenes.  She gets practically every good quip in the movie.

Fay: “If Barney could see me in clothes…”
Trixie: “He wouldn’t recognize you.”

Barney: “It’ll be the funniest thing you ever did.”
Trixie: “Have you ever seen me ride a pony?”

(After Trixie gives Fay out of a little kick toward the exit of a nightclub for having designs on Fanuel, causing her to yell.)
Fanuel: “Did little Fay cry out?”
Trixie: “No, that must have been the coronet you heard.”

Trixie: “After what he called you? A parasite? Say, what is a parasite? You better resent it.”

Aline MacMahon gets her biggest moment in the spotlight in the scene when Fanuel and Lawrence show up at Carol, Trixie, and Polly’s apartment, looking to pay Polly to break things off with Brad.  Not amused at being called parasites, Carol and Trixie decide to have a little fun with the stereotype just to mess with Fanuel and Lawrence.  Aline plays the stereotypical gold digger to a hilarious degree.  She always cracks me up in those scenes.

Ten Little Things I Love About Gold Diggers of 1933

1.  This dress worn by Ginger Rogers.

Ginger Rogers Gold Diggers 1933_Tumblr Schatzepage

GIF found at Schatzepage Tumblr.

2.  This door.

Gold Diggers of 1933 Door

3.  “We’re the Kentucky Hillbillies!”

Gold Diggers of 1933 Kentucky Hillbillies

4.  The way Ginger Rogers says, “The Depression, dearie.”

The Depression Dearie_Gingerrogers Tumblr

GIF found on Gingerrogerss Tumblr.

5.  Dancing with the snowman.

Gold Diggers of 1933 Snowman

6.  Adjusted for inflation, those hats Trixie has delivered would cost about $1,300 each. She really didn’t appreciate being mistaken for a gold digger.

Gold Diggers 1933 Hat Delivery_Tumblr rosejoanblondell

Picture credit: rosejoanblondell Tumblr

7.  The way Fay reacts to seeing Trixie and Carol in a restaurant with Lawrence and Fanuel.

Gold Diggers of 1933 Ginger Rogers

8.  This lighter with a clock in it.

Gold Diggers of 1933 Watch Lighter

9.  The shots during musical numbers when the camera moves down the line of chorus girls and gives each of them a little moment to shine.  A similar shot is also used in “Remember My Forgotten Man,” only with a line of forgotten men instead of chorus girls.

GD1933 Chorus Girl GilboGarbageTumblrGIF found at the Tumblr Gilbo Garbage.

10.  The final shot of “Remember My Forgotten Man.”

Gold Diggers of 1933 Forgotten Man

Gold Diggers of 1933: The Ultimate Early 1930s Film

Gold Diggers of 1933 Ginger RogersWhen a movie is described as being a product its time, it’s often meant in a sort of apologetic way.  It’s the sort of thing I say about creaky early talkies like The Broadway Melody or The Hollywood Revue of 1929.  It’s basically a nicer way of saying, “Look, I know this isn’t particularly good by today’s standards, but you’ve gotta remember…”

However, a movie being a product of its time isn’t necessarily a one-way ticket to being dubbed a cinematic fossil just a few years down the road.  Movies such as Saturday Night Fever and Since You Went Away completely embraced the eras they were made in but are still loved by audiences today.  Gold Diggers of 1933 is another product of its time that remains as entertaining as it was eighty-one years ago.

Trixie Lorraine: “Isn’t there going to be any comedy in the show?

Barney Hopkins: “Oh, plenty!  The gay side, the hard-boiled side, the cynical and funny side of the Depression!  I’ll make ’em laugh at you starving to death, honey!”

Gold Diggers of 1933 is a perfect reflection of so many things that were happening in the film industry at the time.  First and foremost, it dealt with the Great Depression during the Great Depression.  Even though times were tough, audiences were still flocking to movie theaters for a little bit of cheap escapism.  Gold Diggers of 1933 managed to directly address the Depression while still offering the fun and escapist qualities audiences craved.  When the character Barney Hopkins declares the show he’s producing is going to be a comedy about the Depression, it’s more like a mission statement for the movie because that’s exactly what it ends up being — funny but with a hard-boiled side.

Gold Diggers of 1933

When we first meet the main characters, they’re all struggling just like everybody else was at the time.  They lose their jobs in the first scene; they have to steal milk and avoid the landlady because they can’t pay their rent.  When they find out a new show being produced, the ladies play a game to decide which one of them goes to find out about it because they don’t have enough nice clothes for everyone to go.  Even though the name of the movie has the phrase “gold diggers” in it, the main characters aren’t heartless mantraps; they’re very likable characters who are mistakenly stereotyped as gold diggers.  It’s not hard to want these characters to come out on top.

The film’s escapist elements come from the extravagant Busby Berkeley musical numbers.  The musical numbers have nothing to do with the overall story of the movie, but they’re the most memorable scenes of the movie.  These numbers could never be done on a real stage, but it sure is fun to suspend disbelief and just enjoy them for what they are.  The opening number, “We’re in the Money,” is fun to watch although it sets an ironic tone for the movie.  “The Shadow Waltz” is a moment of pure whimsy.

Gold Diggers of 1933 Forgotten Man

Because Gold Diggers of 1933 was made in the pre-code era, it gets away with being more risqué and political than many people think of older films as being. “Pettin’ in the Park” is risqué comedy for risqué comedy’s sake.  For a movie that offers so much escapism, it ends on a very political and haunting note with the “Remember My Forgotten Man” number.  “Remember My Forgotten Man” is a scathing indictment of the way World War I veterans were being treated at the time.  Both gritty and extravagant, it’s a stunning finale.

A Few Thoughts on Some Like it Hot

Some Like it Hot Tony Curtis Jack Lemmon

Even though Some Like it Hot is now regarded as one of the all-time great comedies, I think one of the most remarkable things about Some Like it Hot is how easily it could have been just another run-of-the-mill movie instead of the classic it is today.

There have been times when I’ve tried explaining the plot of Some Like it Hot to someone who has never seen it before, only to have the person seem less than impressed by its premise.  In all fairness, I can see how people might get that impression because when you strip it down to its bare bones, it doesn’t sound particularly unique.  The whole trope of men dressing up as women for comedic purposes is one of the oldest tricks in the book; it’s been done for centuries.  Even one of Some Like it Hot‘s most memorable scenes, the party in the train compartment, is very reminiscent of the infamous stateroom scene from the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.

However, the fact that Some Like it Hot is anything but mundane is a testament to the talent of Billy Wilder.  It’s like he figured out the recipe for the perfect comedy and it’s a recipe that hinges on the quality of the ingredients.  Everybody involved with it needed to bring their “A” game or it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as it did.

First of all, there’s the brilliant writing by Wilder and his frequent collaborator I.A.L. Diamond.  It may not have been the most original premise for a movie, but it’s easy to forgive that when it’s written so well.  Add to that three outstanding actors in the lead roles and one rock-solid supporting cast.  But most importantly, the actors were under the direction of someone who really brought out the best in them; even the notoriously difficult Marilyn Monroe.  All of these things combined are what took a movie that seems so common on the surface and elevated it to a much higher level.

Some Like it Hot: A Supporting Actor’s Delight

I love movies where the entire cast is so strong that virtually every speaking character is extremely memorable. It doesn’t matter if it’s a larger supporting role or one with only a few lines, just as long as it’s enough to leave a lasting impression.   Some Like it Hot is definitely one of those movies.  Stealing attention away from the likes of Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe was no easy task, but these actors did a remarkable job of it.

Joan Shawlee Sweet Sue Some Like it Hot

Joan Shawlee is a character actress I wish was better remembered today.  In addition to her role as Sweet Sue in Some Like it Hot, she also had parts in The Apartment and Irma La Douce and appeared on television shows such as Adam-12, Emergency!, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Starsky and Hutch.  As Sweet Sue, Shawlee struck a perfect balance of being brash yet likable.  But most importantly, she was always hilarious.

Some Like it Hot Bellhop Danny Richards Jr.

Danny Richards, Jr. only had a few scenes as a hotel bellhop, but he sure knew how to quickly establish himself as the Eddie Haskell of the Seminole-Ritz.  The way he says, “That’s the way I like ’em — big and sassy!” and snaps the master key hanging around his neck will never stop being hilarious to me.

Some Like it Hot Dolores Beverly Wills

Beverly Wills is probably best remembered as Delores, the trombone player with a fondness for a jokes about one-legged jockeys.  She’s another actor who expertly made a lasting impression with only a few lines.  Her delivery is just so spot on.

Some Like it Hot Joe E. Brown Osgood

But as amazing as all the supporting actors are in Some Like it Hot, Joe E. Brown is the one who steals the most scenes.  I simply can’t imagine anyone who could have played Osgood Fielding any better than Joe E. Brown.  He was a master of pulling faces.  He made me laugh in just about every scene he was in and he often did it without saying a word; it’s all about the facial expressions.  Brown also brought a wonderfully daffy quality to his character and that made him one of the funnest characters in the movie.  Zowie!

Ten Little Things I Love in Some Like it Hot

Some Like it Hot Sweet SueJoan Shawlee’s facial expressions.

Some Like it Hot Jack Lemmon Backwards BassWhen Jerry/Daphne accidentally tries playing the bullet-ridden bass backwards.

Some Like it Hot - Millionaires RockingMillionaires in rocking chairs, rocking in unison.

Some Like it Hot Osgood MonogramOsgood’s jacket with the sparkly monogram.

Some Like it Hot Jack Lemmon Whole PersonalityThe face Daphne/Jerry makes when Josephine/Joe tells him to give Osgood “the whole personality.”

Some Like it Hot Tony Curtis EarringsThe way Joe’s earrings move as he rides the bike to take Sugar to Osgood’s yacht.

Some Like it Hot Jack Lemmon MaracasJack Lemmon’s way with maracas.

Some Like it Hot Banquet HallThe way Joe and Jerry go sliding across the banquet hall because they’re running around in high heels.

Some Like it Hot Tony CurtisThe look on Joe’s face as he watches Sugar sing “I’m Through With Love.”

Some Like it Hot Nobody's PerfectThe way Jerry reacts to the infamous final line, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Some Like it Hot: Marilyn’s Finest Role

Marilyn Monroe Some Like it Hot

Despite being such an enormous pop culture icon, Marilyn Monroe is often very misunderstood and underestimated.  Many people claim to adore Marilyn, but would be hard pressed to even name one her movies.  Others only know Marilyn from that image of her standing over a subway grate in The Seven Year Itch and assume she didn’t actually have any talent.

If I were to recommend a Marilyn Monroe movie to someone who has never seen one of her movies before, I would go with Some Like it Hot.  Sure, Marilyn was funny in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but you see none of her dramatic skills there.  If you only watched Don’t Bother to Knock, you’d never take her for a comedienne.  But Some Like it Hot offers a look at everything that made Marilyn great.   It let her be a bombshell, it let her show off her comedic talents, and it let her have moments of melancholy as well.  She’s bubbly, yet cynical.

Marilyn Monroe Some Like it Hot Entrance

When we first meet Sugar Kane, it’s a signature Bombshell Marilyn moment.  As she walks through the crowded train station, moving just like Jell-O on springs, not only is she beautiful, she’s the embodiment of all the intangible qualities the camera adores.  Call it what you like — magnetism, star quality, screen presence — she had it in spades.  When she’s singing songs like “Running Wild” and “I Want to be Loved By You,” her magnetism is so far off the charts it makes you wonder what this band is doing playing little gigs at hotels when they’ve got a lead singer like that.

Marilyn Monroe Some Like it Hot Train Party Scene

Of course, Marilyn the Comedienne has plenty of time to shine in Some Like it Hot.  Comedic actors often don’t get the credit they deserve because so many people have the mistaken idea that you don’t have to be particularly talented to do comedy.  That couldn’t be further from the truth, but there’s no denying that Marilyn made comedy look like the easiest thing in the world in Some Like it Hot.  Her comedic timing was absolutely impeccable and feels completely natural.

Marilyn Monroe Some Like it Hot Phone Call SceneLast, but certainly not least, there’s Marilyn the Serious Actress.  Marilyn the Serious Actress only gets a few scenes in Some Like it Hot, but when those moments come, they’re some of her best moments in the movie.  Those are the moments that prevent Sugar Kane from being just like Marilyn’s other characters who were out to land a rich husband.  Sugar’s been jilted in ways that Lorelei Lee would never tolerate and she has a cynical streak to show for it.  Lorelei Lee would never let herself end up playing in a second-rate band, sneaking booze on a train and lamenting all the men who have mistreated her and taken her money. I love how completely and totally unimpressed Marilyn sounds in the scene when Sugar talks about that.

Marilyn’s heaviest acting moments come close to the end of the film.  The first of which is when Sugar gets the phone call from “Shell Oil Jr.” explaining why he has to leave.  In that scene, Sugar goes from being on top of the world to feeling the lowest she’s ever felt.  Her heartbreak is very evident, but Marilyn never resorts to over-the-top hysterics.  Instead of actually sobbing uncontrollably, when she talks, she sounds like she wants to sob uncontrollably but is trying to hold herself together.  You really hear this when she offers her band to play at his wedding and when she tells Josephine and Daphne that she could never forget him when there’s a Shell station on every corner.

One of the most poignant scenes I’ve ever seen Marilyn do is when she sings “I’m Through With Love.”  By the end of the song, she sounds so thoroughly defeated. You don’t doubt that she meant every single word of that song.  I also love the little mannerisms that Marilyn works into this scene to show how uncomfortable Sugar is.  She keeps fidgeting with her scarf and when she puts her head down at the end of the song, she moves her shoulders in a way that suggests she’s trying not to cry.

Marilyn’s performance in Some Like it Hot is definitely not the work of an amateur — it’s the work of an actress who has really applied herself to improving her work.  Some Like it Hot was released just four years after she caused a sensation in The Seven Year Itch and the progress she made in that time is remarkable.  She really upped her own ante here.