Five Classic Films to Watch While You’re Cooped Up at Home

Looking for fresh ideas of movies to watch during this time of home confinement? Here are five of my favorite escapes in film. I’ve reviewed all of them on my other blog, Classic for a Reason. I’ve linked to those reviews, but here’s a brief description of each film below. These are all available to rent (or some, watch free) on Amazon Prime and YouTube. Enjoy!

The Palm Beach Story

Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor, Claudette Colbert The Palm Beach Story
Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor and Claudette Colbert work through the confusion of their relationships.

Tom (Joel McCrea) and Gerry (Claudette Colbert) Jeffers have hit a stalemate in their marriage: they are seemingly better friends than lovers, his business is floundering and she’s bored with the whole situation. He hasn’t given up, but she has, and one day she leaves for Palm Beach to get a divorce and find a wealthy man who not only can support her in the way she feels she deserves, but also provide the financing for Tom’s entrepreneurial project.

As fate would have it, on the train to Palm Beach, she meets just that man, John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee). In the meantime, thanks to a generous benefactor, Tom has flown to meet Gerry and stop her from divorcing him. Instead, he’s greeted by John, Gerry, and John’s flighty, oft-married sister, Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor).

The sparks fly and romance begins as Tom and Gerry face the truth about their marriage.

My Man Godfrey

Carole Lombard, William Powell starring in My Man Godfrey 1936
Wealthy Carole Lombard introduces down-and-out bum William Powell to her society friends.

Society elite Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) and her sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick) are seeking a “forgotten man” as part of a scavenger hunt, and come upon Godfrey Smith (William Powell) living at a city dump. The two women are on separate teams, and Cornelia is the first to offer Godfrey five dollars if he’ll help her win the prize. Her offer is met with a shove into a pile of ashes, and Irene decides it’s best to walk away as well.

But Godfrey, after talking to the flighty Irene, chooses to help her win the scavenger hunt and triumph over her sister. To her delight, he denounces the group of wealthy citizens applauding him after her team’s victory is declared. She offers him a job as the family’s butler, which he graciously accepts.

But Godfrey isn’t just any butler, and Irene begins to fall for him, something Cornelia cannot abide.

How to Marry a Millionaire

Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall - How to Marry a Millionaire
Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall model for a local millionaire.

Schatze Page (Lauren Bacall), recently divorced, has joined with fellow models Loco Dempsey (Betty Grable) and Pola DeBevoise (Marilyn Monroe) to lease a high-class apartment for a year. Schatze, perhaps more than the others, is determined to bait and catch a millionaire, not the “gas station jockeys” she typically falls for.

The situation is looking bleak when J. D. Hanley (William Powell), a widower of indisputable wealth, begins courting Schatze. While she’s genuinely fond of the older gentleman, she’s also being pursued by charming Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell) a man she’s quite certain is too poor to be considered.

In the meantime, good natured Loco finds herself falling for a man she believes to be well off, but in fact, is merely a park ranger. Pola, who can’t see a foot in front of herself without her glasses, literally bumps into the man of her dreams, someone with an odd connection to all three women.

How the women resolve what they’re seeking with what they’re finding is as fun and classy as the film’s three stars.

Libeled Lady

Loy, Powell, Harlow, Tracy Libeled Lady
Myrna Loy and William Powell are confronted by Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy.

Gladys Benton (Jean Harlow) is set to marry Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) when he discovers his tell-all front page story about a socialite, Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy), is false and she’s set to sue the newspaper for the astronomical amount of $5 million dollars (keep in mind, this is 1936).

Figuring the best way out of the situation is to turn the heiress into the homewrecker the paper reported her to be, Haggerty hires Bill Chandler (William Powell) to lure her into a compromising situation with a married man.

First, however, he has to marry Chandler off to his bride-to-be to make him the married man in question. Of course, nothing goes as it’s supposed to (how could it?). Gladys starts falling for Bill, who in turn is falling for the lovely Connie. There’s a smart and sassy ending that isn’t really an ending at all.

Sitting Pretty

Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty
You’ve no doubt seen the greeting card with the baby with oatmeal on his head–it comes from this movie!

Harry (Robert Young) and Tacey (Maureen O’Hara) King have a day-to-day challenge in keeping a nanny for their three rambunctious boys. After the last woman quits without notice, Tacey places yet another ad, hoping to find the right young woman for the job.

When a Lynn Belvedere answers and later accepts her job offer, she believes she’s found that woman. Both Harry and Tacey are shocked when a bristling Mr. Lynn Belvedere (Clifton Webb) arrives at the door, and are further bewildered when he makes the disconcerting statement he doesn’t like children.

He does have a way with the boys, however, so the Kings keep him on, and eventually learn his kinder side. What they don’t know is his secret motive for moving in with a suburban family.

When the Kings—and the entire town they live in—discover the truth, it jeopardizes both home and profession.

Five More Classic Films You Should Know

There are plenty more than five worth seeing, but references to these films remain a part of popular culture. Watching them is still a pleasure.

I’ve reviewed each of these on my classic film blog, Classic for a Reason, and linked to those reviews. Click on the title. If you’re a fan of films from the Golden Age of Hollywood (the 30s, 40s and early 50s), you’re invited to visit that blog and look up some of your favorite movies.

The Thin Man

Myrna Loy, William Powell in The Thin Man
Myrna Loy, William Powell

References to Nick & Nora still abound, and they were first introduced to us in this sophisticated blend of comedy and mystery. Nick’s a retired detective who’d rather drink himself under the table than take on a new case, but others persuade him to look into the disappearance of an old friend. Before long there are three murders to solve, and who better than this master of sharp one-liners and droll observations? William Powell and Myrna Loy are one of Hollywood’s all-time great couples (and they have fourteen movies together to prove it).


The Maltese Falcon

Mary Astor, Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon
Mary Astor, Humphrey Bogart

One of Humphrey Bogart’s first roles as a leading man as well as John Huston’s directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon has so many layers you can watch it a dozen times and see a new story every time. The intrigue of this jewel-encrusted small statue still captivates, as do Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.


Dinner at Eight

Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler Dinner at Eight
Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler

A pre-code film with plenty of innuendo and a cast that brings depth and perception to a diverse group of characters. Not to mention an intricately woven set of circumstances that culminates with the titular meal. Look for Jean Harlow in her signature gown as well as a performance by John Barrymore that reflects his real-life decline.


Arsenic and Old Lace

Featured Image -- 19405
Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, Cary Grant

An over-the-top story and performance by Cary Grant separate this tale from most Frank Capra films. Admittedly, it runs a little long and the best lines are in the first half of the film, so if you find yourself losing interest in the end, don’t worry, you’ve seen what you need to see.


Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca
Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman

Nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. If you haven’t seen this one, make the time to do so. Try keeping track of all the marvelous lines that would never fly today yet work perfectly in this story.


 

Five Classic Holiday Films

By classic, I mean going back to the days of black & white.

Some of these you’ve no doubt heard of, others may be new to you. If you’re a classic movie fan, you’ve seen each one a dozen times or more, watching and re-watching every holiday season.

I’ve reviewed each of these on my other blog, Classic for a Reason, and I’ve conveniently linked to those reviews (click on the title).

Miracle on 34th Street
Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood
Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood bond in Miracle on 34th Street

This classic stands out as one of the best holiday films ever. The cast is clearly as charmed by the story as the audience, and it reminds us that maybe–just maybe–there really is a Santa Claus.

Macy’s employee Doris Walker, a single mother who doesn’t believe in fairy tales, is in charge of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Much to her chagrin, the man playing Santa Claus shows up drunk. She enlists a reluctant bystander to replace him, a man who turns her whole life upside down, for he claims–with utter sincerity–to be the real Kris Kringle.

Maureen O’Hara and John Payne remained proud of their connection to this film for the rest of their lives, with Payne going so far as to write a never-published sequel. Their pride was justified.

Holiday Affair
Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh in Holiday Affair
Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh surprise us in this sweet story.

This one will catch some of you off guard. Not because of a remarkable storyline–rather, it’s pretty formula–but because of the cast. Robert Mitchum stars in (as far as I know) his only romantic comedy, with a very young Janet Leigh as the object of his affection. Despite the predictable nature of this film, it’s a pleasure to watch, in large part because of the performances of Mitchum and Leigh.

She’s a secret shopper scoping out the competition; he’s the salesperson who recognizes what she’s up to, but doesn’t report it as required. When he loses his job because of his inaction, the two meet up and start getting closer in a manner that soon disrupts the comfortable relationship she has with her would-be fiancé. They’re not the only ones with a stake in what happens — she has a son from her previous marriage to a soldier who died in combat.

As I said, a formula plot, but a charming movie. Mitchum’s brooding loner persona translates well to this light romantic comedy, and Leigh’s youth and gentle spirit is a welcome contrast.

Christmas in Connecticut
Dennis Morgan, Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut
Dennis Morgan and Barbara Stanwyck are falling for each other, but a tiny lie stands in their way.

A movie for the times it was made. War hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) longs for a home-cooked meal. In a publicity stunt, magazine publisher Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) arranges for such a meal, a holiday meal, no less, with his popular writer, Martha Stewart-like Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck). Elizabeth exemplifies the perfect wife of her time with her culinary and creative skills in the home. Problem is, she is lying with every word she writes. She not only isn’t a wife and mother, she can’t cook, sew or change a diaper.

The world was changing when this film was released. With so many men off to war, women were joining the work force in larger numbers than ever before. There are some who say Elizabeth’s career exemplifies one of the few socially acceptable options for a working woman at the time–make a good living as a housewife.

The rest of us say, phooey.  Don’t analyze it.  This is a fun movie with a creative twist on the standard comedy formula of confused identity. If it reflects the standards of the times, then consider how films of today might be viewed in fifty years, and enjoy the fun.

The Bishop’s Wife
Cary Grant, Loretta Young in The Bishop's Wife
Cary Grant helps David Niven and Loretta Young find joy together again.

Cary Grant is Dudley, the debonair angel who visits Bishop David Niven and his wife, Loretta Young. Sent to set the floundering couple’s marriage right and steer the Bishop back on course with his life’s work, Dudley starts up a romance of sorts (but not quite) between himself and the lonely woman.

How the Bishop comes to see the truth about his life, as well as the poignant struggle his wife faces with her lot, makes for a heartwarming tale. This film moves a little slower, and includes some beautiful performances by a boy’s choir, as well as a moving sermon near the end of the story. But it’s not a religious tale — it’s a love story.

The Shop Around the Corner
The Shop Around the Corner starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart
Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart discuss why they could never fall in love.

A perfect blend of sentiment and sophistication, director Ernst Lubitsch later called this “the best movie he ever made,” which is saying a tremendous amount given his legacy. It’s no exaggeration, either, for this is one of the finest romantic comedies ever made.

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are sparring co-workers with one thing in common: each is corresponding with someone they believe to be their ideal mate, even though they’ve never met. It’s Stewart who realizes the truth first, and the gentle way he handles first hiding, then revealing, the truth to Sullavan is immensely satisfying.

It’s a simple story with so much more going on than what you see at first glance, and one you don’t have to wait until December to enjoy. But it is December.

Five Great Escapes in Film

Save this list for a rainy day.

Here are five of my favorite “escape” films–those that are just plain fun and easy to watch with their quality scripts, effortless performances and timeless humor.

I’ve reviewed all of these films on my other blog, Classic for a Reason, and linked to those reviews. Click on the titles to check one of them out.

Midnight
Claudette Colbert John Barrymore in Midnight
Claudette Colbert and John Barrymore team up to tear apart his wife and her wealthy lover (and claim their hearts) — but she’s already fallen for a penniless cabbie.

Every Cinderella has her midnight, and Claudette Colbert meets her deadline in fine form. While her romantic co-star is Don Ameche–and he’s good in this role–it’s John Barrymore, her “fairy godmother,” whose performance stands out in wit and charm. The script is by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, an incomparable team, and it’s one of the last scripts of Wilder’s before he began directing his own stories. Also co-starring Mary Astor.


The Palm Beach Story
Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert The Palm Beach Story
You can’t stop true love — even with all the money in the world.

Yep, another Claudette Colbert vehicle (hey, she was good), this time in a film written and directed by Preston Sturges. This is my favorite of Sturges’ films, and it always goes too quickly for me. Claudette and Joel McCrea are at a crossroads, and she leaves him to find a wealthier husband. She hasn’t forgotten her soon-to-be ex’s dreams, however, and insists any new man in her life fund his predecessor’s latest invention, This is a witty, sexy, sly film (all within Production Code standards, of course), with offbeat characters and a quirky ending. Co-starring Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor.


You Were Never Lovelier
Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth
Rita was never lovelier.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were an incomparable team, but he’s just as magnetic with Rita Hayworth–and she was a mesmerizing dancer. This is a witty film with a somewhat unpredictable plot line, at least if you’re familiar with similar films of the era. The music is beautiful, with songs by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer. Set in Argentina (although there’s absolutely no element of that culture in the movie), there’s romance in spades here.


The Shop Around the Corner
the shop around the corner margaret sullavan  james stewart frank morgan
The audience knows what they haven’t figured out yet.

This is a sweet movie, no other way to say it. It was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who was generally known for edgier comedies, but it still has that “Lubitsch touch.” Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart are perfectly cast as the sparring co-workers who, unbeknownst to either, are pen pals, each falling for the other through their correspondence. If it sounds familiar, it’s been remade a time or two, including the 1998 updated take on the premise, “You’ve Got Mail.” It’s just plain satisfying to watch this movie.


Harvey
James Stewart and Harvey
Invisible? He makes himself known.

James Stewart in another great role–that of Elwood P. Dowd, whose best friend is a six-foot invisible rabbit. His sister wants him committed, but when she admits she’s seen Harvey herself, she ends up institutionalized. Elwood is oblivious to the doubt and scorn of others, and his child-like faith is ultimately what saves them all.


Four Classic Films they couldn’t make today–and one I’d like to see them take on

Okay, never say never. But it seems unlikely these films could be made today, for the reasons I’ve listed.

I’ve added one film that was limited by the restrictions of yesteryear (and perhaps some bad choices by the producers, directors, screenwriters and/or actors). Still, the story is worth telling, and if the right people took it on…

All of these films have been reviewed on my other blog, Classic for a Reason. Click on the title to see the individual reviews, and if you get the chance, check out these movies!

The More the Merrier
Joel McCrea  Jean Arther, The More the Merrier
Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur battle it out–and of course fall in love.

A single woman rents out the spare room in her apartment to two strange men? It was a controversial idea at the time, but today it likely would be nixed because of the danger factor, not the sexual one.

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
shirley-temple-and-cary-grant
Shirley Temple, Cary Grant

A man suspected of seducing an underage girl is sentenced to date her? While there would be outrage at the concept now, Cary Grant and Shirley Temple (with the able assistance of Myrna Loy) make it plausibleand–really funny.

The Thin Man series
Myrna Loy, William Powell in After the Thin Man
Myrna Loy, William Powell

Since we all know drunks don’t get more charming and capable with every martini, Nick and Nora’s sophisticated use of liquor would be suspect. Besides, some classics just should be left alone.

Dark Victory
Bette Davis, George Brent in Dark Victory
Bette Davis, George Brent fall in love–but he’s her doctor, and knows her destiny.

You have to tell the patient she’s dying. You just do.

And the film the right director should take on…
In This Our Life
Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland In This Our Life
Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland in a film worth re-making.

This is an incredible story based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, and the movie is good, but it should be great. There is so much going on it actually would make a good multi-part series (you know, six episodes on HBO, that sort of thing). Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland alone make it worth watching, and it was John Huston’s second film (after The Maltese Falcon), but it just doesn’t quite reach its full potential. And, I’d suggest they change the names of the lead characters. Stanley and Roy are simply not great names for women.


Happy Birthday, Dame Olivia

If I live to see 100, make that 101, let me live it like Olivia de Havilland, with class, humor…and in Paris.

Just last week, days before her birthday, she was given a damehood by Queen Elizabeth II for her services to drama. She is the oldest woman to receive this honor.

Dame Olivia was one of the top actresses of her time, with a career that spanned decades. She gained the respect of audiences and colleagues alike. But she represented more than just glamour and success. Through the influence gained by her talent, she fought for others, those without a voice, and changed lives as a result.

Olivia  de Havilland 1945
Publicity photo, circa 1945

A working woman in a sexist environment, she held her own against those who would pull her down and managed one of the most successful long-term careers in Hollywood history.

I’m far from the only one to take note of Dame Olivia’s qualities, now and then. In February 2016, The Oldie magazine, a satirical publication from London fighting ageism, named her “Oldie of the Year.”

Her response to that honor was delight and delightful. Over the years, her wit has shown in so many of her personal appearances, with a smile and a wink at life.

My fascination with and appreciation of Dame Olivia de Havilland began when I was high school, at the same school she had graduated from in 1934, Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, Calif.

The summer between my junior and senior years I had a job working in the school library, and my tasks included repairing older books. One of those was the school’s 1934 yearbook, and the librarians turned a blind eye as I spent a little too much time looking for all mention of her. Even then, she stood out from her peers in her poise and class in front of a camera.

Classic movie fans, indeed anybody familiar with her work,

will know her best for two roles, as Melanie in Gone With the Wind and as the dashing Errol Flynn’s most frequent leading lady.

Olivia de Havilland as Melanie
As Melanie in “Gone With the Wind”

She was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her work in Gone With the Wind in 1939, but it wasn’t until she starred in the phenomenal film To Each His Own in 1946 that she won her first Oscar, for Best Actress in a Leading Role. That was followed three years later by the same award for one of my favorite of her films, The Heiress.

In between those two wins, she received a Best Actress nomination for The Snake Pit, a ground-breaking film about the treatment of the mentally ill. Bringing those images to the screen created public awareness of the plight of millions, and those who suffer from mental illness today can be thankful for her work in what I hope & pray is now a long-outdated portrayal of institutionalization.

She had one sister, the late Joan Fontaine. Miss Fontaine was a year younger, and the two are the only sisters in Academy Award history to each win an Oscar for Best Actress.

For those who aren’t aware,

in Hollywood’s early years what was known as the studio system reigned, in which actors and actresses were under contract and controlled by the strict standards and seeming whims of the studio executives. Dame Olivia took her studio, Columbia Pictures, to court in 1943 and won, and the resulting decision changed labor laws, greatly reduced studio power and began the decline of the contract system.

As a result it was almost impossible for her to find work for a couple of years, but at the end of that time she began a comeback that reduced that gap in her work to a non-entity in her overall career.

Perhaps there were times in those years when she wondered if she should have been the one to take that stand. Even if she never wavered in her pride in her decision, she likely cried or otherwise railed over the blacklisting of her talent. I don’t know enough about her to know what her reaction may have been, except it would have been human.

She has stood her ground again, and filed a lawsuit against the FX network, suing for infringement of common law right of publicity, invasion of privacy and unjust enrichment. Her claim is based on the “inherently untrue” portrayal of her as a bitchy gossip-monger, something records readily available to producers would show to be false.

She was, rather, known to be gracious and kind, a woman who refrained from gossip and treated all with respect and dignity.

Olivia de Havilland, National Medal of the Arts 2008
With President George W. Bush, receiving the National Medal of Arts

Although she is an American citizen, Dame Olivia has lived in Paris since 1960. She continued to act until the 1980s, and her last major public event was in 2008 when she was presented with the National Medal of Arts.

Our high school has an annual award, “The De Havilland Cup,” given to a student for a monologue performance.  That tradition has lasted more than 70 years, and I expect it will continue for many more to come. It is a fine tribute to her talent and dedication to her craft, for it takes both those qualities to win this award.

Dame Olivia de Havilland was a force in Hollywood, and remains a strong & gracious woman. She is one of the last living stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, that wonderful era from the 30s to 40s.*

Happy 101st birthday, Dame Olivia, and congratulations for a long and marvelous career, for your dignity and poise, for representing the best for working women everywhere.


*Those familiar with the “Golden Age of Hollywood” know that much of the work created during that time was a product of the studio system. It was a wonderful era for film, but not so much, perhaps, for many of the actors and actresses.

Header Image Credits, clockwise from top left: 1) With Errol Flynn in Captain Blood; 2) With Bette Davis in In This Our Life; 3) With George Brent in In This Our Life; 4) With Montgomery Clift in The Heiress; 5) With Jack Carson in The Male Animal; 6) In Princess O’Rourke. Reviews for these films can be found on Classic for a Reason.

Five Classic Films with Six (or Seven) Classic Moms

Here are some memorable–although not always admirable–moms in honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday.

Most of these women are flawed, but doing their best, which is all we can ask from anyone, right? And admittedly, perfect moms often (but not always) make boring characters on screen. Still, for the most part, these women have their redeeming qualities. And a few are down-right saints.

So if you can’t be with your mom this weekend, or even if you can, check one of these movies out.

Some of these films have been reviewed on my other blog, Classic for a Reason, and I’ve conveniently linked to those posts.

Mildred Pierce

Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth
Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) does her daughter no favors, but which one gets what she deserves?

A single mom who will sacrifice anything for her ungrateful daughter, Mildred Pierce will have you screaming, “Are you kidding me?” at various points throughout the film. Each of the characters has his or her own flaws, and several of them aren’t ashamed to use them against the others. Joan Crawford won an Academy Award for her performance, and it’s one of her best roles, ever. The film was remade for HBO several years ago, and I hear good things about that version as well, although it is decidedly different.


Bachelor Mother

David Niven, Ginger Rogers starring in Bachelor Mother
David Niven gives his best advice for feeding a baby–but Mama Ginger Rogers knows best.

Ginger Rogers’ seasonal job is about to end when she discovers an abandoned baby during her lunch hour. A series of misunderstandings lands that baby in her apartment, and to keep her job, she has to “admit” the baby is hers. David Niven plays opposite her in this charming comedy about getting what you want while going after what you think you need.


Stella Dallas 

Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Shirley in Stella Dallas
Barbara Stanwyck and Anne Shirley star as a devoted mother and daughter whose ways must part for their dreams to come true.

Stella is coarse and uncouth, and lucky enough to marry a society catch while he’s on the rebound. She’s not a particularly good wife, but her dedication to her only daughter is unparalleled. Barbara Stanwyck gives a wonderful performance in this tearjerker, one that raises more questions than it answers.


The World of Henry OrientTippy Walker, Merrie Spaeth in The World of Henry Orient

Tippy Walter, Merrie Spaeth–no, they’re not playing moms, but their mothers are memorable characters in this marvelous film.

Okay, this one isn’t about moms–nor is about Henry Orient, played by Peter Sellers. It’s about two young teen girls, played by Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth in their first film roles. The girls, Val and Marian, are, to use one of their own words, fantabolous in this heartwarming story. But adding to the charm are Phyllis Thaxter, as the compassionate, generous mom of Marian, Bibi Osterwald as her live-in best friend (by some accounts, Marian has two moms), and Angela Lansbury as Val’s self-absorbed, socially-conscious mother. Tom Bosley plays Lansbury’s long-suffering husband and father of Val. This is a wonderful film you will want to watch again and again.


The Best Years of Our LivesMyrna Loy, Teresa Wright in The Best Years of Our Lives

Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright–the women who held the men, and each other, together

Myrna Loy took a step down to a supporting character role in this post-war classic, but her portrayal of the long-suffering wife of alcoholic husband Fredric March and mother of love-struck daughter Teresa Wright makes her one of the most beloved moms of classic films. This movie shines in every aspect, and Myrna Loy is one of the brightest spots.


 

 

 

 

Six–okay, Seven–Films that Remain Relevant

Here are seven classic movies with messages that still resonate, with one or two seeming darn near prescient.

Of course dozens of other films from the same era these were produced are as relevant, funny, touching or otherwise worth watching today.

It should be noted all of these movies were made during the time the Production Code was firmly in place, making them conservative and downright tame by today’s standards. Still, the women are strong, something characteristic of many of the female roles of the 30s and 40s, yet ironically an element that began to be lost when the Code was phasing out.

And yes, this is blatant cross-promotion for my other blog, Classic for a Reason, with links to the full reviews you’ll find there. Thank you for visiting that blog, and for that matter, thank you for visiting this one!

Woman of the Year

Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn
Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn

The film which brought Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy together. Their chemistry is palpable, but that isn’t the only thing that makes this movie noteworthy today. Hepburn plays a highly capable, skilled woman who has a hard time adjusting to marriage, and Tracy is the long-suffering husband with the wisdom that could save their relationship. Wisdom that still means something in the 21st century.


It Should Happen to You

jack-lemmon-judy-holliday-together-in-it-should-happen-to-you
Jack Lemmon, Judy Holliday

This film was released in 1954, but it predicts today’s phenomenon of “being famous for being famous.” Judy Holliday plays the not-so-dumb blonde who wants more in life than what she sees as her inevitable lot, and makes the questionable decision to have her name splashed across giant billboards throughout New York City. Also starring Jack Lemmon in his first major screen role. A delightful tale, written by Garson Kanin.


The Lost Weekend

Featured Image -- 15194
Ray Milland, Jane Wyman

The first film to depict alcoholism in a realistic manner, close to everything in this movie rings true today. There are a few stylistic elements that date the film, and perhaps a handful of aspects of the story line are distinctly from the era, but overall, this film is as timeless as, sadly, the plight of the alcoholic appears to be.


The Best Years of Our Lives

best years of our lives 1
Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, Fredric March

The tale of three serviceman adjusting to civilian life after serving in WWII, it is, in a larger sense, the story of anyone adjusting to a major change in his or her life. Subtle details fill out an already expansive story. While the starring roles all went to men, the supporting cast has several strong performances from top-notch actresses, including Myrna Loy. Winner of nine Academy Awards (with two of them going to Harold Russell, the only time an actor has won two Oscars for the same performance) and one of the best pictures of the 1940s.


The Women

Rosaline Russell, Joan Crawford
Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford

Not the weak 2008 remake, but the original from 1939, it looks at a tale as old as marriage and all the ways women can influence each other in their choices. Witty, sharp and sometimes biting, this is a classic like none other, with an all-female cast that includes many of the top actresses of the day. Based on the racy play by Clare Boothe Luce and made acceptable for Code standards by two clever screenwriters, Jane Murfin and Anita Loos.


In This Our Life

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Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland

This not-so-well-known film starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland is not among director John Huston’s finest works. Still, it is worth the watch, if for no other reason than the performance of Ernest Anderson, who plays a young black man unjustly accused of a violent crime he had no part of, and the raw truth, then and now, of racism in our legal system. In fact, the movie was banned from release overseas because of its overt realism dealing with racial issues. Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel by Ellen Glasgow.


And a seventh film I featured in an earlier similar post, but it’s worth repeating…we all know an Eve Harrington, and this is one of the greatest films of all time…

All About Eve

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Bette Davis, Anne Baxter

Sweet, baby-faced Eve isn’t who she first seems to be, and Margo Channing is faced with losing her status as the darling of the theatre-going public to this conniving up-and-comer.  Bette Davis in one of her finest roles, with a great cast, including an Oscar-winning performance by George Sanders and a brief, yet memorable, appearance by Marilyn Monroe.


Eight Classic Films You Should Know About

Here are eight films famous for either one line or one gesture–as well as being damn good movies.

Wondering if it’s a compliment to call someone “Eve Harrington?”  Where did the David Bowie “You Remind Me of A Babe” routine originate? And what does that little brush of the finger against the nose mean?

Yes, this is blatant cross-promotion for my classic movie blog, Classic for a Reason. I’ve reviewed seven of the eight films there, and have conveniently linked to the individual reviews (click on the title).

Here, in no particular order, are the chosen eight:

The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer–1947

“You remind me of a man…”

 

Shirley Temple turns in a delightful performance as the love-struck teenager captivated by playboy Cary Grant. Of course it’s her older sister who catches his eye, but she’s the judge who almost sent him to jail. Instead, he’s sentenced to date the moony-eyed girl, under the watchful supervision of big sister Myrna Loy.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre–1948

“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”

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Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt team together with Walter Huston (not shown) to mine for gold, and uncover a lot more than precious metal.

I stayed away from this film for a long time because I thought it was a western or some such that I wouldn’t enjoy. It’s nominally a western, but at its core it is a hard look at human nature and what happens when we’re faced with the worst in ourselves. Humphrey Bogart was never better–admittedly, he played more admirable characters in other films, but that’s the point. Considered by many to be director John Huston’s best film, and that’s saying a lot.

All About Eve–1950

“Fasten your seatbelts–it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Bette Davis, Anne Baxter All About Eve
Bette Davis, Anne Baxter–offscreen these two became lifelong friends, onscreen, well that’s a different story.

If you haven’t seen this one, it’s time to check it out. If Fred and Ginger got me hooked, Margo Channing reeled me in to the world of classic movies. All About Eve is witty, sharp, human, with some deliciously evil characters to boot. All four women in this film were nominated for an Academy Award, the only time in Oscar history that honor has gone to four women from the same movie.

And yes, they had seatbelts in 1950 — mostly in airplanes.

Grand Hotel–1932

“I want to be alone. I just want to be alone!”

You’ve heard the quote, heavy pseudo-Swedish accent and all. This is the film in which Garbo makes the statement that soon becomes identified with her personal life, fair or not.

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Greta Garbo and John Barrymore, before censors required all kisses to be closed mouth.

This was the first ensemble film to come from Hollywood, and remains one of the best. As a pre-code film it’s a lot racier than you might expect, but the blatant sexuality is still primarily in the looks, innuendo and what’s not said between a man and a woman. In addition to Garbo, the film stars John Barrymore (before his career-ending decline due to alcoholism) and Lionel Barrymore, delightful as always.

Sunset Boulevard–1950

“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

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Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond. The latter was known for proclaiming, “we said it with our eyes!” Yes, the eyes say it all.

Yeah, the old broad has lost it. Okay, old is relative…Gloria Swanson was 50 when this movie was made, but her film career was pretty much over. A star of silent films (and clips from one of them are shown in this movie), she wasn’t able to transition to the talkies. But she wasn’t the object of pity Norma Desmond became. This is a dark film and has achieved cult status, but is far more than this one scene. Complex, haunting and at moments really funny, Sunset Boulevard is a treat only writer/director Billy Wilder could deliver.

Swing Time–1936

“I did everything Fred did, except backwards and in high heels.”

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Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire — Magic! And imagine managing that dress while you’re dancing. It wasn’t just the high heels that made her part challenging.

Backwards, not so much, but the high heels almost did Ginger Rogers in while filming the final dance number, “Never Gonna Dance.” Her feet were bleeding and had to be bandaged, but she insisted on continuing until they got it right–after 47 takes. What took so long? Nearly the entire number is a single shot, with one camera, and Fred Astaire was a perfectionist. Which means 80 years later, we still can get lost in the romance and grace of an Astaire/Rogers dance number. (And yes, I know the quote isn’t directly tied to the movie.)

The Sting–1973

 

You know the gesture — a quick brush of forefinger across the nose, a sign of complicity, a smug pat-on-the-back for pulling one off. If you’re under 40, you might not know its origin. Until now, that is. It was a move made famous in this phenomenal film with its phenomenal stars, Paul Newman and Robert Redford. There’s a plethora of talent in this movie, and of all the films to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, this one has to rank in the top ten. Years later Redford would tell of the time he finally watched it — on the VCR, with his grandson–and he noted, “hey, that’s a really good movie.” Yep.

My Favorite Year–1982

“I’m not an actor–I’m a movie star!”

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Peter O’Toole, who, unlike his character, was both an actor and a movie star.

Funny, touching, a little ribald and wonderfully nostalgic, this is the story of Alan Swann and his one-time appearance on the King Kaiser show in 1954. Based on comedian Mel Brooks’ experience as a young writer on the Sid Caesar show, in particular, the week Errol Flynn appeared, it tells the tale of Benjy Stone and his efforts to keep this movie star sober, at least until he’s appeared live on television and completed his contractual obligation. Look for Lainie Kazan as Benjy’s mother. O’Toole was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, but lost to Ben Kingsley for his incredible portrayal of Gandhi.


Ten

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Hollywood Legend Olivia de Havilland

If I live to see 100, let me live it like Olivia de Havilland, with class, humor…and in Paris.

Miss de Havilland was one of the top actresses of her time, with a career that spanned decades. She gained the respect of audiences and colleagues alike. But she represented more than just glamour and success. Through the influence gained by her talent, she fought for others, those without a voice, and changed lives as a result.

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Publicity photo, c. 1945

A working woman in a sexist environment, she held her own against those who would pull her down and managed one of the most successful long-term careers in Hollywood history.

I’m far from the only one to take note of Miss de Havilland’s qualities, now and then. In February 2016, The Oldie magazine, a satirical publication from London fighting ageism, named her “Oldie of the Year.”

Her response to that honor was delight and delightful. Over the years, her wit has shown in so many of her personal appearances, with a smile and a wink at life.

My fascination with and appreciation of Olivia de Havilland began when I was high school, at the same school she had graduated from in 1934, Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, Calif.

The summer between my junior and senior years I had a job working in the school library, and my tasks included repairing older books. One of those was the school’s 1934 yearbook, and the librarians turned a blind eye as I spent a little too much time looking for all mention of her. Even then, she stood out from her peers in her poise and class in front of a camera.

 Classic movie fans, indeed anybody familiar with her work,
Olivia de Havilland as Melanie
As Melanie in “Gone With the Wind.”

will know her best for two roles, as Melanie in Gone With the Wind and as the dashing Errol Flynn’s most frequent leading lady.

She was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her work in Gone With the Wind in 1939, but it wasn’t until she starred in the phenomenal film To Each His Own in 1946 that she won her first Oscar, for Best Actress in a Leading Role. That was followed three years later by the same award for one of my favorite of her films, The Heiress.

In between those two wins, she received a Best Actress nomination for The Snake Pit, a ground-breaking film about the treatment of the mentally ill. Bringing those images to the screen created public awareness of the plight of millions, and those who suffer from mental illness today can be thankful for her work in what I hope & pray is now a long-outdated portrayal of institutionalization.

She had one sister, the late Joan Fontaine. Miss Fontaine was a year younger, and the two are the only sisters in Academy Award history to each win an Oscar for Best Actress.

For those who aren’t aware,

in Hollywood’s early years what was known as the studio system reigned, in which actors and actresses were under contract and controlled by the strict standards and seeming whims of the studio executives. Miss de Havilland took her studio, Columbia Pictures, to court in 1943 and won, and the resulting decision changed labor laws, greatly reduced studio power and began the decline of the contract system.

As a result it was almost impossible for her to find work for a couple of years, but at the end of that time she began a comeback that reduced that gap in her work to a non-entity in her overall career.

Perhaps there were times in those years when she wondered if she should have been the one to take that stand. Even if she never wavered in her pride in her decision, she likely cried or otherwise railed over the blacklisting of her talent. I don’t know enough about her to know what her reaction may have been, except it would have been human.

Olivia de Havilland, National Medal of the Arts 2008
With President George W. Bush at the National Medal of Arts ceremony in 2008.

Although she is an American citizen, Miss de Havilland has lived in Paris since 1960. She continued to act until the 1980s, and her last major public event was in 2008 when she was presented with the National Medal of Arts.

Our high school has an annual award, “The De Havilland Cup,” given to a student for a monologue performance.  That tradition has lasted more than 70 years, and I expect it will continue for many more to come. It is a fine tribute to her talent and dedication to her craft, for it takes both those qualities to win this award.

Olivia de Havilland was a force in Hollywood, and remains a strong & gracious woman. She is one of the last living stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, that wonderful era from the 30s to 40s.*

Congratulations, Miss de Havilland, for a long and marvelous career, for your dignity and poise, for representing the best for working women everywhere.


*Those familiar with the “Golden Age of Hollywood” know that much of the work that was created during that time was a product of the studio system. It was a wonderful era for film, but not so much, perhaps, for many of the actors and actresses.

Header Image Credits, clockwise from top left: 1) With Errol Flynn in Captain Blood; 2) With Bette Davis in In This Our Life; 3) With George Brent in In This Our Life; 4) With Montgomery Clift in The Heiress; 5) With Jack Carson in The Male Animal; 6) In Princess O’Rourke. Reviews for these films can be found on Classic for a Reason.