Gary Cooper

Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Friendly persuasion

The Civil War was a difficult time for everyone and the Birdwell family was no exception. The Birdwells are a family of Quakers from Pennsylvania. Eliza (Dorothy McGuire) is a very devout Quaker minister who abhors any type of violence, even if it’s just her youngest son Little Jess (Richard Eyer) having a conflict with her pet goose. The rest of the family isn’t quite as devout as Eliza. Her husband, Jess (Gary Cooper), enjoys things like music, racing his carriage, and is willing to bring the children to the county fair, all things Eliza disapproves of. He even purchases an organ without Eliza’s permission, knowing she won’t be happy about it. Their teenage daughter Mattie (Phyllis Love) has fallen in love with Gard Jordan (Peter Mark Richman), a soldier. And their oldest son Josh (Anthony Perkins) is against the violence of war, but isn’t against playing soldiers with Little Jess and even understands violence may be necessary at times.

The family has tried to stay out of the war, but they’re forced to confront the reality of the situation when a Union officer comes to services at their meetinghouse and asks how, given their pacifist beliefs, they plan to deal with the impending threat of Confederate troops moving closer to home. Although some of the Quakers admit to wavering in their pacifist nature, none of them immediately agree to join the Home Guard. Some time later, Gard comes to visit as he is recovering from a gunshot wound and Josh admits he’s considering joining the Army.

Just days later, the Confederates are dangerously close to the Birdwell’s home and Josh decides to go off to fight; a decision that makes Eliza feel like he’s turning his back on her. Jess, on the other hand, is more understanding of Josh’s decision, but hesitates to pick up a gun until it is absolutely necessary. When Jess finally leaves the family home with a gun, Confederate soldiers arrive and even Eliza realizes that she is capable of acting against her deeply held beliefs.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned by doing Blogging Under the Stars for the past few years is that having a second choice movie for each day is essential. Inevitably, there’s a couple of days during the month where I can’t watch my first choice movie either because I forgot to set the timer to record it or because the power went out during the movie and messed up my recording. This can be frustrating, but luckily for me, it tends works out in the end because my second choice movie often ends up being something really good; probably better than my first choice. Friendly Persuasion is definitely one of my best “second choice” movie discoveries. (In case you were wondering, my first choice for today’s movie was One Sunday Afternoon.)

At first, I kinda had my doubts about how much I’d like Friendly Persuasion because even with my history of having good second choices, I had really wanted to see One Sunday Afternoon. But it didn’t take long for Friendly Persuasion to start winning me over. I loved everything about it. The writing by Michael Wilson and direction by William Wyler were both excellent. Although Dorothy McGuire and Gary Cooper were also both excellent, Anthony Perkins really steals the show here; this was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen by him. Since Perkins is so famous for playing Norman Bates, a deranged murderer, in Psycho, it’s really interesting to see him play a character (beautifully at that) on the opposite end of the spectrum and is extremely reluctant to resort to violence. The movie is so wonderfully sensitive and the characters so intriguing, Friendly Persuasion is the kind of movie I could easily watch over and over again. Loved every minute of it.

Beau Geste 1939

Beau Geste (1939)

As some Legionaries approach a fort in the desert, they initially think it’s fully manned with soldiers, but upon closer inspection, they realize all the soldiers are dead and have been posed to look alive from a distance. As they look at the bodies, they find a note on one of them confessing to stealing a valuable sapphire known as the “Blue Water.”

As children, brothers Beau (Gary Cooper), John (Ray Milland), and Digby (Robert Preston) were adopted by their aunt Lady Brandon (Heather Thatcher) and enjoy a happy childhood living with her, her ward Isobel (Susan Hayward), and her heir Augustus (G.P. Huntley). Lady Brandon is the owner of the valuable “Blue Water” sapphire, which, thanks to her husband, is the last valuable asset she owns. When her husband wants to sell it, Beau asks Lady Brandon to let them see it one last time. But while they’re looking at it, the lights suddenly go out and the jewel is gone.

Not wanting to disgrace the family, each of the Geste brothers leaves a note confessing to stealing the jewel and leaves to join the French Foreign Legion. But it isn’t long before their cruel Sergeant Markoff (Brian Donlevy) hears the brothers had been involved in a jewel heist and that Beau is the most likely suspect. When the fort where Beau and John are stationed is attacked, nearly all of their fellow soldiers are killed during battle. Markoff, Beau, and John are the last three standing and Markoff takes the chance to try to make the “Blue Water” sapphire his own.

Beau Geste is a movie that really does have a little something for everyone. It’s got the mystery surrounding the missing jewel, it’s got a story about brotherly love, it’s got lots of thrilling battle scenes, and it has just a little bit of a love story to it. You just don’t see too many movies that have that kind of combination. And if you were to find another movie (that wasn’t another adaptation of the novel “Beau Geste”) that has all of those things, you’d be even harder pressed to find one with such a high-caliber cast and excellent direction. I had a hard time buying a nearly 40-year-old Gary Cooper as a 20-something Beau Geste, but other than that, the cast was great. Although Gary Cooper and Ray Milland are two very recognizable names, Brian Donlevy is a great reason to want to see this movie; his performance as the sadistic Markoff was fantastic.

Beau Geste also had one of the most absolutely intriguing opening scenes I’ve seen in a while. A few Legionaries finding a fort manned by a bunch of corpses and a note confessing to a jewel heist is definitely the kind of opening that makes you want to keep watching the movie. On the whole, I really liked Beau Geste a lot more than I expected to; in fact, it’s one of my favorite movie discoveries in recent memory. Although it was a big hit when it was released, it’s not a movie I hear talked about very often anymore, and that’s really too bad.

Pre-Code Essentials: Design For Living (1933)

Design for Living Hopkins March Cooper


After commercial artist Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins) meets aspiring playwright Thomas Chambers (Fredric March) and artist George Curtis (Gary Cooper) on a train, the three of them hit it off with each other very well. Thomas and George are best friends and live together, working on their respective art forms. Unbeknownst to each other, they each start having an affair with Gilda. When they realize what’s been going on, Gilda announces that she can’t decide between the two men, so she’d rather serve as a platonic muse to both of them. However, nobody follows through with the “platonic” part of their arrangement.

With Gilda’s help, Tom’s play is produced and becomes a big hit. But with so much of Tom’s attentions on his play, George and Gilda have time to pursue their affair, which inspires him to become a successful artist. It isn’t long before Tom and George realize that Gilda has continued having affairs with both of them, there is some initial anger, but before anything else can happen, Gilda leaves both of them to marry her dull boss Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton).

Not long after her marriage to Max, Tom and George pay a visit to Gilda and find her deeply bored with her new role in life. Being Max’s wife is positively mind-numbing to her and she misses the days of having affairs with both George and Tom.

My Thoughts

Ernst Lubitsch was responsible for directing many great pre-codes, but Design for Living is the most risqué of them all. It’s a perfectly witty, stylish, sophisticated cinematic concoction that certainly would have left conservative types clutching their pearls. And who can blame Gilda for being forced to choose between men played by Gary Cooper and Fredric March? I love this movie.

The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

Basically, the entire movie is one big pre-code moment.

Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

When a movie’s entire plot is  hinges around ideas that would have been very strictly forbidden just a year later, that automatically earns it a spot pretty high on any list of essential pre-codes. In a lot of other pre-codes, objectionable scenes might have been removed as deemed necessary by local censors. That couldn’t happen with Design for Living since its shock factor is built into the story. A movie ending with three people deciding a three-way relationship is right for them, especially when one of them is openly rejecting a traditional marriage in favor of this three-way relationship, would still be pretty eyebrow raising by today’s standards.

What’s on TCM: May 2014

June AllysonHappy May, everyone! April was a rather unusual month for TCM, but it’s back to the usual schedule for May.  June Allyson is May’s Star of the Month and will be featured every Wednesday night.  Friday Night Spotlight returns with a look at Australian cinema hosted by Jacki Weaver. Since I haven’t seen many Australian films, I look forward to having the chance to see more. For Memorial Day weekend, TCM will be having their annual 72-hour marathon of war films.  May’s Guest Programmer is none other than Rev. Mother Dolores Hart, who will be showcasing a few of her favorite movies on May 27th.


Morocco (1930)

Morocco 1930When nightclub singer Amy Jolly (Marlene Dietrich) arrives in Morocco, she’s already lived and loved a lot and it’s left her exhausted.  The last thing she wants is to fall in love and be hurt yet again.  But when she spots Legionnaire Tom Brown (Gary Cooper) in the audience during one of her performances, she can’t resist him.  She gives him a key to her place and he comes to visit her.  As they get to know each other, Amy really takes a liking to Tom, but is still hesitant to get too involved.

Before meeting Amy, Tom had a reputation for being quite the ladies man.  He had even been carrying on an affair with his superior officer Caesare’s (Ullrich Haupt) wife, but broke things off with her to be with Amy.  However, Caesare knew what had been going on and sends Tom on a mission that could very well cost him his life.

Before Tom leaves on his mission, he overhears Amy rejecting a proposal from Kennington La Bessiere (Adolphe Menjou).  Kennington is a rich man and can offer Amy so many things that Tom simply cannot.  Even though he loves Amy, he believes she would be better off with Kennington and decides to take himself out of the picture.  While he is gone, Amy agrees to marry Kennington. But when she finds out Tom is back in town, reportedly injured, she can’t help but rush to be with him.  Recognizing who Amy really loves and wanting her to be happy, Kennington even gives her a ride to see him.

The critical consensus for Morocco seems to be that it’s one of the best movies Josef von Sternberg made with Marlene Dietrich.  Although I do like Morocco, it’s not one of my personal favorite Dietrich movies.  As far as the von Sternberg collaborations go, I prefer The Blue Angel and Blonde VenusMorocco just leaves me a little bit cold.  Dietrich herself is divine; she has such a commanding screen presence and she can work a tuxedo like nobody else.  The exotic locale is perfect for von Sternberg’s style.  The story just doesn’t pull me all the way in, though.

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

During World War I, Lieutenant Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper) serves the Italian Army as an ambulance driver and in his free time, enjoys going out drinking with Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou).  When one of their nights on the town is interrupted by an air raid, Frederic takes shelter alongside nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes).  However, their first meeting is less than ideal for other reasons — he mistakes her for a prostitute he had been talking to earlier.

But Frederic gets another chance to make an impression on Catherine when Rinaldi arranges a double date for them and Catherine and her friend Helen (Mary Philips).  Rinaldi is in love with Catherine and had intended Helen to be Frederic’s date, but Frederic and Catherine fall madly in love with each other that night and start having an affair.  Army regulations forbid their romance, but rules suddenly don’t seem to mean much to Frederic.  Before he is sent off to the front lines, he insists on stopping to say goodbye to Catherine.  Rinaldi, still bitter that Catherine prefers Frederic over him, sees to it that Catherine is transferred to Milan to keep her away from him.

As fate would have it, Frederic is injured and is taken to Catherine’s new hospital.  Their feelings for each other are still as strong as ever and they are secretly married in Frederic’s hospital room.  Frederic spends the next three months recuperating and he and Catherine couldn’t be happier together.  But when he has to go back to the war, there’s one thing he doesn’t know — Catherine is pregnant.  She leaves the hospital for Switzerland to wait for him and even though they write to each other regularly, Rinaldi sees to it that neither of them receive their letters.

When Frederic becomes concerned over Catherine’s lack of letters, he deserts the Army to find her.  He eventually manages to find Helen, who tells him about the baby, but she’s so angry about what he’s done to Catherine that she refuses to tell him where she is.  Now even more desperate to find her, he takes out an ad in the newspaper looking for her, which gets Rinaldi’s attention.  Finally realizing just how much Frederic loves Catherine, he finally tells him where she is.  But when he finally makes his way to her, she’s not in good health.

When people talk about pre-codes, A Farewell to Arms isn’t one that comes up very often and I have no idea why that is.  In terms of shocking content, A Farewell to Arms has got plenty of stuff to make your jaw drop: rape, forbidden love, very frank discussions of relationships,  and of course, the scene with the prostitute early in the movie.

But A Farewell to Arms has a lot more to offer than risqué scenes.  Frank Borzage offers up some top-notch direction and Charles Lang completely deserved the Academy Award he won for his beautiful cinematography.  I absolutely loved Gary Cooper’s performance as Fredric and Adolphe Menjou is an excellent supporting player.  As for Helen Hayes, I haven’t seen very many of her movies, but her work here made me want to see more of her.  I’ve never read A Farewell to Arms so I can’t critique it as an adaptation, but I do know Hemingway didn’t care for the movie.  All I can do is take the movie for what it is and I very much enjoyed it, much more than I expected to.

Along Came Jones (1945)

When Melody Jones (Gary Cooper) and his friend George Fury (William Demarest) ride into the town of Payneville, Melody is confused and kind of amused when everyone in town seems to be afraid of him.  Melody’s a completely harmless guy, so imagine his surprise when Cherry de Longpre (Loretta Young) informs him there’s a gun pointed at him.  She takes Melody and George back to her ranch and along the way, she explains that everyone Payneville thinks Melody is notorious outlaw Monte Jarrad (Dan Duryea).  Melody and Monte really don’t look alike, but they do have the same initials and share some of the vague characteristics listed on Motne’s wanted poster.

Cherry urges Melody and George to get out of Payneville right away, and naturally, they take her advice.  But once they get a little bit out of town, they realize their departure would be a perfect diversion for the real criminal to escape, so they go back to Cherry’s ranch to see what’s going on.  It turns out Cherry and Monte had been friends when they were children, and even though she doesn’t like what he’s turned into, she still feels obligated to take care of him and has been hiding him in her barn.  To protect Melody, Cherry lets him stay at her ranch for the night.

The next day, Cherry convinces Melody to take Monte’s saddle so he can distract the posse chasing Monte and Monte can get away.  But when Melody goes to town posing as Monte, Melody gets into some trouble and has to be saved by Cherry.  But there’s one thing that Monte left behind and that’s some of the money he stole.  Even more problems arise for Melody and Cherry when other people come to claim it — including Monte himself.

I really wasn’t a big fan of Along Came Jones.  It was nice to see Gary Cooper having some fun with the Western genre, but it isn’t a particularly well written movie.  The basic premise of the movie had potential, but it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.  If you’re looking for a fun Western, definitely go with something like Destry Rides Again or Cat Ballou instead.