Five Top Five of December — Humphrey Bogart

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Here I am with another installment of my Five Top Five series for December! Today I’ll be ranking the best films of rugged tough guy Humphrey Bogart as my contribution to my first ever blogathon, the Humphrey Bogart Blogathon! You can find the blogathon’s announcement here, and you can find the rest of the entries here! Without further ado, on with the post!

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5. In A Lonely Place (1950)

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Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in a scene from In A Lonely Place (1950).

First up we have one of the two films that I saw for the first time at last year’s Humphrey Bogart Film Festival and thoroughly enjoyed. In this vastly underrated noir, screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), who is known for his drunkenness and belligerence, is given the arduous task of adapting the latest bestseller to the screen. Unwilling to read the book himself, he takes home a lovely hat check girl and fan of the novel named Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart) to summarize it for him in his home. When the girl is found murdered that very same night Steele becomes the police’s prime suspect, and when he is unable to cough up an alibi his alluring neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) interferes in his defense. Dixon and Laurel become unlikely friends and eventually unlikely lovers, but will their love be enough when he becomes violent and doubts of his innocence creep into her mind? Bogart plays against type as a completely unlikable character in a Hollywood film about Hollywood, which was the fourth film produced by Bogart’s own production company, Santana Productions. With stellar writing, acting on the parts of Bogie and Gloria Grahame, and directing on the part of Nicholas Ray (husband of our leading lady at the time and the man who would go on to helm Rebel Without A Cause (1955)), In A Lonely Place (1950) deserves an immense amount of credit and should go down in history as one of the more sublime and dark noirs of the genre.

4. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

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Bogie shows off the titular artifact in a publicity still for The Maltese Falcon (1941).

I know what you’re thinking; this film is far too much of a classic to be ranked so low on my list, but I must admit that this film took a few watches to fully understand the plot and arc of the story. Once I did understand, I developed an appreciation for it, but not quite as strong as my appreciation was and is for many of Bogart’s less convoluted pictures. This iconic movie is all about Sam Spade (Bogart), a private eye and half of Spade and Archer, a detective agency with his partner Miles (Jerome Cowan). One not so ordinary afternoon, a captivating brunette who goes by Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) enters Spade’s office and begs for his help in finding her missing sister by sending one of the detectives to track the man who she’s supposedly in love with. Archer takes the case, trailing the man supposedly named Floyd Thursby, and winds up getting murdered in the process. With hardly any leads and nothing turning out like it seems on the surface, Sam Spade entangles himself in a web of crime and deceit, all revolving around a priceless artifact: The Maltese Falcon. Bogart puts his incredible “tough guy with a heart of gold” persona on full display in this film, and even though Spade makes some antihero-like decisions throughout its entirety, you know that he will swallow his pride and do the right thing in the end. This trope that resides in many of Humphrey Bogart’s roles is what really attracts my attention to his films, and this one is no exception. If you have a desire to check out some iconic noirs and see the likes of Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and many more talented character actors in their best roles, check out this film immediately.

3. The Caine Mutiny (1954)

Next we have my favorite of the films that I saw for the first time at the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival. Here we find newcomer Robert Francis in the lead as Ensign Willie Keith, a recent graduate who reports to the USS Caine, a beaten up minesweeper called “the rust bucket” by its untidy and unorganized crew. The commander, Lieutenant De Vriess (Tom Tully), is liked by everyone on the crew except for Keith, who believes that those on the ship could use some good discipline. Soon De Vriess is relieved by Phillip Francis Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), a far more uptight yet bizarre captain, who makes mistake after mistake and covers each one up to the best of his ability. Keith and two of his good friends onboard the ship, Lieutenants Steve Maryk and Tom Keefer (Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray), begin to doubt their captain’s sanity, and when Queeg makes a decision that Keith believes would put the Caine‘s entire crew in jeopardy, he takes it upon himself to call for a mutiny and relieve Queeg of his position as captain. Every single performance in this ensemble cast is noteworthy, but Humphrey Bogart truly outdoes himself in his role as the possibly demented captain of the Caine. The scene in which Queeg crumbles on the witness stand in an attempt to defend himself against the crew’s mutiny is especially awe-inspiring, and quite possibly the best acting of his career. If you want to see a superb war epic and acting at its finest, go see this rare color film of Humphrey Bogart’s on his birthday.

2. Dark Passage (1947)

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Bogie and Bacall share an embrace on the set of Dark Passage (1947).

Here we have another of Bogart’s dramas that doesn’t receive nearly enough acclaim. In it he plays the role of Vincent Parry, a convict on death row at San Quentin for the murder of his wife who makes a break for it at the start of the film. He doesn’t get very far at first, but luckily painter Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) comes to his rescue and smuggles him in her car to her home in San Francisco. There she explains that she felt sorry for Parry and had sat in for every day of his trial, comparing it to the trial and execution of her own father who she believed was innocent in the murder of her stepmother. Parry hides out in Jansen’s apartment and the two are instantly attracted to each other, but destiny comes banging on the door in the form of Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead), a shrill and vindictive woman who is an imposing friend of Irene’s and who testified against Vincent at the murder trial out of jealousy. Will Madge and fate interfere and throw Vincent back behind bars, or will he find a better life and escape the electric chair? I find this to be a thrilling masterpiece and the best of the four Bogie and Bacall films. The directing and cinematography Delmer Daves and Sidney Hickox are revolutionary as the entire first half of the film is ingeniously shot from the main character’s perspective. This trick gives us a glimpse into Parry’s life that no other method would, and gives us a gratuitous amount of shots of Lauren Bacall, which I could never complain about either. I would strongly recommend this film to any Bogie and Bacall fan.

1. Dead Reckoning (1947)

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Lizabeth Scott and Humphrey Bogart break for tea on the set of Dead Reckoning (1947).

My top pick is likely among my list of the most underrated films of all time. In the film Bogie plays Rip Murdock, an ex-paratrooper who tells most of his story in flashback. He and his best friend and fellow paratrooper Johnny Drake (William Prince) are taken by private plane to Washington, D. C. and surprised with the fact that Drake is to be presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and good deeds in battle. Before he is to receive it, however, Drake leaves town without a word. Determined to find out what happened and what caused his best friend’s disappearance, Murdock heads to his hometown. While there Rip digs a little deeper, and finds out that what was originally a disappearance has turned into a murder, and that Johnny was possibly involved in a murder of his own before he joined the army. To complicate matters even further, Rip finds the love of Johnny’s life, intriguing lounge singer Coral Chandler (Lizabeth Scott), and begins to fall in love with her himself. The exceptional writing by Oliver Garrett and Steve Fisher (based on a story by Gerald Addams and Sidney Biddell) is what truly makes this picture special. Almost every line is quotable in its own right, and while some of the acting may seem cliche or forced (on all counts with the exception of Bogie’s performance), you know that the dialogue spoken in the film is poetic and genuine. With beautiful and mysterious lines like “Go ahead, put Christmas in your eyes and keep your voice low. Tell me about paradise and all the things I’m missing. I haven’t had a good laugh since before Johnny was murdered.”, this film is chock full of romance and intrigue, and I classify it as a must see.

The Humphrey Bogart Blogathon Is Here!

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I couldn’t be more excited to present all of the incoming entries for my first ever blogathon, celebrating the iconic Humphrey Bogart! Below you’ll find all of the entries so far, and please comment on this post or on the blogathon’s announcement with a link to your entry!

The Midnite Drive-In discusses Bogart’s humble beginnings and his iconic role in The Maltese Falcon (1941).

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Who would’ve thought that such a tough guy was the face of a popular brand of baby food?

Moon in Gemini pens a stunning analysis of greed in Bogie’s classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).

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How everyone will probably look after participating in a blogathon in the middle of the holiday season.

Magnolia’s Favorite Classic Films dissects the timelessness of Bogart’s most iconic film, Casablanca (1942).

Image: FILE PHOTO: 70 Years Since The Casablanca World Premiere Casablanca
Here’s looking at your entry, kid!

Champagne for Lunch brilliantly describes the improbable chemistry between Bogie and June Allyson in Battle Circus (1953).

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Now that you’ve done a war drama, does this mean that I have to play a bobby-soxer?

Critica Retro reviews Bogart’s final collaboration with director John Huston in Beat the Devil (1953).

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What do you mean my blogathon ends tomorrow?

I rank Bogie’s five best performances as part of my Five Top Five series for December.

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How I look when I realize that this is the last day of the blogathon.

Movierob reviews not one, but two of Humphrey’s best performances in The African Queen (1951) and Sabrina (1954).

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But which do you like better?

Old Hollywood Films talks about one of the films that skyrocketed Bogart to fame: High Sierra (1941).

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Will I always have to take George Raft’s sloppy seconds?

Film Noir Archive gives us a fantastic closer look at The Maltese Falcon (1941).

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Gee, why didn’t I think of putting that in my entry?

Back to Golden Days delivers a stunning analysis of one of Bogart’s final films, The Caine Mutiny (1954).

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Looking for the rest of the entries.

Cinema Cities honors Bogart and his role in In A Lonely Place (1950).

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The morning after writing an awesome blogathon entry.

Five Top Five of December — Dorothy Lamour

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Hey, lovely readers! It’s finally nearing the end of the year, and I’m starting off the holiday season with the first installment of my Five Top Five series for December! I must admit I enjoy writing these, and they’re an especially good respite in between blogathons, so I’m happy to announce that the series will continue for as long as my typing hands can hold out! Today I’ll be talking about Dorothy Lamour’s stunning career in films on what would have been her 102nd birthday. While I usually write exclusively about a star’s best roles, I think this list would be better if I focused this time on her best films, as she nearly always played second banana to the likes of Crosby, Hope, and many other leading men. So without further ado, on with the post!

5. Johnny Apollo (1940)

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Dorothy Lamour and Tyrone Power in a publicity photo for Johnny Apollo (1940).

While I’m sure that I caught at least one of the great Road movies in my youth, Johnny Apollo (1940) is the first Dorothy Lamour film that I distinctly remember watching, and if you’re a regular reader of my blog, I’m sure you know the reason: it also stars none other than my all-time favorite actor, Tyrone Power. Power is really the star of the story as Robert Cain Jr., son of wealthy Wall Street broker Robert Cain Sr. (Edward Arnold), who at the start of the film gets arrested for embezzlement. The man gets a hefty sentence of thirty years per charge despite everyone (even the judge) believing that he doesn’t deserve it, while notorious gangster Mickey Dwyer (Lloyd Nolan) gets a measly five years the very same day, as it was the maximum sentence for his current crime. Robert Jr. is distant towards his father at first but soon has the desire to set him free, so he tracks down the attorney of Mickey Dwyer, Emmett T. Brennan (Charley Grapewin), who bent the law in Dwyer’s favor to already get him released from prison on parole. In an effort to get the same treatment for his father, Robert Jr. changes his name to Johnny Apollo and gets himself caught up in Dwyer’s life, becoming his partner in crime and winning over the affections of his girlfriend, Lucky DuBarry, played by our star of the day Dorothy Lamour. Despite the forced chemistry between Lucky and Johnny towards the beginning and no real explanation for her to be with Mickey in the first place, I thought this was a fine film, and Dorothy’s array of songs held my attention throughout the duller parts, especially the endearing “Dancing for Nickels and Dimes”, for which she’s dressed in rags and wearing her best smile. I would definitely recommend this picture if you’re into gangster films and want to catch Dorothy in one of her lesser-known roles.

4. My Favorite Brunette (1947)

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Frequent costars Dorothy and Bob Hope getting close on the set of My Favorite Brunette (1947).

I could never leave off this marvelous spy comedy that paired frequent costars Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in a film that wasn’t part of the Road pictures. The film’s events are told in flashback by Bob Hope’s character, who is on death row at San Quentin awaiting his execution, and Dorothy portrays Baroness Maria Montay who appears to be in the middle of a great conspiracy as she attempts to find her uncle (or husband?) who has gone missing. She pleads for help from the man whom she thinks is private detective Sam McCloud (the real Sam is played in a great cameo by Alan Ladd), but she’s really getting help from baby photographer Ronnie Jackson (Hope), who has set up shop across the hall from McCloud and is looking after his office while he’s away on a case. However, Jackson has always aspired to become a detective himself and sees this mistake as his golden opportunity to step into the detective’s shoes. Soon he gets caught up in a convoluted web of deception and intrigue, and like any amateur detective (especailly one played by Bob Hope in a heavily typecast buffoon role), he has no idea what he’s doing and the enemy ends up leading him exactly where they want him to go, including straight into a frame-up for murder. I adore this lighthearted comedy, and there are many humorous references and ingenious cameos throughout. Of course Lamour and Hope couldn’t do a film without Bing Crosby, and I was so delighted to see him at the very end of the picture. Bob Hope wanted him to appear in the film so badly that he paid Crosby $5,000 out of his own pocket to do so, and Crosby proceeded to donate the money to charity. If you haven’t seen this public domain classic and are a fan of the famous Road trio, you certainly should!

3. Road to Singapore (1940)

Finally I include the first of the seven Road films with Dorothy, Bing, and Bob. In this particular gem, Crosby and Hope play Josh and Ace, two playboys with a love of the sea. Josh comes from an illustrious family who used ships to create their enormous wealth, and his father (Charles Coburn) wants him to pick up where he leaves off. Everything’s been planned out for him, including his home, career, and even his fiancé, but Josh wants no part of it. All he cares about is being on the ocean and exploring the world with his best friend Ace, who’s in a jam himself when the family of his previous fling insists that he marries her. Rather than face their problems head on, the two flee onboard a ship to the South Sea Islands, ending up in (where else?) Singapore. At first things seem to be going well for the two of them as they find a comfortable home and get by for weeks without employment. However, when they run out of food and their home becomes a mess, they find that they need the help of Mira (Dorothy Lamour), a local dancer who is attempting to flee an abusive relationship. Mira is more than happy to tag along and help Josh and Ace survive, but troubles begin when they reach the end of their financial rope, when three becomes a crowded love triangle, and when Mira’s former beau Caesar (Anthony Quinn) goes on the hunt for her. This is a comedy for the ages, and almost a perfect one as far as classics go. As I watched it I prayed that some of its delightful gags would be repeated in the other films, and luckily many of them were. It has been and will always be one of my favorites, and the only downsides that come to mind are that this film doesn’t include nearly as many fourth wall breaks that make the rest of the series so funny, and I always found it sad that Bob never got the girl. Despite these drawbacks, I strongly recommend watching every film in this series if you like adventure, laughs, and these three.

2. Road to Morocco (1942)

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Dorothy and Bob looking glamorous in a scene from Road to Morocco (1942).

The second and final Road film to appear on my list is actually the third, Road to Morocco (1942). Originally there weren’t supposed to be three Road pictures, there wasn’t even supposed to be one, but this trifecta of comedy was such a smash that it had to be continued, especially in this film that was the first especially written for the series. In it our heroes are in the roles of Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby) and Orville “Turkey” Jackson (Bob Hope), two friends stranded on a raft in the Mediterranean who eventually end up in Morocco. Once again the two find themselves struggling to get by, starving after spending weeks adrift as castaways. Jeff takes matters into his own hands, selling Turkey as a slave to a stranger to pay for their meal and planning to find and rescue him later on. Little does he know that Turkey needs no rescuing, however, as he has been sold to the alluring Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour) as her soon-to-be husband. Jealous of his friend’s new position, Jeff attempts to woo the princess himself, singing to her and quickly getting her to fall for him. It is soon revealed, however, that a soothsayer has told her that her first husband will die a horrible death within a week, and she plans to go through with her marriage to Turkey so she can get rid of him and presumably marry her true love, Mullay Kasim (once again played by Anthony Quinn, making him the only other regular actor to appear in the Road films). But can Turkey be saved? Is Kasim her true love after all? So far this is undoubtedly my favorite film of the series, as it has the most memorable songs and seamlessly blends both the older bits of the previous two films and the newer and funnier fourth wall breaks throughout. The ending also makes this film stand head and shoulders above the rest, and I couldn’t recommend a better picture among the seven. If you watch only one Road film in your life, make sure this is it.

1. The Hurricane (1937)

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Dorothy and Jon Hall in The Hurricane (1937).

I admire Dorothy Lamour for so much of her work, and I wanted to make certain that my number one choice wasn’t a Road film, as I believe I have talked about her role in the series enough. Luckily I admire one of her more dramatic parts more than enough to give it the top spot. In this film Dorothy plays native Polynesian girl Marama, who marries fellow islander Terangi (Jon Hall), the best sailor on the island of Manukura, and quite possibly the world. As quickly as they wed, however, Terangi has to leave as first mate on a voyage to Tahiti. In a lovable chain of events Terangi tries to smuggle his new bride onboard in a potato sack, but the captain quickly threatens to demote him if Marama doesn’t swim back to the shore. Wanting the best for her husband she agrees, patiently waiting for him back on land, but unfortunately fate has other plans. Meanwhile in Tahiti, a wealthy bully picks a fight with Terangi in a pub, leading the young sailor to fight back and knock the man out. He gets a six month jail sentence, which almost everyone involved says is extreme, but Terangi, not knowing much about first world law practices, attempts to escape from jail every chance that he gets, adding more and more time onto his sentence and eventually increasing it to sixteen years. Finally after eight years Terangi escapes for good, taking a canoe and rowing nearly four hundred miles back home to Manukura, where his wife and daughter have been waiting patiently for his return. But will it be happily ever after, or will those who want to keep Terangi confined have their last laugh? If we’re being honest, leading man Jon Hall really carries the picture, withstanding real flogging, practically real hurricanes, and even changing his name to highlight the fact that he was the nephew of the author of the original novel for his role, but Dorothy Lamour’s performance certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. She expresses a wide variety of very real emotion, from adorable newlywed to despondent mother and wife. In all honesty, I always felt sorry that Dorothy has been remembered only for the roles in which she dons her trademark sarong, but if all of those pictures are half as good as this one, it makes me wish that she appeared in it more often.

Announcing the 1st Annual Classic Hollywood Holiday Card Giveathon!

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I, like almost everyone, have had some very happy holidays. It’s my favorite time of year, but ever since I began to blog about classic film, I haven’t made many traditions that involved my passion. This holiday season, I wanted to change that and find a way to incorporate my love for old Hollywood into my celebrations for years to come. So far I’ve been watching some timeless movies, as most fans do, and I signed up for Journeys In Classic Film’s Secret Santa, but it wasn’t until I saw Silentology’s heartfelt post asking for Christmas cards to be sent to one of the last living silent film stars that I knew what to do to make a difference. I know this announcement is cutting it very close to Christmas Day, but since I thought of this wonderful idea I wanted to attempt to start it this year rather than waiting until next year. I perfectly understand if not everyone is able to set aside their time and money for this event, and that’s why I intend to make it an annual one so I can bring it back next year for everyone to participate in. The idea is for everyone involved to sign up to send holiday cards to their favorite living classic film stars and give them some holiday cheer this season.

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 (sorted by age) for inspiration as well! Of course you may sign up for a star who is not on any of these lists.

  • Mary Carlisle
  • Olivia de Havilland
  • Kirk Douglas
  • Danielle Darrieux
  • Diana Serra Cary
  • Nehemiah Persoff
  • Marge Champion
  • Nanette Fabray
  • Rhonda Fleming
  • Rose Marie
  • Glynis Johns
  • Dina Merrill
  • Doris Day
  • Eva Marie Saint
  • Honor Blackman
  • Maria Riva
  • Dorothy Malone
  • June Lockhart
  • Angela Lansbury
  • Peggy Cummins
  • Jerry Lewis
  • Julie Adams
  • Sidney Poitier
  • Peggy Dow
  • Nancy Olson
  • Ann Blyth
  • Terry Moore
  • Jane Powell
  • Arlene Dahl
  • Debbie Reynolds
  • Mickey Kuhn
  • Debra Paget
  • George Chakiris
  • Russ Tamblyn
  • Margaret O’Brien
  • Kathryn Beaumont
  • Liza Minnelli
  • Gina Lollobrigida
  • Roger Moore
  • 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
  • Mary Tyler Moore
  • George Takei
  • Richard Beymer
  • Diane Baker
  • Paula Prentiss
  • Dolores Hart
  • Patrick Wayne
  • George Hamilton
  • Katharine Ross
  • Jill St. John
  • Raquel Welch
  • Ann-Margret
  • Yvette Mimieux
  • Carol Lynley
  • Pamela Tiffin
  • Tuesday Weld
  • Britt Ekland
  • Catherine Deneuve
  • Shelley Fabares
  • Mia Farrow
  • Priscilla Presley
  • Lana Wood
  • Hayley Mills
  • Sue Lyon

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 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 don’t feel comfortable with this or are 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! 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. Finally, once you’re finished, repeat this process with all of the stars as you signed up for, if you signed up for more than one.
  5. Please help me spread the word! I’m still not the most popular blog and I’ll need all the help I can get! Please 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 up to THREE duplicates of each star and you may sign up to send to an UNLIMITED number of stars. If any star exceeds three duplicates, I may possibly allow more on a case by case basis. I also want to make sure that as many stars recieve cards as possible, so let’s please avoid everyone signing up for the same person. 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, so if you ask me for a star’s address, I will only reply with what fan mail addresses I can find. If you do your own research and find 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 religions. 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 Christmas Day (December 25th), and I will be making a post in one week (December 17th) to round up all of the blog posts, though you may make your blog posts at any time. I will be adding entries to the post indefintely, so if you don’t send your card out on time, that’s okay! Also, please let me know if a star replies to your card! I would love to see that!

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ROSTER

  • Musings of a Classic Film Addict — Dina Merrill, Diana Serra Cary, Mary Carlisle, Jane Fonda, Kim Novak, Gina Lollobrigida, Raquel Welch, Vera Miles, Kathryn Crosby, Don Murray, Joanne Woodward, Shelley Fabares
  • Sleepwalking in Hollywood — Kathryn Beaumont, Nehemiah Persoff, Russ Tamblyn, Olivia de Havilland, Mamie Van Doren, Tab Hunter, Julie Newmar, Robert Redford, Lana Wood, Mike Farrell, Claire Bloom
  • Silentology — Diana Serra Cary
  • Champagne for Lunch — Marsha Hunt, Margaret O’Brien
  • The Wonderful World of Cinema — Sidney Poitier
  • In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood — Sidney Poitier, Debbie Reynolds

The Agnes Moorehead Blogathon: Agnes’ Early Life and Role in Citizen Kane (1941)

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Today I’m paying tribute to the talented Agnes Moorehead! I’d like to start off by thanking In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for hosting yet another fantastic blogathon. I wish it all the success possible, and I can’t wait to write about Carole Lombard in January! I’d also mention that I don’t intend to tackle and discuss the entirety of such an iconic film as Citizen Kane (1941). There’s just too much to say about such a picture, and to do it justice it would require many posts. Besides, our star of the day (despite giving a fine performance) hardly appeared in it, so I think discussing her early life and path to her breakout role in Citizen Kane (1941) would far better suit the theme we’re trying to highlight today. So without further ado, on with the post!

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Agnes Moorehead as a happy child, c. 1904

Agnes was born on December 6, 1900 (though she would later tell the white lie that she was born in 1906) to a Presbyterian minister named John Henderson Moorehead and a singer named Mildred McCauley. Her first performance was surprisingly early; at the age of three she sang “The Lord’s Prayer” at her father’s church, urged by her mother. Later on her family moved to St. Louis, where Agnes honed her acting talents by impersonating members of her father’s congregation with her sister, much to the encouragement and delight of both of their parents. At the age of ten Agnes joined the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company (“The Muny” for short) as a singer and dancer for four years, where she also developed a strong interest in religion that would remain with her for the rest of her life. There are conflicting reports as far as which high school she attended; she claimed that she graduated from Central High School in 1918, but she does not appear in its yearbook and lived nowhere near the school. Thus, I am led to believe that she graduated from Soldan High School that same year, as she does appear in their yearbook and within proximity. While both of her parents were supportive of Agnes’ desire to act, as I mentioned earlier, her father insisted that she complete her education first. Always one to respect his wishes, she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Biology at Muskingum College in Ohio in 1923, while appearing in several stage productions on the side. The very same year she landed her first job as a singer for a St. Louis radio station, which instilled in her a deep appreciation for the medium which would last well into her later fame.

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Agnes as a lovely young woman, c. 1920s

Afterwards her father recieved a pastorate in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, uprooting the Moorehead family and Agnes along with them. She went on to attend the University of Wisconsin, earning a Master’s degree in English and Public Speaking. Afterwards she taught English and Drama for five years and in between studied pantomime in Paris with the illustrious Marcel Marceau. In 1928, Agnes enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduating with honors the following year and adding yet another accomplishment to her resume. From there Agnes’ career would begin to falter, however, as she struggled to find work with the exception of a few minor stage productions once she left school. She often found herself unemployed and hungry, and later recalled a period of four days during which she went without food, saying in hindsight that it “taught her the value of a dollar”. Soon Agnes found work in the medium that she loved straight out of college: radio. Stations began to clamor for her and her many voice talents, and she often worked on several programs each day. During that time she met actress Helen Hayes, who encouraged her to try for Hollywood, but her first attempts failed and she was rejected as not being the “right type”, leading Agnes to head back to radio, where she met the man who would give her her real shot at the big time: Orson Welles.

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Agnes and fellow Mercury player Joseph Cotten on the set of Citizen Kane (1941).

It was through her work on such radio programs as “The Shadow”and “March of Time” in 1937 that she met and befriended Welles, and he soon invited her to join him and fellow actor Joseph Cotten (who of course would later star in Citizen Kane (1941) as well) as charter members of his “Mercury Theatre on the Air” program. The first show performed by Welles and his company that would attract worldwide attention was the infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast of 1938, which Miss Moorehead was deeply involved in and resulted in a lucrative $100,000 per picture deal for Welles with RKO Studios. The Mercury Theatre players, including Moorehead and Cotten, were on their way to Hollywood. Welles’ very first picture for RKO was none other than Citizen Kane (1941), and he made every effort to heavily include the Mercury Theatre cast, and of course this was not limited to Agnes Moorehead, who made her first onscreen appearance in the film as the mother of the titular character, Charles Forster Kane. Despite only appearing in the film for one brief scene, Welles made sure to give Moorehead ample credit during the end credits, as he did with every actor who starred in the film and assisted him in his rise to the top. The one scene and plug at the end was all that she needed, and as they say, the rest was history.

The Cary Grant Blogathon: My Analysis of That Touch of Mink (1962)

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Here I am, back at it again with another blogathon! The year is winding down, but luckily fans of Old Hollywood never run out of fascinating stars and films to write about. Today I’m going to talk about Cary Grant, thanks to the host of this spectacular blogathon, Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. I’m so grateful to be able to write about such an interesting film in Grant’s career, so without further ado, on with the post!

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Cary Grant and Doris Day in a theatrical poster for That Touch of Mink (1962).

I’ll be honest here; I signed up for this blogathon a little late in the game, and had to look up the filmography of ever so suave Cary Grant in order to find a film to discuss. My first and only rule that I kept in my mind as I scrolled through his career that spanned over three decades was that I didn’t want to write about one of his later films. In general, I just never cared for the films that he made in the fifties and sixties in comparison to some of his charming pictures of yesteryear, and as I’ve seen more of his later films than his earlier ones, I thought I might learn a thing or two in the process. Of course, as you might have guessed from the title, everything changed once I learned that That Touch of Mink (1962) was available. I had seen the film once before and absolutely adored it, and with such a scandalous plot (for the time, anyway), and a wonderful cast of characters, I knew that I was sold. So here I am, embarking on this journey of analyzing Cary Grant’s fourth-to-last film. If there ever was a romantic comedy from the sexual revolution of the sixties that showed just how dead the Hayes Code was by that time, this film was it. It’s primarily a Doris Day vehicle as she was the number one box office draw at the time, though she surrendered top billing to costar Grant due to his distinguished career. Day plays Cathy Timberlake, an unemployed and unmarried woman who gets sexually accosted by nearly every man she meets, which I’ll admit ruins my childhood a little considering how attached I’ve been (like anybody) to her wholesome, motherly onscreen image. Creepiest of all of her suitors is unemployment agent Everett Beasley, played by John Astin in another out of character role that separates itself entirely from his usual lovable, goofy parts.

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Grant and Day goofing around in That Touch of Mink (1962).

On her way to a job interview, Cathy gets splashed by the limousine of wealthy businessman Phillip Shayne (played by Cary Grant, of course), who makes every effort to find and repay her for any damage done aside from actually meeting her himself, instead sending his financial adviser Roger, who is fed up with how wonderfully he’s been treated by Shayne and his company. It’s clear that he wants to resent his employer and everything he stands for, and wants to go back to teach at his alma mater, but everyone is so kind to him that he just can’t leave. He decides to rally with Cathy and her irritation at Shayne for not making amends with her in person, and urges her to storm directly to his office and complain. She attempts to do so, but her instant attraction to him causes her to forget all of her grievances, and Shayne’s mutual attraction to her leads him to wine and dine her, traveling all across the country to the best restaurants, baseball games, and even a United Nations conference for which he gives a compelling address. At the end of all of their adventures, Shayne propositions Cathy and offers to take her to Bermuda and then around the globe, and though it isn’t explicitly mentioned considering the times, it’s obvious that he expects sex and states that he has no intention of marrying her. This leaves it up to Cathy to make a life-changing decision, giving up her virtue for a shot at happiness or taking the advice of Roger and her best friend Connie (Audrey Meadows) and forgetting about Shayne for good.

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Grant and Day in a promotional image for That Touch of Mink (1962).

Despite disliking the final result of the film, Cary Grant had a great deal to do with its production, including casting Audrey Meadows as Cathy’s friend and roommate after seeing the actress on the hit television show The Honeymooners (1955-1956). For a scene that took place in his character’s library, he brought books and trinkets from his own home and decorated the set with them. According to his costar Doris Day it made the set more pleasant and made Grant feel more relaxed, giving his performance “that peculiarly natural, suave quality that is the hallmark of his pictures”, though she also mentioned in her autobiography that “Of all the people I performed with, I got to know Cary Grant least of all. He is a completely private person, totally reserved, and there is no way into him. Our relationship on That Touch of Mink (1962) was amicable but devoid of give-and-take. Not that he wasn’t friendly and polite — he certainly was. But distant, very distant. But very professional — maybe the most professional, exacting actor I ever worked with. In the scenes we played, he concerned himself with every little detail: clothes, sets, production values, the works. Cary even got involved in helping to choose the kind of mink I was slated to wear in the film.” In addition, he even personally called a raincoat company after seeing a coat that he felt would suit Doris Day in the picture, but owner Norman Zeiler brushed him off, not believing that Grant was really on the phone. He told the actor that if he wanted to see his collection, he would have to come up himself, and that’s exactly what he did, undoubtedly shocking everyone in proximity in the process.

All in all I find this to be a charming film with quite a few laugh out loud moments. I don’t understand why Cary Grant disliked it so much aside from the fact that it was likely a very controversial picture for its time, despite being the fourth highest grossing film of the year. I think this movie really defines what it means to be a classic romantic comedy, as it seamlessly blends both genres and every performance given, even in the supporting roles, is delightful and memorable, especially those of Doris Day and the slimy character portrayed by John Astin. Unfortunately I found Cary Grant’s role to blend in with his usual rich and debonair sort of type, but the comedic aspects of the part went off without a hitch, and his entire rendition of the role seemed effortless as a result. I loved this film the first time that I watched it so long ago, I adored it even more this time, and I’m sure that I’ll watch this film again and again any time I’m looking for a good laugh and a film that reflects an interesting period in cinema’s history.

Five Top Five of November — Gene Tierney

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Hello, everyone! I’m back with another installment of my ‘Five Top Five’ series, this time honoring the alluring Gene Tierney on her 96th birthday! Here I’ll be listing my top five films of hers, describing the plots, and discussing why I enjoy the films. As I mentioned in my first post in the series honoring Vivien Leigh, be sure to let me know if you enjoy these and I’ll be sure to continue the series with another Five Top Five of December!

5. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

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Gene and Dana Andrews, together for a second time in Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950).

This was the first film that I ever reviewed on my blog (you can check out the full review here), and because of that it holds a special place in my heart. Tierney portrays Morgan Taylor, ex-wife of Ken Paine and also unknowingly his decoy in an illegal dice game. It doesn’t take long for her to take a liking to leading man Mark Dixon, a violent but effective detective who has already been warned by his superior that his bad cop attitude will get him in trouble, but still allows his boss’ premonition to come true when he accidentally murders a suspect who he is attempting to question. Fearing for his integrity and career Dixon attempts to cover up the killing, but the plot thickens when he learns that his main squeeze Morgan’s father is to be charged with the crime. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) is a gripping noir that walks the tightrope of right and wrong and reunites Gene Tierney with her director and leading man from Laura (1944), Otto Preminger and Dana Andrews, respectively. If you enjoy that classic at all, I would definitely recommend its equally intriguing, grittier counterpart, and the only reason why it’s so low on my list is because Gene is hardly anywhere to be found in the film.

4. The Razor’s Edge (1946)

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Gene and Tyrone Power in a publicity still for The Razor’s Edge (1946).

If you know me well enough, you should know that I couldn’t possibly make a list of great Gene Tierney films without including one of the three that she starred in with my favorite actor, Tyrone Power. In this melodrama our birthday girl stars as socialite Isabel Bradley, fiancée of Larry Darrell. Larry isn’t as impressed with the glamour of the upper class as she is, which leads him onto a spiritual ten-year journey to find himself, losing Isabel in the process. When he returns, however, Isabel seems to be still in love with her former flame and wants to be with him despite already being married to a common friend of theirs. To make matters worse, she becomes intensely jealousand spiteful when Larry begins to fall in love with Sophie, another friend in their circle who fell on hard times after he left town. I truly admire Gene’s performance in this film, and she displays her stunning range as she reveals the darker side of Isabel’s personality. It’s no wonder that author of the original novel W. Somerset Maugham placed her at the top of his list of actresses for the role. If you enjoy pictures that include stellar acting performances and a flair for the dramatic, definitely include this film in your Gene Tierney marathon today.

3. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

In this turn-of-the-century romance directed by Joseph L Mankewicz, Gene plays Lucy Muir, a widow desperately looking for a seaside home to rent so she can ditch her late husband’s rude family members. She quickly sets her sights on a picturesque manor and pays no attention to her real estate agent’s warnings that the home is haunted, even after finding out the truth for herself. Slowly but surely Lucy befriends the residing ghost, cantankerous sea captain Daniel Gregg, and the two develop an extraordinary romance as she attempts to assist him in writing his autobiography. Of course the book is considered a masterpiece and is picked up by a world-famous publisher, but along with the notoriety it also brings a suitor, a married children’s author by the name of Miles Fairley. The love that Lucy and the captain share is challenged when Miles enters the picture, and it makes both parties question their relationship and even themselves. I was a fan of this movie ever since I read the plot, and once I actually watched the film I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I doubt that there are many romantic films out there more unique than this one, and I would strongly recommend giving it a try if you enjoy well-written sentimental pictures with a twist like I do. If you do decide to catch this tearjerker, stay on the lookout for an appearance from a young Natalie Wood, who portrays Lucy’s daughter!

2. Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

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Gene in her most devilish scene in Leave Her to Heaven (1945).

Gene Tierney recieved her first and only Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Ellen Berent Harland in this film, yet another villainous socialite who just like in The Razor’s Edge (1946) becomes obsessively attached to the man she loves. Unlike her role of Isabel Bradley, however, it is more apparent that Ellen is mentally disturbed and willing to go to greater and more sinister lengths to achieve her goals. The object of Ellen’s obsession is novelist Richard Harland, played by Cornel Wilde, who coincidentally looks similar to Ellen’s deceased father and the previous victim of her preoccupation. To make matters worse her former fiancé Russell Quinton and her sister Ruth get involved in the mix and are eventually caught in the crossfire of the film’s strange femme fatale. What stood out to me the most in this film is the striking use of color created by Natalie Kalmus, art direction by Maurice Lansford and Lyle Wheeler, and most of all cinematography, helmed by Leon Shamroy of Planet of the Apes (1968) and Cleopatra (1963) fame. The visuals alone make this film worth watching, but those combined with the compelling story and characters are what make this film a classic among fans of film noir, and it’s one of the only color films to recieve such acclaim in the genre. Add it to your list of Tierney films to watch, and you won’t regret it.

1. Laura (1944)

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Gene looking radiant in a publicity still for Laura (1944).

Could I have really put any other Gene Tierney film at the top spot? Laura (1944) is the pinnacle of film noir, and quite possibly of filmmaking in general, and in it our birthday girl portrays the title character Laura Hunt, a (can you guess?) socialite who is found murdered at the beginning of the film. The first half is shown in flashback as her dearest friend Waldo Lydecker, played by Clifton Webb, reveals the story of her life to detective Mark MacPherson, in what I consider to be among Dana Andrews’ finest performances. As Mark learns more and more about the homicide victim in an attempt to solve her murder, he begins to imagine himself with her and finds her to be unlike any “broad” that he has ever known. Tensions rise when Laura’s fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) catches wind of this, and suspense builds into a thrilling conclusion of who exactly killed Laura Hunt. Despite the film’s raving success, Gene never gave herself much credit for it: “I never felt my own performance was much more than adequate. I am pleased that audiences still identify me with Laura, as opposed to not being identified at all. Their tributes, I believe, are for the character — the dreamlike Laura— rather than any gifts I brought to the role. I do not mean to sound modest. I doubt that any of us connected with the movie thought it had a chance of becoming a kind of mystery classic, or enduring beyond its generation. If it worked, it was because the ingredients turned out to be right.” And right they certainly were, especially on the part of the film’s score, composed by David Raksin, which is revered even today, and even Vincent Price believed Laura (1944) to be his finest film. Needless to say, if you’re reading this and haven’t seen this masterpiece, you absolutely must.

Five Top Five of November — Vivien Leigh

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Hey, classic film fans! I know it’s been quite a while since I have updated this blog, but I was unexpectedly ill. I know I was unable to do a couple of the blogathons that I signed up for, but I have one of them mostly completed and I’m back and announcing some original content for this month: my Five Top Five series! On five various classic film stars’ birthdays throughout November, I’ll be ranking my top five favorite films of theirs and offering my recommendations. I’m obviously starting today with the incomporable Vivien Leigh! I sincerely hope you all enjoy my lists, and if they’re well-recieved I may even make a Five Top Five for December!

5. That Hamilton Woman (1941)

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Birthday girl Vivien Leigh looking lovelier than ever in That Hamilton Woman (1941).

This was birthday girl Vivien’s third and final collaboration with her offscreen love Laurence Olivier, and quite easily the best of the three. Vivien portrays Lady Emma Hamilton, mistress to Lord Horatio Nelson, and ironically this was the only film that Leigh and Olivier made while they were actually married. The film has everything from romance to action, and loads of drama. While it truly is a masterpiece as far as art direction and cinematography go, it fails to capture the attention of the audience during its entire two-hour running time. The film can hardly be blamed, though, considering the fact that it takes place during the span of twenty-five years, and it was directed by Alexander Korda, who often sacrificed excitement in his films for the sake of asthetic. All in all, I would say that if you’re a diehard fan of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier and don’t mind some dull moments, I would strongly recommend giving this historical melodrama a go today!

4. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

I’m going to begin this one with an unpopular opinion: When it comes to Vivien’s most famous roles, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) has always ranked pretty low in my mind. Truthfully I would probably have placed it last on my list were it not for the fact that it’s truly a mesmerizing film with superb acting from everyone involved. Even in my youth I held a distaste for Marlon Brando’s role of Stanley Kowalski and Vivien’s infamous portrayal of Blance DuBois. Both seemed to be unlikable characters to me, but as time went on I learned more about the actors personal lives, and how separate they were from the fictitious characters that the two of them played onscreen. In fact, I would cite this film as one of the few that really served as hurdles for me in learning that just because a character in a film is unlikable, it does not make the film poor as a whole. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen this picture since I came to that realization, but I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is even remotely a fan of Vivien’s and wants to see her acting prowess in all its glory.

3. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

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Vivien and Warren Beatty make a steamy pair in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961).

Among Leigh’s final films we find another one of her gems in this Tennessee Williams adaptation. She plays the aging actress Mrs. Karen Stone, who accompanies her husband on a trip to Rome only for him to pass away during the flight. Karen ends up making the best of it once she sets her eyes on the youthful Italian Paolo di Leo in what was Warren Beatty’s first starring role. Despite the fact that Leigh has the lead, it’s difficult not to want to pay more attention to her character’s captivating lover, and it’s no wonder because Beatty beat out dozens of other actors for the part. This film has ranked among my favorites since I first watched it years ago, and I still believe that it truly shows how wrong some of the studios were in their reluctance to cast aging actresses. It’s even quite depressing to see her taking on such a brilliant and challenging part while knowing that she only starred in one more film after the completion of this one, but it’s a must for any fan of Vivien’s who wishes to scratch beneath the surface of some of her more glamorous parts.

2. Gone with the Wind (1939)

I know what you’re thinking. This is a perfect movie if there ever was one, and I quite agree, but there is one more film of Vivien’s that I find to be perfect as well that holds just a bit larger of a place in my heart. Still, I intend to give credit where credit is due, and Gone with the Wind (1939) is a masterpiece. Vivien is superb in her breakout role (one that she beat out hundreds of other legendary actresses for), and it makes me both sorry and glad that she took the part of the notorious Scarlett O’Hara because she was rejected for the role of Cathy in Laurence Olivier’s Wuthering Heights (1939). Her acting in this and many other of her great works show that she would have excelled in both parts, but the world certainly will never forget her Oscar-winning performance. Of course the supporting cast is incomporable as well, and the film won eight Academy Awards in all. No birthday marathon or salute to Vivien Leigh would be complete without this four-hour epic that truly defines what it means to be a classic.

1. Waterloo Bridge (1940)

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Vivien and Robert Taylor melting everyone’s hearts in Waterloo Bridge (1940).

Here’s a classic that I find is hardly talked about nowadays. In Vivien’s first film after making Gone with the Wind (1939), she portrays demure ballet dancer Myra Lester, who in an almost two-hour flashback gets swept up into a whirlwind romance with a British officer during World War I. A miscommunication leads the blissful couple into dark and dangerous territory, however, when Myra is led to believe that her fiancé is dead. It appears considering the release date that this was supposed to be an early source of comparison for World War II, and the absolute beauty of the story, screenplay, and cinematography makes it a tough act to follow. I think it’s a real shame that this film is among Leigh’s lesser known ones, and she pairs with Robert Taylor so perfectly that it makes me wish that the two of them had been onscreen lovers more often. It does take a couple of watches for the audience to really build connections and emotions for the characters, but I would absolutely recommend this flawless picture to any fan of romantic dramas and our birthday girl, as it is certainly among my favorites of all time.

Announcing the Humphrey Bogart Blogathon!

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Ever since I joined the WordPress community in June (and even before that), I have wanted to host or co-host my very own blogathon. However, until now I haven’t been able to find just the right subject to celebrate. In fact, it wasn’t until Phyllis Loves Classic Movies astutely pointed out that no male actors had been honored with blogathons this year did I find the perfect icon to pay tribute to. So, without further ado, Diana of Sleepwalking in Hollywood and I are happy to announce our first ever blogathon, paying tribute to the magnificent Humphrey Bogart!

He’s number one on AFI’s Greatest Stars of All Time list, and his film quotations take up an astounding five spots on their 100 Greatest Quotes list, the most for any actor. He’s an Oscar winner and three time Oscar nominee. He has his hand and footprints permanently cemented in the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in honor of his outstanding career in motion pictures. In short, he’s the best, and there’s really no better actor to add to this year’s multitude of blogathon tributes. Of course it would be difficult for many bloggers in the community to participate in this birthday blogathon on his actual birthday on Christmas Day, so we decided to push it ahead a little bit in order to accomodate everyone.

RULES

  1. Bogie has an extremely significant and diverse filmography with over eighty films to his credit, so we will only be allowing ONE duplicate for each film, and this is only going to be allowed only on a case-by-case basis. We want as many films to be covered as possible, and we made sure to leave most of his classics open for the taking. For example, we don’t want to see two out of five bloggers writing about Casablanca (1942). Try to expand your horizons and write about a film that you may not be as familiar with first.
  2. Anything relating to Humphrey Bogart is up for grabs! You could write about his relationship with Lauren Bacall, his Oscar nominations, his many collaborations with John Huston, or even how he helped Gene Tierney on the set of The Left Hand of God (1955). The possibilities are endless!
  3. Once you think of a topic, please leave a comment with your blog’s name, your blog’s link, and your subject (include the year if you’re choosing a movie). You may comment on Sleepwalking in Hollywood’s post as well.
  4. Once you’ve been approved, help us spread the word! We’re both fairly new blogs and we’ll need all the help we can get! Please take one of our lovely banners from below and put it somewhere on your blog, and make sure to tell your friends. We want as many participants as possible, and if this blogathon is a success we will likely do it again next year!

 

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ROSTER

The Agatha Christie Blogathon: My Analysis of Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

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NOTE: As it would be nearly impossible to review or analyze this film without including all parts of it, this will be one of my very few posts that is NOT spoiler-free. Read on only if you dare!

I would like to begin by thanking the hosts of this awesome blogathon: Little Bits of Classics and Christina Whener. I apologize that my post is so late, but I am eternally grateful that both of you gave me the perfect opportunity to see this film for the first time, and I’m even more esctatic to be able to write about both Agatha Christie and Lauren Bacall for their birthdays! So without further ado, I send many belated birthday wishes to Miss Christie and Miss Bacall, and on with the post!

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The art deco style title card for Murder on the Orient Express (1974).

I was instantly intrigued by the art deco style of the title cards as well as the chilling score playing over them. It’s clear by the use of color and cinematography — even before we see any of the characters — that this film is from the 1970s, but I’ve always felt that movies from that decade and the one prior shed a new and possibly more realistic light on the 20s and 30s (I find The Sting (1973) and Splendor in the Grass (1962) to be the best examples of this). The use of color in the opening montage was also very functional and deliberate, as the crime scenes and newspapers regarding the disappearance of Daisy Armstrong were tinged with a blue-gray that showed the grief of the incident. The flash of red at the end that paired with the announcement of her murder really grabs the audience’s attention as any clever use of color should, and makes me wonder what sort of connection ties this story to the rest of the film.

The first of the many characters that we meet during the course of the film is our star detective, Hercule Poirot. He is immediately revealed to be a strange yet intelligent man, who surprisingly does not seem to show a great deal of empathy for the lives of others. Next we begin to meet some of the characters who will soon become the passengers of the Orient Express and eventually suspects in the murder of Mr. Ratchett. Colonel Arbuthnot (Sean Connery), followed closely by the woman who we eventually find out is his lover Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave). We see the murder victim in question, Ratchett, and his secretary McQueen (Anthony Perkins) as well as his valet Beddoes (John Gielgud), the elderly Princess Dragomiroff (Wendy Hiller) and her maid Hildegarde (Rachel Roberts), Count and Countess Andrenyi (Michael York and Jacqueline Bisset), the twice-wed Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall), devout missionary Greta (Ingrid Bergman), the Italian car salesman Foscarelli (Dennis Quilley), Pinkerton’s employee Hardman (Colin Blakely) and the steward on the Express, Pierre (Jean-Pierre Cassel). As Poirot expertly unravels the details of the murder, he slowly but surely finds out that every single suspect was once connected to the Armstrong family.

Agatha Christie attended the premiere of this film when she was eighty-four years old,

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Albert Finney as enigmatic detective Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express (1974).

just fourteen months before her death on January 12th, 1976. Murder on the Orient Express (1974) was supposedly the only film adaptation of her novels that she was completely satisfied with, and she praised Albert Finney’s portrayal of the shrewd Hercule Poirot as the closest screen version to her character that she had ever seen (though she was reportedly unhappy with the whimsical moustache that he was given in this film). The film was no walk in the park for lead actor Albert Finney, however, as he was starring in a stage play while filming, and the task of completing both productions allowed Finney hardly any sleep at all. In an attempt to make the actor’s life a little bit easier as he played both parts simultaneously, the makeup department would pick him up every morning in an ambulance and painstakingly transform Finney into Detective Poirot while he was still asleep in his pajamas! To make matters worse for him, Poirot’s famous monologue at the end of the film required take after take as the set did not allow for more than one camera to occupy the cramped train compartment at one time. This of course was no easy feat for the peculiar detective, as his closing speech was over eight pages long.

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Theatrical poster for Murder on the Orient Express (1974).

Finney’s performance certainly paid off as I found the actor’s performance to be delightful, though he was completely unrecognizable in the main role. High praises could also be given to the rest of the all-star cast, including Ingrid Bergman, who won an Academy Award for her performance and had to redevelop her Swedish accent with the help of diction coaches to play the role of Greta. Oscars aside, I must admit that my two favorite performances in the film were those of Anthony Perkins and belated birthday girl Lauren Bacall, who played the suspicious secretary McQueen and the talkative Mrs. Hubbard, respectively. Other notable appearances included the always wonderful Sean Connery as Colonel Arbuthnot, Vanessa Redgrave as Mary Debenham, Jacqueline Bisset as the beautiful Countess Andrenyi, Martin Balsam in a wonderful leading role as Bianchi, and of course Richard Windmark as the murder victim Ratchett, who only took on the role in order to meet the array of other stars who would be present during filming. Of course it’s really no wonder that the cast was so impeccable, as I found out that the film boasts fifty-eight Oscars between the members of the cast and crew.

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My favorite performance: Lauren Bacall as Mrs. Hubbard in Murder on the Orient Express (1974).

Despite the valiant efforts of the cast, director Sidney Lumet, and composer Richard Rodney Bennett, I did find a few issues with the film’s plot. Granted, this may be because I have only seen the picture once, but I can’t seem to understand why twelve people, who were all very closely related to the same family and the same crime committed five years ago, happen to be on the same train at the same time on a totally separate continent. Also, if all twelve of these people were so closely related, how did none of them slip up even once to Poirot and reveal that they knew each other? These points lead me to believe that it was either a completely improbable coincidence or that it was planned, and if it was, I noticed no evidence or explanation of this aforementioned plan in the film. I also find it difficult to believe that all twelve of the compartment’s passengers (despite having motive) were completely fine with participating in the murder. The only character to show any remorse at all is Greta, but only because she was committing a crime in the eyes of God. Not a single person seemed worried that they were breaking the law, that one of the world’s greatest detectives was onboard the same train, or that they would more than likely be going to jail. I think more detail could have been provided from the novel to answer these plot holes, or even better I think a sequel that would contain the confessions and backstories of each of the passengers would be a clever way of clearing everything up and tying all of the film’s loose ends. Despite these lingering questions, I still find the film to be a mystery as genius as only Agatha Christie could pen, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who loves a good crime thriller or is a fan of murder mystery dinner theatres, as this was without a doubt the tale that sparked the genre.