2013 CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, OH)

It’s my favorite time of year in central Ohio, or nearly. CAPA, our local arts organizing group, has announced its lineup for the 2013 Summer Movie Series held in Downtown Columbus’ historic Ohio Theatre. For those of you unfamiliar with this seasonal gem, the June 28 through Aug. 25 series features a plethora of classic movies shown in the theater that was originally built as a movie house and is now used for concerts, ballets, etc.

Among this year’s offerings are two Hitchcock movies, which you know delights me. The wonderfully amusing The Trouble with Harry, To Catch a Thief and the Jimmy Stewart rendition of The Man Who Knew Too Much will certainly be on my schedule.

Other prize showings include An American in Paris, Grand Hotel, Citizen Kane, Bonnie and Clyde, The Thin Man, 1974′s The Great Gatsby, and Touch of Evil.

I have been notoriously bad about achieving all the CAPA Summer Movie Attendance goals I have set in years past, and I won’t pretend this year will be any better. I do hope to at least catch the Hitchcock flicks, but I’ll admit The Man Who Knew Too Much won’t be at the top of my list.

Feature: A Movie Through It’s Posters–It’s a Wonderful Life

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It’s a Wonderful Life has become a nauseating mainstay of the American Xmas tradition, but the movie was seen elsewhere in the world when it was released in 1946. What the movie was about at its core seems to have been perceived differently in other countries, at least as far as we can gather from their respective posters.

The American poster that we have all come to know shows our protagonist joyously engaging his wife, which drives home the moral that as long as one has family (and friends), he is the richest man alive. The  poster from Belgiumin the next spot randomly features a somewhat minor character, Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell). Naturally one would expect if any third character were featured on the cover that it be the angel Clarence (Henry Travers), but apparently not in Belgium.

Next up is a fairly ugly poster from Denmark featuring our protagonists but suggesting the important angel aspect of the plot, although it might be portrayed in too-goofy a manner with the cartoon of Clarence. Next, France’s poster lets us know the movie is about throwing away your money –except for that it really is not. Losing one’s money, yes. Tossing it to the wind, not so much.

Sexiest among the posters is the first of three from Italy. Although the romantic aspect of the story is present on screen, it is perhaps less exciting and prominent than this poster might suggest. Next, the Italians have created a confusing poster that makes Jimmy Stewart look like a conductor or singer (think Carlo from My Man Godfrey). And then there’s the party and scantily clad women in the background! What movie was this artist watching?! The final Italian poster might be the most accurate of any of those featured above. Besides prominently featuring Stewart, the poster also includes a scene of our major characters looking at an empty money tray. A cherub whispers in Stewart’s ear.

Finally, Spain offers us a fairly ugly and boring portrayal of young love, which although a part of the story, also leaves too much up to interpretation.

As far as visual beauty, the first Italian poster strikes me as a favorite, but I cannot help but like the utterly absurd Italian artwork with the singing Stewart. It’s just too goofy not to love!

What to Watch This Month: Shop Around the Corner

Wowza!

The shop Around the Corner (1940)

Turner Classic Movies seems to have designated The Shop Around the Corner as the Xmas movie for the network. Year after year they seem to book it during the December holiday season, and this year has it scheduled for both Dec. 16 and Dec. 24. This perfect Ernst Lubitsch picture has certainly failed to transcend generations to become known as a key Xmas movie, being overshadowed by obvious oldies such as White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Story. The flick nevertheless is set during the holidays and is a perfectly family appropriate movie.

The Shop Around the Corner is set in Budapest, but the location is negligible and could as easily be based on a shop in any big city. Nearly all of the action occurs in said shop where our protagonists will meet, fall in instant hatred of each other and then pursue romances with their pen pals.

The appeal of the story goes beyond the romantic characters, though, as we get to know the other shop workers as well as the shop owner and his folly in purchasing mass quantities of a music box that he cannot sell.

In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

Many movies over the years have used the plot device of boy meets girl, boy and girl hate each other, boy and girl fall in love, but in The Shop Around the Corner the story feels so much more natural and less predictable. It is easy to get swept into the romance and to fall in love with the character you initially detested.

If two showings of The Shop Around the Corner were not enough for viewers, TCM has also scheduled In the Good Old Summertime to air Dec. 18 and 24. This musical version of a nearly identical story is set in the opposite time of year and stars the perfectly cast Judy Garland and Van Johnson. I would probably describe it as my favorite Van Johnson movie in addition to being perfect for Garland.

I have always leaned toward the musical version as my favorite, probably because I am not the biggest fan of Jimmy Stewart when it comes to romantic roles. That is not to say he does not go beyond my expectations in the Lubitsch original, but Johnson seems to me more captivating in the later edition. Xmas Eve offers the perfect opportunity to compare them for yourself. Let me know what you think.

  • The Shop Around the Corner is set for 10 a.m. E.T. Dec. 16 and 8 p.m. Dec. 24.
  • In the Good Old Summertime is set for 8 p.m. ET Dec. 18 and 11 a.m. Dec. 24.

After the Thin Man

Ring a Ding Ding

After the Thin Man (1936)

     Although movie audiences had to endure two years between the first and second films in the Thin Man series, the famed characters Nick and Nora Charles had no such luxury. With yet another murder mystery to solve, After the Thin Man paints an equally convoluted and humorous tale of the master, freelance sleuth and his family.

     The crimes of After the Thin Man hit particularly close to home for Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) Charles, whose train pulls into the station at their home town of San Francisco at the film’s opening and the characters are attacked by friends and reporters still reeling from Nick’s impressive work on the New York murder case featured in The Thin Man.

     Also making the latest case more personal is the fact it involves Nora’s extended family. Her cousin, Selma (Elissa Landi) invites the couple over to Aunt Katherine’s house because she is distraught over her missing, philandering husband. Nick and Nora manage to locate this Robert (Alan Marshall) at a night club where he is getting friendly with the floor show, a woman named Polly (Dorothy McNulty). Robert seems to be developing enemies from multiple places: Selma for the cheating, Polly who wants his money, Polly’s brother who wants his money, the night club owner who has some romantic claim to Polly, and the family friend, David, played by Jimmy Stewart, who is in love with Selma.

     With all those parties having some reason to want Robert dead, it is no surprise we find the man shot not long after the picture starts. Out of the fog and darkness walks Selma with a gun in her hand, a gun that David takes from her to throw in the river. Naturally the case is not that simple as Selma insists she is innocent. Both Nick and Nora –she has every right to be involved in this crime because it involves her family!– snoop into the murder that is subsequently followed by the killing of a janitor at an apartment building where Polly lives and where someone has been eavesdropping on her apartment.

     Nick invites all suspects and involved parties to the vacant room above Polly’s to put together the final pieces of the puzzle. He walks us through the crimes and the motives until the culprit slips up and Nick proves himself the hero detective once again.

     As with the other Thin Man movies, the audience derives its enjoyment in After the Thin Man not from the actual mystery but from all that surrounds it. Nick and Nora’s relationship is always laced with humor as Loy plays up to feminist ideals by putting herself in danger and relinquishing no ownership of the relationship to her husband. Nora even lands herself in jail in this episode, another scene marked with comedy.

     I have said it before and I’ll repeat myself: Powell and Loy had a remarkably perfect onscreen relationship. The two are so dryly witty and play off each other in both dialogue and movement so ideally. When film buffs title Loy as the perfect wife, it is the Thin Man movies to which they are referring. The harmony between Nick’s love and protection of his wife and Nora’s unwillingness to sit at home and knit translate into wonderfully caring moments and instances of anger that are too mild to be lasting.

     The story is too difficult to follow or determine who has the best motive and opportunity for the murder, so it is best to merely enjoy the ride and leave the driving to William Powell. In this movie, however, the actual murderer is perhaps the least likely suspect. To avoid giving away the end, I’ll merely say I am surprised MGM was willing to paint this actor/actress as a murderer, as studios often cast their payers in a certain way to maintain a relationship with their audience.

Feature: Hitchcock Movie Posters from Italy

I put up a post a while ago comparing U.S. movie posters for American movies to the versions that were released for the same pictures in Italy. As I continue to roam the web, and particularly the newly discovered MoviePostersDB.com, I continue to find that foreign, particularly Italian, posters are far more artistic/intriguing/seductive than the American ones. This time I have focused specifically on Hitchcock movies, films that in and of themselves embody artistry, intrigue and seduction. These movies, because they were so well publicized, have multiple posters per country to their name, but here I have grabbed what appear to be the most common versions.

ITALY VS. AMERICA

I think there is no arguing that the American version of what would advertise Hitchcock’s first American film looks pretty bland compared the foreign one. I also concede, however, that the former looks a bit like a romance novel cover. And who is the gorgeous woman in the backdrop? Certainly not Judith Anderson’s Mrs. Danvers. It could be the artist’s manifestation of the deceased Rebecca, but she is never shown in the picture, which is sort of the point. Nevertheless, I would rather see the Rebecca advertised by the image on the left than the one on the right.

 Notorious is possibly my favorite Hitchcock movie and one that is certainly darker than the American poster would suggest. Although the key depicted is of significance, the romance between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman is not as light-hearted as the advertisement would suggest. The Italian poster is a bit vague in its meaning and with the title perhaps suggests merely a story of an illicit affair, but it is by far the edgier version and one that better suits the tone of the actual movie.

Although I have always enjoyed the Dial M for Murder American poster, the Italian version is a bit more striking, and bloody. Because the Italian title translates as “Perfect Crime”, choosing to focus on the weapon rather than the phone that justifies the American title makes sense. It also notes other intricacies of the film, such as the scissors and the time. I can see the favorite of these two being a toss up for some people. Your thoughts?

I am not in love with either of these posters, but the foreign version is much more eye-catching. It highlights the one setting in which the entire film takes place while highlighting its star, who is perhaps not as mean as the poster suggests. The U.S. ad is just bland. We get it: it’s called Rope and there’s a rope.

In this instance, the Italian poster borrows from the American one but manages to give us a much different feel for the movie. The use of unnatural color and the red tone suggestive of blood makes The Birds a more frightening looking picture. The birds themselves also look more threatening in the overseas ad, which allows it to trump the domestic version.

I’m not sure I can entirely pass judgement and declare the Italian Vertigo poster better than the U.S. version. Although the foreign advertisement has many seductive and creepy elements, the simplicity of the American poster and its emphasis on the vertigo effect invented by Hitchcock in making that movie is difficult to rival. Again, the Italian movie title is not the same as the American, so “The Woman Who Lived Twice” likely inspired a different poster.

What do you think?

The Ice Follies of 1939

Gasser

The Ice Follies of 1939

      If the idea of Joan Crawford and Jimmy Stewart as ice-skating pros excites you, The Ice Follies of 1939 will disappoint you. Despite their characters’ professed careers, the actors do not really do as much on the ice as their body doubles do, nor as much as the International Ice Follies, members of which are included in the cast.

     The Ice Follies is essentially the Ziegfeld Follies –you guessed it– on ice. Stewart’s character Larry Hall is a great skater who has the ambition of creating a show that features skits and songs written just for ice skaters. He starts the film working with his long-time partner Eddie Burgess (Lew Ayres) and newly acquired partner/girlfriend Mary McKay (Crawford). That act quickly gets the axe, however. Larry and Mary foolishly get married despite the financial turmoil, but the woman goes out to find a job in Hollywood and gets picked up as a star.

     The third-wheel position has Eddie hit the road, and it is not long before Larry gets the same idea given Mary’s fame has grown beyond his tolerance. As part of the actress’ contract, she must remain single, so their marriage is kept secret.

     Once on his own, Larry reunites with Eddie and the two work up the funding to back the Ice Follies concept. As time goes by, Mary becomes a sensational star on screen while Larry becomes the king producer of the ice show. The couple tries to reunite but finds the career demands on each member too great to overcome, at least until movies and ice skating unite.

     This black and white picture concludes with a lengthy color sequence featuring our stars watching their on-screen collaboration: a movie starring Mary and featuring Larry’s direction of ice skaters. This ending epitomized what the movie was really about: an excuse to feature the International Ice Follies. True, some of theBroadway Melody and other follies-esque movies were mere platforms to feature certain talents, but it was unfortunate this ploy became part of a movie featuring three really great stars. Stewart, Crawford and Ayres could have held their own in a romantic movie without the backdrop of ice skating, yet there the gimmick is.

     The Ice Follies of 1939 sits among the many frivolous romantic movies Joan Crawford made early in her career. The main actors’ performances were just fine despite their inability to ice skate. The picture could have been a really heart-string tugger had it been developed separately from the Follies’ inclusion. The story of a movie star and the estranged husband who pulls himself up to equal social stature while still failing to reinstate their romance has potential. It just was not realized here.

Wife vs. Secretary

Ring a Ding Ding

Wife vs. Secretary (1936)

     Based on the title, I was expecting a very different movie starring Clark Gable, a man whose characters are not particularly known for fidelity. I also expected a different battle in Wife vs. Secretary between such disparate actresses as Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow.

     I am sure you can guess who plays wife to Gable’s Van Stanhope: Myrna Loy as Linda. Van is a bigshot magazine executive who is super devoted and in love with his wife but has an awfully handy and attractive secretary in “Whitey” (Harlow). The latter relationship appears to be plutonic, although Whitey is certainly more devoted to her boss than her weasly boyfriend, played by Jimmy Stewart

     Linda does not think anything of her husband’s working relationship until she is warned by Van’s mother (May Robson) and a business visit by the secretary during a party sparks whispers among the guests. Now everything her husband does seems suspicious, especially a convention trip to Havana at which Whitey arrives the next day and answers Van’s phone at 2 a.m. 

     As toward as this might seem, everything between Van and Whitey is on the level. He had summoned her south to help write up a contract for a last-minute deal to buy a competing magazine. The two stayed up all one night finalizing the papers and partied the next after the sale. Both worse for the wear, we see a moment when the dull-faced boss and subordinate sit on the bed and potentially contemplate something more, but Whitey declares their drunkenness is reason enough for her to leave. Before she can exit, however, the phone rings. Being a secretary, White answers it and all parties soon know what Linda must think.

     Linda pursues a divorce and Whitey tells the woman she has every intention of landing Van once it is finalized. Her motives are not terribly sinister, however, as she essentially encourages a reconciliation.

     Gable was fantastic in Wife vs. Secretary. He displays such passion with Loy, scooping her into his arms and smootching her to death on numerous occasions. That was something I was not expecting from this movie, as the title seemed to suggest a cold wife and a more appealing secretary who perhaps truly battle for the man. Gable’s relationship with Harlow can be described as nothing but cute. He treats her with the respect of a man but does not deny her femininity.

     Harlow is also quite different in this picture compared to the others she made with Gable. Her hair is a duller blonde, which serves to tame her sex appeal/vixen tendencies. She plays the role as a totally fun-loving gal, leaving us no reason to hate her. Loy also is charming and only becomes unsavory after she leaves Van on incorrect presumptions.  Wife vs. Secretary was loads of fun, full of humor and good intentions.

Ziegfeld Girl

Gasser

Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

 
     Lana Turner‘s Sheila is picked by Mr. Ziegfeld when he spots her operating an elevator. She happens to already possess the poise necessary to walk gracefully down a flight of stairs with a book balanced on her head. Hedy Lamarr‘s Sandra is at the theater while her husband Franz (Philip Dorn) auditions as a violinist. He does not get the job but Sandra does land employment. Judy Garland as Susan gets approved for a cast spot after Mr. Ziegfeld follows through on seeing her in a father-daughter vaudeville act. The three women become friends but their involvement in the follies will impact their lives differently.
 
     The plot puts the greatest emphasis on Sheila who gets the most attention from audience members. She is dating Jimmy Stewart as Gilbert, a truck driver working toward the responsibility of hauling a larger load, which would hopefully precipitate the couple’s marriage. Sheila’s newfound attention, however, has her meeting a lot of wealthy men, one of whom she permanently goes around with in exchange for a lavish apartment and loads of shoes and furs. Sandra’s love life is also toppled by the success of the show. Although she loves her husband, he disagrees with the woman supporting him and the two split up, with Sandra moving into a boarding house. The woman takes up with a married singer in the cast thinking it will be a safe platonic relationship; although, the man has other plans. Lastly, Susan struggles with separating from her performer father (Charles Winninger) but manages to impress the casting director with her spectacular singing and gets a bigger place in the show. Her love life is marked by Sheila’s younger brother Jerry (Jackie Cooper), and the two have a standard young-person courtship.

Lana, Hedy and Judy

 
     Ziegfeld Girl is one of those instances when Garland found herself feeling rather inadequate among the stars of MGM. The studio was generally known for having the most glamorous actors on its roster and Garland failed to meet the standard. I previously mentioned Louis B. Mayer’s nicknames for the girl, and her casting alongside the exotic Hedy Lamarr and stunning Lana Turner only emphasized her insecurities. Nevermind that her character is essentially relegated into adolescence –despite Garland being only two years younger than Turner– while the other stars battle with big-time romantic turmoil.  
 
     The Sheila character in Ziegfeld Girl not only screws up her love life but spirals into alcoholism, which eventually impacts her career and threatens her life. The character was originally depicted as dying before the film’s close but initial audiences reacted poorly to that ending. The movie instead shows the woman in a dying state before action switches to the stage and the film closes on a high note, although with Sheila’s fate ambiguous. The picture also seems to have a major flaw in terms of costuming. If the plot is meant to take place in the 20s, the fashions are reflective of the 40s when the movie was made. The follies ran on Broadway from 1907 to 1931.
 
  • Ziegfeld Girl is set for 10:15 a.m. ET Jan. 25 on TCM.
 
Sources: Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clark, TCM.com

Feature: Guess that Poster

cropped-rear-window1.jpg

MacGuffin Movies has been alive for more than six months now, so I thought it was time to change up the site’s header above. I am sure you regular readers recognized the original movie poster cross-section as Gone with the Wind, but I’ve transitioned to a slightly more challenging poster excerpt. Can you guess what it is?

I have reviewed this movie, although that post does not feature this particular version of the movie poster. The image that is the basis for the header is actually a foreign advertisement for the flick, but I think the two individuals depicted should be hint enough to deduce the movie.

If you care to wager a guess, please do so by clicking “comments” below or by filling in the box.

THE ANSWER: Well, I guess I made the inquiry too easy as all three who wagered a guess got it correct. The poster featured in the new banner above is a section of a Rear Window poster. That’s Jimmy Stewart, holding binoculars you cannot see, and Grace Kelly in the background.

Rear Window

Rear Window

Born to Dance

Gasser

Born to Dance (1936)

     If I were to grade Born to Dance based on its storyline and acting, I’d give it a Dullsville. When considering the dancing alone, however, this flick would be worthy of a Ring a Ding Ding rating. Assuming that my screwy rating system in some way equates to numbers, the math had me conclude an in-between rating of Gasser was appropriate.

     Eleanor Powell was one hell of a dancer. Growing up around tap dancers, I consider myself not easily impressed by the dancing performances of these bygone eras that stand up as mediocre against today’s performers. Powell, however, was top tier among on-screen dancers in the 1930s. In fact Born to Dance, her third film, was used by the dancer as a way to showcase her talent and attract the attention of other Hollywood dancing greats, such as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, who indeed took notice. Powell was a hoofer –or tap dancer by today’s terms– and could move her feet as fast as Astaire. She could also turn better than any other movie musical star of which I can think. On the acting front, however, I find her miserable to watch.

     Powell’s overly toothy smile has less emotion behind it than a smile would suggest. Her facial expressions seem terribly limited and the romantic story she finds herself in here seems utterly lost on the young woman. Her final dance routine in the flick is much more enjoyable if you avoid looking at her face.

     Powell is Nora, a girl who’s been living in New York a short while hoping to land a job as a dancer, if only she could get a break. She ends up rooming with a woman whose sailor husband has been at sea for all four years of their marriage and has no idea he has a daughter. This woman, Jenny (Una Merkel) works as a hotel desk clerk and seems to reside in a room behind the desk.

     So at the same time Nora is dancing around this hotel lobby, a naval ship is docked in New York harbor and Gunny Sacks (Sid Silvers) –that estranged husband– and Ted Barker, played by Jimmy Stewart, are heading to shore. Upon reuniting with her husband, Jenny is unthrilled with her selection of a mate and rejects him. Ted and Nora, however, hit it off immediately. Their romance is complicated, however, when musical theater star Lucy James (Virginia Bruce) looks to date Ted as a publicity stunt before actually falling for him. The drama leads to a break between Nora and Ted and eventually to Nora standing in for Lucy on opening night of her new musical.

     Cole Porter (my favorite song writer) wrote the music for Born to Dance. Although many of the songs would not find life beyond this picture, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “You’d Be So Easy to Love” find a home here as well. Even the unmemorable songs are better than the average musical number found in many of the musicals of the 1930s, but that’s Porter for you. And thanks to Powell, the dance routines are more entertaining than average also, I found. Thankfully they rely less on mass groups of out-of-sync dancers and focus on Powell and a few accompanying dancers. No Busby Berkeley-style productions here.

     Stewart seems entirely out of place in a musical, but he survives alright. His acting makes up for the lack of performance coming from Powell’s face. His singing is rough, but not awful. Originally, another singer recorded the tracks for him, but producers found the singing too smooth and different from Stewart’s singing voice, so they were sacked. No dancing from Stewart in Born to Dance, so he at least saved face on that front.

  • Born to Dance is set for 10:30 a.m. ET July 22 on TCM.

Source: Robert Osborne

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