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.

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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 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: My Top Five Picks for Cyd Charisse’s Tribute

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We’re almost halfway through the month of August, and while summer is winding down, the stars on Turner Classic Movies are shining brighter than ever! For those of you who didn’t get the chance to read my picks for Esther Williams’ birthday, my top five for Hedy Lamarr’s tribute, or if you’re unfamiliar with Turner Classic Movies, 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. To be quite honest, I would not consider Cyd Charisse as one of my favorite actresses of all time like I would Hedy or Esther, but I truly believe that her filmography is vastly underrated and she’s an incredible woman in her own right. I knew that she had to be the last of the three ladies that I chose to write about! So, without further ado, keep reading for my top five recommended films that TCM is showing today in honor of Cyd Charisse!

5. It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) On TCM at 10:00pm EST

Though she isn’t exactly the main attraction, Cyd sparkles in this film about three soldiers who agree to meet up in New York City ten years after their service, only to find out that they have nothing in common. Of course the film focuses more on star Gene Kelly than anyone else, but I find this picture to be well worth your time just for its fantastic musical numbers like the now iconic “I Like Myself”, in which Kelly shows his absolute prowess in the art of dancing by hoofing it on roller skates. Kelly later mentioned that he had bought the ordinary pair of skates used in the film just a block from his house, and they were not altered in any way or adhered to his shoes. Despite the hard efforts of this incredible cast, which includes Kelly, Charisse, Dan Dailey, and Dolores Gray, this big budget musical was actually a financial flop, and many film historians attribute the decline of the extravagant Technicolor musicals of the fifties to the failure of this particular picture. Admittedly Charisse is not nearly as present in the film, but just her unique character and her perfect rhythm in the “Baby, You Knock Me Out” number is worth giving this late night treat a go.

4. The Band Wagon (1953) On TCM at 8:00pm EST

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Cyd Charisse wearing the white gown as she performs “Dancing in the Dark” with Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon (1953).

 

This musical comedy is often ranked as one of MGM’s best of all time, and it’s no wonder that many Cyd Charisse fans cite The Band Wagon (1953) as their favorite picture of hers as well. In one of her starring roles, Cyd plays young ballerina Gabrielle “Gaby” Gerard, who is starring in a show that aging musical star Tony Hunter (played by none other than Fred Astaire) has lined up for his comeback. Gaby finds herself intimidated by Tony’s musical experience, and unbenknowst to her, Tony is just as intimidated as she is by the ballerina’s youth and beauty. The two work out their differences, of course, and soon fall in love. Cyd shows in this film that she could truly pull off a leading role in memorable numbers like the finale “Girl Hunt Ballet” and “Dancing in the Dark”, in which she wears a flowing white dress that was actually copied from a dress worn by the film’s costume designer Mary Ann Nyberg. The designer’s dress was off-the-rack and cost about twenty-five dollars, but after searching for a replica to no avail the costume department ended up creating the look from scratch for one thousand dollars. Of course Cyd looks lovelier than ever in it, as she does in the rest of this perfect primetime picture directed by the great Vincente Minnelli.

3. Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) On TCM at 8:00am EST

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Cyd Charisse in a promotional still for Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), wearing the costume from the number “Frankie and Johnny”.

Cyd stars as Maria Corvier, yet another ballerina in this 1956 musical that takes place in The Sands Hotel, one of the many glimmering attractions of the Las Vegas Strip. Costar Dan Dailey plays slick yet womanizing cowboy Chuck Rodwell, who has arrived to gamble and lose all of the money that he has brought to Sin City. Of course when he expects to lose, just the opposite happens when he holds Maria’s hand, and he instantly follows his lucky charm everywhere she goes hoping to strike it rich. The film includes many adorable cameos, including one from Charisse’s husband (singer Tony Martin) as one of her many suitors who is inevitably out of luck. Even more cameos come from Debbie Reynolds, Peter Lorre, Vic Damone, and two members of The Rat Pack, including Frank Sinatra as a man who wins the jackpot, and Sammy Davis Jr., singing the showstopping number “Frankie and Johnny”. In my opinion, this is easily Cyd’s best number of all time, and she absolutely shines in the stort story of two ill-fated lovers told through dance and song. I would certainly recommend that you see this charming picture for “Frankie and Johnny” alone, if nothing else, as the infectious tune and captivating story make all of her other numbers pale in comparison.

2. Silk Stockings (1957) On TCM at 6:00pm EST

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Cyd Charisse performing her infamous number in Silk Stockings (1957).

In this musical remake of the classic film Ninotchka (1939), Cyd stars as the title character, a Russian envoy sent to complete a mission that three of her comrades had already bungled: to retrieve straying composer Peter Illyich Boroff (Wim Sonneveld) from Paris. Fred Astaire costars as American film producer Steve Canfield, who corrupts the composer and his comrades with all of Europe’s luxuries, including women, alcohol, and night life. Eventually he even captivates the ever-stoic Ninotchka, and the two fall in love. Aside from the fact that it’s a remake of such an iconic picture, Silk Stockings (1957) is possibly best known for the striptease that Charisse performs over the title number, which definitely turned the heads of both filmgoers and film censors, who demanded that a mirror, chair, and sheer petticoat be included in the scene to conceal Cyd’s shapely figure. Of course the three objects don’t exactly succeed in leaving much to the imagination, but in spite of such a scandalous number the film ended up tanking in the box office as well. Nonetheless, this is without a doubt the film that I’m looking forward to the most yet haven’t seen, and I strongly urge you all to discover this gem with me.

1. Brigadoon (1954) On TCM at 4:00pm EST

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Cyd’s husband Tony Martin visiting her on the set of Brigadoon (1954), with costar Gene Kelly.

In what could possibly be considered the most Scottish musical of all time, Cyd stars as Fiona Campbell, a demure citizen of the mideval village of Brigadoon. Tommy Albright (Gene Kelly, by far my favorite costar of Cyd’s) and Jeff Douglas (Van Johnson), who are in Scotland on a hunting trip, discover the town after getting lost and soon discover its fascinating secret: Brigadoon is a blessed village that appears from the mist for only one day every hundred years, so that it will remain unmarred by modern civilization. Anyone who remains in Brigadoon must remain there forever, for if they leave, the town and all of its inhabitants disappear permanently. While there, Tommy and Jeff grow to love the village, and Tommy begins to fall for Fiona, but is one day enough to make Tommy want to remain in Brigadoon for eternity? This lavish picture is filled to the brim with catchy songs, magnificent costumes, and romantic dance sequences, and I consider it one of the most overlooked musicals that MGM has ever produced. Charisse, Kelly, and many of the supporting cast members give heartwarming performances that make you believe in miracles, and despite the overbearing Scottish motifs, I find this film to be a worthwhile classic that song and dance fans of all ages can appreciate.

Once more, I’d like to thank Journeys in Classic Film from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to participate in this blogathon one third and final time. I can see that you worked very hard to make this blogathon possible, and I hope the rest of the month is a big success!

The 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: My Top Five Picks for Hedy Lamarr’s Tribute

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We’re onto Day Ten of the best time of the year: Turner Classic Movies’ Summer Under the Stars! For those of you who didn’t get the chance to read my pick for Esther Williams’ birthday or if you’re unfamiliar with Turner Classic Movies, 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. After I found out that Hedy Lamarr would be one of the many stars honored this month, I knew that she had to be one of the three incredible ladies that I chose to write about! Without further ado, keep reading for my top five recommended films that TCM will be showing today in honor of Hedy Lamarr!

5. Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945) On TCM at 8:00am EST

Hedy plays against type as a visiting princess from an unnamed kingdom in this

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Hedy looking as lovely and regal as ever in Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945).

lighthearted comedy that tears many of its motifs straight out of fairytale books. Her character, Princess Veronica, requires an escort and by an interesting chain of events clumsy bellboy Jimmy Dobson (Robert Walker) steps up to the plate, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Leslie Odell (June Allyson). Despite how dreamlike the film’s plot seems, the making of the picture was anything but a fantasy. To begin with, Lamarr (who’s star was waning at the time) battled with MGM to get top billing. Much of the 1940s was spent accentuating the studio’s up and coming actors,  but after a heated fight Louis B. Mayer agreed to bill Hedy first. However, she paid the price for it as most believe that the argument was a deciding factor in MGM choosing not to renew her contract, and so this was her last film under contract to any major studio. Costar Robert Walker had his offscreen troubles during the making of this film as well, as he was going through bouts of depression and a heated divorce at the time after estranged wife Jennifer Jones left him for studio mogul David O. Selznick. The situation left him in a state of despondency for the rest of his brief life, and his costars were amazed that he was able to portray such a comical and carefree character despite his real life hardships. This film is truly uplifting and sweet in spite of the struggles that those creating it faced, however, and it truly starts Hedy Lamarr’s tribute on a high note.

4. The Heavenly Body (1944) On TCM at 11:30pm EST

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Hedy Lamarr, seen here with William Powell in The Heavenly Body (1944).

It’s in the stars that you should see this adorable romantic comedy! In it, Hedy plays Vicky Whitley, wife of astronomer Bill Whitley (William Powell). Bill discovers a comet and earns his place among the world’s most revered scientists, but soon he becomes so preoccupied with his discovery that he begins to spend more and more of his time at the observatory, much to the dismay of Lamarr. Soon Vicky fills her time with the neighborhood’s astrology expert, and begins to believe that the coomunity’s attractive new air raid warden is supposed to be her dream man. The misunderstanding makes Bill realize just how much he has neglected his wife, but is all lost, or will these two drift back into orbit? Either way, I find that Powell and Lamarr make a beautiful and witty couple, and Hedy’s acting makes me glad that Joan Crawford turned down her role, surprisingly stating, “It was about a girl who stands around and does nothing. I told the studio to give the part to Hedy Lamarr.” To me, Hedy does anything but stand around, and her glimmering personality makes this film a late night delight.

3. The Conspirators (1944) On TCM at 6:00pm EST

Unlike my number five choice, Hedy appears to play the exact sort of role that she was

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Hedy and Paul Henried in a promotional still for The Conspirators (1944).

known for when she appears as Irene Von Mohr in this suspenseful World War II drama. In this film, Vincent Van Der Lyn, a Dutch freedom fighter played by the always dashing Paul Henried, is forced to neutral Lisbon to escape Nazi persecution. During his time there he meets a group of underground conspirators, and over time he begins to assist their leader in identifying the traitor in their midst. This picture has endless parallels to the timeless classic Casablanca (1942), including leading man Henried as well as its great arsenal of supporting players that include Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, who appeared in both films. The Conspirators (1944) was also produced by Warner Bros. and uses the same composer and cinematographer used in Casablanca (1942), Max Steiner and Arthur Edeson, respectively. Even more so, Hedy was considered one of the top choices to play Ilsa in the aforementioned film, and did star in Algiers (1938), another great film that shares a plot with the classic. This is definitely the picture being shown today that I am the most excited to see that I haven’t had the chance to see, and I urge you to check out this evening thriller as well.

2. Comrade X (1940) On TCM at 3:00am EST

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Hedy and Clark Gable in a scene from Comrade X (1940).

Okay, both my first and second pick are late at night, but I can’t help that they’re both so great! To start off my top two, Comrade X (1940) offers a perfect pairing of Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr. Gable stars as Mckinley B. Thompson, a clever American reporter who uses the codename of Comrade X and a cut up handkerchief to smuggle vital information out of Soviet Russia. Eventually unassuming hotel valet Vanya (played by Felix Bressart, one of my favorite character actors) discovers his secret and uses the information to blackmail McKinley into escorting his beautiful daughter Theodore (Lamarr) out of the country, fearing that her Communist beliefs will get her killed. Despite dealing with such delicate subject matter, this film is laugh out loud hilarious and every single performance in it is memorable. I would go as far as to say that both Gable and Lamarr portray their most likeable characters yet, and if you’re looking for a film that seamlessly combines wit, farce, and plenty of WWII historical subtext in its script, look no further than this one.

1. Come Live With Me (1941) On TCM at 1:15am EST

Once again, I realize how unrealistic it is to include such a late night film on the lineup in

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Hedy Lamarr and James Stewart, the epitome of the perfect onscreen couple in this promotional shot for Come Live With Me (1941).

this list, but here I must protest and say that this is quite possibly one of the most underrated romantic comedies of all time. Hedy stars as a Viennese refugee who has illegally evaded deportation for months using the masculine name of Johnny Jones. Finally, the immigration department catches up with her, but feels so sorry for Hedy’s character that they give her one week to marry and stay in the country. To her dismay, however, her hotshot publisher beau is already married and Johnny quickly gives up hope. Nevertheless, all is not lost when she accidentally stumbles upon Bill Smith (James Stewart), a forlorn writer who is down to his last dime. Johnny quickly devises and offers a plan: Bill could marry Johnny so that she could stay in the country, and in return Johnny could pay for his expenses, which would allow him to write the novel he always dreamed of completing. In this film Lamarr and Stewart make for the most wonderful onscreen pair that I have ever witnessed, and I believe that it’s a downright shame that they were never paired together again. Hedy’s exotic and mysterious personality is the perfect contrast to James’ honest and All-American screen persona, and the two opposite stars make this picture a true must-see for any romance fan.

Once again, I’d like to thank Journeys in Classic Film for allowing me to participate in this blogathon, and I hope you check out my last entry covering my picks for Cyd Charisse’s tribute on August 14th!

 

The 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: My Top Five Picks for Esther Williams’ Birthday

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It’s Day Eight of my favorite time of year on TCM: Summer Under the Stars! If you’re not a Turner Classic Movies connoisseur like myself, 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! When I found out that one of my favorite actresses of all time would be honored, I was thrilled and knew that I had to write about it, especially for all of you who have never witnessed Summer Under the Stars and find watching all twenty-four hours of one person’s films daunting. So, if you don’t know where to begin or simply want to see my top picks for what to watch on Esther Williams’ birthday, keep reading!

5. Dangerous When Wet (1953) On TCM at 4:15pm EST

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Esther Williams wearing the black lace and rhinestone swimsuit in question, with costar and future husband Fernando Lamas in Dangerous When Wet (1953).

Esther shows her competitive swimming chops in this captvating picture when she plays Katie Higgins, a perserverant farm girl who hopes to become the first woman to cross the English Channel. Of course her journey to the finish line comes with its fair share of trials and tribulations including a face-off between her manager Windy Weebe, played by Jack Carson, and charming Frenchman André Lanet, played by Fernando Lamas, who would become Esther’s real life husband a full sixteen years after the completion of this film. In fact this picture is perhaps known as the most famous that she made with an offscreen love, as much as it’s known for the iconic dream sequence in which Esther swims with Tom and Jerry and the black lace and rhinestone swimsuit that adorns her towards the end of the movie. A delightful afternoon treat, Dangerous When Wet (1953) has all of the great themes and tropes associated with a great women’s sports film.

4. Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) On TCM at 10:00pm EST

If Esther had to be defined by the title of one of her films, Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) would probably be it. It was the name of her 1999 autoboigraphy, after all, despite the fact that the film itself is a biopic of Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman. Kellerman herself had a great deal to do with the filming of the picture, and was initially pleased with the decision to cast Esther to portray her. Later on, however, the film’s subject found Esther to be “too beautiful” to play her and thought Victor Mature’s cheapskate depiction of promoter Jimmy Sullivan was “the antithesis” of his real life counterpart because “he never did anything cheap”. In addition, this film is one of many that put Esther Williams’ life at risk after the star broke her neck while diving off a fifty foot tower. She spent six months in a body cast before recovering to complete the film, but boy are we glad that she did. If you have the time to spare this evening, I certainly recommend that you check out this masterpiece of Technicolor and gold lamé swimuits.

3. Easy to Love (1953) On TCM at 12:30pm EST

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A great behind the scenes shot of Esther and costar Tony Martin relaxing by the Florida-shaped swimming pool at Cypress Gardens on the set of Easy to Love (1953).

It certainly is easy to love this star-studded vehicle set against the background of Florida’s Cypress Gardens amusement park. Williams stars as Julie Hallerton, a busybody aquatic performer who can do it all from waterskiing to modelling, from clowning to pageantry, except land the man she wants, her manager and agent Ray Lloyd (played by Van Johnson, who else?). When her swimming costar Hank (John Bromfield) and singer Barry Gordon (Tony Martin) start to pine for her as well, what was first a complicated relationship for two becomes an unbelivable love square. In fact, all three men hold their own so well that if you aren’t too familiar with Esther Williams’ vehicles like I wasn’t when I first saw this film, you might have no clue which man she ends up with until the very end! The true highlights of this film include a great glimpse of Esther’s waterskiing abilities in a fantastic number choreographed by the great Busby Berkeley as well as some lavish costumes and scenery including a Florida-shaped swimming pool made on location in Cypress Gardens just for the movie (which I was surprised to find out is now a part of Florida’s Legoland park and is currently filled in with thousands of Legos!). Outside of the pool, I also feel that crooner and husband of Cyd Charisse (watch out for my picks for her on the 14th!) Tony Martin stole the show, and I found myself rooting for him to end up with Esther in the end. All in all, I definitely suggest that you check out this midday extravaganza, and keep a sharp eye out for a cameo of Cyd Charisse in the flesh towards the end!

2. Thrill of a Romance (1945) On TCM at 4:00am EST

I know, I know. It really is cruel of me to recommend a film that will only be showing at four in the morning, but this wartime romance is without a doubt the film that I am

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Esther and frequent costar Van Johnson looking too perfect for words in Thrill of a Romance (1945).

most excited for that I haven’t seen yet. Esther stars as swimming instructor Cynthia Glenn who marries businessman Bob G. Delbar (Carleton G. Young) almost as hastily as he ditches her on their honeymoon for a business deal. Of course, who better to distract the scorned newlywed than Major Thomas Milvaine (Van Johnson, again, who else?) as a slippery slope of a love triangle begins. Of course not knowing the ending myself, I find this film to be very intriguing because there are only two possible endings, and both go against the film codes of the era. Either Cynthia follows her heart and ends up with Thomas, resulting in an annulment which would leave Bob in the dust and be quite the scandalous move in 1945, or Cynthia chooses to stay with her husband and this could possibly be the first Williams-Johnson film that chooses not to pair the constant onscreen couple, also a very scandalous move in 1945. Either way this film promises to be entertaining and beautifully shot, and I know that I’ll be pulling an all-nighter tonight to see how it ends!

1. On An Island With You (1948) On TCM at 2:15pm EST

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Esther and Peter Lawford sharing a dance in On An Island With You (1948).

What couldn’t I say about this film? It’s my favorite Esther Williams picture that I’ve seen so far, and the fact that it was also the first one that I ever saw gives it a special place in my heart. It starts off as a movie within a movie when Esther plays Rosalind Rennolds, who in turn plays a native on a tropical island fighting with fellow native played by Yvonne Torro (Cyd Charisse) for the affections of a naval officer, played by Ricardo Montez (Ricardo Montalban). Lieutenant Kingslee (Peter Lawford) reports on the set as a technical advisor, but instantly forgets his duties and focuses all of his attention on Rosalind. Determined to make her remember the time that they spent together three years ago, he kidnaps her and whisks her off to the island where they first met. This film has everything, from exotic locales to delightful swimming sequences with Williams and Lawford (her most attractive costar, in my humble opinion), but the dancing sequences out of water with Montalban and Charisse are what truly set this film apart from most Esther movies in which all of the notable action is underwater. Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat steal the show a little more than most viewers would want, but despite the distraction I find the riveting plot, magnificently beautiful stars, and diverse characters make this film an absolute must-see.

Of course there are so many perfect Esther movies in her filmography that it was almost impossible to compile this list, and I definitely think that today’s Summer Under the Stars tribute will be one to remember! I’d like to thank Journeys in Classic Film from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to participate in this blogathon, and make sure to keep an eye out for my other two entries on the 10th and 14th!