Ginger Rogers

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.

Carefree 1938

Carefree (1938)

Stephen Arden (Ralph Bellamy) has been engaged to singer Amanda Cooper (Ginger Rogers) multiple times, but she continually breaks off their engagement. After finding himself jilted for the third time, Stephen asks his friend Tony (Fred Astaire), a psychiatrist, to analyze Amanda and find out what’s causing her fear of commitment. Before meeting her, Tony thinks Amanda is a “mindless female,” and says so into his dictaphone, a recording that Amanda ends up hearing while waiting in his office. Furious, Amanda gets out of the appointment and snubs Tony when she meets him again later.

Eventually, Amanda admits why she’s angry with Tony and Tony apologizes before he starts questioning Amanda about her fear of commitment. Amanda can’t offer any explanation for it, so Tony orders her to have a meal of ridiculous food combinations to bring on dreams that could offer some insight. The plan works, but Amanda awakens the next morning realizing she’s in love with Tony, not Stephen.

When Tony asks Amanda about her dream, she doesn’t want to admit the truth, so she makes up a wild dream that makes Tony want to study her further. He orders her to be given a truth serum, not realizing she’s due to perform on the radio very shortly. Despite the fact that her broadcast is a complete disaster, Amanda still loves Tony, but just as she’s about to admit her feelings to him, Stephen announces that he and Amanda are engaged again. Although Tony loves her back, he tries to hypnotize Amanda into thinking she loves Stephen, a plan that also totally backfires.

Carefree is an Astaire-Rogers movie that I don’t think gets nearly enough credit. Sure, there aren’t as many songs as some of their other movies and the musical numbers aren’t as dazzling as “Cheek to Cheek” or “Never Gonna Dance,” but there still are some really great dances in it. I love the hypnotic dance they do to “Change Partners” and I like the slight surrealness of “I Used to be Colorblind.” I actually didn’t mind that it wasn’t as heavy on the songs as some of their other movies because there was less to distract attention from how great Astaire, Rogers, and Bellamy all were in it, just in different ways. For example, Ginger Rogers in particular was hilarious in it, but I think that’s a fact that might have been overshadowed if there had been more dance scenes. So even if Carefree isn’t the best of the Astaire-Rogers pairings, it’s nice to see them in a movie that lets them emphasize some of their other talents.

Fifth Avenue Girl

Fifth Avenue Girl (1939)

On the surface, Alfred Borden (Walter Connolly) might seem like he has it all. He runs his own business, he’s rich, and he lives in a beautiful home on 5th Avenue. In reality, his business is going through some difficulties, his wife Martha (Verree Teasdale) isn’t faithful, his son Tim (Tim Holt) is too busy partying to be of any help at the office, and Katherine (Kathryn Adams) is too wrapped up in her own world to pay attention to her father. Alfred’s family doesn’t even remember his birthday.

Rather than spend his birthday at home with his servants, he heads over to the park, where he meets Mary Grey (Ginger Rogers), who happens to need a job. He invites her to join him for dinner at a swanky restaurant and the two have a swell time drinking and dancing all night. Martha and her boyfriend are at the same restaurant that night and when she sees Alfred cavorting with Mary, he suddenly becomes a lot more interesting to her.

The next day, Alfred realizes that being seen with Mary got him more attention from his family than he’s gotten in a long time. He hires Mary to pretend to be his girlfriend and the two of them pretend to go out every night. Alfred’s family is dismayed by his behavior and tries to get Mary out of the picture. Although Tim loathes Mary at first, it isn’t long before he starts to fall in love with her while Martha is falling in love with her husband all over again.

5th Avenue Girl may not be a musical, but it is a good representation of a lot of other reasons why I love Ginger Rogers. She was so good at playing these smart, funny, likable characters and that’s exactly what she does here; although a bit more deadpan than usual. She has great co-stars in Walter Connolly and Verree Teasdale, but I wasn’t too wild about Tim Holt as Ginger’s love interest. The writing isn’t perfect, but it’s still strong enough of a movie to be well worth watching. I wasn’t wild about enough to call it an underrated gem, but it’s certainly not a mediocre movie, either; it’s somewhere between those two levels.

What’s on TCM: July 2014

Maureen O'HaraHappy July, everyone!  With summer now in full swing, TCM has plenty of great movies to watch on hot summer nights.  Maureen O’Hara is July’s Star of the Month and will be featured every Tuesday night this month.  TCM will also be commemorating the hundredth anniversary of World War I every Friday by showing some of the best WWI movies, including The Big ParadeSergeant YorkGrand Illusion, and All Quiet on the Western Front, just to name a few.

The night I am most looking forward to this month is July 10th.  TCM will be featuring six classic documentaries such as Salesman, Harlan County USA, and Sans Soleil. I really like documentaries and that night’s movies is a nice mix of things I’m looking forward to re-watching and ones I’ve been wanting to see.

Now, on to the rest of the schedule…

(more…)

42nd Street (1933)

42nd Street 1933When word gets out that producers Jones and Barry are putting on a new show, it’s the talk of the theater world.  Since the nation is in the midst of the Great Depression, a lot of people are depending on this show; everyone from electricians and set builders to chorus girls and the show’s director need it to be a hit.  Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) agrees to direct the show despite his doctor’s advice.  Julian has recently suffered a nervous breakdown and was advised to find a less stressful profession.  But Julian can’t afford to retire, so he needs it to be a hit so he can afford to get out of the business.

One person who is living comfortably, despite the Depression, is Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels).  She’s the girlfriend of Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee), the show’s financial backer, which means she has no problem securing a position as the show’s leading lady. Other ladies clamor for the chance to be in the chorus, including Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler), who is new to the theater world.  But Peggy has no problem fitting in and quickly makes friends with fellow chorines Annie (Ginger Rogers) and Lorraine (Una Merkel) and catches the eye of Billy Lawler (Dick Powell).

After rehearsals get underway, the producers find out that Dorothy has been seeing her former vaudeville partner Pat Denning (George Brent) on the side.  Not wanting to endanger the show, they try to put a stop to it.  But just before the show is set to open, Abner finds out about Dorothy’s two-timing, they get into a fight, and he wants her out of the show.  The producers protest, but when Dorothy injures her ankle, they have no choice but to re-cast the lead.  Abner wants Annie to take the lead, but she knows she isn’t up to the task.  However, she believes Peggy is.

When 42nd Street was released in 1933, the concept of the backstage musical had already been done before in movies like The Broadway Melody.  But when 42nd Street came along, it not only became the ultimate backstage musical, it revolutionized the entire genre of musicals.  Everyone wanted to mimic Busby Berkley’s style of choreography.  But unlike many early musicals, 42nd Street can hardly be described as creaky or dull.  Its slick production values, catchy songs, memorable choreography, and witty banter keep it fresh even after eighty years.

What’s on TCM: September 2013

Kim Novak VertigoHappy September, everybody!  TCM’s Summer Under the Stars may be drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean September is going to be a boring month.  In fact, September looks like it’s going to be one of my favorite TCM months in a long time.

First of all, TCM will be kicking off their major Story of Film series.  Not only will they be showing Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film — An Odyssey documentary series on Monday and Tuesday nights, but TCM will also be playing many films featured in the documentary.  This reminds me a bit of the programming TCM did when they had their Moguls and Movie Stars series back in November of 2010.  However, unlike Moguls and Movie Stars, The Story of Film looks beyond the American film industry and branches into world cinema so they will be showing many films that were not discussed during Moguls and Movie Stars.  Fans of silent films have good reason to be excited for this because there will be many nights focusing on the silent era.  If you want to expand your knowledge of film history in general, you are not going to want to miss this series.  This series will continue into October.

If you’re an Alfred Hitchcock fan, you’re going to love the Sundays with Hitch series this month.  Every Sunday, almost all day long, will be dedicated to none other than the Master of Suspense.

Kim Novak will be the Star of the Month.  Her movies can be seen every Thursday this month.

Friday Night Spotlight also makes its return with a series called “Future Shock” hosted by Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, dedicated to movies about futuristic dystopias.  There are a few more modern movies in this line-up, but I can forgive that considering how many nights are dedicated to silent film this month.

It’s going to be a very busy month, so let’s take a closer look at the schedule…

(more…)

Primrose Path (1940)

Ellie May Adams (Ginger Rogers) is hardly living the high life.  She lives in a run-down house with her prostitute mother Mamie (Marjorie Rambeau), her former-prostitute grandmother (Queenie Vassar), her alcoholic scholar father Homer (Miles Mander), and her younger sister Honeybell (Joan Carroll).  Her father can’t hold a job so it’s up to her mother to support the family.  It’s not the best situation, but her parents love her very much and her father wants her to have something better out of life.

While on the way to the beach one day, Ellie May gets a ride with Gramp (Henry Travers), who runs a gas station and restaurant.  Ellie doesn’t have any money for lunch, so Gramp lets her have a sandwich.  While at the restaurant, Ellie meets Ed Wallace (Joel McCrea), a quick-witted waiter.  Sparks begin to fly when Ed realizes  that Ellie has no problem keeping up with his wisecracks.  Ed offers Ellie a ride home and kisses her along the way.  After that, Ellie can’t get Ed out of her head.  She goes out to see him one night, and to avoid bringing him home to meet her family, she tells him that her parents threw her out for being in love with him.

Ellie and Ed get married and wait tables in Gramp’s restaurant together.  All is going well until Mamie comes by the gas station one day with one of her “dates.”  When she gets upset over a customer’s comment about her mother, she doesn’t give the Ed the real story about why she’s upset.  Ed decides he’d like to finally meet her family, but when she takes him to their house, he quickly realizes just how many lies Ellie has told him and leaves her.  Things get even worse later that night when Homer shoots Mamie by mistake.  She doesn’t survive, leaving Ellie to support the family.  Unable to get a job on her own, she has to take her grandmother’s advice and turn to prostitution.  While out on a “date” with “Mr. Smith” (Charles Lane, uncredited), she not-so-accidentally runs into Ed to confront him.  After she leaves, “Mr. Smith” has a few words with Ed and lets him in on what’s really going on with her.

Primrose Path was a pretty darn good drama.  The writing is good, the direction by Gregory La Cava is good, and Ginger Rogers and Joel McCrea are both excellent in it.  It was definitely interesting to see Rogers in such an un-glamorous role for a change.  The supporting cast is wonderful, Marjorie Rambeau absolutely deserved her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.

The most surprising thing about Primrose Path is that it somehow got made with the production codes being enforced at the time.  The word “prostitute” is never actually used, but the movie isn’t subtle at all about it.  Not only is prostitution central to the storyline, but Mamie is a very sympathetic character.

All in all, it’s a very enjoyable movie.  Definitely keep an eye out for this one.