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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
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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

Hitchcock Blogathon #11: Rope

Gasser

Rope (1948)

     Rope is often revered for its interesting approach with camerawork that involved full-reel takes cut together in a way that makes it look as though the movie was filmed in one continual take. Although fans today enjoy this aspect, Hitchcock called it a “gimmick” and the movie did poorly at the box office.

     Also Hitchcock’s first color picture, Rope starts with two men strangling another man with a bit of rope before stashing him in a trunk. The two men are sophisticated, New York socialites who have killed their friend without any motive –just for the thrill of it. They have already arranged for a dinner party at their flat and construct a food spread on top of the trunk that holds the body. The dead man is also expected at the party –son of two guests and boyfriend to another. Jimmy Stewart joins the lot as a former professor of the two men and the only one who absorbs the various clues the men are leaking about their crime.

           The source material lied in a Patrick Hamilton play of the same name, but the story also drew inspiration from the 1924 crime of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, a pair of intellectually brilliant lovers who killed an acquaintance without motive as a stunt to prove their superior genius. A series of stupid mistakes led to their arrest and conviction, however. The homosexual undertone remains in Hitchcock’s interpretation but is probably only there if one looks for it.

      The long takes were blended together by ending each reel of film focused in on a character’s back, allowing for a black screen where a cut can be inserted without being obvious. Hitchcock used the long-take approach in his next film, Under Capricorn but I did not even notice it.

     This was the first movie to be filmed under Transatlantic Pictures, founded by Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein in anticipation of the end of the director’s contract with David O. Selznick. Ultimately, only three pictures were made under the company: Rope, Under Capricorn and I Confess. The box office lows for the former two did not help the company’s prospects.

The MacGuffin: No MacGuffin here.

Where’s Hitch? Walking on the street holding a newspaper following the opening credits and about an hour in his silhouette is on a red neon sign for “Reduco” outside the apartment window.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!

Hitchcock Blogathon #8: Rear Window

Ring a Ding Ding

Rear Window (1954)

     Hitchcock loved to focus on voyeurism in his films and never was it more apparent than in Rear Window. The camera never leaves the apartment of L.B. Jefferies, played by Jimmy Stewart, who watches the goings on of the courtyard and apartments within view of his living room, where he is confined because of a broken leg. The director cutely developes the characters of people we never see close up: the newlyweds, the struggling songwriter, the dancer “Miss Torso”, the woman with a dog, “Miss Lonelyhearts” and most importantly the salesman and his invalid wife.

     When Jeffries hears screams one night, he begins to suspect the salesman has killed his wife. Jeffries’ girlfriend, Lisa, who is a model played naturally by Grace Kelly, joins in on the people-watching as the two try to determine what happened to the wife. The most thrilling moments are when Lisa sneaks into the suspect’s apartment to dig up clues while Jeffries (and the audience) is left impotent across the yard watching as danger approaches the young beauty.

     Thelma Ritter comes in as an insurance company nurse required to check up on the laid up Jeffries. She was transformed from the original story in Dime Detective Magazine from a black servant into the wise cracking character as a device to unite the audience. Writer John Michael Hayes said comedy could bring audience members together. Once they “had laughed together they could gasp together, they could clutch the seats together, and they could scream together,” he said. The girlfriend did not exist at all in the short story and so fully changed the extent to which the story could go.

     This rare first-person perspective is less about fancy camera angles and more about the fantastic set, dialogue and story, which in itself is thrilling enough. The set was an accomplishment. Thirty-one apartments, 12 of which were fully furnished, made up the courtyard. The actors in the faraway shots were equipped with mini microphones through which they received instructions from Hitchcock about their movements. The camera often moved in one take across the various apartment windows, requiring all actors be on their toes for their cues.

The MacGuffin: What’s buried in the garden.

Where’s Hitch? About 25 minutes in he winds a clock in the songwriters apartment.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!

What to Watch: New Year’s Eve

If you are like me and are fortunate enough to have New Years Eve day off, TCM has an impressive line up of great classic films to entertain you all day and night long. In essence, the day is comprised of Cary Grant and Marx Brothers marathons, which means Dec. 31 is loaded with laughs, romance and more laughs.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

I am not sure I would advise anyone to get up early on the day you are supposed to stay up late, but if you’re out of bed by 6 a.m. ET, Bringing Up Baby will get you laughing early on. The cute and absurd tale is of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and a trained leopard. The opposites incidentally attract plot is full of slapstick and antics that worked so well between the two pros. It, like most films shown Friday, is a requirement for all classic movie fans.

My Favorite Wife (1940)

Next Grnat is paired with the fabulously funny Irene Dunne in My Favorite Wife, airing at 8 a.m. ET. This movie really sold me on Dunne. She is the perfect goofy counterpart to comedic roles Grant played before turning gray, that is to say the more physically silly ones. In this scenario, Dunne returns from years lost at sea just after her husband marries another woman. Grant certainly loves Dunne more than the new broad, so he’s in a tricky situation that Dunne revels in making worse. It kind of has a similar ring to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which chronicles a married couple who discover their union is not legal. Oh, how fun it is to see the propriety of days gone by face the fact that a duo already has intimate knowledge of each other.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Another love triangle presents itself in The Philadelphia Story, set to air at 9:30 a.m. ET.  I have mentioned before that I am partial to the musical version of this story, High Society, but that does not preempt the importance of this movie, which re-teams Grant and Hepburn as ex-spouses and adds Jimmy Stewart as a reporter on scene to document Hepburn’s marriage to a new man. The film was written with Hepburn in mind and in effect reversed her Box Office Poison title. The story does a great job of making unpredicatble with whom the woman will end up, although it makes apparent that her fiance is not the winner. This film features the classic moment when Grant, standing outside Hepburn’s door, pushes her down by the face. I once heard someone say that if that move had been perpetrated by any other actor, the move would have been vicious. Grant, however, could get away with anything.

Arsenic & Old Lace (1944)

My favorite slapstick movie is probably Arsenic and Old Lace. At 1:45 p.m. ET Grant will go through a night of familial trauma just after being married to a girl who hardly shows her face in the picture. When Grant discovers his elder aunts have been poisoning lonely men and burying them in the basement, he goes just about as daffy as his uncle who fancies himself as Teddy Roosevelt. Add in criminals Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre and Grant finds himself in such a mess that one cannot but roll with laughter. This flick is pretty good example of Grant’s slapstick charm and a requirement for all of his fans.

The Bachelor & the Bobby-Soxer (1947)

It is probably logical given their comedic talents that Grant and Myrna Loy would be a great pairing. They come together in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer at 3:45 p.m. ET. I have never been one to pursue Shirley Temple, but as a teenager, she really can be quite appealing. The story is teenager meets playboy meets judge. As both a person of law and older sister to Temple, Loy is none too pleased with her sibling’s infatuation with Grant. In order to cure the girl of her crush, Grant is required to “date” her but in the process falls in love with Loy. The movie is a really cute, sweet, funny time and offered great roles for the leads.

North By Northwest (1959)

I will admit that North By Northwest is not among my favorite Hitchcock movies, despite its popularity. Between the length of the film airing at 5:30 p.m. ET and the use of Eva Marie Saint — who has yet to impress me — as the female lead, it just does not call to me from the DVD shelf. The story, however, is pretty great. It utilizes the “wrong man” storyline Hitchcock used often. Grant is mistaken for a spy and essentially learns the ropes of such a profession as he tries to free himself from opposing forces. Saint’s role in the plot is fun as it slowly reveals itself, but the best entertainment might be what happens in the woman’s room on the train when Grant is hiding out. The macguffin in this one is a roll of microfilm, by the way.

From 8 p.m. through to 7 a.m. or so New Year’s Day, The Marx Brothers will take over the screen. As the recent review would indicate, I have only seen Duck Soup, but I have the rest of them set to record so I can pace myself while discovering more masterpieces. Among the line up are:

  • Animal Crackers (1930) at 8:00 p.m. ET
  • Monkey Business (1931) at 9:45 p.m. ET 
  • Horse Feathers (1932) at 11:15 p.m. ET 
  • Duck Soup (1933) at 12:30 a.m. ET 
  • A Night at the Opera (1935) at 1:45 a.m. ET
  • A Day At The Races (1937) at 3:30 a.m. ET
  • Go West (1940) at 5:30 a.m. ET

What to Watch: Xmas Day

Most of us will enjoy time away from work and other distractions on Xmas day and will hopefully find ourselves relaxing in the vicinity of a fire, family and TV. Turner Classic Movies has a number of good films playing Dec. 25, not all of which are Christmas themed, but are essential picks nonetheless.

Bell, Book and Candle (1959)

Those for whom the promise of Santa and gifts are too much to stay asleep, Bell, Book and Candle will be airing at 4 a.m. ET. The Kim NovakJimmy Stewart picture is middle of the road entertainment-wise but is pretty goofy. Novak’s witch puts a love spell on Stewart’s character on Christmas Eve and the complications of a romance based on sorcery complicate the relationship. The movie offers some interesting concepts of laws surrounding witchcraft and is a cute romance, but the best part might be the name of the cat: Pyewacket (which apparently stems from a term referring to “a friendly spirit” associated with a witch). Add that to my list of future pet names!

Little Women (1933)

For those who decline to sleep in on the holiday, the 1933 Little Women will air at 6 a.m. ET. I think I have probably only seen this version of the classic novel and the contemporary Winona Ryder version and obviously prefer the former. The story, which also has some winter/Xmas ties, is a great family plot about sisterhood, love, adventure and regret. Katharine Hepburn is really fantastic as Jo, and the movie is definitely worth seeing if you have not caught this version. One of her earlier films, Hepburn really had the personality of an all-American tomboy-type girl that the character requires.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

For those waiting for the rest of the family to roll out of bed, an 8 a.m. ET showing of The Shop Around the Corner might be the perfect fit. It’s what I believe to be the original version of a story used repeatedly throughout Hollywood’s history (including most recently as You’ve Got Mail). Set in Budapest around Xmastime, two shop employees become instant enemies who do not realize that their romantic pen pals happen to be each other. It’s a great story that was reincarnated as the Judy Garland musical In the Good Old Summertime and one that leaves me with thorough romantic feelings for the lead male, which in the original was Jimmy Stewart (what’s with that guy and Xmas movies?). definitely a good one to get into the loving spirit of the holiday.

Ben-Hur (1959)

When 1 p.m. ET rolls around and the gifts are open and the meal in the oven, it might be time for a long sit on the couch for Ben Hur. I will admit that I fell asleep for probably half of this movie but woke up to catch the chariot race, and frankly, I’m fine with that. The story was not my cup of tea, but the Best Picture winner is one probably every classic film fan should endeavor to endure at least once, even if dozing is involved. I will not go into the long, complex plot, but suffice it to say there are biblical references and Charlton Heston.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

When the kids have gone to bed and you have had enough of family, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  is set to warm your heart at 10:30 p.m. ET. I am not sure why this incredibly hard to watch picture is being presented on a holiday typically associated with positive feelings, but the Elizabeth Taylor triumph is a great picture. Opposite husband Richard Burton, Taylor showed for the first time her true mettle as an actress and her willingness to take on roles outside of the shapely sex objects with which she had come to be associated. I caught it recently, so check out the review for more.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

And if you are still up at 1 a.m. ET, Elizabeth Taylor returns in possibly her sexiest role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I am a big fan of movies based on Tennessee Williams’ plays, and this is no exception. His stories all have a similar formula that involves some deep, dark secret surrounding a main character that is gradually revealed to the audience and usually has some sexual implication. In this flick, Taylor and Paul Newman are a young married couple but Newman’s character refuses to sleep with the severely seductive woman because of this “secret”. There is also plenty of family drama that makes one want to rip her hair out from frustration, but it’s really a powerful picture and a must-see.

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