George Sidney

Viva Las Vegas (1964)

Lucky (Elvis Presley) has come to Las Vegas to participate in the big Grand Prix race.  The only problem is that his car needs a new engine.  He’s able to win the money he needs for a new engine, but his luck runs out while pursuing swimming instructor Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret).  While singing a song to her, he ends up taking an unexpected dip in the pool and loses his money.  Now not only does he need money for his engine, he needs money to pay his hotel bill, so he and his friend Shorty (Nicky Blair) get jobs as waiters at the hotel.  An added benefit of working at the hotel is now he can enter the employee talent show and win the money for his engine.

When Lucky first set eyes on Rusty, it was love at first sight, but Rusty isn’t so quick to fall for Lucky’s charms (no pun intended.)  But as she spends more time with him, she falls pretty hard for him, too.  The only problem is that Rusty doesn’t like Lucky racing cars, she’s afraid of him getting hurt.  Lucky doesn’t want to quit racing, but his rival Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Denova) is also attracted to Rusty and would be willing to give up racing if the right woman came along.  She goes on a date with Mancini, but her heart still belongs to Lucky.

When the big talent show rolls around, Lucky and Rusty end up competing against each other.  Lucky wins, but it turns out there isn’t a cash prize after all.  But with some help from Rusty’s father (William Demarest), Lucky is able to get his engine, Rusty learns to stop worrying and love auto racing, and Lucky and Rusty can live happily ever after.

Elvis movies generally don’t have the best reputations, but Viva Las Vegas is one worth seeing.  From beginning to end, it’s nothing but fun.  Elvis truly found his perfect leading lady in Ann-Margret, it’s really too bad Viva Las Vegas was the only movie they made together.  The script has issues, but the chemistry between Elvis and Ann-Margret is so great, it’s easy to overlook those issues and just have fun with it. Not only does it have two fantastic leads, the songs are excellent.  I’m sure I’ll have the song “Viva Las Vegas” running through my head the next couple of days.  I’d say this and Jailhouse Rock are the two Elvis movies most worth seeing.

Jeanne Eagels (1957)

In the late 1910s, Jeanne Eagels (Kim Novak) was nothing more than an aspiring actress from Kansas City.  When she meets a traveling salesman who says he can fix it so she can win a beauty pageant at the carnival, she buys it hook, line, and sinker.  But when she gets to the pageant, Sal Satori (Jeff Chandler) has other plans and Jeanne doesn’t win.  However, she sticks around at the end of the night and convinces Sal to give her a job in the carnival.  While on the road, she and Sal fall in love and she dances in any show she can on the carnival circuit, but she’s has her sights set on bigger things.  Eventually, Sal decides to sell his carnival and start a new carnival in Coney Island with his brother.  Jeanne accompanies him to New York, where she takes acting lessons from the great acting coach Nellie Nielson (Agnes Moorehead).

Under the tutelage of Nellie, Jeanne quickly climbs the ladder of success on Broadway, but her relationship with Sal suffers as a result and Jeanne quickly moves onto John Donahue (Charles Drake).  While she’s outside of the theater one day, Jeanne meets Elsie Desmond (Virginia Grey), the former Broadway star who lost her career to pills and booze.  Elsie desperately wants to make a comeback starring as Sadie Thompson in a production of Somerset Maugham’s “Rain.”  Elsie gives Jeanne a copy of the script for her to give to a producer since he’d listen to her, but when Jeanne reads the script, she falls in love with it.  She makes some phone calls and finds out that not only does nobody want to touch it if Elsie’s involved, but her option has expired, so she convinces the producer to do “Rain” with her as Sadie Thompson.  Jeanne is a sensation in the part, but Elsie is driven even deeper into despair and commits suicide.

Jeanne feels painfully guilty for Elsie’s demise, but things look up for her when John’s divorce is finalized and the two are married.  However, marrying John doesn’t stop her from falling into a downward spiral of alcoholism and taking John with her.  While on the road with “Rain”, Jeanne’s drinking forces several performances to be canceled, getting her in hot water with the actors’ union.  Meanwhile, Sal’s new carnival has really taken off, but he still misses Jeanne.  After Jeanne divorces John, she returns to New York to star in a new show.  But just before the show opens, Jeanne gets drunk and doped up before going on stage and as a result, forgets her lines and has a meltdown on stage.  When the entire show gets canceled, the actors’ union bans her from performing in legitimate theater for 18 months.  Sal, however, takes pity on her and gives her a chance to perform in his vaudeville theater, which she accepts.  Unfortunately, after an altercation with a fellow performer, Jeanne once again turns to pills and liquor to cope, but this time, she doesn’t live to make it to the next performance.

I have to say, I was a little underwhelmed by Jeanne Eagels.  First of all, it pretty much goes without saying that Hollywood biopics tend to play a little fast and loose with reality.  But the real Jeanne Eagels never was a carnival dancer and I think it’s a bit much to make an inaccuracy into such a huge part of the movie.  Secondly, Kim Novak’s performance tends to be a bit campy, especially during her drunk scenes and the scenes of Jeanne performing in the play Rain.  The only performance I’ve seen of the real Jeanne Eagels was the 1929 version of The Letter and based on what I saw there, I can totally imagine her bringing down the house with that line, “…Hang me and be damned to you!”  I just can’t imagine Kim’s delivery of that line having the same impact.  It was one of those moments that’s supposed to be so great but left me thinking, “Wait…seriously?”  The writing also had a few issues.  The way it’s written, it feels like Jeanne had the fastest descent into alcoholism I’ve ever seen in a movie.  We don’t see her touch the stuff through most of the movie, then she has one drink and the next thing we know, she’s going off on benders.  I also thought the introduction of Elsie Desmond was a pretty heavy-handed attempt at foreshadowing, even though I really did like Virginia Grey’s performance as Elsie.

Before seeing this movie, I really liked the idea of Kim Novak playing Jeanne Eagels and I give her an “A” for effort because she tried her darndest.  But maybe with a better script and if director George Sidney had reigned Kim in just a little bit, this could have been a far better movie.

Rafter Romance (1933)

Rafter Romance 1933 Ginger Rogers

Mary Carroll (Ginger Rogers) and Jack Bacon (Norman  Foster) are two people with very different lives.  Mary has just moved to New York and it took her a while to find a job selling iceboxes by telephone.  Jack is an aspiring artist and a security guard by night.  What they do have in common is that both of them are having a hard time paying their rent.  So their landlord Max Eckbaum (George Sidney) comes up with an idea where both of them move into the attic and split the rent.  Since Mary works during the day, she’ll be gone while Jack needs to sleep and Jack will be working while Mary is sleeping; they would never actually be home together at the same time.  Neither of them is particularly happy about the arrangement, but they don’t really have much of a choice.  However, as their arrangement progresses, they each do stuff that annoys the other person even though they aren’t there at the same time and they grow to despise each other.

But what they don’t realize is that they have met before.  While waiting for her turn in the apartment one evening, Mary sits outside of a deli working on her sales pitch.  James walks out of the deli and starts flirting with her.  The two of them meet up again and James even promises to buy six iceboxes from her.  When they arrange to meet up again, they inadvertently end up sabotaging each other.  Mary stops at home for a quick shower, only to find her roommate has rigged the shower to fall and hit her on the head.  So Mary gets revenge by putting his good suit in the shower so it would get all wet.  Jack leaves Mary waiting for him in the rain while he tries to get his suit taken care of.  When he tries to call her the next day to explain, she won’t talk to him and accepts an invitation from her boss for a night out.

While she’s out with the boss, Elise, a wealthy older woman with designs on Jack visits Jack at the apartment and realizes he’s living with a woman.  They get into a fight that results in Elise refusing to leave and Jack having to leave his own apartment.  While he’s out, he runs into Mary and convinces her to have dinner with him and Jack agrees to be Mary’s date to the company picnic the next day.  They have a nice evening out, but what Mary doesn’t expect to find when she comes home is Elise asleep in her bed.  The next day, Jack and Mary have a lovely time at the company picnic, but as they are leaving the picnic, Jack sprains his ankle.  Mary takes him home and realizes that Jack is the roommate she despises so much.  The two of them fight, but everything works out for the best and the movie has a happy ending.

The story reminded me a lot of The Shop Around the Corner and Pillow Talk, but compared to those two movies, Rafter Romance is a downright obscure movie.  Rafter Romance was produced by Merian C. Cooper, and in the 1940s, Cooper sued RKO for money he wasn’t paid for movies he had produced in the 1930s.  As part of the settlement, he was given full ownership of six RKO titles, including Rafter Romance.  While he owned them, he only allowed Rafter Romance to be played on television in 1955.  It wouldn’t be seen again until 2007 when TCM acquired the rights to the movies owned by Cooper, restored them, and started airing them.  I thought Rafter Romance was a pretty cute movie.  It isn’t nearly as scandalous as a lot of other pre-codes and it’s not meant to offer any serious commentary on society, but it’s a fun little movie.

What’s on TCM: October 2010

Happy Halloween!  Before we get to the TCM schedule for October, it’s time for a little site news.  To celebrate Halloween, I’ll be reviewing a different horror film every Wednesday this month.  I promise it will be a mix between some typical Halloween favorites and some more unusual choices, so be sure to check that out.

Now, back to the TCM schedule.  Since it’s October, I’m sure it’s not at all surprising that there will be tons of horror movies this month.  Every Friday night is a night of horror classics from Hammer Film Productions.  Fredric March is the star of the month, which I’m pretty geeked up for.  Every Monday and Wednesday night is Critic’s Choice night, where two notable film critics pick two of their favorite movies to play.  Some of the critics include Leonard Maltin, Roger Ebert and Mick LaSalle and they’ve made some pretty great choices.