• Poster of the Month

  • My Momentary Celebrity Obsession

    Click to find out why Marlene has me mesmerized.

  • What I’m Reading

  • What You’re Reading

Night Flight

Ring a Ding Ding

Night Flight (1933)

I had never heard of 1933’s Night Flight when I stumbled upon it in a sales pile at Barnes & Noble a couple weeks ago. I’ve tried to train myself not to buy movies on a whim without knowing whether they are good, but the cast for this one was enough to secure its purchase. Besides love of my life Robert Montgomery, the cast also features John and Lionel Barrymore, Myrna Loy and Clark Gable, to name a few.

The story starts with a plot element that we will all but forget before the picture is over. A child at a hospital in Rio de Janeiro teeters on the verge of death from a virus, but doctors assure his mother that because of a new night flight schedule, the life-saving serum he needs can be delivered from across the continent by the next morning.

Now move on to the main story: the plight of those pilots tasked with the treacherous duty of flying mail planes across South America. The trip is dangerous enough during the daytime as Auguste (Montgomery) discovers as he flies the serum and other packages from Santiago, Chile ,to Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires is the headquarters of the delivery outfit where company president A. Riviere (John Barrymore) stressfully monitors all pilots’ progress. Auguste hits a nasty storm going over the mountains and at one point gets sucked down close to the rough terrain but thankfully makes it to his destination alive.

The package in question and other mail will not leave immediately for Rio de Janeiro from Buenos Aires because another flight is due just in time to ensure the load will leave by midnight. Flying that plane is Gable’s Jules. We will never see him outside of his vehicle and he has surprisingly little dialogue because he communicates with his radio operator via notepad, sending messages to headquarters. His path takes him from southern Chile to Buenos Aires, but he and his radio man encounter a surprise rain storm en route. They are thrown off course and also must battle a fleeting fuel supply. Jules’ wife, Simone (Helen Hayes), knows her husband’s schedule well and becomes distraught when he is late.

A “Brazilian Pilot” (William Gargan) is aroused from his sleep to take the night flight to Rio de Janeiro, leaving worrying wife (Loy) behind. He thinks the only value of night flight is to allow someone in France to get a post card two days earlier than normal, not realizing he is carrying a life-saving serum.

The bulk of the acting heft in Night Flight comes from the two Barrymores. John is a hard-nosed businessman who defies the company board in insisting on the overnight program. Lionel comes in as an “inspector” of some sort who is there as a counterpoint to Riviere’s tough tactics, trying to draw compassion from the man.

All scenes with John take place in his office, a dark room that is literally only lighted by “moonlight” from outside and a desk lamp. The darkness of most scenes in the picture leaves the audience feeling the weight of the night as much as the pilots do. We yearn for the dawn to bring with it safety in the same way they do. The office scenes are also often shot from waist height across the room or closeup low angles. This leaves the viewer feeling less like he is in the scene with the characters and more as an unwelcome spectator.

As with all movies featuring flight, Night Flight contains impressive footage of aerial maneuvering. Day for night shooting was apparently used for the flick, but unlike most picture that take this approach, the fakeness of night was unnoticeable.

The movie was apparently one of Gable’s lowest-grossing pictures. Interestingly, he is scarcely in it. He utters only a few lines of actual dialogue and is never seen outside his plane. A surprisingly small role for such a big star, but given the magnitude of the remainder of the cast, it might be understandable.

Operation Petticoat

Ring a Ding Ding

Operation Petticoat (1977)

I shied away from Operation Petticoat for about eight years now because why on earth would I want to watch a Cary Grant movie that costars another man. If he’s not being romantic, I have little motivation to watch Grant. Thankfully, I did finally convince myself to sit down with the war comedy that costars Tony Curtis and is directed by the fabulous Blake Edwards, a favorite of mine.

Although the majority of the plot focuses on a clash between experienced submarine Lt. Cmdr. Matt Sherman (Grant) and the new recruit whose military experience has been in the realm of “entertainment”, the story does eventually introduce a host of women, one of which will bring out Grant’s romantic qualities, however reluctantly.

The vessel, the “Sea Tiger”, is ready to head to battle from its station in the Philipines when the base is bombed by enemy aircraft. The submarine then must undergo serious repairs even though it is nearly beyond remedy. Showing up in time to help is Nick Holden (Curtis), who arrives in a glorious white uniform, attracting the attention of all around. He does not know how to behave as part of an actual naval command, but the skills he does have prove immensely helpful.

With little backing from the higher ups, the crew of the Sea Tiger struggle to get the materials they need to make repairs. Holden leads a number of theft operations that involve absconding with materials as absurd as a portion of a metal wall. At last the men are ready to head to sea, and Holden has all the amenities a man could want in his officer’s cabin, including his custom-made uniforms.

A leak in the archaic submarine forces a stop at an island for repairs. Holden scouts the land and returns with half a dozen women officers who had been stranded there. Sherman is reluctant to let them on board, but eventually concedes. He immediately interacts with the clumsy, busty Dolores (Joan O’Brien) in helping to dislodge her shoe from the sub’s deck. Their accidental encounters will continue.

Holden starts in on the women romantically, raising Sherman’s ire and eventually getting himself confined to his quarters. Holden’s motivation for joining the Navy was merely to secure a uniform and with that to lure a wealthy wife. He has such a fiancée on land, but the woman he has targeted on board is ignorant of this.

During another repair stop, the crew endeavors to repaint the Sea Tiger. Before putting on the grey topcoat, the men use the only base paint available –red and white. The result is a pink ship that is unable to be topcoated before enemy planes force an exit from the island. Tokyo Rose speaks over the air about the silly, American pink sub, but other U.S. forces think this might be a trick. When the pink submarine comes into view, they attack it. With the help of the women, and their undergarments, the crew is able to save themselves.

Operation Petticoat is not nearly as zany as most Blake Edwards flicks. But considering it is a war picture, perhaps it is the wildest one you will see featuring men at war. The story plays with clashes in personalities with the obstinate Holden constantly proving ingenious ways to veer from standard protocol. Naturally there is also the sexual tension that comes from keeping both genders in such close quarters.

Grant plays the straight-laced Lieutenant Commander part well and Curtis is smashing as the rebel. The women’s performances are nothing special and really are there only to drive the plot, as this movie belongs to the male stars. Operation Petticoat is a lot of fun, probably the most you will see in a submarine.

 

 

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.

Little Women (1949)

Gasser

Little Women (1949)

      Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women” has found its way onto the big screen at least five times since the creation of motion pictures and we have probably not seen the last of it. Although I have seen three of these, I cannot quite decide which is the best of them. The 1949 version starring June Allyson differentiates itself in some ways from the other versions and in particular expands the part belonging to Elizabeth Taylor.

     In this Little Women Taylor plays Amy, who at 12 is the youngest of the March sisters in the book and in other incarnations of the movie. But at 17, Taylor’s already voluptuous body belies the youngest character’s age and visually appears to be the second-youngest sister. Beth, who is meant to be the second youngest sister, is played by Margaret O’Brien who was five years younger than Taylor. The choice of Taylor as Amy is logical in that she is meant to be the daintiest and grow to be the prettiest of the March girls, but the dying of her hair blonde does not favor the actress whose dark eyebrows defy her hairstyle.

     We all know that the story creates a deep friendship between main character Jo (Allyson) and neighbor Laurie (Peter Lawford) that essentially ends with Jo’s rejection of his marriage proposal. Amy then is meant to grow into a lovely young woman who captures Laurie’s fancy and becomes his wife. The downside to Taylor’s presence here is that Laurie could just have easily fallen for her at the film’s start as later on as her appearance changes only in the slightly finer clothing she dons.

     But moving away from the, perhaps, annoyance that is Taylor in Little Women, Allyson must be applauded for her fantastic portrayal of tomboy Jo, who is ever after equality for women. Her boldness ignites the friendship with Laurie who has moved in with his wealthy grandfather in the home next door. We see a lot of Laurie, more than in other movie versions, as he lets no class boundaries block his relationship with the girls and Jo in particular. His grandfather, Laurence Sr. (C. Aubrey Smith), is also quickly repainted from a grumpy old man to a generous friend who gives Beth his piano and supports the family through the girl’s illnesses.

     I perhaps never found it more heart wrenching than when Winona Ryder‘s Jo rejects the proposal from Christian Bale‘s Laurie in the 1994 Little Women. I did not experience the same emotion in the 1949 version. I would not say that Allyson nor Lawford poorly acted their parts but perhaps Jo is so masculine here that it is hard to imagine her as a marriage candidate. I typically also find myself heartbroken in watching other versions when Jo goes on to fall in love with the German she meets in New York, but I did not feel that way in this instance. This Professor Bhaer, although played by the Italian Rossano Brazzi, is handsome enough and affectionate enough to warm us to him as Jo’s suitor.

     Also joining the cast is Mary Astor as mother Marmee who is thankfully in few scenes as she brings little to the part and at times delivers the dialogue poorly. Janet Leigh plays oldest sister Meg and is appropriately polite and beautiful in her role. Despite the great cast, Allyson really stands as the best part, as well she should. This might not be the best filmed version of Little Women but it is nevertheless entertaining.

  • Little Women is set for 3:45 a.m. ET Sept. 8 on TCM.

The Star

The Star (1952)

Ring a Ding Ding

     It is no Sunset Blvd., but Bette Davis did a fine job playing an actress gone “box office poison” who desperately seeks another part. The Star was released two years after the powerful William HoldenGloria Swanson flick and treads along the same lines but holds its own if one’s not drawing comparisons.

     Davis is Margaret Elliot, the aging actress who upon the picture’s opening wanders buy an auction of her belongings. She is broke, a fact comically exacerbated by a sister and brother-in-law who come by the woman’s apartment demanding their usual check. Margaret has a daughter who at present lives with her ex-husband and his family. This Gretchen, played by a young Natalie Wood, adores her mother but must face the constant torment of her peers who say Margaret Elliot is no longer a star.

     Margaret tries to save face for her daughter’s sake but leaves her ex-husband’s mansion in tears. She ends up driving through the neighborhoods of the rich and famous in Hollywood while downing a bottle of liquor. She is chased by a cop before crashing her car and spending the night in jail. The next thing Margaret knows she’s been bailed out by ex-actor Jim Johannson (Sterling Hayden), who had worked with the woman on a movie before giving up his career to join the Navy and later bought a shipping yard.

     Jim tries to be the voice of wisdom and persuade Margaret that possibilities for life and career exist outside a soundstage. He convinces the woman to take a job as a department store clerk outside of town –acting her way through the interview– but she soon quits the position when two snooty shoppers recognize her.

     Margaret, with the help of her agent Harry Stone (Warner Anderson) goes to a studio head to ask for a part in a film she has been eyeballing for years. The producer Joe Morrison (Minor Watson) offers the actress the part of an older character as the lead is going to Margaret’s young rival. The old pro botches the screen test, however, by trying to make the part younger and flirtier. The star later speaks to a young writer about a part she would be perfect for, hearing the plot laid out like so much of her life, but she walks out to pursue the alternative lifestyle that had been before her all along.

      The Star might lack the murder, stalking, and insanity offered by Sunset Blvd. but it is far from lacking in the drama department. Davis does a fantastic job of expressing the range of emotions to which her character is subjected. Whether she is furious at her in-laws for asking for money, remorseful over the lies she has told her daughter about her stardom, depressed about her financial situation, or resigned to the steady decline of her lifestyle, Davis offers all with gusto. She has a few vibrant rageful rants, but none go over the top as might be easy to do. She earned an Oscar nomination for her effort.

     A variety of movies —A Star is Born being another great one– address the subject of declining fame. Actors often found their standard parts going to a younger generation and many struggled to reinvent themselves, or to convince the studios to allow them to do so. Ironically, Bette Davis is one star whose career never faltered as her character’s did in The Star. Davis’ odd beauty was already on it’s way out by the time this film was released in 1952 but she had so thoroughly defined herself as more than a pretty face that her sometimes frighteningly old facade (see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) did not prevent her from finding work. She also maintained her career well despite acting as a free agent after a 1949 voluntary release from her Warner Bros. contract.

Source: Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

Camille (1937)

Ring a Ding Ding

Camille (1937)

     The 1937 release of Camille did not give audiences a new story. The romance originated as an Alexandre Dumas novel that became a Paris play in 1848, the Verdi opera La Traviata, a 1907 Danish short film La Dame aux Camlias, a 1915 Shubert production, a 1917 Fox film, and a 1927 First National production, among many others. What the other adaptations did not have, however, was Greta Garbo.

     Although the past productions also featured some great actresses in the lead role, for audiences in the 1930s, there was no better-suited star than Garbo. She plays Marguerite Gautier –the lady of the camellias because of her love of the flower– who in this film’s case is a society lady whose lifestyle is paid for by the generosity of male suitors. With her debt on the rise, Marguerite is advised by a friend, Prudence Duvernoy (Laura Hope Crews), to find a wealthy suitor. The mark is the Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell), but a case of mistaken identity at the theatre lands Marguerite in acquaintance with long-time admirer Armand Duval (Robert Taylor).

     Although Marguerite carries on a relationship with the Baron, and he keeps her financially sound, she finds herself all at once in love with Armand when the two are alone at a party. She has also been hearing that this man over the years has always been ever attentive when she would fall under one of her illness spells, likely the result of tuberculosis. After some time and growing affection, Marguerite agrees to break off her relationship with the baron in order to spend a summer in the country with Armand, something that would perhaps mend her health. Before she can leave town, however, she must pay off $40,000 francs worth of debt, something no match for Armand’s $7,000 per year salary. The baron foots the bill just before declaring he would never see Marguerite again.

     The couple have a marvelous time in the country despite the discovery that the baron’s mansion is just a hill away. While there, however, Armand’s father (Lionel Barrymore) stops by to beg Marguerite to back off. He says the relationship will ruin the young man’s future success and could bring a certain amount of shame upon him. Marguerite, despite knowing that her health is unlikely to keep her around for many more years, coldly breaks her relationship with Armand and says she is returning to the nearby baron. The couple will reunite, but not under happy circumstances.

     I cannot help but ponder why the story of Camille has time and time again produced movies –as recently as the 2001 Moulin Rouge. The story is that of a love triangle but not one in which the object of the dual affection is emotionally torn between two individuals. Instead, she must weigh passion against her financial needs, needs that have been ever-present in her past up until the introduction of true love. Other incarnations of Camille have painted the woman as a courtesan, and although the Garbo version does not depict her that way ala Production Code restrictions, there is no denying her source of income. So the story also involves a love so strong that it ignores the woman’s seedy past.

     Perhaps the plot is appealing to viewers because the romantic choice is obvious; we will always root for love over money. Yet regardless of the decision, the woman will still meet a fate that neither love nor money could have prevented.

     Garbo and Taylor embody all that the story demands of impassioned love. Although Garbo’s performances can be cold at times, she is convincing in her emotional connection with Taylor, who meanwhile is exhibiting the endearingly obsessive love that seems to exist only in films and classic literature. The couple does the story justice and create a good entre for anyone who has yet to be exposed to the classic romance.

Gay Purr-ee

Ring a Ding Ding

Gay Purr-ee (1962)

At some point when I was a kid, my parents recorded off the TV some animated movie about cats in Paris. The VCR recording cut off the beginning of the movie and since we did not know the title, it was merely labeled “Cat Robespierre” on the cassette. I am not sure at what point in early adulthood I actually figured out this movie was called Gay Purr-ee but I quickly hunted down and secured a copy on DVD. As it turns out, this UPA-produced cartoon features the voices of Judy Garland and Robert Goulet that were indiscernible to me as child.

I rewatched this movie from my childhood the other day and although the animation would appear crude to today’s CGI-accustomed children, I am still amazed at the quality coming out of 1962. The movie is not only a romantic tale of two cats and a villain, but a tribute to both Paris and the artists that have revered the city.

Garland’s Mewsette and Goulet’s Jaune Tom live on a farm in the French countryside. Jaune Tom is a world-class mouser with skills that put him in a trance any time he spots a rodent. Mewsette, however, is disgusted by this form of sustenance and upon hearing her owner’s sister speak of the champagne and Champs Elysees to be eaten in Paris, has greater plans for herself. The white-furred beauty skips town in this woman’s buggy and train heading to the capital city. Jaune Tom and his tiny pal Robespierre (Red Buttons) immediately take off after Tom’s love but do their travelling on foot.

Once in Paris, Mewsette meets the slick Meowrice (Paul Frees) who immediately identifies her as a victim for his mail-order bride scheme. He sets her up with Madam Rubens-Chatte (Hermione Gingold) –whose figure is reminiscent of some of painter Peter Paul Rubens’ rotund subjects– who owns a boutique to turn young cats into classy felines. When Jaune Tom and Robespierre arrive in town they spot the same joint as a good starting point in their hunt for Mewsette, but before they can enter, Meowrice’s minions snatch the smaller cat, sending his pal on a chase through the sewers to save him.

The story follows the male cats’ endeavors to find Mewsette and Meowrice’s interference along the way as he prepares Mewsette to be shipped to Pennsylvania as the bride to some old, rich cat named Mr. Pfft.

As a kid, Gay Purr-ee was just some entertaining cartoon about cats full of decent songs. As an adult, however, one can see the tribute the picture pays to the art world. Whether the characters are wandering through Vincent Van Gogh’s “Cafe Terrace at Night” or Henri Toulouse Lautrec’s images of the “Meowlin Rouge”, art history is ever present. Meowrice also narrates a scene in which he sends a variety of paintings of Mewsette to Mr. Phht. He describes the artists’ background as we see recognizable works of art with a white cat inserted in them. It is absolutely fascinating.

I would say that Gay Purr-ee‘s plot seemed much more dramatic as a child and even a bit frightening at times but it does not have the same urgency for me today. Goulet does not convince me as much now of his desperate love for Mewsette, nor does the beginning establish that there was a pre-existing relationship between them. Writing this, however, seems a bit absurd as I am referring to cartoon cats.

I do not know how today’s children would react to the archaic style of animation, but adults would surely appreciate the ingenuity this 50-year-old movie exhibits. Any art history fan would also get a kick out of the many inside jokes the scenery presents and any Judy Garland fan should revel in the opportunity to hear her voice.

Limelight

Ring a Ding Ding

Limelight (1953)

     Charlie Chaplin‘s was nearing the end of his career when in 1953 he made a drama that could almost be considered semi-autobiographical in nature had the actor’s box office prowess not remained so strong. Limelight is about an aging stage comedian who in 1914 London finds the tramp act and others from his career-long routine no longer hold the same draw with the current audience demographic.

      Calvero remains a name known by all of London as a great comedian, but when the man actually can find a booking, he seems no better than an unknown. His life takes a signficant change, however, when he discovers upon drunken return to his boarding house that the woman in the first-floor flat has gassed herself in a suicide attempt.

      Against the landlady’s objections, Calvero (Chaplin) cares for this young Thereza (Claire Bloom) and takes her into his home once the landlady has rented away her own room. Thereza was a ballerina who after becoming ill lost the strength needed to perform. Her suicide attempt has also left her with leg paralysis that the doctor diagnoses as purely psychological. Thereza continues to look down upon her life circumstances until Calvero returns home from a new booking that went so poorly it was cancelled after one night. She demands her newfound friend fight for his livelihood and in doing so finds she can stand on her own recognizance.

      With no future bookings laying in Calvero’s future, Thereza takes up the breadwinning by gaining a chorus dancing job. She soon becomes the lead dancer in a ballet at the Empire Theater and arranges for Calvero to play one of the clowns that appears in the show. The composer of the ballet happens to be a young man whom Thereza was in love with years prior when he was a poor, struggling artist and she a shop girl at a music store.      This Neville, played by Chaplin’s son Sydney Chaplin, is instantly captivated by the woman from the past, but Thereza is aloof because she has decided she is in love with Calvero and, despite their age difference, has asked him to marry her. Calvero is resistant and quickly realizes that Neville would be a better match for the young woman.

      SPOILER Calvero is not going over well in his clown role, but the show’s producer opts to host a benefit for the aging star, which draws “kings, queens and jacks” to the sold-out variety show. The comedian is a hit in putting on his old acts for the audience that remembers him well. For an encore, he brings on a fellow performer, played by Buster Keaton, for a “musical” number done without any dialogue. In the final moments of the performance, however, Calvero thinks he injures his back only to learn it is a heart attack likely to prove fatal. As he watches Thereza perform, the man passes away. END SPOILER

      Limelight is a great take on the “aging star” scenario because is balances the limelight needs of both an older performer and a young one who thinks her career is also over. The film has another element to it also, that of the unconventional relationship between the young woman and the man too awkwardly older than she to be considered a legitimate love interest. Chaplin plays the part well so as to eliminate any romanticism between the characters, even when Calvero is referring to Thereza as his wife for appearances sake. When Thereza becomes a big star, the natural assumption is she would find an apartment of her own, yet the couple continue their uncommon home life.

      Bloom is terrific as Thereza, a role Chaplin picked her for that would start her down a long career of film and TV roles on top of the theater work in which she was already engaged. Her emotional scenes, of which there are several, can lean to the hysterical side, which becomes obnoxious, but she is otherwise the most beautiful thing to hit the silver screen.

      Limelight was the only movie in which silent cinema greats Chaplin and Keaton appeared together. Keaton appears only for the ending scenes and shows little of the acrobat entertainer but all of the stoneface we knew from his early work. Although Chaplin had made a hugely successful career for himself by remaining independent and writing and producing films like this, Keaton had signed on with MGM and lost his celebrity ranking when talking pictures came along.

      The flick was the last one Chaplin would make in the U.S. because its distribution was bungled by an investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee into Chaplin’s possible communist sympathies. Many theaters bowed to pressure not to release the film on schedule, and because it did not open in Los Angeles in 1953, it was not eligible for the Academy Awards. It would later win an award for the score, written in part by Chaplin, in 1957 when the movie finally showed in the California city. Limelight nevertheless took many international awards. 

Source: TCM, TCM.com

To Have and Have Not

Ring a Ding Ding

To Have and Have Not (1944)

When Lauren Bacall first appears in Humphrey Bogart‘s hotel doorway in To Have and Have Not, one has to pause and question whether their characters are already familiar with each other. In truth, not even the actors themselves were very well acquainted as the stars started work on a project that would result in their marriage.

After seeing a screen test by Bacall, then 19, for the movie and the scene in which she questions whether the gentleman can whistle, Bogart tells the newcomer, “We’ll have a lot of fun together,” and fun they had. The couple fell in love during the making of the Ernest Hemingway novel-based movie. When Bogart’s wife at the time Mayo Methot would inquire where her husband was, the answer was “the cast”. The actor finally shrugged off the long-failed marriage with a Vegas divorce May 10, 1945. He married Bacall May 21. They would name their son after Bogie’s character in To Have and Have Not, whom Bacall’s character refers to as Steve.

The movie’s familiar plot lines harken back to the 1944 award winner, Casablanca.  In To Have and Have Not, Bogie’s American character does not own a nightclub on a French-ruled exotic locale, but instead lives at one. As a boat owner, he reluctantly agrees to help smuggle a man important to the French resistance during Germany’s occupation of the nation. That man happens to have a woman with him who is more important to have in tow than leave behind, for the mere reason that she helps drive his mission.

On the Caribbean isle of Martinique, Bogie’s Harry Morgan rents out his fishing boat and captain skills to anyone buying. We open on him, his alcoholic crew member Eddie (Walter Brennan) and the man (Walter Sande) who loses his fishing pole overboard and cancels the rest of the excursion. This Johnson now owes Harry for the rod and the week’s trip, some $800. The man says he must go to the bank the next morning to retrieve the cash.

Before that can happen, Harry is approached by the owner of the hotel/bar where he resides and is asked about aiding the French resistance effort by helping to move an important man between locales in the ocean. Harry refuses to get involved with such a politics. In walks Marie Browning (Bacall) looking for a match. This husky voiced gal whom Harry names Slim, later picks Johnson’s pocket. Not only did the man have the money to pay Harry but he also has a plane ticket that would have had him out of the country before the bank opened.

During a shootout that kills several members of the underground resistance, Johnson also catches a stray bullet. Harry takes what is owed from the wallet, but this prompts the authorities to question his connection to the rebels. The man’s passport and money are confiscated for the time being. Now looking to start a life with Slim, and annoyed at the police, Harry agrees to take up the well-paying, one-night voyage and manages to pick up and drop off Paul (Walter Molnar) and Helene De Bursac (Dolores Moran), but not before Paul is shot. The wounded man ends up in the hotel basement where Harry continues to help the rebels while conversations with Helene spark Slim’s jealousy. An end-of-the-movie gunpoint holdup will help the De Bursac’s free a man from Devil’s Island and allow Harry and Slim to take off to some other destination.

Unlike Casablanca, To Have and Have Not offers too easy an ending for my tastes. It sets up a scene that could lead to a shoot out, but fades to close leaving us to assume all works out well. Otherwise the story is intriguing and sexy, especially with the unique look of young Bacall at the helm. Part way through the picture, Slim picks up a job singing at the hotel bar and does so in the deepest, husky voice you will ever hear. It is far from an attractive singing voice, but it suits her sultry look. Some say the voice was dubbed by Andy Williams, but Bacall maintained it was her own.

Director Howard Hawks insisted that without Bogart’s help he could not have elicited the performance from Bacall that he did. He had the part created in a Marlene Dietrich-esque way because he thought the young model could become a new version of the seductress. “Not many actors would sit around and wait while a girl steals a scene,” Hawks said after filming. “But he fell in love with the girl and the girl with him, and that made it easy.”

  • To Have and Have Not is set for 8 p.m. ET July 21 on TCM.

Source: The Ultimate Bogart by Ernest W. Cunningham, TCM.com

Indiscreet

Ring a Ding Ding

Indiscreet (1958)

     I recently commented to a friend after seeing This Means War in the theater that it is interesting/good to see movies that portray single men and women who are beyond their 20s finding love and marriage, in some cases for the first time. In fact, with stars like Reece Witherspoon (36) and Jennifer Aniston (43) who perhaps have gotten better looking with age, many romantic movies today appeal to a demographic beyond its college years. But watching one of my favorite movies this week, Indiscreet, I realized that motion pictures have never shied away from mature romance.

      As in contemporary conveyances of adult romance, the lead characters have typically eschewed love and marriage in favor of a career or have “been there, done that” and are now divorced. Thus is the case with Ingrid Bergman (43) and Cary Grant (54) in Indiscreet, sort of. Berman is famous British stage actress Anna while Grant is a financial expert Philip whom NATO seeks for employment.

     The two meet through mutual friends –Alfred (Cecil Parker) and Margaret Munson (Phyllis Calvert), the latter being Anna’s sister– and Anna is struck with love at first sight and reacts as a grown-up school girl. Philip is interested as well, but when Anna later asks him to the ballet, he reveals he is married and separated “and cannot possibly get a divorce”. The two nevertheless maintain an affair aided by the man’s acceptance of the NATO job in France. He commutes every week to London and has taken a flat below Anna’s so he may sneak up to her place without alerting the building staff and damaging the actress’ reputation.

     When Philip is assigned to work in New York for five months, Anna impulsively asks the man to marry her, but immediately rescinds the plea. She soon finds out that Philip’s marital status is not as she expected and plans a ruse to teach him a lesson.

     Extramarital affairs were not terribly kosher in 1950s cinema and the Hayes Office never cared for any display of premarital relations, but Director Stanley Donen is, well, discreet in how he conveys the relationship. The couple are never depicted doing anything more than kissing, made more suggestive with the camera tracking backward from Anna’s front door. The characters, however, always seem to wake up in their own beds. Although, in another subliminal move, Donen split-screens the protagonists speaking on the phone to one another while laying in bed. The shot is done in such a way as to make it look like they are laying side by side.

     The story was adapted from the play “Kind Sir” that had proven a Broadway flop. The central premise was one that had potential, however, and so the rights were acquired cheaply and delivered to Donen. The director had been working with Grant on Kiss Them For Me, and was looking for another film on which to collaborate. Grant was amenable to the adaptation but insisted Bergman be his leading lady. She did not need much convincing. Donen had some concerns because this comedy was not something Bergman had engaged in much during her career, yet she pulls it off swimmingly. Grant has remarked it is one of his favorite pictures he made.

     Indiscreet is a fun and touching movie. Although we have fun watching the romance blossom between the two characters, we also feel for Anna as she becomes frustrated with her other-woman status. Both Grant and Bergman bring something special to the roles and the seasoned actors are so comfortable together. The two had also played romantic parts in Notorious 12 years earlier, but their maturity was evident in the later flick.

Source: Cary Grant: A Celebration by Richard Schickel

%d bloggers like this: