It’s that time of year again! Let Summer Under the Stars commence! I love this year’s line-up. Even though there are plenty of the usual SUTS suspects like Bette Davis, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart, more than half of this year’s stars have never been part of SUTS before. And many of those who have been featured before, haven’t been featured in quite a few years. Let’s take a look at the full list of stars:
In Casablanca, everyone comes to Rick’s. In Born to Dance, everyone comes to Jenny Saks’ (Una Merkel) Lonely Hearts Club in New York. Jenny is married to Gunny Saks (Sid Silvers), but she barely knows him since he’s a sailor who has been away with the Navy for four years. When Gunny finally comes back to New York, he takes his sailor friend Ted Barker (Jimmy Stewart) with him and heads straight for the Lonely Hearts Club to see his wife. But Gunny and Ted aren’t the only ones arriving in New York this day. Nora Paige (Eleanor Powell) has just come to town looking to become a Broadway star and hits it off with Jenny. When Gunny and Ted show up at the club, Ted and Nora fall in love, but things aren’t as warm between Jenny and Gunny. Jenny has a daughter named Sally that Gunny doesn’t know about and Jenny doesn’t want him to know about her until she’s sure whether or not she really loves him.
However, actress Lucy James (Virginia Bruce) soon ends up driving a wedge between Ted and Nora. When Lucy shows up on Gunny and Ted’s ship for some publicity pictures, her little dog ends up falling overboard and Ted is the lucky sailor to jump in and save it. Lucy’s press agent sees the potential for more publicity out of this incident and gets Lucy to invite Ted out to dinner to thank him. When her agent puts word out to the press about their date, Nora assumes that Ted loves her instead and refuses to see him. But even though Ted still loves Nora, Lucy is smitten by Ted. When Lucy’s agent suggests telling the press the two of them are engaged, she is outraged because she absolutely does not want to use Ted like that and threatens to back out of her new show if he does.
Meanwhile, Nora has gotten a job as Lucy’s understudy in her new show. So what does Ted do to win Nora back? He tells the press that he and Lucy are engaged, Lucy backs out of the show, and of course Nora goes on in her place and becomes a sensation! Nora and Ted get back together and they all lived happily ever after. Well, except for Gunny and Jenny. Gunny was thrilled to find out he was Sally’s father, but he didn’t find out until after he signed up for another four years in the Navy.
In the book Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince, there’s a page that talks about how one day, Irving had been asked to come to a meeting with Cole Porter and the main cast of Born to Dance to hear songs written for the movie. When he walked into the meeting, Irving was clearly unhappy about being asked to be there. This wasn’t one of his movies, he was a busy man and had plenty of other things to be doing. But by the end of the meeting, Irving was smiling and jumping up to congratulate Porter on what he called one of the finest movie scores he’d ever heard. I think that story really sums up what kind of movie Born to Dance is — something you can watch when you’re in a bad mood and by the time it’s over, it’s awfully hard to resist smiling. 1930s musicals were all about fantasy and escapism and that is precisely what Born to Dance is.
I loved everything about Born to Dance. It’s pure, exuberant fun, the cast is delightful, the songs are extremely catchy. It’s got lots of great lines like, “Sally, you’re going to drive me to stop drinking,” and “He went out fifteen minutes ago for five minutes and won’t be back for a half hour.” And there’s no going wrong will all that spectacular tap dancing by Eleanor Powell. When I say the cast is delightful, that includes Jimmy Stewart. This is a very unusual movie for Jimmy Stewart since he was so not meant for musicals. But I’ve really got to hand it to him, because you can’t accuse him of not being a good sport about being put in this movie. He was no Bing Crosby, but he doesn’t pretend to be Bing Crosby, either. There are moments where you can tell that he felt out of his element, but he gave it his all anyway and managed to make that awkwardness totally endearing. He may not have been a great singer, but he was completely adorable in it anyway.
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.
Van Stanhope (Clark Gable) seems to have it all: he’s a very successful magazine publisher, he’s been very happily married to Linda (Myrna Loy) for three years, and he’s got Whitey (Jean Harlow), the best secretary he could ever want. Most wives would be worried about their husbands having secretaries who look like Whitey, but Linda trusts Van completely and she has every reason to. At least she trusts him until all the suggestions from friends and family that Whitey must be one of those secretaries finally start to get to her. But Linda isn’t the only one jealous of Van and Whitey’s working relationship. Whitey’s boyfriend Dave (James Stewart) wants to marry her, but she loves her job and doesn’t want to quit to stay at home.
When Van decides to take on a new business venture, he has to keep it top secret from everyone, including Linda. Whitey is the only person who knows what’s going on. So when he says he’s been at a club all afternoon one day, Linda does a little investigating and finds out he wasn’t at the club all day, he was with Whitey. Linda begins to fear that all those insinuations were right after all, she has no idea that he and Whitey were working together on the new business deal. Things get even worse when at a company skating party, Linda thinks Van and Whitey look like a little too friendly and she asks Van to transfer Whitey to a new job. Van refuses and Linda eventually decides she’s being ridiculous and Van promises to take her on vacation soon to make it up to her.
But just when Linda thinks they’re going to leave for vacation, Van has to go to Havana on business and can’t bring Linda along. This was upsetting enough, but she is pushed to the breaking point when she calls him in Havana at two in the morning and Whitey answers his phone. Whitey had to join Van in Havana at the last minute to take care of important business. Even though there are hints of a mutual attraction between the two of them after they have a few drinks together, nothing happens. But, of course, Linda assumes the worst and when Van returns, she asks for a divorce. Van is devastated and begins to get a little too friendly with Whitey. Even though Whitey likes the attention, she knows her boss well enough to know what he really needs and makes a last ditch attempt to get Linda to stay with Van.
Wife Vs. Secretary is a very smart movie. Even though the title may conjure up images of Myrna Loy comically sneaking around, following Clark Gable and Jean Harlow around by peering in through office windows and hiding behind menus at restaurants in an attempt to spy on them, it’s far more subtle than that. Clark Gable was often downright hilarious and both Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow gave very thoughtful performances. Myrna’s character went through a whole gamut of emotions during the movie and she played each one very naturally. It didn’t matter if her character was happy and engaging in witty banter or absolutely heartbroken, she handled it all like the pro she was.
At the time, Jean was working to try to soften her image a little bit so she really wanted to play something different from some of her past roles. This wasn’t the first time she played a secretary, but Whitey is the polar opposite of Lil in Red Headed Woman. Whitey’s not the type to keep her boss’ picture in her garter, she has no intention of breaking up anyone’s marriage, and she’s no gold digger. She’s just a good-natured gal who loves her job and cares about her boss, but not indecently. She really did seem like the kind of girl who would go for a Jimmy Stewart type. Red Headed Woman is one of my favorite Jean Harlow movies, but I think she played Whitey just as well as she played Lil. Speaking of Jimmy Stewart, this was one of his first movies, but he already showed a lot of promise as that very down-to-earth type of guy that he’d become best known for playing.
I loved pretty much everything about Wife Vs. Secretary. They couldn’t have asked for a better cast, I loved Clarence Brown’s direction, and I loved the writing. With a story like this, it could have easily gone down a more over-the-top route and turned into an all-out screwball comedy. But the subtlety of the writing gave the actors the perfect opportunity to take over and really make it great. With a lesser cast, this movie would have been completely forgettable. Instead, it’s a real gem.
Fun Fact: Wife Vs. Secretary was first released on February 28, 1936 so this review was published on the 75th anniversary of the movie’s release.
Back in the day, the town of Bottleneck was ran by Sheriff Destry and his deputy Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger). But years after Sheriff Destry’s death, Bottleneck has become a pretty rough and tumble town run by saloon owner Kent and his barmaid Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) and Washington has become the town drunk, always reminiscing about the good old days when he was the deputy. Kent has been running a fixed poker game that he uses to bilk ranch owners out of their land so he can charge cattle owners a hefty fee to let their cattle pass through. When Kent tries this trick on Lern Claggett, Lern tells Sheriff Keogh and Keogh starts investigating. Kent kills Sheriff Keogh and the mayor, who has been conspiring with Kent, tells the town that Keogh had to leave town suddenly and gives his job to Washington. They assume that Washington will be too drunk to do the job properly, but little do they know that a little responsibility is a good thing for Washington. He gives up alcohol on the spot and calls for Sheriff Destry’s son, Tom Destry, Jr. (James Stewart) to come to Bottleneck and be his deputy.
When Destry comes to town, it seems like he’s all wrong for Bottleneck. Surprisingly for someone who’s supposed to be in charge of keeping such a wild town in line, he refuses to carry a gun. He sure knows how to use one, but he just doesn’t believe in using them. Destry becomes something of a town joke, but he actually manages to win Frenchy over after he breaks up a fight she’s in and she gets into a fight with him instead. But then he gets to work at investigating Sheriff Keogh’s murder and arrests Gyp, one of Kent’s cohorts. Kent thinks he’s outsmarted Destry by appointing another one of his cohorts as judge, but it turns out Destry is way ahead of him and has sent for a real judge to come to town for the case. When Kent finds out, he’s furious and gets a gang of his friends ready to shoot Destry. Frenchy knows what’s going on and tries to save Destry by having him come visit her at her house and the gang shoots Washington instead. Now Destry is really mad! He goes home, gets his father’s guns, and rallies all the gypped ranchers to take down all the outlaws. An epic shootout takes place that results in Frenchy sacrificing herself for Destry.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have picked up on the fact that I’m not terribly fond of Westerns. There are a few that I like, but generally, I’d rather watch one of my cats sleep than watch a Western. For me to say that I really liked a Western is one of the highest compliments I can give a movie and Destry Rides Again is certainly deserving of that honor. I probably wouldn’t have sought this movie out at all if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a big Marlene Dietrich fan, but in the end, I’m really glad I gave it a chance because it’s a lot of fun. It’s much more lighthearted than your typical Western, but it’s also got some very exciting action scenes that are so classically Western.
This was the first Western for both Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. Of course, Jimmy proved to be a natural fit for the genre, and went on to make many more. He was definitely perfect for that non-threatening, mild mannered character. Dietrich actually wasn’t particularly keen on making a Western, but at the time, she was deeply concerned about the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. Her friend Erich Maria Remarque told her that being in a Western would make her seem more all American and maybe American audiences would be more receptive to what she had to say about Nazis if they thought of her as one of their own. So she agreed and I’m glad she went ahead with it, because she seemed to be having such a good time with her role. At first, I was afraid that Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich would be kind of an odd couple, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked them together. Destry Rides Again is just a good time from beginning to end.
It’s Friday again, which means it’s time to count down ten more of my favorite movies! All I really have to say about this bunch of movies is that almost all of my favorite types of movies are represented here. Silents, musicals, foreign, film noir, drama, comedy, they’re all there. The only way this week’s bunch could be more ‘me’ is if I had worked in some offbeat B-movie in there somewhere. Now, onto number 80…
A while back, I was talking with Colin from Pick ‘n’ Mix Flix Movie Reviews, and we got to discussing movie lists. Over at his site, he did a list of his 101 favorite movies and he challenged me to make my own top 100 list. And since everyone seems to love movie lists, I thought it’d be a fun project. So, here’s the deal: Every Friday, I’ll be counting down my top 100 favorite movies, ten at a time. I really didn’t set any rules for myself, so every kind of movie was fair game. Classic, modern, American, foreign, there’s a little bit of everything in there. Without further ado, let’s get to the first ten.
Part 2 of my Ziegfeld in Hollywood series.
Ah, Ziegfeld Girl. Even though it has some flaws, it’s one of my personal favorite movies. Ziegfeld Girl chronicles the lives of three different girls, Sandra Kolter (Hedy Lamarr), Susan Gallagher (Judy Garland), and Sheila Regan (Lana Turner), as they are each plucked from obscurity and become stars in the Ziegfeld Follies.
May looks like it’s going to be all about Donna Reed, Native Americans, war movies, and birthday tributes. Donna Reed is the star of the month, but I guess she doesn’t excite me very much. Every year in May, TCM spends the month spotlighting how minorities have been portrayed on film over time. This year they are focusing on Native Americans every Tuesday and Thursday night. I’m always a little conflicted about this month because one thing I don’t have much patience for is really bad racial stereotypes, but at the same time, I’m interested in how those images have evolved over the years. In past years, they have gone in chronological order, starting with the silent era and working their way up to the modern day. This year is a little different and each night has a theme such as “non-Indians in Indian roles,” “Indians as noble savages,” and “Indians as actors and filmmakers.” Starting on May 28th and running through May 30th is the Memorial Day weekend movie marathon with nothing but war-related movies. With no further ado, let’s get to my picks for May.