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Mr. Lucky

Gasser

Mr. Lucky (1943)

    Cary Grant generally played the same sort of man in all his movies: a confident gentleman who let the women chase after him. Although it took a while for the studios to figure out the part Grant would continuously play –Paramount had him playing whatever role was handy at the start of his career– it is that persona that we all have come to know him as.

     In Mr. Lucky, Grant is cast in a seedier part but brings to it all the charm we would expect. He plays Joe Bascopolous, sort of. This gambler takes the name of the deceased Greek Bascopolous when he is issued a draft notice just ahead of a big gambling opportunity for he and his boat. Bascopolous’ draft card indicates he is unfit for service, so Joe and Zepp (Paul Stewart) flip for the freedom from war and the boat with it.

     Joe next runs into Laraine Day‘s Dorothy, who is trying to sell tickets to a charity ball to support war relief. He declines to buy the tickets but visits the charity’s headquarters where he offers to run a gambling set up at the ball, which could easily raise the $100,000 the all-woman non-profit group aims to achieve. Both Dorothy and Captain Steadman (Gladys Cooper) resist the offer, but looking to win over the group, Joe hangs around. He ends up using his brute to get a truckful of supplies released to the war relief group ahead of payment and through his gambling tricks secures a load of blankets for free. The man also takes up knitting and soon all the men around him are doing the same.

     Dorothy and the captain soon agree to the gambling at their ball, all of the proceeds from which Joe plans to abscond with. During his devilish deeds, however, he falls in love with Dorothy. This predictably leads him to back off the scam, but Zepp, who never went to war, has other intentions.

     I struggled with whether to give Mr. Lucky a higher rating because I found it both amusing and unique because of Grant’s atypical part. On the whole, it really is nothing too special, but for the Grant fan it is probably worth exploring. The most interesting attempt Grant makes to look like a good-for-nothing is curling his upper lip under to create a kind of tough-man sneer-smile. He does it naturally, but it makes him sort of funny looking, so one finds it hard to take him seriously.

     Day is amusing and beautiful and makes a good match for Grant. The latter teaches the woman a variety of rhyming slang from Australia that is used throughout the picture. For instance, “briny marlin” means “my darling”, “tit for tat”  is “hat”, “twist and twirl” is “girl”, and “trouble and strife” is “wife”. The slang becomes a sort of secret language for the two as Dorothy uses it to save Joe from capture by the police.

     Mr. Lucky is certainly marked by plenty of light moments, but it starts out on a very dark note and as the seedy gamblers come and go in the scene, the tone of the picture fluctuates.

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His Girl Friday

Wowza!

His Girl Friday (1940)

     I am not sure what went wrong six years ago when watching His Girl Friday for the first time had me conclude: Blech, that was lousy. As you can tell from the rating I now give this crazy comedy, I have changed my tune. As a journalist who seems to be surrounded by reporters who love this movie, I knew some years ago I was needing to give this flick another chance. Last night was it.

     The bygone eras of moviemaking are not without a plethora of stories surrounding reporters. I am sure I have before mentioned how hip and relevant reporters were in old movies, which is quite the opposite of how they are today in both media and reality. His Girl Friday not only illustrates the tough racket in which these writers worked but also how different the newspaper publishing business was at the time – with multiple editions, half a dozen competitors and nearly nonexistent morals when a scoop was at stake.

     His Girl Friday might be more about reporting than any other successful classic comedy. It pits paper publisher Walter Burns, played by Cary Grant, against ex-wife and ex-reporter Hildy Johnson, acted by Rosalind Russell. Hildy has arrived at the newsroom to tell Walter she is getting married to an insurance salesman named Bruce (Ralph Bellamy) only a handful of months after divorcing the man who left his bride to take her honeymoon alone so he could pursue a story. It is a while before the reunion with Hildy ceases Walter’s reminiscing long enough for her to break the news. Immediately upon hearing about this wedding to take place the next day, we can see the gears turning in Walter’s head as he tries to quickly devise the means to prevent this union.

     After making a fool of Bruce, Walter forces the trio to go to lunch. There he, after much negotiating and guilt-driving, convinces Hildy to spend her last two hours in town interviewing and writing a story on a man set to be hanged the next day for shooting a police officer. The man had lost his job and the paper had insisted he was insane, but all feared the last psychiatric exam would prove otherwise. Hildy hits the press room at the criminal courts building before bribing her way in to see the accused: Earl Williams (John Qualen). Without jotting down a single note, Hildy develops her story by convincing the man that speeches he heard in the park about production for use had him fire the gun only because it was meant to be used. She writes up the story in the press room but tears it up when she learns Walter has slyly had her fiancée arrested for stealing a watch –from a crook of all people.

     Hildy’s reporting days seem over until Earl escapes from prison. Hildy nails down a prison worker to get an exclusive story of what happened –the convict was handed the sheriff’s gun to reenact the incident during his psych evaluation– so she phones that into Walter. Next, Earl shows up in the press room pointing a gun at the gal. She agrees to help him out and stashes him in a rolltop desk. Phoning Walter, she has her boss come to the courthouse so they can figure out how to hide the fugitive long enough so the paper can be the one to “capture” him. In the midst of this, Bruce has again been arrested through Walter’s meddling and the man’s mother is also kidnapped along the same lines.

     Walter’s paper does not get to claim capture of Earl, but he and Hildy get another, scandalous exclusive that finally cinches the woman’s fate. No reporter that good can leave behind her trade.

     Slapstick Grant is at his best in this well-written comedy where the verbal jokes fly faster than the physical ones. It is said to be one of the first films to have characters’ dialogue overlap. Previously, no ones lines were uttered until another player had completed his sentiment. Russell is also perfect in a role that had been played by a man in the stage version, titled “The Front Page.” The character was rewritten for a woman when Director Howard Hawks liked the way the dialogue sounded when his secretary read the part opposite the other actors.

     No trace of romance passes between our leads, and yet we know Hildy must return to Walter. Their passion lies in a common love of the work rather than for each other. Bellamy is great as a slightly slow joe who cannot see through Walter to his conniving ways. In one scene, Grant describes the character to another player as looking like that actor, Ralph Bellamy. Grant even pokes fun at himself later on when he says the last person to cross him was Archie Leach, which happens to be Grant’s real name.

  • His Girl Friday is set for 8 p.m. ET Aug. 14 on TCM.

Source: TCM.com

Room for One More

Gasser

Room for One More (1952)

    Despite being a super dashing romantic lead, Cary Grant did not shy away from fatherly roles like the one he takes on in Room for One More. Watching this for the first time, it seemed to me Grant was essentially playing house. He stars opposite his real-life wife Betsy Drake in a role and story almost devoid of romance. Grant’s first foray into fictional family life came four years earlier with Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and although he would have no children with Drake –or until age 62– he makes a great father figure to his Room for One More children.

     The film opens on Drake as Anna Rose wandering through an orphanage with a group of women and taking to heart the words of the director who wishes she could find homes for the adolescent children over the infants that are in high-demand. Anna reluctantly leaves with a promise to discuss with her husband the fostering of a girl with a troubled past. Jump now to Grant as George “Poppy” Rose in the kitchen, wearing an apron and trying to ice a cake, while three children run about, a stray dogs attempts to move into the home and a cat underneath the stove produces kittens. Despite the look of things, Poppy is the breadwinner of the family, but seems to contribute as much to the rearing of the children as his wife.

     The next morning, the orphanage director shows up with teenage Jane (Iris Mann) and convinces the parents to take the girl in for two weeks. Jane is trouble at first, hiding hamburgers under her pillow thinking she will not be fed the next day, refusing to join in the post-dinner clean-up efforts, etc. A very ingenious mother Anna is, however, as she seems to easily whittle away Jane’s shell and make her one of the family. The two weeks pass and the whole family is set on keeping Jane.

     Next, before leaving on a beach vacation, Poppy is informed he is to pick up an orphan boy from school to take with them. The child is trouble, tripping other kids and refusing to partake in his studies. Poppy goes into his classroom to let him know he will not join the Roses on vacation, but upon seeing the braces on his legs, easily changes his mind. The boy, Jimmy-John (Clifford Tatum Jr.), starts out refusing to speak and socks one of the girls in the eye. Later, when Anna asks him if he knows how to drive a car, he replies for the first time with, “of course not” so the mother lets go of the wheel and requires the child to steer them to safety. Next, the parents try to teach Jimmy-John to ride a bike while wearing his leg braces, but fail. That night the boy tries again but stomps the bike to ruin out of frustration. The Roses are looking to take the kid back to his school, but Jimmy-John begs that if the other children are agreeable, that he stay. All vote by secret ballot for the orphan to “leave” but unable to read and providing a sob story about being in an out of the hospital all his life, the children read aloud the ballots as “stay” instead.

     By the end of the picture, the five-child Rose clan is content as ever. We witness happy feats for both Jane and Jimmy-John and many lump-in-throat moments as we see the bond between foster parent and child.

     Drake is no prize actress, but she makes for a wonderfully kind mother, although one who leaves her husband feeling neglected. I have always found Grant’s performances opposite children to be utterly charming. He seems like the most reasonable father, more likely to comically grumble about the annoyance of the kids rather than punish them.

     Grant would divorce Drake in 1959; she was one of five wives he would have, with this relationship enduring 10 years. The couple also made Every Girl Should Be Married four years before this one. Drake, still living, made only eight feature films.

  • Room for One More is set for 1:30 p.m. ET June 6 and 1:45 p.m. ET Aug. 21 on TCM.

Source: Cary Grant: A Class Apart documentary

CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, Ohio)

For those of you who live in central Ohio as I do, you will be glad to hear CAPA has posted its lineup for this year’s Summer Movie Series. I have seen a lot of these but am always willing to rewatch something if it’s on the big screen.

I’ll definitely be seeing Hitchcock’s Frenzy as I’ve been meaning to give that another chance. Other must sees if you haven’t already include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Grapes of Wrath, High Noon, Bringing Up Baby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Big Sleep.

Sadly, no Audrey Hepburn movie this year as there usually is. For those who have not experienced a favorite or classic movie on the big screen in a theater full of people who love the movie as much as you, it really is a memorable experience. I recommend it.

Destination Tokyo

Ring a Ding Ding

Destination Tokyo (1944)

      I have never been particularly drawn to war pictures or those that pair Cary Grant opposite a bunch of men, rather than wooing a woman, but Grant made some great war pictures, and Destination Tokyo is certainly one of those (I need to revisit Operation Petticoat, which put me to sleep 7+ years ago when I bought it and has been collecting dust since).

     Grant plays the skipper of a WWII submarine that has been sent on a mission the day before Xmas to what the crew later learns is Tokyo –a city that has yet to be touched by American Navy or Air Force artillery. The crew picks up another soldier/meteorologist on the way who is fluent in Japanese and is the subject of the mission: the sub must deposit Officer Raymond (John Ridgely) on the shores of Tokyo where he and a couple crew members will assess the weather, military vessel formation and any other protections the area has so that the Air Force may move in well prepared to bomb the city.

     The mission is not as simple as that, however. When surfacing on their way to Japan, the submarine is attacked by two Japanese aircrafts who manage to lodge an explosive in the shell of the vessel. When attempting to ensnare one of the pilots after shooting down his plane, a member of the crew is stabbed in the back and killed before the youngest member of the crew fires upon the enemy. That crew member, Tommy (Robert Hutton) later needs an appendectomy just as the sub moves into the Tokyo harbor. The crew’s location is also discovered by the enemy after taking out an aircraft carrier and must escape the harbor amidst a barrage of bombs.

     Based on his other work, which essentially act to develop a general persona, Grant seems to me like the type of guy you would want to lead you into battle. Grant plays a totally relaxed, understanding and caring captain and never really asserts any power or engages in any arguments with his men, who after five patrols together seem to have the utmost respect for the man. Grant never went to war, being told he was too old to join the British Navy by the time WWII came about, but he has played a decent warrior in a number of films featuring a variety of conflicts (He also contributed some of his salary to American and British war efforts).

     The film is also fairly emotional. The submariners talk about their family, wives and children back home, and one cannot help but feel the mild, tearful twinge the characters convey. The audience also engages in true dread as Tommy must undergo surgery conducted by a pharmacist using a textbook as his guide. The way all crew members really support each other is touching and could not have been conveyed without the fine acting of a great cast.

     The film also does a great job of focusing in on the actual mechanics of running a submarine. The action was apparently so accurate that the U.S. Navy used parts of the film in its training during WWII.

  • Destination Tokyo is set for 10 p.m. ET May 27 on TCM.

Source: TCM.com, Cary Grant: A Class Apart

Sylvia Scarlett

Dullsville

Sylvia Scarlett (1936)

     There can be no denying that Katharine Hepburn has a unique face and rather tom-boyish mannerisms, but I would not necessarily have guessed she could play a boy so well. Kate Hepburn was three years into her film career when she made Sylvia Scarlett her eighth film. She was certainly young enough to pull off the look of a boy who has yet to grow whiskers, and thin enough to diminish any womanly curves. Despite how well Hepburn looked the part, the role itself and the surrounding story fail to live up to that standard.

     The film begins with an excessively hasty rush into the focus of the story: a girl who dresses as a boy. After some rather melodramatic lines from both Hepburn and Edmund Gwenn as her father, we learn that Sylvia’s mother has just died and her father, Henry, will likely be sent to jail because the lace company he works for is about to notice  he “borrowed” money lost to gambling. Taking some cash left to Sylvia by the mother and 50 quid-worth of lace, the two move to escape Paris for London. The trouble with the plan, however, is that police will be suspicious of a man travelling with his daughter. So without any puzzlement, Sylvia shears her hair and we next see her dressed as a man boarding a boat.

     I must pause in the midst of this synopsis to voice some initial disappointments. The script was written to very quickly get us to the point that Sylvia becomes a boy, but in doing so, it eliminated any natural, common-sense progression. The trouble Henry faces presents no real conflict as the characters very quickly decide a solution. Unless Sylvia has always secretly longed to dress as a boy, I can see no young woman jumping to her conclusion so quickly.

     Continuing with the story, the father-son duo meet Cary Grant‘s Jimmy Monkly on the boat. Sylvia, now Sylvester, thinks he’s a swine straight off, but after some drinking, Henry reveals to Jimmy the lace he has stashed in his waistcoat to avoid paying a duty when they reach customs. Once at customs, Jimmy turns Henry in to gain the good graces of the custom agents and avoid having his own bags searched. Reunited on a train, the Scarletts voice their anger to Jimmy, who pays them the fine, value of the lace and then some. The trio next become con artists together, but when the money fails to flow, they pick up a maid friend of Jimmy’s and the foursome set out as traveling entertainers. The maid, Lily (Natalie Paley), apparently has married the older Henry, but some pranks played by an artist and his Russian girlfriend lead Henry to believe his wife is cheating on him.

     The artist, Michael Fane (Brian Aherne), is intrigued by Sylvester, who finds her female side falling for the man. When Michael invites Sylvester to sit for him as a painting subject, the boy shows up the next day having stolen a dress from some beach beauties. Michael finds it hilarious that Sylvester is indeed Sylvia, yet professes she is wonderful and romances her a bit. Jimmy also spotted Sylvester’s new outfit and gives the girl some grief but is utterly unsurprised. Next, Michael breaks Sylvia’s heart by sticking with the Russian babe, while Jimmy seems to suggest he wouldn’t mind giving the girl a go. The film concludes queerly with the men swapping partners and Sylvia landing her artist sweetheart.

     I have mentioned before that if I am unable to sum up a film in a concise paragraph or two, it is far too complex. Sylvia Scarlett is not so much complicated as just swamped with random events that do not act to convey any connected message. One would assume at the film’s start that Hepburn and Grant will be the love interests and that Sylvia’s secret gender will hold the conflict and humor. Grant’s Jimmy never presents himself as a viable love interest, however. Even Aherne’s Michael is not the most appealing guy. He is quite the jerk when he passes over Sylvia for the Russian. Despite other positive performance aspects, Hepburn also fails to convey to the audience the romantic feelings she apparently has.

     I find it hard to determine whether Sylvia Scarlett is a comedy or drama. Although there are a few chuckles early on and the end of the film twists into an almost slapstick movie, the rest of the picture is laced with serious, rather dreary matters. Many gender-bending films have been made, and it seems two general approaches are usually taken: the comedic challenges of hiding one’s true identity, or the dramatic struggles one endures to live as another person. Sylvia Scarlett takes neither. Outside of occasional awkward undressing moments with Grant, Hepburn otherwise plays a boy naturally. Her wide saunter and rough-housing behavior make it easy to believe she is a boy, yet we have no indication that Sylvia was a tomboy during her Paris days.

     Perhaps the greatest hole in the story is why Sylvia continues to live as a boy once she reaches London. The motivation to begin the masquerade was for safe passage between France and England, but once there, it seems pointless. Conceivably, Jimmy’s involvement in the lives of the Scarletts could have been a motivating factor, but considering how easily Sylvia jumped into a dress later in the film (seemingly months or years later), I cannot buy that argument.

  • Sylvia Scarlett is set for 10:45 a.m. ET May 12 on TCM.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

Ring a Ding Ding

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)

     Although made in 1982, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid could be claimed as 50% classic film. The Steve Martin spoof on old detective dramas uses footage from about a dozen black-and-white movies spliced in with new footage. I first saw this movie in an Intro to Film course and fell in love. It’s full of Martin’s early stupid humor while also showing a real appreciation for old Hollywood.

     Martin is Detective Rigby Reardon, who is approached by Rachel Ward‘s Juliet Forrest to investigate the murder of her father, a scientist and cheese enthusiast. The plot that follows is inconsequential as it is as complex as The Big Sleep –clips of which are used throughout– and is neatly summed up by both the villain and Reardon at the end of the picture, ala The Thin Man and other mysteries.

     Rigby’s mentor is Marlowe, with whom the protagonist consults primarily via telephone, and who is played by Humphrey Bogart in segments from three of his films. The detective also pays visits to several familiar faces, such as Ray Milland in a snippet from The Lost Weekend, Bette Davis in Deception, Cary Grant in Suspicion, Ingrid Bergman in Notorious and Joan Crawford in Humoresque, among others. Martin also dresses in drag to attract the attention of Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity. The unsettling part is, from behind, there is little difference between Martin and Barbara Stanwyck from the original clips. Martin again dons a dress to masquerade as James Cagney’s mother from White Heat.

     Writers on the movie George Gipe, Director Carl Reiner and Martin developed the story based on the classic clips. The idea came from one designed by Martin that proposed the use of a classic movie clip. That concept transformed into doing an entire movie using such pieces. After watching old films and pulling particular over-the-shoulder shots and appealing dialogue, the writers then merely juxtaposed the dialogue until they came up with a suitable story. Some clips were clearly used just as an excuse to insert them and do not actually further the plot, but are funny nonetheless.

     Although the cinematographer consulted the filming styles from the old flicks, Martin avoided them altogether. He said he did not want to give a performance reflective of Bogart but something of his own. The result was great as I do not think Martin would have been as funny if he had taken himself more seriously.

     As someone who enjoys both Steve Martin humor and classic films, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is just the epitome of fun for me. I was not familiar with all of the movies featured therein, but I certainly enjoyed figuring out the ones I did know. Thankfully the end credits spell it out for the viewer.

Source: Universal Studios

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