100. Liliom (Frank Borzage, 1930)
It’s not exactly the easiest love story for a modern generation to swallow, despite the fact that in its musical form (the wonderful Carousel) it’s one of the most beloved romances of all time. Nevertheless, with its endlessly flawed hero, his doormat wife, and their unconventional version of love, this is one romance that modern feminists aren’t going to be fans of. And it’s true, in its final moments, trying to sell physical abuse as some kind of sign of affection doesn’t really work as well as it wants to. But before that point, director Frank Borzage still managed to do what he always did best: he took an immensely flawed couple with an even more flawed relationship and made it beautiful. Liliom and Julie’s marriage isn’t near perfect. He’s lazy with a bad temper, she allows him to walk all over her. But underneath it all, there is a deep love there and an understanding that the pair has for one another that is unparalleled.  And even in the end, while (perhaps ill-advisedly) sugar coating Liliom’s domestic abuse, Borzage never let’s Liliom off the hook, which leaves us with a heartbreaking conclusion. Despite what seems to be an uplifting ending, we really know that even with the best of intentions, even in death some men can’t change.

099. Made For Each Other (John Cromwell, 1939)
Carole Lombard is one of the greatest comedic talents to ever appear on the screen. Because she’s so famous for her comedic efforts, her dramatic performances are, at best, often forgotten, and, at worst, ridiculed as being “a waste of her talent”.  But her talent really did shine through in her dramatic roles, and Made for Each Other is proof of that. The film is a unique love story. In most romances we get to see the falling in love part, with “happily ever after” being the end of the story”.  Here, it’s the beginning, and it’s not so much “happily ever after” as it is “with a whole lot of bumps along the way.” Marriage is hard work, and this movie shows it, complete with disapproving mothers-in-law, terrible bosses, and sick children. It still hold up particularly well today as proof that, no matter the decade, marriage comes with the same problems and the same responsibilities. Made For Each Other is a dose of reality, maybe not one that everyone wants to see, especially from the classic era, but one that’s honest and, because of that, rewarding.

098. History Is Made At Night (Frank Borzage, 1937)
It’s not secret that director Frank Borzage was all about the transcendent power of love and all the spirituality that entails. It’s a hallmark of his films, and it figures quite prominently in History Is Made At Night. But what’s most prominent in this little romantic oddity is an element that’s only a latent theme in his other films: the battle between good and evil. Underneath the surface of a lush romance is a very primal tug of war between two forces. The evil is personified in the quite substantive form of Colin Clive’s downright deranged and insanely jealous ex-husband, while the good is represented less by the lovers (Charles Boyer and Jean Arthur), and more by the undying love that they share. With shifts between romantic comedy, psychological drama, and disaster film, History Is Made At Night may seem downright schizophrenic at times, but no matter what genre it’s veering into, it always maintains Borzage’s warmth, romance, and optimism.

097. Heroes For Sale (William A. Wellman, 1933)
Unflinching yet still somehow optimistic, Wild Bill Wellman’s Depression-era saga Heroes For Sale is one of the decade’s best glimpses into the way times really were for millions of Americans. It’s not just one problem for leading man Richard Barthelmess. It starts with one thing and then just starts to snowball from there. It’s pre-code in the best possible way, dealing with issues like drug addiction head on, and never pulling its punches (there’s a character death which leads to one shot that is one of the most startling in all of classic film). Wellman wasn’t afraid to make things as dark as possible for his characters, because that’s the way things were in the world around him, and somehow, like no other director really could, he balanced this crushing sadness with a certain amount of hope. Even though they couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, it was there, somewhere, and eventually they would see it, if they just kept looking.

096. Pygmalion (Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, 1938)
Despite all the fawning that goes on over the overblown My Fair Lady, the gloriously simple 1938 version of Pygmalion is still the best version to ever appear on the big screen. Everything about this movie is perfect, from its head to its toes. Wendy Hiller is the best Eliza Doolittle there possible could be, beautiful enough to be convincing as the lady she becomes, but with just enough grit and uniqueness to keep her believable as the lovable street urchin. Leslie Howard’s refined gruffness is inimitable, and the chemistry they share is one of a kind. The story of Pygmalion is special in that it’s a love story without being a romance. It’s not about falling in love, and the big dramatic feelings that come with it. It’s about companionship, finding where you fit. What a novel idea, to sell that as such a quiet, unassuming thing as this.

Stay tuned for 95-91.

By Katie Richardson

How could anyone not love George Burns and Gracie Allen? They were adorable, hysterically funny, and they loved each other so much.

I first discovered the pair through their Vaudeville work. I find the whole world that was Vaudeville to be completely fascinating, and George and Gracie are probably my favorite act that I’ve found.

The pair met in 1922 and performed on the Vaudeville circuit together. When their act first started, it was Gracie who was the straight man, but George quickly discovered that it worked better the other way around. The two fell in love while working together and were married in 1926.

By the early 1930s, Vaudeville was starting to die out, and George and Gracie had to find other ways to perform. While most of their work at this time was on the radio, they did make a few films, usually playing supporting roles, but always giving wonderful and bright support.

We’re Not Dressing (Norman Taurog, 1934)
We’re Not Dressing is a wonderfully strange little musical. It’s set on an uninhabited island after a shipwreck, and features Bing Crosby singing, Carole Lombard trying to sing at points, Ethel Merman and Leon Errol being goofy, and Ray Milland as one half of a duo of gold digging princes. Oh, and there’s a bear who sometime wears roller skates. So yeah, George and Gracie are actually the most normal thing in the movie. They play a couple of scientists (I think, I’m not sure we’re ever actually clear on what they do). They get a few really amazing Vaudeville-type bits, like Gracie’s “Moose Trap”. It’s a weird movie, and I kind of love it a lot, but Burns and Allen really make their scenes great.

Six of a Kind (Leo McCarey, 1934)
Despite the fact that this movie was directed by the amazing Leo McCarey, I’m not that crazy about it. I know it might be somewhat blasphemous, but I am not a WC Fields fan. He kind of grates on my nerves, especially in this movie. Though, admittedly, this is one film where he does that the least. It’s an interesting idea, making a movie using three great comedic duos: Burns and Allen, Charles Ruggles and Mary Boland, and Fields and Alison Skipworth. All the couple balance each other out pretty well. Gracie is easily the best thing about this movie, especially when she’s causing all manner of problems for Ruggles (like, oh, making him fall off a cliff).

A Damsel In Distress (George Stevens, 1937)
I’m not too crazy about this movie either. I find the story and pacing to be incredibly messy, and I think the romance between Fred Astaire and Joan Fontaine is really flat. Yet again, Burns and Allen are the high point of the movie. The trio of Astaire, Allen, and Burns is actually quite excellent. The movie might have been a lot better if more time was focused on it. And it would have been wonderful to see them in more movies together. They could have been Fred’s partners after he split from Ginger!

By Katie Richardson

I noticed in the Hitchcock Consensus thread on RT that there were a number of people giving Mr. and Mrs. Smith a very low rating, even calling it his worst film (though I was surprised and pleased to see that there were several people giving it good ratings). Mr. and Mrs. Smith is certainly not Hitch’s worst movie. In fact, it’s one of his best. So I thought I should write this up so everyone could see why.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith
stand alongside films like The Philadelphia Story and The Awful Truth in a subgenre of romantic comedy called the “remarriage comedy”. In traditional comedy, the story generally begins with the “meet cute”, where the boy-meets-girl set up is established, and the characters clash in order to give the growing romance conflict. In most remarriage comedies, the leading couple has not only already met, but already have an established relationship. The conflict and structure isn’t to get two characters together, but rather to get them back together. It was a structure that became quite popular after enforcement of the production code to cleverly insert the issue of adultery into comedic storylines. A married couple splits and divorce, and then one (or both) parties have a flirtation/relationship with other people. Since the couple is divorced, it cannot technically be considered adultery.

In Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Hitchcock plays with the conventions of the genre, as he usually did. Instead of having a couple divorce, we discover that they were never technically married in the first place. Hitchcock cleverly combines the conventions of traditional comedy and remarriage comedy. The story structure is set up as a remarriage comedy. The Smiths are a couple that already have a well established relationship. But since they were never actually married, the storyline is subtly heading in the more traditional direction of a marriage rather than a remarriage. Structurally, it’s kind of like a reverse of The Lady Eve, in which we get a boy-meets-girl opening, only to lead to a form of remarriage comedy.

By doing this, Hitchcock slyly gets to play around with the production code. He’s basically using the guise of remarriage comedy to trick the Code. Without the pair being legally married, they’ve actually been involved in a sexual relationship without marriage for several years. Throughout pretty much the whole movie, Hitchcock is winking at the audience, proving he’s much smarter and more clever than Joseph Breen and the censors.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith may be Hitchcock’s only straight-up comedy, but his touches are definitely there – not just visually, but psychologically. One of the things that separates this film from other in this genre is the high amount of pain and suffering the couple puts each other through, both physically and emotionally. There is a large amount of deliberate deceit and actions taken specifically to hurt the feelings of the other. At first glance, these things might seem cold hearted and distancing. But both characters delight in both giving this pain and receiving this pain. It is, after all, what brings them back together in the end. It’s an integral part of the relationship, it helps them to thrive. The film both begins and ends with the conclusion to a huge argument. And that gives the feeling that “The End” isn’t really the end and that “Happily Ever After” isn’t really happily ever after. Their relationship will remain largely the same and just keep going. This is because we aren’t necessarily being show a relationship that needs to change. We’re simply seeing a thriving relationship that’s had a misstep. So many of Hitch’s film relationships are about the incompatibility of me and women, even if they end up together forever. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is no different. In fact, it may highlight that theme better than any of his other films.

While the film is one of Hitch’s best romance stories, it is perhaps one of his least “romantic” films (intentionally so). In other films, like Notorious and Vertigo, the passion in the relationships come from sexuality and romance. In Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the idea that romantic passion is needed to maintain a relationship is thrown out the window. The couple is generally unsentimental, and when they try to be, like when they attempt to go to the restaurant from early in their relationship, the attempt fails. Their relationship and love is held together by structure, rules, and the passion that comes from their antagonism, not their romantic ideas or sexual desire for each other. Rather, their sexual relationship generally arises from their conflicts and antagonism, and though fighting is foreplay.

Hitchcock’s heroes and heroines often inflict more pain onto themselves than the outside forces do. (Alicia Huberman’s alcoholism, Maxim DeWinter’s inability to let go of what happened to Rebecca, Scottie Furguson’s guilt manifesting itself in vertigo). Hitchcock parodies this idea himself. Throughout the film, the characters do tend to hurt themselves (and each other) with their own actions. But Hitch has a great scene which physically embodies this idea. In order to get himself out of an embarrassing date, Robert Montgomery attempts to give himself a bloody nose by beating on his own face. This is only one of several very clever moments that Hitch creates in the film.

Even with the somewhat complicated relationship and the non-traditional (even cynical) view of marital relationships, in the end Hitchcock still treats us with the idea of the perfect couple. At the end of the film, we see that they are meant for each other and no one else. Because nobody else would be able to put up with the rigidity of rules, the obsession with technicalities, and the childishness of their antagonism.

It really is a much richer film thematically than most people realize. But even outside of the themes, it’s an extremely funny comedy. Hitchcock did a wonderful job with screwball, striking the perfect balance between dialogue and situation driven comedy and slap stick comedy. And Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery were the perfect team. The had extremely similar approaches to comedy. The could deliver dialogue smartly and sharply, but the were neither afraid nor ashamed to make themselves look ridiculous, which worked brilliantly in both the smaller moments (Lombard trying to zip up an old dress that no longer fits, wondering why a dress would shrink) and the larger moments (the aforementioned scene in which Montgomery tries to give himself a bloody nose). Their chemistry was so strong. It takes a really special kind of chemistry to achieve a convincing romantic comedy about two people who are truly in love, but extremely contentious. It echoes Montgomery’s film from a decade prior, Private Lives with Norma Shearer, which is pretty much the grand-daddy of remarriage comedy. If Lombard hadn’t died so soon after making this movie, they could have made so many more wonderful romantic comedies together.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith
is simply a great movie. Hitchcock was a brilliant director, and this is just further proof of that. It shows he could step outside the box and handle a genre he didn’t typically handle, and it showed he could take the conventions of a genre and cleverly play around with them in ways that nobody else could. Definitely a wonderful film.

By Katie Richardson

100 years ago today, the great Carole Lombard, the queen of screwball comedy was born. She ruled the comedies of the 1930s with her wonderful, unique comedic talent. She wasn’t just one of the funniest actresses working at the time. She was one of the funniest star, peiod, of either gender. She only recieved one Oscar nomination, for her performance in the 1936 film My Man Godfrey. But who knows what other awards and accolades she might have received had she not died in a plane crash in 1942.

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I have a very special love for Carole Lombard because she was born in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I drive past the house she was born in almost every day. I spend a huge amount of time in the neighboorhood where she spent her childhood. Lombard was born in 1908, the same year as on of Ft. Wayne’s great floods. The same year as the massive fire at the Aveline Hotel.

The Peters home (Lombard was born Jane Alice Peters) was at the end of Rockhill street in the West Central neighborhood of Downtown Fort Wayne, right in the heart of the city, just a few miles away from most of the city’s major landmarks (including the historic courthouse, which was built in 1902, just a few years before Lombard was born).  The house overlooks the St. Mary’s river. It sets on a high point above the rive, and the Peters family used their home to house refugees during the flood of 1913.

The Peters were a relatively wealthy, well to do family, very prominent in Fort Wayne society, and their house was one of the biggest in the neighborhood. Lombard’s grandfather, John, was a respected businessman who started and ran several companies in town, including washing machine company that supplied half the machines in the country.

West Central really is a beautiful place. In the mid-1900s, when people were moving away from the city, the beautiful houses were neglected. But in recent decades, the neighboorhood has been fixed up and is once again one of the most beautiful places in the city. Now the large houses are mostly divided into apartments. It’s really one of the nicest places in the city to live. The rent of most of the apartments is also really cheap. Which is a plus.

The Carole Lombard house was declared a historical landmark in the 1930s and is now a bed and breakfast. If you’re ever around Ft. Wayne, you should really come downtown and take a look around the neighborhood.

The plaque on the front of the house reads:
In this house on October 6, 1908 was born Jane Alice Peters. Daughter of Fredrick C. and Elizabeth Knight Peters. She took the professional name of Carole Lombard and became one of the most important figures in the motion picture industry. Erected by the city of Fort Wayne, IN under the direction of Mayor Harry. W. Baals, Jan 1, 1938 on the occasion of her appearance in David O. Selznick’s technicolor production “Nothing Sacred”

Yes. Our mayor’s name was Harry Baals.

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

I’m such a bad person for not updating the past few days. I spent about 6 hours yesterday reading everything I could about podcast production to make sure I get it all right, so I wasn’t slacking completely on the site. 😀

I have a special love for Carole Lombard. While she’s not my absolute favorite actress (though she is up there on the list), I feel a bit of a connection to her. She was born in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her house is in what is just outside of Downtown in the West Central area where my brother lived for several years, so I’ve walked by it dozens and dozens of times. I’ve walked around inside of it four times. (Here’s a link to the website for the house, which is now a Bed and Breakfast) I’m a proud hometown girl, I love Fort Wayne, and I love that such a talented actress came from here.

Early in Lombard’s career in the 1930s, Hollywood didn’t quite know what to do with her. She was placed in several different kinds of films: dramas, light comedies, even musicals (the thoroughly bizarre and off the wall We’re Not Dressing). By the mid-1930s she’d found her niche as a screwball comedian. But a few years later she was on the list of actresses being seriously considered to play Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Lombard wanted the role, but she had to prove herself as a dramatic actress. So she made a brief string of dramas, where she showed her range and excellent dramatic skills.

Virtue (1932) – An early light dramatic romance between street walker Lombard and cab driver Pat O’Brien. It’s another of the very common ‘Prostitute marries and husband finds out about her past after the fact’ stories, but this one handles it really well and is moe convincing than most.

Supernatural (1933) – Actually not a drama, but a horror/mystery film. Yeah, but you never figured you’d see Lombard in one of these. It’s a really creepy film with good atmosphere.

Bolero (1934) – Lombard showed her dancing skills in this drama about… yeah, dancing. She makes a really good team with George Raft, in a pretty unexpected, but likable role.

Made For Each Other (1939) – One of my favorite Lombard films. She stars with Jimmy Stewart in this story of the ups and downs of marriage. It’s really a beautiful film, simply put together, but brilliantly acted by its leads.

In Name Only (1939) – A solid melodrama with Cary Grant. She and Grant have really good chemistry. It would have been nice to see them in a comedy together. This was actually their third film together. They were both in Sinners in the Sun and The Eagle and the Hawk (one was a thriller, the other a war movie), but Grant wasn’t the lead in those films. As great as Lombard’s performance is in In Name Only, Kay Francis steals the show as Grant’s bitchtastic wife.

Vigil In the Night (1940) – Kind of a weak and dull melodrama with Lombard giving a good, if not a little sappy, performance as a nurse who blames herself for her sister’s tragic mistake.

They Knew What They Wanted (1940) – This is a really unique and lovely romance, and one you wouldn’t expect. Lombard’s love interest in this one is Charles Laughton, and it’s a really sweet love story. It’s also a little racy (Lombard becomes pregnant by another man). Kind of hard to believe this one got past the censors.

By Katie Richardson

Today is the wonderful, charming, and completely lovable James Stewart’s 100th Birthday!

Sure, we’ve all seen the big James Stewart classics. It’s a Wonderful Life, Vertigo, Rear Window, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and so on. But Stewart also made a lot of really great movies that don’t get a lot of love nowadays. So, with this place being all about obscure classics, here are some of my favorite James Stewart movies that deserve more love.

The Mortal Storm (Frank Borzage, 1940)

One of the best films from the master Frank Borzage. The Mortal Storm is a really fantastic movie about pre-war Germany and the rise of Nazism. Sure, Stewart, Robert Young, and Margaret Sullavan might be a little hard to believe as Germans, but they all put in very strong performances (especially Young, in a role that really breaks type) in this heartbreaking film. Definitely a brave movie for 1940.

Come Live With Me (George Cukor, 1941)

Come Live With Me is a really simple, subtle love story. That subtlety really makes the film a beautiful romance. Stewart had great chemistry with Hedy Lamarr. I’m not entirely sure what it is about this movie that I adore so much, but it just feels genuine. It feels very real.

Vivacious Lady (George Stevens, 1938)

Ginger Rogers and James Stewart were a fantastic pairing. I wish they had made more films together. The story is very cute, but Rogers and Stewart together make is a truly great romance.

Made For Each Other (John Cromwell, 1939)

Stewart and Carole Lombard had an excellent chemistry, and I wish they had the chance to make a comedy together before Lombard’s death. Made for Each Other is a very strong romance about the struggles of marriage which comes across as very realistic and honest. One of the best films from the golden year of 1939.