September 2009


Marilyn Monroe is easily one of the most famous movie stars of all time. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who doesn’t know who she is. Sadly, most people don’t realize what an incredible actress she was. In addition to a stunning screen presence, she had an amazing comedic and dramatic talent. In the early 1950s, when she was still in mostly supporting roles, she was quite a scene stealer. When she started getting lead roles, she just sparkled in film after film after film. It’s tragic that she died so young. Who knows where her career would have gone.

Monroe made many, many films that are so incredible well known. Some Like It Hot was named the greatest comedy of all time by the American Film Institute. The Seven Year Itch, The Misfits, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and How to Marry a Millionaire, among others, are considered to be classics. But she also made a lot of really good films that aren’t particularly well known today.

Don’t Bother to Knock (Roy Ward Baker, 1952)
In this unsettling sort-of-noir, Monroe gives an excellent performance as a mentally disturbed woman opposite Richard Widmark.  It’s really a pretty disturbing film for Hollywood in the 1950s. Monroe’s character is babysitting a couple’s kid in a hotel, but thanks to the fact that she’s kind of crazy, she does a really bad job of it. Like, tying the kid up kind of bad job. This is one of Monroe’s best performances. It’s really very subtle and natural, and while you’re appalled by how poorly she’s doing her job, your heart really breaks for her when you see just how sad her instability is.  Widmark also gives a very good performance, and his chemistry with Monroe is interesting and unique.

Home Town Story (Arthur Pierson, 1951)
This isn’t a great movie at all, but it’s a decent little newspaper drama with a really charming performance from Monroe.  It is blatantly patriotic, but it’s hardly the only film from the era of McCarthyism to carry the “America is Awesome” message. In addition to Monroe, the cast is  interesting enough to make this movie worth watching.

Bus Stop (Joshua Logan, 1956)
Monroe  got the chance to really put her acting talents on display in Bus Stop, showing off in this drama-comedy. You know, a dramady, if you will. The wide range of emotions she shows in this movie is really incredible, proof that she was a truly gifted actress.  Before this she had played mostly breathless blonds, but she left that persona behind to play a hardened, disappointed woman looking for love.

By Katie Richardson

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Tallulah Bankhead is legendary in the theater world, but not so much in the film world. She only made 12 films, and I’d say all but one belong firmly in the “Obscure Classics” category. And many of them aren’t even available for viewing. But I love Tallulah Bankhead. I have only seen a few of her movies, but she makes such a lasting impression. Today I’ll talk about my two favorite films starring Tallulah.

Faithless (Harry Beaumont, 1932)
With her outspoken ways, Bankhead was a perfect fit for pre-code Hollywood, and her best work during that era is the Depression era romance Faithless. I think it’s truly the role Bankhead was born to play in films.

She stars opposite Robert Montgomery as a very wealthy heiress who refuses to live on her fiancee’s income, which breaks up the engagement. Of course, she’s so arrogant and having such a good time that she doesn’t pay any attention to the fact that the Depression is quickly cleaning her out, and she ends up broke.

She and Montgomery find each other again, both poor as can be, and reignite their love. The film becomes truly pre-code in the end. Montgomery is injured in an accident, and Bankhead has to find a way to pay for his medical expenses, and she turns to prostitution. When Montgomery finds out, instead of being furious with his wife, he is grateful to her, believing that what she is doing is a sacrifice for him. Not only is it wonderful pre-code, it’s a great love story.

A Royal Scandal (Ernst Lubitsch and Otto Preminger, 1945)
Her role in Faithless may be the role she was born to play, but Bankhead’s role as Catherine the Great in A Royal Scandal isn’t that far behind. It’s an Ernst Lubitsch picture, so even though it isn’t a pre-code film, there’s still a dash of sly and subversive naughtiness, which is a perfect fit for Bankhead.

When you see costumes like this in a classic movie, you’d probably be expecting some kind of costume drama. But A Royal Scandal is a comedy, a light and sexy Lubitsch comedy (though a good deal of it was directed by Otto Preminger due to Lubitsch’s illness), that Bankhead sparkles in. There’s just something in her personality that’s so suited to the genre, but this might be the only comedic film she ever made.

A Royal Scandal is just a delightful movie through and through. Sexy, silly, and fun, with Bankhead at her best.

By Katie Richardson

I kind of can’t believe I haven’t already written this article. My second favorite film couple of all time,  and I haven’t written this article? It just doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps I have written it, and I somehow missed it when I was updating the “Reviews and Essays” page. Oh well. I’ll just write it again. But I’m pretty sure I never have.

Like I said above, Robert Montgomery and Madge Evans are my second favorite film couple of all time, second only to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And really, if Montgomery and Evans could dance like Astaire and Rogers, they’d probably be my number one. Montgomery had a lot of really fantastic leading ladies, with whom he made many movies and had incredible chemistry. Joan Crawford (The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, Letty Lynton), Rosalind Russell (Fast and Loose, Trouble For Two), Norma Shearer (Riptide, Private Lives), Marion Davies (Blondie of the Follies, Ever Since Eve), Myrna Loy (Petticoat Fever, When Ladies Meet). Evans had a few really memorable leading men, too. Robert Young (Paris Interlude, Hell Below), Otto Kruger (Paris Interlude, Beauty for Sale), Richard Dix (The Tunnel, Day of Reckoning), Paul Lukas (Age of Indiscretion, Espionage), William Haines (Are You listening, Fast Life). But really, when it came down to it, no other match was as completely perfect as Bob and Madge. All the similarities and differences just clicked in the most incredible way. He was suave and and arrogant, she was sweet and modest. Yet at the same time they both had a certain spunk to them. A spunk I really can’t quite describe. Maybe it’s the spunk that comes from being an underappreciated star. But they both had it, in spades.

Thee chemistry between them was so adaptable. They really worked well in pretty much ever genre, from comedy, to drama, to war movie. They were the perfect couple because they were perfect in everything. They worked well trading jokes and banter in their comedies, they worked well crying and pouring their hearts out in their melodramas. There was such a genuine feeling between them no matter what they were doing onscreen. They must have been really good friends off screen, because they really seemed to enjoy each other.

So, here they are, the films Bob and Madge made together, ranked. Because I love my lists.

05. Hell Below
This is kind of the grand-daddy of all submarine films.  It’s a pretty good combo of war movie and romance. Bob falls in love with Madge, the already married daughter of his commanding officer. Ooh. Tense times on the sub for all.

04. Made on Broadway
This is probably the least talked about of all the Montgomery/Evans movies. It’s actually a really good movie, though it did take some time to grow on me. Bob and Madge play a former couple that’s already split (but, of course, they’re still mad about each other deep down).  Sally Eilers costars as the undeserving object of Montgomery’s affections. He saves her from a suicide attempt, gives her a makeover, and makes her semi-famous. The story is good, but it really is the chemistry between Bob and Madge that keeps the movie afloat.

03. Fugitive Lovers
What an adorable, fun, unique little movie. It’s a road romance, so it kind of has a bit of a Love on the Run/It Happened One Night feel to it, only it’s a little different because there’s a bit of exciting action in it. Montgomery plays an escaped convict who ends up on the same bus as Madge, a show girl who’s on the bus trying to get away from her mobster suitor, who followed her anyway.  Two incredibly flawed characters, falling for each other, sacrificing for each other, and being pretty darn hilarious while doing so.

02. Lovers Courageous
This is one of the most masterful romantic melodramas I’ve seen from the 1930s. The chemistry between Bob and Madge in this, and their incredible performances, make this movie insanely romantic, and at times very heartbreaking. It’s a simple plot, poor boy falls in love with rich girl, marries her, and tries to give her everything she had before. It really is that special spark between Evans and Montgomery that makes this movie so special.

01. Piccadilly Jim
Even without Bob and Madge, this movie would be hilarious. It’s a wonderfully written romantic comedy. It would be good probably no matter who was in it. Luckily, it was blessed with an awesome cast. Frank Morgan and Billie Burke in the supporting cast as the second banana couple are so great and sweet in their own way. And then there’s Bob and Madge. It’s something of an antagonistic pairing at first. Bob is a cartoonist who’s creating a scathing comic strip based on Madge’s family. But the ice starts to melt away as she warms to him.

By Katie Richardson