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Sex and the Single Girl


Sex and the Single Girl (1964)

     Both Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis have been actors of only moderate interest to me, but after viewing Sex and the Single Girl, I’m changing my tune. This wonderful joke on married and single life and male and female standards plays both leads to their best and makes for a riveting good time.

     Curtis as Bob Weston is managing editor at STOP magazine, a filthy gossip rag that prides itself on being the worst publication in town. Wood as Dr. Helen Brown is the latest feature of the magazine and author of the best-selling “Sex and the Single Girl” advice book. She is a psychologist who, thanks to STOP, is losing clients because they believe she is a virgin. Bob plans to slyly get the truth about Helen’s sexual experience to do a follow-up story, but of course falls in love along the way.

     Bob’s neighbors are the feuding couple Frank and Sylvia Broderick, played by middle-aged Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall. Frank is a hosiery manufacturer who is obsessed with examining women’s legs on a strictly professional basis, but his wife thinks he runs around. Because Frank hasn’t the time to see a marriage counselor, Bob takes it upon himself to pose as Frank and see Helen professionally, relaying any advice back to his neighbor. Doctor and patient have a moment of love at first sight upon meeting, but Bob, now known as Frank, has established himself as a married man.

     Bob makes a number of efforts to get Helen in bed, including faking a desire to kill himself that lands both parties in the river. Eventually the scam comes to a head when Helen’s request to meet with Sylvia results in three women showing up at her office, two of which are pretending to be the woman at Bob’s request. Once Bob’s identity is revealed and Sylvia understands the true nature of her husband, a car chase scene consumes the remainder of the feature.

     The last prolonged sequence in Sex and the Single Girl rings of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Great Race (which also features Curtis and Wood). The various parties, while chasing each other down en route to the airport, switch cars, drivers and strangers leading to the institutionalization of a police officer. The action is so distinctly different than the prior three-quarters of the flick that it could almost be it’s own short-subject movie.

    Possibly my favorite running gag in Sex and the Single Girl followed Curtis’ donning of a woman’s robe while he waits for his garments to dry at Helen’s apartment. When asked if he is uncomfortable in such a feminine item, he replies that he thinks he looks like Jack Lemmon, referencing of course Some Like It Hot, which five years earlier had both Curtis and Lemon in drag. The rest of the movie has characters saying Bob looks like Jack Lemmon at least half a dozen times.

     I cannot conclude without referencing two other essential members of the cast. First, an old Edward Everett Horton plays the head of STOP magazine and has few scenes but is a gem nevertheless. Secondly –and I thought I’d never say this– Mel Ferrer is highly amusing. He plays another psychologist in Helen’s office who finds himself fascinated with the girl after reading the STOP article. He had me giggling as he performed a rather adept solo dance while waiting for Helen to prepare for their date. On the whole, Sex and the Single Girl is highly romantic and greatly comedic and is supported by a fantastic cast.

  • Sex and the Single Girl is set for 4 p.m. ET Oct. 16 on TCM.

Trouble in Paradise


Trouble in Paradise (1932)

When Trouble in Paradise sought to be re-issued three years after its 1932 release, the Hayes Office said: No way. The film that had been alright for release upon completion, if not without some minor, ignored objections, was far too scandalous for 1935 when the Production Code was in full swing. What was Director Ernst Lubitsch‘s crime with his first talking romantic comedy? Obvious sexual innuendos and a couple of thieves who get off scott free.

The subject that most comes up in discussions of the Production Code is sex. Before the code, women could have multiple partners, couples could have extramarital affairs, and the camera, dialogue or action could clearly indicate that a sexual act had just occurred. Another subject that fell under the Hayes Office’s purview, however, were criminal sorts. Individuals found as outright thieves or murders had to be punished –either by the legal system, suicide or other killing. You see this in many of the popular gangster movies of the 1930s and 1940s where our beloved hoodlum James Cagney or whomever gets it in the end. I suppose the message from the powers that be was understandable enough: Do not encourage crime. But those gangster films and Trouble in Paradise with them still glorify and make sexy the criminal aspect, so the restriction seems a moot one.

It was because of the Code’s distaste for Trouble in Paradise years later, which prevented anyone seeing it again until 1968 (with it unavailable on video or DVD until 2003), that this film has gone largely forgotten despite being among Lubitsch’s greatest work and a standout in film history. Herbert Marshall is Gaston who in his Venice hotel room eagerly accepts a visit from Lily, embodied by Miriam Hopkins, a woman claiming to be a countess. A man in another room has just been robbed of a large sum of money by a man posing as a doctor and seeking to examine his tonsils. During their dinner, Lily and Gaston intermingle romantic sentiments and the woman declares that Gaston is the man who robbed the neighboring Francois Fileba (Edward Everett Horton). As you can see in the video below, this wonderfully romantic and comedic scene –flush with “the Lubitsch touch”– continues as Gaston reveals that Lily has stolen the stolen wallet from him. Also pick-pocketed from the couple by each other are Lily’s pin, Gaston’s watch and Lily’s garter –but she is not getting that back. As an audience, we instantly decide that this pairing is perfect and the two will have an adventuresome future we can all enjoy.

While in Paris some time later, Gaston and Lily plot the thievery of an expensive purse from Mlle. Colet, played by Kay Francis while she is at the opera. To their fortune, the woman puts a notice of a reward for the bag that would exceed the amount the robbers could get if they sold it. Gaston returns the purse but during his visit with Ms. Colet, manages to woo her and she hires him as her secretary, in charge of all her financial affairs. Ms. Colet is the head of a major perfume company –by inheritance– and has a board of directors running things who now takes orders from Gaston. Colet also has “boyfriends” in none other than Mr. Fileba, the tonsil victim, and “The Major” (Charlie Ruggles). With Gaston in her life, however, she loses even more interest in the two feuding beaux. Gaston has brought Lily in to help him with his new duties and the two plan to rob Mlle. Colet’s safe once more cash has been deposited there, via Gaston’s new financial orders. Lily begins to get jealous, however, when it becomes apparent Mlle. Colet wants alone time with the secretary. It is unclear how much of an affair is conducted between Gaston and Colet, although they spend late nights together.

Mr. Fileba has yet to identify Gaston as the man who robbed him, and it is quite amusing to watch this fabulous character actor try to pull from his memory whether or not he has met the man previously. Eventually, The Major says at first he mistook Gaston for a doctor, and click Mr. Fileba has solved the mystery. Realizing this, Gaston and Lily plan to get out of town fast with the little money they can take from the safe at present. Lily is home packing but Gaston is getting tied up in Colet’s embraces as they visit each others’ bedrooms in a highly suggestive but funny number of scenes. What concludes the film are questions of: will they steal the money, will Mlle. Colet find out, and with whom will Gaston choose to stay, but I will not give that away.

I mentioned the highly risqué feel to this film, so here are a few examples. The opening title reads “Trouble in”, an image of a bed appears, and then the word “Paradise” shows up. Thank you, Lubitsch for explaining this movie is about trouble in bed. Besides Gaston and Colet responding to knocks at their bedroom doors by opening the door of the other, the end includes an embrace between those two that is filmed through a mirror above the woman’s bed so we can connect their embrace with that piece of furniture. Several edits using different angles also inserts a perfect shadowed silhouette of the kissing couple on the bed itself. Bullseye.

The sexy suggestions are not why one should watch Trouble in Paradise, however, but instead the snappy Lubitsch dialogue that had me laughing out loud throughout. The film is ripe with quick banter among the characters delivered in the most sophisticated manner that makes slapstick look utterly primitive. Apparently, Lubitsch throughout his career would act out every part in a movie to show the actors how to deliver the lines and move their bodies. He had started as an actor in Germany before entering directing there and finishing out the silent era in America, coming here at the bequest of Mary Pickford. Peter Bogdanovich has said that Lubitsch managed to get performances out of his actors that they did not convey in other films, which was likely the result of this control he exerted on the actual acting.

Sources: Peter Bogdanovich introduction on Criterion Collection DVD, TCM.com

Cinematic Shorts: Here Comes Mr. Jordan


Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

     I’m not sure how I stumbled upon watching Here Comes Mr. Jordan the first time, but it was a fortuitous incident. This flick is probably my favorite Robert Montgomery movie, which competes with Mr. and Mrs. Smith for that top spot (and you can understand my dilemma because the other has Carole Lombard in it). I would say no other film shows off Montgomery’s comedy capabilities in the way this feature does. He plays a character totally unlike the military and society dreamboat roles in which he was typically cast.

     As Joe Pendelton, a successful boxer, Montgomery plays a dimwitted man more concerned with keeping his body “in the pink” and defeating a boxing rival than anything else around him. Towards the film’s start, Joe crashes his self-piloted plane, and heavenly beings take him away. The trouble is, the heavenly worker assigned to his case, Messenger 7031 (Edward Everett Horton) takes him before the plane hits the ground, and as it turns out, Joe was destined to survive the crash. The damage is done, however, and Joe is delivered to Mr. Jordan, played by Claude Rains, who must find a suitable body for the man to live out the remainder of his scheduled life.

     Joe is given a temporary spot occupying the body of a man who is about to be murdered by his wife and her lover. He’s an older, wealthy bloke who also has some unkind dealings that involve a beautiful young woman, with whom Joe will fall in love. All sorts of absurdities happen as Joe, looking like the old man, tries to convince his boxing agent (James Gleason) of his real identity and get the old body “in the pink” to defeat his rival in the ring.

     If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it was based on a play called “Heaven Can Wait” that was later done into another movie by that name starring Warren Beatty. This original also inspired a sequel, but Rains was not interested and Montgomery was serving in the military, so the Mr. Jordan part was recast and Rita Hayworth was used as the mythical muse of the performing arts to interfere with goings on of a theatrical production. It was quite a let down.

     Going back to Here Comes Mr. Jordan, I can not say enough about Montgomery’s performance. His low-brow accent accompanies humorous dialogue to give the impression of a man who has been knocked out a few too many times. That is not to say his ignorance is not endearing. Montgomery’s facial expressions also add to this character’s hilarious persona as he stumbles through a whole host of accidental circumstances. I highly recommend this flick for anyone who enjoys comedies.

The messenger explains why Joe and his lucky sax aren't on earth where they should be.

Source: Robert Osborne


Ring a Ding Ding

Holiday (1938)

     Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn always make a nice duo on screen and Holiday is no exception. Although the flick takes place around New Year’s Eve, the title of the film refers more to what Grant’s character aspires to do: take a holiday. The trouble is, Grant’s Johnny has proposed to a woman belonging to a wealthy family. He was unaware of her financial standing at the outset and fails to tell her he plans soon to give up working and spend some time living his life. However, fiancée Julia, played by Doris Nolan, plans to make her hardworking beau into a wealthy employee at her father’s company, which sounds less than ideal to Johnny.

     That is the jist of Johnny’s predicament as gradually laid out through the course of the film. I would say Hepburn’s Linda, sister to Julia, complicates matters, but she really doesn’t. The free-spirited older sibling is so fond of Johnny she wants nothing more than to have him as a brother-in-law. It is obvious from the start that Linda and Johnny are better suited for one another with their goofy personalities. Hepburn being a bigger actress than Nolan also makes it a dead giveaway. What I found surprising, however, is that the relationship between the two stars does not necessarily indicate they will end up together. There are no longing or twitterpated glances between the two nor sexually tense moments. Not until late in the picture when at the official ringing in of the new year Grant starts to lean toward Hepburn for a kiss do we get any indication he might be into her. Even after that instance, however, Grant continues to try to make things work with his intended. In the end they do end up together, of course, but I was certainly left doubting that until the final minutes of the picture.

     Holiday is a truly fun movie. Grant shows off his acrobatic talents, and he and Hepburn illustrate how well they mesh by bouncing comical line after line off each other. Lew Ayres also shows up as a loveable drunk brother. He was a different sort of drunk than I am used to seeing on film. Despite his handicap, he was loving to Linda and fond of Johnny. His drinking did not create problems nor was it the butt of jokes. Lastly, Edward Everett Horton plays a long-time friend of Johnny’s in possibly he least nervous role I have ever witnessed. Horton also had many a witty line and offered the humbler, non-wealthy side of the equation, which also happened to fit in perfectly with Linda.  Holiday is surely a fun pick any time of the year, so do not let the title place it on the back burner for next Xmas.

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