Noirvember: The Top Ten Noir Films That I Still Haven’t Seen

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Noirvember is finally here, and I honestly couldn’t be any more excited for it! In the years past I haven’t really been able to dive in and honor what’s slowly but surely become my favorite classic film genre, but this time around I’m hoping to change all of that. I figured that a top five or ten list of my favorite noirs would be just the thing to write about in keeping with my promise to provide a steady stream of original content throughout the rest of the year, but I soon realized that just about every noir-loving blog will be compiling that very same type of list over the course of the month. While of course I think that’s a great thing, as everyone has his or her own differing opinions about which noir films reign supreme, I think now would be a great time for me to devote some time to the movies that I still haven’t been able to sit down and watch for one reason or another. Though I’m no Czar of Noir like my favorite Turner Classic Movies host Eddie Muller, I’ve seen my fair share of murder dramas and crime thrillers. These ten films, however, are the ones that have frustrated me the most because they’ve managed to evade my eyes, and are from what I understand some of the best noirs that I still haven’t been able to see. Of course there are plenty more where this came from, but I’m making it my own personal goal to watch as many of these particular features as I can before the month is over.

10. Thieves’ Highway (1949)

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I could probably list a million reasons why Thieves’ Highway (1949) has intrigued me ever since I first discovered the film, but most of them honestly have to do with Eddie Muller. Ranked number thirteen on his list of the Top 25 Noir Films, he claims that this was the picture that first got him hooked on noir. From what I can tell it’s no surprise as it seems to comprise of an intriguing chain of events starring none other than Richard Conte, an actor who I’ve adored in everything I’ve seen him in from The Blue Gardenia (1944) to his incredible performance on The Twilight Zone in 1959, and Valentina Cortese, an actress who I’ve been dying to see onscreen. Muller gave the movie special attention in one of the many short features that ran on Turner Classic Movies promoting the premiere of Noir Alley, a special program on the channel that highlights one picture from the genre per week. He talked about one particular steamy scene in which Cortese plays tic-tac-toe across the bare chest of Conte using her long fingernails, a not-so-subtle approach to depicting sex onscreen when the Hayes Code forbade it under normal circumstances. This entrancing pairing immediately piqued my interest, and the film’s plot made it a high priority on my list of need-to-see noirs.

9. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

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As you might remember, I mentioned this past summer that I was enrolled in Turner Classic Movies’ The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock online course. I thoroughly enjoyed it and had a great time learning about the esteemed director, and going into it I promised myself that I would take the time to focus on films of Hitchcock’s that I hadn’t gotten the chance to watch before rather than simply watching the same few over and over again. Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Notorious (1946) were the two that I instantly put on my watchlist, and coincidentally both were featured in the course as Hitchcock’s main contributions to film noir. Unforunately, I was so engrossed in the curriculum itself that I managed to see Notorious (1946) but not the picture that I had been looking forward to seeing the most, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). This has just been one of those movies that’s slipped through the cracks for me somehow, which is a shame because I’ve been looking forward to seeing Teresa Wright in a film and Joseph Cotten intrigued me immensely after I saw him display his acting chops in Citizen Kane (1941) and Journey Into Fear (1942). I’ve tried my best to stay away from anything that would reveal the ending of the film, but from the bits and pieces of information that I’ve accidentally found, I believe I’m in for some gripping twists and turns.

8. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

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This is a movie that I certainly believe has permeated pop culture and cemented itself as a classic in every sense of the word. I saw the iconic shot of Robert Mitchum leaning against a fencepost with the words ‘LOVE’ and ‘HATE’ tattooed on his knuckles long before I had any idea what the film was even about, and when I finally did learn about The Night of the Hunter (1955)‘s captivating storyline I was more than eager to see it. I’ve mentioned earlier in the article that there are just some movies that slip through the cracks, and that’s definitely an understatement when it comes to this film. If I recall correctly I’ve tried to watch this one five or six different times as it’s screened on TCM quite often, but something always gets in the way like a scheduling conflict or even a phone call at the exact wrong time that lasted just a little too long. It’s become really irritating to me at this point, and if there’s any film on this list that I’ll really groan about if I don’t manage to watch it at long last, this one is it. I’m really looking forward to seeing both Robert Mitchum’s acting, which from what I’ve heard is at his diabolical best, and Charles Laughton behind the camera for a change for his only feature film as a director. Even more inviting is the fact that I still haven’t seen a Lillian Gish feature, though I’ve admired her in photographs for as long as I’ve been interested in classic film, so all in all I’m hopeful that this one will be a real treat.

7. The Third Man (1949)

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In some circles that I know about, admitting that you have yet to watch The Third Man (1949) is almost as bad as admitting that you haven’t seen Citizen Kane (1941), and sometimes I’ve found that it’s even worse. It’s not astonishing, as the two films were undoubtedly high ranking among Orson Welles’ many crowning achievements, and The Third Man (1949) earned both Welles and the aforementioned Joseph Cotten a great deal of respect in the film noir community after its release. I think it’s about time that I finally cross this one off of my list, and what promises to make this particular viewing even better is that I still haven’t influenced my own opinion beforehand by reading a single thing about the story. I’ve seen a couple of very artistic, Welles-esque shots that seem to solidify the cinematography at least within the confines of noir, but aside from that I’ll be going into this viewing completely blind. Usually I like to learn as much as I can about a film before I actually sit down and watch it (with the exception of the ending, of course), mostly so I don’t end up stuck with a picture that I don’t enjoy, so this is quite a rare feat for me. Wish me luck this month as I finally sit down and give it a try, and let me know what you thought of The Third Man (1949) if you’ve seen it before!

6. The Big Heat (1953)

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This is another film that I’ve tried to watch multiple times, though I really would have seen The Big Heat (1953) if it weren’t for the fact that the version I found online was the version with audio commentary for some reason. So many different aspects of this movie interest and appeal to me; for one thing, this is the only movie that I’ve heard of that was based on a newspaper serial. I assume that’s sort of the equivalent of someone making fanfiction into a movie today, or maybe a post on social media. To me it’s pretty rare that something from that medium would be considered so great that there would be a demand for a film, and as a result I have high hopes for the plot. Of course there’s also the stellar cast, with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. I’ve been especially enamored by Grahame ever since I watched her alluring performance in another classic noir (and Eddie Muller’s personal favorite), In A Lonely Place (1950). If any film showed me that such a glamorous woman could carry a dramatic picture, that one is it, and I’m incredibly excited to see her try on another noir for size. With two incredible actors and a tagline that eerily states “Somebody’s going to pay… because he forgot to kill me!”, I’m sure that I’ll be on pins and needles until I sit down to watch this film.

5. The Glass Key (1942)

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Yes, you’re reading this right: I have not one, but two of the noirs that paired Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake on my list. The reason is simple: Even though I’ve only seen three of her films, I would easily place Veronica Lake on a list of my top ten favorite actresses. Her unattainable beauty and relatable personality make for a unique and riveting combination, and I always adore watching her onscreen. Of course she was best known for her contribution to noir, especially in the three pictures that she made with Alan Ladd: This Gun for Hire (1942), which I’ve already seen and enjoyed, and the two that have made my list, The Glass Key (1942) and The Blue Dahlia (1946), so I’d honestly feel like a phony if I claimed that I was such a huge fan of Veronica’s without watching these films in particular. What’s even more interesting about The Glass Key (1942) is that it’s based on iconic noir author Dashiell Hammett’s favorite of his novels. That’s quite a statement when you realize that he also penned novels like The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, and once again this really makes me curious about the storyline of the film. Hopefully I enjoy The Glass Key (1942) as much as I loved This Gun for Hire (1942), because I’d be more than happy to rank this among my favorite films starring Veronica Lake.

4. The Blue Dahlia (1946)

 

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Here’s the second of the two films starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd that made my list. This one was made long after their other onscreen pairings, during Veronica Lake’s unfortunate decline in Hollywood. While I’ve claimed that I’ve attempted to watch many of the films on this list, The Blue Dahlia (1946) is the one that I’ve actually seen the most of. I’ve tried to watch it a few times, and once again I’ve been interrupted for one reason or another, though with this film it’s always after the first couple of scenes. I could probably recite the beginning interactions between Ladd’s character Johnny Morrison and his unfaithful wife by heart by now, but this month I really hope to finally sit down and watch the story unfold completely. While I don’t have a vast multitude of interests aside from classic film I will admit that true crime is definitely one of them, and if the title of this picture sounded familiar to you, you’re not alone. The title of the infamous unsolved crime “The Black Dahlia” came from this film; some believe that the moniker was given because it was the last movie she watched before she was killed, while others believe that it was because she wore dahlias in her hair. Whatever the reason the name stuck, and while of course it doesn’t directly relate, it does add another layer of intrigue and further motivates me to finally see this classic.

3. Murder, My Sweet (1944)

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Murder, My Sweet (1944) is yet another film that Turner Classic Movies initially sparked my interest in, though it wasn’t because the movie in its entirety was shown on the channel. Instead I first heard about it in one of the segments shown in between pictures, a short documentary about noir director Edward Dmytryk. The narrator painted a beautiful picture of the director and his accomplishments, making me more curious about him than any other noir filmmaker that I’ve heard of. One of the facts that intrigued me most was that Dmytryk saw potential in romantic musical actor Dick Powell and decided to cast him in a serious crime drama, taking on the iconic role of Detective Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (1944). Marlowe was created by Raymond Chandler, a mystery writer that earned his place among Hammett and all of the other great authors of the genre. This character in particular has been portrayed onscreen countless times, most famously in this film by Powell as well as in The Big Sleep (1946) by Humphrey Bogart, and is considered by many to be the ultimate noir character. Not only was Murder, My Sweet (1944) given an immense amount of praise by the documentary, which of course made me eager to see it, but I’ve also noticed it on numerous rankings of the best noirs of all time, sometimes even making its way to the top spot. All of these reasons have led to me longing to finally see Dmytryk and Powell at their best, and I can’t wait to finally add this one to my film collection.

2. Nightmare Alley (1947)

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The fact that I still haven’t seen Nightmare Alley (1947) is absolutely baffling to me. If you’re new to my blog you might not know this, but Tyrone Power is my favorite actor of all time. Hence, as you might imagine, I’ve seen the vast majority of his movies, but I still can’t really say why this one hasn’t been my top priority. At this point I’m downright ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen it, because I’ve known for a long time that it was Ty’s personal favorite of all of his films. Made after his service in World War II, Power was a weathered man at this point in his life, far from the youthful and dashing romantic idol type that he was confined to at 20th Century Fox in the late 1930s. Nightmare Alley (1947) was one of the first pictures that really allowed him to stretch the limits of his craft, and he was more than grateful for the opportunity to carry a film using more than just his looks. Even more compelling was that it took the coveted number seven spot on Eddie Muller’s Top 25 Noir Films list that I discussed earlier. According to Muller, Nightmare Alley (1947) is Tyrone Power’s “greatest contribution to the movies”, and if all of that doesn’t provide enough motivation for me to watch it, I honestly don’t know what will. Aside from Ty I believe that the picture as a whole is comprised of a talented group of actors, including Joan Blondell (who I’ve always admired) along with Coleen Gray and Helen Walker, two ingenues at the time who I’ve been eager to see onscreen. To me, Nightmare Alley (1947) is an absolute must this month.

1. Out of the Past (1947)

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Of course everyone has their differing opinions on which noir is the best, but from what I’ve seen, there’s more or less a general consensus. I’ve read my fair share of lists discussing the best movies that stemmed from the genre, and from my experience one of these three usually earns the top spot: Double Indemnity (1944), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and surprisingly most often, this film. I haven’t seen it, so I’m really not aware what all the fuss is about yet, but I have the feeling that the incomparable acting style of Robert Mitchum has something to do with it. The cast in general couldn’t be more appealing, with the might of Kirk Douglas and the stunning beauty of both Rhonda Fleming and of course Jane Greer, two of the most gorgeous women I have ever laid eyes on, rounding out the main list of actors. I can truly say that each of the four have been people who I’ve wanted to see onscreen much more than I already do, Jane Greer especially as I’ve only seen her in one film. Once again Out of the Past (1947) makes Muller’s list, this time at number nine, though I wouldn’t exactly call his mini-review very favorable. “Face it, the meandering script is saved by Frank Fenton’s dialogue. But this is how we want noir to look and sound, so it gets cut lots of slack,” he writes, though he mentions that Kirk Douglas is “never better”, and that along with all of the acclaim that’s surrounded the picture for decades is more than good enough for me.

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Cooking With the Stars Halloween Special — Vincent Price’s Guacamole and Vincent Price’s Savory Stuffed Chicken

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I keep finding myself taking extended breaks from this blog, though I truly hate doing it. This time I have to admit that a lot has been going on in my life that’s been preventing me from posting like a new job, the holidays, and the process of patching up some of the relationships that I hold dear. What’s more, I simply haven’t been signing up for many blogathons lately. In spite of all of that, this is still my favorite blog to maintain and I want to keep on doing just that, so I’m making sure to provide some original content through the rest of the year starting today! Lately my passion for combining classic film with cooking has taken over, and there’s no better time to whip up something frighteningly delicious than Halloween!

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Wasn’t he handsome? And what a voice!

Vincent Price, the spooky star whose dishes I’ll be presenting to you all today, was perhaps the most extraordinary chef that came from classic Hollywood. He hosted his own cooking show in the UK called Cooking Price-Wise in 1971 and wrote four bestselling cookbooks with his wife, Mary. Three of these vast and detailed books have been republished with the help of their daughter Victoria Price within the last three years, and the newest republication of the cookbook that stemmed from his television program, retitled Cooking Price-Wise – The Original Foodie (1971, republished in 2017), was released this month! Today’s recipes are from two different sources. First up we have Vincent’s delectable guacamole, which came from his very first cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes (1965).

Vincent Price’s Guacamole

  • 2 avocado pears
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1 small green chili, chopped fine
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ clove garlic, minced
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • Chopped, seeded and peeled tomato
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Dash of cayenne or Tabasco sauce
  1. Peel and seed the avocados, saving the seeds.
  2. Mash avocados with a fork in a bowl.
  3. Add all other ingredients.
  4. Leave the avocado seeds in mixture until ready to serve, and they will prevent discoloration.
  5. If you like a very smooth guacamole, remove the seeds and put mixture into blender container and blend on high speed for about 8 seconds before you are ready to serve it.
  6. Serve in a small bowl – Mexican if you have one – with crackers or corn chips or raw vegetables.
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Here’s how my guacamole turned out! Unfortunately I had no Mexican bowl, but I’ll make sure to acquire one before I make this again!

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I knew as soon as I read this recipe that I simply had to serve it at my Halloween party! I was already planning to screen some classic horror films, and I figured that a hefty serving of guacamole would go perfectly with Vincent’s pièce de résistance film, House on Haunted Hill (1959), which was shown on Turner Classic Movies on Halloween night at 11:30pm. I was right! The guests really enjoyed it, though I have to admit that I ended up eating most of it because I loved the outcome so much! I felt like adding both Tabasco and cayenne pepper because I happened to have both on hand, and omitted quite a lot of the onion. I ended up using a little less than half of a medium sized onion, and I don’t know whether onions were much smaller in Vincent’s day or whether he liked his guacamole very oniony!

Also on the menu was Mr. Price’s Savory Stuffed Chicken, a dish that I had been planning to prepare even before I scheduled a Halloween get-together. In fact, I had been dying to try it ever since I saw the always amazing Jenny of Silver Screen Suppers post and review the recipe on her blog. I wouldn’t have ever been able to find this delight if it weren’t for her, so many, many thanks! Interestingly enough, this recipe didn’t come from one of Vincent’s cookbooks, but instead from one of many vinyl records from the 1970s that he narrated with instructions on how to prepare his recipes, along with some helpful dinner party tips that he provided! Luckily the instructions were written on the back, and I’ll provide them for you here!

Vincent Price’s Savory Stuffed Chicken

  • 1 roasting chicken or capon
  • 10 pitted prunes
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 pinch of cloves
  • 1 pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 cube of butter
  1. Rub the chicken with salt and pepper, inside and out.
  2. Sprinkle the orange slices with the cloves and cinnamon.
  3. Fill the cavity of the chicken with the prunes, orange slices, and half of the cube of butter, cut into little chunks.
  4. Place the chicken in the roasting pan and rub it with the remainder of the butter, softened.
  5. Roast uncovered for 1¾ hours (1 hour and 45 minutes) at 400 degrees, then lower the temperature to 250 degrees for one hour.
  6. Baste frequently with the drippings, melted butter, or wine.
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The guacamole and the bird side by side! All of that basting made quite a mess of the baking dish!
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And last but not least, here’s a hefty helping of both dishes!

To note, the “cube of butter” ingredient is definitely vague, so I would recommend simply using however much butter you need depending on the size of your chicken. I ended up using about half a stick of softened butter on the outside and about three tablespoons on the inside. Your chicken might also need less time to cook, so make sure to check the directions on your bird if there are any! I cooked mine at 350 degrees for 2½ hours, as instructed, and it came out perfectly! I very recently stopped being a vegetarian after ten years, but I still have to say that this was the best roasted chicken that I can ever remember having! The chicken was the biggest hit among my guests, and there wasn’t any left at all by the end of the party. A few of the guests did mention that they didn’t really taste the fruit in the chicken and recommended adding some of it to the outside of the dish as well. I’ll have to try that soon, and I’m already trying to plan out when I can make this dish again! All in all, I have to say that Vincent really helped make my Halloween party a success, and I hope you try these recipes yourself for a delicious (though belated) Halloween celebration!

Announcing the 2nd Annual Classic Hollywood Holiday Card Giveathon!

 

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Hello once again, fellow classic film fans! I know exactly what you’re thinking: “Samantha, why on earth are you already thinking about the holidays? Halloween is still nearly a month away!” For one thing, I’ve honestly been looking forward to them all year. I feel like I was just getting into the spirit when the holidays last year when they all too quickly passed me by, and I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things again! In addition, I think we can all agree that last year’s Classic Hollywood Holiday Card Giveathon was a bit of a disorganized bust. I announced it only fifteen days before Christmas, and didn’t even make a set of days in which I could corral all of the posts! I ended up putting way too much on my plate, and this year I wanted to be more than prepared so I could focus on making this giveathon a resounding success! If you didn’t happen to catch my announcement of the giveathon last year, I wanted to find a way to incorporate my love for old Hollywood into my celebrations in the years to come. I felt heavily inspired by Silentology’s heartfelt post last year asking for Christmas cards to be sent to one of the last living silent film stars, and my idea is for everyone in the classic film community to get involved and send holiday cards to their favorite living classic film stars in order to give them some holiday cheer each season.

If you’re interested, here’s what you should do:

  1. Leave a comment with your blog’s name, your blog’s link, and the names of the actors who you intend to send cards to.
  2. Once you’re approved, write your card, put it in an envelope, and send it to the star’s fan mail address. To find this address, go to fanmail.biz and type the name of the actor into the search bar. You may have to do some digging to find his or her current address! If you’re having some trouble finding your desired star’s address, please ask me by commenting on this post and I will do my best to find the correct address for you and reply in a timely manner.
  3. Make a blog post about the event on December 14 – 16! You may include pictures of your card, write down the note that you sent to the star, or if your card is personal, just make a post stating why you chose to send a card to that star. Be creative!
  4. Once you’re finished, you may either repeat this process with all of the stars as you signed up for and make separate posts for each one (if you signed up for more than one), or you may gather them all up into one post!
  5. Help spread the word! Feel free to take one of my lovely banners from below and put it somewhere on your blog, and make sure to tell your friends. I want as many participants as possible!
  6. IF you still want to be a part of this event but cannot afford to send a card or cannot find a star to send a card to, you may still join and write a blog post about whom you would send a holiday card to and why. Of course you may write about anyone living or dead, and you may include what the card would say and what the card would look like. Those who enjoy this option may also do this in addition to sending real cards.

RULES

  1. Because it’s the holiday season and I want to make sure everyone can sign up to send to their favorite stars, I am allowing UNLIMITED duplicates of each star and you may sign up to send to an UNLIMITED number of stars. I want to make sure that as many stars recieve cards as possible, however, so while I’m not putting any official limit in place, I do unofficially ask that we please avoid all signing up for the same person if we can help it. You may also choose a television star as long as they appeared on television before 1970, or the family of a deceased star if you can find the address for them.
  2. I am allowing cards to be sent to approved fan mail addresses only! I would like to avoid anyone sending mail to personal residences if possible. If you do your own research and find a star’s personal address or if I can only find an address for you that happens to be a star’s personal address, you may send a card there on your own free will, but I will not be claiming responsibility for that.
  3. You may make your own card or buy one from a store and include a handwritten note. You are not required to spend any money. If you don’t wish to do so, please refer to number six of the previous list. I would like these cards to be as personal as possible, but do what you can! If you don’t have time to write a note, you of course may simply sign and send a card, or if you intend to send cards to multiple stars, you may buy a pack of cards and sign each individually (this is my preferred method). Many of these stars also sign autographs or will reply to your card, so please do your research or ask me about this if you’re hoping to receive something in return.
  4. In general, please be respectful of all of the stars as well as their respective religious preferences. Do your research before sending any religiously inclined cards to make sure that you do not offend anyone. If you aren’t sure about a star’s religious preference, stick to non-denominational “holiday” cards. Refrain from sending any inappropriate or negative cards as well. This is the holiday season, please use common sense as the object of this event is to spread cheer!
  5. I would like all of the cards to be sent by December 14th – 16th, the days that the official giveathon takes place, as I would like to round up all of your blog posts at one time. If you don’t send your card out on time, that’s okay! Just make a post during the giveathon about who you intend to write to and why you chose them. Also, please let me know if a star replies to your card! I would love to see that!

HERE is a list on Wikipedia of living silent film stars, and HERE is a lengthy list of living Golden Age film stars  for inspiration. Below I will list some living stars for inspiration as well! Of course you may sign up for a star who is not on any of these lists.

  • Mary Carlisle
  • Patricia Morison
  • Olivia de Havilland
  • Kirk Douglas
  • Danielle Darrieux
  • Marsha Hunt
  • Fay McKenzie
  • Diana Serra Cary
  • Nehemiah Persoff
  • Marge Champion
  • Nanette Fabray
  • Rhonda Fleming
  • Rose Marie
  • Glynis Johns
  • Doris Day
  • Janis Paige
  • Dewey Martin
  • Eva Marie Saint
  • Honor Blackman
  • Maria Riva
  • Dorothy Malone
  • June Lockhart
  • Arlene Dahl
  • Angela Lansbury
  • Peggy Cummins
  • Dick Van Dyke
  • Julie Adams
  • Sidney Poitier
  • Peggy Dow
  • Nancy Olson
  • Orson Bean
  • Ann Blyth
  • Earl Holliman
  • Terry Moore
  • Jane Powell
  • Christopher Plummer
  • Nita Talbot
  • William Shatner
  • John Gavin
  • Mickey Kuhn
  • Virginia Leith
  • Michael Caine
  • Julie Newmar
  • Debra Paget
  • George Chakiris
  • Russ Tamblyn
  • Margaret O’Brien
  • Kathryn Beaumont
  • Liza Minnelli
  • Gina Lollobrigida
  • May Wynn
  • Vic Damone
  • Pat Hitchcock
  • Don Murray
  • Vera Miles
  • Tippi Hedren
  • Robert Wagner
  • Joanne Woodward
  • John Astin
  • Gena Rowlands
  • Mamie Van Doren
  • Claire Bloom
  • Tab Hunter
  • Leslie Caron
  • Barbara Eden
  • Mitzi Gaynor
  • Angie Dickinson
  • Barbara Darrow
  • Rita Moreno
  • Felicia Farr
  • Kim Novak
  • Julie Newmar
  • Kathryn Crosby
  • Shirley Jones
  • Shirley MacLaine
  • Sophia Loren
  • Brigitte Bardot
  • Ruta Lee
  • Diahann Carroll
  • Julie Andrews
  • Alain Delon
  • Keir Dullea
  • Ursula Andress
  • Robert Redford
  • Jane Fonda
  • Claudia Cardinale
  • George Takei
  • Richard Beymer
  • Diane Baker
  • Paula Prentiss
  • Dolores Hart
  • Patrick Wayne
  • George Hamilton
  • Katharine Ross
  • Jill St. John
  • Raquel Welch
  • Ann-Margret
  • Samantha Eggar
  • Stella Stevens
  • Frankie Avalon
  • Yvette Mimieux
  • Carol Lynley
  • Pamela Tiffin
  • Tuesday Weld
  • Britt Ekland
  • Catherine Deneuve
  • Shelley Fabares
  • Geraldine Chaplin
  • Mia Farrow
  • Goldie Hawn
  • Priscilla Presley
  • Lana Wood
  • Hayley Mills
  • Sue Lyon

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ROSTER

Musings of a Classic Film Addict — Mary Carlisle, Kathryn Crosby, Ann Blyth, Don Murray, Doris Day, Eva Marie Saint

The June Allyson Centenary Blogathon: Ten Things You Might Not Know About June Allyson

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Hi, everyone! If you haven’t noticed, I had to change my topic for the wonderful June Allyson Centenary Blogathon, hosted by the always gracious Simoa of Champagne for Lunch. My original idea was to review Strategic Air Command (1955), one of the lesser-known films that June made with the incomparable James Stewart, while visiting the Al Lang Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Florida, where a portion of the picture was filmed. I couldn’t resist the opportunity as it’s one of the many classic movie filming locations that I recently found out are near my hometown! As much as it disappoints me as I’m sure it does my readers, however, not only was I unable to access the film itself, but I wasn’t even able to get into the stadium! I was aware that it is still in use today (after being converted into a professional soccer stadium in 2011), but I was unaware that the sport had just started its season this month! Rest assured that one fine day I’ll get into the location, take some pictures, and write an article about it that will do it justice. Until then I want to give Simoa a huge thank you for allowing me to change my topic so late in the game, and I hope you all learn something new as I share with you ten facts that you might not know about our lovely birthday girl June Allyson, who would have turned the big 100 today!

1. When June was eight, she fractured her skull and suffered a broken back as a result of a falling tree branch. Her doctors told her that she would never walk again, and for four years she was confined to a heavy steel brace that covered her entire torso. She ultimately regained her health, and even taught herself to dance by watching the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

2. June had the ability to cry on cue. She later explained that her method for inducing tears was to “try very, very hard not to cry, so the more I thought about not crying the more I cried”. Her Little Women (1949) costar Margaret O’Brien also had this gift, and according to Allyson, they both “could not stop” crying during O’Brien’s death scene.

3. She never had the opportunity to place her hand and footprints in front of the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre like many of her costars, but she was awarded a star for her work in motion pictures on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 and got to place her hand and footprints in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park on August 21, 1989 (which is thought to be heavily inspired by Grauman’s).

4. After filming The Secret Heart (1946) together, Allyson became great friends with her costar, Claudette Colbert. On June 18, 1948, Claudette became godmother to June’s only daughter, Pamela Powell.

5. June was an avid fan of mystery writer Agatha Christie, so much so that her personal library consisted of every novel that Christie ever wrote. She also considered Christie’s character Jane Marple to be her favorite female detective.

6. She initially wanted to become a doctor, and began acting in order to pay for medical school. She ended up falling in love with the craft, and eventually paid for her brother to become a doctor instead. She still took a lifelong interest in health and medical research, however, especially after her first husband Dick Powell passed away after a brief battle with lung cancer on January 2, 1963.

7. During the time of her breakout role in Two Girls and A Sailor (1944), June stood at just 5′ 1″ and weighed only 99 pounds.

8. In 1945, Harvard Lampoon voted June as their worst actress of the year. The “award” for worst actor that year went to Van Johnson, who costarred with June in six films.

9. Judy Garland was one of June Allyson’s closest friends. The two met while they were both under contract at MGM in the 1940s, and Judy would often give June rides to the studio in her car. In interviews after Garland’s passing in 1969, Allyson said that she could hardly talk about Garland without crying because she was “such a special lady who didn’t have appropriate help available to her in her lifetime”.

10. Despite often portraying the perfect housewife in film and on television, June was quoted as saying, “In real life I’m a poor dressmaker and a terrible cook – anything in fact but the perfect wife”. I managed to dig up a few of her own personal recipes courtesy of the blog Classic Celebrity Recipes, so go ahead and try them out for yourself and tell me if you agree with June!

A Personal Update on Where I’ve Been, and How I’ve Been Incorporating Old Hollywood Into My Life in a Time of Crisis

Hi, everyone! I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve been active on this blog. Musings of a Classic Film Addict is one of the things in my life that I’m the most proud to contribute my time and effort to, and it’s incredibly saddening for me when I have to neglect it for any period of time for any reason. I was so excited to write an entry for the Movie Scientist Blogathon and pay tribute to the incomporable Jerry Lewis at the same time by reviewing The Nutty Professor (1963), but unfortunately I was unable to participate, and I thought that I owed my readers an explanation for my absence. As you might know, I call the town of Saint Petersburg, Florida my home, and these past few weeks have been especially trying as it was in the direct path of Hurricane Irma. As a result, we spent a good amount of time in preparation before I decided to evacuate with my precious pup Mozart and stay with my family further inland while my fiancé decided to stay and weather the storm. Irma passed over us on the night of September 10th, and continued to pose a threat throughout the 11th as the wind and rain continued at tropical storm levels. While the homestead and our belongings luckily suffered no damage, the situation was still a stressful one, and what was worse for me is that this catastrophe occurred just before my 21st birthday on the 13th of September.

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Here’s to Wakulla Springs and the vacation that didn’t come to pass! I hope I can visit soon. (Photo c. 1940s)

My fiancé and I had been planning the occasion since May, and he took off of work for the entire week surrounding my birthday so that we could travel north to the Wakulla Springs Lodge (where the underwater scenes of my favorite classic horror film, Creature From the Black Lagoon (1953) was filmed) to celebrate and so we could both get a much needed vacation. I tried my best to maintain contact with the hotel before and during the hurricane, as I was well aware that they would be affected too. The staff told us the day before our reservation to call the next morning on the day of our reservation in order to see if the hotel would be open and allow us to visit. I didn’t get to mention this to them, but that posed a problem as we were told to call at ten in the morning while the hotel itself is a five-hour drive from us, and check-in time was at three in the afternoon. That’s short notice even for me! I did as they asked anyway, and if you can believe it, they didn’t answer at all no matter how many times I tried to call, so I suppose they were indeed closed due to the storm. Of course I understand what happened considering the circumstances and after witnessing the destruction in my own area, but I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed as I wanted to write an article about my visit for this blog and I wanted to incorporate Old Hollywood into my birthday somehow.

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Theatrical poster for High Society (1956), one of the many movies that helped me through this past week.

Luckily I still managed to do that in a small way, as my family stayed in a conference room at my father’s workplace, which doubled as a shelter from Hurricane Irma. It was a lovely building with a glass ceiling (which we’re grateful didn’t shatter onto us), and because it was located at a power plant, we had electricity the entire time unlike millions of other victims of the storm. Even better, the room had a television and a DVD player, and since I brought the majority of my classic film collection with me I spent nearly all of my time watching them. My sister and I started with Random Harvest (1942), which she watched for the first time and absolutely adored, before we moved on to High Society (1956), I Love You Again (1940), This Gun for Hire (1942), and of course finishing the marathon with one of our mutual favorites, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Most of them were “feel good” flicks that made us forget our troubles, which was more than welcome, and I especially loved seeing one of my personal favorites again, High Society (1956). I always feel like that film was made for me, and hearing Bing Crosby serenade Grace Kelly with the song “I Love You, Samantha” (which happens to be my name) was more comforting than being wrapped up in a warm blanket in the middle of winter. My actual birthday, if you were wondering, ended up being as incredible as I could hope for considering everything we’d been through. My family moved into a nearby hotel as their home lost power during the hurricane, but my sister and I spent most of the day at our local mall buying beautiful dresses on clearance, eyeing jewelry that was also on clearance, and filling our carts with Marilyn Monroe hand soap that was only a dollar.

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A picture of my first drink, the French 75!

My fiancé met with us at the mall and we checked out everything there was to see before going to Olive Garden for my birthday dinner. Say what you might about Olive Garden, but to me it’s my favorite chain restaurant by far as I adore the food, the atmosphere, and of course the occasional Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra tunes being played over the speakers. Of course I made a solemn vow to make my first legal drink one that relates to classic film, and my drink of choice was a French 75, a cocktail made with gin, simple syrup, lemon juice, and topped with champagne and a twist of lemon. The drink was invented during World War I by British soldiers who combined the gin that they brought from home with the champagne that they received from the French, and it was named after their lightweight yet powerful artillery gun. The French 75 is the only beverage mentioned by name in the iconic film Casablanca (1942), and of course I ended up enjoying it more than anything else I had that evening. Interestingly enough, the bartender had never heard of one before, and as I asked for it at the bar the other bartenders and a few patrons were interested enough to form a small crowd as they watched it being made. I felt quite special after that! As if the restaurant was made for me too, our server was incredibly sweet, interested in old movies as well, and against all odds also named Samantha! If the restaurant wasn’t so busy that night we probably could have discussed the subject at length, but everyone involved in the celebrations had fun nonetheless. My sister and dad brought balloons and cake with my name on it, and at the end of the meal they brought out presents, which I’d completely forgotten was a part of birthdays after all of the commotion that the storm brought about.

My wonderful fiancé got me the largest size of Dolce & Gabbana’s Dolce Rosa Excelsa, a perfume that’s been my favorite since it came out (but always too expensive for me to actually buy, so I merely sprayed it on every time I visited a department store), which once again involved Old Hollywood into the occasion as the perfume’s spokesperson is none other than one of my favorite living actresses, Sophia Loren. My family certainly stepped up to the plate too with a stunning sapphire necklace that matches my engagement ring, which happens to be my birthstone as well. That’s about where the classic film references end, but before we left, our waitress Samantha gathered all of the other waiters together, sang “Happy Birthday” to me, and presented me with a delicious chocolate mousse and cream dessert, which I thoroughly enjoyed. From there we all headed back to the hotel, where my sister and I played drinking games and I got as tipsy as I could (it’s not as easy when you’re playing with a lightweight) before my fiancé and I headed home, which I’m delighted to say has power. At the end of the day, I’m sure that my readers can agree that there’s nothing like your favorite movies and your favorite people to get you through trying times, and I honestly don’t know what this past week would have been like without the likes of my loved ones, Bing Crosby, and the delicious drinks of Casablanca (1942). I can only hope that others who have survived Hurricane Irma (or any disaster on his or her birthday, for that matter) had people and movies to lean on for hope and comfort, and trust me when I say that I fully intend to return to this blog now that I realize how much I need old movies in my life!

The 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: My Top Five Picks for Elizabeth Taylor’s Tribute

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Good morning, everyone! Today is a bittersweet day, as it’s the final day of my favorite time of the year on Turner Classic Movies, Summer Under the Stars. If you’re not familiar with how this special programming works or didn’t get the chance to check out my recommendations for Rod Taylor’s day, every year Summer Under the Stars honors a different classic film star during each day in August by showing a twenty-four hour marathon of his or her films. Despite not seeing as many of the films as I would like, I couldn’t be more excited to finish the month of great tributes to great actors with a salute to perhaps one of the greatest actresses of them all, Elizabeth Taylor. I’d like to thank Kristen of Journeys in Classic Film from the bottom of my heart once again for making the 2017 Summer Under the Stars Blogathon one to remember, and I definitely can’t wait to participate again next year with even more recommendations!

5. National Velvet (1944) on TCM at 6am EST

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Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney in a scene from National Velvet (1944).

I’m no stranger to making top five lists; in fact, if you’ve been following me for some time you’ve likely found that they’re commonplace around here. Even though I found that narrowing down five great performances given by Elizabeth Taylor was among the most difficult of all of the lists that I’ve ever compiled, it was a no brainer for me to include her breakout picture, National Velvet (1944). Based on the bestselling novel by Enid Bagnold, Velvet Brown (Taylor) becomes the owner of an unruly horse that she calls “The Pie”. Velvet sees a great deal of potential in him as a racehorse, however, and with the help of former jockey Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney) and with the support of her family, she trains The Pie to compete in England’s Grand National race. First turned down by MGM for appearing “too boyish” for the leading role (likely the only time she was ever told such a thing in her life), 12 year-old Elizabeth trained relentlessly for three months and ate steak every day in order to become the type of lady that the script required and prove the studio wrong about how right she was for the part. For her efforts alone, she ended up earning the role. While normally I don’t care for athletics or films about them, it’s nearly impossible to deny that the acting abilities and striking beauty that Elizabeth Taylor posessed for her age makes this movie a standout that’s head and shoulders above other films of its kind. If you find yourself awake this early in the morning and want to catch a delightful film starring Elizabeth at her most adorable, I highly recommend seeing National Velvet (1944) while her marathon gets off to the races!

4. The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) on TCM at 2pm EST

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Elizabeth Taylor in a scene from The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954).

I couldn’t be more excited that Turner Classic Movies is airing this captivating romantic drama during its salute to Elizabeth Taylor. Told in flashback by the leading man himself, The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) is about Charles Wills (Van Johnson), a lieutenant during World War II but a level-headed aspiring author at heart who meets Helen Ellswirth (Elizabeth Taylor) on the day that the war ends on the European front. Helen is a vivacious and carefree woman who comes from a family that’s used to being wealthy, and despite their opposing backgrounds, the two wed. But will Charles and Helen find a way to make their marriage work when unemployment, a daughter, Helen’s extravagant lifestyle, and other suitors come into the mix? This film, which is loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisted” published in 1931, was originally meant for Cary Grant with Shirley Temple in the role of his daughter, but I couldn’t imagine a better film being made with anyone other than this exceptional cast that also includes Walter Pidgeon, Donna Reed, Eva Gabor, and Roger Moore in his first American film. It’s a beautiful and realistic picture overall that I don’t think was given a fair break after its release. Due to an error with the roman numeral copyright notice number, the film’s copyright began in 1944 rather than its actual release date in 1954, and due to MGM believing that The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) had another ten years under copyright, it was never renewed and fell into the public domain in 1972. Normally the film becoming available to everyone would be a good thing, but because there are an astronomical number of copies in circulation, it’s nearly impossible to find the movie in a good quality. For these reasons and more, I recommend that you watch it now more than ever, as Turner Classic Movies does not show this marvelous film often and I highly doubt that you can find a better quality version of it anywhere else.

3. Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait (1975) on TCM at 4:45am EST

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Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Giant (1956).

I always adore it when TCM shows a documentary during Summer Under the Stars. There’s no better way to give insight and shed light onto the on and offscreen life of the actor or actress that the channel is saluting, and more often than not the documentary being shown is a rare and engrossing one that won’t be found anywhere else. Such is the case with Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait (1975), an hour-long tribute to one of the most preeminent and talented actresses of all time. So much has been said and written about Elizabeth Taylor that it’s sometimes difficult to discern the truth from the legend, but luckily this film is made up of interviews with the people who knew her best, including but not limited to the narrarator of the documentary and four-time costar of Elizabeth’s, Peter Lawford, close friend and Giant (1956) costar Rock Hudson, and in a very special and rare interview, Elizabeth’s own mother Sara Taylor. The special allows the audience to develop a deeper understanding of both Elizabeth’s life as well as her films, as context from nearly every aspect of her life is prominently displayed and discussed. Of course it’s a real treat to hear Sara Taylor talk about her perception of Elizabeth and her opinion of how she’s been shown to the public, but the conversation that surprisingly captivated me the most was with Richard Brooks, her director on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). During filming, Elizabeth’s third husband, producer Mike Todd, was killed in a plane crash that left her devastated and unsure if she would ever find love or ever make another film again. Not much information had been given about her emotions and actions in the days following his passing, but Brooks gives a fascinating firsthand account of that and how she courageously completed the picture despite her hardships. All in all, if you’re an fan of Elizabeth and have the opportunity to check out this documentary out, I couldn’t advise a better way to conclude Summer Under the Stars.

2. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) on TCM at 10pm EST

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Elizabeth Taylor in a publicity photo for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958).

In my humble opinion, if you haven’t seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), you simply haven’t seen an Elizabeth Taylor movie. Taylor turns a fantastic play by Tennessee Williams into a classic film as she takes on the role of Maggie “The Cat” Pollitt, the neglected wife of Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman), a Southern ex-football hero who injured his leg jumping hurdles at his old high school in a drunken attempt to relive his glory days. Brick has taken to the bottle ever since the suicide of his confidant and fellow football player, Skipper, and has not only forsaken his wife but also his family, including his wealthy father Big Daddy (Burl Ives) who is dying of cancer. With the exception of his own wife Big Momma (Judith Anderson), most of the mogul’s family is more concerned with what will become of his fortune after he passes on, especially Brick’s brother Goober (Jack Carson), his shrill wife (Madeleine Sherwood), and their army of bratty children. As I mentioned before, Elizabeth Taylor was going through a substantial amount of heartache during the production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), with costar Paul Newman saying of her preserverance, “She was extraordinary. Her determination was stunning.”; Elizabeth later returned the sentiment: “Paul Newman is one of the sweetest men I know. He was so unbelievably supportive with his kind words and just being there for me. He helped me through an enormously difficult time in my life, and I will always be grateful.” To me, the sheer fact that Elizabeth was able to complete the film at all is a testament to her resilience, but even more praiseworthy is the brilliant performance that she gave in spite of her personal struggles. This might be saying a lot, but Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) has always been near the top of my list of what are objectively the greatest films of all time, right behind Gone With the Wind (1939). Its inegnious dialogue and superior cinematography lend to this honor the most in my eyes, but there’s no denying that this film would be a fraction of what it is today without the efforts of Elizabeth Taylor.

1. BUtterfield 8 (1960) on TCM at 8pm EST

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Elizabeth Taylor shown with her Best Actress Oscar for BUtterfield 8 (1960) at the 33rd Annual Academy Awards in 1961.

Virtually all of the films on this list have received critical acclaim over the years, with my number one pick being no exception, but I must admit that I’ve put BUtterfield 8 (1960) at the top mostly because it’s my personal favorite picture starring the iconic actress that we’re celebrating today. The film is about Gloria Wandrous (Elizabeth Taylor), a model who has a reuputation in New York City when it comes to the opposite sex. She leans on Steve Carpenter for support (played by Eddie Fisher, Elizabeth’s husband at the time), who is a composer and her close friend, while setting her sights on Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey), a married man who has time and money to burn as he’s married to an heiress (Dina Merrill) and has been given a job with a title and no actual work involved. After a series of complications and misunderstandings, Gloria and Weston begin a torrid love affair, but will Gloria’s desire to become a respectable woman complicate their relationship even further? Will Weston be able to see her as anything other than what others see? Elizabeth Taylor had intended for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) to be her final screen appearance, as she wanted to retire and begin a peaceful life with husband Mike Todd. Todd made a verbal agreement about this with MGM, but after his death, the studio forced Taylor to make this film and fulfill the terms of her studio contract for the meager sum of $125,000 (for comparison, Taylor’s next film, Cleopatra (1963), led to her becoming the first actor to ever earn $1 million for a single picture). Elizabeth hated the film as a result, and to make matters even worse, while filming she survived a near-fatal bout of pneumonia that required a tracheotomy, and was even pronounced dead for a brief time during the ordeal. The star ended up winning her first and only Academy Award for Best Actress for BUtterfield 8 (1960), which she considered merely a sympathy Oscar given to her because of her recent health problems. I respectfully disagree with her assumption and I couldn’t commend her performance more. Elizabeth is absolutely dynamite in BUtterfield 8 (1960), and if you’re looking for a primetime walk on the wild side and an engaging two hours with Elizabeth Taylor today, this is the film for you.

The Van Johnson Blogathon: Easy to Wed (1946)

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Hi, everyone! I couldn’t be happier to keep trucking along with continuous blog posts through the end of the month by participating in incredible blogathons like this one! I’d like to start out, as always, by thanking our gracious host, Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood. I’m still in the process of becoming a major Van Johnson fan, so this gave me the perfect chance to check out another film of his that I hadn’t seen before. I couldn’t think of many stars more deserving of some extra attention in a tribute like this one, I hope the blogathon is a great success, and I hope that I can keep discovering more films starring this iconic actor to enjoy! I’d also like to wish Van Johnson himself the happiest of birthdays today, and I can’t wait to read everyone else’s entries about such a wonderful person!

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Theatrical poster for Easy to Wed (1946).

I have to admit that I was fairly hesitant to watch Easy to Wed (1946), as I had a very disappointing experience back in June watching a different remake of one of my favorite films that also starred Van Johnson, In the Good Old Summertime (1949). However, I knew that I wanted to pay tribute to Van by reviewing something new to me, and the fact that this film also stars Esther Williams (one of my favorite actresses of all time) sweetened the pot and made this opportunity too enticing to pass up. As you might imagine, the film is a line for line remake of the classic 1930s screwball comedy Libeled Lady (1936). In Easy to Wed (1946), and essentially in the original film as well, the newspaper The Morning Star publishes a false story in which heiress Connie Allenbury (Esther Williams) steals another woman’s husband. With the assistance of father JP Allenbury (Cecil Kellaway), Connie sues for libel, hoping to earn $2 million and sink the paper in the process. The Star’s business manager Warren Haggerty (Keenan Wynn), who seems to often ditch his personal life for the sake of the newspaper that he works for, leaves his bride Gladys Benton (Lucille Ball) at the altar in order to fix the situation. Of course Gladys is none too happy about this, but somehow gets tangled up in Warren’s scheme to put womanizer and former employee of the paper Bill Chandler (Van Johnson) on the case, marry him to Gladys, and have Bill romance Connie at their hotel in Mexico City in order to turn the artificial story calling Connie a husband-stealer into the real McCoy. But will the underhanded plot work, or will complications arise and lead to the gang finding another way to get the Star out of the jam that it’s in?

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Van Johnson, Ethel Smith, and Esther Williams performing “Boneca de Pixe” in a scene from Easy to Wed (1946).

This is a change of pace in many respects for our man of the hour, Van Johnson. Easy to Wed (1946) attempted to force the star into two things that he definitely wasn’t: a philanderer and anything but all-American. When William Powell took on the role of Bill Chandler in the original film Libeled Lady (1936), he was a debonair man of the world whom the audience could easily believe as a ladies’ man. I’m sure that audiences were stunned by this personality change in Van Johnson just as I was, but he makes the part his own in ways that I would never have thought possible. While the four stars of Libeled Lady (1936) fight it out for screen time, it’s clear that Johnson earned top billing in Easy to Wed (1946) for a reason, and he dominates the film without seeming like he’s stealing the spotlight from any of his costars. Even more impressive were his Latin singing and dancing numbers with Esther Williams, which was out of both stars’ comfort zones, especially Williams as it was her first time singing at all in a film. The Spanish reprise of “Acérate Más” was by far the more critically acclaimed of their two compositions, but the one that delighted me and caught my attention the most was the Portuguese song “Boneca de Pixe” (also known as “Boneca de Piche”). The tune was based on a Portuguese fable and was originally performed by Carmen Miranda with different Latin male singers in recordings as early as 1938. Miranda herself taught Johnson and Williams how to sing the song, and her teaching certainly paid off with a performance that was absolutely marvelous despite how much it derailed the plot. Nowadays, the number would likely receive a scathing review and perhaps even be accused of whitewashing or cultural appropriation, but I feel that I have to give credit to both actors where it’s due, as the song seems incredibly difficult to master and I understand that Portuguese is one of the harder languages to learn.

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Esther Williams, Van Johnson, and Lucille Ball in a publicity still for Easy to Wed (1946).

Easy to Wed (1946) was Johnson and Williams’ second film together after Thrill of a Romance (1943), and the two were looking forward to working together again, but not all was well between the members of the cast. According to Williams’ autobiography Million Dollar Mermaid (1999), an offscreen rivalry began between Esther Williams and Lucille Ball while the two actresses were getting their hair styled on set. Lucy accused Esther of stealing her husband of six years, Desi Arnaz, and Esther claims that the redhead did this often to other leading ladies that she knew, as she was “wildly jealous” and considered every woman a “natural enemy to her”. To quote Esther further, “Desi called several times asking me for a date, even though he was already married. I told him that I was in love with Ben Gage [her husband of fourteen years] and had no interest in anyone else. I told that to Lucy, too, and added that even if I had not been in love, I wasn’t interested in her silly Latin singer. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the right thing to say either. The fact that I didn’t find Desi attractive made her cry.” Regardless of how the actresses clashed, Lucy gave a standout performance in the film as well as Van and Esther. Jean Harlow’s shoes were in my opinion the most challenging to fill in the remake, and Lucy recreates Harlow’s brashiness in the part of Gladys without disrespecting her and making the dialogue that she originally spoke seem trashy. Even Van Johnson himself added in his own autobiography that her portrayal “reveals the embryo of her Lucy Ricardo role in the later I Love Lucy television series”. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Keenan Wynn, who rounded out the leading cast. With the exception of Esther, I was most excited to see him in the film as I’m a great fan of his work, and Keenan doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. As a man who was often corraled into supporting or even throwaway parts, I was overjoyed to see the actor battle it out with the best of them in a leading role, and I only wish that he could have snagged more screen time in this type of movie more often. I mentioned last month when I reviewed In the Good Old Summertime (1949) that there were a lot of components to it that should have made me enjoy that film, but somehow I ended up not enjoying it at all. Surprisingly this time around, the opposite turned out to be the case. There are so many reasons why this picture should not work, but everything comes together seamlessly, and while it’s not the pinnacle of filmmaking, I’m incredibly pleased to say that I loved Easy to Wed (1946) and would highly recommend it to any Van Johnson fan looking for a fun film of his to watch on what would have been his 101st birthday!

The 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: My Top Five Picks For Rod Taylor’s Tribute

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I’m so happy to be blogging once again for you all, and I couldn’t have found a better time to get back into the swing of things than during my favorite time of the year on my favorite channel: Turner Classic Movies’ Summer Under the Stars! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Turner Classic Movies, every year Summer Under the Stars honors a different classic film star during each day in August by showing a twenty-four hour marathon of their films. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed this year as my online film class as well as my trip to Virginia last week got in the way of my enjoyment of TCM’s thoughtful programming. In fact, it took quite a lot of deliberation when it came to choosing which stars I would write about this year for Kristen of Journeys In Classic Film’s always incredible Summer Under the Stars Blogathon (as I wrote not one but three articles for the blogathon last year), but finally I decided to downsize a bit due to time constraints and write about two of my favorite Taylors: the always powerful yet underrated performer Rod Taylor, and one of the most glamorous screen presences of all time, the larger than life Elizabeth Taylor. I’d like to thank Kristen first and foremost for always making this blogathon among my favorite ever to write for, and without further ado, keep reading for my top five recommended films that TCM will be showing today in honor of Rod Taylor and make sure to come back on August 31st to read about my top five picks for Elizabeth Taylor!

5. The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) on 10am EST

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Rod Taylor and Doris Day in a publicity still for The Glass Bottom Boat (1966).

I’ll admit that this is one of the films on my list that I still haven’t seen, but am truly excited to catch today during what promises to be an enthralling marathon honoring Rod Taylor. Our star of the day plays Bruce Templeton, the head of an aerospace research laboratory who mistakenly believes that Jennifer Nelson (Doris Day), his employee whose affection he is trying to win, is a Russian spy. It’s the second of two films that Taylor made with Day, which I was slightly stunned to find out considering the fact that she was eight years his senior, which of course wouldn’t be uncommon today but certainly would’ve been at the time. Besides that, the two made their names in entirely different genres, and I would normally assume that Doris wouldn’t be up for the adventure that always filled Rod Taylor’s pictures from start to finish, just as Rod wouldn’t be up for the romance or comedy that was often the focus of Doris Day’s movies. But they seem to make it work in The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), which expertly combines adventure, romance, comedy, espionage, aeronautics, and mermaids of all things in a concoction that could only be helmed by Frank Tashlin, an animator turned director who often produced pictures with plots so wild that they could only be found in cartoons. So many formidable personalities and subjects are on full display in The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) that I’m really wondering how it will all fit within its two-hour running time, but if you’re tuning in early to the salute to Rod Taylor like I am, I’m sure we’ll find out together!

4. Sunday in New York (1963) on TCM at 6pm EST

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Rod Taylor and Jane Fonda on the set of Sunday in New York (1963).

Here we have Rod Taylor shining in yet another romantic comedy, this one about Adam Tyler (Cliff Robertson), a womanizing airline pilot, and his sister Eileen (Jane Fonda) who visits him over the weekend in hopes that he will lift her spirits after breaking up with her boyfriend Russ Wilson (Robert Culp). Eileen admits to her brother that she’s tired of being a twenty-two year old virgin, a fact that was the leading cause of her relationship troubles with Russ, and that she’s been thinking about having a premarital fling with a stranger while she’s in New York. The idea causes Adam to develop a holier-than-thou attitude and tell his sister that he never has sex and that she shouldn’t either if she wants to keep her self respect, which is of course a lie as he often finds himself in bed with the opposite sex and is currently trying to pursue his occasional girlfriend Mona (Jo Morrow). Even despite the fib, Eileen decides to go ahead with her plan anyway and finds a worthy match in dashing music critic Mike Mitchell (Rod Taylor), but will her plans to seduce him over the weekend be interrupted when her boyfriend shows up with an engagement ring? This film is truly a product of its time, made during the sexual revolution of the sixties when more and more young men and women began to have sex before marriage. The plot likely wouldn’t be as much of a scandalous debate now as it was back then, but Sunday in New York (1963) is still a highly entertaining and witty picture adapted from an even more successful Broadway production. Jane Fonda and Cliff Robertson are always a delight to watch onscreen and are even better paired together in this film as brother and sister, but of course Rod Taylor steals every scene that he’s in with his sense of humor and dashing good looks. Definitely catch this evening flick if you can, as Rod is certainly not to be missed in it!

3. The Time Machine (1960) on TCM at 12pm EST

Out of all of the interesting looking films being shown today, The Time Machine (1960) is without a doubt the one that I’m the most excited to see that I still haven’t had the pleasure of seeing yet. It’s the film that truly made Rod Taylor a star, and is based on the renowned science fiction novel by H.G. Wells. In it, Taylor plays Wells himself, a scientist and inventor who builds — you guessed it — a time machine, and uses it to find out  if the people of the distant future go on to build the Utopian society that Wells has always dreamed of. Instead he finds two races of people: an understated and mild-mannered one living above the Earth’s surface, and a dangerous and cannibalistic society dwelling below. His time machine is stolen by the latter race, and Wells has to risk being captured and eaten in order to travel back to his own time. The Time Machine (1960) has a timeless and eclectic cast built around star Rod Taylor, including Sebastian Cabot, who would go on to be best known as the voice of Bagheera in The Jungle Book (1969), Alan Young of Mr. Ed (1961-1966) fame, and of course Taylor’s leading lady and one of my personal favorite actresses from the sixties, Yvette Mimieux. Mimieux was only seventeen years old when filming began and actually broke the law in order to work on a full shooting schedule, but she improved her acting so much over the course of production that her earlier scenes were reshot later on. Rod Taylor himself wanted Shirley Eaton, who would go on to star in Goldfinger (1964), for Yvette’s part, but I personally can’t wait to see what happens when the two of them struggle to go back to Wells’ own time.

2. The Birds (1963) on TCM at 8pm EST

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A bloodstained Suzanne Pleshette and Rod Taylor taking a break on the set of The Birds (1963).

I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of the most iconic films of all time on my list. Normally I wouldn’t place such a no-brainer at as high of a spot as number two, but if for some certifiable reason you still haven’t seen The Birds (1963), this is my way of stressing that you need to remedy that. In this picture directed by the Master of Suspense himself, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is an heiress with an untamed past who is making an attempt to settle down and become an asset to her community, though she still isn’t too high and mighty to play practical jokes and heads to her local pet shop to purchase a foul-mouthed Myna bird for her conservative aunt. It’s there that she meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), a prosecuting attorney who’s searching for lovebirds as a gift to his sister, hasn’t forgotten some of Melanie’s past trangsressions, and believes that she should be in jail for some of the tricks that she’s pulled. For some strange reason Melanie finds him so intriguing that she buys lovebirds for Mitch herself and drives two hours to the quaint coastal town of Bodega Bay. Just as Melanie and Mitch begin to see past their prejudices for each other and fall in love, Bodega Bay proves that it isn’t so quaint after all as all flocks and varieties of birds begin to wreak havoc on the townspeople. I often find that it’s the classics that are overlooked, and for me The Birds (1963) is no exception. Many Hitchcock fans gravitate towards his other pictures like Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960), leaving this one in the dust and writing off the special effects as shoddy B-picture material. I respectfully disagree, feeling that Hitchcock artfully and skillfully used a combination of screen-projected animated birds (with the help of Disney Imagineer Ub Iwerks), stuffed birds, and of course real birds to achieve an effect that was truly frightening at the time of its release. I believe that The Birds (1963) has earned its spot among the pantheon of horror greats, and while Rod Taylor doesn’t exactly steal the show (that feat is easily accomplished by newcomer Tippi Hedren as Melanie and the birds, of course), he still delivers a strong performance that helps stabilize the picture despite its chaos. I mean really, if the town that I lived in was being ravaged by feathery fiends, I’d want to leap into Rod Taylor’s arms for comfort too.

1. 36 Hours (1964) on TCM at 6am EST

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James Garner and Rod Taylor in a scene from 36 Hours (1964).

I know, I know. Far too often my number one recommended film for Summer Under the Stars is being shown at a ridiculous time of the day or night, but what baffles me is why Turner Classic Movies would show such an underrated suspense like 36 Hours (1964) so early in their lineup of Rod Taylor’s films. Granted, this isn’t exactly a Rod Taylor vehicle, but Taylor still doesn’t disappoint and commands the screen as Nazi Major Walter Gerber, a man who devises an elaborate plot to kidnap high-ranking American offical Jefferson Pike (James Garner), transform his surroundings into an American Army Hospital, and convince him that he’s an amnesiac and that World War II is over so he’ll reveal the details of the upcoming invasion of Normandy. What really makes this film special is that every single character has their own clear set of motivations that drive their actions and make them seem almost justified. While I mentioned last month that Hitler’s Madman (1943) depicted Nazis in one of the most unflattering ways that I had ever seen, 36 Hours (1964) turns the tables a bit and makes Major Gerber a sympathetic individual, obviously wrong for following a despicable ideology but still a man at heart who deserves commendation for developing a nonviolent way of extracting information from the enemy. Eva Marie Saint also deserves credit for portraying a surprisingly tenderhearted character who seems stoic on the surface. Saint plays Anna Hedler, Jeff Pike’s fake nurse at the fake Army Hospital; she attempts to lead Pike astray and extract the necessary information out of him as well by leading him to believe that the two are engaged, but later we find out that Anna is actually a concentration camp survivor who is willing to do anything she can from being sent back. All in all, I must admit that I’m biased because Rod Taylor, James Garner, and Eva Marie Saint are three of my all-time favorite actors all starring in the same picture, but believe me when I say that the picture itself is more than worth rising early this morning to see.

The Third Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon: John Barrymore in Svengali (1931)

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Hello once again, classic film fans! I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written a post for you all; as you might recall, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be available to blog much until August 7th as I was enrolled in the TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock online course. It was an uphill battle completing everything and devoting my time and effort to the class as well as my other commitments, and I have to admit that it took me a little bit longer to get back into the full swing of things because I flew to Virginia on August 9th, spending some time there and driving back to my home state, which took until the 11th. On the plus side I managed to incorporate some Old Hollywood adventures into the trip, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce that I had the pleasure of visiting Smithfield, North Carolina, the city that houses the Ava Gardner Museum as well as her final resting place! For the few weeks before my trip I immersed myself in Ava history by watching her films and reading her autobiography, and I can’t wait until I take the time to write up a blog post or two and share my adventures with you all! Until then, I couldn’t be happier to present my entry for the Third Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, hosted as always by the wonderful Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, and I’d like to start off by thanking her for bringing back such an awesome blogathon idea. I hope this year is as successful as ever, and I can’t wait to participate again next year!

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Theatrical poster for Svengali (1931).

When I found out that this blogathon concept would be brought back again for the third year in a row, I knew that I simply couldn’t resist joining, and while I’ll admit that I didn’t have a particular film in mind to write about, I knew exactly which Barrymore I would be saluting: the marvelous, ever-so-talented grandfather of Drew Barrymore, Mr. John Barrymore himself. John has always been my favorite Barrymore and I’m fairly certain that he always will be; ever since I saw his stellar performance in Twentieth Century (1934) I was entranced by him, so much so that I wrote this little post on my Tumblr after discovering his films that to this day never fails to make me laugh. So as you can imagine, it was more of a question of which film of John Barrymore’s I would be writing about rather than which member of his illustrious family I would be writing about. After a little bit of research into the films of his that I had not yet seen, I found that Svengali (1931) fit the bill nicely with a compelling plot and some intriguing background information that I feel fortunate to share with you all. The film was based on the iconic novel Trilby (1894) by George du Maurier, who was actually the grandfather of another famous writer involved in classic films, Daphne du Maurier. Daphne went on to become a dame and penned countless stories that were eventually adapted into films made during the golden age of Hollywood like The Birds, Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, and My Cousin Rachel. But first there was Trilby, which was a resounding success and inspired everything from Trilby hats, the city of Trilby in Florida, countless stage and film adaptations (including one made for television in 1983 starring Peter O’Toole and Jodi Foster), and an even more iconic novel written by Gaston Leroux called The Phantom of the Opera in 1910.

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Marian Marsh, Bramwell Fletcher, and John Barrymore in a scene from Svengali (1931).

The 1931 adaptation in particular puts the focus on Maestro Svengali (John Barrymore), a pianist and singing teacher who, along with his assistant Gecko (Luis Alberni), struggles to make ends meet by giving lessons in Paris. From the start Svengali uses devious measures in order to get his next meal and to pay the rent, including stealing money from his acquaintances and seducing his female students by using his hypnotic powers, only to discard them when they are no longer of monetary value to him. His whole life changes, however, when he meets the youthful but tone-deaf model Trilby O’Farrell (Marian Marsh). He instantly becomes infatuated with her, while she in turn falls in love with Billee (Bramwell Fletcher), a painter who lives nearby with some of Svengali’s friends. Trilby and Billee are smitten with each other and all goes well for the lovers until he finds out that she has been modeling nude for other male painters for money. An argument ensues, which leads Trilby right into Svengali’s arms, and he convinces her to pretend to take her own life so that their painter friends will forget about her, which will lead her into marrying him. With the help of his commanding hypnosis she does as he asks, and her feigned suicide works like a charm on Billee and the rest of Svengali’s cronies. Slowly but surely Tribly falls deeper and deeper under Svengali’s spell, the two wed, and Svengali transforms Trilby into a singing sensation under the name La Svengali across all of Europe by using his supernatural powers. In fact, we learn that Trilby cannot perform without his assistance as conductor, and that the use of Svengali’s abilities for every single one of her performances is taking quite the toll on his health. Five years after Trilby supposedly killed herself by drowning in the Seine, we see her and Svengali as wealthy and revered performers, and once again Billee enters the picture. Of course he instantly recognizes his lost love, uncovers Svengali’s evil plot, and vows to undo his scorcery, but will he succeed? Will the maestro or his protégée succumb to the black magic that controls each of their lives?

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John Barrymore in a publicity still taken in 1931 (L), compared to a publicity still of John Barrymore in full makeup for Svengali (1931) the same year (R).

Svengali (1931) was made at a high point during the lives and careers of both of its stars. At only 17 years old, Trilby O’Farrell was Marian Marsh’s first starring role, and despite her young age it would go on to become the part that gave her the most acclaim as well as the part that audiences would associate with the actress until her death in 2006. John Barrymore was 49 while filming Svengali (1931), and happily married for the third time to former costar Dolores Costello, which according to Marian Marsh (who was affectionately called “Maid Marian” by Barrymore) led to him not drinking at all on or offscreen, a rare feat for the actor who was usually closely linked with his alcoholism. Barrymore received high praise for his portrayal of the title character in the picture, with critic Martin Dickstein of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle writing that Barrymore “registers a personal triumph in the role” while also calling his performance “Brilliant… one of the best of his movie career”. Barrymore did not receive an Academy Award nomination for Svengali (1931) or any other film for that matter, but the film itself was nominated for two Oscars, one for Best Art Direction by Anton Grot and another for Best Cinematography by Barney McGill. In 2003, the character of Svengali was nominated for a spot on the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Heroes and Villains list of the last hundred years. In my opinion Barrymore’s characterization was spot on, right down to the white contacts that he wore during the scenes in which Svengali hypnotizes Trilby. The contacts are actually considered to be the first ever worn onscreen, but despite John Barrymore complaining that they were clumsy and uncomfortable for him to wear, I feel just as he did that they also improved his performance. In fact, my only complaint is the painfully slow delivery of his lines. If he spoke at a normal pace, the running time of Svengali (1931) could have easily been cut in half. Marian Marsh was absolutely stunning to look at too, and I found myself unable to take my eyes off of her or her strikingly modern blonde locks during most of the film’s duration. It’s easy to say that the enjoyable parts of this film carry it from start to finish, and I would wholeheartedly recommend Svengali (1931) to any fan of horror or troubled relationships between a maestro and protégée like the one displayed in Phantom of the Opera, and especially to any fan of John Barrymore.

Month in Movies: June

Hello again, everyone! I may be a little late into the new month in bringing this write-up to the table, but I’m really excited to follow in the footsteps on some other great classic film blogs and begin my own list of the five best and worst films that I’ve watched each month. Since I’m such an avid film viewer, I do have to put some restrictions on my list, though, so all of the films that I will be offering mini reviews for here will fit the following criteria:

  1. Each film is what I consider Old Hollywood. Usually this means that they were made before 1970, but I will make exceptions if I watch the film for a specific Old Hollywood actor or filmmaker. I am an Old Hollywood blog, after all!
  2. I will only be reviewing films that I have seen each month for the first time. If I included films here that I had seen before on top of the ones that are new to me, each month the list would be a mile long!

Without further ado, here are my best and worst picks for the month of June!

The Best of June

5. Scared Stiff (1953)

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Have you ever had a craving for a particular actor’s films like you would have a craving for ice cream or pizza? Well, I’ll be the first to admit that this happens to me all the time, and early in June I had a craving for Jerry Lewis’ films, despite having only seen a few before. Hence, I got to broaden my horizons a bit, and Scared Stiff (1953) was just one of three new Jerry Lewis films that I watched, the other two being Living it Up (1954) and The Nutty Professor (1963). There were different aspects of all three that I thoroughly enjoyed and I think all three deserve spots on this list, but to be fair to the other contenders I chose to only include one film from my Lewis binge. I’ll be discussing The Nutty Professor (1963) in September as part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon, so it was almost a neck-and-neck tie between the two Martin and Lewis films, but Scared Stiff (1953) won out due to the similarities between the film and The Stooge (1952), a personal favorite of mine. The differences between the two films appealed to me too, of course, like the appearance of one of my favorite underrated actresses, Lizabeth Scott. In the film, singer Larry Todd (Dean Martin) and busboy Myron Mertz (Jerry Lewis) find themselves running away from a group of gangsters after their hides, not too differently than Curtis and Lemmon did in the iconic Some Like it Hot (1959). Instead of dressing up in drag and fleeing to Florida, Larry and Myron find themselves in a haunted mansion in the Carribbean owned by a mysterious heiress (Lizabeth Scott). Seeing Martin and Lewis at their best battling it out with ghosts, trap doors, gangsters, and skeletons (who look an awful lot like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby) was an utter delight, and if you’re looking for some adorable and spooky antics from one of cinema’s best comedy duos, look no further than Scared Stiff (1953)!

4. The Lost Weekend (1945)

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This is quite possibly the film on this list that I’ve been wanting to see for the longest time. For years I’ve heard about Billy Wilder’s masterpiece melodrama that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1945, but I kept putting off actually sitting down to watch it until I finally caught the film as part of The Essentials on TCM. Of course Wilder didn’t disappoint, and this film brings out many raw emotions in both the characters and the audience. For anyone who struggles with alcoholism or is close to someone who is familiar with the struggle, this film brings out even deeper feelings for antihero Don Birnam (Ray Milland), a desperate man who makes multiple attempts throughout the picture to stay on the wagon of sobriety. Milland’s portrayal of Birnam is absolutely dynamite as he allows the audience to feel sympathy for the character while also maintaining realism as he commits legitimate crimes and hopelessly does whatever it takes in order to get to the next bottle of liquor. It’s incredible how many times I secretly wished that Don would sober up (just as most of the supporting cast did) no matter how deplorable he became and no matter how much his cause appeared to be a lost one. I attribute that faith for the protagonist not only to the performance that earned Milland his first and only Oscar, but also to the ingenious writing and directing by Billy Wilder, one of the best multifaceted filmmakers who ever approached a camera. If you haven’t seen this intense and masterful classic, add it to your watchlist as soon as possible and prepare for some anxiety as you follow Don Birnam through his four-day drinking binge.

3. Her Sister’s Secret (1946)

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I just love it when I unexpectedly find a quality B picture, don’t you? That was certainly the case with Her Sister’s Secret (1946), made by notorious “poverty row” studio Producers Releasing Corporation in 1946. I found the film while browsing through Watch TCM earlier in June, and ironically enough it stood out to me because of how absurd the plot was. I mean really, when reading the snippet,”When her soldier lover disappears, a young woman gives up their child to her sister, only to have the man return intent on building a family.”, wouldn’t you regard the storyline as soap opera fodder and move on with your day? That’s almost what I did, but something about it actually drew me in, and after finding nothing better to watch that afternoon I decided to give it a try. I’m certainly glad that I did, because the acting and dialogue in this picture is stellar considering the meager budget and concept, and Her Sister’s Secret (1946) progresses and eventually concludes in a way that is both realistic and makes perfect sense to the audience. Obviously the standout performance here is that of Nancy Coleman as Toni Dubois, the young woman who gives up her child out of the fear and shame that came along with being a single mother at the time. Seeing her immediately regret the decision and seeing her efforts to reunite with her son in the years after his birth is heartbreaking, and Coleman’s portrayal made me feel so much empathy for her character. I’m not entirely certain just how accessible the film is as I stumbled upon it by chance, but if you ever come across this romantic drama yourself, don’t be afraid to give it a second look.

2. He Ran All the Way (1951)

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Over the course of the past year or two, noir has slowly but surely become one of my favorite genres in classic film. Recently this has been due to Noir Alley, hosted by the always informative and charming Eddie Muller on TCM. However, my relationship with Noir Alley hasn’t always been a pleasant one, mostly due to its annoying 10am timeslot which (as someone who works nights) falls right in the middle of my sleeping schedule. Since I first began watching the program in April I’ve managed to soldier through most of the films, but when a noir that I wake up just to watch is subpar or just so-so (He Walked by Night (1948) comes to mind), it really gets my goat. Noir Alley’s film for the third week of June put my faith back in the show entirely, and I’m elated to report that I’ve tuned in every week since. Yes, that’s how great it was! The film follows Nick Robey (John Garfield), a small-time crook who attempts to hold up a payroll with his pal Al Molin (played by Norman Lloyd, one of the oldest living classic film stars who’s still making movies at 102!). What was meant to be a quick and easy robbery turns into a farce when Al is killed and a statewide manhunt is issued for Nick, who managed to make a sizeable profit from the heist. While on the run, Nick finds himself at a public swimming pool and meets Peg (Shelley Winters), and he takes a liking to her before deciding to terrorize her and her family by keeping them in their apartment at gunpoint and forcing them to keep him there until he can make a clean getaway with the dough. He Ran All the Way (1951) is an excellent suspense from start to finish, and John Garfield is in his element as a criminal you hate to love, proving to all of us that he was a talent who was taken from us much too soon. Shelley Winters gives a memorable performance as well, and I was so thrilled to see her in a likeable role for once that attempted to play up her beauty. Finally she makes decisions that I can get behind, and a great deal of what made me so impressed with the film was the fact that there was a leading lady in a noir who made every single choice that I like to think I would have given the situation. I don’t think I overstate my case when I say that this is one of the best noirs that I’ve ever seen, and if you’re looking for a thriller that will keep your eyes glued to the screen, believe me when I say that this is it!

1. Hitler’s Madman (1943)

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Here we have another dramatic B picture that absolutely stole my heart in June! Hitler’s Madman (1943) drew me in as soon as I saw the cast. First we have Alan Curtis, who really stood out to me in Phantom Lady (1944) despite not having much screen time, but the name that made me immediately turn on the film was that of Patricia Morison. As I mentioned above about the great Norman Lloyd, Patricia is another one of the oldest living classic film stars, who is luckily also still gracing us with her presence at 102! She had a varied and interesting film and stage career, most notably originating the role of Lilli Vanessi in Kiss Me Kate onstage in 1948 (she would later be replaced by Kathryn Grayson for the 1953 film), as well as appearing in the last of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes films, Dressed to Kill (1946). I knew most of that information beforehand and had seen her exquisite beauty in photographs, but I had yet to see a film of hers and saw Hitler’s Madman (1943) as a chance to catch her in one of her starring roles. I didn’t expect much from the picture, but boy was I blown away! Like Her Sister’s Secret (1946), Hitler’s Madman (1943) was also made by Producers Releasing Corporation, but MGM saw such potential in the film that they purchased it for their own release, which many film scholars believe is the first time something like that had been done. It takes place in the idyllic Czechoslovakian village of Lidice, which is steadily being taken over by the Nazis. Karel Vavra (Curtis), a soldier serving for the Allies, parachutes into the town that he used to call home and rallies the villagers together in hopes that they will form an uprising and throw the Nazis out. At first the townspeople are too afraid to stand up to their oppressors, but when the demented Reinhardt Heydrich (John Carradine), one of Hitler’s right hand men, begins to throw innocent citizens in jail for fictitious crimes and round up underage girls to be sent to the front lines for German soldiers to use, some of the braver townsfolk plot to get rid of Heydrich once and for all. I was stunned to see so many sensitive subjects brought to light onscreen, and never have I seen a movie that puts the Nazis in as despicable of a light as this one. It’s important to note that this film was made while World War II was still being fought, so I can’t imagine the bravery that was involved in translating these horrific events to the screen. Even more impactful were the acting skills displayed by every actor involved in the production, and the film is heartwrenching to watch as a result. This was the first time in a long time that a film has outright made me bawl while watching it, and I’m sure that it will happen to you too, especially after learning as I did that the events in this film were based on fact. If you want to watch a dark and gripping movie that stands out among the rest of the films made about the Second World War, I would wholeheartedly recommend this one, and be sure to keep an eye out for a very young and alluring Ava Gardner as an extra in some scenes!

The Worst of June

5. Just A Gigolo (1931)

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I think a trend that you’ll find often on my blog is that I tend to watch films mostly for the actors who appear in them. That was the case with Just A Gigolo (1931), the first film screened on TCM as part of their Gays in Hollywood theme in June. The film features William Haines, a prolific actor of the 1920s and 1930s whose career was ultimately cut short due to his refusal to leave his partner, interior designer Jimmie Shields. Haines stars in the film as Lord Robert Brummell, a notorious playboy and Casanova who spends most of his time fooling around with married women while dodging their jealous husbands. His uncle Lord George Hampton (C. Aubrey Smith) does everything he can to lead his nephew on a path of righteousness, even setting up an important job interview that Lord Brummell proceeds to blow off and finding him a suitable wife in his close friend’s lovely daughter, Roxanne Hartley (Irene Purcell). Robert is not convinced that Roxy is wife material, however, and makes a wager with his uncle that he can romance Roxy as a gigolo, make her fall in love with him, and expose her as just a common floozy. I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t hate this film. I didn’t even dislike this film really, but I did find it very forgettable and quite typical as a romantic comedy. What’s more, I agree with the TCM hosts who discussed the film when they say that William Haines wasn’t exactly convincing as a philanderer, and subtle changes were even made to the script that hinted that he batted for the other team. The leading lady, Irene Purcell, stood out to me in a fiery performance, and I must say that I admired her character Roxy as she saw through Lord Brummell’s plans. C. Aubrey Smith was memorable as well in the role of Lord Hampton, and quite frankly had onscreen charisma that rivaled the leading man. All in all,  Just A Gigolo (1931) was a disappointing introduction to what promised to be an interesting theme on TCM, and faded into the background in comparison to some other landmark performances by gay actors in Hollywood.

4. Journey Into Fear (1942)

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As I mentioned above, I lost some interest in Noir Alley on TCM for a short time this year, and I think it’s easy for me to say that this picture was one of the reasons why. Granted, I wasn’t able to watch Journey Into Fear (1942) when it aired on the channel during the last week of May, but I did catch it while it was still on Watch TCM in early June. Luckily host Eddie Muller’s intro to the movie was still intact and I got to hear about how illustrious filmmaker Orson Welles abandoned the project while it was still in production, and that Welles despised the ending that RKO Pictures filmed without his knowledge so much that he returned to film a new and better ending. I never did learn what the original ending was supposed to be, but I did watch Journey Into Fear (1942) completed as Orson Welles intended. Joseph Cotten plays Howard Graham, a munitions expert who visits Turkey with his wife only to find out that the Nazis are attempting to bump him off and make sure that he doesn’t return to the States. Fortunately for Graham, the Turkish government is sympathetic to his plight, but not  at all sympathetic to his marriage as government officials whisk his wife away while hurriedly ushering Graham on a tramp steamer across the Black Sea to Batumi. At first it appears that the Turks’ half-baked plan worked, but soon the munitions expert finds out that armed and dangerous Nazi agents have followed him onboard, and our protagonist must find a way to safety without leaving the ship and without a gun to his name. I suppose Journey Into Fear (1942) qualifies as another film that I didn’t hate, but at times it was very difficult to follow. This is mostly due to the fact that the film commits the faux pas that I’ve found is commonplace in many noirs: there are simply too many characters to keep track of. While I gave the film my undivided attention, I constantly heard names and saw faces that seemed to pop up out of nowhere, and while a diverse cast is always a good thing, an audience should at least get an idea of which characters are most important to the story. Even worse, some of the best stars in the film got little to no screentime, like Orson Welles as Colonel Haki, the Turkish representative who attempts to give Graham safe passage, and Ruth Warrick as Graham’s devoted but confused wife. In general the picture appeared to me to have no heart in it, and seemed like just another excuse for Orson Welles to reunite his Mercury Theater players without actually putting in the necessary effort to make a quality film.

3. Ride the Wild Surf (1964)

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As you might imagine, Ride the Wild Surf (1964) qualifies as your typical surfer film, though unfortunately in this case it qualifies to a fault. The picture tells the story of young friends Jody (Fabian), Colton (Peter Brown), and Steamer (Tab Hunter), who arrive in Hawaii with hopes to get lucky both in love and on the arduous waves of Waimea Bay. The plot is so unoriginal that I can’t understand how it got off the ground, but the personalities of some of the characters take the movie from being run-of-the-mill to being just plain awful. Jody is the main culprit; throughout the film he is the epitome of the angsty teenager and somehow manages to get by as a beach bum with no schooling or career path. While Colton and Steamer consider Hawaii a vacation that they’ve studied and worked hard for, Jody just considers Waimea Bay to be just another opportunity to show off his skills on a surfboard, and (spoiler!) of course he wins the big surfing contest, teaching all the kids of the 1960s that if you’re the one in your circle of friends who sheds your responsibilities, you too can get everything you desire in life, including the lovely Shelley Fabares who plays Jody’s love interest, Brie Matthews. In general, Fabian steals far too much screen time in the role, and if his character was written out I’m sure I would have enjoyed this film much more overall. Though it’s not nearly as important, another aspect of Ride the Wild Surf (1964) that annoyed me to no end was the fact that nearly every star who appeared in the movie dyed their hair for it. Shelley Fabares, who is best known today as one of Elvis Presley’s most frequent leading ladies and as a brunette, lightened her hair for the film to contrast her leading man Fabian. Tab Hunter darkened his signature blonde locks to a brunette hue to match his stunt double for the surf scenes, while Peter Brown lightened his hair so that all of the leading men didn’t have dark hair. Barbara Eden, who became an iconic blonde after starring on I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970), dyed her hair red for the film in order to contrast Peter, making Fabian and Susan Hart (Tab Hunter’s raven-haired love interest) the only actors in the film who didn’t ditch the hair color for which they were most famous. It’s a real shame that I didn’t like this picture more than I did, but Fabian and all of the hair switcheroos proved to be too much for me. If you’re looking to catch some waves this summer and this movie, I wouldn’t necessarily insist that you skip Ride the Wild Surf (1964) but I would recommend that you pay more mind to Shelley Fabares and Barbara Eden, two great actresses of their day who give far better performances in this film than the men do. Also be sure to catch Robert Mitchum’s son James, who is the spitting image of his legendary father in a smaller role as Eskimo!

2. The King’s Thief (1955)

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The King’s Thief (1955) is a colorful costume adventure film about Michael McDermott (Edmund Purdom), a highwayman who stumbles upon a notebook belonging to Duke James of Brampton (David Niven), the right hand man of King Charles II (George Sanders). The notebook uncovers a devious plot on the part of the duke, as it lists the names of nobles whom James has falsely accused of treason in order to steal their property and holdings for himself after their execution. The notebook also reveals the nobility that the duke still intends to slander, and Michael hopes to do the right thing for once and reveal the plan to the king himself, especially after meeting and falling in love with Lady Mary (Ann Blyth), a noblewoman whose father was among the wealthy subjects that James already led to the gallows. Michael and Lady Mary attempt to blackmail James at first, which lands the highwayman in prison, but will he escape and deliver the notebook to the king, or will he have to resort to more drastic measures to get his majesty’s attention and reveal the truth? My qualms about the film are few but important nonetheless, my main issue with it being that it absolutely bored me to tears! The swordfights, gambling, romance, and jailbreaks seemed like they were enough to carry the film, but throughout I found myself hardly able to keep my eyes open in the middle of the afternoon. Even the costumes in this costume drama could be considered a hit or miss, with some of Ann Blyth’s dresses being quite lovely and some of the male ensembles being gaudy and unnecessary. For me The King’s Thief (1955) raises a lot of unanswered questions, like “Why did they think Edmund Purdom would look good with a mustache?”, “Why didn’t they cast Basil Rathbone as Duke James instead of David Niven?”, and “Why was George Sanders only in the movie for five minutes?”. A question that does receive an answer, however, is “Should anyone watch this movie?”. If you’re wondering, the answer is no.

1. In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

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Earlier in June, I volunteered to write a review about In the Good Old Summertime (1949) for Judy Garland’s birthday. I chose the film myself because it was one of the only classics in Judy’s filmography that I had yet to see, and I was even more excited to write about it because I found out that it was a musical remake of one of my favorite films (and possibly my favorite Christmas film), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), the film which also inspired the iconic Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan vehicle You’ve Got Mail (1998). Quite a few aspects of the original are changed for In the Good Old Summertime (1949); for instance, the setting is a turn-of-the-century music store in America owned by the lovable S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall instead of a department store in Hungary owned by the even more lovable (in my personal opinion) Frank Morgan. There are many other differences in this film, but the general premise is the same: two coworkers who utterly despise each other, Veronica Fisher (Judy Garland) and Andrew Larkin (Van Johnson), are in the dark about the fact that they’re actually falling in love as each other’s anonymous pen pals. This film has earned the number one spot on my list of the most disliked films of June partially because it butchered such a wonderful and underrated original, but also because of the off-the-charts level of disappointment that I felt after finding that out. I was so disappointed in it, in fact, that I couldn’t even bring myself to write about it on Judy’s birthday, as I simply couldn’t say anything mean about a film that she starred in on a day that we all were celebrating her. In the Good Old Summertime (1949) had all of the ingredients of a film that I might enjoy: stars Judy Garland and Van Johnson, who are not my all-time favorites but I’ve certainly admired them both and appreciated their films, beautiful and colorful costumes, and of course the concept of turning a fine plot into a musical. There are movies that pull off such a feat without a hitch like High Society (1956), but this one blatantly rips off all of the clever dialogue from The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and doesn’t make it sound even half as clever or unique. Most of the changes made for the remake are unwelcome ones except for the addition of the legendary Buster Keaton as the shop owner’s cousin, but even he is criminally underutilized. In conclusion, if any of my readers approached me and told me that they were interested in taking a look at In the Good Old Summertime (1949), or anyone at all for that matter, I would probably feel inclined to grab them by the collar and vehemently direct them to the nearest showing of The Shop Around the Corner (1940), and that’s all there is to it.