Henry Fonda

The Male Animal (1942)

The Male Animal PosterIt’s homecoming weekend at Midwestern University and while almost everyone on campus is excited about the big football game, English professor Tommy Turner (Henry Fonda) has more important things to worry about.  Dean Frederick Damon (Ivan F. Simpson) has just read an inflammatory editorial written by Michael Barnes (Herbert Anderson), the boyfriend of his wife Ellen’s (Olivia de Havilland) sister Patricia (Joan Leslie).  In the editorial, Michael states that Tommy plans to read a letter written by a controversial figure to his class.  Tommy does indeed plan to read the letter in class, but the Dean wants Tommy to change his mind to avoid upsetting some of the university’s trustees.

Not only is Tommy’s job suddenly on the line, he’s got marital problems to worry about, too.  Ellen’s birthday is coming up and Tommy has forgotten all about it.  But one person who hasn’t forgotten Ellen’s birthday is her ex-boyfriend Joe Ferguson (Jack Carson).  He’s in town for the big homecoming game and is also newly divorced.  Tommy begins to worry that Ellen and Joe are still in love with each other and on the day of the big football game, decides to drive Ellen away from their marriage because he thinks that’s what she wants.  While Ellen and Joe are at the game together, Tommy stays home and drinks with Michael.  By the time Ellen and Joe come back, Tommy is completely drunk and he starts a fight with Joe, who knocks him out until Monday.

Tommy finally comes to just in time to go to class and read that letter.  But by then, everyone has read the editorial and is clamoring to visit his class to see what happens.  Michael has been expelled over his editorial and one of the trustees threatens to fire Tommy if he reads that letter.  On top of that, Ellen is about ready to leave town with Joe, but before leaving, they stop by Tommy’s class.  He defiantly reads the letter and makes an impassioned statement on the importance of freedom of speech.  Everyone, including Ellen, is deeply moved by Tommy’s class and rallies in support of him and Ellen changes her mind about leaving Tommy.

The Male Animal is a really fun little movie.  It’s the very definition of an underrated comedy.  I liked getting to see Henry Fonda use both his comedic and dramatic talents in the same movie  We all know Fonda was amazing at giving heartfelt speeches and his speech about freedom of speech is a signature Henry Fonda moment.  But he also does some fantastic comedic work in this, particularly in the scene where Tommy gets drunk and tries to pick a fight with Joe.  Speaking of Joe, Jack Carson was a perfect foil for Henry Fonda to play against.  My biggest complaint about The Male Animal is that Joan Leslie is woefully underused.  The scenes of her character dealing with a girl named “Hot Garters” Gardner trying to steal her boyfriend had me in stitches.

Mister Roberts (1955)

Captain Morton (James Cagney) may officially be the captain of the USS Reluctant, but as far as the crew is concerned, Lieutenant Doug Roberts (Henry Fonda) is the man in charge.  Captain Morton is very strict and routinely denies the crew their small rewards over very minor infractions.  Doug, on the other hand, is much kinder and often ignores the Captain’s orders to make the crew’s life more bearable.  However, the USS Reluctant isn’t seeing any of the action of World War II and Doug would much rather be on active duty than be stuck on that boat.  His closest friend Doc (William Powell) tries to reassure him that his being on the ship means the world to the crew, but that doesn’t stop him from requesting a transfer.

In order for Doug to get a transfer, Captain Morton would have to agree to it and Morton knows that he would look bad if Doug were to leave so he refuses to sign his letters.  Captain Morton hasn’t even let the crew have leave in a very long time, so behind the Captain’s back, Doug bribes an official to get the crew granted one night of leave.  When the Captain finds out about it, he threatens to deny the whole crew their leave unless Doug promises to stop undermining him and to stop requesting transfers.  Doug reluctantly agrees, and the crew is mystified to see Doug suddenly playing into the Captain’s hand.

The crew thinks Doug is just gunning to get a promotion and starts giving him the cold shoulder.  But on the night of V-E Day, Doug listens to a speech on the radio that inspires him to stand up to the Captain.  While the Captain confronts Doug in his office, the intercom is accidentally left on and the whole crew finds out the price Doug paid for them to have their leave.  To show their gratitude, the crew decides to get Doug the transfer he wants so badly.  Before he leaves for Okinawa, the crew presents Doug with their own special award and he finally realizes just how much he really meant to everybody.

With Doug off in Okinawa, Frank Pulver (Jack Lemmon) takes over Doug’s old position on the ship. Frank is pretty intimidated by the Captain, so he can’t bring himself to go against the Captain the way Doug used to.  But when the crew gets word that Doug has been killed, Frank finally finds the nerve to stand up to the Captain.

Genre-wise, Mister Roberts is really in a league of its own.  It deals with World War II, but there aren’t any big battle scenes.  It’s got comedy, but it’s not a farce like Dr. Strangelove.  And for all its lighthearted moments, when it was serious, it was very heartfelt and touching.  It’s very hard to combine all of those genres and do all of them well, but Mister Roberts managed to pull it off.

The part of Doug Roberts is such a perfect Henry Fonda role.  He’s that “everyman fighting for what’s right” type of character that Fonda is best remembered for playing.  As good as Fonda is, Jack Lemmon really steals the show at the end of the movie.  His performance in the scene where he reads Doug’s letters aloud to the crew is so genuinely moving.  He’s great in the rest of the movie, too, but boy did he ever hit it out of the park in that scene.

I love everything about Mister Roberts.  I don’t know why on Earth I put off seeing it for such a long time.

What’s on TCM: June 2012

Hard to believe it’s already almost June!  June’s Star(s) of the Month are Teen Idols.  Every Thursday will be showcasing movies starring the likes of Elvis, Frankie and Annette, The Monkees, and Troy Donahue.  TCM will also be doing a series called The Immigrant Experience every Wednesday night this month.  June 10th is a very noteworthy day as it marks what would be Judy Garland’s 90th birthday.  TCM will be celebrating by playing her movies for a full 24 hours, all chosen by noted Judy Garland expert John Fricke.  The Essentials, Jr. series also makes its return to Sunday nights this month.

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What’s on TCM: May 2012

Happy May, everyone!  It certainly looks like it’s going to be a busy month on TCM.  Joel McCrea is the star of the month, which is something I know a lot of people have been wanting to see for quite some time.  He’ll be featured every Wednesday night this month.  Every Thursday night will be all about movies based on true crime stories.  Plus there’s the annual 48-hour war movie marathon for Memorial day will run from May 27-28.  So without further ado, let’s get to the schedule:

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What’s on TCM: May 2011

It looks like May is going to be a pretty busy month on TCM!  Esther Williams is the Star of the Month and since her movies tend to make me want to spend some time in the pool, I’d say she’s a good choice to help get you in the mood for summer.  This month you will also get a chance to catch the series Moguls and Movie Stars again.  If you missed it when it premiered back in November, it’s very much worth checking out.  Near the end of the month will be TCM’s annual Memorial Day weekend marathon of classic war films.  There are also a lot of great birthday tributes coming up including Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Bing Crosby, Henry Fonda, Audrey Hepburn, and Rudolph Valentino.

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What’s on TCM: August 2010

It’s August, and that can only mean one thing: Summer Under the Stars!  Like 31 Days of Oscar, Summer Under the Stars never disappoints and I’m definitely excited for this year’s schedule.  There are plenty of days dedicated to showcasing some SUTS mainstays like Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Henry Fonda.  But this year they’re really mixing things up and spending nearly half the month focusing on people who have never been part of SUTS before, including John Gilbert, Ethel Barrymore, and Gene Tierney.  Not only are there lots of stars who are new to SUTS, there are also tons of movies being premiered this month.  I counted a grand total of 54 TCM premieres in August, 19 of which are on Thelma Todd day alone.

Here is a complete list of the stars featured this month.  To get the complete schedule, you can download a copy here.

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TCM Day in Review: 2/14/10

Yesterday was most certainly been the most five-star day on TCM this month!  Yesterday afternoon, I was able to watch: The More the Merrier, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Lady Eve, and Ball of Fire.  And those are only the ones I saw.  I skipped Notorious, High Society, and most of A Foreign Affair since those were all on quite early and I’d seen them all before.  I also caught Casablanca and The African Queen, but since I don’t have anything particularly unique to say about either one of those, I’m just going to skip writing about them.  Plus this entry is going to be long enough as it is without those two movies.

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