Halloweek: “The Watcher in the Woods” (1980)

This week, Comet Over Hollywood is celebrating Halloween with slightly more offbeat horror films.  

(This contains spoilers to explain alternate endings)

The_Watcher_in_the_Woods,_film_posterWhen I was growing up, there were two movies my sisters and I begged for our parents to rent from Blockbuster: “Troop Beverly Hills” (1989) and “Watcher in the Woods” (1980)
While I watch “Troop” fairly regularly, it had been at least 15 or 20 years since I had seen “Watcher in the Woods.”

I only remembered three things about the Disney horror film: a girl wearing a blindfold appearing in mirrors, elderly Bette Davis and being scared after watching it.

In the film, Americans Helen (Carroll Baker) and Paul (David McCallum) move their two daughters to England. Jan (Lynn-Holly Johnson) is an intuitive teenager and Ellie (Kyle Richards) is her younger sister.

The family finds a large mansion for rent at a price that they can’t refuse, leased by elderly Mrs. Alywood (Bette Davis), whose daughter disappeared under mysterious circumstances 40 years ago.

Much to the shock of several villagers, Jan looks very similar to Mrs. Alywood’s missing daughter Karen.

Within the first few days of the family moving into the large home, Jan begins to experience strange disturbances: a window breaks by itself and leaves the shape of a triangle, she sees a blue circle in a river, she can’t see her reflection in a mirror, and a mirror breaks by itself and she sees a blindfolded girl pleading for help.

Jan sees a vision of Karen pleading for help in the fun house in "Watcher in the Woods."

Jan sees a vision of Karen pleading for help in the fun house in “Watcher in the Woods.”

Ellie even names a new puppy Nerak (Karen spelled backward) after something “tells her to name it Nerak.”

Several other disturbances happen like something is protecting the Curtis daughters. At a motorcycle race, Ellie starts yelling for Jan and when Jan moves to her, a motorcycle lands and explodes where she was standing.

Jan tells Mrs. Alywood about the disturbances, who shares with her about the night Karen went missing in the 1940s. Karen was with three friends in an old church. The church caught on fire and the three other teenagers escaped, but Karen did not. However, the church was searched and her remains were never found.

The Curtis family, including Carroll Baker, moving to their England home.

The Curtis family, including Carroll Baker, moving to their England home.

When Jan tries to ask the other three people who were with Karen about what happened, they are all too afraid to discuss the events. Only one man, Tom Colley (Richard Pasco) will say what happened. Karen was being initiated into a secret society when the church caught on fire. When a bell in the church fell, she disappeared.

As Jan searches for answers, a spirit- or the watcher- is using Ellie to communicate with Jan to free Karen.

During an eclipse, Jan assembles the original three people at the church to free Karen.
Ellie enters, possessed by the “watcher,” and explains what happened on the night 40 years before. The watcher has been on Earth since Karen was sent to an “alternate dimension” by mistake.

Jan stands where Karen stood as everyone holds hands around her, and Karen reappears, still 17 years old, and is reunited with her mother.

Alternate ending

The ending in the theatrical release is not what was originally released in theaters in 1980.

“Even when they released it, Disney couldn’t decide how to end Watchers in the Woods,” Davis said in the biography, “The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis: A Personal Biography By Charlotte Chandler. “…Eventually they tried three different endings, but I haven’t the foggiest as to which they chose for posterity.”

The film was also rushed to theaters to correspond with Bette Davis’s 50th anniversary as a film star.

In the first theatrical ending, released for a week in New York City on April 17, 1980, the group still gathers in the chapel for a seance to bring back Karen. Rather than a beam of light coming over Jan and returning Karen like in the 1981 ending, an alien comes into the room, picks Jan up and takes her away.

Jan’s mom runs into the chapel asking whereher child is, and Jan reappears with Karen. Jan returns Karen to Mrs. Alywood, and Ellie asks Jan what happened. Jan gives vague answers, still leaving what happened unexplained.

Ellie: Where was she?
Jan: I’m not sure. A place where people are changed into negative images.
Ellie: How did she get there?
Jan: An accidental exchange between the watcher and her. He needed my image to set her free.
Ellie: So what happened to the watcher?
Jan: Now the watcher can go home too, where ever that is *smiles into the distance and the film ends*

“I challenge even the most indulgent fan to give a coherent translation of what passes for an explanation at the end,” New York Times film critic Vincent Canby wrote in 1980.

Due to the cryptic ending, the film was poorly received and was said to not have an ending. “Watcher in the Woods” was pulled from theaters, re-edited and released again in 1981.

“We felt we had seven-eighths of a good picture, but the ending confused people,” said the Disney co-producer Tom Leech in 1981.

The revisions took 18 months and cost $1 million, but the film earned $1.2 million after the second release in its first week. Many theater owners said if the alien science fiction ending was changed, they would be willing to take the picture, according to an Oct. 22, 1981 article, “New ending gives Disney movie second chance” by Aljean Harmetz.

“The ending is seamless, satisfying, resolving the mystery,” wrote The Richmond Times-Dispatch after the second release.

My review:

While I was revisiting “Watcher in the Woods,” I couldn’t remember how it ended. I was probably six or seven years old the last time I watched the film, and I’m not surprised that I didn’t remember Karen being in an “alternate dimension.” Even now, I found that explanation of the missing girl mildly confusing. However, the 1981 ending is admittedly more clear than the 1980 ending.

Bette Davis, 72, in "Watchers in the Woods"

Bette Davis, 72, in “Watchers in the Woods”

I think my favorite part was seeing Bette Davis, 72, and Carroll Baker, 49, late in their careers. Davis unsurprisingly gave the best performance in the whole film.

Though I’m not familiar with much of Lynn-Holly Johnson’s work, I believe Disney cast her because if you squint, she vaguely looks like former Disney star Hayley Mills.

I think my biggest complaint with “Watcher in the Woods” is, while I enjoyed it, the story seemed to move awfully slow for an 82 minute film.

Regardless, rewatching “Watcher in the Woods” was a pleasant trip down memory lane. I still found some parts genuinely frightening, such as when Jan is in the fun house, and Karen appears in every mirror pleading for help.

“Watcher in the Woods” is a fairly dark horror movie for Disney but it isn’t that scary. However if it is still semi-scaring me at 25, you can imagine why I don’t watch more frightening horror films.

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Halloweek Musical Monday: The Worst Witch (1986)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week, Comet Over Hollywood is celebrating Halloween with slightly more offbeat horror films.  

Charlotte Rae, Diana Rigg, Fairuza Balk and Tim Curry in "The Worst Witch."

Charlotte Rae, Diana Rigg, Fairuza Balk and Tim Curry in “The Worst Witch.”

This week’s musical:
“The Worst Witch”

Studio:
Central Independent Television

Director:
Robert Young (not the actor)

Starring:
Diana Rigg, Tim Curry, Charlotte Rae, Fairuza Balk, Sabina Franklin, Su Elliot, Danielle Batchelor, Anna Kipling

Plot:
Young witch Mildred Hubble (Balk) is in her first semester at Miss Cackle’s (Rae) Academy for Witches. The clumsy young witch means well, but constantly is getting into mischief as she makes mistakes or accidentally creates mishaps. Some of her mistakes include making herself invisible instead of creating a laughing potion or turning her mean classmate Ethel (Kipling) into a pig. When all of the other girls are given black witches kittens, Mildred even ends up with a grey and white tabby.
Her stern teacher Miss Hardbroom (Rigg) thinks Mildred isn’t trying hard enough and creates the messes on purpose.
While Mildred is suffering from her mishaps, Miss Cackle’s evil twin sister Aggie (also Rae), is plotting to take over the school and make the students evil witches.
When it is announced the Grand Wizard (Curry) is coming to the school for the Halloween celebration, Mildred practices hard so she can be in the flying broomstick presentation. But stuck-up Ethel works to sabotage her and get Mildred expelled.

Worst witch Mildred Hubbel (right) makes she and her friend Maud disappear when she makes a mistake with a laughing potion.

Worst witch Mildred Hubbel (right) makes she and her friend Maud disappear when she makes a mistake with a laughing potion.

Trivia:
-Originally aired on Nov. 1, 1986, on HBO.
-Based off the children’s books series by Jill Murphey. Murphey adapted the stories from her own experiences at school- changing chemistry to potions or singing to chanting.
-Filmed at St. Michael’s College in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, England, UK
-A UK television show was made using the story and ran from 1998 to 2001.

Highlights:
-Any scene with Tim Curry, especially his hilarious song “Anything Can Happen on Halloween”
-One of the writers of the script or the original story must have been a fan of bandleader Kay Kyser. One of the spells starts with “Ish Kabbible” which is the name of one of Kyser’s popular band mates.

Diana Rigg as Miss Hardbroom.

Diana Rigg as Miss Hardbroom.

Notable Songs:
-The Worst Witch (Growing Up Isn’t Easy) performed by Bonnie Langford — the theme of the movie, and it reminded me of “Hardknock Life” from “Annie”
-Queen Aggie’s School performed by Charlotte Rae — it’s not a good song, but it will get stuck in your head, and Rae is humorous
-Anything Can Happen on Halloween performed by Tim Curry — the song is so hilarious bad that it’s terrific

My Review:

Miss Cackle's evil twin Aggie, also played by Charlotte Rae.

Miss Cackle’s evil twin Aggie, also played by Charlotte Rae.

I know, this is not your sparkling, Hollywood, Freed-unit movie musical, but I thought I would throw a bit of nostalgia your way for Halloween.
I don’t know about you, but I remember watching “The Worst Witch” on the Disney channel when it would air around Halloween. Revisiting the hour long TV special for Musical Monday brought back some fond memories.
“The Worst Witch” truly is delightful. Admittedly, it’s not the best script you will ever read and the songs are very silly, but it is so much fun.
The child actresses do a fairly good job (though they are frequently whiny), and the snobbish bully plays a character that is easy to dislike.
Diana Rigg does a wonderful job playing the hard, stern teacher with a beautifully deep voice. Twenty years after her “Avengers” days, she is (of course) still looking beautiful, even in a witch’s get-up.
And Charlotte Rae is so much fun in her dual role– one a proper English headmistress of the Witch Academy and the other, an evil redneck witch with a Southern accent.
But of course, though his role was maybe 10 minutes, Tim Curry’s random but memorable appearance is my favorite performance.
He flies in, drops the mic by singing a ridiculous song that has special effects only found in the 1980s and includes the lyrics “Your dentist could turn into a queen. Has anybody scene my tambourine? Maybe I will play, ‘Begin the Beguine.’
Curry’s brief performance is just so deliciously campy that I couldn’t help giggle the whole time.
The Worst Witch” is only an hour long and a cute story to accompany your Halloween.

Tim Curry plays the Grand Wizard.

Tim Curry plays the Grand Wizard.

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Halloweek: Die! Die! My Darling! (1965) – original title “Fanatic”

This week, Comet Over Hollywood is celebrating Halloween with slightly more offbeat horror films.  

die posterStarting in the 1960s with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962), famous actresses of the 1930s and 1940s who were now “past their prime” were cast in semi-campy horror roles.

Actress Tallulah Bankhead’s last film happened to be one of these horror films. Made in the UK under the title “Fanatic” and called “Die! Die! My Darling! (1965) in the United States, actress Stefanie Powers co-stars with Bankhead.

Directed by Silvio Narizzano, Bankhead plays Mrs. Trefolie whose son Steven died tragically. At the time of his death, Steven was engaged to Patricia Carroll, played by Stefanie Powers, but Patricia intended on breaking off the engagement.

Patricia kept correspondence with Mrs. Trefolie and decides to pay her a visit at her secluded home while she is in England with her fiancé Alan, played by Maurice Kaufmann. Alan warns her not to go alone, but Patricia doesn’t listen.

What Patricia plans to be a four-hour visit turns into several days trapped in Mrs. Trefolie’s home.

Mrs. Trefolie is obsessed with her son and is fanatically religious. For example, Trefolie insists Patricia stays until the next morning for a private church service at home which lasts 12 hours.

Mrs. Trefoile holds Sunday service at her home with her servants. (Bankhead, Donald Sutherland, Yootha Joyce, Peter Vaughan)

Mrs. Trefoile holds Sunday service at her home with her servants. (Bankhead, Donald Sutherland, Yootha Joyce, Peter Vaughan)

Dinner is served after the church service, but the food is plain, unflavored, vegetarian and they use no condiments, because “God’s food should be eaten unadorned.”

When Mrs. Trefoile notices a lipstick stain on Patricia’s glass, she is told to wash her makeup off. There also aren’t any mirrors in the house because they encourage vanity and sensuality.

Patricia is told to change immediately when she is wearing a red sweater, because it is the “Devil’s color.” Mrs. Trefoile believes that Patricia is her daughter-in-law, because she qualifies the engagement to Steven as marriage. In her religious beliefs, Mrs. Trefoile says Patricia could never remarry, even with a dead husband, because it is against God’s will and she is eternally wedded to Steven….though they never were married. Mrs. Trefoile also refuses to go to a local church, because the pastor remarried after his wife died several years before, believing he is forever married to the first woman.

When Mrs. Trefoile finds out Patricia is newly engaged and was planning to breakup with Steven before his death, she blames Patricia for Steven’s death, saying she killed him, and locks her in the house. Helping the elderly woman through all of this are her two servants, who hope to inherent her money.

By depriving Patricia of food and locking her away in solitude, Mrs. Trefoile says she is trying to “cleanse Patricia’s soul.” This includes interrogating Patricia about her virginity and tearing up all of her beautiful clothing and jewelry. Mrs. Trefoile believes she hears her son tell her to murder Patricia, and she sets out to do so.

Stefanie Powers' clothes destroyed by Mrs. Trefoile and her maid, Kate.

Stefanie Powers’ clothes destroyed by Mrs. Trefoile and her maid, Kate.

Not only is “Die! Die! My Darling!” Bankhead’s last film, but also her first horror movie, according to the LIFE magazine article, “One Old Trouper Comes Back” by Conrad Knickerbocker.

The film is based off the novel “Nightmare” by Anne Blaisdell. The English horror movie is enjoyable. I thought the religious fanaticism added a level of intrigue, depth and craze to Bankhead’s character, rather than the usual overbearing mother role. Mrs. Trefoile’s obsession with her dead son is exhibited by believing that his soul is in the house and responding to her, his photos everywhere and cuddling his teddy bear as she sleeps.

Although Bankhead’s character says she doesn’t believe in vanity, in the film, we see scrapbooks of Mrs. Trefoile in her younger years and costumes hang in the basement, suggesting that at one point she was an actress. (One of the photos shown in the film is Bankhead in her stage role in “Little Foxes.”)

Admittedly, I was rather frustrated while watching “Die! Die! My Darling!” There are several moments where you think Stefanie Powers can overtake this rickety old woman who keeping her captive, but she flails around and fails.

Mrs. Trefoile threatens to cut Patricia's face so she will no longer be attractive to men. Maid Kate holds Patricia so she can't escape.

Mrs. Trefoile threatens to cut Patricia’s face so she will no longer be attractive to men. Maid Kate holds Patricia so she can’t escape.

Powers’ character had a sharp tongue but was too weak and uncoordinated to fight Bankhead’s character alone, and this frustrated me greatly. However, while I was frustrated with Powers in the film, I realized that was how her character was written in the script.

Another odd thing about “Die! Die! My Darling!” was the music. For the first half of the movie, the soundtrack was quirky and almost comedic harpsichord music. The music could be comparable to the 1960s English TV show “The Avengers,” starring Diana Rigg. However, as the cat-and-mouse torture between Powers and Bankhead escalated, the music became more serious and exciting.

Mrs. Trefoile talks to her dead son while holding his Teddy bear.

Mrs. Trefoile talks to her dead son while holding his Teddy bear.

I believe my favorite character in the film was 30-year-old actor Donald Sutherland in one of his first film roles. Sutherland played a worker at Mrs. Trefoile’s home who had special needs. I was a little disappointed he wasn’t in the film more, and his character wasn’t given much of a purpose.

“Die! Die! My Darling!” is a little more quirky and humorous than other horror movies starring actresses like Joan Crawford or Bette Davis. However, while I wouldn’t rank the film higher than “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962), “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” (1964) or “Strait-Jacket” (1964), the cat and mouse interactions between Bankhead and Powers were intriguing and made for an enjoyable Friday evening film.

Sidenote: When I watched this movie with my parents, my Dad said all he could think about was the Metallica song “Die, Die, My Darling.” The song “Die, Die, My Darling” was originally written by The Misfits and later covered by Metallica.

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Musical Monday: “One Sunday Afternoon” (1948)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of 10 years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

One-Sunday-Afternoon-1948This week’s musical:
“One Sunday Afternoon” –Musical #494

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Raoul Walsh

Starring:
Dennis Morgan, Don DeFore, Dorothy Malone, Janis Paige, Ben Blue, Oscar O’Shea, Alan Hale Jr.

Plot:
Set in the late 1800s, every man in town has their eye on beautiful Virginia Brush (Paige), including small town dentist Biff Grimes (Morgan) and his best friend Hugo Barnstead (DeFore).
The two are invited by Viriginia on a double date with her suffragette nurse friend Amy (Malone).Though Amy is sweet and pretty, Biff is unhappy that he is “stuck” with Amy.
Hugo wins over and Virgina and the two marry, and Biff ends up marrying Amy.
A few years later, Hugo and Virginia return to town, and Hugo gets Biff involved in his business. Hugo double-crosses Biff, who has to go to jail. When he gets out, Biff hopes to get revenge on Hugo.

Trivia:
-Version of earlier films “One Sunday Afternoon” (1933) starring Gary Cooper and Fay Wray and “The Strawberry Blonde” (1941) with James Cagney, Olivia DeHavilland and Rita Hayworth.
-All three films are based on the play “One Sunday Afternoon,” which opened in 1933 at the Little Theater in New York and ran more than 300 performances.
-Director Raoul Walsh originally wanted to cast Dane Clark as Biff (Morgan’s role), Eleanor Parker as Virginia (Paige’s role) and Donna Reed as Amy (Malone’s role), according to the book “Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director” by Marilyn Ann Moss.
-Walsh also wanted to cast Virginia Mayo as Virginia, but Warner cast Paige instead, angering Walsh, according to Moss’s book.
-Doris Day tested for the role of Amy, according to Moss’s book.
-Dorothy Malone is dubbed by Marion Morgan.

Hugo and Biff go on a bikeride with Virginia and Amy in "One Sunday Afternoon" (1948).

Hugo and Biff go on a bikeride with Virginia and Amy in “One Sunday Afternoon” (1948).

Notable Songs:
-One Sunday Afternoon performed by Dennis Morgan

My Review:
For better or worse, I can now say I have seen every film version of “One Sunday Afternoon” (okay, except for a 1959 TV special starring Janet Blair and David Wayne.)
Of the 1933 version starring Gary Cooper, the 1941 version starring James Cagney and this one- I would rank “One Sunday Afternoon” (1948) as the least enjoyable of the three films.
“The Strawberry Blonde” (1941) would be my favorite. It has it all: an excellent cast including Cagney, Jack Carson, Rita Hayworth and Olivia de Havilland; charm; humor and the end even includes a sing-a-long of “The Band Plays On.”
“The Strawberry Blonde” was one of Warner Brother’s top hits of 1941 and director Raoul Walsh considered it one of his favorite films.
When Walsh was assigned the musical remake of his favorite film, he was uncertain, according to Marilyn Ann Moss’s book on Walsh.
Walsh felt Warner Brothers was getting a reputation for remakes and Warner continued cutting costs on the 1948 film, with is probably partially why top actresses like Virginia Mayo and Eleanor Parker were not cast, according to Moss’s book.

Publicity photo of Dorothy Malone and Dennis Morgan for "One Sunday Afternoon."

Publicity photo of Dorothy Malone and Dennis Morgan for “One Sunday Afternoon.”

Though filming went smoothly, it wasn’t the same happy experience for Walsh as he had with Cagney, Hayworth, Carson and De Havilland, Moss wrote.
For me, it’s another case of the impossible task of trying to improve on perfection. With such a fun story, the 1948 version of “One Sunday Afternoon” is lackluster compared to the other two. I feel the cast and the addition of forgettable music contributed to this being a dud.
Dennis Morgan, who I love, couldn’t even save this film with his smooth singing voice and good looks as leading man Biff Grimes.
Don DeFore is fine as the heel Hugo Barnstead, but it would have been fun to see Dennis Morgan with his frequent co-star Jack Carson. Carson would have been reprising his role from “The Strawberry Blonde.”
I like Janis Paige as an actress, and she had the right amount of sex appeal and sass for the role of Virginia, but I felt like something was lacking.
Dorothy Malone (still a brunette) seemed like the only person trying to develop her character and was sweet and adorable (this was before she became a Hollywood sex pot) but just wasn’t quite as appealing as Olivia De Havilland in the role.
Walking away from the film, I couldn’t tell you anything about any of the songs, because they were that forgettable. Dennis Morgan sang an Irish song, which shouldn’t be surprising for anyone who has watched several Morgan films.
I don’t mean to be so negative about the musical remake of “One Sunday Afternoon.”
When I rewatched this film, I was positive I had seen it before. But then remembered I stopped it half way two times prior to viewing over the years because I thought it was so dumb.
Maybe if I saw this version before the other two, it would have ranked higher in my book. I also feel with stronger leading ladies previously mentioned in the trivia such as Donna Reed, Eleanor Parker or Virgina Mayo could have been a much better film.
However, it just doesn’t cut the mustard for me in the way of entertainment.

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Musical Monday: Golden Girl (1951)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

GoldenGirl_PosterThis week’s musical:
Golden Girl” –Musical #492

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Lloyd Bacon

Starring:
Mitzi Gaynor, Dale Robertson, Dennis Day, James Barton, Una Merkel, Raymond Washburn, Gene Sheldon, Carmen D’Antonio, Jimmie Dodd (uncredited)

Plot:
Set during the Civil War, the biographical film follows performer Lotta Crabtree (Gaynor) during her rise to fame. In this fictionalized biopic, Crabtree’s father (Barton) is a gambler who loses the family boarding house in a card game. Lotta, who desperately wants to become an actress, decides to earn the family money by performing. Before leaving to perform, Lotta meets Tom Richmond (Robertson) from Alabama and falls in love with him. Richmond follows her show to every venue, but may not be there just to see her.

Trivia:
-The real Lotta Crabtree, nicknamed the Nation’s Darling, was born in 1847 and died in 1924. In real life she started her career at age 6.
-Produced by George Jessell
-Mitzi Gaynor said “Golden Girl” was one of her favorite films.
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for the song “Never” by Lionel Newman and Eliot Daniel.
-Jimmie Dodd who later was on the Mickey Mouse Club is in a bit role as a musician.

The real Lotta Crabtree and Mitzi Gaynor dressed as Lotta Crabtree for "Golden Girl"

The real Lotta Crabtree and Mitzi Gaynor dressed as Lotta Crabtree for “Golden Girl”

Highlights:
-Mitzi Gaynor and James Barton’s tap dance together

Notable Songs:
-“Dixie” performed by Mitzi Gaynor
-“Kiss Me Quick and Go” performed by Mitzi Gaynor
-“Oh, Them Golden Slippers” performed by Mitzi Gaynor (and a male quartet between scenes)
-“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” performed by Mitzi Gaynor and Dennis Day
-“Sunday Morning” performed by Mitzi Gaynor and Dennis Day
-“Never” performed by Dennis Day

mitzi2

Gaynor and Robertson in “Golden Girl”

My Review:
As we have discussed in many Musical Monday posts, biographical films are generally not accurate accounts of the person’s life.
In “Golden Girl,” Lotta’s career starts as a teenager. In real life, Lotta was performing by the age of 6 and retired when she was 45. Also in the film, Lotta wants to be an actress like Lola Montez, and apparently in real life, Montez encouraged Lotta to start an acting career.
All of that being said, “Golden Girl” is a fun film and Mitzi Gaynor gives an energetic performance.
When the film started, I thought I would be annoyed with Dennis Day and his character, but I was pleasantly surprised. He gives a good performance, sings beautifully and was really likable.
Dale Robertson was also handsome and likable as Gaynor’s love interest. I think it also goes without saying that Una Merkel and James Barton who play Lotta’s parents stole the show.
I watched “Golden Girl” and another Gaynor biopic “The I Don’t Care Girl” back to back. If you remember, the latter was lackluster, but “Golden Girl” was a breath of fresh air and left me smiling and humming “Oh, Them Golden Slippers.”

Mitzi Gaynor dancing with James Barton.

Mitzi Gaynor dancing with James Barton.

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Musical Monday: We’re Not Dressing (1934)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

we're not posterThis week’s musical:
“We’re Not Dressing” –Musical #264

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Norman Taurog

Starring:
Carole Lombard, Bing Crosby, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Ethel Merman, Leon Erroll, Ray Milland, Jay Henry

Plot:
-Heiress Doris Worthington (Lombard) is on a yatch trip with her friends (Erroll, Merman) and two princes who want to marry her (Milland, Henry). However, Doris keeps going between making eyes at and arguing with singing sailor Stephen Jones (Crosby). An accident causes the yacht to sink, and Jones ends up with Doris and her helpless, wealthy friends on an uninhabited island. None of them are used to working and Jones is the only one with survival skills. He soon has everyone except Doris working. Also on the island are husband and wife explorers (Burns, Allen).

Carole Lombard and Bing Crosby in "We're Not Dressing"

Carole Lombard and Bing Crosby in “We’re Not Dressing”

Trivia:
-The song “The Animal in Me” was performed by Ethel Merman but was cut from the film. It was later used instead in “The Big Broadcast of 1936″ (1935). Merman’s song “He Reminds Me Of You” was also cut from the film.
-Based on a 1902 play, “The Admirable Crichton.”
-Filmed on Santana Catalina Island.

Highlights:
-During the credits, the waves are used as a transition.

-Gracie Allen and George Burns

Droopy the Bear swoons for Bing Crosby's singing.

Droopy the Bear swoons for Bing Crosby’s singing.

Notable Songs:
-“Goodnight, Little Lady” performed by Bing Crosby
-“She Reminds Me of You” performed by Bing Crosby
-“I Positively Refuse to Sing” performed by Bing Crosby
-“Love They Neighbor” performed by Bing Crosby
-“It’s Just an Old Spanish Custom” performed by Ethel Merman and Leon Errol (Only notable because it’s only one of two songs the famous singer performs)

My Review:
If you’re looking for a film complete with a shipwreck and dancing bear who swoons for Bing Crosby’s crooning, this is your movie.
“We’re Not Dressing” is odd, off-beat and mildly irritating at times. But for me- none of that is really a commentary on any of the stars. Except maybe for Leon Errol. He always annoys me.
Lombard and her gaggle of socialites are sailing on the Pacific ocean. We are never told what their destination was supposed to be, but I don’t think that is actually important in the script. I think the fact that they were aimlessly sailing in a yacht with two princes was just to emphasize spoiled Lombard’s wealth.

Lombard and her two princes- Ray Milland and Jay Henry.

Lombard and her two princes- Ray Milland and Jay Henry.

Also to reiterate the wealth is her pet bear named Droopy. Droopy loves when Bing Crosby sings. At one point Droopy the Bear even roller-skates around the boat.
The boat crashes when drunken Leon Errol attempts to steer the boat, causing it to capsize.
Once on the island, Lombard is angry because Crosby won’t act as a servant to her, even though she fired him while they were on the boat. Predictably, Lombard ends up falling in love with Crosby.
Bing Crosby’s character is probably the only sane person in the bunch. He also gives the best performance. But you better love Crosby’s crooning if you watch this film, because he sings roughly seven songs in this 74 minute film.
Carole Lombard is beautiful and her comedy isn’t overwhelming (I love My Man Godfrey, but I feel like I have to catch my breath at the end). Her character is very huffy though, so that was a bit annoying.
Ethel Merman was wasted, singing only two songs, and so were Gracie Allen and George Burns. For me, Allen and Burns were the true bright spot of this movie.
With a cast boasting so many big names, I think the real issue here is the goofy story line.
I won’t say I didn’t like “We’re Not Dressing,” it just sort of left me feeling scattered and scratching my head at the end, wondering what I just watched.

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Fact or Fiction: The curse James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder

The moody young star took the cinema by storm.

Actor James Dean won over audiences as misunderstood teens in the films “East of Eden” (1955) and “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955).

Actor James Dean in a publicity still for "Rebel Without a Cause."

Actor James Dean in a publicity still for “Rebel Without a Cause.”

But after only a short time in the spotlight, Dean was dead at age 24; killed in a car accident on Sept. 30, 1955, in his brand new 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, nicknamed “The Little Bastard.”

Dean had just finished up filming his third and final film, “Giant,” the epic based on Edna Ferber’s book and co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.

Dean purchased the Spyder on September 21 for $6,900 from Competition Motors in Hollywood and traded in his Speedster 356. The Porsche included an entirely hand-built, air-cooled engine, according to “James Dean” by George Perry.

Several of his friends, including actress Ursula Andress, refused to ride in the car. When Dean drove the Porsche on the Warner Brothers studio lot on September 23, director George Stevens told Dean that he would kill someone if Dean drove the vehicle on the lot again.

“You can never drive this car on the lot again. You’re gonna kill a carpenter or an actor or somebody,” Perry quoted Stevens. It was the last time Stevens saw Dean.

Dean the morning of his fatal crash.

Dean the morning of his fatal crash.

Actor Alec Guiness also supposedly told Dean on September 23 that he would be dead within a week if he continued to drive the Porsche.

Dean only owned the “Little Bastard” for a little over a week before his death.

The Porche 550 was the first purpose-built race car produced by Porsche. Dean bought the 55th of 90 Spyders made from the factory, according to “History’s Greatest Automotive Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed” by Matt Stone.

Dean decided to race the Spyder in Salinas. Originally the car was going to be towed by a Ford station wagon, but in a last minute decision, Dean decided to drive the Porsche convertible to Salinas, Perry wrote.

The wrecked remains of James Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder at the site of the accident. The 24-year-old film star was killed on the evening of September 30th when his car collided with a college student's automobile at an intersection 28 miles east of Paso Robles, California.

The wrecked remains of James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder at the site of the accident. The 24-year-old film star was killed on the evening of September 30th when his car collided with a college student’s automobile at an intersection 28 miles east of Paso Robles, California.

At 5:45 p.m. on September 30, Dean collided with a Ford coupe driven by college student Donald Turnupseed at an intersection 28 miles east of Paso Robles, CA.

The cast of “Giant” was gathered to watch the dailies of their filming when Stevens received the call about Dean’s death. Actress Elizabeth Taylor threw up in her dressing room and was so grief stricken that she had to be hospitalized, Perry wrote.

Dean’s Porsche flipped and he sustained a broken neck along with external and internal injuries, according to the inquest on Oct. 11, 1955.

Police at the scene said speed was not involved and it was impossible for Dean to avoid the crash, according to Perry’s book.

Since September 1955, many rumors have surfaced of the supposed “cursed” wrecked remains of Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder.

Car designer George Barris is said to have purchased the remains of “The Little Bastard” for $2,500. Barris is the source of several of the “curses.”

“Everything that car has touched has turned to tragedy,” Barris is quoted in Stone’s book. “

Some of the curse stories include:

-After the totaled Porche was purchased, Barris said the vehicle slipped off the trailer and broke a mechanic’s leg.

-Barris said he sold parts from the Porsche to Beverly Hills doctor Troy McHenry and Burbank doctor William Eschrid. The two men were racing against one another in separate vehicles that both had parts from the Porsche 550. McHenry lost control of the car, hit a tree and was killed. Eschrid, who was driving with Dean’s engine, was also injured in a wreck during the race.
This story seems to be true based on an Oct. 24, 1956, article in the Spokane Daily Chronicle. After the accident, Eschrid is quoted as saying he is not superstitious about using Dean’s engine and parts.

-Barris had two tires from the 550 and sold them. The tires apparently both blew out simultaneously causing the new tire owner’s car to run off the road.

-Barris kept the Porsche and two people tried to steal parts. Barris said one of the suspect’s arms was torn open trying to steal the steering wheel and the other was injured trying to remove the bloodstained tartan seat.

-In 1959, the “Little Bastard” was put on display by the California Highway Patrol for a safety exhibit. Supposedly, the patrol garage that housed the Porsche caught on fire, according to “The Death of James Dean” by Warren Newton Beath.

-Again, supposedly the Porsche Spyder was being transported when the driver of the truck lost control. The driver apparently fell out of the truck and was crushed by the Porsche when it fell off the back. The car also fell off vehicles during other transports.

Then, in 1960, the 1955 Porsche Spyder “disappeared into thin air” after an exhibit in Miami, according to Barris in his 1974 book “Cars of the Stars.”

While the various curses are interesting, I’m inclined to think that many of them are made up stories. The only one that is true and has credible documentation is the death and injuries of McHenry and Eschrid.

However, the mystery and myths that still revolve around James Dean even today show his effect on pop culture and influence in film history.

What do you think? Do you believe the curse? Comment below.

Actor James Dean gives a thumbs-up sign from his Porsche 550 Spyder, the Little Bastard, while parked on Vine Street in Hollywood. Dean, who had taken up racing the year before, owned the car only nine days when he lost his life in a fatal highway accident while driving the Porsche to a Salinas race.

Actor James Dean gives a thumbs-up sign from his Porsche 550 Spyder, the Little Bastard, while parked on Vine Street in Hollywood. Dean, who had taken up racing the year before, owned the car only nine days when he lost his life in a fatal highway accident while driving the Porsche to a Salinas race.

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Musical Monday: The I Don’t Care Girl (1953)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

the-i-dont-care-girl-movie-poster-1953-1020701174This week’s musical:
“The I Don’t Care Girl” –Musical #491

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Lloyd Bacon

Starring:
Mitzi Gaynor, David Wayne, Oscar Levant, Bob Graham, Craig Hill, George Jessel (as himself), Hazel Brooks, Barrie Chase (uncredited), Julie Newmar (uncredited), Gwen Verdon (uncredited)

Plot:
Biographical film on vaudeville performer Eva Tanguay who sang the song “I Don’t Care.” Though the film is a biographical film about Tanguay, the film starts in present time with George Jessell trying to plan the film. They find Tanguay’s old partners and friends and the story is told through their inconsistent memories.

Trivia:
-The real life Eva Tanguay was born in 1878 and died in 1947 at the age of 68. Tanguay was good friends with performer Sophie Tucker. Tanguay dubbed herself “the girl who made vaudeville famous.”
-Produced by George Jessel and played himself in the film.
-Jack Cole was the choreographer and Gwen Verdon was Gaynor’s dance in.
-In a TCM interview with Mitzi Gaynor, during the fire scene Gaynor said everything was fireproof except with her.
-Max Showalter was originally supposed to play the Oscar Levant role. However, Jessel saw Levant in “An American in Paris” and cast him instead, according to Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks by Tom Weaver.

The real Eva Tanguay and a publicity portrait of Mitzi Gaynor in costume as Tanguay for "I Don't Care Girl"

The real Eva Tanguay and a publicity portrait of Mitzi Gaynor in costume as Tanguay for “I Don’t Care Girl”

Highlights:
-Jack Cole’s choreography

Notable Songs:
-“I Don’t Care” performed by Mitzi Gaynor- since it’s the title song
-“As Long As You Care, I Care” performed by Bob Graham
-“Kiss Me My Honey, Kiss Me” performed by Mitzi Gaynor and Bob Graham

My Review:

Performer Eva Tanguay

Performer Eva Tanguay

I started “The I Don’t Care Girl” knowing nothing about vaudeville actress Eva Tanguay and ended the hour and 18 minute biographical film still knowing next to nothing about Tanguay, other than the fact that she existed and made the song “I Don’t Care” famous.

Obviously, most biographical films- particularly of the musical nature- are not very accurate. However, you leave with at least a sense of why the person was important. But I didn’t feel that with Eva Tanguay after watching “The I Don’t Care Girl” until I did some independent research.

Tanguay was known for being energetic and robust and often wore flamboyant costumes. When the Lincoln penny was released, she wore a dress completely made of pennies. She later wore a 45 pound dress made out of greenback dollars. Tanguay was close friends with Broadway star Sophie Tucker and later lost her millions in the 1929 stock market crash. All of these would have been interesting things to add to the plot.

I think part of this is because the movie is so brief. I think it’s also because the format of the film. Producer George Jessel plays himself saying,”What are we going to do about this Eva Tanguay movie?” and proceeds to hear three different sides of the story about Eva Tanguay.

Mitzi Gaynor is always lovely, energetic and fun to watch. Her musical numbers in this film are great, but her acting is slightly frantic. However, this could have been direction, and maybe she was trying to show Tanguay’s energy. Jack Cole’s dance numbers are always fantastic too. However, the numbers were modern 1950s dance and not things that would have been seen in the Ziegfeld Follies at the turn of the century. Again, this may be because they felt the audience would enjoy this more, but other biographical films (The Dolly Sisters, Look for the Silver Lining) seem to attempt to stay true to the era.

Overall, while the basis of the movie is “What are we going to do about his Eva Tanguay film?” It feels like 20th Century Fox actually felt this way and then threw it up on screen.

Bob Graham and Mitzi Gaynor in "The I Don't Care Girl"

Bob Graham and Mitzi Gaynor in “The I Don’t Care Girl”

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Musical Monday: The Harvey Girls (1946)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

harvey girlsThis week’s musical:
“The Harvey Girls” –Musical #43

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Judy Garlands, John Hodiak, Angela Lansbury, Ray Bolger, Cyd Charisse, Virgina O’Brien, Preston Foster, Marjorie Main, Kenny Baker, Selena Royale, Chill Wills, Ruth Brady

Plot:
Set in the 1890s, the film is a fictional story about the real life Harvey Girls who worked at Fred Harvey’s Harvey House restaurants that aided westward expansion and civilization. The restaurants offered civilization and clean service to trains who stopped in the area.
Susan Bradley (Garland) travels on the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe railroad from Ohio to Arizona to get married to a man she only knows via letters. Also on the train are “Harvey Girls.” The Harvey Girls are from all over the country and are traveling to work as waitresses in the newly opened Harvey House Restaurant.
When the train arrives, Susan’s husband-to-be is not exactly what she expected. She calls off the marriage and she ends up working as a Harvey Girl.
However, the owners and girls who work at the local saloon don’t take kindly to their business being taken by the new Harvey House and set out to drive them out.

Trivia:
-“The Harvey Girls” originally was going to be a straight western movie starring Clark Gable. MGM worked on the script for many years until it was sent to the Arthur Freed Musical Unit. Judy Garland and Gable were originally going to be cast as the stars, but they didn’t think the audience would accept the pairing. The age difference between the two stars would have made the story difficult especially when Garland sang “Dear Mr. Gable” as a young girl according to George Sidney during the director commentary., according to George Sidney during the director commentary.

-Based on a historical story on the Fred Harvey restaurants called the Harvey House.

-George Sidney interviewed girls from all over the country to get girls from each state. One of the Harvey Girls was New York model, Ethel Brady.

Judy Garland during "The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" number

Judy Garland during “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” number

-The number “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” was done in one take with Judy Garland. The number was shown to Garland and after seeing it once she said “I’m ready,” Sidney said in the commentary. It was “one of the longest musical numbers in a motion picture all done in two shots,” Sidney said.

-Judy Garland and John Hodiak were going to sing a duet called “My Intuition” written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer. The song’s purpose was to “advance their relationship” in the film. The song was right after their first meeting in the valley when John kisses Judy. The song was cut after the first preview because it was thought to slow down the film, according to notes on the DVD.

-“March of the Doagies” and the “March of the Doagies Reprkise” are two others songs that were cut from the screenplay, along with four other musical numbers, according to the DVD notes. The number took place during the Harvey Girls party. They leave the party and Judy leads the party, skipping down the town, carrying torches and into the prairie as she sings. The “March of the Doagies” number was huge and took many evenings to film on the MGM backlot. The footage of the number was not seen until it showed up in 1994 in “That’s Entertainment III,” according to DVD notes.

-Actress Virginia O’Brien isn’t in the film after her “In the Wild, Wild West” number, because she was pregnant. She “had her own little Harvey Girl,” Sidney said.

19-year-old Angela Lansbury and John Hodiak in "The Harvey Girls"

19-year-old Angela Lansbury and John Hodiak in “The Harvey Girls”

-John Hodiak had the measles and shooting was held up, Sidney said.

-President Franklin Roosevelt died during the filming of “The Harvey Girls” and shooting was called off for a few days, according to George Sidney.

-Grandson of Fred Harvey, who started the Harvey House Restaurant, Byron Harvey Jr. played an uncredited role as a train conductor.

-Cyd Charisse’s second film. Her first movie was “The Ziegfeld Follies.”

-Angela Lansbury was only 19 when she was in this film. Ann Sothern was originally supposed to play this role, according to director George Sidney in the commentary.

-Another song called “Hayride” with Ray Bolger was cut, but only the vocals remain.

-Angela Lansbury was dubbed by Virginia Rees

-Cyd Charisse was dubbed by Marion Doengnes

-Shot some of the scenes in Monument Valley where many John Wayne films were made.
-The first film for costume designer Helen Rose.

Actress Virginia O'Brien, who had to drop out of filming after the "Wild Wild West" number.

Actress Virginia O’Brien, who had to drop out of filming after the “Wild Wild West” number.

Awards: 
-Won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score for “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer.
-Nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture written by Lennie Hayton.

Highlights:
-The 8 minute “Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” number
-In an effort to close the Harvey House, men from the saloon steal every steak from the restaurant. Outraged, Judy Garland goes to the saloon with two guns telling them to “stick ‘em up.” She is successful in getting the steaks back, but the whole scene is hilarious.

Judy Garland going into the saloon with guns to steal back the steaks in "The Harvey Girls."

Judy Garland going into the saloon with guns to steal back the steaks in “The Harvey Girls.”

Notable Songs:
-Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe performed by Judy Garland and most of the cast
-The Wild, Wild West performed by Virginia O’Brien

My Review:
“The Harvey Girls” is such a fun movie.
The cast is stellar, costumes are gorgeous and the Technicolor backdrop of the Old West looks like a postcard.
My only real issue with the film is “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” is Judy Garland’s strongest song and Ray Bolger only gets a chance to show off his dancing in one number- but he only sings a bit at the beginning.
Many of the songs that did showcase Bolger or Garland ended up being cut.
It’s a shame that the “My Intuition” song was cut, because it gave Judy Garland a higher quality song than the others to sing. I also love hearing John Hodiak’s singing voice which isn’t trained but is pleasant. “March of the Doagies” isn’t a very good song, but it also showcased Judy’s voice very well.
However, it’s easy to look back now and say “I wish that song was still in the movie,” but I’m sure it was the best decision in 1946.
Of the songs in this movie, “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” is the stand out number by far. It’s eight minutes long, but it is engaging and interesting the whole time. We get the perspective of the people in the town who are excited about the train arriving, the conductor, the Harvey Girls and where they came from, and then Judy Garland who is traveling for the first time.

The three female leads: Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland and Virginia O'Brien after singing "It's a Great Big World"

The three female leads: Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland and Virginia O’Brien after singing “It’s a Great Big World”

There are also so many large names in this movie that it is hard for the secondary leads to get enough screen time. But somehow it works out. Virginia O’Brien and Cyd Charisse are in two songs, and Charisse has a dance number. Kenny Baker (aka the poor man’s Dick Powell) also has a song, and Ray Bolger has his tap dancing number.
One of the real highlights for me is Marjorie Main. She’s consistently funny in most of her comedic roles and continues to be hilarious in the “Harvey Girls.”
Another huge bright spot in this film is John Hodiak as the leading man. He’s one of my top Hollywood heartthrobs.
I do think it’s interesting that this originally was going to be a non-musical film. I’m sure it would have been entertaining, but we wouldn’t have had the colorful and lovely piece we have today.

The Harvey Girls

The Harvey Girls

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Classic films in music videos: “Express Yourself” by Madonna

This is September’s edition of Comet Over Hollywood’s film references in music videos.

metropolisMadonna has always mixed pop culture into her music and music videos- especially classic films:
-Frequently wearing clothing and bleached blond hairstyles reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe
-Paying homage to Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” number from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953) in her “Material Girl” music video.
-Listing several classic actresses in the lyrics of “Vogue” including Rita Hayworth, Bette Davis and Lana Turner.

Madonna’s 1989 music video for “Express Yourself” is no exception.

The music video pulls inspiration from the 1927 silent film “Metropolis.” Directed by Fritz Lang, the German Expressionist styled and futuristic film was a pioneer for the science fiction genre. In the film “Metropolis,” the futuristic city has a strong divide between the working class and the planners of the city.

Similarly in the music video, Madonna plays a glamorous lady with muscular men as her workers and she picks one of them to “express his self” with her. Futuristic like factories and skyscrapers with a German Expressionism tone are the backdrop.

A city scene from "Metropolis" and "Express Yourself."

A city scene from “Metropolis” and “Express Yourself.”

“All the imagery we wanted—and I had a few set ideas, for instance the cat and the idea of Metropolis,” Madonna said in an interview. “I definitely wanted to have that influence, that look on all the men—the workers, diligently, methodically working away.”

The music video ends with the phrase: “Without the Heart, there can be no understanding between the hand and the mind. This is a reference to a very similar quote from “Metropolis, “There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.”

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