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

The Hustler, 1961 – Based on the Book By Walter S. Tevis

This is not a story about pool or billiards. It’s a tremendous story about character. Fast Eddie Felson, just happens to be a pool-hustler…

The Hustler, 1961

Walter S. Tevis wrote The Hustler in 1959. The movie, one of Paul Newman‘s first big roles, came in 1961. Both expertly tell Fast Eddie Felson’s  story: He’s a pool-hustler who’s convinced himself that he needs to prove to everyone (and himself) that he’s the best pool player in the country so he can gain the respect and riches he so desperately craves. Eddie tells himself he can beat anyone, Including Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), who is the actual best pool player in the country. We recognize early that maybe Eddie could do it, if he just had the character he doesn’t know he needs to accomplish it. Talent isn’t everything like Eddie thinks it is. He believes beating Minnesota Fats would prove everything. Like the poster says, it’s a hunger that lies within him, and it drives every decision he makes.

“You just want the money. Sure. And the aristocratic pleasure of seeing him fall apart.” – Bert Gordon, calling Eddie out on his lack of character it takes to win.

I don’t like Eddie in the book or the movie.  I’m not supposed to. He has little integrity and no character.  He’s a mouthy, arrogant,  obnoxious brat – one that Paul Newman brings to life brilliantly. The “aw shucks” smiles he invokes to show the emotions Eddie struggles with, and tries to cover up, are perfect. I DO admire, respect and like his adversary, Minnesota Fats (Gleason). It’s evident in HIS manner, language…even the clothes he wears…that this is where the man with real character is. And success.  He’s the one that deserves the respect Eddie can’t seem to achieve. The same thing happens In The Cincinnati Kid, 1965, a remake of The Hustler (in a poker environment instead of a pool hall one), I don’t like the The Cincinnati Kid (Steve McQueen) either, for the same reasons I don’t like Eddie. But I DO admire, respect and like HIS adversary, Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson) for the same reasons I like and respect Minnesota Fats in this movie. In The Color of Money, the Martin Scorcese-directed 1986 sequel (not remake) to The Hustler, I don’t like Vincent (Tom Cruise) at all either for, you guessed it, the same reasons. But, I finally DO get a chance to admire, respect and like Eddie Felson (Paul Newman revisits this role) for a little while.

By the way, there was no real Minnesota Fats at that time. The nickname came about after the 1961 movie when a plump pool shark named Rudolf Walter Wanderone, Jr. adapted the nickname for himself from the Jackie Gleason character in the movie.

In the book, Walter S. Tevis gives us vivid descriptions of dark, gritty, urban (and not-so-urban) pool halls that give it a distinct noir feeling. The opening scene of the book takes place at Bennington’s Pool Hall in Chicago and I swear, I could smell the smoke in the air just reading Tevis’s words. Excellent writing like this continues throughout the book and, thankfully, the visuals in the movie live up to every word Tevis writes in the book. Every character is properly placed in the exact atmosphere they should be in both the book and movie. The reader…and viewer…are too. We never feel ourselves cringing at any misplaced dialogue or setting in either one. I always felt like I was there. Listening, watching and very interested in a man that comes full circle in his quest for respect.

The Hustler was directed by Robert Rossen for 20th Century Fox and in addition to Paul Newman, it also starred Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie and George C. Scott. Newman, Rossen, Gleason and Laurie were all nominated for Academy Awards for their roles. The movie was nominated for 11 Oscars total and won two; one for Best Cinematography and another for Best Art Direction. Director Robert Rossen communicated Tevis’s atmosphere perfectly. The movie follows the book closely, up until the billiards game between Eddie and James Findley (Murray Hamilton) with a few minor exceptions.  It’s then that the book and movie diverge. Bert Gordon’s (George C. Scott) entrance into the story changes things for Eddie. In one way for the book, in another for the movie. The endings are completely different but the same overall message is the same: Character matters.

Sources:

Encylopaedia Britannica – Minnesota Fats
iMDB

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.

Brother Orchid – 1940

Lobby Card

IMDb | Streaming on Amazon

“All my life I was such a guy looking for class. I once went halfway around the world trying to find it because I thought that class was in dough, nice clothes and society. Well, I was wrong.” – Little John Sarto

Yes, Brother Orchid is considered a crime drama, but from where I’m sitting, that’s not an accurate description. It’s not a romance or a comedy either as it’s sometimes listed, though there are elements of all of these things in the movie. No, Brother Orchid is so much more than this. Yes, there are gangsters here, but, at least in the case of Edward G. Robinson‘s, Johnny Sarto he’s one with a much bigger…purer…need in his heart than running a “racket” and building a bank account. He just doesn’t realize it.

Brother Orchid stars Robinson, Ann Sothern and Humphrey Bogart, and features others we recognize too, like Donald Crisp and Ralph Bellamy.  This film takes us on the journey with Johnny to find the happiness that he curiously describes as “real class.” It was directed by Lloyd Bacon for Warner brothers and is based on a story by Richard Connell that appeared in a May, 1938 issue of Collier’s Magazine.

Edward G. Robinson as Little John Sarto

John Sarto is the mob boss of a successful “racket” when he announces to his men that he’s leaving it all behind and putting Jack Buck (Bogart) in charge for good. He tells them he’s in search of “real class” and that he’s leaving for Europe right away to find it.

Before he leaves, Johnny has a heart-to-heart talk with his long time girlfriend, Flo. She’s crazy in love with Johnny and lets him use her in anyway he wants to, just so she can keep him. She desperately wants to marry him after years of “going with” him, but he couldn’t care less.  He doesn’t even consider taking her with him and she’s devastated. To make it up to her, because he does like her to be at his beck and call, he calls a friend and sets her up with a job as a cigarette girl at the Crescent night club. This satisfies thrills her and gets her out of his hair so he can get on with his travels

Johnny spends the next five years traipsing all over Europe in search of that “real class.” But he does everything the same old way – He spends money on nice clothes, restaurants and all things that can get him into high-end society…he even buys a race horse. In the end, he’s broke and the feeling of “real class”…happiness…still eludes him. He gives up and heads back to the city to take his mob back.

The old gang, especially Jack Buck, is not gonna let that happen. He loves being in charge and nothing is going to change that now. Johnny could not believe his old gang was disowning him. None of his former “men” would entertain leaving Buck to go back to the way things were. He was crushed.

“I’m gonna organize a new mob and show you guys.” – Johnny says in a panic.

He went to find good ole’ reliable Flo at the Crescent club where he left her five years before. As it turns out, Flo had borrowed money from Clarence Fletcher (Bellamy), a Montana rancher who was in the club one night, to buy the Crescent club outright. In her typically needy, dimwit way, she tries to help Johnny and Jack get back together and start up the old “racket” so everyone could live happily ever after. Buck plays along with her to get Johnny to meet him, but his intention is really to kill him. Buck takes Johnny for a ride at gunpoint and sends him into the woods with his men where they were to shoot him.

Johnny escapes by slapping a branch in their faces as they walked through the woods. While they recovered, he ran as hard as he could. He’s broken down and hurt, but not shot, when he runs straight on to the front porch of a monastery.

Donald Crisp as Brother Superior

Brother Superior (Crisp) takes him in and nurses him back to health. Johnny was about to discover the “real class” he was aching to achieve.

Brother Orchid is the guide that Johnny didn’t have and needed. Once he meets the monks at the monastery, the movie becomes full of the challenges that occur as Johnny starts to feel the change in attitude he didn’t know he needed. He even backtracks to his old life for a second time before it becomes clear that he’s been going about his quest for “real class” the wrong way. Johnny’s experiences are truly inspiring and thought-provoking: Is it really money and status that prove we’re successful? What lengths will we go to get them? How many people will we hurt? Are money and status really the things that guarantee happiness?

Or, is pure happiness accomplished from helping people instead of running over them to gain money and things that simply never satisfy us? Johnny finally gets it. Watching him get to this realization, seeing the tension leave his face and the happiness appear is what makes this movie feel so good to watch. The meaning of the evolution of Johnny is really what this movie is about.

“I thought I was being smart. I guess I wasn’t.” – Johnny Sarto

Again:

“All my life I was such a guy looking for class. I once went halfway around the world trying to find it because I thought that class was in dough, nice clothes and society. Well I was wrong. I sure traveled a long way to find out one thing. This. This is the real class.” – Little John Sarto says as he enters the monastery for the last time, with a smile we didn’t see until now…the one that explains it all.

 

 

Four New To Me Classic Movies This Week

Avanti, 1972

What a movie. I watched all 2 hours and 24 minutes of this Billy Wilder romantic comedy twice this week. I loved it that much. Jack Lemmon plays the married Wendell Armbruster, a successful businessman and Juliet Mills plays single, free spirit Pamela Piggott. Wendell travels to Italy to pick up the body of his father who died in a car accident. He was surprised to learn that Pamela’s mother had died in the car with him.  As it turns out, Wendell’s (married) father and Pamela’s single mother, had been having a decade-long affair. Wendell was stunned. It’s interesting to watch the straight-laced Wendell deal with all of this, with more and more help from Pamela. I love this plot. I have to admit, I cringed when there was talk of Pamela’s “weight problem” (I sure didn’t notice this problem) but it slowly became evident it was an essential part of the plot. This is the first movie I’ve seen Juliet Mills in and I’ll be looking for more. I knew her in the Nanny and the Professor TV show, and she’s is so much more here. The chemistry between her and Lemmon is spot on. The scenes shot in Italy are beautifully done too. I love the message in this one.

IMDb | TCM Shop

Bells Are Ringing, 1960

IMDb | TCM Shop

Judy Holliday. Oh how I love her. Her presence alone in this makes it worth seeing. But add Dean Martin and Jean Stapleton to the cast and…well…! How in the world I ever missed this one until now is beyond me. I am ashamed. And thrilled that I have another “go-to” movie I can watch that makes me feel good! You know, to watch if something unexpected happens and keeps me in the house for months. ANYWAY, Bells are Ringing is a musical directed by Vincente Minnelli and adapted for the screen from the play by Betty Camden and Adolph Green. Ella Peterson (Holliday) is an answering service operator for Susanswerphone in Brooklyn. She loves her clients and especially has a thing for Jeffrey Moss (Martin). This is a bright, happy movie I loved experiencing for the first time.

Any Number Can Play, 1949

IMDb | TCM Shop

Clark Gable plays Charley Kyng, the owner of a casino house. Alexis Smith plays his wife “Lon.” This movie explores the effect Charley’s business has on the family and his reaction to it. I was consumed with watching the evolution of not just Charley, but the entire family. I’ll watch this one many times. Frank Morgan and Mary Astor make small appearances here too.

Von Ryan’s Express, 1965

IMDb | TCM Shop

I found this one on the Frank Sinatra Film Collection DVD that I’ve been working my way through lately. I enjoy Frank, the actor, do you? Von Ryan’s Express is a drama that takes place during WWII. Frank plays an American POW that helps prisoners escape the Germans. It’s a pretty good movie that kept my interest, but it was hard for me to watch right now. I’ll watch it again when things are better. I think I’m better off listening to Frank sing right now.

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?

The Majestic Theater – Dubuque, Iowa – Rapp and Rapp Architects

Early Majestic postcard, date unknown

The Majestic Theater opened at the corner of Fourth and Main Streets in Dubuque, Iowa on November 16,1910. It  was designed by Rapp & Rapp Architects of Chicago, Illinois to be a replica of the Moulin Rouge in Paris. The theater was built of concrete and brick, had 1400 seats and cost over $100,000 to build.

1900’s postcard of the Majestic at 4th and Main in Dubuque

Over the years C.W. Rapp, with his brother George designed over 400  “movie palaces” across the country – many of them a lot more famous than this one, but, because this was Rapp & Rapp’s first theater design as an architectural firm, I’m starting here. I will get to the Chicago Theater, the Paramount theaters in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Loews in New Jersey, etc., etc.  eventually because I am obsessed with documenting Rapp and Rapp theaters (that obsession started more than a decade ago after I toured another Rapp and Rapp theater, the then debilitated Al Ringling Theater in Baraboo, Wisconsin). The Ringling is the theater that made me fall in love with these opulent spaces. Like the Majestic in Dubuque, I’m happy to report that it too has also been restored in recent years.

Majestic Theater, Dubuque, Iowa, circa early 1930s.

Ethel Barrymore and Eddie Cantor appeared on opening night to promote the theater. 14,000 people (1/3 of Dubuque’s population at the time) attended Majestic events the first week of its opening.  After many successful years, the Majestic fell into disrepair during the 1960s. In 1969 it was slated for demolition. A grass-roots movement of Dubuque residents came to its rescue and the building was saved and restored in 1972. I could hug them all.

Five Flags Center, Dubuque, Iowa. Photo via the Five Flags Center.

Today, the Majestic is known as the  Five Flags Center. While it’s no longer a movie theater, it is the center of culture in Dubuque with a busy schedule of Broadway plays, concerts and local performances. I like to think the Rapp brothers would be proud.

This is my first post about a  Rapp and Rapp Theater and I have so much more to write about them. I am thrilled I finally have a place to document their contributions to the world of classic movies that I love so much.

George Rapp himself stated the firm’s design philosophy: ‘

”Watch the eyes of a child as it enters the portals of our great theatres and treads the pathway into fairyland. Watch the bright light in the eyes of the tired shopgirl who hurries noiselessly over carpets and sighs with satisfaction as she walks amid furnishings that once delighted the hearts of queens. See the toil-worn father whose dreams have never come true, and look inside his heart as he finds strength and rest within the theatre. There you have the answer to why motion picture theatres are so palatial. Here is a shrine to democracy where there are no privileged patrons. The wealthy rub elbows with the poor — and are better for this contact. Do not wonder, then, at the touches of Italian Renaissance, executed in glazed polychrome terra cotta, or at the lobbies and foyers adorned with replicas of precious masterpieces of another world, or at the imported marble wainscoting or the richly ornamented ceilings with motifs copied from master touches of Germany, France, and Italy, or at the carved niches, the cloistered arcades, the depthless mirrors, and the great sweeping staircases. These are not impractical attempts at showing off. These are part of a celestial city — cavern of many-colored jewels, where iridescent lights and luxurious fittings heighten the expectations of pleasure. It is richness unabashed, but richness with a reason.'”

I believe he accomplished it all.

The former Majestic Theater of Dubuque. Known as the Five Flags Center today.

SOURCES:

Five Flags Center
Rapp & Rapp Architects by Charles Ward Rapp
Encyclopedia of Dubuque

 

Eggplant Tagine Recipe from the Casablanca Menu of Movie Night Menus

Eggplant Tagine Recipe

adapted from

TCM Movie Night Menus
by Tenaya Darlington and André Darlington

TCM

What they’ve done here is create a menu for several of our beloved classic movies with recipes to make them all at home. It’s a lot fun. We’ve made quite a few dinner and cocktail recipes from this book and every one of them has turned out perfect every time we’ve made them.

This Eggplant Tagine, from the book’s Casablanca menu, has quite a few ingredients. It’s a lot of fun to make when you have the time, and who doesn’t have time right now? Your efforts will be worth it. I promise. It’s a warm, comforting delicious plate of Mediterranean flavors that fits Casablanca perfectly.

No couscous? That’s happened to me a couple of times I set out to make this. I served it on rice instead. It’s wonderful both ways.

EGGPLANT TAGINE RECIPE

Print

Ingredients:
-1 1/2 cups vegetable stock, divided
-1 tablespoon unsalted butter
-3/4 c. pearl couscous
-3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-2 teaspoons ras el hanout (recipe below)
-1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes
-2 small eggplants, diced (about 4 cups)
-1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained
-4 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
-3 Tablespoons almonds, roughly chopped and toasted (garnish)
-1 fresh mint (garnish – but makes the meal!)
-Plain yogurt, garnish

Ras el Hanout Ingredients (use it all)
-1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
-1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
-1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
-1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
-1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
-1/4 teaspoon paprika
-1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.

Method:
In a sauce pan, boil 1 cup vegetable stock with butter. Add couscous, stir, then remove from heat and cover.

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Add the garlic, salt and spices and cook until garlic is translucent and the spices are lightly toasted, about 3 minutes.

Add tomatoes, eggplant, chickpeas, dates and 1/2 cup of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer on medium, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes or until eggplant has softened.

To serve, set out shallow bowls. Fluff the couscous and divide it among the bowls. Then, top with tagine and garnish with almonds, mint, and a scoop of yogurt.

Have you cooked anything you normally wouldn’t have time for during this pandemic? How’d it turn out?

Solid Gold Cadillac – 1956

Laura Partridge is a smart, down-to-earth actress who doesn’t have much luck in her acting career.  When a neighbor she sometimes made soup for and played cards with, passes way and leaves her 10 shares of stock in the International Projects company in his will she finds her niche. Having stock in this billion dollar company instills the pride Laura has always wanted to feel. She likes the importance it conveys and lives up to it throughout the movie.

Laura takes the responsibility of being a stockholder very seriously and puts her power to work.

Solid Gold Cadillac is a 1956 romantic comedy that stars Judy Holliday as Laura Partridge and Paul Douglas as Ed McKeever. It’s adapted from the Broadway play by George Kaufman and Howard Teichman. This is one movie that fits perfectly into my quest for good stories right now that make me feel good and laugh out loud. It’s mostly Judy Holliday that provides both here. What a pleasure it is to be in this movie’s world of a passionate, intelligent female, great writing and good over evil. The movie is directed by Richard Quine and produced by Fred Kohlmer Productions for Columbia pictures.

It’s a black and white movie until the final scene – that’s shot in Technicolor.

Bonus: George Burns narrates and he doesn’t think any of the board members are worth a quarter….or a dime….or a nickel…or anything at all. (He’s funny as ever) But he does like the founder of International Projects, Edward McKeever.

The movie opens with Laura exercising the power of her 10 shares of stock at a stockholder’s meeting. It doesn’t take long for her to stand up and question everything, including the board’s outrageous salaries. They don’t like that. I love it. I admire Laura’s immense curiosity and fear of nothing. She stands up in front of everyone and asks question and after question of these men, without missing a beat. She pushes the board members more and more and makes them admit in front of shareholders that they make $100,000 a year for very little work. She concludes, also in front of everyone, that the Chairman of the Board works about 10 hours a year for a salary of $175,000. By the time she’s done with them, they’re exposed as the greedy fools they are and it’s wonderful. She’s not intimidated or impressed by them in the least.

The founder of International Projects, Ed McKeever (Douglas) is at this meeting too. It’s his last stockholder’s meeting. Though he doesn’t seem interested in anything that’s going on except for his lunch. McKeever built the company from the ground up, but has recently sold all of his stock and given up his position as Chairman of the Board so he can try something new. Like Laura, he needs a more fulfilling purpose, so he decides to serve his country in Washington, D.C. instead. The remaining board members couldn’t be happier about that because they’re sure McKeever will get the company a lot of big government contracts to support their big spending on booze and women. Life will be good for these greedy “dopes.” So they think. They didn’t plan on Laura Partridge.

Laura’s the only thing in that meeting piques McKeever’s interest.  Afterwards, they wind up meeting at the counter of the building’s cafeteria and McKeever offers her a ride home. They talk, we listen and observe how much they have in common despite their different places in life. The chemistry is clear, but neither pays attention to it. Yet.

Meanwhile, Laura keeps attending stockholder’s meetings and questioning everything. Exposing the Directors’ greediness isn’t why she keeps asking questions, she’s more interested in protecting the small shareholders, it just happens as she does it. The Directors really are “dopes.” The power of those 10 shares of stock Laura has is driving them nuts. She must be dealt with before she destroys their perfect plan!

So, they hire her.

The Board offers Laura $75 per week, but she holds out until they agree to $125 per week. She knows what they make, after all, and she’s no dummy. She’s given an office with her name on the door, a secretary, the title, “Director of Stockholder Relations” and no responsibilities. She’s giddy. For a minute. As it turns out, having all the impressive things that make her look important isn’t enough for Laura, she needs to be doing something that is important.

Amelia Shotgraven (Neva Patterson), her secretary, is initially there to spy on Laura for the board but the two become quick friends instead. Amelia is inspired by Laura and is valuable to her mission as Director of Stockholder Relations. Laura pledges to contact all the other small shareholders of International Projects to communicate with them, and to show them a respect they’ve never seen before from the company. She knows it’s important to give them company news, and just keep in touch with them. It’s what she wanted as a stockholder and now she can to give it to them. They adore her for it.

Watching Laura fall in love with Edward McKeever when he returns to the company for a visit, is not unexpected, but their chemistry thrills us anyway. Judy Holliday’s toughness as Laura, with the teddy bear quality Paul Douglas creates with McKeever works well. It seems like an unlikely love connection, but it’s spot on for me. There’s rocky times ahead for this relationship and the viewer can’t help but root them on.

The board fires Laura’s secretary, Amelia, because she wouldn’t spy on Laura the way they’d hoped. When Laura finds out, she gives up and sends a resignation memo to one of the board members, Clifford Snell (Fred Clark). It doesn’t feel like something Laura would do. Before the resignation makes it to Snell, she learns something that stops her cold.

It seems the new board member that replaced McKeever accidentally puts one of International Projects’ own companies, Apex Clock Company, out of business. Laura’s mad as hell and staying put.

“Someone’s got to keep an eye on these big geniuses.” – Laura tells Amelia.

Selling power tools with a swimsuit model…really?

The board schemes left and right to make money. When McKeever doesn’t come through with those government contracts like they hope, they start to panic. Things turn ugly and the movie takes off.

The Board desperately needs those contracts to keep their free ride going. Laura knows it’s time to get McKeever back and right the ship for all those small shareholders that depend on those dividends. He doesn’t like his Washington D.C. gig anyway and after he learns of what they’ve done, he vows to come back and throw them all off the board and take his rightful place back. Laura is the savior here. It’s her plan and McKeever helps her achieve it. The Board throws up obstacles and resorts to some pretty shady antics to save their own skins. Taking Laura and McKeever to court is the beginning of the end and it’s not pretty. While this main plot is going on, there’s side stories too – Amelia falls in love with Jenkins, Jenkins gets fired, Amelia gets fired again. And saved by Laura, again. It’s so satisfying to see these “geniuses” go down for what they’ve done and to see the good we’re rooting for win. In the end, Laura is McKeever’s savior too. Judy Holliday makes this movie for me. Her strength, intelligence, sense of humor and relatable personality in this movie are endearing. This is such fantastic movie with terrific writing, and a lot of laughter thanks to Holliday’s perfect comedic timing. There’s a lot of good acting all around, but it’s definitely Holliday’s movie. Laura Partridge is a hero. Not just for 1956, but 2020 too.

 

The Solid Gold Cadillac.

 

 

(Mostly) 1930s Al Hirschfeld Movie Posters

Being in the middle of these colorful Al Hirschfeld movie posters seemed like a good place to start a Monday. Especially one in the middle of a pandemic.

Al Hirschfeld was born June 21, 1903 in St Louis, Missouri. Beginning in the mid-twenties, Hirschfeld began documenting every major entertainer in the 20th century. Caricatures were his favorite subjects and his can be seen in so much of our 20th century movie heaven. Hirshchfeld worked until his death on January 20, 2003 in New York City.

Peter Falk as Columbo. Caricature for TV Guide by Al Hirschfeld,1976

This is the one that started my search for more Al Hirschfeld artwork. I fell for it immediately in large part because of this weird Columbo crush I have going on. While Hirschfeld is best known as a pen and ink caricaturist, there were other styles of drawings too – including those like these movie posters from (mostly) the 1930s and 1940s:

1946
1934
1931
1930
1939
1935
1943

1975

I hope you’re all safe and well….thank you for stopping by!

Sources:

The Al Hirshchfeld Foundation

The Line King Documentary which is available with Prime Video.