Cary Grant

What’s on TCM: December 2014

Bringing Up Baby Cary Grant Katharine Hepburn

Happy December, everyone! With 2014 in its final days, TCM is ending the year on a high note and there’s much to be excited about this month. December starts with a day of Joan Crawford and Cary Grant movies and ends with a night of movies featuring The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and in between, there’s a lot of musicals and, of course, Christmas movies, so this is truly my kind of month.

December’s Star of the Month is the eternally suave Cary Grant and his movies will be highlighted every Monday night this month.

Friday Night Spotlight will be showcasing movies directed by Charles Watlers. If you’re a big fan of musicals, you’re going to love Fridays this month.

Since it is December, of course there will be plenty of Christmas classics coming up. If this is what you’re looking for, be sure to keep an eye on the schedule for December 4th, 11th, 18th, 23rd, 24th, and 25th.

Now, let’s get on to the schedule…

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Pre-Code Essentials: She Done Him Wrong (1933)

She Done Him Wrong Mae West Cary Grant

Plot

Saloon performer Lady Lou (Mae West) is one of the most admired women in town. Men are in love with her, women want to be friends with her. Lou loves two things — men and diamonds — and her boss Gus Jordan (Noah Beery) is happy to supply her with all the jewels she wants. But the profits from running the saloon just isn’t enough to keep up with Lou’s expensive taste, so he resorts to criminal activities to pay for Lou’s jewelry.

Gus is also running for sheriff, but his opponent Dan Flynn (David Landau) is well aware of his illegal activities and would love nothing more than to be able to expose Gus and have Lou all to himself. Gus wouldn’t be the first man to take such drastic measures to make Lou happy. Her former boyfriend Chick Clark (Owen Moore) is in prison serving time for trying to steal jewelry for Lou. She’s promised to be faithful to him while he’s in jail, but not only has she been seeing Gus, she’s also had her eyes set on Captain Cummings (Cary Grant), a local missionary.

Lou finds herself in a tough situation when all the main men in her life end up making appearances at the saloon on one fateful night.


My Thoughts

I just love Mae West and She Done Him Wrong is a an example of Mae West doing what Mae West did best. Only she could pull off writing a play where she stars as the most admired woman around and other characters spend a lot of time discussing how fabulous she is, then turn it into a movie that went on to become a Best Picture nominee. She created the perfect vehicle for herself and I’ve got to give her credit for that. Not only was she a bit of an unlikely movie star (she was 40 when She Done Him Wrong was released, quite a bit older than the average movie starlet just starting to make a splash at the box office), she truly built her career in a way that nobody else did at the time. She was in complete charge of every aspect of her career, which is something I completely respect.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

Mae West’s endless double entendres.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

No list of essential pre-codes would be complete without an appearance from the queen of the double entendre, Mae West. She Done Him Wrong is frequently cited as being one of the movies that infuriated censors to the extent that it provoked the strict enforcement of the production codes. The movie may only be 66 minutes long, but it took two years to turn Mae West’s stage hit Diamond Lil into a movie because it was such a challenge to get the bawdy content past the censors. Upon its release, it caused a huge commotion and was banned in Atlanta, Australia, Austria, and Finland. Mae West certainly wasn’t fazed by the outcry. She was later quoted as saying, “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”

Pre-Code Essentials: Blonde Venus (1932)

 Blonde Venus Marlene Dietrich Cary Grant

Plot

Helen Faraday (Marlene Dietrich) gives up being a showgirl to marry American scientist Ned (Herbert Marshall) and become a housewife and mother to their son Johnny (Dickie Moore). But when Ned comes down with radiation poisoning and needs to get treatment in Germany, she goes back to the stage to get the money they need. She performs under the name “The Blonde Venus” and during her first night as a performer, she gets the attention of millionaire Nick Townsend (Cary Grant), who comes backstage to see her. He gives Helen the money for Ned’s treatment and she keeps Ned in the dark about how she got the money.  While Ned is away, Nick continues to woo Helen.

When Ned returns earlier than expected from Germany, Helen is off gallivanting with Nick, but it doesn’t take long for Ned to figure out what’s been going on. He wants Helen out of his life and threatens to take her to court to get custody of Johnny. She loves Johnny too much to let that happen, so she grabs him and goes on the run. She makes her way from town to town, resorting to prostitution to get by, with the police hot on her trail all along the way. Eventually, Helen turns herself in and lets Johnny go back to Ned. A

fter sinking to an even lower depth, Helen pulls herself up and becomes a hugely successful nightclub performer. Her new career reunites her with Nick and it isn’t long before they’re engaged. But Nick knows how much Helen misses Johnny and he wants Helen to be able to see her son again, even if it means reuniting her with Ned.


My Thoughts

Blonde Venus is one of my favorite Marlene Dietrich movies and my favorite of the Dietrich/Josef von Sternberg collaborations. I love how Dietrich gets to be the impeccably glamorous character we all know as, but as much as I love glamorous Dietrich, I also love seeing her in her drab housewife clothes. Dickie Moore was an adorable addition to the movie and I’m always up for seeing Cary Grant. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly entertaining.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

The movie opens with women swimming in the nude.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Yesterday, I talked a bit about why Midnight Mary was a great example of a “fallen woman” type of movie and Blonde Venus is another excellent fallen woman tale. But unlike Mary from Midnight Mary, who is consistently a sympathetic and likable character, Helen isn’t nearly as innocent. She’s a married woman who starts spending all her time cavorting with a wealthy playboy while her husband is away getting medical treatment. But like Mary, Helen also ends up with an optimistic ending and Helen is the type of character a lot of censors didn’t want to have a happy ending.

My Favorite Wife (1940)

My Favorite Wife

Seven years after being lost at sea, Nick Arden (Cary Grant) has his wife Ellen (Irene Dunne) legally declared dead and gets re-married to Bianca (Gail Patrick). Just as Nick and Bianca are heading off on their honeymoon together, Ellen arrives back at home. It turns out she had spent the past seven years stuck on a deserted island and finally been rescued. On the trip home, Ellen had time to mentally prepare herself for all the things she expected to change in her absence, but the one thing she hadn’t expected is that Nick may have re-married. When she hears where Nick and Bianca have left for their honeymoon, she goes to see find them.

Obviously, Nick is stunned to see his first wife waiting for him at the hotel. He doesn’t have a clue about how he should explain a situation like this to Bianca, so he does his best to hide it from her, which brings out some very odd behavior. Bianca is considering leaving Nick and wants to get him professional help. But then this situation gets even complicated when Nick gets a visit from an insurance adjuster who informs him that Ellen wasn’t alone on an island all that time, she was there with a man named Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott).

Desperate to assure Nick that nothing happened between her and Stephen on the island, Ellen convinces a bland-looking shoe salesman to pose as Stephen and meet with Nick. However, Nick has already done his homework and knows the real Stephen is far more attractive. Just as Nick finally tries to tell Bianca the truth about what’s been going on, she doesn’t believe him until he is suddenly arrested for bigamy and the whole crazy incident gets dragged into a courtroom.

Cary Grant and Irene Dunne really deserve more credit for being a great on-screen duo. They may not have made as many movies as Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy or Myrna Loy and William Powell, but The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife alone are amazing enough for me to put them in that league. It might be easy to think of My Favorite Wife as not being particularly original since it went on to be re-made as Move Over, Darling (and almost re-made as Something’s Gotta Give with Marilyn Monroe, Cyd Charisse, and Dean Martin) and Too Many Husbands has a very similar plot, but My Favorite Wife manages to shine just a bit brighter than the others. While Too Many Husbands felt like a one-note movie that got old fast, My Favorite Wife never felt stale. Simply, it’s a fantastically madcap romantic comedy and that’s all it tries to be.

Night and Day (1946)

Night and Day 1946

Before becoming one of the most celebrated songwriters of all time, Cole Porter (Cary Grant) was a law student at Yale. However, Cole simply has no interest in becoming a lawyer; he’d much rather be in the theater department writing songs. Cole is only studying law because his grandfather expects him to and would never approve of him becoming a songwriter. When Cole and his law professor Monty (Monty Woolley) spend Christmas at his grandfather’s estate, Cole meets Linda Lee (Alexis Smith), his cousin’s beautiful roommate.  During the holiday, after receiving a little support from his mother, Cole announces he’s leaving law school to try and make it as a songwriter.

Cole gets to work staging his first show, called “See America First,” with some help from Monty, who has given up teaching to go into the theater. The show is a flop and opening night just happens to be the night the Lusitania sinks. Cole heads over to France to join the French Army and is injured while on duty. As luck would have it, Cole is reunited with Linda when she is his nurse. To boost his morale, she arranges for the hospital to get a piano, inspiring him to write his signature song “Night and Day.” Cole loves Linda, but after he has recovered, he can’t resist the lure of the theater.

Back in America, gets back to work with a newfound vigor and takes the theater world by storm. On a roll of hit shows, Cole goes to England where he meets up with Linda once again. Through it all, Cole had never forgotten her and they are soon married. But their marriage is strained by Cole’s unrelenting drive to work. When his work stands in the way of their vacation one too many times, Linda leaves Cole to go to Europe. But after a number of personal setbacks, Cole keeps on going and is reunited with Linda once again when he returns to Yale for a special tribute.

I love Cary Grant, but as much as I love watching pretty much anything he made, he is woefully out of place in Night and Day. Given that Grant was 42 at the time Night and Day was released, he is laughably unbelievable as college-aged Cole Porter. Granted, we’re told that Cole was hardly a star pupil at Yale Law School, but really now. I also love that Monty Woolley is in this movie for literally no other reason than to be Monty Woolley. It’s true that Monty and Cole did meet at Yale and remained close for years, but he wasn’t his law professor. Of course, the whole movie is very highly fictionalized. By now, I think most people expect Hollywood biopics to take some creative liberties, but still, this is a bit much. Not surprising is the fact that the movie completely whitewashes the fact that Cole Porter was gay. Night and Day‘s only major redeeming factor is that it naturally features many Cole Porter songs, which are always a pleasure to listen to.

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.

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

Merrily We go to Hell PosterJerry Corbett (Fredric March) is a journalist, aspiring playwright, and known around Chicago for his love of alcohol.  Heiress Joan Prentice (Sylvia Sidney) doesn’t drink, but when they meet, but there is still a connection between them.  They start seeing each other and Joan repeatedly invites Jerry to gatherings at her house, but he continually gets drunk and fails to show up.  When he finally does meet Joan’s father, he’s not at all impressed by Jerry.  And when Jerry and Joan decide to get married, Joan’s father offers Jerry $50,000 to go away.  But Joan is more valuable to Jerry than money and they get married anyway.

The road to the altar is far from smooth for Joan and Jerry, though.  Before their engagement party, he gets so drunk before the event, he passes out before he even gets to the party.  At the wedding, he arrives drunk and without the wedding ring.  The guests are impressed he showed up at all.  But despite all of Jerry’s problems, Joan is bound and determined to stick by him and she encourages his ambitions to write plays.  After many rejections, his play is finally picked up by a producer in New York.  And as it turns out, the producer has Jerry’s ex-girlfriend Claire (Adrienne Allen) in mind to star in it.  Jerry does his best to stay sober and stay faithful to Joan, but he completely falls apart again on opening night.

When Jerry falls off the wagon, he falls off hard and lives his life in a drunken haze.  He also starts having an affair with Claire.  When Joan finds out about it, she finally snaps, starts drinking, and decides that if he can cheat, she might as well do the same and starts having an affair with Charlie Baxter (Cary Grant).  Joan lives the high life until she discovers she’s pregnant.  She doesn’t tell Jerry and goes back to Chicago to live with her family.  Meanwhile, Jerry realizes how much pain his behavior has caused her and desperately tries to patch things up with her.

Merrily We Go to Hell is a good but not great look at alcoholism.  The story is good, the performances are good, the direction is good, but it just doesn’t seem to rise above being anything better than just good enough.  I feel like Merrily We Go to Hell tried to do what Billy Wilder would go on to do more successfully thirteen years later in The Lost Weekend.  But Merrily We Go to Hell did try to offer a cold, hard look at alcoholism and it certainly didn’t glamorize drinking.  Jerry is not a fun drunk and when Joan starts hitting the bottle, they are no Nick and Nora Charles. During a party scene, we don’t see guests cavorting happily with glasses of champagne in hand, we see guests passed out on couches.  It’s just not the hardest look at alcoholism that you’ll find.  Jerry’s attempt in the end to get his act together seemed  oversimplified and unrealistic.