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

 

 

6 Favorite Movies From The 60s

May 16th is National Classic Movie Day! I love any reason to celebrate classic movies, and this is a fun way to do it. Thank you to Rick at the Classsic Film & TV Cafe for hosting this, The 6 From The 60s blogathon. The guidelines for this blogathon are simple: list your six favorite films from the 1960s and explain why they deserve such an honor! This post is my entry. I love comedies and the common thread running through these movies is that they made and still do make me laugh every time I watch them.

You can see all the blogathon entries by clicking here. I’m looking forward to seeing the other movies that have the honor of being someone’s “favorite!”

It’s no surprise that Walter Matthau shows up in three of the movies here, and that Jack Lemmon is in two of them. Watching these two just makes me so happy.

1-The Odd Couple, 1968

Why is The Odd Couple one of my favorite movies from the 60s? The friendships. It’s displayed in every scene. I see it and feel it from every character and it’s pure comfort for me. I admit, anything with Walter Matthau is good for me. Especially The Odd Couple.  From the poker game scenes, to the date with the neighbors, to the scenes with just a frustrated Oscar (Walter Matthau) and frustrated Felix (Jack Lemmon). Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon play these characters in such a way that we care about them both. Even though Felix’s neurotic nature makes us nuts, we care about what happens to him.  Even though Oscar is sloppy, we admire him and the way he carries himself. I love this movie for the kindness I see when I watch it. It’s sometimes sarcastic and playful, a little bit serious and painful, but the underlying kindness is always evident to me, even when they’re mad at each other. Despite all of the things that can and do go wrong, they all still care about each other in the end. And it’s funny as hell.

2-Cactus Flower, 1969

Why is Cactus Flower one of my favorite movies from the 60s? It’s a meaningful story chock-full of a lot of reasons to laugh from likable characters. Julian Winston (Walter Matthau), is a dentist that lies about being married to avoid commitment to marriage with Toni (Goldie Hawn). Nurse Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman) is there, thankfully, to keep Julian organized and to eventually set everything straight. All three actors, Walter Matthau, Goldie Hawn and Ingrid Bergman play off each other like they’ve done it for years….and this is Goldie Hawn’s first movie! Cactus Flower is a lot of fun!

Did I mention Ingrid Bergman was in it? She does comedy so well. I did not expect this, but oh my, is she good at it. Ingrid Bergman steals the show for me. And it’s wonderful!

3-Bachelor in Paradise, 1961

Why is Bachelor in Paradise one of my favorite movies from the 60s? It’s a gorgeous glimpse into mid-century American culture embedded in an interesting story line. I wrote about this movie here a few weeks ago because it’s always had such a positive effect on me. Lana Turner is wonderful.

From my April 10, 2020 post:

Bachelor in Paradise is light-hearted, mid-century comedy that has the power to make me laugh out loud and forget about things for a couple of hours. It’s filled with glorious mid-century decor, fashion and lifestyle. This movie doesn’t pretend to be a deep, societal observation, but there is an important feminist message here, especially for 1961, I suspect, mostly delivered to us via Bob Hope’s peppy narrating as Niles. Lana Turner’s beautiful, independent intelligence as Rosemary, along with the intelligent, thoughtful women of the neighborhood, make this one of my all-time favorite movies.

And yeah, it’s funny!

4-Charade,1963

Why is Charade one of my favorite movies from the 60’s? Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

The end.

5-Some Like It Hot, 1959

Why is Some Like It Hot one of my favorite movies from the 60’s? It’s rhythm. It clips along at a good pace with a plot that keeps me engaged by always wondering what in the world could possibly happen next. It’s one of the best movie-watching experiences I can think of. Paying attention to the three main characters-Joe (Tony Curtis), Jerry (Jack Lemmon), and Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) is easy because they’re all sincerely likeable and engaging. They’re good people that I find myself rooting for every time I watch this. From the first scene where Joe and Jerry  witness the Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929 to that sweet ending, everything that happens moves along so….perfectly? I never find myself cringing, bored or rushing to get it over with. It feels like a brave movie too, and I like that it takes chances. This movie feels like it’s been thoroughly thought out and put together so well by the director (Billy Wilder) and writers (Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond) that actors that just melt into the story. It’s perfect. But then, that’s Billy Wilder for ya.

6-The Thrill of it All, 1963

Why is The Thrill of it All one of my favorite movies from the 60s? Because Doris Day plays a character, Beverly Boyer, that comes up against sexism and still makes her own decisions in the face of it. Despite the chaos it causes her within her family, she follows her heart. That takes guts now, let alone in the 1960s. Her husband, Dr. Gerald Boyer (Garner) is not happy about any of what she decides to do, and he makes it difficult for her. Still, I love that everything that happens here is ultimately Beverly’s decision and not her husband’s. Even in the end. Some have called this movie sexist, and there is an overall atmosphere of it, but she’s successfully navigating through it on her own terms. It isn’t always fun for her and every step she takes is a challenge, but she does it, and it’s inspiring. On top of that, The Thrill of It All is hilarious!

That pool scene…..

The chemistry between Doris Day and James Garner is addictive. I wish they’d done more movies together.

Thank you to Rick at Classic Film and TV Cafe for hosting 6 From The 60s!

What’s YOUR favorite movie from the 1960s?

The Capitol Theatre – Madison, Wisconsin – Rapp and Rapp Architects

My obsession with Cornelieus Ward Rapp and George Leslie Rapp, Rapp and Rapp Architects, theatres (I spell it that way here because they did) began when we visited the Al Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, Wisconsin decades ago. I’ll eventually get to that one on Mrs. Charles too but today’s post belongs to the Capitol Theatre on State St. in Madison, Wisconsin. This is my “home theatre.” I live mere blocks from it. We’ve had a lot of great times in this theater, seeing a lot of great modern shows in this beautiful, historic space. You have no idea how grateful I am that the public stood up and screamed to stop its demolition in the 90s. Movies, concerts and plays are all a part of the Capitol Theatre’s schedule today, exactly as they were when it first opened in 1918. Believe me, we take full advantage of what this place offers today. As a classic movie fan and a Rapp and Rapp Architects fanatic who loves her city, the Capitol Theatre in Madison means so much me. It’s a special place.

I love being inside a Rapp Brothers-designed movie palace like this, not just because it’s an old movie theatre, but because just knowing the Rapp Brothers’ design philosophy behind each one of these places makes them that much more special:

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. – Rapp and Rapp Architects design philosophy

State Street, Madison, Wisconsin. The Capitol and Orpheum theatres, two Rapp and Rapp theatres, across the street from each other in downtown Madison. Yes, they’re both still there.

Rapp and Rapp Architects designed the Capitol Theatre in 1917-18 for vaudeville, silent movies and musical performances. At the time, it was a 20th Century Fox “house.” Rapp and Rapp had already been designing theatres for a few years by now, and were creating “opulent palaces” that lived up to their philosophy. In 1926, the Rapp brothers also designed the Orpheum Theatre that was built right across the street from the Capitol Theatre.

Photographs from the original construction in 1917 and 18 are scarce (let me know if you know where to find some, please!) There were, however, photographs from the 1920s renovations when the Capitol Theatre became an RKO “house:”

Capitol Theatre renovations, July 2, 1927. Photo by Angus McVicar via the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Capitol Theatre Remodeling. Photo by Angus McVicar via the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Capitol Theatre Remodeling, 1927. Photo by Angus McVicar via the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Capitol Theater ad for opening night from The Capital Times.

The Capitol Theatre’s opening night in 1918 attracted over 6,000 patrons to see Colleen Moore and Larry Kent. star in Her Wild Oat, (1927), for First National Pictures

Colleen Moore and Larry Kent publicity photograph for Her Wild Oat

In Her Wild Oat, Mary Lou Smith (Moore) owns a food wagon when she decides to take a well-earned vacation where the rich and famous gather for fun. The other guests at this beach retreat are rude and mean to her, so her reporter friend (Kent) decides to help with matters.

Have you seen it?

Interior view of the Capitol Theatre balcony in the auditorium,   Madison, Wisconsin, January 23, 1928. (Photo by Angus B. McVicar/Wisconsin Historical Society/Getty Images)
Photo by Angus McVicar via the Wisconsin Historical Society collection.
Photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society collection.
Photo by Angus McIvar from the Wisconsin Historical Society collection.

The theatre always offered movies and shows…

Evan Hughes, doorman at the Capitol Theatre, May 17, 1945. Photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society collection.

…with a full staff of doormen and ushers to take you to your seat at every performance. Yep, they still do.

Over the years the theatre thrived.

In 1980, it underwent another round of renovations when it became part of the Madison Civic Center, which also included the Oscar Mayer Theater.

In the late 1990s when the new Overture Center was being designed, the Capitol Theatre was slated for demoltion. The public outcry stopped it from happening. Thank goodness.

The first movie I saw at the Capitol Theatre was Grandma’s Boy, 1927, starring Harold Lloyd. It marked the first time I saw a silent film on the big screen. Talk about fun. The theatre was full of people laughing out loud at every joke in the movie and simply having fun. I remember feeling a sense of relief that day. And like I had finally found my tribe, as they say. This was heaven for me!

The Capitol Theatre today.

In the late 1990s, the Overture Foundation was founded and plans began for a new performing arts center. In 2004, renovations began to incorporate the Capitol Theatre into the new Overture Center for the Arts. While the original marquee is gone…

…the interior is restored and as opulent as ever. I like to think Rapp and Rapp would be pleased. In addition to other shows there, we go back for several Duck Soup Cinema showings every year. There’s usually three or four shows a year that have vaudeville acts first, the door prizes, then a full-length silent movie.

Just like those original silent movies, the Duck Soup Cinema movies are accompanied by an organist on the fully restored Grand Barton Organ which was originally built by the Barton Musical Instrument Company in Oshkosh.

When we go, for whatever show, I catch myself staring at everything around me. It’s dazzling. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that by being in this space, that  I am connected to those early theatre days Rapp and Rapp wanted us all to experience. It’s an awe-inspiring and humbling experience all at the same time.

My view for Duck Soup Cinema.

In addition to the silent movies I’ve been introduced to here, we’ve seen comedians, plays and concerts here several times a year. I can’t help but be happy and excited to have the Capitol Theatre so close. I hope it opens again one of these days, because I can’t wait to get back. I miss it so much.

Do you have a historic theatre you love to visit? Which one? What do you see there?

Sources:

Wisconsin Historical Society
Madison’s Lost Theaters – The Isthmus
Al Ringling Theater
Overture Center for the Arts
Rapp and Rapp by Charles Ward Rapp

Four New To Me Classic Movies This Week

I have to admit, it hasn’t been a great week for new to me classic movies…help me out here…

Brewster’s Millions, 1945

Monty’s (Dennis O’Keefe) long lost uncle has left him a lot of money in his will. The catch is that he has to spend $1,000,000 in sixty days so he can inherit the $7,000,000 his uncle has left him. Oh, and the will dictates that he can’t give any gifts, support any charities and he has to keep the whole thing to himself.  The uncle’s purpose with the rules is to make sure his nephew gets sick of spending money so that he will always be responsible with the money he’s giving him. It’s an interesting plot to me. Of all the new to me movies I’ve seen this week, Brewster’s Millions was my favorite. It’s a lot of fun and full of clever ways to spend a lot of money. The 1945 film is roughly based on the 1914 version. I haven’t seen that, Have you? I need to see the 1985 version of Brewster’s Millions stars Richard Pryor and John Candy. Have you seen it? Did you like it?

All Through The Night, 1942

The plot – gamblers run amok and discover a cell of Nazis in New York and decide to take them on – is a bit far-fetched for me but the cast is worth the time. Humphrey Bogart, Frank McHugh, Kaaren Verne, Jackie Gleason, William Demarest, Peter Lorre, Phil Silvers, among others, make this movie fun, even if the plot wasn’t completely convincing to me.  Frank McHugh, as usual, just makes me happy. He makes me want to watch this again. His character, which is a version of all the other characters he’s ever played, is such a lovable, clever, funny guy that I can’t help but smile every time I see him. On a side note, McHugh has made five movies with Bogart. That’s a combination I need more of. Here’s the other four: Bullets or Ballots-1936, Swing Your Lady-1938, The Roaring Twenties-1939, Virginia City-1940. I’m feeling a Frank McHugh marathon coming on….

The Italian Job, 1969

I know I’m supposed to love this movie but I didn’t. Michael Caine is often a pleasure to watch, but even he couldn’t make this better for me. It’s supposed to be a comedy about a gang of criminals that try to steal gold by creating a traffic jam. Interesting, but I didn’t laugh as much as I expected when I saw this billed as a comedy. I did, however, admire all the Mini Coopers and amazing driving in this! Wow! The Coopers were driving on roofs, in tunnels and up stairs. I can’t imagine the effort put into the stunt driving here. Do I need to watch this again? What did I miss? I really want to like this. I LOVED the 2003 remake starring Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron….

Tony Rome, 1967

No. Just no.

I know, I know.  This one was my least favorite this week. A disappointment, because I wanted to love it. Frank Sinatra is a favorite of mine. Usually. This reminds me of an old Humphrey Bogart detective movie. Except that the Bogart plot is forced on us with a terrible script and bad acting. Even Frank Sinatra’s performance felt forced. I’d much rather spend time with Frank in The Manchurian Candidate, 1962 or Suddenly, 1954.

What made you happy to watch this week? Feel free to let me know what you thought of these movies. Please. I’m still disappointed in Tony Rome…

I hope you’re all safe and well….
xoxo, Sarah

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?