Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

For Sex!(Now that I have your attention) Blogathon: 1941’s Ball of Fire

A couple months ago, fellow classic movie fan and blogger, Steve, at Movie, Movie, Blog, Blog  posted that he was hosting an upcoming blogathon, entitled Sex!(Now that I have your attention), a look at classic movies that tastefully, skillfully, without being graphic or vulgar, hinted at that something that causes a man to seek his mate, so to speak.  I saw Steve’s announcement for the blogathon, I blushed, and decided that I wouldn’t be able to participate.  Then, 3 weeks ago, I received a personal invite to participate in this blogathon!  The first day of this blogathon, June 19th, happens to be  my birthday, and not just any birthday; I was born in 1965, so I’ll let you do the math.  I decided, oh let’s have some fun and I contacted Steve and told him I was in.  Be sure to visit his site to read about the other films getting the treatment this weekend.  Sex!(Now that I have your attention!) Blogathon

I decided to take a look at  1941’s screwball, rom-com, Ball of Fire.   This film is shown on Turner Classic Movies quite regularily, and I always ignored it!  This past winter, I finally gave in and tivoed it and viewed it.  The film is a gem!  Well-directed by the late, great Howard Hawks(here is a list of his award winning films courtesy of imdb), well-written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, two gentlemen who excelled at getting those double entendres into their scripts, and well-acted by the two leads, Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.  The supporting players are also great, but  more about them in a moment!  Ball of Fire poster 1  Barbara Stanwyck plays  Katharine  “Sugarpuss” O’Shea, a nightclub singer and dancer.  Sugarpuss loves her work but her problem is her gangster boyfriend, Joe Lilac(Dana Andrews in an early role).  Joe may have committed a murder and the District Attorney wants to question Sugarpuss about Joe, his whereabouts when the murder happened, etc.  Joe wants to marry Sugarpuss because then she can’t testify against him; it’s known as testimonial privilege in the US judicial system.

She loves her job!

She loves her job!  The sparkly outfit was designed by none other than Edith Head.

Enter the movie’s hero, Professor Bertram Potts, played by handsome Gary Cooper.  He is a nerd, a very serious linguistics professor.  He and his 6 professor friends, all bachelors, live in the same house near their college.  They are all working together on an encyclopedia of knowledge, and Professor Potts has taken it upon himself to learn about American slang amd then he’ll write that section for the encyclopedia.  He decides to go out daily to walk the streets of NYC and listen to the slang that is all around him.  One evening, he stumbles upon the nightclub where Sugarpuss works, and is fascinated with her language usuage.  Here are two clips, courtesy of Youtube, that show Sugarpuss entertaining the audience.  The legendary Gene Krupa has an excellent drum solo, as do other musicians in the band.  Cooper’s Professor Potts is writing down slang terms he hears Sugarpuss use in her song.  The second clip is fun, as Sugarpuss and Gene Krupa are called upon for an encore.  Note how Cooper, as the Professor, tries to use a new word, “Boogie”.   Fun scenes!

Professor Potts asks Sugarpuss to join in a roundtable at his home, so he can study slang in depth.  Sugarpuss turns down the invitation as she thinks the Professor is a bit of a nut and too dull. Sitting in her dressing room after the show, Sugarpuss gets a visit from her boyfriend Joe’s two henchmen, Joe Pastrami(the ever great Dan Duryea- a family man in real life, an expert at playing sleazy, no-good baddies in the movies!), and Asthma Anderson(Ralph Peters).   The two henchmen tell Sugarpuss that she needs to make herself scarce as the DA is looking for her.  She agrees to hide out and quickly finds Professor Potts.  She says she’ll be a part of his study, but that she needs a place to stay and before he can blink, she has it planned that she’ll stay at his house!

Some movie critics have compared Ball of Fire with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I can see a tiny bit of that fairy tale in Ball of Fire.  When Sugarpuss arrives to live at the house, in her showgirl costume and her slang speech, with her very feminine charms on display, it shocks the old professors right on their keesters!  They awaken to how nice it is to have such a pretty lady in their midst.  They begin to spruce themselves up a bit, to remember old girlfriends, their courtship days; a few remember with sweet fondness their late wives.  Sugarpuss does have to contend with the grouchy housekeeper, Miss Bragg, who is appalled that a showgirl is living in the house with 7 men, so more modest clothing is worn; the flashy showgirl number is packed away.   Sugarpuss even teaches the professors  how to do a Conga line!   It is reminiscent of how the 7 dwarfs start to warm up to Snow White and grow to love her.   The professors are wonderfully acted by: Oskar Homolka, Henry Travers, Leonid Kinskey, S.Z. Sakall, Richard Haydn, and Tully Marshall.  Here is a clip of the Conga lesson.

Sugarpuss meets the Professors!  Look at those legs!

Sugarpuss meets the Professors! Look at those legs!

The Conga Line!

The Conga Line!

 

Professor Potts and Sugarpuss are thrown together due to his work studying her grammar and  her slang, but she also uses those  times to study him, and to find out what makes him tick.   There grows a chemistry of attraction between the two, and it explodes in the scene where Sugarpuss decides to give the Professor some “Yum-Yum”, er, kisses.  Here’s a great clip of that scene via Youtube.

Preparing for some Yum-yum!  Books are handy when the guy is so tall!

Preparing for some Yum-yum! Books are handy when the guy is so tall!

Professor Potts loves Sugarpuss and wants to marry her.  Joe Lilac, gangster on the lam in New Jersey, wants to marry Sugarpuss, too. What’s a girl to do?  You’ll have to find Ball of Fire to find out how all of the love and romance plays out, with good dashes of comedy strewn over all the happenings.  Turner Classics will be airing Ball of Fire on Sunday, July 12th, at 4:00 pm eastern/3:00 pm central.   It’s available to buy via Amazon and at TCM’s Shop.    To close out my post, here are some more stills from the film, the film’s trailer,  and a fun video tribute I found made by a fan of the movie, set to Jerry Lee Lewis’s hit song, Great Balls of Fire.

Publicity Still for the film

Publicity Still for the film

Professor Potts does fight for Sugarpuss

Professor Potts does fight for Sugarpuss

Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac

Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac

 

 

 

For the Beach Party Blogathon: Whale Rider

Two fabulous classic movie bloggers,  Speakeasy and Silver Screenings announced weeks ago their intention of hosting a blogathon dedicated to nothing but Beach movies.  I decided to jump in and join  the fun, however, I decided to pick a different kind of Beach movie, which I’ll explain shortly.  For a fun series of posts to read this weekend, be sure to visit the two movie sites I’ve linked to.  It’s just the kind of fun reading that Summer time beckons us all to do!

Beach party Blogathon

I chose the 2002  New Zealand film, Whale Rider.   While it does have beach scenes, it isn’t the typical beach movie.  No rock and roll music, no  teens doing the twist in the sand, no surfer dudes;  instead it’s a film about family, traditions, and yes, whales, beached ones to be specific.  Please don’t begin to think that this film is a downer, though the family at it’s core does have some issues to work through.   It is a feel good film and I thought a fine, marked contrast with the other beach films the various bloggers are featuring on their sites.

Whale Rider poster

Whale Rider concerns itself mainly with Paikea Apirana(Keisha Castle-Hughes), whom everyone in her family and small community call  Pai(Pie).  The film opens with a voiceover by Pai, informing us about her traumatic entrance  into the world.  Her mother and twin brother die during the twins’ birth, her father, Porourangi(Cliff Curtis), is devastated, and her grandad, Koro(Rawiri Paratene),  is especially upset that the boy twin didn’t survive.  We learn that Granddad is a proud Maori leader, that he takes it upon himself to teach the preteen boys in the community about all of the Maori tribal customs, and that the oldest son is to take on that responsiblity and in turn, pass those traditions down to the boys when he, Granddad, is no longer able to do so.  Granddad was expecting his firstborn, Pai’s father, to carry these traditions on and that in turn, the newborn twin son would grow up and do the same.  Now that the twin baby boy is dead, Granddad is angry, and resents baby Pai’s surviving.  He is adamant that a girl cannot pass on tribal customs.

The film  jumps 11 years.  Pai’s father  left her in the care of his parents and he moved to Germany to pursue a new life and his art career.  Pai’s grandmother, Nanny Flowers(Vicky Haughton),   is a loving woman and the only person who can tell Granddad off when he’s getting too grumpy about the way life is turning out for his family members.  Pai’s father decides to come home to New Zealand for a visit and Granddad immediately tries to fix him up on a date with the local school teacher.  This forces Pai’s father  to admit that he has a girlfriend in Germany and that he doesn’t want to “date” the teacher.   Besides, his girlfriend and he are expecting a baby.  This doesn’t sit well at all with Granddad and soon the visit is over, with Pai agreeing to return to Germany to live with her father and his girlfriend.  At the last minute, Pai changes her mind and tells her father that she loves him but that she cannot leave her grandparents, so reluctantly, her father drives her back to his parents’ home.

Granddad riding Pai to school on  his bicycle.

Granddad riding Pai to school on his bicycle.

Maori legend is a big part of the film.  The term Whale Rider is based upon the Maori legend that the father of their people rode a whale from Hawaii to New Zealand to begin their new home.  Legend also states that the new leader of the people will also be able to ride a whale.  Granddad decides it’s time to teach the preteen boys in the village the Maori ways so they’ll grow up to be proper Maori men.  Pai wants to also learn the tribal ways and  Granddad kicks her out of the first meeting!   Not to be stopped, Pai  spies on the lessons to copy  the warrior steps, the sticking out of the tongue,  and  the handling of the fighting stick, but Granddad catches her and chases her away.  Pai then turns to her Uncle Rawiri(Grant Roa), who was a champion with the fighting stick at tournaments and he agrees to teach her what he knows of the art.  The boys that Grandad is trying to train mess up again and again, managing to even lose a precious whale tooth that he throws in to the ocean expecting one of the boys to retrieve it.  Of course, it is Pai who retrieves it, and Granddad isn’t happy to find this out.  He begins to glower more at Pai and to state that anything bad that happens in their community is because of her attempts to learn the tribal ways that only men should know.

Granddad training the boys.

Granddad training the boys.

Pai spying on the boys training with the fighting sticks.

Pai spying on the boys training with the fighting sticks.

Uncle training Pai

Uncle training Pai

Finally, as Pai gives an award-winning speech at her school’s event night, a speech she meant to honor her Granddad with, the community is made aware, by Granddad who was late on his way to the school, that a number of whales have beached themselves near the town.  Residents run to the beach and attempt to move and coax the whales back  into the sea.  As Pai tries to touch one of the whales, Granddad orders her to stop and blames her again for the bad things that have happened due to her trying to learn Maori men’s customs.  As the towns folk return to their homes, Pai touches the biggest whale, manages to climb on top of his back, and the whale awakens and enters the sea!

Pai, in Maori costume, giving her speech at school

Pai, in Maori costume, giving her speech at school

I won’t reveal anymore of the film’s plot as I want you to find it and view it.  Will Granddad learn to really love his grandaughter, Pai, and get over his “Women can’t learn the Male Maori traditions” belief?  Will Pai’s father come back to New Zealand to embrace his Maori culture instead of trying to fit into a Western European culture?  Will Pai and her father grow to have a closer relationship?  What happens to the beached whales?

I watched the movie with my 12 year old son and he liked it.  He didn’t quite understand Granddad’s treatment and grumpiness towards Pai, but was satisfied with the ending, as was I.  When the movie came out in 2002, it was touted as a family film, but it is rated PG-13.   I think most of it would bore young children unless the children are 10 years or older, so take that into consideration if you want to rent the movie for a family movie night.

Whale Rider is out there on dvd and I had no trouble locating it at out local movie rental store.  It is available for purchase through Amazon or it’s instant rent program.   The film is also available on Netflix.     Here is also a link about the Maori people of New Zealand, in case you are interested in reading about them.  Lastly, the cast and crew of Whale Rider is listed here.  Here is also the trailer for the film from Youtube.    Whale Rider poster 2

 

The Major and The Minor: For National Classic Movie Day Blogathon

Today, Saturday, May 16th,  is National Favorite Classic Movie Day.  Since every day of the week nowadays seems to have a special attribute assigned to it, why not a day in which to remember with fondness a favorite classic movie?  I signed up to participate and this fun blogathon  is being hosted by Rick over at Classic Film and TV Cafe.  Please visit his site to read other bloggers’ choices as to which classic film is their favorite.

My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon 2

For my favorite film I chose 1942’s romance/comedy The Major and The Minor.  It has a lot of pluses and few minuses: written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, directed by Wilder, lead actor is Ray Milland, lead actress is Ginger Rogers, supporting actors and actresses are all good in their roles, too; Rita Johnson, Robert Benchley, Diana Lynn, Edward Fielding, Frankie Thomas, Raymond Roe, Charles Smith, Larry Nunn, Billy Dawson, and even a bit part played by Ginger’s mom, Lela Rogers!The Major and the Minor

Billy Wilder had come to America, via Germany and France, having found successes in the fields of screenwriting and directing.  With the rise of Nazism,  he left Europe behind, and decided to pursue his filmmaking talents in Hollywood.  In 1939 his work paid off with his screenplay for Ninotchka, the film that showed the world that Greta Garbo could laugh!  That film was quickly followed with two more screenwriting successes for Wilder: Hold Back the Dawn, and Ball of Fire.  In 1942 he got permission from Paramount Pictures to make his American directorial debut with The Major and The Minor.  I am so glad that Paramount gave him the green light for this delightlful movie.

Ginger Rogers portrays Susan Applegate, a midwestern,  small town gal who came to NYC in order to make it in show business.  She had saved up her money each week for train fare home as she promised herself to give it one year in NYC and if she didn’t make it, she’d take the train and head for home.  She finally has had her fill of NYC, and her year is up, but at the train station she discovers that the money she saved isn’t enough for an adult fare as the price has risen.  Dismayed, she gets an idea when she watches a mother at the ticket window purchase a child fare ticket for her daughter.  Susan realizes she has enough money to buy a child’s fare ticket.  Off she goes to the lady’s restroom to turn herself into 12 year old “Susu” Applegate.

Susan entering the ladies restroom, and Susu emerging!

Susan entering the ladies restroom, and Susu emerging!

Susu gets her ticket, gets on the train, but when  she goes outside onto a viewing platform to sneak a cigarette, the conductors, who are suspicious about her being a “child” catch her.  She flees from their clutches and dives into the first overnight compartment she can find and it belongs to Major Philip Kirby, ably portrayed by Ray Milland.

Susu meets Major Philip Kirby.

Susu meets Major Philip Kirby.

Major Kirby is itching to get into WWII.  He badly wants to serve his country.  However, he’s stuck teaching at a Boys Military Academy.  He had been in Washington D.C. to see if he could get his military status reactivated, without his fiancee knowing of his plan.  His fiancee,Pamela- a real schemer-played by Rita Johnson, and her father, Colonel Hill, principal of the Academy, -played by Edward Fielding, have no idea that Kirby wants to be on active duty.

Once the Major meets this minor, he feels protective of her.  Susu is immediately attracted to the Major but she keeps up her ruse of being a child of 12, and lets the Major treat her as he would a niece.  He lets her sleep in the lower berth of his compartment and during the night, unbeknownst to them, the train has to stop its travel due to flooded tracks further down the line.  Pamela and her father manage to drive in to rescue Major Kirby and it’s quite a funny scene when Pamela bursts into his compartment and finds Susu there in her nightgown!

Susu has to keep this act going as she gets a ride back to the Academy.  Due to the flood, Susu will have to stay at the Academy until her family can come and get her.  It’s decided that she’ll bunk in with Pamela’s younger sister, Lucy. Lucy figures out  quickly that Susu is really Susan.  Lucy and Susan make a pact.  If they can get Major Kirby’s status activated, then he won’t have to marry Pamela, who Lucy thinks is a “stinker”.  She doesn’t want the Major to marry her sister.

Lucy doesn't fall for Susan acting 12.

Lucy doesn’t fall for Susan acting 12.

Susu meets Pamela's little sister, Lucy.

Susu meets Pamela’s little sister, Lucy.

Susu is also the new “catnip” on campus for all of the cadets and there is a hilarious montage of different cadets trying to kiss Susu while giving her a tour of their campus.  If anyone ever puts an arm around the back of your neck and clutches one of your  shoulders, then describes the “Maginot Line” with their other hand watch out!  It’s a clever way to grab you and pull you in  for a kiss!

Susu has a lot of fans at the Academy!

Susu has a lot of fans at the Academy!

There’s another fun sequence at the school dance, which Susu has to attend, and the guest girl attendees all try to look like Veronica Lake, peekaboo hairdo and all.  Robert Benchley, who plays a cad at the film’s beginning and  tried to make a pass at Susan, happens to show up at the Academy’s dance because he’s the father of one of the cadets!  Susan has to avoid him as he could spill the beans as to her true identity.

Major Kirby has by  now realized he doesn’t want to marry Pamela, and there’s something “funny” about Susu that he can’t quite put his finger on.  Milland does a really good job of playing the caring Major without coming off as a “creeper” to put it in my twin daughters’ vernacular.

Like all good romance comedies, this film has a happy ending.  The Major and the Minor is such a fun movie: charming, witty dialogue, clever plot development, I highly recommend it!  If you are fortunate to have loved ones in your life who were teens or young adults in the 1940s, and they’re still sharp as a tack, you should rent this film and watch it with them.   I bet they’ll enjoy that time with you and they can explain some of the pop culture references made in the 1940s, too!  Here are a few more fun pics from the film.

The "Veronica Lake" hairdo-so popular at a school dance!

The “Veronica Lake” hairdo-so popular at a school dance!

Ginger and her mother, Lela, who plays Susan mother in the film.

Ginger and her mother, Lela, who plays Susan mother in the film.

Studio still of Milland and Rogers

Studio still of Milland and Rogers

Another studio still of Rogers and Milland

Another studio still of Rogers and Milland

 

The Major and the Minor poster 2

Kate Remembered for the Katharine Hepburn Blogathon

Last year, blogger and classic film fan Margaret Perry decided to host a Katharine Hepburn Blogathon around the late actress’s birthday, which was May 12th, 1907. The blogathon was such a success that here is the second one and I am participating but not with a Hepburn movie review. I decided to take a different tack, and write a book review of a book I read 9 years ago, A.Scott Berg’s excellent, Kate Remembered. Be sure to visit Margaret’s site to read all of the other outstanding contributions to this blogathon!    KH bLOGATHON

Writer A. Scott Berg, a native and inhabitant of LA, in the early 1980s,,  was busily working on a biography of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn when Esquire magazine contacted Berg about contributing a piece for their upcoming 50th anniversary issue.  Berg immediately agreed if he could write about a Hollywood icon, Katharine Hepburn.  He had to go round and round with the editors and assistant editors because they insisted they didn’t want any articles about Hollywood;important Americans was their topic, and Berg countered that Hepburn was the lone actress still at work, in her seventies, who had done it all and done it well:stage and film and 4-time Academy Award winner.  Reluctantly, Esquire relented and Berg began his task of contacting Ms. Hepburn in order to interview her.     book KR

Fortunately for Berg, when he was a college student at Princeton, he had written his senior thesis on editor Maxwell Perkins.  After graduating, Berg decided to expand his thesis into a biography of Perkins, and the finished book, Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius, won a National Book Award.  During his research on Perkins, he found out that Perkins and his family lived next door to none other than star actress Katharine Hepburn!  Berg had always been a fan of Hepburn’s, and having written to the actress for any info she may have had about Maxwell Perkins, being that she was his neighbor for years, she did write Berg back, showed interest in his book about her former neighbor, so it was a natural plan to approach Ms. Hepburn again about letting Berg interview her for the Esquire article.

What began as several meetings at the actress’s brownstone home in the Turtle Bay area of Manhattan, and at the family’s seaside home in the borrough of  Fenwick, part of  Old Saybrook, CT. grew into a friendship of 15 years, right up to the passing away of Hepburn.

The book explores Katharine’s  early life in Hartford, CT.  Her father, Thomas, was a doctor and her mother, Katharine, or Kit, was a busy homemaker with 6 kids to raise, but she also found time to devote to causes: Suffragist Movement and Family Planning.  Katharine was the second child in the family, she had one older brother, Tom, two younger brothers, Richard and Robert, and then two little sisters, Marion and Margaret.  From Berg’s writings, I learned that these younger siblings were all in their teens and preteen years when their big sister was becoming famous due to her movie career.  Sadly, her older brother, Tom, committed suicide at the age of 15 and Katharine was the one who found his body.   Katharine loved her older brother very much and his death was a shock.  Due to her parents extreme views on political issues, they didn’t have many friends in Hartford, and this attitude also spread to the way peers treated the Hepburn children.  Sadly, her brother’s death added to the alienation, so the Hepburn family turned towards one another, were each other’s booster club, and Katharine shared she was so grateful that she had such a supportive family and she really believed that that love and support helped her reach her acting successes.  Katharine finished up her high school years homeschooling, with a tutor, and then it was on to Bryn Mawr for college, her mother’s college alma mater.

After graduation it was on to the stage and eventually, on to Hollywood.  Katharine’s first film, A Bill of Divorcement, was a star vehicle for John Barrymore.  Katharine was cast to play his daugher in the film, George Cukor directed; he became a lifelong friend of Hepburn’s.  A funny anecdote about Katharine and that first film, she was taking the Super Chief train from Chicago to LA and on her first night on that train, she went out onto a back platform to see the stars and something flew into her eye.  Immediate pain, redness, and swelling in that eye made the rest of the trip miserable.   As soon as the studio personnel met her at the train station in LA, she urged them to find her a doctor for her eye.  First, the studio folks told her, she had to be whisked off to the studio to meet Cukor, costumers, make up , and John Barrymore.   When she was introduced to John Barrymore, he assumed her red eye was due to too much alchohol and he offered her some eye drops that he often took for that very reason.  Hepburn tried to explain that she hadn’t been drunk and that something blew into her eye while on the train trip, but the Great Profile didn’t believe her!

Katharine Hepburn and John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorce

Katharine Hepburn and John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorcement

The book looks at a lot of her films; early successes, especially Morning Glory and Little Women, and then  how she was box office poison until The Philadelphia Story.  I love the slapstick, screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby and had no idea it had bombed at the box office in 1938!   There is also, of course, the section of the book that covers her long relationship with actor Spencer Tracy.  Hepburn shared with Berg that with Tracy it was “the first time I truly learned that it was more important to love than to be loved.”  Hepburn and Tracy were together for 26 years, 1941-1967.  MGlory

Little Women cast: Joan Bennett, Jean Parker, Katharine Hepburn, and Francis Dee

Little Women cast: Joan Bennett, Jean Parker, Katharine Hepburn, and Francis Dee

Hepburn with her 3 leading men in The Philadelphia Story: Cary Grant, James Stewart, and John Howard.

Hepburn with her 3 leading men in The Philadelphia Story: Cary Grant, James Stewart, and John Howard.

Hepburn with Cary Grant and "Baby"

Hepburn with Cary Grant and “Baby”

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

As the book nears its end, Hepburn is sadly nearing her mortal end, too.  I liked the book for it’s actual discussions with the great actress, her insights, her looking back at  her life.  I found it quite a touching book to read.   Two more anecdotes that I found charming and wise: Author Berg had been trying for months to get an interview with Irving Berlin for a book on Samuel Goldwyn. Berlin kept refusing, so Berg turned to Katharine, who had said she’d try to get Berlin to agree to an interview.  One day Hepburn walked out of her brownstone and went just a few buildings over to Berlin’s brownstone.  As she was explaining to Berlin’s maid who she was and that she wanted to visit him, she heard 100 year old Irving Berlin call out of a second floor window,”Kate, is that you?”  To which she replied that yes, it was she.  Berlin invited  her in  for a wonderful afternoon of tea and talk.  Later that same day, Katherine told Berg that she got in to see Berlin and that they had a wonderful 3 hour chat, but she couldn’t remember anything that they talked about!!   Wise words: Katharine sharing with Berg her thoughts about stage acting:”Nothing is as generous as an American audience…I’m always amazed at movie stars, especially those actresses who hit their 40s and 50s and complain that Hollywood isn’t writing any parts for them anymore, don’t take to the stage.  If Broadway is too scary, there are hundreds of wonderful theaters all over this country who would be thrilled to have them.  Actors should act.”

If you enjoy books about famous actors or actresses, written with their input, then seek out Kate Remembered-I highly recommend it!

Moms Weekend & the TSA

In January I discovered that Ohio University, where our oldest attends college, was hosting their annual Moms Weekend in April. I announced to husband and our oldest, a son, that I was going to attend! Son urged me to stay in Missouri and not attend;hubby began to figure out the costs of gas if I drove. He decided that it would actually be cost effective if I flew to OH for this fantabulous experience so the ticket was bought through Southwest Airlines and the date was circled on the calendar. I was going to Moms Weekend!!

I don’t fly a lot and airplane travel makes me nervous. I know, I know, it’s safer to travel by a plane than to drive in one’s car, I’ve had those statistics recited to me ad nauseum. While plane travel is faster than driving oneself somewhere, there isn’t as much hassle in the travel process if driving oneself. Pack your gear, throw it in the trunk of the car, have funds for fuel and food and overnight accomodations, and off you go!

To make my flight to Columbus, OH I had to rise early, 4:30 am, to be ready to drive to St. Louis’s airport by 5:15 am.  That morning I missed the days when we only lived 20 minutes from that airport! Appreciate how geographically close you are to that airport, North St. Louis Countians!! I arrived at the airport and found the long-term parking lots. I was feeling confident at this point for I had driven in from Rolla in pouring rain and successfully got the car parked in the correct lot and had my parking ticket, and found the correct shuttle which whisked me to Terminal 2 and Southwest Airlines.

Upon entering the Terminal I checked my suitcase in order for it  to be put into the luggage hold of the plane. Hubby had counseled me to just take it on the plane with me and place it in an overhead compartment but I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to gracefully lift that suitcase over my head and place it into an overhead compartment so I opted for the baggage handlers to deal with it! I am glad that I did!

After the suitcase was on its journey,  I glanced to my left and my mouth fell open. The long line that I saw made me gulp-it was full of fellow travelers, all looking bored, or stressed, or both, and I had to join them in that line to await the TSA checks. I was really shocked by how long that line was. I noticed that the TSA agents at Lambert-St. Louis don’t smile. They all had those electric royal blue uniform shirts on with black vests and blue examination latex gloves on. I watched passengers ahead of me so I would know which forms of ID the first agent was wanting to see. Then I got into the next line and saw the travelers ahead of me all had taken off their shoes and put their laptops, purses, carry on bags, etc. into bins so I followed their example. I had purposely worn my Nike tennis shoes in case I had to run from the plane or airport in case a disaster struck. Now I was mentally upbraiding myself for not wearing my flip-flops! As the traveler in front of me was entering a scanning booth I moved to be the next person to enter the booth when the TSA agent near the booth’s entrance barked an order at me:”Madam, attend your purse!” I looked at him and froze, with a deer in the headlights look on my face. Again he barked at me:”Madam! Attend your purse!!”, getting louder and glaring at me. I still didn’t comprehend what he was asking me to do. Was my purse moving around? Why did it need attending? As I was about to say that I didn’t understand his order, he changed his choice of words and said, “Madam, please stand next to your purse.” I immediately jumped away from the scanner booth entrance and stood next to my purse only to have to jump back again as it was my turn to enter the booth. From there on I was the perfect traveler and gave no other TSA Agents a reason to bark at me. Note to TSA Agents at Lambert-St. Louis, when giving nervous travelers orders, use the simplest vocabulary possible, okay?

On my trip back to MO, I noticed that the TSA Agents at Columbus’s airport were much friendlier, more relaxed but still on guard. They also announced several times that travelers ages 75 or older could keep their shoes on. “How considerate and nice!”, I thought. TSA Agents operating with common sense!

Ohio University, not Ohio State as some friends in MO always think that’s the school our son attends, is located in Athens, OH. The  Appalachian Mountains are very near as West Virginia is only 30 minutes away. I grew up in the flatlands of NW Ohio so a trip to Athens is always a revelation to me that there really are such gorgeous areas of OH. The University had a lot of activities planned for visiting Moms and the dutiful college students who would be the hosts escorting their Moms around campus. My son, after his initial reluctance about my visit, was very glad that I came. Luckily for me, my dear mother-in-law also lives in Athens as does husband’s older brother, his wife, and a married niece and a nephew, so a visit there is also a bit of a reunion, which is always a plus. My son took me to his on campus office, Veterans Affairs, which suits him to a t as he is a veteran.

He introduced me to his co-workers and revealed he might be in a student made film about a veteran who is a college student feeling the pull to go back overseas to rejoin the war. My son said the student filmmaker wants to shoot a scene at OU’s Veterans Affairs office and  my son might be in that scene with others trying to talk the college student out of his idea to return to the war. I also toured the “Chocolate Fest” on campus: local bakeries and candymakers selling their wares and giving out samples. I have to give a shout out to the Athens Bread Company-a local bakery that made the best ginger snaps I ever had-very gingery and full of “snap” as the proprietor told me; it had taken many batches for him to get that just right ginger snap taste. My son and I also toured a state park that the OU students like to visit for hikes, fishing, etc. My husband’s sister-in-law went with me to a Native American Art and Jewelry Show held at the nearby The Ridges-a former Ohio State Hospital for the Mentally Ill that was built next door to OU’s campus and is now not in use. The buildings on the property are stunning, a bit eerie as one can see the bars on the windows; the numerous buildings standing  high on a ridge overlooking Athens and the campus. If any fledgling film maker needs a new setting for an eerie movie, The Ridges would be a perfect setting! I also made the requisite visits to two college bookstores to buy OU stuff for the family back in Missouri, sister-in-law expertly guiding me around the downtown.

Fast & Furious 7OU logo

Wide shot of Ohio University

Wide shot of Ohio University

Ohio University

Ohio University

 

 

My son may have been at first reluctant for me to attend Moms Weekend at OU because over the past 10 years, some of the moms who attend don’t act very “motherly”. They use the visit as an excuse to try and look like college girls and to hit the downtown bars and get rip-roaring drunk;cougars on the prowl!! I reassured my son that I had no plans to visit any of the downtown bars and the first night, as I was relaxing at my mother-in-law’s home, we heard police sirens go by and she said, “Uh oh, I bet their going to arrest someone’s mom!” OU also hosts a Siblings Weekend and a Dads Weekend but for some reason, Moms Weekend has grown in local infamy.

Another reason to visit OU was to finally meet our son’s girlfriend. This was an entirely new facet of the mom-child paradigm for me and for my son. I was admittedly a bit nervous to meet the young lady who has caught his eye and his heart but once I met her, I could see why he loves her. A very nice, kind, and sincere young lady. I couldn’t have been more pleased to meet her and to put her at her ease as I am sure she was probably very nervous to meet me. With this texting age, after our first meeting at lunch, he told me what his girlfriend thought of me and vice versa: all good opinions we had of one another. The next evening, I also got to meet the girlfriend’s mom, who had also decided to attend Moms Weekend. The four of us had a very nice dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and again, our texting college students let the other one know that we mothers had a mutual like of one another. Phew!

I would sum up my OU visit as very nice and it was beneficial for my son to tell me several times during my stay that he was very glad that I did attend. That was worth the nerves I endured in flying in for the weekend, dealing with one grumpy TSA Agent, and meeting his girlfriend and her mother. Onward and upward, to next year’s Moms Weekend at OU.

The Great Villain Blogathon: A Look at “Ma Jarrett” in White Heat

Those wonderful classic film loving bloggers: Speakeasy, Shadows & Satin, and Silver Screenings are once again hosting this fun and interesting look at villains in classic films.  My post today is one of many for this, the last day of their blogathon.  Please be sure to stop by their sites and read about other famous movie villains and the incredible, and possibly indelible performances by the actors and actresses who performed those infamous roles.

White Heat, made in 1949, a Warner Bros. production, is a tense crime noir film.  It starred James Cagney, doing what he did best, playing an evil criminal.  However, what makes his portrayal of Cody Jarrett different is that this time, Cagney’s criminal is crazy, aka psychotic and a lot of it is due to his overwhelming attachment to his “Ma”.

White Heat poster 1

In researching the background for White Heat, I found out that it was first an original story by Virginia Kellogg, who had been a reporter for the LA Times and may have been influenced by actual criminals she heard about while working for the newspaper.  There was also a theory that she based her criminal Cody Jarrett and his Ma on a real life crime family of the 1930s, Ma Barker and her sons.  While the FBI claimed that Ma Barker was an evil, criminal mastermind some of the people who knew her said she couldn’t organize a family breakfast so there were some doubts as to how much she was involved in her sons’ criminal activities.  Ma Jarrett, however, in White Heat, is in on the robberies, doesn’t blink an eye when Cody decides to “plug” someone,  and is  full of advice as to how he can avoid the “coppers”.

We first meet Ma(remarkably played by Margaret Wycherly) as she is fixing some food for Cody and  his gang.  They’ve just gotten back to their hideout from a train robbery-yes, a train robbery in 1949!-that has made the national headlines.  We also meet Cody’s stunningly beautiful wife, Verna(excellently played by Virginia Mayo) as she is snoring in one of the bedrooms.   In a foul mood, she gets up when Ma asks Cody to order Verna to help her.  We immediately see that the two main women in Cody’s life don’t like each other.  It’s not a loud, shouting match form of dislike but an icy relationship with bickering between the two women.  Suddenly, Cody begins to whimper, grabbing at his head, and stumbles to the floor,  Verna and the gang watch helplessly but Ma knows what to do.  She quickly gets Cody up, gets him to a bedroom, has him lie down on the bed, and begins to massage the back of his neck and head, murmuring to him all the while to be still and to calm down.  Ma’s care does the trick, and Cody comes out of his severe attack.  He even sits on her lap like a small boy would do, but the censors had that scene cropped to only shoulder and head shots of the Wycherly and Cagney.   Ma pours him a shot of whiskey which he drinks.  She toasts him  as he drinks that shot, “Top of the World, Cody!”  That toast becomes a catch phrase  throughout the entire movie.  Here’s a clip of Ma caring for Cody during his attack.

More of Ma in the film:  after the gang has moved to a Motor Court to live at, and despite Cody ordering none of them to leave, Ma  disobeys by driving to a Farmer’s Market to buy her “baby boy” some strawberries.  Her car is spotted by an undercover cop who is in contact with the Federal authorities stationed in LA and he puts a “tell”, a white rag around the back bumper of Ma’s car, so the Feds and local law enforcement will be able to follow her back to Cody and the gang.  What the cops don’t know is that Ma is very sharp-eyed and soon knows she is being followed.  With a lot of  turns and using her wits, she is able to dodge the police.  However, they eventually find the car at the Motor Court and there is a shoot out as Cody, Ma, and Verna escape in one car, leaving the rest of the gang to scatter.  At a drive-inn movie, Cody hatches his plan to escape the cops, and with Ma’s agreement, he flees.  Ma takes over when she and Verna are interrogated by the Feds, feeding them the pre-planned false alibi to keep Cody out of jail for the train robbery.  One key thing I noticed in this section of the movie is that Verna, eyeing a suitcase full of train robbery cash, coos to Cody how they could spend that money and that she’d love a full-length mink coat.  At the Motor Court, when we see Verna again, she is admiring herself by standing on a chair, in order to see her full self modeling her mink coat.  Cody comes in and asks her where Ma is.  Verna flippantly tells him that Ma is out shopping for strawberries for him.  For her snarky answer, Cody shoves Verna off the chair!  Fortunately she lands on the bed, shocked he’d do that to her.  Then we see Ma at the market and she too, is wearing a full length mink coat!  How telling that the one thing the bad guy’s wife wants he also gets for his ma!

Verna, Ma, and Cody making final plans while hiding out at the Drive-In-note Ma always sits between her son and his wife.

Verna, Ma, and Cody making final plans while hiding out at the Drive-In-note Ma always sits between her son and his wife.

Ma Jarrett knows she's being followed by the coppers

Ma Jarrett knows she’s being followed by the coppers

Cody’s false alibi is to claim that he was in Springfield, IL the same date as the train robbery, and that he committed a hotel robbery in Springfield.  Cody is sentenced to 3 years in the State Penitentiary in Joliet.  What he doesn’t know is that the Feds don’t buy his alibi and have planted an undercover cop in the prison, Fallon(great performance by Edmund O’Brien) to become pals with Cody and find out about the train robbery.  Before Fallon arrives at the prison, his boss Philip Evans(John Archer) fills him in on Cody Jarrett’s mental make-up.  Cody’s father was also a criminal, went insane, and had to be locked up in a mental institution where he died.  The same fate happened to Cody’s older brother.  When Cody was a kid, he’d fake severe headaches to get his Ma’s full love and attention.  Sometime in his late teens, the headaches became real.  Ma is the only person in the world that Cody trusts and loves;she is the force in his life.

Ma makes a drive to IL to visit Cody in the stir.  She tells him that Verna has run off with Big Ed(Steven Cochran) one of the gang members.  Ma knows this info will hurt Cody, but one gets a sense that she is pleased to tell him, to reinforce her opinion that Verna is no good for her son.  Ma vows to get Big Ed for Cody, but Cody, sensing doom, warns Ma to leave Big Ed alone, but his warnings fall on deaf ears.  Here’s a clip of one of the film’s most famous scenes, when Cody, at a prison meal, goes berserk when he finds out news about his Ma.  This is a spoiler alert if you’ve not seen White Heat so skip this scene’s clip in case you want to see the movie without knowing all about it beforehand!

More Spoilers!  Two more key scenes about Ma,  though she’s not in them.  Cody reveals to Fallon, after they’ve broken out of the state prison, that he walks around a lot outside at night due to insomnia and the only thing that soothes him is to talk outloud to Ma-he feels her presence though she isn’t there.   In the film’s fantastic climax, Cody’s plan to rob a chemical plant’s payroll has gone horribly wrong, the cops have him cornered, his gang is dead, and he climbs atop one of the chemical holding tanks.  He is defiant, not caring that what he is standing on top of is flammable stuff.  Fallon  decides to be the one to shoot Cody down but not before Cody has shot holes into the various pipes fitted into the top of the chemical tank which causes flames to shoot out and upward all around him.  Before the final fatal shot from Fallon and the literally explosive ending, Cody yells, “Top of the World, Ma!”  That scene’s clip is here.

Being a mom myself, to 7 kids, ages 12-23, I feel I know a thing or two about motherhood.  Mothers develop a close bond with their babies, but over time it has to change for the sake of the kids;so that they’ll be able to succeed in the world on their own, and hopefully start up and maintain their own successful families.  In studying this film and Ma Jarrett, I saw a mom who hadn’t lessened her bond with her son.  Instead of trying to plead with him to stop his bad life choices, she joined him!  She is somewhat of Cody’s Greek Chorus in the first two-thirds of the film: telling him what he could do, warning him about Verna, the gang members, how to avoid the cops and prison time.  Cody is the only person she really displays her emotions to.  Everyone else sees a cold-hearted mom who can think logically, albeit in a criminal bent, as to what the gang’s next steps should be.  Only Cody gets to experience the loving nurturer.

Margaret Wycherly is excellent as Ma Jarrett.  Wycherly was a former stage actress, appeared in some silent films,  she is best known for two roles as moms: in 1941’s Sergeant York, where she did get nominated for Best Supporting Actress for playing Mother York to son Gary Cooper as Alvin York, and then as Ma Jarrett to son James Cagney, as Cody Jarrett in White Heat.

White Heat is often lauded as one of director Raoul Walsh and actor James Cagney’s best films.  It is available on dvd and I nabbed my copy from our local library.  It airs from time to time at TCM so keep a watch for it to be on the schedule in the future.  For a look at a criminal and his villainous Ma, seek out White Heat!!

 

My Classic Movie Pick: 1949’s Obsession aka The Hidden Room

I tuned into a classic movie this week that I had recorded on our trusty dvr and to my surprise, the film starred Long John Silver of Disney’s Treasure Island  and Uncle Owen, of Star Wars!  Of course the movie I watched, Obsession(British title) or The Hidden Room(US title) was made in 1949 when these two actors were a lot younger.  Robert Newton, best known to Americans as the loud and dangerous, but somewhat lovable  Long John Silver in Disney’s version of Treasure Island, was  a revelation as the somber, subdued Dr. Clive Riordan,  who becomes  obsessed with his plan of ultimate revenge on his cheating wife’s latest lover.

Obsession poster 1

American actor, Phil Brown, is great as Yank  Bill Kronin the wife-stealer.  He is a friendly tourist, quick witted and likes to use American slang, which proves to be a downfall for Dr. Riordan and provides a clue for Scotland Yard.   Physically, Brown, when compared to Newton, isn’t quite as tall and looks a lot thinner, giving off the impression of a weakling, but mentally Brown’s Bill has to stay on top of his game in order to outwit mad Dr. Riordan.

Robert Newton in his best known role to American audiences, Long John Silver in Disney's Treasure Island

Robert Newton in his best known role to American audiences, Long John Silver in Disney’s Treasure Island

Phil Brown in later years, as Uncle Owen in Star Wars!

Phil Brown in later years, as Uncle Owen in Star Wars!

Phil Brown's Bill being confronted by Robert Newton's Dr. Riordan

Phil Brown’s Bill being confronted by Robert Newton’s Dr. Riordan

The cheating wife, Storm Riordan( did British parents in the 1920s really name their daughters Storm???)played by Sally Gray,  is beautiful but calculating and definitely cold to her husband.  We don’t know why she has this penchant to cheat on him all the time nor why he hasn’t filed for divorce.

Sally Gray as Storm Riordan, the doctor's unfatithful wife

Sally Gray as Storm Riordan, the doctor’s unfatithful wife

Another key cast member  is a dog! Yes, a dog-“Monty”, a cute, white poodle.  Not the large standard size, perhaps a toy poodle? I’m not quite up on my different levels of poodle sizes but one can tell that in this movie’s plot, Monty is Storm’s  furry baby  and he plays an important part in the survival of Kronin.

In a way, the movie's hero, Monty the poodle, with Bill

In a way, the movie’s hero, Monty the poodle, with Bill Kronin

Scotland Yard inevitably gets called in on the case of the missing Bill Kronin and Naunton Wayne gives a great performance as Police Superintendent Finsbury.  One might be tricked into thinking he’s going to bungle the case of the missing American,  but his calm demeaner and perpetually good mood masks his brilliant mind in deducing just what the connection might be with the missing Kronin and Dr. Riordan.

Naunton Wayne as Police Superintendant Finsbury.

Naunton Wayne as Police Superintendant Finsbury.

Obsession was directed by Edward Dmytryk.  He had been a successful Hollywood director but fell into the US House of Reps UnAmerican Hearings, searching for communists in the entertainment industry.  Dmytryk was blacklisted so he moved his family to England and continued to direct movies there.  Obsession was based on the book A Man About a Dog, written by Alex Coppel who also wrote the movie’s screenplay.  Obsession is sometimes shown on TCM and it is available to buy on Amazon.   A very kind soul has put the movie on Youtube.

Obsession has a slow build-up to it’s climax but one can see the craftmanship throughtout  this well-developed movie.  For a good crime film with a good ending, seek out Obsession.

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