Archive for February, 2014

My Classic Movie Pick: Mighty Joe Young

I stumbled upon Mighty Joe Young last week when it aired on cable’s Turner Classic Movies.  For the month of February and into the first week of March until the Oscars are aired on March 2nd, TCM has been showing films that won Academy Awards.  If a film won for best actor, best actress, best film, best director, best supporting players, best music, best screenplay, they have been shown on the channel.  Why did Mighty Joe Young make this list?  It won the Academy Award in 1950 for Best Special Effects, and wow-does it have them, in large part to the  special effects talent of the late Ray Harryhausen.

Mighty Joe screen shot

Merian C. Cooper, while at RKO Studios, had written a screenplay about a giant ape, in love with a beautiful woman, who ends up terrorizing NYC-1933’s smash hit, King Kong.  Fast forward to 1949 and Cooper brought forth an idea for a story that he had shelved years ago, about another giant ape loose, this time,  in Hollywood.   Getting the greenlight from RKO Studios, Cooper brought on the director who had helmed  King Kong, Ernest B. Schoedsack.  Cooper also hired Willis O’Brien, who had done the special effects for King Kong to do the same work for Mighty Joe Young.  Working for “Obie”, as O’Brien was nicknamed, were 2 new animators, Ray Harryhausen and Pete Peterson.

Ray Harryhausen working with the Mighty Joe model

Ray Harryhausen working with the Mighty Joe model

Pete Peterson with Mighty Joe and truck for the car chase scenes

Pete Peterson with Mighty Joe and truck for the car chase scenes

Mighty Joe Young opens in Africa where Jill Young, age 8,(Lora Lee Michel) lives on a farm with her  widower father, Mr. Young(Regis Toomey.)  Mr. Young is away for the moment and Jill sees two natives approaching with a basket suspended by ropes attached to two poles.  She can tell that something alive is in the covered basket and asks to buy it.  The two natives are tired and agree to sit and wait for Jill to gather up treasures for the expected bartering session.   Jill finds some coins, toys, a music box, and her father’s large flashlight. The flashlight seals the deal and Jill now owns the covered basket.  When she opens it she finds a baby gorilla, and quickly names him Joe.  Mr. Young isn’t too pleased that Jill bought this creature and gave away his new flashlight but as he finally gives his assent, he reminds Jill that when the gorilla is bigger she’ll have to release him to the wild.

The movie jumps forward 12 years to NYC where we meet entertainment creator Max O’Hara(Robert Armstrong-who also starred in Cooper’s King Kong.)  O’Hara  is telling his business partner Windy(Frank McHugh) about his plans to head to Africa and capture animals for the opening of his new nightclub in Hollywood, a nightclub that will have an exotic feel and theme.  Loping into O’Hara’s office is cowboy Gregg Johnson(Ben Johnson) who explains to O’Hara that the rodeo has closed for the season and  that he and some of his cowboy pals have heard about the trip to Africa to capture animals and would O’Hara want to hire them for their skills at roping and catching cattle and horses?  O’Hara jumps at this offer and they’re off to Africa.

One day in the camp everyone hears some of the caught lions roaring and the natives begin running away in fear.  A louder roar is heard and as the cowboys and O’Hara investigate, they meet Joe, now a huge gorilla.  The cowboys try to rope him and  Joe manages to grab O’Hara.  As he is about to hurl O’Hara off of a rocky ledge, Jill appears, scolding Joe and urges him to gently put the man down.  Joe obeys and Jill leads him home.  O’Hara is excited-he must get that gorilla for his new nightclub!  With the help of cowboy Gregg they find Jill’s farm and apologize to her for scaring her and Joe.  Jill admits that with her father’s recent death, she is all alone, she’s never been away from Africa, and with that information, O’Hara convinces Jill that by bringing Joe to Hollywood to star at the new nightclub, that she will be a new star and earn a lot of money.  Gregg, who is obviously taken with the cute Jill, smiles a lot and reassures her that it would be a great opportunity for a new adventure.  Jill agrees and it is off to Hollywood.

Jill telling Joe to put O'Hara down!

Jill and Joe performing one of their nightclub acts-a tug of war with strong men

The rest of the movie is pretty predictable.  Joe and Jill do become famous, but are miserable.  Some boorish drunks unwittingly make Joe angry and he’s able to break out of his holding cell in the basement of the nightclub.  This happens while Jill is having dinner with Gregg.  Joe wreaks havoc with the nightclub and is declared a menace that needs to be put down.  O’Hara realizes he was wrong to bring Joe to Hollywood and should have left him in Africa and comes up with a plan to rescue Joe before his scheduled death will be carried out by the local police, per a judge’s order.   O’Hara, Gregg, and Jill launch a daring escape for Joe and a way to get he and Jill back to Africa.

Jill and Joe in a humiliating nightclub act

Jill and Joe in a humiliating nightclub act

While the plot is forumlaic and the acting lurching from hammy(Armstrong, at times) to bland(Ben Johnson-his first movie role after coming away from rodeos and he did get better, eventually winning a best supporting actor Oscar in 1971 for The Last Picture Show), and the usually funny Frank McHugh is wasted in a tiny role in my opinion, I do believe Mighty Joe Young should be seen for the special effects.  These effects were done before home computers were ever thought of, or CGI(computer generated imagery).   The special effects fill this movie and elevate it to a higher plane.  These are the scenes: the cowboys trying to rope and capture Joe, Joe dangling O’Hara over a rock ledge, the nightclub acts that Joe and Jill have to perform, the three drunks hassling Joe and giving him bottles of whiskey to drink, Joe breaking loose from his cell and destroying the nightclub, Joe on the run with Jill, Gregg, and O’Hara, Joe’s rescue of an orphan from a burning orphanage. That scene is on Youtube and can be viewed here.

I also found an interesting website on the life and career of the late Ray Harryhausen that is worth a visit and one can do so by clicking here.  Lastly, also on Youtube, there is an interview with Harryhausen and the making of Mighty Joe Young!  View that interview here.

You may have already seen the Disney version of Mighty Joe Young, made in 1998 and starring Charlize Theron and Bill Paxton, but you really owe it to yourself and any kids in your life to see the 1949 original and its fantastic, award-winning special effects.

Mighty Joe poster 2


My Classic Movie Pick: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

With the recent passing of child star Shirley Temple, I decided that my classic movie pick would be one of her films, but one near the end of her acting career, not one from the beginning or the middle.

TBATBS screen opener

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a romance/comedy, made in 1947 by RKO Studios.  This delightful movie features an excellent cast: Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple, Rudy Vallee, Harry Davenport, Ray Collins, and Johnny Sands.  It was directed by Irving Reis, produced by Dore Schary, and the original screenplay was written by Sidney Sheldon.  Sheldon did win the Academy Award for best writing, original screenplay for this movie, in 1948.  

The plot is basically a romantic triangle, but only two sides of the triangle are really interested in one another.  The third side of the triangle can’t see that, and therein lies the comedic elements  of the plot.    Cary Grant is Dick Nugent, an artist and a playboy.  The movie opens with he and 3 girlfriends in a courtroom facing Judge Margaret Turner, who is of course, played with steely-eyed seriousness by Myrna Loy.  She is calm, yet is not in the mood to hear about all of the gory details as to why Mr. Nugent and his 3 friends were arrested for brawling in a Los Angeles nightclub.  She issues them a stern warning and then dismisses the case.

Getting his case dismissed

Getting his case dismissed

As the day moves on, Dick has to appear at a high school and give a speech  for a Career Day type of assembly.  As he gives his speech, one of the teen girls in the audience, Susan Turner(Shirley Temple) suddenly imagines that Dick is a knight in shining armor and she is at that minute struck with “love” for him.   She begins to plan a way to be with him and decides to corner him for an interview in the school newspaper.    When Susan gets home she tells her sister,  Judge Margaret,  who is her legal guardian, that she is in love and it’s  not with some juvenile youth like her current boyfriend, Jerry(Johnny Sands).  Margaret scoffs at Susan’s “love” and tells her to go to bed.  The wily Susan will not be deterred on her quest to find this new love so she  dresses herself to look older and then sneaks out to find Dick’s apartment.  She manages to get into his apartment but he’s not home, so as she waits for him to return, she falls asleep on his couch.    Big sister Margaret, as the evening progresses, realizes that Susan isn’t in her bed sleeping so she and her boyfriend, the assistant District Attorney Tommy Chamberlain (Rudy Vallee) figure out where Susan has gone and burst into Dick’s apartment just as he is finishing up a conversation with Susan.  He arrived home right before Margaret and Tommy ‘s arrival, and is confused by their entry.  Margaret is distraught at finding Susan in a man’s apartment, Tommy accuses Dick of nefarious doings and gets socked in the jaw.  This leads to Dick’s arrest and spending the rest of the night in a Los Angeles jail.   In the morning, Dr. Beemish(Ray Collins), a court psychologist, visits with Dick in jail and gets his side of the story.  He believes that Dick is innocent of trying to seduce a teenage girl and tells Margaret and Tommy that he has a plan that will cure Susan of her “love” for Dick.  Dick must “date” Susan, probably only a couple of dates, but these dates will cause Susan to give up her “love” for an older man.

The Knight in Shining Armor!

The Knight in Shining Armor!

Susan telling Margaret about her new love

Susan telling Margaret about her new love

Susan on Dick's couch

Susan on Dick’s couch

Hearing Dr. Beemish's Plan

Hearing Dr. Beemish’s Plan

The dating scheme, only known by Dick, Margaret, Tommy, and Dr.  Beemish(who is also Margaret and Susan’s Uncle Matt) is hilarious and it only adds to the screwball element of this comedy.  During one of the dates at a neighborhood picnic complete with sack races and other silly sporting events, Judge Margaret suddenly sees Dick in a suit of shining armor as he receives a trophy for winning one of the contests.  Enter the real love story of this romantic triangle!  Now it is up to Dick and Margaret to find  a way to begin their romance without hurting Susan or Tommy, and more laughs ensue.  The climax of the film happens at a fancy restaurant where Dick and Margaret are trying to enjoy their date, only to have Susan and Jerry, the 2 Uncles, Tommy, and the lady brawlers all converging  at the same restaurant!   There is a happy ending, of course, how could there not be?

Cary Grant is his charming self, great at playing comedy with his facial expressions hinting at the confusion his character feels and also adept at the physical comedy, especially apparent at the picnic scenes.   Myrna Loy is great as the cold, serious-minded judge who starts to soften and become human when she is around Grant’s character.   Shirley Temple is also wonderful, as the 18 year old high school girl who thinks boys her age are so immature and that she knows what real love is.  Rudy Vallee, Ray Collins, and Harry Davenport(as Judge Thaddeus Turner-another Uncle of Margaret and Susan’s), and Johnny Sands handle  their supporting roles with skill and aplomb.

For a very funny movie, with that sweet touch of romance  perfect for Valentine’s Day, seek out The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer.  Turner Classics will be airing it on Sunday, March 9th at 12:45 EST/11:45 pm CST as part of their 8 film tribute to the movie career of Shirley Temple, who passed away recently on February 10th.  Here is a link to TCM’s site about the  planned tribute to Shirley Temple and the other films that will be shown.

The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer is available to buy at TCM, at Amazon(which also has it out for instant rent), and it’s available on Netflix.  I’ll close this post out with some fun posed stills for the movie’s made by RKO’s publicity department.  TBATBS screen pose 1TBATBS screen pose 3TBATBS screen pose 4

Baby #3 will be leaving the nest…

Our third child, son #2, will be leaving the nest this summer.  He will graduate from high school at the end of May and turns 18  a couple weeks from now.  I reminded him this morning that he’ll  be old enough to vote and he replied, “Really?”,  and then followed that up with the comment that he didn’t know if he’d really want to bother with voting.  I find that to be a common theme for 18-20 year olds that I know.  In fact, he seems to fit in with a trend I saw this morning in the news about the youngest voters.   The news story for that is here, the 4th point in the article.   college caps

Our son has done well in school.  He has always gotten math concepts quickly and took two years of Chemistry, earning A’s in those classes.  That amazes me because I managed to get out of high school with no chemistry under my belt.  I do know what H2O and NaCl are and who Marie Curie was, but that’s about it for my chemistry knowledge.   With his strong understanding of higher math and science, I just assumed that he was going to announce that he wanted to be an engineer like his dad, but no, he has surprised us all with his announced plans of studying Culinary Arts.  He has told me several times, “People gotta eat!”, and he’s right about that!  He has been accepted to attend a Culinary Arts program at an area community college and is waiting to hear if he’s been accepted into a 4 year Culinary Arts program at another  college his older sister attends.  The 4 year program also focuses on the business aspects of restaurants and I have teased him a bit that if he graduates from that school then he can come back to Rolla and open up a Penn Station, a restaurant we miss eating at and one that a college town with a majority of male students needs!!!!  download

Our third son is unique, in that he has red hair…none of our other 6 children have red hair, so he often gets teased about being the “ginger” in the family.  I’m just glad it’s a darker red, not a bright, orangey color.  Our older daughter studied genetics in a science class her senior year and informed us that if we had had an 8th child, that that child would probably have had red hair too!  This third child was born on George Washington’s actual birthday, which I have liked to remind him of from time-to-time.   He’s a lefty, a trait he shares with one of his younger sisters and my dad and when at age 3 he showed an eagerness to learn how to move the mouse on the mouse pad to play preschool games on the home computer he was quickly able to master that with his right hand.  It was  the same for guitar when he took lessons and I didn’t realize left-handed guitars existed, and had bought him a guitar for right-handed people.  He cheerily went on his way and learned how to play that guitar, never complaining to me.  acoustic guitar

A main reason he might seem unique is that he was born with a birth defect in his left eye.  The pediatrician caught it the day our son was born, during those early tests that are conducted on newborns.  The pediatrician explained that when a light is flashed in a newborn’s eye, a “red reflex” is looked for.   The red reflex was there in our son’s right eye, but not present in his left eye.  This meant that our son would need to be examined by a pediatric opthamologist immediately and a retinologist.  There were two possible causes of our son’s eye defect, one serious but not deadly and the other deadly: PHPV or cancer.  Cancer??!! In a newborn baby???  I was in a state of shock on hearing this news, but the pediatrician and later the pediatric opthamologist reassured my husband and I over and over that our son had a healthy heart, lungs, kidneys, reflexes and that he would grow up to do most activities that boys do: run, climb trees, swim, ride a bike, etc.  Our late minister happened to be present for a visit when the doctor came in to discuss the possibilities of the diagnoses, and after the doctor left, our minister stepped up and prayed with us and for our son.   God’s timing was perfect in that  our minister just happened to choose that time of day  to be at the hospital to make visits, to hear the doctor’s words, and knew what to pray for , to give us peace and comfort at that bewildering time.

The Retinologist was from Scotland and was a very kind man.  He did the initial tests looking for white spots that would mean cancer.  After we left his office, having been told that it would be several days before the results would be known, our pediatrician called us that afternoon with the results: no cancer, it was definitely the PHPV.  Persistant Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous, a rare eye defect that hits 1 out of a million babies, according to the doctors.  There is no known cause for it, and it usually effects only one eye, which was what our son had.  He underwent 5 surgeries before the age of 7, a lensectomy to remove the lens of his left eye which was a large cataract, several eye muscle surgeries to correct strabismus that had developed, and a surgery to open up the drainage channels in his left eye-his left eye being somewhat smaller than his right eye, and an eye’s drainage channels need to be able to drain out fluid build-ups in eyes, a naturally occurring event.  If the fluid can’t drain out properly, it will build up and put pressure on the retina, causing  glaucoma, which is something our son has his eye pressures checked each year to keep on the alert for.

We have gone through eye patching, to try and force his left eye to strengthen visually.  That went well while he was a baby but when he was a toddler, he discovered that he could rub off the patch and suddenly see much better and the eye patches became a daily battle.  He also wore glasses,( really just safety glasses as his right eye has always had perfect vision), when he was younger to help keep his right eye safe.  If he ever lost his right eye’s ability to see, than for all intent and purposes, our son would be blind..he can see light and dark and colors with his left eye, but everything is very blurry.  3-D is also not there for him, which I find annoying  when we want to see a movie and only the 3-D( and more expensive) version is at the theatre.  I wish theatre owners would realize that offering the 2-D version is a benefit for movie-goers who can’t see the 3-D effects!

The doctors predictions for our son’s future proved true and he did run and swim, climb trees and ride bikes.  He tried t-ball and that proved trickier for him due to depth perception when trying to hit a ball with a bat.  He also played soccer for a couple of years, which didn’t seem to have as much depth perception difficulties for him.  Learning to drive was also accomplished and the ladies at the dmv office in Rolla were kind and explained that he’d have a mark on his license that alerts officers to a visually impaired driver, but becoming a licensed driver was not a problem.   He’s been able to hold down a part-time job, be in the school musical this past Fall  and this year’s  Spring play, all while maintaining good grades.   climbing trees

As I sit here and look over our son’s life so far, he is unique to me for the medical problems he had to deal with as a newborn and preschooler, he is unique to me for his tenacity in wanting to figure out how a machine works, for accidentally getting in a commercial television shoot at The Arch in St. Louis when he was 4 years old and due to that he was included in the commercial and has a nice little nest egg that accrued monies for him whenever that commercial was shown!  He has been an excellent big brother to his younger 4 siblings and a friend to his older 2 siblings.  I have to  smile  when I contemplate his turn to walk across the stage to receive his diploma in May.   I am glad that it is  his turn to fly from the nest, ready to take on the world with his talents, his faith, and to know that he realizes the blessings that are very apparent  in his life.

Blizzard of ’78

No, this isn’t a title of a disaster movie.  With the weather forecasters for Springfield, MO and St. Louis, MO regaling us tv viewers about the latest snow storm that is expected  to hit the state today and Wednesday, I began recalling the blizzard that I lived through and can remember almost as if it happened yesterday.  It’s also a natural weather event that none of my 7 kids have ever experienced.  Snow storms and cancelled school, yes they’ve experienced that but not a true blizzard.

High piles of snow after the blizzard roared away!

High piles of snow after the blizzard roared away!

I was in 7th grade, and as my alarm clock was about to ring I was coming out of a dream where I was on a beach and the wind was blowing so loudly,  and palm trees were swaying to and fro.  As I awoke from my slumber, I realized that the wind was really blowing, very loudly, howling in fact.  I stumbled out into the dining room, as my bedroom was just off of that room, in our ranch type house on S. Clinton St. and as I looked out the large picture window in the living room, the world was a thick whirl of white.  If a person had been walking outside in our front yard  at that moment, I wouldn’t have been able to see them!  My parents were in the kitchen and I remember my mom asking my dad if I should even attempt to go out to the bus stop.  My dad told her absolutely not, that school would be cancelled and that this was a blizzard!

A blizzard!  I had only read about a blizzard  in The Little House on the Prairie book series up to that point in my life.  I am not sure how many days the snow fell and the winds blew but our small city of 19,000 was pretty much shut down for a week.  My mom was a nurse and folks with trucks and 4 wheel drive vehicles were asked to bring in those hospital employees who couldn’t drive in if their vehicles weren’t equipped for driving in such bad weather.  We, the children and teens of Defiance, OH were in heaven!!  No school for a week!!  I remember when the winds had stopped and the snow had finally quit, that we were allowed to bundle up and go out into the winter wonderland.  Oh what fun we had!  Running around, climbing on top of , and jumping off of the huge snow drifts that the howling winds had left behind.  My future husband, who also grew up in a ranch style house on Maumee Drive has regaled our children with the story of he and his brother, sister, and neighbor kids being able to climb onto the roof of their house and sledding off of it into the tall drifts that were as high as the windows on their house!

Clinton Street, a major road in our town, wasn’t plowed for quite a few days, and as it ran in front of our house, we got to see the ingenuity of Defiance’s citizenry as they figured out ways to get to the Chief Supermarket.  Cross-Country snow skis started making appearances, so did people pulling their kids snow sleds, or toy wagons as conveyances in carrying  the groceries home.  My favorite was one family who had hitched up their Saint Bernard dog to a wagon and he accompanied them to the supermarket!  My dad, two neighbor men, Mr. McKinney and Mr. Koppenhoffer, managed to walk to the Chief and using wagons, brought home necessities such as bread, milk, eggs, and beer!  I remember my mom chastising the men on buying beer, of all things!  Dad did manage to snag an apple pie and he said the shelves were getting pretty empty in the store from  items selling out and the supply trucks not being able to make deliveries yet.

A Toledo, OH grocery store unable to get deliveries in after the blizzard.

A Toledo, OH grocery store unable to get deliveries in after the blizzard.

For a scientific read, I did discover that someone put The Blizzard of 1978 on Wikipedia, and you can read about it at this link.

While I can’t tell my children that I walked 10 miles to school in horrid weather, and I can’t tell them about surviving a chicken pox epidemic(I had the chicken pox, but only a few spots!), I can tell them proudly that I did survive the Blizzard of ’78!    OH 1978

Blizzard of 1978

Blizzard of 1978

OH weather stats for blizzard