Four New To Me Classic Movies This week

Viva Las Vegas, 1964

Viva Las Vegas. Directed by George Sydney for MGM in 1964.

The pandemic has me doing things I wouldn’t normally do. Like watch Elvis movies. I’m surprised that, so far, I’ve enjoyed what simple fun they can be when I give them my undivided attention.

Viva Las Vegas opens with us being introduced to race car driver, Lucky Jackson (Elvis Presley) at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Seems he’s trying to qualify for the Las Vegas Grand Prix there, but he needs a new engine in his car to do it. I assumed that would be the plot. Wrong! We lose sight of that story line pretty early in the movie. Too bad, it might have been interesting. Lucky does spend the rest of the movie at jobs that are supposed to pay him enough money to buy that engine, but it seems like no one really cares about that anymore. Writers and director anyway. Instead, the whole movie now focuses on Lucky’s relationship with Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret). It’s the typical boy gets girl, loses girl, gets girl back, plot. But, for me anyway, it’s filled with mid-century eye candy and stellar acting (just kidding, there’s no stellar acting), that I can’t stop watching. Even I’m surprised I enjoyed spending 85 minutes with Viva Las Vegas. The 1960’s Las Vegas style  that fills up my eyes in every single scene feels magical after three months of quarantine. The lights, decor, hotel swimming pools and dance floors, wardrobes, etc., etc……it’s all beautiful, colorful and pleasing. Elvis and Ann-Margret are beautiful too. I love that in some scenes they are the only two people onscreen dressed in yellow while all the others wear darker, drabber colors. I get it, they shine through this way, but they would have without it. They’re singing and dancing makes sure of that. If you like Elvis music, there’s a lot of it here. Ann-Margret’s dancing made the movie for me. Even though the plot was a yawn, and the script less than worthy, it was still a fun trip into 1960’s Las Vegas. And boy oh boy does it look like fun.

Elevator to the Gallows, 1958

Elevator to the Gallows. Directed by Louis Malle for Rialto Pictures

Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) is in love with his boss’s wife, Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau). Simon Carala (Jean Wall) is in their way of a life together, so they’ve concocted a plan to murder him, making it look like a suicide. Julien uses a grappling hook and rope to climb to the upper floor where Mr. Carala’s office is in the building they work in. No one saw him and he murdered his boss. It worked. Instead of using the grappling hook and rope to get back down to street level, he takes the elevator instead. As he’s getting into his car in front of the building, he notices that he forgot to take down the grappling hook and rope. So in a panic, he leaves the car running and rushes back in to take the elevator to go up and retrieve it. While he’s in the elevator, the superintendent of the building, who doesn’t notice him, shuts the power off to the building for the night.  Tavernier is stuck in the elevator and can’t escape. He realizes he left his car running in front of the building and fades into the reality of his situation. In the meantime, his car, along with his gun, is stolen.

We’re just getting started.

This is the best new movie I’ve seen this week. Honestly, it’s the best new to me classic movie I’ve seen in a while. Elevator to the Gallows is a French film that tells its story, in this case, with English subtitles. This unique suspenseful drama, coupled with terrific writing and acting, kept my mind busy from the first scene. I keep telling myself for some reason that good, light-hearted comedies are what the doctor ordered for me right now, but this movie proves that spending time with a riveting, engaging, dark, dramatic movie can be just as helpful. An escape is an escape, right? This movie is that and so much more. Bonus: the Miles Davis soundtrack is fantastic.

I loved this one!

The Doughgirls, 1944

The Doughgirls, 1944. Directed by James Kern for Warner Brothers.

I don’t care how many years it was on stage or how many laughs were on screen. With this cast, (and I sincerely I love them all!), I expected so much more. Like a plot.

I don’t even want to talk about it……

Fifth Avenue Girl, 1939

Fifth Avenue Girl, 1939 – Directed by Gregory LaCava for RKO

Fifth Avenue Girl is that light-hearted comedy I’m drawn to right now. It stars Ginger Rogers and Walter Connolly, and reminds me an awful lot of Easy Living, 1937, with Jean Arthur and Edward Arnold, (the other well-to-do businessman and father that shows up in so many late 1930s comedies).

In the opening scene of Fifth Avenue Girl, Millionaire Timothy Borden (Connolly) meets unemployed and hungry Mary Grey (Rogers) in a park. Borden is distraught. His business has problems, his wife, Martha (Verree Teasdale) is out with a playboy, his kids ignore him…and, it’s his birthday. He’s lonely and depressed and somehow convinces Mary to help him celebrate his birthday at a nightclub. The next morning, everyone’s surprised that Mary has slept in the guest room for the night. Timothy notices that this piques Martha’s interest in him again so he hires Mary to stay at the house as an employee so they can go out on the town every night to hopefully gain Martha’s affections again. Meanwhile, Mary, though not thrilled with the situation, has a positive effect on other members of the household too. But not before complications arise with various family members and love interest struggles. Of course, Mary gets caught in the middle of it all. It’s funny and fun to watch. Ginger Rogers as Mary is terrific. I still like Easy Living better, but this one will do too.

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

(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.

Nat Pendleton

Nathanial Greene Pendleton
August 9, 1895, Davenport, Iowa – October 12, 1967, San Diego, California

In my favorite, The Thin Man,  as Lieutenant John Guild…

…with Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nick and Nora Charles:

Nat Pendleton made over 100 movies in his career from the 1920s to the 1940s. Some I knew (Manhattan Melodrama), some I didn’t (Swing Your Lady) but I’ve recently re-watched everything I could find of his on Amazon and YouTube, along with some DVDs I had in my collection. It’s turned out to be a valuable, enjoyable lesson in the history of Hollywood films from the Golden Era and beyond. From pre-code to post-war, from silents to musicals, from the Marx Brothers to Dr. Kildare, Nat Pendleton’s career in the studio system took him through every major studio and many different genres.

I suppose I once took it for granted that Mr. Pendleton always played a version of the same character in every movie, a like-able, but not too bright policeman, gangster, assistant, etc. – he certainly played a lot of those. But, there were other roles too:

As the Mighty Goliath in At The Circus with the Marx Brothers. in 1939
As Sandow, with William Powell, in The Great Ziegfeld in 1936.

I point these two roles out because they’re a tiny nod, if only in costume, to Mr. Pendleton’s life before film…

…you see, he was a wrestler in Iowa.  A championship wrestler who won the silver medal at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

Deception was a significant movie for Pendleton because his wrestling experience helped him write it for Columbia Pictures. He also starred in it as wrestler Bucky O’Neill.  The 1932 film, also known as Cauliflower Alley, tells the story of an ex-football player turned wrestler. I’d love to find this one.

It was when he returned from Belgium that his Uncle Arthur (Johnson), a silent film actor, influenced him to become an actor in silent films too. His film career started with the 1924 silent, Hoosier Schoolmaster (if anyone has any idea where I can find this one, please let me know!) and went all the way to 1947 with his his last film, Scared to Death with Bela Lugosi. (I can verify that it was, indeed, scary).

I love spending time with Pendleton in these movies…

…like 1934’s The Defense Rests with Jean Arthur.  (It’s free to watch on YouTube!)…

…or 1940’s The Ghost Comes Home….

….or 1940’s Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case.

 

Hell-Fire Austin, also from 1932, was one of the films where Mr. Pendleton played a more significant role. Of all the films I’ve watched of his, this is the one in which he had the most screen time. I’m generally not a Western film lover, but I’ll watch this one again, just to see Nat Pendleton play Bouncer. It’s a perfect part for him. It’s less than an hour long, and it’s the oldest “buddy movie” I’ve ever seen. I loved it.

Rocky…Bouncer…Bucky…his character names are so fitting aren’t they?

So yes, it’s fair to say that Nat Pendleton played many rolls like Lt. Guild in the Thin Man, but it’s been more than worth it to explore the roles he played in his other films.  I’ve learned a lot about classic movies thanks to Mr. Pendleton: I saw my first Marx Brothers movie, I actually enjoyed a Western for the first time and I was introduced to a new-to-me series in Dr. Kildare.

I’m looking forward to some of the 80+ movies of his I haven’t watched yet!

Sources:
Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame
American Film Institute – AFI
Wikipedia
Amazon