Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Mayo’

My Classic Movie Pick: The Best Years of our Lives

My husband is a chemical engineer.  Logic-driven, analytical thinker, understands all math with ease.  He isn’t as knowledgeable about Classic Movies as I am, but he knows who James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Claude Rains are.  If he were to select a favorite classic film that he truly enjoys, he’d pick 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives.  Directed by William Wyler, it won Best Picture, Best Actor(Frederic March), Best Supporting Actor(Harold Russell), Best Director(Wyler) and Best Screenplay(Robert E. Sherman) at the 1947 Academy Awards.  The Best Years of Our Lives poster 1

The Best Years of Our Lives is about 3 returning WWII veterans, coming back to their lives in a mid-sized American city, coming back to their loved ones, their friends, and hopefully, to their former jobs or careers.  The oldest veteran in our trio is Army Sergeant Al Stephenson(March), a man with a loving wife, two kids, a nice home, and a nice job waiting for him at the bank.  The second veteran is Army Air Corps Captain Fred Derry(Dana Andrews), a former soda jerk for a large drugstore.  Fred has an elderly father, stepmother, and a vivacious wife.  It’s pretty clear that after we see Al’s homecoming and then Fred’s, that Fred lives on the poorer side of town.  The third veteran is sailor Homer Parrish(Russell) who will be coming home to his parents, younger siblings, and the neighbor girl next door, but due to a horrific war injury, he is coming home without his hands, just hooks that he has skillfully learned to use.  We see Homer’s unease and nervousness about seeing his family for the first time with the prosthetic hooks.

The three veterans meet

The three veterans meet

When the three veterans meet, it is evident they didn’t know one another prior to leaving for the War but now they become good friends through their shared experiences of having served their country, having given up part of their former lives in order to fight, and the commonality of trying to adjust to their former lives.  Each goes through a personal battle to regain a foothold in American post-war society.  Al is older, his kids grew up while he was away.  His daughter, Peggy(Teresa Wright) is a college student now and his son, Rob(Michael Hall) is in high school.  He feels distant from them and from his wife, Milly(the outstanding Myrna Loy).  He also has to deal with his wanting to use alcohol too much in  numbing his pain, and clashing at the bank with his boss, Mr. Milton(Ray Collins) over  attempts to ease up on loan regulations for returning veterans.

A neat scene, all is too quiet and Milly leaves the kitchen to see Al standing there!

A neat scene, all is too quiet and Milly leaves the kitchen to see Al standing there!

Al embracing Milly

Al embracing Milly

Al reunited with Milly, and their kids, Peggy and Rob

Al reunited with Milly, and their kids, Peggy and Rob

Fred is warmly greeted by his father, Pat(Roman Bohnen) and his stepmother Hortense(Gladys George), but he notices that his wife, Marie(Virginia Mayo) is not at his father’s house to also greet him.  Pat informs his son that Marie moved out some time ago, that she decided to get her own place.  This news surprises and bothers Fred, as Marie never wrote him about her decision.  He gets the address for Marie’s new place and goes there to greet her, but she isn’t home. Through the course of the movie, we learn that Marie is quite the club hopping gal, that she isn’t happy with Fred’s job as a soda jerk as she wants him to earn more money, and Fred begins to have doubts about his quick, war-time marriage to Marie.

Fred's dad, Pat, and stepmom, Hortense

Fred’s dad, Pat, and stepmom, Hortense

At first, Marie is glad Fred is home

At first, Marie is glad Fred is home

Fred and Marie about to have one of their many arguments

Fred and Marie about to have one of their many arguments

Homer arrives at his home and his family eagerly rushes out the front door to greet him.  The neighbor girl, Wilma(Cathy O’Donnell) and her family are also there to greet Homer.  All are uneasy when they see Homer’s hooks, and his mother breaks down despite trying not to.  After unloading his gear in his boyhood bedroom, Homer decides he needs to get away for a bit and he heads down to his cousin Butch’s (Hoagy Carmichael) bar.  When he arrives, he meets Fred again, who has gone there to mull about he and Marie’s poor marriage.  Pretty soon, they are joined by Al, Milly, and Peggy.  The 5 of them have an enjoyable evening.  Homer catches a cab ride home.  Al and Milly offer to drive Fred over to Marie’s new place, but when Fred passes out due to too much alcohol, the 3 Stephenson’s decide to let him sleep it off in their guest bedroom.  During the night, Fred has a very bad dream and Peggy rushes to his side to help him.  It is then that Peggy and Fred start to develop feelings for one another, but both are cautious due to Fred being a married man.

Homer greeting his family and friends

Homer’s family uneasy about his prosthetic hooks

Explaining how the hooks work to Wilma

Explaining how the hooks work to Wilma

Everyone at Butch's Bar

Everyone at Butch’s Bar

 

As the movie advances from Butch’s Bar, the three veterans have their own personal mountains to overcome.  Peggy decides to inform her parents how she feels about Fred despite he being in a bad marriage.  Her parents try to counsel her that she really cannot know how a marriage really is between two other people and that she should give Fred space to work this out on his own.  Fred needs to decide what he wants to do career -wise, and what to do about Marie.  Homer needs to realize that Wilma loves him, whole-bodied or not.

Hoagy Carmichael doing what he did best!

Hoagy Carmichael doing what he did best!

Peggy listening to her parents advice about Fred

Peggy listening to her parents advice about Fred

The Wedding-very emotional scene!

The Wedding-very emotional scene!

The Best Years of Our Lives will be airing on Turner Classic Movies on Sept. 30th at 1:30 am(EST)/ 12:30 am(CST) so set that dvr machine!  It is also available to view via Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/The-Best-Years-Our-Lives/dp/0792846133 to either buy or see it on their instant viewing, it is available to rent through Netflix http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Best_Years_of_Our_Lives/299970?locale=en-US,  and many clips of famous scenes are up on Youtube.  For an evening in the company of a very true to life tale of returning veterans, don’t miss seeing The Best Years of Our Lives!

One interesting  side note, Harold Russell was not a professional actor.  He was in the US Army during WWII and lost his hands during a training exercise at Camp Mackell, in North Carolina.  A defective fuse detonated on an explosive he was handling, and that is how he lost his hands.  After his recovery and rehabilitation, he was a student at Boston University and had appeared in a film made by the US Army, called Diary of a Sergeant, about the rehabilitation of injured soldiers.  Director William Wyler happened to see that film and cast Russell to play the part of Homer.

My Classic Movie Pick: White Heat

1949 and James Cagney’s independent movie production company wasn’t faring so well.  Warner Brothers came calling, and he agreed to let them help produce and distribute a movie that they had the rights for and wanted him to star in, White Heat, a film noir and one of my favorites of this kind of film: gangsters, criminals, cops, untrustworthy women, and justice for all at the end.White Heat

Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, a criminal leader of a gang.  Cody is married to Verna( Virginia Mayo), his gorgeous and  younger wife.  Also in Cody’s life is his  Ma( Margaret Wycherly).  She is the most important person in Cody’s life, the one woman he always turns to when he has problems as she can usually come up with good solutions.  She is fully supportive of her son’s criminal ways, and when he is hit with those terrible headaches, only Ma can help him through them.

Verna not too happy that Ma Jarrett is a part of her married life to Cody.

Verna not too happy that Ma Jarrett is a part of her married life to Cody.

Ma Jarrett helping Cody as one of those headaches comes on him.

Ma Jarrett helping Cody as one of those headaches comes on him.

Cody and his gang, living in California,  rob a train, killing the engineer and 3 other railroad employees.   The police eventually close in and track Cody and his gang.  Cody wounds Philip Evans(John Archer) a US  Treasury agent  on the chase to bring down Cody Jarrett.   Cody is tricky and smart, despite his ruthless ways and his psychotic antics, and he knows that an acquaintance has committed a robbery in Chicago  the same day as the train robbery in California.  Cody is able to use the robbery in Chicago as his alibi, claiming he did that crime.  He pleads guilty to that crime and gets 1-3 years in an Illinois state  prison.   Evans knows Cody is lying, so he sends in federal agent Hank Fallon(Edmund O’Brien) to pretend to be a criminal newly arriving at the prison and to be Cody’s cellmate.  Fallon is  to try and find out who the “fence” is on the outside, who is Cody sending money to for Ma and Verna and the gang.

Fallon undercover in the prison, trying to get to know Cody.

Fallon undercover in the prison, trying to get to know Cody.

Meanwhile, Verna is tolerating Ma, barely, and  spending time with Big Ed(Steve Cochran), one of Cody’s gang members.  Big Ed tells Verna that he will one day run the gang and to do that, he has someone on the inside at that Illinois prison who will kill Cody for them.  Then they can be together, and get rid of Ma, too.  Unfortunately Big Ed’s plan goes awry, and Fallon sees Cody about to be killed by a prison workplace “accident” and saves Cody in the nick of time!

Verna and Big Ed making their plans.

Verna and Big Ed making their plans.

This film has several memorable scenes and in the prison is one of the best: Cody’s complete psychotic  breakdown when he gets the news that Ma has died.  Cagney didn’t tell the actors in the scene that his big breakdown was coming and the look on Edmund O’Brien’s face is priceless-he is truly shocked and astounded at Cagney’s going berserk in the prison cafeteria.

Here comes that breakdown!

Here comes that breakdown!

After Cody is hauled off to the prison’s infirmary because of  his breakdown,  he sneakily manages a prison breakout, taking Fallon with him.  Cody utterly trusts Fallon, not knowing that Fallon is really a federal agent with the US Treasury Department.  Big Ed learns that Cody is alive and has broken out of jail, and he is very afraid as is Verna.  They try to plan what to do if and when Cody reappears.  It is a great scene when Cody does reappear and confronts Verna, who lies to him about Ma’s death.  Big Ed gets his ultimate reward from Cody and then it is off to the next caper, robbing the payroll of a petroleum plant in Long Beach, California.

Cody gets a criminal pal to steal a tanker truck that picks up products from the petroleum plant.  He tells the gang that they will all hide in the truck, like a Trojan Horse, and be driven into the plant.  From there, they’ll rob the payroll office, and escape in the truck.  Fallon manages to get a message to Evans and a police ambush is set up at the plant, awaiting Cody and the gang’s arrival.  But darn the luck, the driver of the truck recognizes Fallon as an agent who arrested him several years ago!

Fallon manages to escape to the cop side of the oncoming battle at the petroleum plant and  Verna is immediately arrested.  It is now down to a shootout with Cody and his remaining gang members.  The last scene is memorable and Cody’s final line, “Made it Ma!  Top of the World!”,  is a tribute to great screenwriting, direction, cinematography, special effects,  and acting.

"Top of the World!"

“Top of the World!”

I just can’t praise this movie enough.  Yes, some of the characters are horrible people, and you are glad when they get punished.  The acting is so good in this film, and James Cagney is just magnificent as Cody, an  evil criminal with a deep love for his Ma, and those terrible headaches!

White Heat was directed by Raoul Walsh, one of Hollywood’s best, and the screenplay was written by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts.  The story came from Virginia Kellogg.  Max Steiner created the fantastic music that accompanies the action on the screen.  Kellogg, Goff, and Roberts were nominated for Best Screenplay at the 1950 Academy Awards.  In 2003, White Heat was admitted to the National Film Registry and it is in the top 100 of one of those AFI lists.

White Heat isn’t available on Netflix, but is available to buy or watch instantly on Amazon.  Tuesday, May 21, at 11:45 a.m. (CST) it will be shown on Turner Classic Movies, so set that dvr!

French movie poster for White Heat.

French movie poster for White Heat.

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