Posts Tagged ‘William Demarest’

My Classic Movie Pick: The Devil and Miss Jones

Labor Day  meant my kids were off of school and they had planned on making it a Musicals Monday.  The King  and I was on their playlist and so was Guys and Dolls.  I did a search of  Turner Classic Movies  for a specific romantic-comedy, the perfect film for  Labor Day: 1941’s  The Devil and Miss Jones.

The DEvil and MIss JOnes

The wonderful cast: Charles Coburn-department store tycoon John Merrick, Jean Arthur-store clerk Mary Jones, Robert Cummings-Joe O’Brien, Union organizer, Edmund Gwenn-Hooper, Section Manager, Spring Byington-Elizabeth Ellis, clerk, S.Z. Sakall-George, Mr. Merrick’s butler, William Demarest-First Detective.   Directed by Sam Wood, produced by Frank Ross(Jean Arthur’s husband at the time), Screenplay by Norman Krasna, and released by RKO Studios.

Coburn is John Merrick, the richest man in the world.  One  of his employees at one of his  department stores burned an effigy of him at an union organizing meeting.  Merrick  is determined to find out who did this, why, and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.   Merrick is truly mystified as to why any employees would be mad at him, why they would want a union,  and he’s determined to get to the bottom of this offensive act.

Merrick decides that he’ll  go undercover as a new store employee to find out about the union organizing.  He fires  the store detective and  then assumes the man’s name and employee info card.  Disguised  as Mr. Higgins, he  goes to work as a new clerk in the  shoe department, because he was told that it’s the “hotbed of discontentment” among all of the store’s employees.  It is here that Higgins meets Mary Jones(Arthur).  She takes pity on this old man who doesn’t want to eat lunch as he wants to prove to the Section Manager, Hooper(Gwenn), who treated him with great disdain, that he, Mr. Higgins, can sell shoes.  Mary  loans him 50 cents, tells him that he must take a lunch break,  and eventually  introduces him to Elizabeth Ellis(Byington) who nicely shares her lunch with him.  A bit of that scene can be viewed here.

Even though Jean Arthur got top billing in this movie, got the publicity posters to feature her, and her husband produced the movie, this movie is  Charles Coburn’s for the win.   He is absolutely wonderful as a wealthy man who has gotten out of touch with the world of the laborer.  He’s not quite an Ebenezer Scrooge or Mr. Potter type of bad, rich man, but he is cantankerous at first.  We see his character go through changes as he comes to meet and know some of his employees and it helps to make him a warmer, more responsible business owner and man who can use his wealth for good purposes.  We also get to see his character fall in love with Miss Elizabeth.  It is a sweet movie that dares to show two senior citizens falling in love!    Coburn was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 1941 Academy Awards for his efforts as Mr. Merrick/Higgins.

The film is fast-paced, there is mistaken identity aplenty with the Higgins ruse.  Merrick does find out who made the effigy and burned it-Joe O’Brien(Cummings) who is also the love of Mary’s life!  Near the end when all seems lost for Merrick, for the union, for Mary and Joe, happiness will come through and reign supreme.

The Devil and Miss Jones is available to purchase on a blu-ray at Amazon, it’s available to purchase at TCM’s Shop in a regular dvd format or a blu-ray, and here is another  clip from Youtube for the film: the opening credits with Coburn trying to look evil, and with an angelic Jean Arthur opposite him.

For your next Labor Day entertainment, or for a fun look at labor and managment circa 1941, seek out The Devil and Miss Jones.  Here are a few pics from the film:

Mary ordering the new sales clerk to be sure to take that lunch break.

Mary ordering the new sales clerk to be sure to take that lunch break.

Mr. Merrick really likes Miss Elizabeth.

Mr. Merrick really likes Miss Elizabeth.

Merrick, as Higgins, discovers that O'Brien made that effigy!

Merrick, as Higgins, discovers that O’Brien made that effigy!

Mr. Merrick, as Higgin's finds out Mary loves O'Brien, at a Coney Island outing.

Mr. Merrick, as Higgin’s,  finds out Mary loves O’Brien, at a Coney Island outing.

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: The Palm Beach Story

Today, my blog  is for the Funny Lady Blogathon, hosted by Movies,Silently which is a wonderful blog that I enjoy reading and it’s helped me learn a lot about the  silent films era.  If you visit that site,  you will  find  links to other bloggers’ works featuring funny ladies in the movies.

I decided to focus my blog entry on actress Claudette Colbert and the  delightful turn that she gave  in the Preston Sturges written and directed screwball comedy, The Palm Beach Story.   The Palm Beach StoryFunny Lady Blogtathon

Sturges’s film opens with a prologue of sorts: we see a lot of fast action happening set to the tune of Giacomo Rossini’s The William Tell Overture(The Lone Ranger theme song)-Joel McCrea rushing around an apartment, taking off his suit and putting on a tux and being hustled out of the building to get into a waiting car that hurriedly drives him across NYC to a church.  This is all interspersed with Claudette Colbert locked in a closet, wrists  bound and mouth gagged, dressed in a slip and  high heels and then another Claudette dressed in a wedding gown!  A maid sees one Claudette, shrieks and faints! The Claudette in the closet manages to kick her way through the door and get out, and the other has run down the aisle of the church and is marrying Joel.  We next see the years go by, 1937, 1938, 1939 and on until the present year, 1942.

After a rush, making it to the altar!

After a rush, making it to the altar!

Joel McCrea is Tom Jeffers, an inventor who hasn’t managed to make it big with any of his inventions yet.  Claudette Colbert is his wife, Geraldine, called Gerry for short.  She is tired of the bills not being paid and one morning  we find her running around their apartment  in her bathrobe looking for a place to hide as the landlord is going to be kicking them out and has a new couple coming to see the place.  Gerry decides to hide in the tub of the master bathroom, pulling the tub’s curtain around herself but she is found by the prospective new renter, The Wienie King!  The Wienie King(Robert Dudley), a funny, little bespectacled  man with lots of riches due to his popular hot dog business,  is impressed by Gerry’s good looks.   He pries into her financial troubles, tells her his opinion of her no-good husband, and then gives her enough money to pay off their debts and their rent.   The generosity of a rich, older man gets Gerry to think of how she could help her husband.  She’ll get Tom to divorce her, then she’ll find a rich, old man and get him to fall for her, give her money, and then she can give some of that money to Tom so he can get his latest invention, a suspended airport,  up and running!

The Wienie King talking to Gerry.

The Wienie King talking to Gerry.

It's The Wienie King!

It’s The Wienie King!

Gerry delightedly tells Tom about The Wienie King and the money but the news does nothing but make Tom grumpy and he gets even grumpier when Gerry tells him of her plan.  Tom loves Gerry and he refuses to listen to any talk of a divorce.  After an evening on the town Gerry has trouble with the zipper on her dress and asks Tom to help her unzip it, which leads to a major kiss and the safety of the marriage is ensured, or so we think!  In the morning as Tom is sleeping, Gerry has packed her suitcase and is trying to pin a “Goodbye Tom” note to the comforter and she accidentally stabs Tom!  He awakens and realizes what she is about to do and hilarity ensues as Tom stumbles and trips and falls down the stairs in his attempt to stop Gerry at the elevator of their apartment building.  Tom kept tripping on his pajama bottoms so we see him kick them off in disgust with an appropriately placed comforter wrapped around his person and then his running attempt to get to Gerry, but alas, he forgets to cover his backside and now we have a fainting neighbor lady in the hall and laughing elevator patrons!

Cover up your backside, Tom!

Cover up your backside, Tom!

As Gerry tries to hail a cab in front of the apartment building, Tom has caught up to her, wearing a ridiculous get up of mis-matched clothes.  Gerry refuses to listen to his pleas of staying with him, and in a tug of war on the suitcase, it opens up and spills Gerry’s clothes and toiletries everywhere.  In exasperation, Gerry asks the taxi driver(Frank Faylen) where is a good place to get a quick divorce and he replies that Palm Beach is the place to go and he adds that it is full of rich people.  Gerry successfully gets to the train station and now has to find a way to get a ticket to Palm Beach.  She decides to plant herself next to the ticket agent for the Palm Beach-bound train and look sort of sad.  Presently, the Ale and Quail Club arrive with their tickets and as they check in with the ticket agent, this group of rich, older men all notice Gerry and soon take a vote to buy her a ticket to Palm Beach!  Watching this part of the film reminded me of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a group of backwards  men, helping out a pretty lady.  William Demarest(Uncle Charlie from My Three Sons fame) is  the “Grumpy” character in the club who doesn’t like the way his fellow club members are all going soft around Gerry, and when they  serenade her to sleep, he has an unusual way to break up that party!

William Demarest knows how to stop a serenade!

William Demarest knows how to stop a serenade!

Serenading Gerry to sleep!

Serenading Gerry to sleep!

Due to the Ale and Quail Club’s antics, Gerry decides to hide out in another part of the train and get some sleep.  She unknowingly meets John D. Hackensacker III( Rudy Vallee), one of the richest men in the world-this character was an obvious zing at John D. Rockefeller on writer/director Sturges’s part.   John D. helps Gerry attempt to get into an upper berth and each time the efforts are fraught with mishaps and broken eyewear, but John D. is ever the gentleman and Gerry does get some sleep.  While she’s asleep, the train’s porters have decided to unhitch the Ale and Quail Club’s private car because of their antics and as the train continues for Palm Beach, Gerry’s clothes and purse are left behind in the private train car.  For breakfast, Gerry comes up with an amusing outfit made from the train’s towel sets-the phrase Pullman across her rump catches the eye of traveling businessmen!  John D. gallantly takes her on a shopping spree and at the store Gerry realizes who this nice fellow train traveler really is.

Broken eyeglasses can happen when boosting a lady into an upper berth!

Broken eyeglasses can happen when boosting a lady into an upper berth!

Gerry's creative outfit made from pj's and Pullman towels!

Gerry’s creative outfit made from pj’s and Pullman towels!

John D. offers to take Gerry to his family’s Palm Beach estate via his yacht, The Erl King.  As the yacht pulls up to dock, we see Tom with a bunch of roses in his hand, waiting to meet Gerry.  Tom had also run into The Wienie King who had stopped by the apartment to tell Gerry that they were going to be neighbors and upon meeting Tom, The Wienie King scolds Tom for losing Gerry, and gives him money to get to Palm Beach and to get Gerry back.  En route by plane, Tom finds out upon landing that Gerry is with Tom D. and that they’re heading to the docks.  Also embarking is John D.’s man-hungry sister, Princess Centimilia(Mary Astor), and she speaks about 1000 words a minute!  She is  accompanied by her latest boyfriend, Toto(Sig Arno), who is a foreigner who’s accent no one understands except for Centimilia.  The Princess sees Tom and she dumps poor Toto on the spot, determined to win Tom for herself.  Gerry, not wanting John D. to know who Tom is, introduces him as her brother, Captain McGlue!

Princess Centimilia wants to snag Tom!

Princess Centimilia wants to snag Tom!

John D. falling for Gerry!

John D. falling for Gerry!

Off they go to the Hackensacker estate and out to dinner at a swanky restaurant.   With dancing as part of the evening, John D. realizes he loves Gerry and wants to marry her and Princess Centimilia has decided that Captain McGlue/Tom will be her newest husband.  Tom and Gerry do get to dance with each other but Gerry is still determined to go through with her crazy divorce plan to aid Tom’s invention.  Back at the estate, Gerry has zipper trouble with her dress again and asks Tom for help.  Once again, it leads to a major kiss and both decide that they love one another, neither wants a divorce, and that in the morning they’ll tell John D. and the Princess the truth about who they really are.

Stuck zippers can result in falling in love again!

Stuck zippers can result in falling in love again!

Tom helping Gerry with that darn zipper!

Tom helping Gerry with that darn zipper!

When the truth comes out, John D. is sad, but  he still wants to help Tom with his invention financially.  Another happy ending is going to happen, but I don’t want to reveal  it because it has Sturges’s trademark zany twist to get us there, and if you haven’t seen this funny movie, rush out and rent it or buy it or tivo it off of TCM the next time they air it!

The Palm Beach Story fits the definition of a Screwball Comedy to a T.  The dialogue is fast-paced, there is a lot of slapstick action, and the situations that the characters find themselves in happen at breakneck speed.  The two leads are at odds with each other, but do love each other immensely.  Claudette Colbert is a delight in this film.  With her expressive eyes she is adept at getting across to the audience her reactions to the ridiculous events that her character gets caught in.  She also has her own slapstick scenes, trying to run and hide on the train from the Ale and Quail Club with pajama pants tripping her up at every step, much like Joel McCrea’s earlier pajama tripping scenes.  The attempts to get into that upper berth are more slapstick moments that Colbert shines in.  She delivers her lines fast and doesn’t miss a beat when reacting to other characters lines when they are directed back at her.  In reading about Colbert’s long career, she could sing, she could dance, she could perform in comedies and dramas.  She once said,”I’m a very good comedienne, but I was always fighting that image, too.”  From that statement, I would assume that Colbert didn’t want to get pigeon-holed into only doing one kind of movie.  Looking at her body of work, it is evident that she was a very talented actress and she didn’t get pigeon-holed.  Please try and find The Palm Beach Story for a fast and funny romantic-comedy, done in the Screwball Style.  another TPBS

L. to R.: Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Preston Sturgis, Claudette Colbert, Rudy Vallee.

L. to R.: Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Preston Sturgis, Claudette Colbert, Rudy Vallee.

My Classic Movie Pick: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek

My classic film pick is one of the wackiest, funniest, romance-comedies ever made.  The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek was  First movie poster for TMOMCwritten and directed by Preston Sturges, and released by Paramount Studios in January of  1944.  This movie has  a couple of surprising  plot twists and  when I first watched the film I was surprised that one of those  twists had made it past the censors!

The excellent cast includes:  Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, William Demarest, Diana Lynn, with guest cameos by Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff, as well as a myriad of great character actors and actresses who were usually in Preston Sturges’s movies.

Betty portrays Trudy Kockenlocker, a high school graduated working girl.  She works at  Morgan Creek’s music store, helping shoppers listen to the latest records that have come in, and we meet her doing a funny lip-synch to a song sung by an artist with a very low,  bass voice.  A group of soldiers who  have stopped by the store  find Trudy’s lip-synching hilarious and they invite her to attend their farewell dance that night.  She assures them that she’ll be there and that she’ll be ready for all the fun.  As the soldiers leave the store, Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken)arrives.   Norval is a nervous guy, very polite, and it’s obvious that he is in love with Trudy, but she just considers him a good friend.  He asks Trudy to  go to the movies with him that night, but she tells him that she can’t because she has already planned on going to the soldiers’ farewell dance.  Trudy then remembers that her dad, Constable Kockenlocker(a great, grumpy performance by William Demarest), has forbidden her going to anymore of those soldiers’ parties.  Trudy really wants to go to the dance, and as Norval loves her, even though it’s not reciprocated, he agrees to pick her up that night, so that Trudy can tell her dad that she’s on a date with him.  Trudy’s plan is that she will drop  Norval  off at the movies and she’ll drive on to the dance.  When the dance is over, she’ll drive back to the movie theatre  and let Norval drive her home, arriving according to her dad’s curfew.

Norval asking Trudy to go to the movies.

Norval asking Trudy to go to the movies.

Lip-synching for the soldiers.

Lip-synching for the soldiers.

Trudy goes to the dance, and she jitterbugs the night away, but unwisely, she decides to drink a lot of champagne, and during one jitterbug number, she is lifted too high and hits her head on a light fixture!  Time jumps ahead to 8:00 a.m. and  poor Norval has waited patiently for Trudy to arrive at the movie theatre!  Norval takes over the driving duties as he can tell Trudy is slightly hungover and confused as she can’t recall why she didn’t pick Norval up as planned.  When they arrive at Trudy’s house they are  greeted by a rampaging dad who races out the front door.  Constable Kockenlocker wants to throttle Norval for keeping his daughter out all night.  Trudy tries to calm her dad and tells him that they were at the movies, which doesn’t help as he knows the movie theater closes before midnight.  As he tries to grab Norval and beat him to a pulp, Trudy and her kid sister Emmy(Diana Lynn) grab their dad, and force him to the ground and pin him by sitting on him so Norval can escape!

Trudy enjoying herself at the soldiers' party!

Trudy enjoying herself at the soldiers’ party!

Officer Kockenlocker trying to get at Norval!

Officer Kockenlocker trying to get at Norval!

Later that day, Trudy starts to recall to Emmy bits and pieces about her fuzzy evening experiences.  Trudy recalls a wedding ceremony in front of a Justice of the Peace, but that she didn’t use her real name and she can’t recall who the groom was, just that he was a soldier!  There is also a wedding ring on the third finger of her left hand.  A few more weeks go by and Trudy discovers that she is expecting a baby!!  Norval comes to the rescue, not knowing that Trudy is expecting another man’s child, but as Trudy decides that she will need a husband, she encourages Norval’s love for her.  Then, she actually does fall in love with Norval, but she doesn’t want him to marry her when her first marriage is still legally binding, so the two of them hatch a crazy plan.  Trudy thinks the soldier she married had the last name of Ratzkiwatzki.  Norval, who is 4F, agrees to wear a relative’s old World War I uniform and then he and Trudy will drive 25 miles away to the Honeymoon Hotel and have the Justice of the Peace marry them.  After a week or two, Trudy can file for divorce from “Ratzkiwatzki”, and then she and Norval can have a proper wedding ceremony.   Simple plan, right? Wrong!  Norval messes up when signing the wedding license and writes his real name, not “Ratzkiwatzki” and the Justice of the Peace catches the mistake.  Police are called, Trudy has to fess up to her father about the soldiers’ party, the marriage, the baby on the way, that she really loves Norval who wants to marry her.  I won’t reveal the solutions to this crazy situation or even what the “miracle” is but if you do find this movie and watch it, I guarantee you’ll have an enjoyable time!

A publicity shot for The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.

A publicity shot for The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.

2nd movie poster for TMOMC

Trudy and Norval at the Justice of the Peace's home.

Trudy and Norval at the Justice of the Peace’s home.

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek cost Paramount Studios $775,000 to make and earned them a nice box office profit of $9 million.  Audiences loved this nutty film and Sturges was nominated in 1945 for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.   In 2001, the movie was selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress and it was #54 on the American Film Institute’s List of Top 100 Comedic Films.    It was put on dvd in 2001 so one can purchase it via Amazon or Turner Classic Movies Shop TCM which is on their online site, and it is available to view through Netflix.  Turner Classic Movies also airs it so check their schedule, also on their online site.  Lastly, a kind soul put up some clips from the movie on Youtube.

My Classic Movie Pick: Hail the Conquering Hero

Hail the Conquering Hero

Hail the Conquering Hero (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the Christmas holiday, I decided I had better watch some of the movies I had tivoed from the Turner Classic Movies cable channel.  During the month of December, the channel had decided to air several of director Preston Sturges‘s comedies.  Sullivan’s Travels aired, as did The Palm Beach Story and The Lady Eve.   My favorite of the batch that they showed was 1944’s  Hail the Conquering Hero.  The movie’s cast is headed by Eddie Bracken, with wonderful supporting cast members : William Demarest(Uncle Charlie from the My Three Sons tv show), Ella Raines, Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, Elizabeth Patterson, Georgia Caine, and Al Bridge.  Sturges’s films are predominately screwball comedies with a bit of drama thrown in and he often liked to hire the same actors and actresses to be in his films, many of the screenplays he wrote himself as well as doing the directing.  In fact, he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1945 for this movie’s screenplay.    Paramount, the studio where this movie was made, didn’t like that Sturges consistently hired the same actors and actresses for his movies and wanted to replace Ella Raines with a more well-known actress to play the girlfriend.  Sturges wouldn’t agree to that and got his way, hiring the cast he wanted.

The plot is as follows: Eddie Bracken is Woodrow Truesmith, and he loves the United States Marine Corps.  He knows their military history, and even recites all of their famous battles up to that point in history in a funny barroom scene.  His father was a decorated, yet fallen Marine, dying  in the  Battle of Amiens, in France during WWI.  His mother has a shrine to her late husband in the family home.   Despite Woodrow being an only child, with his mother’s blessing, as soon as he can, he enlists in the Marines.  Off to boot camp he goes, only to be discharged for chronic hayfever!  Woodrow is from a small California town, and after his discharge, he is too ashamed to face his mother so he finds employment at a factory in another California town and has been writing his mom letters as if he is really on a ship or on an island in the South Pacific.   One evening at a local bar, as Woodrow is having a beer and feeling sorry for himself, a group of Marines enters the place.  Woodrow buys them a round of beers and as they begin talking, he discovers that the sergeant of the group, Sgt. Heppelfinger, played by William Demarest, knew his father in WWI.  Woodrow’s dad was Heppelfinger’s commanding officer.  This coincidence  forms a bond between Woodrow, Heppelfinger, and the other Marines in the bar.   Woodrow explains his discharge to  the Marines and he also tells them about his  false letters to his mother.   The false letters  don’t sit well with this band of warriors, especially one Marine who was an orphan: it’s a pretty funny gag throughout the rest of the movie, the orphaned Marine always getting on Woodrow’s case about how he’s treated his mother!  Sgt. Heppelfinger, unbeknownst to Woodrow, goes to the bar’s payphone and finds out Woodrow’s home phone number, calls Mrs. Truesmith, and informs her that Woodrow was wounded, but is fine and will be coming home just for a few days in order to see her.  The sergeant’s plan is to get Woodrow home to see his mother, and  then get him back to his factory job, with mother none the wiser about his really being discharged for chronic hayfever.  Woodrow is horrified by the sneaky plan and  balks at wearing a Marine uniform as he is no longer active duty.  He  worries he’ll be found out as a faker and thrown into jail.   But the lively group of Marines, led by Sgt. Hepplefinger, resolve to protect Woodrow, to help him see his mother, and then  help get Woodrow back to his factory job.  What the sergeant and his band of Marines don’t know  is that Woodrow’s mother has  told her friends, who have told the entire town, and the mayor and the city council, and a huge “Welcome Home Woodrow” event has been planned, and the entire town is coming to greet him and his  new Marine buddies at the train station!

Sturges’s screenplay pokes fun at politics and politicians, at hero worship, and small towns.  The pokes are gentle, though, and the humor shines through in the dialogue and the acting.  As WWII was still being fought when this movie was being filmed, there are nods to patriotism throughout the film too.   Being a mom of an active duty Marine myself, all the bits in the movie about the Corps made the film even more fun for me to watch.  Eddie Bracken is great, as the increasingly frazzled Woodrow, who wants to stop this snowball of a “Welcome Home Woodrow You’re Our Hero!” movement, but he knows that the truth will hurt his mother the most.  He also has a former girlfriend, Libby, played by Ella Raines, to deal with as she is engaged to the mayor’s son, but isn’t really sure if she loves her fiance or still loves Woodrow.  Raymond Walburn and Al Bridge are great as the pompous Mayor and his political henchman, trying to get re-elected, and when the city council members who don’t like the current mayor want Woodrow to run for mayor, the situaton for poor Woodrow gets even crazier!

If you want to see a movie with wit, charm, and great humor, then this is an excellent movie to see!

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