Announcement: 31 Days Of Oscar Blogathon 2019

Announcement: 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon 2019

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From the time Douglas Fairbanks, then President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, hosted the first Awards dinner party for about 250 people on May 16, 1929, to this year’s host-free Oscars ceremony ninety years later, this iconic celebration honoring Hollywood’s finest continues to be just as spectacular and riddled with excellence and contentions as the films and filmmakers they honor.

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If you take a look back at the many Oscar moments in these past 90 years of Oscars ceremonies, you’ll find numerous surprises, disappointments and controversies, which continue to spark debate to this day. That’s where we come in. For the seventh 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. We hope you’ll consider joining us to make this the best and brightest Oscar blogging event yet.

Not surprising, this blogging event is inspired by Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar marathon, which begins its 24th installment on February 1 and ends March 3rd. This year the network presents the film schedule in a mixed topics potpourri surrounding the historic film industry. Topics range from “Grittiest Streets of New York” to “Favorite Singing Cowboys” to “Favorite Epic Soap Opera.” As the Oscars themselves, there’s something for everyone. See the full schedule here: http://prod-images.tcm.com/Microsites/31Days/31Days2019-Schedule.pdf

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

This year, we will host all the contributing entries the weekend of the Oscars. That is from Friday, February 22nd through Sunday, February 24th, wrapping up just in the nick of time to watch the Oscars ceremony. 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 span of 9 decades history of Oscar, including this year’s nominees. To help get you motivated, here are 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 2/22, Saturday 2/23 or Sunday 2/24
  • 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… Irving Berlin at the Oscars

Once Upon A Screen… Interview with Kimberly Truhler- Fashion and Oscar

The Stop Button… Eleanor Parker: Oscar Nominee

Movie Night’s Group… Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year

The Old Hollywood Garden… Best Supporting Actress of 1952 (1953 Oscars ceremony)

Outspoken & Freckled… Bizarre and Beautiful at the Biltmore: the 7th Academy Awards

 

Elisha Cook Jr

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A crazy-eyed neurotic. A nervous noir thug. A sell-out weasel. These are not exactly the most flattering depictions of a character. But these are just a few of the characters Elisha Cook Jr. was best known. “Cookie” was a true working actor with over 200 credits across stage, film, and television for a career that lasted nearly sixty years.

Starting as young as 14 years old, Elisha began in vaudeville and doing stage work. By the 1930s, Elisha kicked off his film career in Pre-Codes. Here’s a lip-sticked Elisha, along with Frances Underwood, from his first on-screen role in HER UNBORN CHILD (1930). The promotional marketing pitched, “A vividly dramatic all-talker of the Broadway stage hit which rocked the nation with its frankness.” I’m hooked.

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Soon, he transitioned from his squeaky clean, youthful roles into a much darker presence. With a petite stature of 5 foot 5″ he became known as Hollywood’s lightest heavy. He could gain the audience’s sympathy as the timid man with equal vigor as he portrayed the cowardly villains. It can be argued that he was the first emotionally-conflicted gangster heavy.

One of his most notable roles came in 1941 as “Wilmer the gunsel” in John Huston’s THE MALTESE FALCON. He is a vivid stand-out even though surrounded by a stellar cast. Even more impressibly, most of his scenes include very little dialogue. As Sydney Greenstreet’s gun for hire, he is frequently and frustratedly humiliated as sport by Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. Unforgettable use of restraint and characterization by Cook’s performance makes him an iconic figure.

A year prior to THE MALTESE FALCON, Cook appeared in STRANGERS ON THE THRD FLOOR, considered by many film scholars as the original Film Noir. Elisha thrived in this style of film, finding a steady stream of work for his ‘type.’ According to a New York Times piece (written upon the occasion of his death 1995), Cook described this era in career…

“I played rats, pimps, informers, hopheads and communists,” he once said, recalling that as a character actor generally assigned to subsidiary roles, he had to take what was offered. “I didn’t have the privilege of reading scripts. Guys called me up and said, ‘You’re going to work tomorrow.”  (“Elisha Cook Jr., Villain in Many Films, Dies at 91” by Robert MCG Thomas Jr/ New York Times/ May 21, 1995)

And he kept working. One of the most memorable Elisha Cook Jr performances is his frenzied, drum solo from the noir classic PHANTOM LADY (1944). After exchanging flirtations with Ella Raines as Carol “Kansas” Richman on the hunt for evidence, Cook as drummer Cliff Milburn with the key to evidence, takes her to his jazz jamming session. There he works up a substance-infused, climatic drumming crescendo that can only be described as orgasmic. The censors must have sweat a few drumsticks of their own. Take a peek for yourself : http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/1324863/Phantom-Lady-Movie-Clip-You-Sure-Know-How-To-Beat-It-Out.html  

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Beyond his work on film noirs and with legendary co-stars and filmmakers, Cook branched out into other genres. One of my favorite classic horrors is a William Castle classic, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) starring Vincent Price. But as in all of his work, Elisha Cook Jr.’s small role leaves a strong impression. Here’s our spooky introduction to his role as Watson Pritchard:

 

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“The ghosts are moving tonight, restless… hungry. May I introduce myself? I’m Watson Pritchard. In just a moment I’ll show you the only really haunted house in the world. Since it was built a century ago, seven people, including my brother, have been murdered in it. Since then, I’ve owned the house. I only spent one night then and when they found me in the morning, I… I was almost dead.” Memorable, eh?

As many actors did, Cook garnered more gigs by moving to television in the 1950s, starting with the popular westerns (“Wagon Train,” “Rawhide,” “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza”). One of his career highlights includes his bit role as Stonewall Torrey in SHANE (1953). Watch him being gunned down in the muddy streets by Jack Palance:

For the most part, TV is where Cook filled his resume for the decades that followed. From looking at his acting credits in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, I’m not sure if there was a TV show that didn’t include him somewhere. His last acting job was for 13 episodes of “Magnum PI” as ‘Ice Pick’ (1981 – 1988).

Because he worked nearly constantly, I cannot possibly list them all. But here are some fun favorites, in no particular order:

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“The Duo Defy” episode from BATMAN, aired March 30, 1967. Eli Wallach as Mr. Freeze, Leslie Parrish in fur, and Elisha Cook Jr. as Professor Isaacson.

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Ketty Lester sinks her teeth into Elisha Cook Jr. in BLACULA (1972).

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Cook as a hood Frank Lucas, opposite Laurel and Hardy, in A-HAUNTING WE WILL GO (1942).

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Elisha Cook Jr with William Shatner in the “Court Martial” episode of “STAR TREK” (1967).

Born Elisha Van Slyck Cook Jr. in San Francisco on December 26th, 1903, his 115th birthday is approaching soon. The other personal detail that seems very interesting of this reliable, working actor is his love life. Married twice, he married his first wife Mary Lou at the age of 25 and they divorced 13 years later. Mary Lou Cook was an actress as well and died just 3 years after they divorced. Two years after his divorce from Mary Lou, he married his 2nd wife, Elvira Ann “Peggy” McKenna in 1943. Peggy was a huge fan of Carole Landis and her fandom led to a close friendship. Elisha and Peggy divorced in 1968 and divorced. Oddly, they remarried just two tears later and remained married until her death in 1990. It was during the same year of her death that Elisha suffered a stroke that took away his ability to speak. Five years later, he died on May 18, 1995 in Big Pine, CA. Even in real life, he seemed to be pillar of hard work ethic, always sticking to it, no matter what.

Although thought of mostly as the bug-eyed psychotic or as the last surviving member of the MALTESE FALCON cast, Elisha Cook Jr. proved he may come in a small package and take on small roles, but he left a big impact in a variety of lasting work. I found this video tribute to Elisha Cook Jr. Hope you enjoy it, too..

My tribute piece to Elisha Cook Jr. is part of the 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, December 14, 15, 16th, 2018, hosted by Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen, Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club, and yours truly. Please enjoy all the fabulous entries from this fun weekend!

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Skelton Knaggs

This following is a guest post on SKELTON KNAGGS for the 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON. The author is Bill Shaffer- President of the Kansas Silent Film Festival, recently retired as Director of KTWU for over 40 years, the go-to fella for anything happening in the “old movie realm” in this corner of the Sunflower State, a spaghetti western aficionado, and a helluva swell guy and personal friend…

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Skelton Knaggs is one of my favorite character actors because – wait a second! Skelton Knaggs? Who is that? Well, I often remember him as the creepy little guy in various 1940’s-era horror movies – three for Val Lewton’s unit at RKO and three more for Universal. However, the most famous bit I ever saw him in was as a menacing gunslinger hanging around Jane Russell’s hotel in Paramount’s terrific Bob Hope comedy, THE PALEFACE from 1948. One look at that face and hearing that voice like a rasping knife and he’s pretty hard to forget.

Knaggs was born in 1911 across the pond in the Hillsborough district of Sheffield, England. He moved to London where he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and became a Shakespearean actor. Aside from doing the Shakespeare plays on stage, Knaggs appeared in a few British films including 1939’s Michael Powell production, THE SPY IN BLACK where he was cast as a German orderly. He quickly found his way to Los Angeles and began appearing in Hollywood films including TORTURE SHIP (also 1939) and DIAMOND FRONTIER (1941). He was often cast in sinister parts in horror films due to his diminutive and eccentric looks, his prominent teeth and his bony, pock-marked face. He didn’t have too many lines. One look at that face and you’ll remember him.

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His first association with producer Val Lewton was not a particularly good one, although the film, THE GHOST SHIP (1943) turned out to be one of his best. Knaggs played the part of a mute sailor who narrates the story even though he never speaks. This impressively suspenseful Lewton film was directed by Mark Robson, but it became the center of a plagiarism case in which the plaintiff won and all prints of the film had to be pulled from theaters. It sadly did not see the light of a movie or TV screen until the mid-1990’s. A stunning DVD version appeared in 2006, thanks to Warner Home Video. For Lewton, there were also performances in ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945) and BEDLAM (1946), both with Boris Karloff. He also supported Karloff in DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME (1947) and landed another part in DICK TRACY VS. CUEBALL (1946).

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For Universal, Knaggs had good bits in THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944) with Vincent Price, the all-star monster mash, HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) and the Sherlock Holmes thriller, TERROR BY NIGHT (1946). In between all of these genre productions, Knaggs also managed appearances in some top-rated films like NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART (1943) with Cary Grant, THE LODGER (1944) with Laird Cregor, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945) with Hurd Hatfield and Donna Reed, FOREVER AMBER (1947) with Linda Darnell and the aforementioned PALEFACE (1948) with Bob Hope and Jane Russell.

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After MASTER MINDS in 1949 with the Bowery Boys, Knaggs returned to London where he married Thelma Crawshaw and then returned to Hollywood for a number of film performances. There was CAPTAIN VIDEO: MASTER OF THE STRATOSPHERE, a 1951 serial for Columbia Pictures that ran for 15-chapters in as many weeks, BLACKBEARD THE PIRATE (1952) with Robert Newton, ROGUE’S MARCH (1953) with Peter Lawford and Richard Greene, BOTANY BAY (1953) with Alan Ladd, CASANOVA’S BIG NIGHT (1954) again with Bob Hope and finally, MOONFLEET in 1955, a period adventure film with Stewart Granger and James Mason. It was the final American film to be directed by German-emigre, Fritz Lang. It would be the last film for Skelton Knaggs. He was battling alcohol addiction and died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 43 in Los Angeles.  

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This post is an entry in the 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, as hosted by Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen, Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club and Kellee @IrishJayhawk66 of Outspoken & Freckled. Follow up with all 3 days of this mega blogging event, Dec 14 – 16, 2018, for informative contributions!     

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Day One: 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON

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Today we bring you the first day of the 7th 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 @CitizenScreen.

As promised, this annual event celebrates the character actors. Those unsung heroes of the silver screen, those familiar faces who often steal every scene from the leads… we salute you! Whether it’s the frustrated hotel manager, or sharp-witted maids, perhaps a sassy sidekick, or even the best friend… in so many ways, the character role is often our favorite, albeit small, performances of a film. We have invited bloggers to scribe on their favorite characters. Here they are!

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Gill of Reelweedgiemidget Reviews @realweegiemidge discusses the usually second- billing, yet always first-rate performances of Engaging Roles from Enigmatic ED HARRIS Read about it here: https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/starring/actors-2/ed-harris/ 

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Maddy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films presents SARA ALLGOOD. As Maddy affectionately adds, “She truly was one of the most gifted and natural actresses of the classic film era.” Read more: https://maddylovesherclassicfilms.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/the-seventh-annual-what-a-character-blogathon-sara-allgood/

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Paddy of the Caftan Woman @CaftanWoman scribes on The Villainy of JACK LAMBERT. She describes him, “His craggy face and intimidating physique made Lambert a tough guy walking.” Read all the details on memorable character: https://www.caftanwoman.com/2018/12/what-character-blogathon-villainy-of.html

Actor Nat Pendleton

Sarah of the Mrs. Charles blog scribes on NAT PENDLETON. Sarah explains how she came to know a great deal about this prolific character actor who was much more than just “a likeable, but not too bright policeman, gangster, assistant…” Learn more here: https://mrscharlesonline.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/nat-pendleton/

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Jacqueline of Another Old Movie Blog offers her thoughts on WALTER ABEL. As she writes, “He was worthy of lead roles, but he was one of those actors who managed to turn even a small character part into the lead for even just a few moments.” Find out more here: https://anotheroldmovieblog.blogspot.com/2018/12/walter-abel.html?fbclid=IwAR04JcaUXcv9VSoMrWNz2yYKSINLBaC8siSW5g0cEz2VfXf5VCxJpmvDr6I

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One Gal’s Musings presents, JEAN DIXON. As she describes this scene-stealer, “Jean Dixon was once Hollywood’s Everywoman.” Read more on this relateable character: https://onegalsmusings.blogspot.com/2018/12/what-character-jean-dixon.html

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Theresa of CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch joins us. She reached her choice of character actor as she explains, “And who better to dive into but the tall, dark, ruggedly handsome and oh so dangerous… STEPHEN MCNALLY.” When he’s bad, he’s good! We agree, Theresa! Read on, friends: https://cinemavensessaysfromthecouch.wordpress.com/2018/12/14/stephen-mcnally-when-hes-bad-hes-good/

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Quiggy from The Midnite Drive-In saddles up with a tribute to a frequent John Wayne cowpoke, HANK WORDEN. As Quiggy adds, “And I’d hazard a guess that if you thought of minor characters in Wayne movies, at least one or two in the top 10 would be a character played by Worden.  Some of them were quite memorable.” More: https://midnitedrive-in.blogspot.com/2018/12/hank-worden-and-john-wayne.html

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Next up, Constance of Silver Scenes pays tribute to GEOFFREY KEEN – The Minister From England. As she notes, “He cut an imposing figure, was always well-groomed and cultured ( you’d never catch Keen among lowly people ), and walked in an air of authority.” Read on here:  https://silverscenesblog.blogspot.com/2018/12/geoffrey-keen-minister-from-england.html

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Last but not least, Bill Shaffer as guest blogger on Outspoken & Freckled offers up the distinctively familiar face of SKELTON KNAGGS. As Bill observes, “One look at that face and hearing that voice like a rasping knife and he’s pretty hard to forget.” Discover more about this character with a lesser known name and better known face: https://kelleepratt.com/2018/12/15/skelton-knaggs/

Thanks so much to all of our talented participants (who allow me to learn new and interesting details about characters every time we host this) and big kudos to my fellow co-hosts Paula and Aurora! Be sure to read all of these fascinating entries to our blogathon all weekend long..

Day 2: Once Upon A Screen

Day 3: Paula’s Cinema Club

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3 Godfathers

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There’s something very charming about an outlaw who shows us his good side. Sure, he breaks laws; but in a pinch, his instinct to do the truly right thing blazes in, just in the nick of time. He’s often the anti-hero with a tough, crusty exterior and vulnerable mush inside. The lovable cad.

In John Ford’s technicolor 3 GODFATHERS (1948), based on the 1918 novelette by Peter B Kyne, Ford introduces us to three outlaws who take us on a western journey of survival with a biblical Three Magi theme. And yes, these three outlaws give us their good sides, plenty.

In this film, Ford does what Ford does best. Gathers some of his entourage of actors, finds a breathtaking filming location for a backdrop, develops unforgettable characters with sprinkles of humor, then he masters the western storytelling like no one else. 3 GODFATHERS is a indeed western. But it’s also a heist film, a race for survival film, a spin on the standard hero film, a buddy film, and a romanticized telling of The Three Wise Men/ Christmas story.

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Ford made films from the silents to the 1960s, within a variety of genres including many masterpieces, but it is the western we most associate with his signature work. When you see a Ford western, you know it, and this one is unmistakably Ford. For a demanding director who was infamous for his gruff manner and harsh treatment of his cast, he had a heart-warming sentimental side that shines through in his films.

In 3 GODFATHERS, the sentiment starts even as the opening credits roll. Both Ford and his frequent lead, John Wayne, were very good friends with actor Harry Carey who just passed the year prior. Carey starred in Ford’s silent version of this film from 1916 with the same title. In the opening credits, Ford dedicates the film to him with a silhouette of a cowboy figure resembling Carey with the quote, “bright star of the early western sky.” But make no mistake in thinking this film is a soft, wordy piece. The man was a ‘doer’ of few words. Likewise, 3 GODFATHERS is a visual story telling of action across stunning landscapes, often with horses, mules, and an abundance of thirst.

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Our three outlaws are John Wayne as Robert Marmaduke Hightower (named by Ford for his favorite stuntman Slim Hightower), Pedro Armendariz as Pedro, and Harry Carey, Jr. as William Kearney aka “The Abilene Kid.” Despite choosing opposing sides of the law, marshal Perley ‘Buck” Sweet (Ward Bond) and Hightower connect instantly with report, respect, and humor, even before the 3 outlaws rob the local bank. As Perley and a posse take chase across the desert, Hightower strategically does his best to outwit their pursuit efforts. Perley isn’t daunted, his admiration for Robert only grows stronger.

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In their quest for water and escape, the trio come across a dire scenario. A woman has been abandoned by a derelict husband who has left after forever destroying a water well in his ignorantly “tenderfoot” ways. Worst yet, she is about as pregnant as anyone could be. No means for water, the threesome make do with cactus juice and meager newborn provisions from the wagon where the woman gives birth, thanks to Pedro. There is an especially poignant and gentle scene portrayed by Mildred Natwick as the pregnant woman (supposedly 28 or 30 years old, but she was actually 43 years old at filming) who gives birth to a baby boy, whom she names Robert William Pedro, after his three godfathers.

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In Scott Eyman’s novel, “Print The Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford,” he quotes Natwick’s recall of her experience in working with Ford in this particular scene:

“I’ve never forgotten,” remembered Natwick, “that Ford seemed pleased with the scene and pleased that I done it. I guess because I knew my lines and got through it in [one] morning… I don’t know, you get things by osmosis from a wonderful director, I think. His feeling about what the woman was thinking and feeling.” 

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Natwick’s account was a stark contrast from Harry (“Dobe”) Carey, Jr.’s, for whom Jack Ford was also known as “Uncle Jack.” Despite the fond admiration betwixt his father and Jack, Dobe was not given any special treatment on the set. If anything, Ford was much tougher on him than most. Also according to Eyman’s book, this was Jack’s typical baptism onto his set via a form of fraternity hazing.

Clearly, Ford was a complicated man imbued with contradictions. Perhaps the salty layers of Robert Hightower with a firm moral code is how Jack chose to see himself.

I won’t reveal a full synopsis of this film to spoil it, but I’m confident that at the beating heart of 3 GODFATHERS is its humanity. Each of the three outlaw godfathers reveal their ultimate goodness, and individual strengths and weaknesses to us. Both small characters (like man-hungry, cackling Jane Darwell as Miss Florie) and larger characters alike are brilliantly developed and showcased. You don’t have to be a nativity believer to find appeal in this moral journey these three men face. Their struggle for survival and search for integrity at all costs, in complete devotion to the baby, tugs at the heart strings.

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I’m a sucker for the holidays. I embrace it with child-like wonder and magic. If this is a Christmas film you’ve never seen before, or if it’s been a long time, you owe it to yourself to screen it soon. You can get your chance via TCM in December 15th at 9:30pm ET, 2018. 


*This article is a submission to the Outlaws- The 2018 Fall CMBA Blogathon. I encourage you to read all the entries (click here for each day’s full list: https://clamba.blogspot.com/2018/10/outlaws-2018-fall-cmba-blogathon.html ) in this collective, of which I’m proud to be a part of. Outlaws Bannner - Jesse James

Announcing the 7th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON

Announcing the SEVENTH ANNUAL What A Character! Blogathon
December 14-16, 2018

GoldDiggersOf193324-650x493When you re-watch your favorite films, what keeps you coming back for more? A great story with sharp writing? No doubt. Beautiful costumes, swanky set designs, and stunning cinematography? Most assuredly. But the performances are key to any movie. While we all look forward to the popular leading actors, it is the stand-out, scene-stealing supporting actors that feel like “home.”

Wise-cracking Eve Arden, nurturing Louise Beavers, sassy Thelma Ritter, double-take pro Edward Everett Horton, tart-tongued Edna May Oliver, gravelly-voiced Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, fatherly Charles Coburn, frazzled Franklin Pangborn, bull frog voiced, barrel-chested Eugene Pallette, cigar chomping Ned Sparks… these and so many more lovable character actors are who we look forward to seeing as our dearest ole chums. We all could use a trusted sidekick.

For the seventh consecutive year, we as the blogathon hosting trio of Aurora of Once Upon A Screen/ @CitizenScreen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club/ @Paula_Guthat, and yours truly Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled/ @IrishJayhawk66 invite you to join us for the WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2018, December 14, 15, 16, as we pay tribute to the brilliance of the supporting players.

Our objective for 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. If you wish salute your favorite on-screen character actor- the quirky maid, that ornery hotel manager, frustrated maître D’, sassy best friend, a hot-tempered heavy, flabbergasted father, sarcastic sidekick, grumpy boss, gobsmacked butler- then you’ve come to the right place. Please review the guidelines below first, and leave me a comment.

  • 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 14, 15, or 16, 2018. Let us know if you have a date preference; otherwise, we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include one of our banners (see below) within your What A Character! post.
  • Additionally, we appreciate when you include [one of] the WAC! 2018 event banner[s] included in this post on your blog itself to help us promote the event.
  • Thank you for sending 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!

Here are the spectacular banners Aurora has created for you to promote on your blogs…

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Participating blogs and their choice of actors:

Walter Abel ~ Another Old Movie Blog

Sara Allgood ~Maddy Loves Her Classic Films

Lionel Atwill ~ Paula’s Cinema Club

Beulah Bondi ~ Once Upon A Screen

Elisha Cook, Jr. ~ Outspoken & Freckled

Jean Dixon ~ One Gal’s Musings

Alan Hale (Sr) ~ Silver Screen Classics

Margaret Hamilton ~ Wide Screen World

Ed Harris ~ Reel Weedgie Midget Reviews

Eileen Heckart ~ The Last Drive-In

Frieda Inescort ~ Sister Celluloid

Skelton Knaggs ~ Bill Shaffer, guest blogger on Outspoken & Freckled

Jack Lambert ~ Caftan Woman

Charles McGraw ~ The Old Hollywood Garden

Stephen McNally ~ CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch

Agnes Morehead ~ In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

Eugene Pallette ~ Carole & Co.

Elizabeth Patterson ~ Backstory: A Guide To Classic Film

Nat Pendleton ~ Sarah as guest blogger on Once Upon A Screen

Thelma Ritter ~ A Shroud Of Thoughts

Everett Sloane in LADY FROM SHANGHAI ~ Silver Screenings

Kay Thompson ~ The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

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*This WAC! Blogathon is dedicated in memory to two very fine character actors whom we lost this year. James Karen (1923 – 2018) was a hard-working actor who was a personal friend of Buster Keaton and frequent attendee of the Buster Keaton Celebration in Kansas and the TCMFF. Vanessa Marquez (1968 – 2018) was an extraordinary actress of film and TV and an even better friend. She is greatly missed and we continue to hold her close in our hearts.

Thank you to TCM for the tagline inspiration and to all you bloggers and film fans for your ongoing participation and support for seven years running! And a big ShoutOut to my fellow co-hosts who inspire me all year long for being such marvelous and lovely characters themselves!

~Kellee

 

 

 

Film Class: SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

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I teach a series of classic film classes in my town. Currently, I’m instructing my second Film Noir course. Each course is structured similar to a Book Club but with my guiding contributions of background, trivia, history, influencers, and more. The first class is my overview on the style/genre plus the outline of films we’ll review each week. The participants watch the assigned film at home, then we screen selected clips and engage in discussions in class. In the 2nd week we screened Billy Wilder’s timeless classic noir, SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) and I thought I’d share my notes with you…

Basic Info:

Director: Billy Wilder

Writing Credits: Charles Brackett (also the Producer), Billy Wilder, DM Marshman Jr

Music: Franz Waxman

Dir of Photography: John F Seitz

Costumes: Edith Head

Starring: Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Eric von Stroheim, Nancy Olson…

Cameos: Cecil B deMille, Buster Keaton, HB Warner, Hedda Hopper, Anna Q. Nilsson

Notes:

The original opening scene, depicting corpses including a toe-tagged Bill Holden in a morgue chatting, was cut. Test audiences roared with laughter- was meant to be subtle dark humor, not slapstick camp. Switched to striking pool scene. Special difficulties loomed in filming to get this opening shot right- water exactly 40 degrees, shot from above with mirror below.

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The famous “Phantom Mansion” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_O._Jenkins_House) – exterior was a real house on Wilshire Blvd, owned by J Paul Getty, originally built by robber baron William O Jenkins. Both Jenkins and Getty families had a knack for acquiring wealth and ignored the estate as much as they did their own families. It sat empty for many years, while occupying a full block as the source of many neighbors’ frustrations by the time Wilder used it for this film. An outdoor pool was dug/created for key scenes and later emptied- this was later used in “Rebel Without A Cause.” The lonely mansion was torn down. A modern-styled building, the Tidewater Oil Co., exists there now. Rest of it was shot on a studio set.

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Wilder was very EXACT and super detailed in his directing approach. As a writer himself, no one was allowed to deviate from the script. He and Charlie Brackett were notoriously talented as a team, yet didn’t actually like each other and were even sarcastically called, “the happiest couple in Hollywood.” Masters of both Screwball Comedy and Film Noir, the end results were cinematic gold. His family was murdered in the Holocaust. Wilder brought his biting, dark humor from Europe with him and it can be seen in all of his films.

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When asked why Billy enjoyed the use of voice-over narration so much (we see in SUNSET BLVD but also in his other films and a common technique in other noirs), he said: 1) It does an excellent job of catching the audience up to speed quickly and 2) It allows a writer like himself to express clever plays on words.

ALL the Norma Desmonds:

Various ‘aging Hollywood starlets’ were considered, approached and/or test-screened to play Norma Desmond… Mae West (she wanted to rewrite dialogue so that was an automatic no), Pola Negri (too strong of a Polish accent), Mary Pickford (she insisted on owning her own negatives as she had with all of her films, plus she feared the role may come across as demeaning and mocking of legendary silent stars such as herself, so she was a no), then George Cukor suggested Gloria Swanson, who was very similar to Norma Desmond in terms of great popularity during Silent era. She landed up being the absolute perfect actress for the role as she worked hard, nailed the performance into legend, and while she was no Norma, it landed up being a true “comeback for an otherwise has-been” plum role. Swanson was a very fascinating woman in real life, having lived through many rags-to-riches life stories, several times. At this point in her life, she had married and divorced 5 husbands and was a faded star.

Although Norma is supposed to be a fictional character based upon a composite collection of Hollywood stars, some have suggested the ND name may have been inspired by silent star Norma Talmadge –or- a combination of the names of the actress Mabel Normand and director William Desmond Taylor. Normand was a very successful actor/writer/producer/director in the silent era but was frequently connected to scandal. In 1922, Taylor was murdered. Normand was a close friend and the last person known to see him alive but was ruled out as a suspect, after a rough police interrogation. The case has never been solved.

Before William Holden, Montgomery Clift was offered the role. He agreed initially, went off to a ski trip then declined. Almost like Swanson, Holden while working more actively than Gloria, was also in a bit of a career slump (more second fiddle than A lister leads) yet Wilder saw the potential in each of them as much deeper than their prior films had allowed them to fully realize.

Eric von Stroheim– like Swanson, he too possessed striking parallels to his character so made for the ideal “Max. “ He was one of the most famous directors of the silent era. His career suffered when he was more interested in art than commercial success when he made 7 hour long films and gave investors a hard when asked to edit to a standard length (“GREED”) Ironically, when Stroheim directed Swanson in “QUEEN KELLY” a film (that her then lover Joseph Kennedy convinced Gloria to do) it was a bust at the box office and the two had a falling out. Apparently, von Stroheim and Swanson resolved their differences by SUNSET BLVD because there were never any reports of any issues on set.

Nancy Olson– considered perfect for the role. I personally saw her introduce SUNSET BLVD. on the mega screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre for TCM Film Fest and she told us lovely stories about Edith Head and mentioned her nickname in school was “Wholesome Olson.”

Here are some of the questions and topics I prepared and posed to the class to prompt discussions:

~In what ways SUNSET BLVD a Film Noir, how does it differ from other ‘typical’ noirs?

~Discuss the themes: duality of a film this is both about the Movie Biz, but also a Film Noir

~The intro sets the tone… of decay, of cynicism, of fated doom.

~While it is a black and white, but it was big budget- how do you think Wilder gave it ‘Noir’ touches stylistically?

~The characters; who do we root for? Who is vulnerable? Do we feel sympathy for them?

~What does this film say about the movies/of Hollywood/ of the studio system/ of screenwriters?

~What double meanings does the writing cleverly reveal?

~Where do we see and who demonstrates disillusionment?

~What examples of symbolism do we see?

~Why do you think it has remained such a timeless classic?

~Why did Joe not see/not choose all the exit signs (would he land up as the next dead monkey, or the next Max?)- was he too as fated for doom as Norma?

~Nancy Olson quotes Billy Wilder that “all the characters in SUNSET BLVD are opportunists”… in what ways does this film show us opportunists and their consequences, and about ‘selling out’?

~What does this film say about aging actresses in that industry back then- and even to this day?

Members of my class had interesting insights and additional commentary to contribute as we watched key scenes. Many debated whether Swanson’s performance was too over-the-top to the level of ‘camp.’ This poses a good question. My two thoughts on the matter for those who thought she was too campy… 1) Did you see Carol Burnett’s parody of Norma Desmond BEFORE seeing the actual film your first time, and could that have subconsciously planted that parody seed of perception? 2) Keep in mind that over-the-top dramatic gestures and mannerisms is inherit to the Norma Desmond character as she lives in her silent film star world, even prior to breaking down completely and detaching from reality at the end.

One student whom had seen this film a few times prior added that it never occurred to her until our discussion that this film was a darker criticism of Hollywood and the movie industry. Another student pondered how much this film was pivotal in turning Bill Holden’s career from a relatively B list actor to much stronger roles post- SUNSET BLVD success. Another student added that Ronald Reagan had similar B list roles until he became political in his aspirations. I joked, “just think, if it wasn’t for SUNSET BLVD, perhaps we would have had a ‘President Holden.’

We discussed, how much sympathy do we have for Norma, especially after Cecil B deMille explains what ‘a dozen press agents working around the clock can do to the ego.’ After all, we see mercurial sides of Norma- often insulting, unyielding, selfish, and brutal, and yet quite lonely and vulnerable. What factors contributed to her delusions and ultimate demise, and why were the other ‘wax figures’ of her contemporaries not affected the same way? One answer could be that her peers may have been forced to adapt because they may not have profited into mega wealth as well as she did. And yet, CB de Mille transitioned successfully from the silent era and remained active in the industry- was being a male director with strong adaption skills (vs. an aging female in front of the camera) key? Was Max to blame for keeping her in her fantasy bubble? Or, were her peers quietly suffering in their own ways yet managed to cope just enough to be functioning? (At least enough to still make it until the next gathering of playing a game of Bridge.)

My final thought for the class was focused on Max, the character portrayed by Eric von Stroheim. Who was the more ‘crazy’ of the two? Norma, for remaining too deeply fastened into her past and the subsequent lack of reality? Or Max, even as her former director and husband, for dysfunctional worshipping her as an indentured servant and enabled her fate? In the end, Max was most likely to be the sole beneficiary of that big estate so maybe he was motivated in his madness.

For me, SUNSET BOULEVARD is easily a nominee for the best film ever made. It’s a blend of so many themes and genres… a film noir, a thriller, a movie about the movie industry, and perhaps even a horror film. In addition to the compelling performances and fascinating story, it is a reflection of the brilliance of Billy Wilder. It remains a haunting, genius piece of storytelling and art, which is why it continues to be a timeless classic, just like Norma Desmond herself.

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Here are some additional resources/other views on this film that I found interesting…

From YouTube:

Sunset Boulevard Explained: The Hollywood Nightmare (ScreenPrism)

https://youtu.be/5gbknao5D-U

 

Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard- a look back (cinematographos)

https://youtu.be/aIp8rK8vG8s

 

From Wilshire Boulevard Houses:

https://wilshireboulevardhouses.blogspot.com/2013/02/641-south-irving-boulevard-please-see.html

 

From Cinematheque, “Strange Magic, The Films of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder” http://www.thecinematheque.ca/strange-magic-the-films-of-charles-brackett-and-billy-wilder

“One of the most famous comments about the two apparently competing theatrical genres of comedy and tragedy is that “Comedy is simply tragedy plus time.” This remark is often attributed to the great Carol Burnett. It was in fact uttered by Charles Brackett to Billy Wilder in the studio office of a Hollywood executive who was desperately trying to understand their original intention of making Sunset Boulevard as a comedy!”

Relationship and Marriage Advice from THE THIN MAN

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Whether you’re married, in a significant relationship, or hope to be in one someday, I think Nick and Nora Charles from THE THIN MAN series have a lot of good relationship advice to offer. My husband and I are big fans of THE THIN MAN films with William Powell and Myrna Loy as Dashiell Hammett’s most popular crime-solving and Rye-sipping couples. Much of the enduring appeal of this classic on-screen duo is that in many ways, they appear to be the perfect couple.

Here’s what I’ve discovered as key to the Charles’s marital success…

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*Don’t get more than 5 drinks ahead of your spouse. And if you see that your significant other has arrived to the neighborhood bar much earlier than your entrance, do the classy thing and catch up.

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*There’s no room for jealousy in a strong relationship. It’s all based on mutual trust. In every unusual predicament, be on the same page and assume the benefit of the doubt for your partner. Nick and Nora mastered this. Such as…

—the time when Nora was found surrounded by eager suitors as she sits in a gorgeous gown at a nite club, trying her best to help in a case. Then Nick swoops in to save the day (NOT flying in like a jealous hubby and NOT that she actually needed saving because Nora ) and adds a healthy dash of sublime humor, as the two conjure up a quarantine-level of contagion to clear out the crowd. Their impromptu funny fib shows how well they work in tandem. Only a partnership based on implicit trust, and one where you truly know your partner well, can this scenario work. Relationship goals indeed.

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This leads me to another lesson I’ve learned via the Charles relationship. Sometimes it’s best, especially when life gets chaotic and complicated, to simply roll with the punches. Keep calm and have each other’s back.

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*Being charming with witty one-liners is always your best accessory. Whether you’re a cop on the beat, an uncouth mug, a world-class detective, and average Joe or dame, or even a lanky brunette with a wicked jaw… pour on the class, drape the sharp wit, and you’ll always fit in any crowd and in every situation. As Mr. Pratt and I have already discovered, humor and communication are indispensable tools for a successful marriage.

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*Like ASTA, always be a smart cookie, but it’s okay to be a coward. In other words, it’s all about being a survivor and knowing your strengths (and weaknesses). Not everyone has the confidence and calm-in the-storm nerve of Nick and Nora Charles. And that’s okay. In those moments, lean in to your ‘inner Asta’.

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*Always be well mannered, well-educated and cultured. This is not essential for a good relationship, but it doesn’t hurt. You just never know when your etiquette IQ may come in handy- for either proper seating arrangements at a dinner party, or helping to solve a murder mystery.

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*Bottom line, remember to be affectionate and be playful. When you’re both ready to move on to the next step, or next room, or run a detective errand (that is, assuming your spouse doesn’t trick you into a trip to Grant’s Tomb)… don’t simply walk together- SKIP together, hand-in-hand! And if being playful is key to your connection, you’ll need some toys. Just be careful if you decide to give a BB gun as a holiday gift. The inner child of your partner in crime might just break a window then fold up into a fetal position to avoid blame. Nick and Nora know playfulness is an essential part of romance. Wise advice, Mr. and Mrs. Charles.

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Lastly, today happens to be National Martini Day. Oh sure, many may say The Charles duo have a serious drinking issue. But keep in mind that glasses were much smaller back then in comparison to today’s magnum portions.

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So it only seems appropriate to honor the fun and charming wisdom of Nick and Nora. CHEERS! (or, Slainte! as we say in our house…)

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.

day 2: once upon a screen

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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