November 2008

It’s that one day of the year where everyone sits down and thinks about what they’re truly thankful for. There are are a lot of things I’m thankful for. Karaoke Saturday at The 412 Club. Michelle, the waitress at Henry’s who always knows what I want before I even walk through the door on Wednesday nights. Those free mini-posters they give out at the movies theater. But what things am I thankful for this year that can actually be discussed on this site. Let’s see….

  1. First and foremost, the Murnau, Borzage, and Fox DVD set that’s going to be released in a few weeks. Until now, there have been very, very few films available on DVD from Frank Borzage, and this massive DVD set has 11 of his films. Oh, happy day. The classic movie gods have smiled on us.
  2. . No addict should be allowed to get their fix this cheap.
  3. TCM. Duh. How many of us would have seen half the classics we love so much without this glorious channel?
  4. Blank VHS tapes. Yes, call me old fashioned, but I still don’t have Tivo, DVR, or any fancy technology on my computer to burn DVDs. So I’m stuck with good ol’ VCR recording. I have over 100 tapes of movies I’ve recorded off TCM. And then there’s all the tv shows I record and treasure. I only just started recording over my West Wing tapes (I had all seven seasons recorded), even though I’ve had the DVDs for years now.
  5. Fox Movie Channel. To a MUCH lesser extent than TCM, but they show a lot of good classics that Fox has not released to TCM, like Blood Money and Tales of Manhattan.
  6. Best Buy. When I don’t feel like spending a lot on DVDs, and I can go to Best Buy. And If I look dilligently enough, I will find a copy of some old classic Cary Grant or James Stewart made that nobody’s heard of. Some public domain release, for $4. Or better yet, a set of movies like these, for about 25 cents a movie.
  7. Films of the Golden Age magazine. This comes out seasonly, I think, so I head to Borders every few months to pick it up. It’s a really good magazine that covers a lot of classic film ground. And not just Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Humphry Bogart. They really dive deep into the world of classic film.
  8. Books with great pictures. Sin In Soft Focus, Hurrell’s Hollywood Portraits, and others. They do have text that tells the story of whatever they’re about, but the centerpieces of the books tend to be the beautiful pictures. And I loves it.
  9. This site. I know, it’s corny. But there’s nowhere else I can go to talk about obscure classic films with people.

By Katie Richardson


My brain is kind of melting. I played way too many drinking games last night and can no longer thing of clever titles for my posts.

Anyhoo…. everyone knows the “essential” Fred and Ginger films. Swing Time, Top Hat, The Gay Divorcee, Shall We Dance. But most of my favorites are the ones that don’t get a lot of attention. Roberta, Carefree, Follow the Fleet. And these movies have some of my very favorite Fred and Ginger dances. So why aren’t they better known? So here are my favorite obscure Fred and Ginger movies, with my favorite dances from each of them.

In my absolute favorite of their films, Fred and Ginger actually play second banana to Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne. They are infinitely more interesting than the main couple, but the movie is just so completely charming.

I’ll Be Hard to Handle
I don’t think Fred and Ginger ever had more fun doing a dance number than they did here. It’s a fast, fun, breezy dance that’s a blast to watch, and judging be the smiles and laughter coming from the pair, a blast to perform as well.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
This is my favorite Fred and Ginger dance. It’s a very simple dance, but it’s so well choreographed and put together. It’s extremely beautiful, and has some exquisite moments (the dip, the spin, the way he holds her head against his shoulder… so romantic).

Follow the Fleet
Fred and Ginger are kind of playing second banana again in this one (the other couple is Randolph Scott and Harriet Hilliard). The balance is a little more even between the pairings in this one, though. For once, Fred and Ginger don’t play upper class people. Fred is a sailor in the Navy and Ginger is a singer/dancer in a small dance hall. It makes for a really unique and fun dynamic between them.

I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket
This is probably Fred and Ginger’s funniest number. I also love it because it’s really a moment for Ginger to shine and show her tremendous ability for physical comedy. Fred’s great here, but surprisingly, it really is Gingers number. I also like the song quite a bit as well.

Let’s Face the Music and Dance
Like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes this is a very simply done, but beautiful number. Ginger’s dress is extremely beautiful in it (it’s probably my favorite dress Ginger wore in any of there movies). It was beaded and very heavy, and if you look close enough you can see Fred getting whapped in the face by one of the sleeves.

This is probably the most unique Fred and Ginger movie, because it’s storyline and narrative structure are completely different from their other films. Fred is a psychiatrist who’s trying to help his friend with his wishy washy fiance (Ginger). Of course, they fall in love. This is definitely more Ginger’s movie than Fred’s, and it’s probably her finest comedic performance.

I Used to Be Color Blind
This is a very interesting dance. It’s done in slow motion to give it a dreamy feeling (the whole dance is actually a dream sequence). And it’s also the first time Fred and Ginger shared a kiss onscreen.

The Yam
This number is another reason that this is mostly Ginger’s movie. She gets to sing this song (Fred thought it was too silly and handed it off to her). She does a great job, and she kind of takes the lead in the dance, which is a really fun and creative number.

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1938

Director: John Farrow

Cast: Kay Francis, Dickie Moore, Bonita Granville, John Litel, Anita Louise, Bobby Jordan, Maurice Murphy, Elisabeth Risdon,  and Helena Phillips Evans

Okay, okay, so it is rather predictable.
Okay, okay, so it is rather hard to swallow at times
Okay, okay, perhaps it is a little sentimental and perhaps the plot all unfolds a little too conveniently, but it is touching.
That’s right.  My Bill with Kay Francis and Dickie Moore, is heart-warming and fun, despite some weaknesses.  It won’t particularly stand out as the ultimate example of film making at its finest, but it is carried by very competent performances, universal dramatic themes and a scandalous subtext that it dances around but lends some meat and depth to what comes across as a pretty fluffy film on the surface.
It follows the life of a family that has recently lost their father.  The widow (played by Kay Francis) has done the best she can with the money she was left by her successful husband but due to some unfortunate investments she is rapidly running low and the family is in danger of loosing everything.  She has four kids to look after ranging in age from approximately seven to approximately eighteen or nineteen.  As mentioned before, the performances in the film are all very impressive, especially from the children.  Amongst the children shines a more then competent actor, Dickie Moore who plays the youngest son, a precocious young man who is as loyal to his mother as he is cute.  Of all the performances Dickie Moore’s portrayal of Bill really steals the show and elevates the film from mediocre at best to not only charming and enjoyable but touching and quite emotionally engaging at times.
Kay Francis is as charming as ever.  She had a lot of range and it is fun to see how much her many characters varied from one another yet a certain screen presence always bleeds through and Kay is always there, whether she is playing a whore, a business woman, a doctor or a nurturing and loving homemaker like she is in in this film.  You can’t help but sympathize with her as she struggles through difficult financial times but all the while keeps chipper and shields the family from the trouble.
Soon she is on the brink of loosing everything and worst of all a relative of her recently deceased husband materializes with some nasty accusations and even nastier intentions for this struggling mother and her emotionally fragile young family. 
Kay Francis often faced hardships in her films, she was like the soap queen of the time, long before there were soap operas obviously, and while there is very real drama in the film, it is all rather light-hearted and fun, not melodramatic like some of her rolls in some of her films.  You never doubt she will prevail and you never doubt her son will play a part in it and while it is somewhat predictable, it is still a great little film about persisting even when you hit rock bottom and about the importance of family and loved ones, espeically during hard times.
One last thought on Dickie Moore.  As I watched the film I felt like Dickie Moore was familiar.  I knew his face was a face I had seen before many times and clearly in something I knew well but couldn’t recall.   I couldn’t place him however and even after finishing the movie I still couldn’t figure out where I had seen him before.  I knew he must have grown up to be an adult and perhaps played a part as an adult that I was very familiar with, but yet I couldn’t come up with a title to save my life.  Now, if you plan to watch it and you are familiar with classic films and you want to see if you can place him, don’t finish this paragraph.  For the rest of you, I’ll tell you what he was in, and I kicked myself for not being able to come up with it.  It turns out he had a key part in one of the best known film noirs of the 40s.  None other then Out of the Past.  He plays the deaf boy working at the service station.  For those familiar with Out of the Past, you know exactly who I mean, and you can understand why I kicked myself for not placing him.  He does have a distinct look, and he is someone a film noir fan should recognize, but in those 9 years from 1938 to 1947 he was completely transformed from a round-faced little child into a slender, even lanky young man, with a thin face.  It is the same face though.  He was great in both movies, and both are movies worth seeing if you haven’t seen them already.

Year: 1931

Director: Frank Capra

Cast: Loretta Young, Jean Harlow, and Robert Williams

Modern audiences will find Platinum Blonde predictable, not humorous, and lacking in the intended sensuality.

This movie, which is about a love triangle, and about the differences between the rich and the poor in America has lost a lot of appeal since the original release of the film. Robert Williams, who plays the lead, is mildly amusing and charismatic but mostly comes across as a sub-par comedian trying to squeeze laughs out of a mediocre script.

While I don’t know for sure, I imagine this is one of the roles where critics found Jean Harlow’s performance lacking as well. Too often it feels like she is just reciting lines and forcing emotions. You can actually see Jean Harlow acting. While there is a hint of Jean Harlow’s signature look and sex appeal, for the most part in this film 20 year old Harlow has not fully come into her looks yet. Modern audiences will be baffled at why she is found to be so much superior to the third part of the triangle, Loretta Young, who plays a newspaper girl named Gallagher who is just one of the guys. From the first close up of her face it is clear she isn’t however. She is adorable from the first frame to the closing scene and quite frankly the saving grace to this movie. Even this early in her career Loretta Young is clearly an accomplished actress with the ability to draw attention to herself in each and every scene she is in, while maintaining a certain innocence and low key appeal that is perfect for her role in this film.

Perhaps in 1931 this film had some impact, but it has lost a lot and is unlike some near masterpieces from the 1930s. It is unlikely to entertain most modern audiences.

It was a great, fun weekend full of weddings, romance (well, none for me, sadly), and drinking. Lots and lots of drinking.

My brother and his now-wife were married at the Embassy in Fort Wayne, which I’ve talked about before. It’s the town’s historic theater. And their reception was at the Baker Street Station, the old train station. So I really felt like I was in an old movie for pretty much all of Saturday.

Here’s my brother and me at the rehearsal dinner, the night before he became a married man.

I don’t have any pictures of my in my dress, but here’s one of my hair.

And I don’t have any from the actual wedding yet, but here’s some stuff from the rehearsal in the Embassy. We just looked so cool and classy.

I was on the groom’s side, so I’m standing on the top set of stairs, on the second step. I’m the only girl there, the one leaning in talking to the best man.

It was a fun, wonderful weekend. On the day of the wedding, there was alcohol pretty much everywhere I went. Champagne at the brunch, beer while I was waiting with the boys for the wedding to start, beer after the wedding while we were waiting for pictures, alcohol on the trolley we rode around on after the wedding, beer at the bar we stopped at before the reception, and then of course the reception. And by the end of the night I was just going around the wedding party tables and drinking whatever people had left. I got back to the hotel room and passed out on the bed still fully dressed in my bridesmaid gown. Good times.

So, thanks to Greg for taking on the admin responsibilities for the weekend. Now that all the wedding stuff is over, things can get back to normal. Podcasts, YouTube movies of the week, and all that good stuff.

As you all know from my last post, my brother is getting married tomorrow. I actually have time to myself this morning (amazingly) so I wanted to take some time to talk about weddings in movies.

One of Fred and Ginger’s most unique films revolves all around getting married. Fred is a psychologist who’s best friend, Ralph Bellamy, wants to marry Ginger, but she’s too indecisive to decide if she wants to marry him or not. Ralph brings her to see Fred to try to get her aversion to marriage worked out, and she ends up falling in love with him instead.

There are a lot of differences in this film from usual Fred and Ginger romances. For one, Fred doesn’t play a dancer. The romance follows a more traditional and conventional romantic comedy formula (which, for a Fred and Ginger movie, was not traditional or conventional). There are also so very funny moments involving psycholanalysis and hypnosis. The wedding comes at the very end, but you’ll never forget Ginger walking down the aisle with a shiner.

The Palm Beach Story
The Palm Beach Story is really about weddings (though it is an excellent film about marriage), but it has one of the greatest wedding scenes of all time. It takes place in the opening credits, and doesn’t even make much sense until later in the film, but it’s a great example of screwball filmmaking. It was also one the most unique opening title sequences ever. And, of course, you get to look at Joel McCrea. And that never hurt anyone.

I Married a Witch
I Married a Witch has both a great wedding scene and a great wedding night scene. But not with the same bride. The wedding scene, in which Fredric March is supposed to marry Susan Hayward, is hysterical. Veronica Lake is waiting upstairs, and the wedding keeps starting and stopping, with March running upstairs. Add to the fact the the wonderful Cecil Kellaway is there as Lake’s father trying to sabotage their relationship, and Robert Benchley being all awkward and bumbling.

Then there’s the wedding night, after he’s ditched Hayward at the alter and married Lake. It’s just a simple, sweet, romantic scene between the pair. They had a lot of chemistry, and this scene just shows it

Man’s Castle
You didn’t think I’d write about weddings without mentioning this movie, did you? It’s definitely different in tone than the other movies I’ve talked about. Bill marries Trina out of obligation (though he really does love her) when he discovers she’s pregnant. And she knows it. It’s such an oddly done scene, almost sad, as both of them look miserable. Not because they’re getting married, but because of the reasons. Like so many Borzage weddings, it bucks the traditional notions of a Church wedding, and they’re bound together more spiritually than legally. This is also done in other Borzage films, like Seventh Heaven and The Mortal Storm.

You might even say that, though the words were said, they aren’t truly married until after the wedding, after Bill tries to rob the toy store. He returns to Trina, and she patches up his wound. They make untraditional vows and promises to each other, and it’s much more a scene of unity than the wedding.

By Katie Richardson


Year: 1933

Director: Gustav Machatý

Cast: Hedy Lamarr, Aribert Mog, and Zvonimir Rogoz

It seems that critics are equally divided on this movie. One side claims that Ecstasy is a silly romp, with amateurish Freudian references and completely overrated. Others rave about its wonderful sexuality taken from the female point of view. One thing for sure, the nudity and content were scandalous for the 1930’s.

When the picture starts, Eva (Hedy Lamarr) and Emile (Zvonimir Rogoz) are about to consummate their marriage on the first night of their honeymoon. Unfortunately for a vibrant young woman of 19, her older husband is impotent. Worse yet, during the rest of their holiday he’s apathetic toward her. Eva only puts up with this boorish behavior for a few days before she flees to her parents’ house out of frustration. She unburdens herself to her father and to his credit, he understands the need for a dissolution of her marital sham. Lamarr’s character utilizes the idyllic farm country as a playground to convalesce in. She rides horseback and takes in the stimulation of flourishing plant life and wild animals. Eva is also fond of swimming in the nude. On one such occasion she makes the mistake of leaving her dress on top of her mount. When the randy horse gets a whiff of a mare in heat, he shoots across the hillside in pursuit. Eva is forced to give chase in her birthday suit. When one of the nearby laborers named Adam — played by Aribert Mog — sees the runaway horse, he runs after it. Having rundown the lusty animal, Adam begins to seek the owner. Stomping through the foliage, Eva spots the young man walking her mount so she hides in the bushes. When the laborer spots the beautiful girl in the buff, the physical attraction between the two is palpable. He teases her for a moment as if he’s deciding whether or not to give back her clothing. After a time, he tosses the dress to her while she’s still behind the bushes. She leaves in mock disgust but it is clear that the laborer has made an impression.

At this point, the abandoned bourgeois groom is distressed. Whether it’s the humiliation for a man with his social standing or genuine regret motivating him, Emile calls his bride and requests a meeting. She agrees to receive the anxious gentleman at her father’s home. Whatever hope Emile had for a reconciliation is quickly vanquished when our protagonist lays into him with warranted gusto. Having detailed his many transgressions, she demands an immediate divorce. A defeated Emile sees the fruitlessness of his pleas and acquiesces to her wishes. On one stormy night, Eva is restless and on edge. She repeatedly looks out the window and it becomes apparent that the young woman is turned on. With each lightning bolt getting her worked up even more, Lamarr’s character leaps from the living room and scampers into the darkness. When she arrives at Adam’s cabin soaking wet and heaving with passion and lust, he is pleasantly surprised. The two young lovers become inseparable and it is not long before they are married and with child. What becomes of Emile? His fate seems to have been sealed once he failed to deliver the goods that first night.

I can see how some contemporary viewers might think Ecstasy is corny. Some of the phallic symbols do get a little ridiculous. But I try to assess older films in the context of their environment. Even by pre-code standards full frontal nudity and the portrayal of a female orgasm are unheard of for 1933. And this is Hedy Lamarr, people. Without a doubt she is in my top 10 Hollywood babes list. In this picture you can see the foundation for the great beauty to come in her 20’s and 30’s. Machatý does a masterful job of capturing Lamarr’s stunning visage in several memorable closeups. Though this picture has sound, the director chose to shoot it like a silent movie with very sparse dialogue. This approach works well as the images do all the necessary talking. Is Ecstasy a great film? No. But it contains some memorable moments as well as the landmark debut of a truly gifted female artist.

By James White


Year: 1933

Director: Frank Tuttle

Cast: Genevieve Tobin, Roland Young, Ralph Forbes, Una O’Connor, Minna Gombell, Frank Atkinson, Robert Greig, and Arthur Hoyt

I read a 1933 NY Times article on Pleasure Cruise yesterday and was surprised to see this quote: “Mr. Young and Miss Tobin aroused heaps of laughter from an audience yesterday afternoon.” I thought this pre-code film was cute but one man’s hilarity from 75 years ago apparently doesn’t measure up to a contemporary audience. At least this audience of one, anyway. The basic storyline is that an engaged couple are going through a trying financial time as Andrew Poole (Young) has been ruined and is forced to sell every asset to satisfy creditors. Embarrassed by this calamity, Poole believes the only sensible thing to do is call off the wedding. Shirley (Tobin) won’t hear of it. She has a good job in a downtown London firm and Tobin’s character is willing to be the breadwinner until they get back on their feet. Reluctant to agree because of appearances, Andrew gives in when his fiancee argues convincingly that he can finish the book he’s always going on about. When we first see Mr. Poole doing housechores in an apron, this is our second indicator of a pre-code convention: a role reversal of the sexes. One of the aspects of this picture I really enjoyed was Tuttle’s creative use of the camera. Right from the opening shot I could tell that this director had formidable skills. As Pleasure Cruise begins the viewer thinks he sees the back of a naked women posing for an artist. But as the camera moves closer we realize that we’re seeing a painting instead. Psych. Still another trait of pre-code pictures is partial or even full-on nudity. One of the true competencies of Classic Hollywood directors is their gift of economy when it comes to narrative pacing. This picture clocks in at a brief 70 minutes. Tuttle employs transition shots to depict passages of time. For example, to move from the auction to the wedding to the film’s present, Tuttle focuses on the couples’ feet as they walk. The director uses this method again to shift the movie from the Pooles’ argument in the rain outside the travel agent office, forward to the cruise ship; simply by focusing on a puddle. Back to our tale. Andrew is slowly going frustrated at the thought of his wife working in an office surrounded by men. As he relates his jealousies to Judy (Minna Gombell) the househusband gazes into a photo of his lovely wife. He discusses how he imagines each co-worker to be as the picture becomes animated and we see Shirley roam the office to each of her colleagues. Of course, as her husband visualizes the men, they are all very handsome. Yet Tuttle manages to also show them as they really are: old and crusty. By the time she gets home his jealousy manifests itself into an argument that continues until they find themselves outside a travel office. Tobin’s character suggests that maybe what they need is a holiday from their matrimony. Young’s character exclaims that he’d love to go fishing and his wife agrees that it is a great idea. When she counters that she’ll embark on a pleasure cruise while he’s gone, he becomes enraged and they part ways. Mr. Poole calls in a marker he has with an old friend who sits on the cruise ship company’s board of directors. It is arranged for him to board the vessel posing as a barber. Now he can ensure his wife doesn’t engage in any shenanigans. Onboard, Shirley Poole is ogled and sweet-talked by several potential suitors. The idea of an extra-marital affair is suddenly starting to have an appeal for the newlywed. There are several comedy sequences where Mr. Poole — in various disguises — spies on his wife as she interacts with a variety of playboys. One such player named Richard Taversham (Ralph Forbes) actually makes an impression. She ends up at the party with him that night and he tries to convince her to invite him into her cabin later. Shirley doesn’t commit either way so the brash Richard leaves the table presumptuously. The picture then shifts to a bedroom scene in which an inebriated Mrs. Poole is conflicted over her dilemma. On the one hand, she’s still boiling mad with her partner and she is attracted to Richard. However, as she looks into a photograph of her husband the doubts creep in. The alcohol has an aphrodesiac-like effect and she leaves the cabin door unlocked for the handsome rake. A third no-no of pre-code insolence has been suggested: extra-marital sex is acceptable and inevitable. There is some misdirection about who actually sleeps with the lovely bride but I’ll keep that a mystery. This question also serves as the movie’s punchline. Overall, Pleasure Cruise was a decent story with excellent visuals from Tuttle. Genevieve Tobin and Roland Young are serviceable as actors and the former is easy on the eyes. I found Una O’Connor’s portrayal of Mrs. Signus to be rather unfunny. In addition, her character is an eye-rolling cinematic cliche: the gauche, unattractive older woman who hits on every gentleman in her path. Give this movie a look for the pre-code curiosities and innovative camerawork, but it doesn’t reside amongst the genre’s best.

By James White

Just wanted to let everyone know that I’m not going to be around much for the next few weeks. My brother is getting married and things have gotten stressful. Sometime toward the end of the week I will be giving Greg temporary Administrative power so he can approve all comments and posts.

-Katie Richardson