Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

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.

For the CinemaScope Blogathon: The Inn of the 6th Happiness

When I discovered that Becky of Classic Becky’s Brain Food  and Rich of Wide Screen World were co-hosting a blogathon all about movies filmed in Cinemascope, I decided to participate.  I chose The Inn of the 6th Happiness, which starred Ingrid Bergman and was made in 1958 by 20th Century Fox.  Before I get into the movie’s plot, what in the world was CinemaScope?     CinemaScope blogathon

CinemaScope was the process of filming a movie with a lens that made the images on the screen two and a half times as wide as they are high.  It was popular in Hollywood from 1953-1967.  From my research, Hollywood was a bit downhearted when televisions began to be purchased by the American consumers.  Attendance numbers at movie theaters nationwide started to drop.  The movie studios needed another tactic to entice the movie goers back into the theaters so advertising a new movie as eye-catching, with surround sound, was one marketing tool used to great effect.  CinemaScope, indeed, did help to pull Americans back into the theatres and away from their tiny television screens.  For more technical details about CinemaScope, read this link and this link.  Now, on to The Inn of 6th Happiness!       The Inn of the 6th Happiness

This movie is based on the real life adventures of English missionary Gladys Aylward and her life in China.  Gladys’s life had been successfully told in the  book,  The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess.  20th Century Fox bought the film rights and the movie was made, shot in Wales and alas, not in China.  To have a lot of Chinese orphans on hand, since the real Aylward helped orphans in China, the children from Liverpool’s China Town were hired to be in the film!  I had no idea Liverpool had a China Town, and from my readings, it is the oldest Chinese settlement in Europe.

Ingrid Bergman stars as Aylward, with her two main co-stars, Curt Jurgens as Colonel Lin Nan, Robert Donat as the Mandarin of Yang Cheng.   Athene Seyler plays  Jeannie Lawson, Ronald Squire as Sir Francis Jamison, Moutltrie Kelsall as Dr. Robinson, and Burt Kwok as Li.

Gladys Aylward has only had one desire in her life, to be a missionary, and specifically, in China.  Due to her family’s poverty, she had to drop out of school and became a house maid.  She worked hard, saved her earnings, and wrote to the China Inland Mission, an organization in England that began in 1865.(It is now known as Overseas Missionary Fellowship or OMF.)  Due to Gladys lack of a full education and her age, the mission turned her down.  Determined to get to China, Gladys saved enough money to purchase a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Railway.  It was a lower-priced fare because it was a more dangerous route to take of the two that existed in the late 1920s for travel to China from England.  Gladys arrives in China, gets to the town of Yang Cheng,  and obtains employment at The Inn of 6th Happiness, which is  owned and operated by English missionary Jeannie Lawson.  Pretty soon, Gladys has proved herself a valuable asset at the Inn, and when Lawson dies in an accident, Alyward goes on with running the Inn rather than closing its doors.

The Mandarin, Colonel Nan, and Gladys

The Mandarin, Colonel Nan, and Gladys

Yang Cheng is run by the Mandarin, sort of like the town mayor, but a mayor for life.  He calls on Gladys and asks her to undertake a project:go into Yang Cheng and the surrounding smaller villages and convince the citizens to stop binding their young daughters feet.  The binding of young girls feet began hundreds of years before the 1920s, and despite the crippling effect it had on  a foot’s development, the Chinese government had a difficult time in eradicating the practice.   Gladys succeeds at stopping the foot binding and even finds time to stop a prison uprising!  She greatly impresses the Mandarin who decides to look into this God that she believes in.  Gladys has also caught the eye of Colonel Lin Nan, a half-Chinese, half-European man.  He is worried for Gladys when news reaches them that Japan has now invaded China.  The colonel urges Gladys to flee Yang Cheng but she tells him she can’t due to the 50 orphans who have turned up at her Inn, needing help.

When Yang Cheng falls under attacks from the  Japanese Air Force, the citizens know that the army will soon follow, and the exodus begins.  Gladys doesn’t know what to do with the 50 orphans who have arrived at the Inn for help.  Colonel Lin finds out that in the neighboring province trucks will be there and they can take Gladys and the orphans  to a safer place in China.  However, Gladys only has 3 weeks to get the orphans to the trucks and they will have to climb a mountain region to get there!  With Li as her only other adult helper(he being the former prison revolt leader)they prepare to depart.  On the day of leaving the Inn, 50 more orphans arrive from a neighboring village!!  Gladys and Li have no choice but to also add those children to their original 50.   Gladys and Li move forward with their journey,  to get over the mountain with 100 orphans and get them to safety!!

Telling the Colonel good-bye

Telling the Colonel good-bye

The Inn of the 6th Happiness was a box office smash.  It was the second most popular movie in Britain in 1959.  Director Mark Robson was nominated for Best Director at the 1959 Academy Awards.  Sadly, it was the last movie Robert Donat would ever appear in.  He was plagued with horrible asthma most of his life and shortly after he began the movie, he discovered that he had a brain tumor.  He died shortly after all of his work was done in the film, his last line in the movie proving prophetic: “We shall not see each other again, I think,  Farewell.”

Gladys Aylward was still alive and working with orphans in Taiwan when the movie arrived at theatres.  While the book The Small Woman was a correct account of her life, the movie version horrified her!  First, she herself was a very petite woman and who did they cast to play her but 5’9″ Ingrid Bergman!  Second, Aylward was English and spoke with a Cockney accent, not a Swedish accent as Bergman did.  Third, there was no romantic notions between Aylward and the real Colonel Lin, who was 100% Chinese.  Aylward was very upset that they made Lin a mixed nationality person as she felt it demeaned his real heritage;she was also horrified at the hints that they had been in love with each other.  Aylward devoted her life to working in China, serving those in need, and had decided a long time ago to not have a husband or a family of her own.  Fourth, the movie hardly mentioned her difficulties in becoming a missionary and the difficulties she had in getting to China.  The train she took stopped in Siberia and wouldn’t continue on to China so Aylward had to walk the rest of the way!  In the film, Aylward just has to put up with some rude soldiers and the train takes her right to Tsientsin!  The real Inn was named The Inn of the 8th Happiness due to the number 8, in China, being considered special or auspicious.  Why Hollywood changed the number from 8 to 6 also perplexed Aylward.  Despite her frustrations with the movie, the book and the movie both gave her a bit of cause celeb and she was able to use her new found fame to shine the focus onto her work in Taiwan with the orphans.

Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward

Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward

The real Gladys Aylward

The real Gladys Aylward

The Inn of the 6th Happiness-where can you see it in it’s glorious CinemaScope?  From time to time it does air on Turner Classic Movies, a kind soul has put the film on Youtube, it’s available to buy or watch on instant rent through Amazon, and it’s also available to buy through TCM’s Shop, in a blu ray or a regular dvd format.

The Inn of the 6th Happiness poster 2

For a heartwarming and intelligently told film, despite the real Gladys Aylward’s reactions to it, seek out this film, one that the whole family can watch together.    Here is the trailer for the film.

Knight Without Armor: For the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside of an enigma.”   Due to the quite different political philosophies of the former Soviet Union and of  Western Europe and the United States, movies made about Russians by Western film studios often focused on the evils of communism and Russians trying to escape it’s grasp.  This blog today is part of Movies, Silently‘s tribute to Russia in Classic Films.  Be sure to visit that fabulous site to read more entries about films from Russia and about Russia.

Russian Banner

In 1933, novelist James Hilton wrote Knight Without Armor, telling such a tale: In 1917, a Russian countess is trying to escape the country as the communists and the anti-communists are battling each other  with much bloodshed.  To her aid arrives a British man, a spy who has infiltrated a radical Russian political group.  He is the Knight, without a suit of armor, and he will do his chivalrous best to aid this lady in her efforts to escape.

Knight without Armor poster 1

British film producer Alexander Korda, head of London Films,  bought the rights to Hilton’s novel in 1936.  Hollywood must have at one time thought of  making a movie version of the novel because one of the best female screenwriters who had ever worked in Hollywood, Francis Marion, had written an adapted screenplay a few years prior to Korda’s interest in the film and he hired  Lajos Biro to write a new screenplay, using Marion’s as source material.  Jacques Feyder was brought on to direct and Miklos Rozsa created the music for the film.  This was the first film Rozsa ever scored music for; some of the music was his own creation and the rest he borrowed from Tchaikovsky.

British actor Robert Donat plays Ainsley J. Fothergill(what a name!)  He is an expert in the Russian language, an ex-pat reporter who is now working as an Russian to English book translator.  Due to an earlier critical article he wrote about Russia and its politics, he is kicked out of the country by the Tsar’s government.  Back in England and feeling depressed, Fothergill is asked to aid his government: become a spy with Secret Service, take on a Russian name and become a member of a radical political group, report back to Britain periodically about this group.  Fothergill accepts immediately and becomes Peter Ouranoff.

German actress (and future American Citizen) Marlene Dietrich plays the beautiful heroine, Countess Alexandra Vladinoff.  She visits England in 1913 to attend the Ascot horse races, returns to Russia and happily marries Count Adraxine.  Life is fine for her and then WWI arrives.  Her husband is made a colonel in the Russian Army and is killed in a battle.  WWI, for Russia, also unleashes a civil war: the Tsar’s supporters-The White Army vs the newly-created Communist Party, The Red Army.  Poor Countess Alexandra is caught in the middle of this civil war.  Her estate is overrun by the Red Army supporters and she is arrested for being an aristocrat.  Fortunately for her, our hero, Peter(aka loyal Britain Fothergill) is assigned to be her personal guard and take her to Petrograd(St. Petersburg) to stand trial.  Once on the train, however, Peter(Fothergill) falls in love with Countess Alexandra, and she falls in love with him.  The decision for both of them to  escape the country is easily made.

Marlene in one of her gorgeous gowns

Marlene in one of her gorgeous gowns

Pre-Countess days, Alexandria at the Ascot

Pre-Countess days, Alexandra at the Ascot

The suspense in this film is the myriad of obstacles that keep popping up to hamper this noble couple’s  efforts to escape.   Will these two lovebirds avoid the evil clutches of two warring political factions?  If they are caught, it could mean the death penalty for both of them.  Peter(Fothergill) is supposedly a Red supporter and if he’s taken captive by the Whites, it spells his doom.  The Countess is supposedly a White supporter and if she’s taken captive by the Reds, it spells her doom!  This Russian political stuff is tricky stuff!

Peter and Alexandria hiding in the woods

Peter and Alexandra hiding in the woods

Showing their hands to try and prove that they're really just peasants

Showing their hands to try and prove that they’re really just peasants

To see this interesting, suspenseful, romance film, Turner Classic Movies will be airing it next week, on March 18th, at noon/Eastern time, 11:00 am Central.  I searched Amazon to see if this movie is available for purchase and I could only discover that the dvds of the movie are from Italy, and I am not sure if they’ve been translated into English.  Fortunately, for those of you who don’t have access to Turner Classic Movies cable channel, a very kind soul has put Knight Without Armor on Youtube!

The other actors and actresses in this film were unfamiliar to me and I haven’t listed them because the main focus of the film is Robert Donat and Marlene Dietrich, and that’s as it should be!  Donat is charming and debonair as the British spy/hero. Two years earlier he helmed  Alfred Hitchcock’s espionage thriller The 39 Steps.  Marlene Dietrich is sublime as the Countess.  She is gorgeous, her costumes are gorgeous, and she takes on the role with care and skill.

KWA title shot

Seek this film out for a look at Russia, it’s political infightings, but mostly for the love story.

 

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