Desk Set, 1957

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, it’s a romantic comedy.

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


…or the fabulous mid-century styles and design…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Standing There Is A Man With Movie Star Eyes

“Standing there is a man with movie star eyes,” is a line from the song Dreamtime from the album Three Hearts In the Happy Ending Machine (1986) by Daryl Hall. I’ve been happy to have it parked in my head for months. As far as I’m concerned, it can stay there forever because it’s a catchy, up-tempo song and that lyric constantly reminds me of these guys:

William Powell
Tony Curtis
Gary Cooper
Frank Sinatra
George Raft
Paul Newman
Tyrone Power
Cary Grant
James Stewart

These are photographs I’ve saved over the years and have no idea where I got them. I wish I had that information now. If you know more about any of them, please let me know!

I have some stunning eyes from our favorite classic actresses too.  (I’m looking your way Bette). I’ll round those up too one of these days…

Who has your favorite movie star eyes?

Who Was That Lady? 1960

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uh huh.

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

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

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

The Google Sisters (Barbara Nichols and Joi Lansing)

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

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

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

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

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

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.

New To Me This Week, The Petrified Forest, 1936

The Petrified Forest, 1936
Directed by Archie Mayo for Warner Brothers
Based on the play by Robert E. Sherwood
Starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart

“I had to come all this way to find a reason,” – Alan Squier (Leslie Howard)

I know, I know. I’m ashamed. Embarrassed. Disgusted with myself that I never saw this movie until last week. I am a failure at classic movies. I must do better! BUT, I found it this week and I can sincerely say The Petrified Forest has leapt to the top of my list of my all-time favorite movies. It’s a special movie and I love it.

Leslie Howard and Bette Davis

I’ve never loved Bette Davis more. Honestly, I’ve never really loved Bette at all, which is probably one of the reasons this movie hasn’t been viewed by me until now. Again. Embarrassing! Pathetic! Bette Davis’s performance in The Petrified Forest has me rethinking my avoidance of her movies. She’s remarkable here as Gabrielle, (Gabby), Maple, the daughter of Jason Maple (Porter Hall), the owner of the diner where the entire movie takes place.  I simply adore her. Gabby is a sweetheart with big dreams and fantasies about going to Paris to find herself. She is so consumed by these dreams that we catch her planning for Gramps (Charley Grapewin) to pass on so she and her father can sell the diner and get her the money she needs to finally go to France. Ok, so not exactly a sweetheart here. The point is she’s is desperate to leave the desert with no real way out.

Leslie Howard as Alan Squier

Alan Squier (Howard) is an intellectual realist that carries the weight of the meaning of the movie on his shoulders. It’s in good hands. (Leslie Howard is just flat out perfect for this role). Alan has hitchhiked his way across the desert after a failed marriage and no career prospects…”looking for something.” He stops at the diner to eat, even though he has no money. He and Gabby immediately ignite sparks. His poetic language melts Gabby.

“What are you looking for?” Gabby asks.

“I don’t know. I suppose I was looking for something to believe in. Worth living for. Worth dying for, “Alan replies.

It doesn’t take long for Gabby to see him as an escape from the life she so desperately wants to put behind her. She’s never met anyone like him and somehow sees a future for the two of them, even though he hints that he’s ready to die. He’s the first person to ever listen to her dreams seriously.

“I know there’s something in you. I’m trying to figure out what it is,” Alan says.

“There’s something in me that wants something different (than the desert). Maybe it’s the French in my blood. You know, sometimes I feel like I was sparkling all over and I want to go out and do something absolutely crazy and marvelous. Then the American part of me speaks up and spoils everything. Then I go back to work and figure out my dull accounts,” Gabby replies.

She’s down, but hopeful, while Alan is depressed with every aspect of his life. It prevents him from mustering the energy to start a relationship with Gabby, though he’d like to. Instead, he heads out the door and back to his journey west. Gabby hitches a ride for him with the Chisolms (Paul Harvey and Genevieve Tobin), customers and the diner, and their chauffeur. She wanted to go with him, but she expected him to go without her. She knew she was tuck in the desert and Alan was just one more chance to change her life and get out of it. Like her other dreams, it wasn’t going to get a chance to work out. It’s clear that she’s used to disappointments like this.

We’re introduced to Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) not long after Alan and the Chisolms leave the diner. And I mean, yikes! Duke is a guy that’s mad as hell and clearly has some deep problems himself. Duke and his gang are accused of several murders and the law is after them. They’re dangerous and on the lam. Not good. When Duke’s car breaks down on the highway, he and his gang points their guns at the Chishom car when it passes them and forces them out of it so he and his gang can steal it. They quickly head in the direction of the diner. Alan realizes he needs to get back to warn everyone.

Gabby, Mantee’s Tough Guy, Boze, Alan as diner hostages.

Mantee holds them all hostage until his mysterious Doris finds them and helps them escape. The movie starts to feel a lot like Key Largo here and that’s just fine with me. This is where the conversations about their places in life begin. Everyone is conversing with everyone else and it’s intriguing to witness where they think they all stand, and ultimately where that way of thinking has taken them in life.

Humphrey Bogart in his break-out movie role as Duke Mantee.

As Mantee sits around and broods a lot, presumably because he hasn’t heard from Doris (whom we never see). Alan thinks out loud about every human condition evident in the room and beyond. A lot of human psychology is processed and the meaning of idealism is explored in depth. It made me think. It inspired me. It all comes together in a dramatic ending. One of two endings that were shot, but this is the ending Howard wanted, and even had written into his contract to make sure he got it.

The Petrified Forest is based on a Broadway play by Robert E. Sherwood. Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart both starred in the play in the same roles they play here. When it came time to cast the movie, Leslie Howard demanded Bogart be cast too. At that point, Bogie hadn’t made his break in movies yet, so this was a big deal to him. The studio gave Bogart the part at Howard’s request and it turned out to be his break-out role. He and wife Lauren Bacall thanked Leslie Howard later by naming their daughter Leslie after him.

I never spill spoilers and I won’t do it here either, even though I’m probably the last person in classic movie fandom to see this one. I really could go on and on about this movie, but I won’t. Discovering it was a happy surprise to me and it was pure joy to watch. I’m especially pleased to have found a role I like Bette Davis in. I always knew I was supposed to like her and admire her talent, but she just wasn’t an actress that drew me to movies like Myrna or Katharine. This movie has changed that and I will seek her movies out for more “new to me” classic films to watch.

“I had to come all this way to find a reason.”

The Petrified Forest Movie Poster

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.

 

 

Boeing, Boeing – 1965 Comedy

Boeing, Boeing, 1965, directed by John Rich and produced by Hal B. Wallis (True Grit) for Paramount Pictures.

Boeing, Boeing is a comedy starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis.

It’s about an American journalist in Paris that has convinced himself that it’s okay to secretly manage three fiancées, who are stewardesses with three different airlines, in one apartment. He’s a very content and happy guy.

Tony Curtis plays the journalist Bernard Lawrence. His maid, Bertha, is played by Thelma Ritter

…and in typical Thelma Ritter fashion, she steals the movie with perfectly-placed one-liners. I haven’t laughed out loud this much during a movie in a long time and it’s largely because of her.

“I’ll talk to you later,” Bernard says as he runs out the door to pick up one of the fiancées.

“That’ll be a thrill,” a worn-out Bertha replies.

This banter runs throughout the movie and makes the entire hour and 42 minutes worth it.

Bernard is engaged to Vicky (Susanna Leigh), who works for British United Airways, Lisa (Christiane Schmidtmer) who works for Lufthansa and Jacqueline (Dany Laval) who works for Air France. They all unknowingly share the same apartment with Bernard, who manages to pull this whole thing off only because they all have different flight schedules. Ok, yes that, but mostly because of a well-organized Bertha.

Bertha makes sure everything is in its place for each girl and she’s clearly tired from it. She changes the clothes in the dresser to make sure they’re the ones that belong to the girl that’s visiting next. She makes sure the soap in the bathroom is the right one for that girl and even changes the pictures in the frames to match each girl’s visit. She’s responsible for making them the food they like (of course they’re all different). She’s exhausted and driven to snippy remarks that make the whole movie. Thank God she can keep a sense of humor about it all.

“Which one is it?,” Bernard whispers as Bertha answers the phone for him. “Fraulein D Cup,” she wearily replies.

And then Bernard’s American friend Robert (Jerry Lewis) comes for a visit. I have to admit that this is the first Jerry Lewis movie I’ve ever watched to the end. I know! I’ve just never been drawn to his trademark craziness. But he’s more controlled here than I’ve ever seen him. It’s Tony Curtis who plays the chaotic basket case here. I enjoyed seeing Jerry Lewis in this role.

Robert can hardly believe what he sees Bernard is pulling off and even starts helping him manipulate all the fiancées. It eventually dawns on him that he, too, could have this same set up. He just needs Bernard’s apartment….and Bertha.

It’s when the Boeing company introduces the new DC-10 that things start to unravel.

The DC-10 is a much faster airplane the three girls are used to working on, and it makes a mess of Bernard’s schedule. Turn up the chaos! It’s no longer enjoyable for anyone and the situation disintegrates before our eyes.

Spoiler alert:

In the end, all three girls find out about each other, but until then the chaos Bernard has created in his Paris apartment is laugh-out-loud funny. Near the end, things feel a little bit off in the plot department, but Thelma Ritter rescues it with another funny line and all is forgotten. The movie isn’t. I’ve been thinking about it since I watched it and it makes me feel good. I’ll watch it again and again. Tony Curtis is worth it, Jerry Lewis gives a great performance….but it’s Thelma Ritter that makes all the chaos a pleasure to spend time with.

In A Lonely Place – Based on the Book By Dorothy B. Hughes

TCM | Amazon

The movie In A Lonely Place, from 1950, stars Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. It was directed by Nicholas Ray for Santana Productions, Humphrey Bogart’s own company, and Columbia pictures.  It’s worth noting that Ray was married to Gloria Grahame when shooting started, but on the way to divorce when it ended. That seemed to have played a role in the adaptation from book to movie.

The movie is based on the book of the same name, by Dorothy B. Hughes….

IndieBound | Amazon

….which was originally published in 1947.

Both the film and book are noir; they both have a serial killer plot, a flawed male, a femme fatale and paranoia. Boy, is there a lot of paranoia. The movie leans more toward a love story, with some suspense elements, while the book is a flat out hard-boiled crime drama.  The characters are the same: Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart), Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy) and Sylvia Nicolai (Jeff Donnell), etc. and the plots are similar, but the endings are completely different.

Aaaaand that’s all I’m saying about that! I hate spoilers, and I’d hate to ruin either the book or the movie with one because both are worth spending time with.

In the book, we learn right away that Dix Steele is a veteran World War II fighter pilot that ends up in Los Angeles. In both the book and the movie, it’s obvious that Dix can’t recapture the feeling of power and exhilaration the war gave him. The frustration over this rules his life. It’s resulted in a pile of insecurities and a huge inferiority complex that he uses alcohol and anger to deal with.  In noir fashion, Dix is convinced that the “system” is against him. That goes for everyone; employers, friends, bartenders, bus drivers and especially women. He just can’t deal with the lack of respect, power and adrenaline taken from him when “the war crashed to an end.” Anger drives everything he does and he can’t control it.

“Without his uniform, he’s without purpose and dangerous.”  – Megan Abbott, Afterword of In A Lonely Place

Dix’s life after the war consists of one angry decision after another and a whole lot of alcohol. It’s sad to watch, thanks to what I think is one of Humphrey Bogart’s best performances in his career, and I’ve enjoyed almost all of them.

Laurel Gray meets Dix in the apartment building they both live in. (On a side note, this Spanish-style apartment building is amazing). One night, Laurel is questioned by the police about Dix’s whereabouts when a girl that had visited his apartment the night she was murdered. It didn’t scare her, in fact it made him more interesting to her, and “likes his face.” It’s obvious Laurel has had experience with broken men like Dix. While she’s skeptical of him at first, she’s sure she can save him. And then she falls in love with him.

Dix realizes after being in Los Angeles for a few months, that his best buddy from the war, Brub Nicolai also lives in there. Dix hopes seeing him might help bring those old feelings of exhilaration from the war back, so he calls him and sets up a visit. What he finds is a very happily married Brub who has settled nicely into his new life since the war. Of course, Dix is jealous. Dix calls the war, “the best years of my life.” Brub says they were his worst. Oh, and Brub just happens to be the detective that’s investigating the murders of young girls that’s terrorizing the city.

After being let down by Brub’s way of life and lack of love for the war, Dix turns his attention to Laurel. He tries desperately to recreate Brub’s life for himself with Laurel. For a while, we all believe he can do it.

“I was born when you kissed me, I died when you left me. I lived a few weeks while you loved me.” – he tells her.

We follow Dix through loneliness and excruciating anger. The contrast between Dix and Brub’s lives is stark evidence of the self-hatred that Dix has developed since the war and the consequences that occur because of it. He knows he can never be satisfied with a life like Brub’s, even though he so desperately wants to be. It wouldn’t be enough. Dix flirts with getting caught throughout the story, even that exhilaration would work, but it seems he catches his out of control behavior just in time, every time.

The story is a sad one. Bogart, as usual, is perfect and Grahame is convincing, as usual, as a smart and beautiful femme fatale.  Both the movie and the book give us an interesting psychological profile that can easily consume us.

The book and movie give us a different ending and both are fantastic.

Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew – Book Review

Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew
by John Oller
Limelight Editions
August 1, 2004, 358 pages

Amazon

I first read this book back when it was released and have recently read it again for the third time, because I love Jean Arthur. More The Merrier (1943), The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) and Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936) have always been some of my favorite classic movies. You Can’t Take It With You (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939)  and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939) are favorites too. Jean would star in 89 movies  and several theater productions during her career.

Oh, how she loved to act.

“when I’m in front of the camera, I lose my identity, my timidity,” Jean Arthur

Jean Arthur was born Gladys Georgianna Greene on October 17, 1900 in Plattsburgh, New York. She would be the youngest child in a family that already had three boys. The family was Lutheran, of Norwegian and English descent and of modest means. Before Gladys was born, the family had settled and resettled across the country and back again, chasing jobs for Hubert Greene (her father). Gladys was born October 17, 1900. She didn’t have much education until high school, but dropped out of that too so she could help the family financially. It was while she was working as a model in New York that the Fox studio “discovered” her in a commercial. In 1923 Gladys officially changed her name to Jean Arthur, based on the name of her hero, the French Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) and King Arthur and began a decades-long acting career. Jean Arthur made her first film with Fox in a 1923 silent film called Cameo Kirby, directed by John Ford.

There would be 88 more movies plus theater productions to come.

“I guess I became an actress because I didn’t want to be myself,” Jean Arthur.

In 1928 Jean filed her first “sound” movie, Warming Up.  It was billed as Paramount’s first sound (not talkie) film. By all critical accounts, it wasn’t good, but Jean Arthur stood out and was given a three-year-contract at $150 per week.  During the same year, she made her first “talkie,” The Canary Murder Case, with William Powell. In 1929, she did The Green Murder Case, again with William Powell. In 1930, a David Selznick movie, Street of Chance, also with William Powell. People were taking notice.

This book includes a lot of information about Arthur’s genealogy, family as well as her acting history. She was married just twice, once for only a day and had no children. There are interesting stories here from the many movies and theater productions. But it’s the background of her life that intrigues me and is so well-researched here. Her childhood plays a big part in the behavior that so many called “difficult.” Oller takes great care and patience in describing it. It really hit home for me. I didn’t know anything about Jean’s life before I read this book, but it has provided layers of sympathy and empathy for her that weren’t there before I did.  As one that was also raised a Lutheran, and of Norwegian and English descent, I could relate to a lot of the stories about family turmoil here. In a strange way, it did me good to see this might be a pattern among us Protestants? Maybe not, but it sure made me feel less alone.

When I read Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew, so many things fell into place for me. The more I read, the more my neck hurt from shaking my head “yes.” I believe that the insecurity and nervous anxiousness borne of her childhood caused the behavior that brought so many of the “she’s difficult” comments over the years.  Yes, she had outbursts and seemingly unexplained tantrums and disappearances, but anxiety attacks, insecurity and a massive inferiority complex can do this to a person! Jean was afraid. She was lonely. She wanted to be accepted and loved. Period. Thanks to the way she was brought up she was always afraid that by just being herself that that could not happen.

I truly believe after reading this, the inferiority complex and crippling insecurity that caused this “difficult” behavior came from always seeing the world differently than everyone else. I admire her strength for pushing through it anyway, honoring herself and becoming successful despite it all. That’s inspiring. Her determination in fighting it brought her success in one of the ways she could escape it all, acting. Jean also immersed herself in intellectual inspiration. She loved nature and animals. There’s more than one story in the book about her finding peace in these things. She took comfort in her garden and any animal she crossed paths with.

Even on the movie sets she believed:

“animals are the world’s most trustworthy inhabitants. There’s no chips on their shoulders, they’re never mad at you and they never misunderstand you.”—-Jean Arthur.

Amen.

The book is filled with quotes that give the reader real insight to how Jean thought and how she lived.  Again, inspiring.

In 1936, with several movies under her belt, Frank Capra hired her for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.  It was the beginning of international stardom. Capra would hire her again for You Can’t Take it With You” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. 

“Never have I seen a performer plagued with such a chronic case of state jitters,” Capra wrote in his autobiography. “She was my favorite actress,” he admitted.

Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm was published in 1941 and became important to Arthur. The book won international acclaim and seemed to hit a chord with Jean, who was a noted non-conformist.

“Compulsive conforming,” Fromm wrote,” is when the individual ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patter….and becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to be. That person gives up his individual self and becomes an automation, identical with millions of other automatons around him, he need not feel alone and anxious anymore. But the price he pays is high; it is the loss of his self.”

It’s easy to see how Fromm’s deductions validated the way Jean was leading her life. She ended up studying with him and being the subject of his analysis which she later described as:

“the finest experience I ever had–the most constructive, in fact the only thing that makes sense…The greatest thing he did for me was teach me to laugh at myself,” Jean Arthur.

She was fighting her way through the insecurity and inferiority complex, she was finding ways to cope. Fromm’s writings could not completely help her explain what was wrong with her though. That came from Karen Horney, a colleague of Fromm’s.

“Horney’s essential theses was that all neuroses derive from the ‘basic anxiety’ of childhood, and the child’s attempts to cope with conflicting feelings of helplessness, fear and hostility generated out of uncaring or inadequate parenting. As a means of resolving these conflicts the child adopts various character strategies, or ‘neurotic trends.’ She described these as falling into one of three principal categoies: moving ‘towards,’ ‘against,’ or ‘away from’ people.”

Arthur fit into the third category – she moved away from people.

“Detached individuals avoid conformity for fear of becoming submerged in the amorphous mass of human beings. They crave privacy and prefer the pursuit of impersonal endeavors in the sphere of books, animals, art or nature….If the detached person is thrown into close contact with other, ‘he may readily go to pieces or to use the popular term, have a nervous breakdown.’ ” read Horney’s thesis.

Seems to me we’ve come across the reason for that “behavior” she’s known for.

While Arthur loved comedies and was well-known for “screwball” comedies like The Talk of the Town” she had a longing to be taken more seriously with dramatic roles. Eventually, she admitted that comedy is what she knew and did the best. I agree. Over the years there would be stage roles like her coveted Peter Pan and Joan of Arc roles, that would fill in the spots between movies and her fights with directors and studio heads. There were teaching positions and mentorships. There was even a short-lived TV show, thanks to inspiration from Lucille Ball, called The Jean Arthur Show in 1966She retired from all performing in 1973.

Despite it all, blockbusters were her specialty. She was an A-list actress that had found international acclaim. Though she suffered a great deal from anxiety and insecurity, Arthur turned to her books, nature and animals for solace. She was interested in the connection between mind and body and read a great deal about it an other intellectual subjects that kept her mind working on a level that gave her peace.

Author John Oller spends a great deal of this book describing all the ways Ms. Arthur’s timidity wreaked havoc on various movie and theater productions. I’ve seen many comments about her behavior over the years, but I’ve never seen such great care taken in trying to explain it. To get to know and understand the real Jean Arthur you have to, and Oller introduces us to her. None of her acting roles revealed any of these truths. After reading this book, I feel like I can know at least a little piece of the real Jean Arthur and that’s inspiring.

Jean Arthur died on June 19, 1991 at her home in Carmel, California.

 

The Hats of Nora Charles

Speaking of The Thin Man….we were, right?

I’ve always been attracted to Nora Charles’s hats. As near as I can tell, she had 15 different hats throughout the entire Thin Man series, with a few extra thrown in for promotional items like lobby cards and movie posters. They were all fabulous, um, in there own way. Nora (Myrna Loy) had a new hat or two for every one of the six movies. And some, like Shadow of the Thin Man, had five.

They were all a lesson in 20th century hat style:

The Thin Man, 1934

Nora (Myrna Loy), Nick (William Powell) and Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O’Sullivan)

Nora was so stylish in this plaid beret. It had a matching scarf AND skirt.

I’m not so crazy about what they did with the color of it for the lobby card however.

After Thin Man, 1936

Arriving home to San Francisco after that exhausting caper in The Thin Man!

For some reason, this one always reminded me of one of those terra cotta planters. But, she wears it well. Of course!

Another The Thin Man, 1939

Ready for a relaxing weekend in the country with a fantastic hat!

Left to right: Patric Knowles, Virginia Grey, C. Aubrey Smith, Tom Neal, Myrna Loy and William Powell.

The hat STILL plays well, even among all these movie stars.

Shadow of the Thin Man, 1941

The hat doesn’t help him get out of the speeding ticket, but it still looks good.

And, my all-time favorite Nora Charles hat: The Screwy Hat.

It’s the only time in The Thin Man series that a hat has it’s own part.

Three characters in this movie have a comment for this hat as Mrs. Charles wears it through the night. All of them used the word “screwy” to describe it and it’s hilarious.

Nora’s final straw with the “screwy hat”:

Security Guard at the arena at the end of a long night at the fights: “That’s quite a hat isn’t it Mrs. Charles? Where did you get a hat like that?” he says, laughing.

Nora: “Do you like it?”

Security Guard, still laughing: “You bet, screwy isn’t it?”

Nora: “You can have it,” she says as she throws it at him.”

I love the lobby card that shows it in blue!

Yep, Shadow of The Thin Man has the most….

…and best, hats.

 

Well, it’s more of a headband with a ribbon than a hat but I’m counting it. Only Nora could make this work. Obviously.

The Thin Man Goes Home, 1944

I know I said the “screwy hat” of Shadow of the Thin Man was my favorite, but this derby is a close second. There was at least one more hat Nora  wore in The Thin Man Goes Home, but I couldn’t find a good picture of it. If you have one, I’d love a copy for my collection!

Song of The Thin Man, 1947

Perfect

Nora had quite the style didn’t she?

What’s your favorite?