5 Reasons Why THE AWFUL TRUTH is my Classic Comfort Movie

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May 16th was National Classic Movie Day! On that date we celebrate those films we love from the golden era of Hollywood. To list just one film that brings me joy or comfort like an old friend is frankly impossible. But one of many that I have seen countless times and brings me laughter without fail, even on the bluest of days, is Leo McCarey’s THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937).

A screwball comedy in its truest form, the writing, the silly premise, and the performances absolutely deliver. Starring the king of screwball himself Cary Grant as Jerry Warriner and Irene Dunne as Lucy Warriner. Here are my reasons (in no particular order) of why I find endless satisfaction with this film as my go-to classic comfort…

STYLE and FASHION:

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The gowns draped on Irene Dunne are positively gorgeous. Stunning and stand-out, designer Robert Kalloch is in his prime in this film. With over 150 film credits from 1932 to 1948, he was often uncredited early in his career but became known for his costume design work in such memorable classics as Claudette Colbert in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), Carole Lombard in TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934), Katharine Hepburn in HOLIDAY (1938), and Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), including several “Lone Wolf,” “Blondie,” and “Maisie” films.

SKIPPY! aka MR. SMITH:

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The beloved wire fox terrier, “Mr. Smith”  was not only the main source of a custody battle between stars Dunne and Grant in THE AWFUL TRUTH, this perky pooch (real name ‘Skippy’) was also known as the charming comic relief “Asta” in THE THIN MAN film series, and “George” in BRINGING UP BABY (1938).

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The popularity of this particular pup was so immense that Humphrey Bogart suggested a canine award. A silver statuette was presented to Skippy on March 11, 1938 based on the results of a popularity poll. To illustrate the scene-stealing talents Skippy displays in this film, watch “Mr. Smith” play games with Dunne, sing along with Grant at the piano, and go full-on slapstick in a game of revealing hats while bringing down wall mirrors.

SNAPPY DIALOGUE: 

Irene Dunne as Lucy: “I’ve seen your picture in the paper and wondered what you looked like.”

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Irene Dunne as Lucy: “I guess it was easier to her to change her name than for her whole family to change theirs.” 

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Ralph Bellamy as Dan Leeson: “I certainly learned about women from you.”

Cecil Cunningham as Aunt Patsy: [handing him the letter Lucy intended to break up with him in] “Here’s your diploma.” 

 

HILARIOUS SCENES:

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Some of the funniest scenes of classic comedy are found in this one film. One in particular stands out. As Lucy (Irene Dunne) pulls all punches to get her fella back, she mimics a character and song from earlier in the story, in of course the most hilarious way. Watch as Dunne masters the fine art of physical comedy and perfect timing, as she throws “Jerry the Nipper’s” prospective in-laws for a loop…

YouTube video clip: https://youtu.be/Oxhv4zZy0EU

THAT IRENE DUNNE/ CARY GRANT COMIC CHEMISTRY:

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Cary Grant is my absolute favorite classic movie actor, so I’ve seen plenty of his films many times over. As such, I’ve watched him paired with Hollywood’s top leading ladies in both dramas and comedies. For me, he was best matched with Irene Dunne for his romantic comedy roles.

What’s challenging about playing the leading lady in a screwball, you must balance the elegance and confidence of a socialite in exquisite fashions while mastering the silliness required of farcical slapstick. To keep up with the unparalleled skills and charms of Cary Grant is no small feat. Not to mention the script calls for both actors flipping back and forth of one playing the straight and the other the clown. Yet Irene Dunne matches wits with zany precision and infectious appeal.

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Aunt Patsy (Cecil Cunningham, R) delivers the witty lines as sharply as her tailored fashions.

Throw in the supporting cast with veteran talents like Cecil Cunningham and a reliable third wheel like Ralph Bellamy, you’ve got the perfect set-up for a film that never grows old or feels tired. Every time it’s the just-right tonic for whatever ails you.

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I share this with you as part of the Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon, hosted by Rick of the Classic Film & TV Cafe as a fun way to honor National Classic Movie Day/ May 16, 2018. How did you celebrate Classic Movie Day?

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Day One: 31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON

It’s here! The time has finally arrived to celebrate that marvelously golden man, Oscar. For an entire month, Turner Classic Movies network puts on a grand gala tribute to the winners of that coveted statuette, and for six years we’ve joined the party.

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Please join my co-hosts Aurora (aka @CitizenScreen) of Once Upon A Screen, Paula ( aka @Paula_Guthat) of Paula’s Cinema Club, and me this weekend as we showcase bloggers’ works on this glorious subject. For Day One, here is today’s lineup:

Danny of Danny Reviews (twitter @danny_reviews ) perseveres as he chats about MOTION PICTURES (“CHARIOTS OF FIRE” and “THE KING’S SPEECH” : FILMS ABOUT PERSEVERANCE) 

Paddy of Caftan Woman details the BEST DANCE DIRECTION Nominee: SHE (1935) for that category’s first year as an Academy Award. twitter: @CaftanWoman

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Steve of Movie Movie Blog Blog (twitter: @MovieBlogger61 ) outlines his picks for 10 EMBARRASSING ACADEMY AWARD MOMENTS .

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Daniel of Movie Mania Madness (twitter: @dsl89) honors the 39th winner for Oscar’s Best Picture, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.

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The Gal Herself of One Gal’s Musings takes a look at 1954’s Best Actress Competition with A STAR IS ROBBED: THE 1954 BEST ACTRESS RACE. 

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Annette of Hometowns To Hollywood (twitter: @Home2Hollywood ) reviews how the Academy Awards Ceremonies celebrated with humor and Hope: THE ACADEMY AWARDS AND PLENTY OF HOPE.

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Ruth of Silver Screenings (twitter: @925screenings ) goes deep on the Oscars’ origins and answers the question, WHY DO WE HAVE THE OSCARS?

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The Story Enthusiast laments over the CLASSIC FILM STARS WHO NEVER WON AN OSCAR.

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Dan of Top 10 Films (twitter: @top10films ) lists the TOP TEN HORROR SUCCESSES AT THE OSCARS. 

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Finally our last entry in today’s offerings, Gill of Real Weegie Midget Reviews (twitter: @realweegiemidge ) extols the talents of OSCAR WINNING ACTRESSES IN RETRO ROMANTIC COMEDY MOVIES.

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Enjoy reading all of these superb contributions in Day One of our blogathon event. We encourage you to leave glowing feedback for these writers- share the Oscar love! Tomorrow, pop over to Aurora’s site for Day Two entries, followed on Sunday at Paula’s site for Day Three.

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day 3: paula’s cinema club

Thanks so much for joining us this weekend! Be sure to watch the 90th Oscars Ceremony on ABC this Sunday, March 4th 8pm ET.

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Announcement: 31 Days Of Oscar Blogathon

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out the first Awards at a dinner party for about 250 people on May 16, 1929 to honor movies released from August 1, 1927 – August 1, 1928. The first Academy president, Douglas Fairbanks, hosted and presented in the ceremony held in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. The brainchild of MGM studio mogul, Louis B. Mayer, the Academy was formed in 1927 as a non-profit dedicated to the advancement and improvement of the film industry. Some might argue about some of those achievements, but there is one thing that is sure to impress classic movie and Hollywood fans – when the music plays to open this year’s Oscars on March 4, 2018 it will be the 90th time the film industry honors achievements in movies.

Here are the 1929 Winners and Nominees

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If you take the time to look through all of the moments in 90 years of Oscars ceremonies, you’ll find numerous surprises, disappointments and controversy any number of which may spur debate from film aficionados. That’s where we come in. For the sixth consecutive year, I am joining forces with Aurora of Once Upon A Screen aka @CitizenScreen and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club aka @Paula_Guthat to bring you the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon. Given Oscar’s special anniversary and all of the memories, we hope you’ll consider joining us to make this the best and brightest outing yet.

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As you know, this blogging event is inspired by Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar marathon, which begins its 23rd installment on February 1. This year the network is presenting the movies based on the categories in which they were awarded or nominated. February 1st will honor Best Original Song Winner and Nominees and the festival kicks off with Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935). William Wyler’s Ben-Hur (1959) will end the 31-Day presentation on March 3, the day dedicated to Best Picture Winners.

Since both TCM and the Oscars bring to mind our beloved host and favorite historian, Robert Osborne, we thought we would kick off our Blogathon with his words about the 31 Days of Oscar marathon…

“One thing seems to stir the souls of our Turner Classic Movie loyalists like no other: the 31 Days of Oscar salute.” 

Blogathon Details

Rather than hosting the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon for the entire month of February, as we’ve done in the past, we will host all entries the weekend before the Oscars this year. That is from Friday, February 23 through Sunday, February 25, which leaves Oscar weekend free for last minute movie watching. We’re also combining all topics this year and simply presenting them over the three days. Any Oscar-related topic is fair game. We are not limiting this event to classic film fare as we’d like to see entries covering the entire 90-year history of Oscar, including this year’s nominees. To help get you motivated here are the categories we have used in the past…

  • The Actors
  • The Directors
  • The Motion Pictures
  • Oscar Snubs
  • The Crafts (music, costumes, etc.)
  • New Idea – Oscar Controversies

Most of you know the drill, but as a reminder, adhering to the following is necessary:

  • Let us know what your desired topic is by leaving a comment on any of the host blogs
  • Include the title and link to your blog in the comments area
  • Advise if you have a date preference – Friday 2/23, Saturday 2/24 or Sunday 2/25
  • Include the event banner on your blog and in the entry post to help us promote the event

Restrictions – just two:

  • Please do not submit previously published posts
  • No duplicates will be accepted to ensure we cover as much of Oscar history as possible

We look forward to hearing from you and to reading your entries. As many entries as you want, actually, so get to it!

Until then here’s to Oscar, to TCM and to YOU! Happy Blogging!

Participating Blogs and Topics

Caftan Woman – 1936 Best Dance Direction Nominee, Benjamin Zemach for Hall of Kings from Merian C. Cooper’s SHE (1935)

Blog of the Darned – 7 Films that Should Have Been Nominated for Best Picture

One Gal’s Musings – The 1954 Best Actress Competition

Silver Screenings – How the Oscars Began

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Embarrassing Oscar Moments

Old Hollywood Films – Janet Gaynor’s Three Oscar Wins

Hometowns to Hollywood – Wings (1927)

Critica Retro – The Trouble with Thrillers

Realweegiemidget Reviews – Oscar-winning Actresses in Superhero Movies

Moon in Gemini – Forgotten Winners and Nominees

Cracked Rear Viewer – Claire Trevor in Key Largo

Once Upon a Screen – Why Barbara Stanwyck Should Have Taken Oscar Home in 1942

Danny Reviews – Chariots Of Fire (1981) and The King’s Speech (2010), Best Picture films about perseverance

 

Busby Berkeley Choreography: Geometric Gems

 

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He’s been called many things: an artist, a visionary, a perfectionist, a genius, a legend, even a fascist. But what Busby Berkeley did for musical numbers of the silver screen was simply unforgettable. While Berkeley had a long and successful career that included being a choreographer and a director, today I only want to address the choreography of his musical numbers that highlights his mastery of geometric patterns in dancing harmony.

From conducting military parades and staging camp shows for soldiers in WW1, William Berkeley Enos aka “Buzz” returned home and quickly became one of Broadway’s top dance directors. By 1930, Ziegfeld gave him his big chance to transition to film so he moved to Hollywood. Beginning with choreographing musical comedies like, WHOOPIE! (1930) with Eddie Cantor, he started to get noticed. Producers Samuel Goldwyn and Darryl F. Zanuck each gave him opportunities to have greater creative control. It was Zanuck that offered him the big break at Warner Brothers with the film 42nd STREET (1933) that forever changed his destiny.

In Lloyd Bacon’s 42nd STREET (1933), Berkeley directed the key musical numbers that made the film a huge hit, “Shuffle Off To Buffalo”, “Young and Healthy” and the “Naughty! Bawdy! Gaudy!“, depression-era story-telling finale, “42nd Street”. In these numbers, we see the enormous ensemble of dancers and grand scale perspective begin to emerge.

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In “Young and Healthy,” the circles and rows of dancers, including unique camera techniques like snaking underneath a bridge of continuous legs, creates magical human kaleidoscopes for which he soon became famous. In this number, we are also witness to BB’s frequent use of glowing shades of white in repetition contrasting against a black backdrop, another sign of his artistic-meets-tech mastery to achieve the greatest effect.

What followed was an astounding surge of creative output of some of the most iconic musical numbers ever put to film. Although he went on to direct and choreograph dozens of films and musical numbers until the 1960s, it was the massive production in the Pre-Code years that reflected his crowning achievements in geometric patterned brilliance.

In Mervyn LeRoy’s GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), Buzz reaches new heights. Working again with catchy, Oscar nominated songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, BB created four spectacular musical numbers: “We’re In The Money,” “Pettin’ In The Park,” “The Shadow Waltz,” and “My Forgotten Man” made the final cut. (“I’ve Got To Sing A Torch Song” number by Ginger Rogers was cut; instead given to Dick Powell, but not as a full production number.)

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In “The Shadow Waltz,” Berkeley showcases some of his signature moves such as the use of a reflective flooring that was used as a mirror to further create the kaleidoscope effect. In color, this would be too busy visually to simply use a mirrored floor. But in black in white, he knew that a shiny, black flooring with glowing shades of white elements- including neon violins- would create this effect with maximum results.

Another BB signature element is to have the rows of dancers move in a way that makes it appear alive. In “The Shadow Waltz” we see spinning, flowing movements that appear like a flower opening and closing its petals. One way he is able to create this effect is to have the camera often go from deep closeups shots to extreme ariel shots. In this case, each dancer twirls and the dresses are like spinning, inverted plates but from a distance, whether in a row or in circles, it takes on a new, and different form. To ponder how many hours of detailed planning was required to achieve this makes my head spin!

In Lloyd Bacon’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE, Berkeley leaves the gritty, marching rows of ‘forgotten men’ from his last film and takes a dip in the waters. From numbers that range honeymooners to back alley cats, in the “Shanghai Lil” musical number, he takes on prostitution and opium dens (and asian stereotypes) but ultimately returns to rows of marching military. Musical numbers:

  • “Honeymoon Hotel” – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • “Shanghai Lil” – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • By a Waterfall” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • “My Shadow” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • “Ah, the Moon Is Here” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • “Sitting on a Backyard Fence” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)

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Buzz was known for coming up with his best ideas for his elaborate choreography from daily soaks in his bath tub. In “By The Waterfall,” synchronized swimming takes geometric patterns to new heights, and greater depths, than Buzz had ever gone before… or since.

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In Ray Enright’s DAMES (1934), “Beautiful Girls” is arguably the finest example of kaleidoscope inspired use of geometric patterns in a Busby Berkeley musical number. Additionally, in “I Only Have Eyes For You,” surreal, large Ruby Keeler heads dance around, but otherwise all the signature BB markers are present, from rows and circles of white twirling dresses against a black backdrop, with zooming extreme closeups and ariel shots.

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In GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, Berkeley sits in the directing chair beyond just the musical numbers. The “The Words Are in My Heart” number takes the phrase “go big or go home” to heart with dancing pianos. A plethora of baby grand pianos are constantly moving and spinning on elaborate staircases and flowing in waving rows. To complete the kaleidoscope patterns, rows of women wave their flowing white skirts. In his masterpiece “Lullaby On Broadway,” he ambitiously tells a dark tale with armies of dancers in a mini film-in-a-film that lasts nearly 15 minutes.

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Busby Berkeley continued with directing and choreographing films and musical numbers so the examples above are only highlights. I know what you’re thinking. What’s the deal with that ‘fascist’ comment? According to a Busby Berkeley documentary, a few people called him that more in jest simply because of his obsessive work demands from dancers and the set crew, combined with his infusion of military-influenced marching formations.

Apparently, his demands were so intensely high that he was known to push people to extremes with zero sympathy, in order to achieve his dazzling results. He was also known to be anti-social to the point he preferred discussing tech over chatting with dancers. If you consider how he utilized his dancers- often dressed the same, and in formations like parts in a big machine, I guess it’s not that surprising. So I’m also not surprised to hear he was married six times, with each marriage lasting less than a couple of years. His last marriage being the only exception.

He lived a long life with a successful career but I wonder how his scandal of being tried for manslaughter for the deaths of two people affected him personally, and his relationships with others. It is said that alcohol was a contributing factor to him plowing into two vehicles one night in 1937 while driving home after a party that resulted in two deaths and five injured. He also attempted suicide and was placed temporarily in a psychiatric hospital following his mother’s death in 1946.

He was acquitted for the car crash deaths, but did that haunt him? Was work his salvation? Perhaps being a perfectionist helped him in some way. The brilliance of his geometric patterned wonders may not give us the answers, but they can provide us joy for decades and decades to come.

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This was my contribution to the Busby Berkeley Blogathon, hosted by Annette of Hometowns To Hollywood, January 25th- 28th. Be sure to read all the entries!

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Zasu Pitts, Funny Lady with a Funny Name

 

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First things first. Before I can gush on about this distinctively funny lady with the fluttering hands that stole every scene, one must learn how to say her name correctly. Oh sure, many of my ‘old movie weirdo’ friends may know, but it’s a common mistake. To honor her properly, let’s begin with this lesson, provided via Thelma Todd and ZaSu herself:

YouTube: ZaSu Pitts: Learn My Name!

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Now that we all know how say “Say-zoo,” a name which is a combo of her aunts Eliza and Susan, let’s explore the memorable ways this distinctive lady who began life not too far from me in Parsons, Kansas, became one of the most recognized faces in Hollywood.

Her most notable characters were the woeful worrywarts. Physically, her appearance was defined by delicate, thin lines and a frequent focus on her ever- waving, fidgeting fingers. Her tiny mouth was shaped like a kewpie doll with the corners often turned down. Her large, soft eyes were doe-like and she usually looked upward. Her voice had a distinctive mumbling of melancholic concern, often with an “oh dear…” muttering to herself. She gained the reputation of stealing every scene.

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ZaSu’s signature characterizations were such a fan favorite she was parodied in cartoons, a reflection that she was immersed in pop culture. If you’ve seen Olive Oyl from Max Fleischer’s Popeye the Sailor cartoons, you are already familiar with the signature ZaSu Pitts tone and voice. She was also featured in Looney Tunes, in Hollywood-ribbing toons like “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood.”

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Pitts often faced the challenge of looking too similar to Lillian Gish. Here, with Mary Pickford, THE LITTLE PRINCESS (1917).

Born Eliza Susan Pitts on January 3rd, 1894 (her 124th birthday is next month), the family moved to Santa Cruz, California seeking sunnier opportunities. Despite her shy demeanor and bird-like qualities, Pitts was a natural performing on stage and moved to LA by age twenty-one. Working a small part with icon Mary Pickford, A LITTLE PRINCESS (1917) was her first break on the big screen.

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Erich von Stroheim’s masterpiece GREED 

Soon, she was starring in one-reelers and feature films, working with greats like directors King Vidor and Eric Von Stroheim (i.e. the silent masterpiece, GREED)- in a range of parts from tragedy to comedy to drama. Her popularity increased in the 1930s, with a demand for her in character roles in comedies. She was partnered in series with Thelma Todd (Hal Roach promoted the two as a female Laurel and Hardy) and with Slim Summerville.

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mastering comedy with Thelma Todd

The 1940s brought her success to radio, vaudeville and Broadway, working with the biggest names in entertainment. She transitioned easily to television in the 1950s, in popular roles like cruise ship beautician Elvira Nugent on “The Gale Storm Show.” But this decade also introduced ill health, with a cancer diagnosis. As a fitting tribute to her own career, her last role would be in the epic ensemble of comic legends, in IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963). Even with health battles, she continued working until her death at the age of sixty-nine on June 7, 1963.

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Pitts’ last role in IT’s A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD

ZaSu Pitts was a true wallflower success story. She proved that a shy girl from Kansas, with more matronly than cover-girl looks, could be a huge star as a character actress. She worked from the silents to the sixties, in every entertainment medium (film, radio, vaudeville, television and on Broadway), from dramatic roles to comedy, and she worked with some of the biggest stars and filmmakers in Hollywood’s heydays.

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The more ZaSu films I watch, the more I am thoroughly charmed by her. And to see her range from tragic epic dramatic roles like GREED to super silly shorts with Thelma Todd, I am also in awe of her talent. What a character!

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This article on character acting legend ZaSu Pitts is my contribution to the 6th annual WHAT A CHARACTER Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and yours truly. You can read the other entries on character actors from this blogathon from days one, two and three:

It’s here! 6th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon: Day One

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The anticipation is over! Today we bring you the first day of the 6th annual What A Character Blogathon, hosted by yours truly and my fellow co-hosts, the classic film loving ladies: Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen @CitizenScreenings.

As promised, this annual event celebrates the character actors. Quirky and silly roles in the service industry like the frustrated hotel manager or the reliable and sharp-witted maid, a supportive sidekick, the best friend… in so many ways, the character role is often our favorite scene-stealing performances of a film. We invite bloggers to scribe on their favorite characters. Now let’s begin!

Ruth of Silver Screenings brings us THE BEAUTIFUL REFUGEES OF CASABLANCA . She focuses on the lesser-known players in the iconic film in stunning imagery.

Real Weegie Midget Reviews talks about IAN MCSHANE whom he describes as “always been there in movies, on TV and now making his God-like presence known… from cheeky British Chappie to “Dallas” to God-like parts.”

Jack Deth, as guest blogger on Paula’s Cinema Club, describes the “wise ass to the stars” DANIEL STERN, “creating multiple personae for cinema and television, while holding on tightly to his gift of dry, wry. sarcastic and occasional wise-ass humor.”

Steve Bailey of Movie Movie Blog Blog offers a glimpse into “one of those actors whom most people probably wouldn’t recognize by name, but as soon as they see him on-screen, they say, “Yeah, I’ve seen that guy before.”  BRUCE ALTMAN, UNHERALDED SUPPORTING ACTOR.

Wolffian Classics Movies Digest explores EUGENE PALLETTE, “simply a marvelous actor in any role.”

Chris of Blog Of The Darned profiles CHARLES LANE, “Specializing in crabby authority figures, Charles Lane was the go-to guy when film or TV producers needed a mean miserly lawyer, judge, tax collector, banker, or landlord.”

Paddy of Caftan Woman hears the “full, rich baritone – a round voice, a pleasing voice – a voice in control of itself” of JOHN ALEXANDER We know that voice!

Annette of Hometowns To Hollywood road trips via Minnesota to review CLINTON SUNDBERG 

Quiggy of The Midnite Drive-In takes us on a ROAD TO MADNESS, exploring the many character roles of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

A Person In The Dark reviews “a real pro” who worked both stage and screen, from the silents to the sixties, REGINALD DENNY.

Movie Mom provides her take on THELMA RITTER For her, “Ritter is the very essence of the character actor, creating vitally real, relatable characters who made the world around the stars real and illuminate the story’s themes.”

Thoughts All Sorts shows love for A Strong Character in MARK STRONG.

More to come! Return back here throughout the day for more entries.  As our weekend of What A Character! Blogathon continues, explore Day Two with Aurora at ONCE UPON A SCREEN and Day Three with Paula at PAULA’S CINEMA CLUB.

 

THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1999) Bringing Sexy Back

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One of those truisms of life is that sequels and remakes rarely equal let alone surpass their original. Not impossible, but rare. When I first watched Norman Jewison’s THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968) I enjoyed the details of the heist, but overall felt underwhelmed. With leading actors like Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, combined with high style, I was impressed by the visuals (especially the costume design and the mod editing). But the lack of chemistry between Dunaway and McQueen (how could anyone NOT have red hot chemistry with super sexy Steve?!); it left me cold.

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Then the remake came. John McTiernan’s THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1999) took Alan Trustman’s original story that centered on a bank heist in the 1968 film and flipped it into an art heist. Rare art heist allowed for a sexier, more stylish plot vehicle to drive this remake with more clever moments of cat-and-mouse pace and better build up of sexual tension.

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Pierce Brosnan is Thomas Crown, the charming and confident billionaire playboy who collects rare paintings and crashes 100 thousand dollar sailboats, just for kicks. He’s bored in life because he’s never found an equal, as we see him relay in confidence to his therapist, who is portrayed by Faye Dunaway. When a heist at the art museum by a group of outsiders goes awry yet leaves a Claude Monet missing, it’s actually Crown who becomes the main suspect. Enter Rene Russo as Catherine Banning, insurance investigator and his greatest adversary and equal.

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Thus begins the chase of cat and mouse. But who is the cat and who is the mouse? Banning works in tandem with the police (Denis Leary and Frankie Faison as Detectives McCann and Paretti) but prefers her work as a soloist. As Banning hunts down her prey, she begins to fall for Crown as he does her. Banning is sexy, boldly stylish, empowered, clever, ambitious, supremely confident and unyielding when she goes for what she wants. They are the same.

I know full well that many of my classic film friends will respond in opposition to my assertion that this film from the late 90s could possibly surpass its classic original. But let’s take a deeper look.

The Heist:

This is no simple set-up and chase crime thriller with guns blazing. This film does a masterful job with clever editing and unexpected plot devices to keep us interested. (Warning: a few spoilers may pop up.) Even in an early scene, a Trojan horse device is literally used as a Trojan horse. All the details from the initial heist to the final reveal involve unique and thought-provoking twists and turns. One of my favorites involves a parade of men in bowler hats as camouflage.

The Style:

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It may not be the cool swinging 60s style of the 1968 film, but style it exudes nonetheless. If sexy is a style, then Brosnan and Russo bring that particular flavor of style in heavy measure throughout. Brosnan is in Bond-form for a commanding presence of athleticism and cool confidence in a classically tailored suit and the occasional similarly cut shirtless look. Fire-haired Russo is draped in bold fashions to match the boldness of her moves. One particular scene is a blush-worthy dance centered on a body-skimming dress worn by Russo that you could read the The New York Times through.

In all of the memorable scenes, Bill Conti’s music plays a key role. Obviously it serves invaluable to bring sex appeal. In other scenes, it quickens the pace and/or provides the right touch of playful whimsy.

The Players:

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The ongoing tango between the Crown and Banning characters should be constantly competitive, and electric with sexual tension. Brosnan and Russo deliver. For me, McQueen’s interpretation is appropriately cool as one would expect from him, but his interactions with Dunaway comes across as almost disinterested. As for Dunaway, the style is undoubtedly gorgeous but her coolness transcends into cold. Leary and Faison do a fine job for a sliver of lightness in character acting.

Another test for what ultimately makes the 1999 version the victor for me, is how it holds up in repeat screenings. I find myself enjoying watching the remake many times over as it has held up well. I cannot say the same for its original. (Okay Kell, brace yourself for the pitch fork frenzy of feedback from readers.)

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This has been my contribution to the “It Takes A Thief” Blogathon, hosted by Moon In Gemini, November 17-19, 2017. Be sure to read all the other entries for posts on films that ‘steal’ your attention!

 

 

CMBA’s Banned and Blacklisted: CROSSFIRE (1947)

 

Incredibly tense, politically-charged times in Hollywood erupted seventy years ago when the infamous “The Hollywood Ten” were cited with contempt of Congress on November 24, 1947. After ten writers and directors refused to fully answer questions to the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) regarding involvements with the Communist Party, thus began the blacklisting of scores of artists in the industry. Although it is not a crime to be a Communist in this country, and the many allegations that artists were injecting Communist propaganda into their films were never proven, the witch hunt continued and wrecked the careers and lives of many.

Even those who cooperated with the HUAC, were never affiliated with the Communist Party, and/or challenged the legitimacy of the process found themselves blacklisted thanks to the rumors and whisperings from the HUAC. Even being accused of being a Communist assumed guilt in Hollywood for which there was no crime committed. The blacklisting did not end until 1960. It was a dark stain in our history.

Two of The Hollywood Ten, producer and screenwriter Adrian Scott and director Edward Dmytryk, worked together to complete the pivotal film, CROSSFIRE, just a couple of months prior to being subpoenaed to the HUAC. After several successful films, including this one, this would be their final collaboration. With the screenplay written by John Paxton, it was based on Richard Brooks’ military-influenced crime novel “The Brick Foxhole” which was originally centered on the murder of a homosexual man. Producers Adrian Scott and Dore Schary pitched a new twist to the story. For CROSSFIRE, the bulk of the story unravels the crime post-murder, and the victim is a straight Jewish man.

Schary was concerned the anti-Semitic messaging would be a red flag, gaining unwanted attention from the HUAC. As it turns out, he was right. Interestingly, another film with anti-Semitism themes, Elia Kazan’s GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT was released later the same year with even more critical acclaim as that year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture.

Despite a tight budget and shooting schedule, plus tackling a controversial script under watchful eyes, CROSSFIRE (1947) remains one of RKO’s if not perhaps of any studio’s best film noirs. Beginning with a murder, we are then introduced to Robert Young as the serene, pipe-smoking Finley, who is investigating the case, followed by a slew of potential suspects, friends and foes, of which many are military. We discover that not only was the victim Jewish, but that appears to be the only motivation for his demise. Finlay is hunting down a madman whose rage lurks just below the surface and whose deep bigotry results in murder.

With a headlining trio of three swell Roberts- Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, and Robert Young- the casting offers unforgettable performances. Mitchum and Young represent a calm front of tag-teaming good guys, fleshing out demobilized soldiers with possible ulterior motives. Robert Ryan plays Montgomery, the bigoted monster of intermittent restraint of rage, to perfection. A role he performed so well he earned an Oscar nom, that also typecast him for a majority of his career.

The supporting cast is outstanding, as well. Sam Levene, Paul Kelly, Steve Brodie, Jacqueline White, and Gloria Grahame to name a few. In her first role with RKO following a brief stint at MGM, Grahame is a stand-out and it earned her an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Like Ryan, this film set the mold for many more-naughty-than-nice roles to come. What really drives this film in addition to these performances is the phenomenal cinematography from J Roy Hunt. When one gushes about the glowing beauty of light and dark shadows of a great film noir (as I often do), CROSSFIRE is a perfect example.

For me, one of the most powerful moments comes when a potential witness for the police faces a moral dilemma. He questions whether he should help the police capture Montgomery when he wasn’t directly affected by Monty’s anti-Semitism. Finlay gives him a rather convincing speech about his own Irish grandfather who faced similar treatment as a new immigrant. It’s powerful because Finlay must convince the apathetic soldier that anyone can be the target of bigotry so none of us can afford to look the other way.

History is a mixed bag for Edward Dmytryk. His talents are rarely disputed. After serving time for his conviction as part of The Hollywood Ten, he experienced regret. He faced the HUAC again in 1951 and recanted his initial defiance. Between his prison time with subsequent blacklisting, and his public distancing from The Hollywood Ten, he made a couple of films in the U.K. Then, Stanley Kramer gave him a chance to transition back to Hollywood. He went on to make many more films in Hollywood for the rest of his career, including winning an Oscar for THE CAINE MUTINY (1954).

Some say he was able to save his career by recanting. Some say he sold out. Fast-forward seventy years later and what have we learned from this? Where does history judge all of those involved in the blacklisting, the HUAC, victims and perpetrators alike? Some have stated “it was a different time” and “people were protecting their jobs to support their families” in sympathy for those that did not defy the HUAC or even named names. Yet many modern-day Americans find it incredulous to believe it took so long to stand up to the HUAC when no actual crimes were committed by those targeted. With hindsight, the wrongs of that ‘Red Scare’ witch hunt seem obvious.

Hateful intolerance remains a presence. We live in precarious times today that reveals an alarming buildup of bigotry and nationalism similar to previous historic levels. Wedged between the nazi horrors revealed in the Nuremberg trials and the onset of McCarthyism, CROSSFIRE’s take on the dangers of bigotry was topical then yet remains relevant to this day.


*This post was my contribution to the CMBA Fall 2017 Blogathon, Banned and Blacklisted, Nov. 15-19, 2017. As a proud member of the Classic Movies Blog Association, I feel privileged to participate and encourage you to read the other entries.

Announcement: 6th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON

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Announcing the SIXTH ANNUAL What A Character! Blogathon
December 15-17, 2017

When you think about your very favorite classic movies, what makes them your favorites? The films worth watching multiple times, endlessly discussing, or just chilling out with…what makes them the cinematic equivalent of comfort food? Sure, great writing is key, but those lines are just words without the right actors delivering them. Beautiful costumes are great, but without the right actors wearing them, they’re just clothes. Stunning, authentic art direction and set design are wonderful, but empty, without the right actors inhabiting that world. And gorgeous cinematography can only hold your eye for so long, without the right actors being lit. And so on.

Chances are, it’s not just the perfect leads that win your go-to films their place in your heart — it’s their pals and sidekicks as well. The wise-cracking best friend or fellow chorine, cranky boss, sympathetic bartender, confirmed spinster secretary, intrepid cop, jealous girlfriend, second-in-command racketeer or bomber pilot, workaholic director…faces familiar from their appearances in many films over the years, their names — not so much. To take a couple obvious examples, what would Casablanca be without Dooley Wilson, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Madeleine LeBeau, John Qualen, and Leonid Kinskey? How about My Man Godfrey without Alice Brady, Eugene Pallette, Gail Patrick, Jean Dixon, Alan Mowbray, and Mischa Auer? Probably pretty good films, but just not the same, not as lovable, not as classic.

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Ritz 3 Alice Brady Carole Lombard William Powell My Man Godfrey

Thus the objective of the What A Character! Blogathon has always been to shed the spotlight on these lesser-known but equally talented thespians, whose names usually appeared below the title, but who always elevated any kind of material from Oscar-winning to the most tired, often without saying a word. Please join us- Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club/ @Paula_Guthat, Aurora of Once Upon A Screen/ @CitizenScreen, and yours truly Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled/ @IrishJayhawk66 – for the SIXTH year in a row of paying tribute to the versatility and depth of supporting players.
If a salute to lesser-known but essential Hollywood thespians is right up your movie alley, please review the guidelines below, then leave me a comment below.

  • Let at least one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.
  • Don’t take it for granted we know exactly who you are or where your blog resides – please include the title and URL of your blog, also your Twitter handle if you have one.
  • We will not accept repeats (previously published posts), or duplicates, since there are so many greats worthy of attention, but your choices are not limited to classics. You can choose any character actor from any era and from the medium of television, which has featured talented regulars since the beginning, and continues to do so.
  • Publish your WAC! post on either December 15, 16, or 17, 2017. Let us know if you have a date preference; otherwise, we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include [one of] the WAC! 2017 event banner[s] included in this post on your blog to help us promote the event. Please also include the banner in your What A Character! post.
  • Please send any of us the direct link to your post once you have published it. Searching on social media sites can lead to missed entries. My contact info: prattkellee@gmail.com / twitter~ @IrishJayhawk66 ~or, simply leave a comment below
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!

Thank you to TCM for the tagline inspiration and to all you bloggers and film fans for your ongoing participation and support for six years running!

Participating blogs and their choice of actors:

Caftan Woman – John Alexander

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Bruce Altman

Taking Up Room – Eve Arden

The Last Drive In – Martin Balsam

Old Hollywood Films – Beulah Bondi

Wide Screen World – Alan Hale, Sr.

The Old Hollywood Garden – Edward Everett Horton

Real Weegie Midget Reviews – Ian McShane

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – Agnes Moorehead

Wolfian Classic Movies Digest – Eugene Pallette

Carole & Co. – Nat Pendleton

Outspoken & Freckled – ZaSu Pitts

The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog – Michael Ripper

The Dream Book Blog – Elizabeth Russell

A Shroud of Thoughts – William Schallert

Cinematic Scribblings – Haruko Sugimura

Hometowns to Hollywood – Clinton Sundberg

Once Upon a Screen – Mary Wickes

Silver Screenings – European Character Actors in Casablanca

Silver Scenes – TBA

~Kellee

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9 to 5 (1980)… has the workplace really changed?

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In the thirty-seven years since Colin Higgins’ Nine To Five (1980) was released, it’s easy to reflect upon this comedic view on feminism and the office workplace and note the changes. The typewriters and other technologies (or lack thereof), the clothes, hairstyles, cars… they all seem dated to the modern eye. But look deeper. The messages being pitched in this film, the struggles of the main characters, and even of the supporting characters, well, they rage on.

There are many films that have been set in the office workplace. But this film stood out for me. Perhaps based on timing, as I was the highly influential age of thirteen when it released. The second-wave feminism of the sixties and seventies challenged the status quo in the battle of the sexes: Billy Jean King, Title 9, NOW, Roe vs. Wade, the ERA and many more influencers shaped our emerging cultural awareness. Then 9 to 5 came along to challenge sexism and the battle for women’s equality in the American trenches… the workplace.

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Not presented as some radical documentary or anything serious whatsoever, 9 to 5 is a comedy. But the message remains clear as a bell, through the laughter. What strikes interesting is not only that it’s a comedy but I would go further to say it’s a slapstick comedy that fits a formula and styling not unlike a true classic comedy, common several decades prior.

Comedy serves a great purpose to drive the messages home thanks also to a talented cast. Our main characters are Lily Tomlin as the hardworking, single mom and career woman Violet Newstead, Jane Fonda as Judy Bernly, is the meek housewife entering the workforce for the first time, Dolly Parton as the curvy, country- gal and secretary, Doralee Rhodes. Then there’s the boss, Dabney Coleman as Frank Hart. Or as he is better known, “a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.”

The trio are an unlikely threesome, each with very different backgrounds so they don’t connect immediately. Their only true connection is not only the company they work for, but the insufferable pig in charge, Mr. Hart. Despite initial misperceptions of one another, they soon bond in being victims of Mr. Hart and his domineering, sexist ways. The pace picks up nicely when Violet mistakenly believes she has accidentally poisoned the boss. In a state of panic, they rally together in crime. No actual poisoning, their true crime turns to kidnapping- to buy time and prove he is embezzling company funds. In the end, the threesome survive and thrive, as do the rest of the staff and the company as a whole under these ladies’ leadership, and of course the villain gets his comeuppance.

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There are some very appealing reasons to enjoy this often overlooked film…

Girlfriend Friendship:

Unlike so many comedies regarding battle of the sexes, 9 to 5 takes its time to show female friendship, based on how three very different women start off in typical office dynamics. Initially, their differences keeps them apart and whets the water cooler chat. Violet judges Judy (she’s ‘just a no-job-experience housewife’ whom she’s burdened with training, and she mocks her outdated clothing). As Violet and other staff have already judged and assumed the worst of Doralee (she must be shtupping the boss because she’s well-endowed), Violet convinces Judy to believe the same. Because of their common enemy, the three realize just how wrong they were about each other.

So many light comedies prefer to keep women in the catty zone, always competing for the man. It’s often men who are highlighted as the adventurous buddies. This film flips that stereotype. When women move past the barriers of judging each other and trust/support each other instead, they make HUGE accomplishments.

 

 Fantasies Become Reality:

There is a delightful fantasy segment where each of the ladies describes how they’d like to seek revenge on Hart. Timid Judy, who is especially vulnerable now as her husband just left her for his secretary, expresses bold confidence in her fantasy as a wild game hunter. Hart is the target and Judy is well-armed on the hunt with an enormous gun. Classic slapstick is alive and well in this very funny, and rather cartoonish scene. We see Judy blossom in self-esteem throughout the film and the audience knows this is greatly due to their supportive friendships as they go through wild adventures.

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Doralee describes her fantasy where she turns the table on Hart, giving him a healthy dose of his own sexual harassment medicine. Being a country gal, she’s a rodeo star of a boss, lassoing and hogtying him when he politely and repeatedly refuses her inappropriate advances. I always wonder what men thought of this scene when it came out back in 1980. Surely, it would make for great- if not entertaining- training material for HR sexual harassment requirements.

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Violet waxes Snow White for a mock Disney spin on her twist of revenge. She may look the spitting image of Snow White, even down to the animated woodland creatures hovering nearby, but Violet’s fairy tale turns ‘Grimm’ as she poisons Hart in her fantasy. Classic slapstick shtick includes a metal spoon eaten away instantaneously by stirring poison and steam in the shape of skull and crossbones. Ultimately, all three land up fulfilling their fantasies to a certain degree. Judy fires (although misses) a gun at Hart. Doralee hogties Hart. And Violet pours poison (accidentally) into Hart’s coffee.

Words, Words, Words:

I think the writers had fun with this one.

+The main characters’ names were somewhat similar to their respective actors, i.e. Violet= Lily (Tomlin).

+Dabney Coleman’s Frank Hart has no heart.

+In 9 to 5, the company’s name is “Consolidated Industries” which I immediately drew a parallel to the dysfunctional office relations in Billy Wilder’s THE APARTMENT (1960), with the company name of, “Consolidated Life of NY.” Likely a mere coincidence of a common word with no connection whatsoever, but that’s how a movie fanatic’s brain works.

+As words go, the 9 to 5 theme song, written and performed by Dolly Parton, became a number 1 hit (Billboard Country Chart), earning Parton an Academy Award nomination, four Grammy Award nominations with two Grammy wins.

+I think my favorite line came from Dolly Parton’s Doralee. At one point when she’s pushed to her limit with Hart’s wolfish behavior, she threatens him. She says she has a loaded gun in her purse and tells him, “turn you from rooster to a hen, with one shot!” as she points directly to his crotch.

Cast:

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The casting is superb. The lead actresses clearly worked well together because that’s apparent on the screen. This was Dolly Parton’s first theatrical feature debut and I think it was the perfect vehicle for her. Tomlin and Fonda were much more experienced on-screen and their comedic chemistry still clicks to this day. The two co-star in the highly amusing and popular show “Grace and Frankie,” currently enjoying its 3rd season release on Netflix.

Coleman was the perfect choice for Frank Hart. Coleman was at the top of his fame with a string of successful features in the early eighties. He excelled at playing scoundrels with a flair for comedy. Many claim this was one of his most memorable roles. There are solid character actors here, as well, including Elizabeth Wilson, Marian Mercer, Peggy Pope, Henry Jones, Richard Stahl, plus a nice cameo from Sterling Hayden as the big boss, Tinsworthy.

If you haven’t seen this film in a long time, I recommend you take another look with fresh eyes. The comedy structure plays like so many of the classics. Look past the outdated styles and technologies, but ponder the bigger question on equality in the workplace. Has it changed so much in these nearly four decades? Isn’t there still a glass ceiling for most and continued unequal pay for equal work? But don’t let that get you down. It simply means we have more progress to accomplish. In the meantime, cherish those friendships- they can be empowering.


This was my contribution to the Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon, hosted by Moon In Gemini, August 18-20, 2017. Follow her site for daily updates with all the participating writers.

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