June 2008


Year: 1934

Director: Norman Taurog

Cast: Bing Crosby, Carole Lombard, Burns and Allen

First, let me say I love Carole Lombard. To Be or Not Be, My Man Godfrey, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Nothing Sacred…what not to like? When I first heard about the release of the Carole Lombard Collection, a six-film DVD set, I purchased it. The only film I previously seen in the set was Hands Across the Table, therefore, I was looking forward to seeing the rest. Since then, I have watched all except for We’re Not Dressing. Why’s that you ask? Well, in two words, Bing Crosby. I am not a fan and have had a love/hate relationship with his films. Holiday Inn is one of my favorite films to watch around the holiday season and as a Bob Hope fan I love the “Road” pictures yet I generally find Bing’s characters annoying, admittedly, less annoying in these films than in others. To watch We’re Not Dressing I had to look at this as a Carole Lombard film and not a Bing Crosby movie. I know, I know what you’re thinking, it’s the Carole Lombard Collection dummy!

We’re Not Dressing was more a vehicle for Bing Crosby than Carole Lombard who would really come into her own the same year this film was released when Howard Hawks used her in Twentieth Century. The film also stars George Burns and Gracie Allen, Leon Errol and Ethel Merman.

Carol is a wealthy yacht owner named Doris Worthington who is on a cruise to the South Pacific. Along for the ride are two fakes “Princes” Alexander (Ray Milland) and Michael (Jay Henry), both who are after Doris and her money. Doris has trouble choosing between which of these two phonies she wants to marry. Also on board, are sailor and deck hand Steve Jones (Bing Crosby) who has among his duties the responsibility for Doris’ pet bear. Yes, that’s right, a pet bear named Droopy who happens to like hearing Steve sing and he sings a lot! In the first fifteen minutes, Steve/Bing sings three songs. Doris’s Uncle Herbert (Leon Errol) and his man-chasing bride to be Edith (Ethel Merman) are also along the ride. Things take a turn for the worst when a drunken Uncle Herbert loses control of the yacht and it sinks resulting in crew and passengers having to abandon ship. Unknown to her, Steve saves Doris’ life when she is knocked unconscious as she prepares to jump overboard. The survivors end up on an island. Doris has always been served and pampered in her life now has to depend on Steve for survival since he knows how to survive under these more primitive circumstances finding food and building shelters. On the island, they meet George and Grace (Burns and Allen), two botanists living on the island working on their experiments. Of course, love conquers all, and they live happily ever after and Bing sings.

The film is silly for today’s audience and was probably silly for the audience of its day. This is mainly due to too many scenes with the bear. The film is a showcase for Bing, Carole’s role is secondary but she is effective, as always, and a pleasure to watch. The real highlight for me was Burns and Allen who pretty much steal the movie in every scene they are in. Ethel Merman and Leon Errol are also on hand. Crosby fans will love this because he sings quite a bit including two songs directly to the bear.

As I watched the film, it more and more reminded me of an Elvis movie. Then it struck me! The film was directed by Norman Taurog who some thirty years later would direct Elvis in nine films. All he had to do was replace Bing and Carole with Elvis and Ann-Margret and he had We’re Not Dressing…Elvis Style.

By John Greco

Greg and I both wanted a little more time to watch some movies for this podcast, so we’ll be recording it next Sunday, which give you a whole week to submit surveys. And please, please do.

Just wanted to let everyone know that our podcast is now up at iTunes! Just run a search for “Obscure Classics” and you’ll find us!

Year: 1935

Director: Victor Fleming

Starring: Jean Harlow, William Powell, Franchot Tone, Rosalind Russell

This film is a comedy/musical that oddly morphs into melodrama after an out-of-the-blue tragedy strikes. Ned Reilly (William Powell) is a lawyer with a fondness for gambling. He’s especially close to Granny (May Robson) and her granddaughter Mona Leslie (Jean Harlow). When the picture starts, it is up to old faithful Ned to bail out troublesome Mona from jail for an egregious traffic violation. He works his slick magic and gets Harlow’s character out on a technicality. It’s clear from the outset that while Ned may come on as a family friend, he is undoubtedly interested in Mona romantically. What really catapults this movie above other average fare is the wonderful banter between Ned and the two women. That’s where the picture really gets its heart.

Mona is a successful showgirl. She catches the eye of wealthy playboy Bob Harrison (Franchot Tone) and he simply must have her. Blind to Ned’s secret affections for her, Mona gets caught up in the idea of love and the allure of riches that Bob can bring to the table. The lovers elope immediately. Bob’s family is about as blue blood as rich people get and they are less than happy at the news. When he brings his new bride home to meet everyone not only are they unenthusiastic, but the Harrisons are boorish in their put downs and snobbish behavior toward our blonde. It turns out that Bob was expected to wed Jo Mercer (Rosalind Russell) who comes from a proper family. All the disapprovals build up resentment within Bob and when he finds out that Jo moved on and married someone else, he snaps.

Mona finds herself pregnant and in the midst of a scandal. She has trouble resuming her musical career. Desperate to help the woman he loves, Ned risks everything he has to produce her next show. When the platinum blonde comes on stage and starts to sing the first tune she is met by such a hostile audience that she is forced to stop singing and address their despicable behavior. Finished with her harangue, Harlow’s singer resumes the song and afterward the crowd responds with wild applause and cheering. Evidently her resiliency and determination won them over. The last sentimental shot between Powell and Harlow will not work for everyone but it got to me. As for the other performances, we get a brief couple of moments from Mickey Rooney as he plays a kid running a lemonade stand. Russell shines in kind of a thankless part of the dumped ex-love. Robson’s Granny is really fun to watch as she is quite a spitfire. Reckless shifts too much in tone to be considered a great movie. But the witty repartee between Harlow and Powell carries the day.

Year: 1933

Director: Sam Wood

Starring: Clark Gable and Jean Harlow

This rollicking good time at the movies features Jean Harlow and Clark Gable in arguably their best film together. Hold Your Man wears the pre-code banner with pride encompassing all the traits of the genre: double entendres, snappy dialogue, racy situations, and street-wise comedy. When the feature opens we see Eddie Hall (Gable) running a short con using a fugazi, a fake diamond ring. His mark figures out he’s been hoodwinked and pretty soon, our grifter is on the run. When he scrambles into an open apartment, he comes across Ruby Adams (Harlow) naked in her bathtub. Her initial reaction is to scream and find out what this nutjob is doing in her home uninvited. Eddie hears the police coming up the stairs and he pleads with Ruby to stall them so he can hide. Not a big fan of law enforcement herself, she reluctantly gives in. When the police come barging in, Ruby gives them her two cents but they barge into the bathroom to find the protagonist covered in soap suds in the tub. Harlow’s character claims that he’s her husband and Eddie yells at them to mind their own business. When the boys in blue leave the grifter jumps out of his bath and we see that he was in the water pants and all. It’s hilarious sequences such as the one I’ve just described that make this motion picture a delight to watch.

The heart and soul of Hold Your Man is the working relationship between Harlow and Gable. They are just like a couple of tennis pros volleying one sizzling barb after another. Quite full of himself, Eddie flirts w/ the curvy blonde like a determined bulldog. Facing one zinger from Ruby after another he accuses her of knowing all the answers. She replies, “Yeah, to all the dumb questions.” Eddie to this point in his life has been a good-for-nothing con artist and Ruby doesn’t have any delusions. She even points out that “… even your smile is crooked.” Eventually his charms prove irresistable to the point where when he tells her to dump her date and come over to his place in Flatbush, Ruby complies. When Gable’s character pours a Scotch and hands it to the blonde firecracker she asks, “Scotland or Brooklyn, which is it?” As Eddie tries to work more of his greasy charm, he invites Harlow’s character to join him on the sofa. Ruby sagely declares, “I got two rules when I go out visiting; keep away from couches and stay on your feet.” Of course, with the overwhelming chemistry these two have onscreen, she inevitably succumbs and spends the night. Eddie gets pinched and ends up doing time on the farm. The scene where she visits and teases him in jail works well. Ruby watches Eddie’s apartment for him and even re-decorates it. The grifter is quite pleased to find her there waiting upon his return. In typical pre-code fashion he follows Ruby into the bedroom, closing the door behind him with just his leg, slowly enough for the audience to infer what will ensue.

While the first two acts of this movie are wonderful, the last morphs from delicious comedy to sappy melodrama. Eddie finds a drunk they were trying to grift pawing Ruby all over. He slugs him so hard that the louse hits his head and dies. While Eddie is on the lam, Ruby gets left holding the bag as a witness spots her as the blonde who’d been with the deceased at the time of the murder. All the momentum this film achieved comes to a grinding halt as our female protagonist does time in prison. She runs across a rival for Eddie’s affections while in the can, and the women almost come to blows several times. When the brunette (Dorothy Burgess) tells everyone else in the barracks how sweet Eddie is on her, Ruby won’t stand for it. She offers this rejoinder instead: “You wouldn’t be a bad looking dame, if it wasn’t for you’re face.” Eventually our two lovers end up with a happy, if contrived, ending. But it’s the third reel that prevents this movie from reaching greatness. Still, this is the sexiest I’ve seen Harlow look onscreen. Hold Your Man is the best pre-code picture I have seen to date. It is mandatory viewing for fans of the platinum one or the king

Just wanted to let everyone know that I submitted the podcast to iTunes so it should be up shortly. I also put a link to subscribe to the RSS feed in the Sidebar Menu right here on the left. We’re also uploaded at Podcast Alley http://www.podcastalley.com/podcast_details.php?pod_id=59060 so you can download and subscribe from there as well.

Submit one or two films for each category with a few thoughts about each one. If you can’t fill all the categories out, that’s okay. We can’t either.

Animation
Romantic Comedy
Courtroom Drama
Epic
Mystery
Gangster
Fantasy
Sci-Fi
Sports
Western

Direct Download

I’m in  bit of a hurry, so I just wanted to get the podcast up. I’m working out the RSS feed and everything, but you can listen to our very first podcast now.

Ginger Rogers is my favorite actress. She’s mostly remembered today for being Fred Astaire’s dance partner throughout the 1930s. But Rogers had an acting talent that went beyond that. She was a fantastic and graceful dancer, but she should be remembered as so much more. Her range was unbelievable. She could make a fantastic screwball comedy, and then turn around and make a melodrama, giving great performances in both. Rogers stopped dancing with Astaire in 1939 with The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (they’d re-team just once more, ten years later, for The Barkleys of Broadway) to focus on a career in non-musical films. Almost immediately her talent was recognized and she won an Academy Award for her performance in the 1940 film Kitty Foyle. Unfortunately, though, so many of her sans-Fred films aren’t remembered today. Here are some of the best.

Primrose Path (Gregory La Cava, 1940)

The same year she gave her award winning performance in Kitty Foyle, she gave an even better performance in Primrose Path, as the daughter of a prostitute who tries to escape her life by marrying Joel McCrea. This is one of the most beautiful love stories put out by the studio system. It’s about the importance of honesty in a marriage. It’s surprising that this film got past the Production Code, not just because it featured characters who were clearly prostitutes, but because these characters were sympathetic. Marjorie Rambeau (who received an Oscar nomination for the role) played Rogers’ mother and a basically good woman simply doing what she was taught in order to support her family. Her relationship with Rogers is gentle. She only wants the best for her children. Primrose Path is a really brave film for the time it was made, and it’s just one of the best romance films I’ve ever seen.

Rafter Romance (William A. Seiter, 1933)

Rafter Romance is actually a pre-Fred film. It’s a simple but incredible sweet and pretty funny romance. Rogers and Norman Foster play two people who share an apartment – he lives there during the day, she lives there at night. They never meet, but they still can’t stand each other. Of course, they meet outside of the apartment, not realizing the other is the person they believe they can’t stand, and they fall in love. This is definitely one of the most original romantic comedies of the early 1930s. Rogers is completely charming, and Norman Foster is a good match for her. They’re both just so endlessly cute.

Romance In Manhattan (Stephen Roberts, 1935)

It’s amazing that such a simple romantic dramady can be so moving. Francis Lederer plays an immigrant who is in the country illegally. He’s taken in by Rogers and her kid brother. It’s really as simple as that. The three just try to make a living and stay afloat while Lederer and Rogers fall in love. But it’s such a sincere and genuine romance. It’s made with so much heart from all involved. And it has one of the funniest finales ever.

Star of Midnight (Stephen Roberts, 1935)

Star of Midnight is my favorite Thin Man knockoff. It’s central mystery is really very interesting, and it has a certain “strange” feeling that I think sets it apart from other screwball mysteries. Powell stars in this (and he’s great, as always) with Rogers as his much younger and very eager love interest. She goes after everything with determination and vigor, whether it’s trying to solve the case or trying to get Powell to marry her. I really wish these two had made more movies together. They were a perfect fit.

Vivacious Lady (George Stevens, 1938)

Vivacious Lady is a sweet romantic comedy made great by the brilliant pairing of Ginger Rogers and James Stewart. They both had an “everyman” feel to them, which made them an incredibly relatable couple. You want so badly for them to be happy together because they’re so normal and remind you of yourself. I also like that it’s not really a movie about two people falling in love. They get married early on in the film. The movie is about them trying to break the news to his family, and staying together while they do it. It’s just an adorable movie.

Bachelor Mother (Garson Kanin, 1939)

This is one of Rogers’ very best performances. She plays a woman who has to raise an orphaned baby she finds on her own because nobody believes it’s not hers. In the meantime, she begins to fall in love with David Niven, her boss’s son who takes an interest in caring for the baby as well. This movie is so great because, in addition to the great romance between Rogers and Niven, it’s wonderful to watch Rogers’ love for the baby, that’s not even hers, grow. It’s one of the most interesting and beautiful relationships in film.

5th Avenue Girl (Gregory La Cava, 1939)

5th Avenue Girl is such a good movie because it has so much going for it. First would be the relationship between Rogers and Walter Connolly. Connolly plays a wealthy man who is ignored by his family, she when he meets Rogers on a park bench he takes her in and the two pretend they’re having an affair in the hopes that the family will finally pay attention to what he’s doing. Rogers and Connolly bond and form a really nice father/daughter relationship that’s the heart of the movie. But the movie has three love stories going on. Throughout the film, Connolly and his wife eventually find their way back to each other. Connolly’s daughter is in love with the chauffer, who seems to be something of a communist. The best love story, though, you don’t realize is there until about halfway through the movie. Rogers and Connolly’s son, Tim Holt, fall in love. It’s a strangely done romance, I’m not even sure I can really describe it, but it’s a really strong film all together.

Tom, Dick, and Harry (Garson Kanin, 1941)

Rogers played a character in Tom, Dick, and Harry who was a little… simpler than most of her other characters. She dreams of romance and love, but can’t choose between three different guys: the regular guy who’s working his way up to management at a local store, the millionaire, and the poor guy. The best part about this movie is that each of the guys has their pros and their cons, and you really have no idea who she’ll choose in the end. She gives a really adorable performance, and this movie is just cute.

Tales of Manhattan (Julian Duvivier, 1942)

In this series of loosely connected vignettes, Ginger Rogers has one of the best stories. It’s a little, short, self contained story about Rogers finding out her fiancee is a cad and realizing his pal, Henry Fonda, is perfect for her. It’s short, sweet, and funny. And Rogers and Fonda are SO good together. Watching this, it’s hard to believe they never made any other films together. They were such a good pairing.

I’ll Be Seeing You (William Dieterle, 1944)

This movie is SO amazing. While there were a lot of movies being made to show how awesome soldiers were and to spread patriotic propaganda during the war, I’ll Be Seeing You was one of the first films to really take a look at the negative effects the war was having on the soldiers. This movie gives us two incredibly flawed, complicated, and damaged characters and allows them to fall in love. It’s just such a beautiful movie. You really didn’t see movies and characters like this too much in classic film.

By Katie Richardson

Cyd Charisse, actress, dancer, and all around class act, died yesterday at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angelas on Tuesday from an apparent heart attack.

Charisse became famous in Hollywood for her dancing ability and fantastic legs, beginning her career as a featured dancer in films like Ziegfeld Follies and Till the Clouds Roll By. She then made several films with Ricardo Montalban in the late 1940s, including Fiesta and On an Island With You. During this time she also made a few non-musical films, such as Tension and East Side, West Side.

It was 1952’s Singin’ In the Rain, in which she appeared as a specialty dancer alongside Gene Kelly in the epic Broadway Rhythm Ballet, that shot Charisse to fame. Through the 1950s, she was one of the most popular dancing actresses in film. She danced alongside Fred Astaire in the essential classic The Bandwagon, as well as the musical remake of Ninotchka, Silk Stockings. She also starred again with Gene Kelly in Brigadoon and It’s Always Fair Weather.

Late in the 1950s, Charisse began to show her skill for dramatic role by making non-musicals such as Twilight for the Gods, the fantastic noir Party Girl, and Two Weeks in Another Town.

Charisse was one of the few remaining legends of Classic Hollywood. She is survived by husband Tony Martin and her sons Nicholas and Tony, Jr.

Here are some clips of Charisse’s most memorable dances.

The Broadway Rhythm Ballet from Singin’ in the Rain

Frankie and Johnny from Meet Me in Las Vegas

Orchids in the Moonlight Tango from On an Island With You

Fated to be Mated from Silk Stockings

From Silk Stockings

The Flaming Flamenco from Fiesta

Dance of Fury from The Kissing Bandit

Dancing in the Dark from The Bandwagon

Sun Dance from Mark of the Renegade

Baby You Knock Me Out from It’s Always Fair Weather

The Girl Hunt from The Bandwagon

La Bamba from Fiesta

The Heather on the Hill from Brigadoon

All of You from Silk Stockings

By Katie Richardson

Next Page »