M*A*S*H, 1970 – Based on the Book By Richard Hooker

Directed by Robert Altman for 20th Century Fox in 1970.

M*A*S*H was based on the book by Richard Hooker:

Dentist, Captain Walter Kosciuszko Waldowski (John Schuck), a.k.a. “The Painless Pole,” of the 4077th MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Unit) decides he is going to commit suicide. So, his friends in the unit  planned the funeral, got a coffin and prepared a final meal in honor of the event. They even got him the black “poison pill” to do the final deed. At “The Last Supper” Corporal Judson (Tim Brown) sings the song “Suicide is Painless” (the iconic song we hear at the opening of the TV show too) after they give the dentist the pill and have him lay down in the coffin. It was really a sleeping pill. They wanted to scare Painless into reconsidering. Yes, they took it to the extreme, and it worked.

Cruel humor? Yep. But it’s the way the soldiers in the 4077 distract themselves from the horrors of the cruel Korean War.

I’m ashamed to admit that a movie, (book AND TV show too) about a medical unit in a war zone make me laugh. But all three of them do. The movie is chock-full of some terrific actors, which makes it worth it to me. But honestly? It’s the TV show that was the most enjoyable version of these oh-so-valuable stories.

Thanks to the script and comedic timing of the actors in M*A*S*H, the movie, the stories of the 4077th provide much-needed levity to the often horrible (horrific) scenes of war the movie highlights. But the practical jokes and shenanigans don’t make this a movie I want to rave about. It’s funny alright, but I think my problem is that I saw the TV show before the movie.  These stories shine as a weekly TV episode. One story at a time makes more sense then having them thrown together in a collection with no real direction, which is how the movie feels to me. The book and the movie, while funny and interesting don’t have that one anchor connecting them….except for the war zone.  I found myself needing a cohesive where these humans are working for something together within the chaos.

Having said this, there are funny moments provided by skilled actors that make it worth it to watch anyway. The little quips and banter throughout somehow make a movie about war funny.

Frank Burns (Robert Duvall): I don’t drink.
Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland): Jesus Christ, I think he means it.

Just like the TV show, the P.A. Announcer in the movie (David Arkin), was always there to provide smiles when the viewers need them:

P.A. Announcer: Attention. “Due to a possible camp infection, Arlene Chu’s Hollywood Grill is off limits. That is all.”

The character studies are the redeeming value of the movie for me. Hawkeye Pierce  and Trapper John (Elliot Gould) are the smart, funny personalities that keep the insanity of war at bay…..and kept me watching the movie. How in the world they handle these excruciating things is fascinating to watch. The fact that, more often than not, it’s humor that helps them is just more proof that laughter really is the best medicine. Without this look into these characters’ minds I’m sure I would have turned this movie off.I’m not good with blood and gore, and the movie has detailed scenes with both. This could be another reason I prefer the TV show.

While I understand Hollywood’s desire to turn the book into a movie, there’s no doubt about it, MASH, the TV show feels better and gets the point across better than the movie. It offers us all more time to discover what’s happening.

P.A. Announcer: “Attention. Attention. May I have the camps’ attention? This week’s movie will be When Willie Comes Marching Home (1950). Uh… The biggest parade of laughs of World War II. All the love, laughs and escapades of the Willies who came marching home. This film stars Dan Dailey, Corinne Calvet, and Colleen Townsend…”

Overall, M*A*S*H is slow, but I’m still grateful I was able to spend a couple of hours learning and laughing with it.  Just to see all those stars; Sutherland, Gould, Duvall, Tom Skerritt as Duke, Sally Kellerman as Hot Lips, etc., etc., and of course,  Gary Burghoff as Radar was worth it for me.

 

Desk Set, 1957

Do you think we’re being re-decorated?” – Ruthie (Sue Randall)

Does he look like an interior decorator to you?” – Sylvia (Dina Merrill)

No, he looks like one of those men that suddenly switched to vodka.” – Peg (Joan Blondell)

With all the things this movie has going for it, and there’s a lot, it’s this kind of banter that I get Desk Set out for to watch again year after year. I love to laugh out loud and this movie consistently provides that.

I’m aware that this isn’t one of the traditional Christmas movies, but I include it in my Christmas movie watching every year. Christmastime is not only the time this story takes place, but it’s also a character in that Christmas gifts and parties play a part in the story. That’s why I’ve chosen it as my entry into the Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society.

Starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn and directed by Walter Lang in 1957, Desk Set is set in a mid-century, New York City office during Christmas time. The threat of the introduction of computers into the lives of the the all-female staff of the reference department at the Federal Broadcasting Company provides the tension for the movie, while the actors deliver comedic lines that get us through it. The uncertainty is scary, the anxiety evident right away. You immediately root for these ladies, long before you even know what they’re fighting against.

Yep, it’s a romantic comedy.

Maybe it’s the smart, quick wit in the Phoebe and Henry Ephron script…


…or the fabulous mid-century styles and design…


…or maybe it’s Joan Blondell‘s sarcastic humor as Peg Costello (she’s sooo good)…

…or maybe it’s that oh-so-special Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn chemistry.

It’s a lot of things. Especially one of my favorite movies. It frustrates me when it’s supposed to, but makes me laugh and laugh again to alleviate the frustration. Then, Katharine Hepburn’s snort-laugh comes in and makes me laugh some more. As I write this today, I cherish those giggle-scenes more than ever…

Right away, first scene, I’m hooked. Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) grabs me from a real life crummy day and plops me down in the middle of his intriguing meandering through a gorgeous wood-tiled, mid-century big-city office. As he weaves his way mysteriously through the offices and hallways of the Federal Broadcasting Company my head fills up with the hows and whys of his strange behavior and just like that, I’ve forgotten the perfectly crummy day I was having – and Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are front and center! Where they should be.

Bunny Watson (Hepburn) is a fountain of knowledge. Today, we’d call her Google. It’s her job to know a lot and she does it well. There doesn’t seem to be much she doesn’t know and she knows exactly where to find what she doesn’t. This “electric brain” of Sumner’s isn’t gonna be any kind of match to her, right?

Richard Sumner (Tracy) is a man obsessed with learning everything he can to ensure the success of his “electric brain” invention – to the point that he’s oblivious to everything else.

Even when he asks Bunny to lunch. Instead of taking her to a nice restaurant, he takes her to the the roof of the building for cold sandwiches. They have lunch on the roof of a skyscraper. In December. In New York City. The only thing on Sumner’s mind is getting more information to improve the performance of his “electric brain.” During the lunch, as Bunny shivers, Sumner smugly tries to stump her with trivia and math. I guess to prove that his “electronic brain” is a better choice than a human to handle the questions the ladies face in the research department. Nice try, Sumner, but Bunny doesn’t flinch. However, she is confused as to why he took her to the rooftop for lunch, especially on a freezing-cold day. Confusion and cold aside, confidence still oozes from Bunny. Without missing a beat, she answers every one of Sumner’s questions off the top of her head, in between shivers and bites of her sandwich. She easily answers every question and riddle he throws at her even though by this point it’s obvious she’s more worried about what this “electric brain” will mean for the job she loves. You can feel Sumner’s admiration growing for her with every question he asks. The chemistry between these two….well….It’s wonderful.

Bunny’s confidence lacks in just one place: her relationship with Mike Cutler (Gig Young), her boss and long-time boyfriend. After all the years they’ve dated (“six…no, seven!”), Bunny just can’t get him to commit, no matter how hard she tries. Yet she keeps trying. And hoping.

In the funny scene in Bunny’s apartment where she’s having dinner with Sumner while they’re both in bathrobes, (they get stuck in the rain and go into her apartment to dry off), Mike barges in. He’s far from happy at what he sees. Sumner laughs at Mike and Bunny as they argue, and we finally we see a little bit of that professional Bunny confidence bubble up with Mike. It’s about time.

At this point, Desk Set is a full blown love triangle with the added suspense of the invasion of the “electric brain.”

I am crazy about the Bunny Watson Hepburn has created in Desk Set. She’s inspiring, has a great job, funny, oh-so-smart and struggles with insecurities despite it all. This is a woman I want to drink that champagne with at the Christmas party. Actually, I wanna drink champagne with all these women. This movie feels good to spend time with no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

 

Three Films, Same Story, Loads of Fun

The Front Page (1931), His Girl Friday (1940) and The Front Page (1974)

I love all three of these movies. His Girl Friday, with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell was the very first classic movie I ever saw. I was 12 or 13 years old, spending the weekend with my wheelchair-bound grandmother on their farm, as I often did. Grandma loved these old movies. LOVED them. She’d watch any black and white movie that came over the air on the local PBS station at any time they were on…and she watched a lot of them. I’m so grateful to have been a part of that love! I’ll never forget that day I first saw His Girl Friday, my very first classic film I ever saw it was an autumn Saturday afternoon with a lot of sun that threw a glare over the itty bitty 13″ screen of their black and white TV. Grandma pulled up to the kitchen table in her wheel chair, and I sat in the chair next to her as we watched the movie on that little TV that lived on the cart Grandpa made just for it so Grandma could watch it comfortably. We had a blast. She said before it started, “I think you might get a kick out of Cary Grant.” I was so young, but she was right. I did not want this movie to end. I was instantly hooked on His Girl Friday  that day…and these movies…for life. I’m more grateful than ever that I have a memory like this that I get to keep with me always. I will always be aware of where my love for classic movies comes from….Grandma.

Oh, Grandma’s all time favorite actress? Myrna Loy (Mrs. ((Nick)) Charles). Grandma rocked.

All three of these movies share the same plot: an always pushy, often obnoxious, newspaper editor goes through scores of shenanigans to keep his top reporter from quitting the paper and running away with the love of his/her life. Walter needs his reporter to promote readership and make more money! He sees an in for his cause when Hildy can’t help himself/herself but be intrigued by the latest criminal caper. Let the chaos begin! Every version of the movie is a screwball comedy with a heavy dose of farce and they’re all worth spending time with if you want to laugh. All three of them include rapid-fire dialogue given to us by excellent actors that are a pleasure to be around. The movies were all based on the story written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Three cheers for them! Yes, there were several TV shows and a play or two that were all based on this same story, but these movies are exactly what a classic films fangirl like me loves the most.

1931

The Front Page, 1931 from United Artists, stars Adolphe Menjou as Walter Burns and Pat O’Brien as Hildy Johnson. It was directed by Lewis Milestone for United Artists. This version of the film was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Actor for Adolphe Menjou, Best Director for Lewis Milestone and another one for Best Picture.  This one has the distinction of being the only pre-code version of the story. I was THRILLED to see my all-time favorite character actor, Frank McHugh here as one of the reporters.

1940

His Girl Friday, 1940 from Columbia Pictures, stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It was directed by Howard Hawks for Columbia Pictures.  This is the only one of the three movies where Hildy (Russell) is a female version of the powerhouse reporter that Walter would do anything to keep even though she desperately wants to quit. Ralph Bellamy is nothing short of loveable here as Hildy’s fiance, Bruce Baldwin. He can keep up with Cary Grant’s demeanor pretty well! Intimidating as he is….(wink)

In the 1974 The Front Page, it’s Jack Lemmon who plays Hildy to Walter Matthau’s Walter Burns. And oh yeah, Billy Wilder directs this version. The movie was nominated for a Best Picture Golden Globe in 1975 and Both Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon were nominated for Best Actor at the Golden Globes in 1975. Anytime Matthau and Lemmon appear together, I’m in. I love watching them both, especially when they’re onscreen together. Together, they are always able to create the magic that is the epitome of what I love about these movies. Shhhhh, don’t tell Grandma, but this one’s my favorite.

 

Who Was That Lady? 1960

Who Was That Lady? 1960. Directed by George Sidney for Columbia Pictures.

I’ve been surprised by a lot of movies lately that I’ve never heard of. Who Was That Lady? is another one. Man, is this one fun. Busy, but I think that’s what made it so enjoyable to watch. It was Tony Curtis that brought my attention to it (I really have a thing for him lately), and Dean Martin who demanded I sit down and watch it (I could listen to him sing all night and he does sing a couple of songs here!). How could I lose with those two starring in it? I couldn’t and I didn’t.

Add Janet Leigh (Mrs. Tony Curtis at the time) to the mix and, voilá! Romantic comedy paradise and a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Who Was That Lady? is another comedy that I didn’t know I needed to see until I watched it. It’s a fun, light-hearted movie with some great Sammy Cahn music and a plot that’s complicated, yet interesting. Mostly. The very last minute of it bugged me, but by then it didn’t matter, I had already had a good time and was completely satisfied with the whole thing.

Professor of Chemistry, David Wilson (Curtis) at Columbia University.

Who Was That Lady? was based on a play by humorist, Norman Krasna, who also wrote the movie script. George Sidney directed it for Columbia Pictures in 1960.

David Wilson (Curtis) is a Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University when one day his wife Ann (Leigh) caught him in his lab kissing a student. Her demand for a divorce was angry and swift: she gave him just three hours to get out of their apartment. Meanwhile, she made a reservation to fly to Reno right after he left to get her quickie divorce.

David is destroyed. He loves his wife and can’t believe he would let a student kiss him at all!

Uh huh.

As soon as Ann demanded a divorce, he knew he had made a mistake. He realized right then just how much he loved his wife and had to make things in their marriage right. The desperation was damn near heartwarming. He called in his friend, Michael Haney (Martin), who is a TV writer. David begs for his help and the two finally come up with a plan to make it all look like an FBI job. That’s right. Haney creates an entire FBI Special Agent character for David to use to cover up why he was kissing the student Ann caught him with. She was a spy! Of course! And he was tasked by the FBI with bringing her to justice! [cue the eye roll emoji].

David and Michael wind up at the CBS prop room where they procure a revolver and an FBI Special Agent identification card from the prop foreman. (It’s cute that Jack Benny makes a cameo appearance in this scene. Even David thinks that’s cool).

David’s a nervous wreck, clearly afraid of Ann’s reaction to all of this, but can’t think of anything else to get her back. Michael, on the other hand,  is having a ball creating the story.  It takes some effort, but Ann finally falls for it. In fact, she gets really involved in it all because she’s so proud of David being an FBI agent. She’s never loved him more.

The Google Sisters (Barbara Nichols and Joi Lansing)

Meanwhile, Michael is also using the story to cover up more shenanigans, like a date for them with the Google Sisters.  Poor David is left uncomfortable and afraid of how out of control everything has gotten. He just wants Ann back.

Then, the real FBI catches wind of the Special Agent ID card the TV network made and didn’t use. They’re wondering where it is and why it was requested. Hmmmmmm. Enter the REAL FBI….

Michael Haney (Dean Martin) and Agent Harry Powell (James Whitmore)

….and Agent Harry Powell (James Whitmore). The search is on and all hell breaks loose. It’s a lot of fun.

These actors are great together and play off each other in such a way that everything keeps moving in an ever-increasing complicated mess. It’s interesting. It’s funny. Dean Martin sings a few times (yay!). And Tony Curtis is Tony Curtis. I can’t quite put my finger on him yet. Currently I feel like he’s a cross between Cary Grant, Elvis Presley and…..Wally Cleaver? Maybe it’s those eyes…..I don’t know. I’ve been in lockdown for four months and am getting a little punchy I guess……. Thank goodness for movies like THIS one!

The Thin Man, 1934

The Thin Man (1934, MGM) is a movie that doesn’t need another review or description written about it. Heck, even here on this blog I’ve already written about it here, and here and the blog is only a few months old.  Classic movie bloggers have read and/or written so many articles about it over the years, and I’ll never get tired of reading them. I just needed to say a little something about it here (again) because it is the one movie, along with its 5 sequels, that I will think about constantly for the rest of my life. Just the thought of these movies overwhelms me with happiness. It’s exactly the kind of thing I need right now. The Thin Man has always had the power to move my mood to a happier place. It never disappoints, always keeps me riveted no matter how many times I’ve seen it and never fails to provide me a happy place to escape to. Right now, it seems I need these things more than ever before, and I can vouch for the fact that Bill and Myrna can provide them.

The Thin Man wasn’t the first “old” movie I ever saw, His Girl Friday was. Hell, it wasn’t even the first Thin Man movie I ever saw, but it was the movie that got me hooked on all six of them for a lifetime. Finding it was a happy accident; I was a teenager and my Grandmother had just introduced me to Jimmy Stewart with Anatomy of a Murder. I loved it, and immediately began a quest to watch every Jimmy Stewart movie I could find because…..Jimmy Stewart! Duh! I checked out several of his movies at the library that same week. The first one I watched? After The Thin Man,1936 – the second movie in the six movie Thin Man series.  At that moment, I totally forgot about the quest to see every Jimmy Stewart movie.

“I’m a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune,” Mr. Charles said.
“I read you were shot 5 times in the tabloids,” Mrs. Charles said.
“That’s not true, he didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.”

That kind of banter continues through the film. It’s fun and funny. Oh yes, there’s a murder investigation going on too, but for my money it’s the chemistry between Myrna Loy and William Powell that is the main attraction. It’s the star of every movie they’ve done together (14 of them total). When I see them together in a movie I ache for more. The love and respect they have for each other is always on display and it feels good to be in the presence of it.

There’s no doubt that the script of The Thin Man is helped by having the married couple Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich adapt Dashiell Hammett’s book to the screen for it, but it seems like so much of the dialogue is naturally Loy and Powell. Great lines in a movie are one thing, but real chemistry between the actors like this is something else altogether. In my opinion, that’s what takes the movie to a higher level. Together, Bill and Myrna put their chemistry to work in creating an environment I crave to be in. The Thin Man still makes me laugh out loud even after seeing it dozens of times. Spending 90 minutes with this movie is the easiest way I can think of to cheer me up,. Today, being able to gain that from something as simple as a 90 minute, 86-year-old movie means more than it ever did before.

While it’s obvious the Loy and Powell friendship off screen (they were never romantically involved according to Myrna Loy’s autobiography) enhanced their ability to create this kind of magic on screen, it is also a testament to the talent they both possess. They play off of each other with an ease that I’ve never seen in any other onscreen couple (sorry Bogey and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy). It’s effortless every time and a joy to watch.

I always say I was born 50 years too late because it seems like I would feel so much more comfortable back in the day of Loy, Powell and The Thin Man but then I remember that I wouldn’t be able to watch them over and over again as many times as I want to like I can today. Would I really want to give that up? Probably.

“Those were the good old days,” –party guest
“Don’t kid yourself, these are the good old days.” –Nick Charles to his party guests.

I’m writing this in the middle of a long overdue racial uprising and the Covid-19 pandemic, so it’s hard to absorb this line the way I did the first time I heard Nick say it. I remember the hopeful feeling that came over me back then, but it’s hard to let myself feel that right now.  Honestly, I’m currently leading more toward the “those were the good old days” line from the party guest. . At the very least, Nick and Nora will always be here to make it all better for at least an hour or two and don’t think I’m not relying heavily on them for that right now.  So yeah, more posts about The Thin Man are always welcome. Please post a link to yours below.

“How many drinks have you had?” – Nora to Nick
“This will make six Martinis.” – Nick replies.
“Fine”>[to the waiter] All right. Will you bring me five more Martinis, Leo? Line them right up here.

It couldn’t hurt.

Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming by Myrna Loy
iMDB

It Should Happen To You, 1954

“It isn’t just make a name for yourself, it’s making your name stand for something.” – Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon) to Gladys (Judy Holliday)

This movie. Oh how I love this movie…

In addition to starring Judy Holliday, It Should Happen To You is Jack Lemmon’s first leading role. Peter Lawford also makes an appearance as Evan Adams III. It’s a romantic comedy that was directed by George Cukor and written by Garson Kanin for Columbia Pictures. I needed this movie this week and wanted to point out that taking an 86-minute break with Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon can work a little magic on a drained soul.

Gladys Glover (Holliday) wants to be famous. She’s convinced herself that achieving fame is the most important thing in life and will earn her the respect and money she thinks she needs to be happy. When she loses her modeling job, because she was “3/4” to large around the waste for the girdle she was modeling, she realizes that may never happen for her. She gets desperate.

As is her way, Gladys takes her shoes off so she can “think about it” all and heads into Central Park for a walk. After being fired from her modeling job for being too big, she takes joy in walking in the park and feeding the pigeons. But, notices how rude people in New York can be. She feels pretty grim about the future.

Then, she meets Pete Sheppard (Lemmon), a documentary filmmaker working on a project in the park. They instantly hit it off. The chemistry here is obvious right away. As the two talk, we see just how much her quest for fame has taken over Gladys’s mind. Pete listens, but makes it clear that he thinks it’s ridiculous. The spark between the two is evident, even though they have different views about it all.

They have a good talk that first day, then:

“Good luck to you, Gladys. I sure hope you make a name for yourself, if that’s what you want. If that’s what you really want, you’ll get it.” – Pete

How?”- Gladys

“I don’t know. Just a theory of mine: that not only ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’… but, ‘where’s there’s a way, there’s a will’. See?” Pete.

Gladys walks home to her apartment, with her shoes off and this on her mind. It’s when she walks past a blank billboard that what Pete said hits her; “where there’s a will there’s a way.” She decides to rent the billboard and have her name painted on it. Gladys heads to the advertising agency listed on the sign. It’s gonna cost $210 a month, with a three month minimum. We already know she has saved $1000 so she signs a lease on it.

After she has “Gladys Glover” painted in large letters on the once vacant sign for no reason but to see her name there, the Adams Soap Company,  and Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford) enter the picture. Seems that Gladys’s sign is the same billboard the Adams company always uses, only they’d forgotten to renew the lease for it. To get it back, they make Gladys all kinds of offers.

After several days and several offers from the Adams Soap Company, Evan Adams’ attempt to seduce her and a final offer of six other signs for this one, Gladys takes the deal for the six signs. Things start to happen right away for no reason at all, other than people recognize her name from the signs.  All of a sudden, Gladys is offered TV spots, radio spots, and her own Adams soap campaign. Meanwhile, Pete is watching it all, from the apartment he leased down the hall from Gladys’s to be closer to her. He’s not happy about any of her new found “fame:”

“It’s better if your name stands for something on one block than if it stands for nothing over the entire world,” Pete says to her. “What’s the point of being above the crowd and not a part of it.”

I love that.

This movie is a joy to discover. It’s so much fun. Judy Holliday, as always, is pure bliss to watch. She’s amazing. I can never find the right words to capture her….it feels good to watch her in all of her movies. She can and does deliver lines like no one else. She is the perfect Gladys. And Jack Lemmon. Wow. I just can’t find the right words….

Frank McHugh and I Love You Again, 1940

Frank McHugh

It’s Frank McHugh‘s birthday today! I suppose I could honor him by listing all of his movies, plays and TV shows, but we can get that list here. Instead, I wanted to write about the fun of watching him along side my all-time favorite onscreen pair, William Powell and Myrna Loy, in I Love You Again, 1940. I’m crazy about this movie. Powell and Loy’s, witty chemistry, combined with the genuinely lovable character McHugh brings to ‘Doc’ Ryan, makes this a perfect movie to me.

Birthday boy Francis Curray McHugh was born May 23, 1898 in Homestead, Pennsylvania. His life was devoted to acting from an early age. At 10, he started performing in his parent’s theater troupe with his sister Kitty and brother, Matt. At 17, he left his parent’s company to join the Marguerite Bryant Players. From there, he went on to be the juvenile and stage manager at the Empire Theater in Pittsburgh. He then joined the Keith and Orpheum circuits and in 1925, he debuted on Broadway in The Fall Guy.” In 1929 Frank McHugh married actress Dorothy Spencer. They had three children and remained married until his death on September 11, 1981.

It was in 1930 that Frank was hired as a contract player at Warner Brothers. From this point forward, he almost always played a version of the role he played in I Love You Again – a sweet, funny, likable sidekick to the leading actor’s character. He was pals on and off screen with dozens of actors like Humphrey Bogart, Pat O’Brien and James Cagney  McHugh holds his own with all of them, and generally steals the scenes he’s in with his comedic delivery. He does that here too.

Lobby Card, I Love You Again, 1940

I Love You Again was directed by W.S. Van Dyke II (yes, the same W.S. Van Dyke that directed the first four Thin Man Movies) for MGM in 1940. Three of my all-time favorite actors, together in a W.S. Van Dyke-directed movie is paradise for me!

Larry Wilson (Powell) is a teetotaling, stuffed-shirt, do-gooder who gets on everyone’s nerves with his cheapskate ways. We meet him as he’s sailing home on the S.S. Falkness from a business trip. He’s insufferable and we’re already sick of him a few minutes into the movie when an extremely drunk Doc Ryan (McHugh) rescues us. Ryan, clearly a troublemaker, antagonizes Wilson in the ship’s bar. Ryan is really drunk and desperate to prove to Wilson that he isn’t. To do this, he decides to walk the “tightrope” atop the railing of the ship “blindfolded.” Oh boy. Wilson tries to stop him, reminding him that he’s “inebriated” but Ryan is determined to prove he’s fine and ends up falling overboard anyway.

Larry Wilson jumps in to save Ryan’s life. When rescuers come to bring them both back aboard the ship, one of them slams an oar onto Wilson’s head. That conk on the head turns Wilson back into George Carey – the man he really is AND was before he took another blow to the head in a fight nine years earlier. Once George Carey is back, he doesn’t remember one second of his life as Larry Wilson. Meanwhile, Doc Ryan is with him and so grateful to Wilson for saving his life that he’s decided to “go straight” and commit himself to Wilson for life. Wilson, now Carey, has no idea what Ryan is talking about. Thankfully, they figure it out together for all of us…

“I’ve had amnesia. A blow to the head can make you forget your entire past. You can live on for years, maybe the rest of your life as somebody else, unless a shock or another blow brings you back to your right self.” – George Carey (William Powell)

….and once they do, they realize how much they had in common nine years ago, before that first bump on the head. As it turns out they have a grifter’s life in common and they love it. With this new common ground, they come up with a plan to milk everything they can out of Larry Wilson’s life. All those bank accounts they discovered in Larry Wilson’s wallet provoked them to get moving on to Wilson’s beloved Habersville where they planned to get away with Wilson’s fortune.

Until Kay meets them at the dock when the ship gets home. Kay is Larry Wilson’s wife. She had heard about the rescue, and even though she plans to divorce Larry and marry Herbert (Donald Douglas), she meets him to bring him home anyway. She doesn’t realize Larry doesn’t exist anymore. And George Carey doesn’t realize she’s his wife. He is stunned to learn he’s really married to her at all. Doc Ryan’s and Carey’s plan hits a wall before it ever gets started.

They rethink everything, all while Carey is trying to convince Kay to stay married to him.

Herbert (Donald Douglas), Kay (Myrna Loy), Kay’s Mother (Nella Walker), Larry/George (William Powell), Doc Ryan (Frank McHugh), Mayor Carver (Harlan Briggs)

I Love You Again is a screwball comedy. Powell and Loy are as good together as ever. Frank McHugh is fantastic. The way he smoothly delivers his lines along side the engaging chemistry of Bill and Myrna makes this movie pure joy.

I really don’t want to give away any more of the story. I Love You Again is a fun movie to discover, especially the first time. I find it so satisfying. It makes me feel good and laugh out loud and Frank McHugh is a big reason why.

I can’t love it enough!

Sources:

Frank McHugh’s New York Times Obituary
IMDb
TV Guide
TCM
New York Public Library

Frank McHugh, born on this day, 122 years ago,  in 1898

 

 

Mr. Blanding’s Builds His Dream House, 1948 – Based On the Book By Eric Hodgins

“Oh this was a joy, sheer heaven from beginning to end,” Myrna Loy said about Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House in her autobiography, Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming

“Acting is like playing ball. You toss the ball and some people don’t toss it back; some people don’t even catch it. When you get somebody [like Myrna] who catches it and tosses it back, that’s really what acting is all about. Myrna kept that spontaneity in her acting, a supreme naturalness that had the effect of distilled dynamite,” Cary Grant for Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming.

The reason I love this movie SO much is the pairing of Cary Grant (Jim Blandings)and Myrna Loy (Muriel Blandings). They’re magical together. (See Wings in the Dark, 1935 and The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer, 1947) They play off each other so well that I never want a story to end when they’re in it. Their mutual respect shows on screen and its feels good to see that displayed effortlessly and authentically like this. Together, they make us laugh, and laugh some more. Mr. Blandings is my version of a perfect movie-watching experience. I only wish I could have seen it on the big screen.

Both the book and movie follow Mr. and Mrs. Blandings as they pursue their dream of moving to the country to raise their girls in the clean air and peaceful atmosphere. He’s a New York City advertising executive that’s stressed out with his job and the cramped quarters of their city apartment. She does her best to make it comfortable for all of them. A peaceful existence in the rural landscape calls to them both. They find what Mr. Blandings calls their “dream home” in a decrepit “antique” house. They can afford it, if they put some work into it.

They buy it. It immediately becomes a money pit with problems. It’s a chaotic, stressful project that causes more grief than they ever imagined it would when they first saw the house and fantasized about their life in it. And the bills. There’s so many bills!

Grant and Loy play their roles so well that all we have to do now is get lost in the story and smile at the way they handle it all. His funny facial expressions expertly show his passion and frustrations, and, as usual, her presence is comforting, beautiful and strong…to BOTH Mr. Blandings and us viewers.

Add Melvyn Douglas to the mix and, boom, MORE smart comedic timing. The script for the film was written by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank. The dialogue and banter is an improvement from that in the book. I’m glad I read the book after I saw the movie. Placing the faces of Cary Grant and Myrna Loy into the characters of the book, I think, made it an easier read.

The Blandings with their architect, Simms (Reginald Denny).

Bottom line: The movie script, the actor’s abilities  and the setting of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is nothing short of brilliant. It’s funny and uplifting despite the turmoil that comes with building a new house.

There are some differences in the characters from book to movie. Notably, Bill Cole (Douglas), who is a smaller character in the book. narrates and plays a bigger part in the movie. You could say he anchors the whole thing with his narrative observations. Gussie (Louise Beavers), the housekeeper, is an entirely new, and enjoyable character in the movie. Spoiler alert:

Gussie (Louise Beavers) with Betsy (Connie Marshall) and Joan (Sharyn Moffett) Blandings.

She ends up saving the day.

Eric Hodgins published the book in 1946 after he wrote a short story about the home-building process for Fortune Magazine in 1946. Hodgins had a career in magazine publishing starting with the Atlantic in 1926. He was an Associate Editor at Redbook, a Vice President at Time and the publisher at Fortune. This is the only novel he ever wrote.

Each chapter of the book coincides with the chronological steps of the process of buying and rebuilding a dream house. It starts with Mr. and Mrs. Blanding discovering their dream property in Lansdale County, Connecticut (the movie starts in their New York City apartment) and takes us all the way to life in the house after it’s done.  The chaos in between is what both the movie and book are all about. In the book, that chaotic process is trying and full of details. It reads more like a diary than a story. In fact, Hodgins uses Mrs. Blanding’s diary entries to tell a chunk of the story.

The movie treats the chaos with humor and it’s perfect.

Additional Source:

Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming by Myrna Loy

Starring Doris Day and Jack Carson

Every classic film blogger has written a Doris Day and Jack Carson post. It’s understandable. The three movies they made together are simply enjoyable. Have you seen them? Romance on the High Seas, from 1948, was Doris Day’s first major film role. It’s a Great Feeling and My Dream is Yours came in 1949, All three are musical romantic comedies for Warner Brothers and they’re simply fun and easy to spend time with. They’re all shot in Technicolor and are full of bright, colorful scenes with great styles in fashion and decor. Most of all,  I love seeing the chemistry between Jack and Doris. I never get tired of these movies because of it.

Romance on the High Seas, 1948

Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) for Warner Brothers in 1948, Romance on the High Seas is my favorite of the three movies Jack Carson and Doris Day starred in together. It’s truly a romantic comedy with some great Doris Day singing.

Over here we have Georgia Garrett (Day). She’s a single, working girl who’s always planning exotic trips but never takes them. Then, over here we have Mrs. Elvira Kent (Janis Paige), a well-known society woman, married to business executive, Michael Kent (Don DeFour). Elvira is excited about the big cruise to South America that she’s been planning for her and her husband. Michael, however, insists he has to forgo the cruise to stay home and attain to business. He’s just too busy. After Elvira meets Michael’s beautiful, new secretary, Miss Medwick (Leslie Brooks), she’s convinced he’s actually staying home to have an affair with her. To catch him in the act of cheating on her, Elvira comes up with a plan. To do it, she has to pretend she’ll go on the cruise without Michael. This way she can stay home, follow him without him knowing she’s in town, and catch him in this affair. To accomplish this, Elvira needs to feign her presence on the cruise ship in case Michael tries to contact her there. She comes across Georgia, planning yet another trip, at the travel agency. At this point, it dawns on Elvira how she can pull this all off – After a complicated explanation to a skeptical Georgia, Elvira hires her to take her place on the cruise. Georgia can’t believe her luck and decides it’s okay to accept. It’s one of her dream trips, after all. What does she have to lose? Elvira gives Georgia her passport and a long list of to-dos and to-don’t’s, (all intended to live up to the Elvira Kent name), and sends her aboard the ship. Meanwhile, Michael is disturbed with Elvira’s insistence that she go without him on the cruise so he hires Peter Virgil (Carson), a private detective, to follow HER and make sure she’s not cheating on HIM. Oh boy. Carson and Day take over from here and it’s so much fun. Not surprisingly, Peter ends up following Georgia, thinking she’s really Elvira. They stumble with this charade all over the cruise ship and end up falling in love. This plot is so unique and interesting. Every scene is meaningful to the story and Doris and Jack deliver comedic lines so effortlessly. Doris Day sings some incredible songs here too. I love “It’s Magic.” The chemistry between Day and Carson is exactly that.

It’s a Great Feeling, 1949

It’s a Great Feeling is the only movie of these three that wasn’t directed by Michael Curtiz. It’s more comedy than romance, and was directed by David Butler for Warner Brothers in 1949. Everyone in the movie plays themselves, except for Doris Day. She plays Judy Adams,  a small-town girl from Goerke’s Corners, Wisconsin. (Shout out to Goerke’s Corners! It was a real place at one time (but gone now) in Waukesha County). Goerke’s Corners is mentioned several times in the movie to illustrate how important small-town life is to Judy. But, this small town girl has a dream to make it big in Hollywood.

We meet Judy while she’s working in the commissary at Warner Brothers hoping for a chance to get her big break. She accosts Jack Carson (plays himself) when she delivers food to his dressing room and forces him to listen to her audition for him. He’s not impressed right away, but suddenly sees an opportunity here to con Dennis Morgan (plays himself) into playing a role in his new production. Jack is looking for a way to make money and knows Dennis’s presence in the production will bring it in.  He hires Judy to “play a part” to get him onboard. Carson and Morgan ultimately work together to do what they can to put Judy’s talents to work for them in other productions. I got a kick out of the parade of Warner Brothers’ stars that appear throughout this movie. They just kept showing up! All playing themselves, of course.  Jane Wyman, Joan Crawford, Eleanor Parker and Ronald Reagan all make cameos. Gary Cooper, and Edward G. Robinson do too. And several more! It feels like every actor from the studio made an appearance in this. What a fun movie. Psssst…there’s a surprise ending!

My Dream is Yours, 1949

In 1949, Michael Curtiz directed My Dream is Yours for Warner Brothers. This one’s a little more romance than comedy, and has some serious drama too. Doug Blake (Carson) is a talent agent that represents the popular, but mean, slimy putz, Gary Mitchell (Lee Bowman). When Mitchell refuses to sign another contract to do the Enchanted Hour radio program, Doug’s boss, Thomas Hutchins (Adolphe Menjou) insists he find a replacement. On his quest to find a new act to replace Mitchell, he discovers Martha Gibson (Day) at one of the studios he visits, working as a turntable operator. She’s a war widow with a young son. And, she’s willing to follow Doug through anything if it means she can make a living doing what she loves to support her son. It’s a rocky journey. One that’s saved more than once by Hutchin’s feisty but caring secretary, Vivian Martin (Eve Arden). This movie was released at Eastertime in April of 1949 and has a strange, Easter-themed animated sequence in the middle of it that includes Bugs Bunny, another Warner Brother’s star. Bugs, along with Carson and Day who are dressed in rabbit costumes, give us a few moments of a child-like Easter celebration. Strange. Rumor has it that Jack Carson and Doris Day were an item during the filming of My Dream is Yours. Somehow, knowing that adds to the enjoyment of this onscreen romance.

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960) – Based on the Book By Jean Kerr (1953)

Directed by Charles Waters for MGM in 1960

I watch this movie about once a year, usually when it’s on TCM, because I adore Doris Day.

Because of Doris, it’s hard to admit that the book by Jean Kerr is so much better, but it is.

The movie has potential in the beginning; Kate MacKay (Doris Day) is knocking heads with all of her, um, energetic (?) sons so she can meet her husband, Larry (David Niven), for dinner. It’s a funny scene with promising energy for the rest of the movie.

It doesn’t work out that way.

In the movie, Kate and Larry MacKay struggle with a hectic life inside a New York City apartment. They have four young boys, a housekeeper and a dog and they all survive in this cramped, crowded space. They’re coping and honestly, don’t seem phased by it. Until they get kicked out of their apartment. Seems in all the chaos, they forgot to renew their lease and now they have 30 days to get out.

In the middle of this, Larry leaves his career as a professor, to one as a drama critic for, presumably, The New York Times. 

The MacKays pile everyone into that oh-so-cool woody wagon and go tour a house in the country. It’s always been their plan to move to the country and they were excited. They drive up to a creepy, debilitated house that’s big enough and cheap enough. Kate loves it. Larry doesn’t. The house’s condition, along with the new commute to New York, depresses him. Of course, Kate sees a project and looks forward to making a home for them. They buy it. Kate can’t wait to start fixing up the house, getting involved in the community and raising their kids in the country.

From here, the movie explores a lot – jealousy, ego, temptation, creativity, raising kids, small town culture and a love of home. The problem is there’s no chemistry between Day and Niven. Kate’s mother, Suzie (Spring Byington), the kids and the dog provide laughs, thank goodness. I enjoy watching those scenes, but there is a cohesiveness missing between Kate and Larry and I didn’t feel myself rooting for them like I wanted to because of it.

In one seen, Larry thought Kate ought to be home doing “housewife” chores, but she was nowhere to be found. When he did find her…

“Where have you been?,” Larry snapped.

“I was on a rendeveaux with Rock Hudson,” A ticked off Kate replied.

I wished she was!

Jean Kerr

THE BOOK, Please Don’t Eat The Daisies, by Jean Kerr, however, is hilarious. The characters are similar to the movie, but there isn’t a storyline like that.  Instead, the book is a collection of essays that cover several subjects. The funniest are the essays about raising four young boys that are close in age. There are also essays that comment on the theater, cooking, decorating and day-to-day life of creative professionals. Every one of them has an element of humor to it, some funnier than others. The book holds up well. Jean Kerr is a great writer, and her sense of humor connects with mine perfectly. This is a laugh-out-loud book for me, I loved it.

Doris with Hobo

The best thing about the movie is Doris Day’s comedic lines. That and her singing attract me enough to Please Don’t Eat The Daisies to watch it every time TCM runs it.  Did I mention that I adore her?