Christmas Musical Monday: “White Christmas” (1954)

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.

White_Chrismas_filmThis week’s musical:
“White Christmas” –Musical #21

Studio:
Paramount Studios

Director:
Michael Curtiz

Starring:
Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Dean Jagger, Mary Wickes, Anne Whitfield, George Charkiris, Barrie Chase, Sig Ruman, Grady Sutton, Carl Switzer (photo)

Plot:
On Christmas Eve in 1944, Bob Wallace (Crosby) with the help of Phil Davis (Kaye) put on a small Christmas show to entertain their Army company and pay tribute to Major General Waverly (Jagger), who is leaving the outfit. The company is then attacked and Davis saves Wallace from a falling wall. When Wallace comes to thank Davis, Davis convinces him to go into show business with him.
Fast forward 10 years and Wallace and Davis are both successful performers and producers. On their way to New York after a performance in Florida, they stop to catch the act of Betty and Judy Haynes, sisters of an old Army buddy. After a series of events, Wallace and Davis end up heading to Vermont, rather than New York, with the sisters to an inn where they are performing.
The inn is owned by General Waverly, who isn’t doing very good business. The two men set out to help him boost business.

Trivia:
-Actress, dancer Vera-Ellen did not do her own singing in this film. During the “Sisters” number, Rosemary Clooney sang both parts. Trudy Stevens dubbed Ellen in “Snow” and “White Christmas.”

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in "Sisters." Clooney sang both parts of the song.

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in “Sisters.” Clooney sang both parts of the song.

-Fred Astaire was originally slated to play Danny Kaye’s role. The plan was to reunite Crosby and Astaire after their initial holiday hit “Holiday Inn” (1942). Astaire felt he was too old for this type of role and dropped out. Donald O’Connor then was set to replace Astaire, but O’Connor fell very ill. Danny Kaye was then cast along side Bing Crosby, according to the documentary “Backstage Stories from White Christmas.”
-When Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye perform the “Sisters” number, Kaye improvises and starts hitting him with the feathered fan. Crosby’s laughter was genuine, according to the documentary “Backstage Stories from White Christmas.”
-Ginger Rogers and Debbie Reynolds were considered as female leads for the film, according to “Late Life Jazz: The Life and Career of Rosemary Clooney” by Ken Crossland, Malcolm Macfarlane.
-The first Paramount Picture to be filmed in VistaVision, a higher resolution, widescreen, 35mm motion picture film format created by engineers at Paramount.
-Rosemary Clooney said in an interview in 2000 that she loved making the film. She also said she was not a dancer and Vera-Ellen- an extremely versatile dancer- was very patient with her.
-The photo of Betty and Judy’s brother is actor Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in the “Our Gang” films.
-This film helped actor, dancer George Chakiris gain popularity. Rather than being in a large dance ensemble, he was part of four men dancing around Rosemary Clooney in the “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me” number. In an interview, Chakiris said girls were wondering who the “guy with the cleft chin” was after this close-up with Clooney, according to the documentary “Backstage Stories from White Christmas.”
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song for “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.”
-Top earning films of 1954.

Highlights:
-The “Abraham” dance number with Vera-Ellen and John Brascia.
-Barrie Chase meeting Bing Crosby at the beginning and saying “Mutual I’m sure” her “Kiss my foot, or have an apple” line. Chase may be my favorite character in the film.
-Every musical number in the whole film.
-Edith Head costumes

Notable Songs:
-“Mandy” performed by Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, cast
-“Choreography” performed by Danny Kaye
-“White Christmas” performed by Bing Crosby
-“Old Man” performed by Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and cast
-“Sisters” performed by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen (dubbed by Clooney)
-“Snow” performed by Clooney, Crosby, Kaye, Ellen (dubbed by Steven)
-“Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” performed by Rosemary Clooney
-“Gee! I Wish I Was Back in the Army” performed by Clooney, Crosby, Kaye, Ellen (dubbed)

Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Bing Crosby in the "Mandy" number

Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Bing Crosby in the “Mandy” number

My Review:
Maybe I’m not a very good film fan, because there are few films I can say I have seen more than 10, or even 5 times. There are so many to see that I just keep pushing through. But “White Christmas” is one of those rare films that I can quote along or know the what dance step is coming up in a musical number.
I credit this film for my desire to dance and driving me to take tap dancing lessons- particularly the “Abraham” and “Mandy” numbers.
It is a film that my family has watched nearly every Christmas for as long as I can remember and is easily a favorite films.
I could talk forever about how well the cast, costumes and musical numbers fit beautifully together to weave an interesting story that leaves you tearing up at the end.
But I recently had an opportunity to see the film with fresh eyes.
On Sunday, Dec. 14, my family went and saw it on the big screen for the first time. A film that I have seen over 30 times and thought I knew backwards, I suddenly noticed things I had never seen before.
I never noticed that Bing Crosby had yellow socks when he drives up to bring the mail to General Waverly. Or I never noticed some continuity errors, like when we are introduced to the Haynes sisters, Judy sets down the coffee pot and in the next shot she is holding it.
But most of all, I noticed the nuances in performances, especially Danny Kaye’s comedic genius.
You can see a film for years, but there is something special about watching it the way it was supposed to be shown that gives you an even greater appreciation.

White Christmas finale

White Christmas finale

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Musical Monday: Babes in Toyland (1961)

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.

babes in toylandThis week’s musical:
“Babes in Toyland” –Musical #41

Studio:
Walt Disney Studios

Director:
Jack Donohue

Starring:
Annette Funicello, Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands, Ed Wynn, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, Ann Jillian, Brian Corcoran, Mary McCarty, Henry Calvin, Gene Sheldon

Plot:
The film is introduced by Mother Goose (McCarty) and her goose Sylvester. Mary,Mary Quite Contrary (Funicello) and Tom the Piper’s Son (Sands) are to be married. However, evil Barnaby (Bolger) has other ideas. Mary will inherit a large sum of money when she marries and Barnaby wants it. He hires two crooks (Calvin, Sheldon) to kill Tom by throwing him into the sea. Barnaby is also going to steal Bo Peep’s (Jillian) sheep so that Mary no longer has income and will have to marry him. However, the crooks decide to make their own profit by selling Tom to gypsies, rather than drowning him.
While Barnaby is trying to woo Mary, the other children search for the lost sheep in the Forest of No Return. They all stumble upon Toyland, where the Toymaker and his assistant (Wynn, Kirk) are preparing for Christmas.

Annette Funicello as Mary Contrary and Tommy Sands as Tom Piper in "Babes in Toyland."

Annette Funicello as Mary Contrary and Tommy Sands as Tom Piper in “Babes in Toyland.”

Trivia:
-The first live action musical made by Disney and it failed commercially. The next live action, full length musical was “Mary Poppins” (1964).
-Walt Disney had Annette’s dark hair tinted red for the film, according to Funicello’s autobiography “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”
-Annette Funicello wrote in her book that “Babes in Toyland” was her favorite filmmaking experience.
“It was one of those rare times when everything about making the film- from my director, my co-stars, the crew, the costumes, even the scenery- was perfect,” she wrote.
-Annette wrote it was a thrill to work with Ray Bolger who was “such a gentleman.”
-James Darren and Michael Callan were both considered for Tommy Sands role of Tom Piper, Funicello wrote.

Actress Ann Jillian in her film debut with actor Kevin Corcoran

Actress Ann Jillian in her film debut with actor Kevin Corcoran

-The “I Can’t Do the Sum” number was filmed using the Chromakey technique, as several different colored Annette’s jump out and also sing.
-At one point during the “I Can’t Do the Sum” number, Annette is walking on her hands, as her character thinks this could save money on shoes. Annette was really walking on her hands.
“Technicians had to wire all of my clothing, down to each layer of my petticoat, and I wore a wig, the strands of which were wired as well so that may hair wouldn’t fall in my face while I was upside down,” she wrote.
-Annette loved the wedding dress she wore in the film so much, that she contacted the film’s designer Bill Thomas when she was married in 1965 to design her dress.
-The stop-motion toy soldiers during Tom and Barnaby’s battle took six months to film.
-The film premiered in 1961 around Christmas.
-Version of the 1934 Laurel & Hardy “Babes in Toyland.”
-Walt Disney visited the set every day, Annette wrote.
-The voice of Sylvester the Goose was director Jack Donohue.
-Film debut of Ann Jillian.

Actor quotes on the film:
-“This was the first, and unfortunately, the last movie I made in which I actually danced something besides the watusi or the swim. Not to put those other films down, but I always considered myself a dancer before anything else, and through the sets of Toyland and Mother Goose Village, I danced across the screen in a way I’d always dreamed of.” -Annette Funicello

-I thought he was delightful and so did everyone else. You couldn’t not like him. He was completely crazy and he was just as crazy offscreen as he was on. But it was all, of course, an act. He was a very serious, religious man in his own way, but he loved playing Ed Wynn, the perfect fool, the complete nut. And he was good at it. Actually I think the movie is sort of a klunker, especially when I compare it to the Laurel and Hardy Babes in Toyland. It’s not a great film but it has a few cute moments. It’s an oddity. But I’m not embarrassed about it like I am about some other movies I’ve made.” – Tommy Kirk on Ed Wynn

The Villians: Henry Calvin, Ray Bolger, Gene Sheldon

The Villians: Henry Calvin, Ray Bolger, Gene Sheldon

Highlights:
-The dance by the gypsies
-Any time Annette Funicello is on screen

Notable Songs:
-“I Can’t Do the Sum” sung by Annette Funicello
-“March of the Toys”
-“Just a Whisper Away” sung by Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands
-“We Won’t Be Happy Till We Get It” sung by Ray Bolger, Henry Calvin, Gene Sheldon
-“Nevermind Bo Peep” sung by Ann Jillian
-“Go to Sleep” sung by Tommy Sands and Annette Funicello
-“Forest of No Return” suny by some trees
-“Workshop Song” sung by Annette Funicello, Tommy Sands, Ed Wynn, children

Annette Funicello in “I Can’t Do the Sum”:

My Review:

Tommy Kirk as the toy eventer with Ed Wynn who is the Toymaker

Tommy Kirk as the toy eventer with Ed Wynn who is the Toymaker

Have you ever watched a movie that you REALLY want to love but just can’t?
That’s how I unfortunately feel about “Babes in Toyland” (1961). My family even owns this movie because we love Annette and really want to love this film.
Walt Disney was hoping to make “Babes in Toyland” to be on the same scale as “Wizard of Oz” (1939), but it somehow just didn’t pan out.
I guess I’m not alone in my dismay, since this was a commercial failure when it was released in December 1961.
It has it all- Annette, who I adore; an excellent cast, there isn’t an actor in this I don’t love; beautiful costumes; colorful sets; and it’s Disney! But somehow it falls short.
Though I love musicals, this movie is song after song after song. Probably because it is based off of a 1903 Victor Hubert operetta.
My favorite song by far is “I Can’t Do the Sum,” where Annette Funicello worries about how her family will pay the bills. I guess I also really like this song, because I related to it when I started living on my own.
I think another flaw is that the story line lags in places and 105 minutes seems a bit long for this story.
The villains in the film also are irritating. Though Ray Bolger, Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon are all wonderful actors, their characters are tiresome. When my mom and I revisited this film, we would groan every time they came on screen.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate “Babes in Toyland.” I just wish it could be better. For me, the best part of the film is any time Annette comes on screen. Annette was such a bright spot in anything she was in and is what makes “Babes in Toyland” worth watching at all.
I also love Disney regulars Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corchoran, who are both in the film, but sadly neither has very much screen time.
I’m not sure what could have made this film better. Fewer songs? Maybe shorter than 105 minutes? More Annette? I don’t know. I just wish Disney’s first full-length, live-action musical wasn’t such a klunker.

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Comet Over Hollywood celebrates fans

ATTENTION!

comet
This holiday season, I want to give back to all of you who help celebrate classic Hollywood every day.

What I’m doing: Each week of December, I will have a prize drawing for one of Comet Over Hollywood’s fans.

What I need you to do: Spread the word about Comet with your friends and help us get 2015 Facebook fans by January 1. Tweet about us, share us on Facebook, talk about Comet to complete strangers.

Let’s have some fun spreading the good word of classic film.

Happy holidays!

Jessica Pickens, the Hollywood Comet

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Holy DVD Batman

I may not have been alive when the 1966 “Batman” television show starring Adam West and Burt Ward was originally aired, but it is my favorite adaptation of the caped crusader. Ward was even one of my first celebrity crushes.

Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin int he 1966 "Batman" TV show.

Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin int he 1966 “Batman” TV show.

 

This declaration frequently gets me in trouble. “It’s goofy. Batman isn’t supposed to be funny,” friends will retort. This is probably true. However, when life is too serious, hokey lines mixed with colorful word bubbles of “Bam!” and “Pow” popping up during fights can be balm for the soul.

I was first introduced to the television series when TVLand re-aired the show in 2001. I was 13 and starting to dig deeper into my classic film, television and music obsession that is still running strong today.

My mom remembered watching the show as a child and dressing up as Batman and Robin with her friends. She introduced me to the show, and like most nostalgic things my parents introduced me to, I was hooked.

The parody show ran originally from 1966 through 1968. Airing twice weekly for the first two seasons, each half hour show ended with a cliff hanger of Batman and Robin in peril with the announcer alluding that the “Worst was yet to come” and to be sure to tune in the “Same Bat time, Same Bat channel.”

The lines Batman said were delivered in the most serious manner but meant to be ridiculous and humorous. Robin’s character on the show is characterized by his exclamations of “Holy,” connected to what he and Batman were discussing.

Every night “Batman” aired, I would sit watching with what I called my “Holy List.” . And I tried to write down every single “holy” uttered during the show.

A sampling from my "Holy List'-- where I wrote down every "Holy" Robin said.

A sampling from my “Holy List’– where I wrote down every “Holy” Robin said.

I still have my “Holy List,” and it’s sitting beside me as I write this. Creased with fold marks and with faded pencil writing, my list ended up being nine pages, some front and back. Included on the list are some of the Riddler’s puzzles scrawled in the margins.

A few of my favorite Robin “Holy” quotations:

-Holy purple cannibal

-Holy here-we-go-again

-Holy reverse priority

-Holy missing relatives

-Holy Fourth Amendment

-Holy Rip Van Winkle

-Holy diversionary tactics

-Holy uncanny photographic mental process

-Holy squirrel cage

-Holy one-track-bat-computer-mind

The show was a favorite of some of Hollywood’s top celebrities including Natalie Wood, Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. All three wanted to guest star but were never able to be fit in.

The primary villains on the show were the Riddler, played by Frank Gorshwin; the Joker, played by Cesar Romero; the Penguin, played by Burgess Meredith; and Catwoman, played by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether (in the film).

Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, Frank Gorshwin as the Riddler, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin and Cesar Romero as The Joker in the 1966 "Batman" film. Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt played Catwoman on the TV show.

Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, Frank Gorshwin as the Riddler, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin and Cesar Romero as The Joker in the 1966 “Batman” film. Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt played Catwoman on the TV show.

The show included celebrity guest stars who would play villains on the show including Tallulah Bankhead as the Blackwidow, Van Johnson as the Minstrel, Roddy McDowell as Bookworm, or Vincent Price as Egghead. Other times, stars like Jerry Lewis would appear when they were looking out the window as Batman and Robin scaled a wall.

Two other classic Hollywood stars appear on the show as regular. Neil Hamilton plays Commissioner Gordon. Hamilton was in several 1930s films, usually playing a cad who jilted a woman. Alan Napier plays Alfred the butler. Napier was a character actor in the 1930s through the 1970s, appearing in films such as “Lassie” (1943) or “The Uninvited” (1944).

Roddy McDowall guest starred as "The Bookworm."

Roddy McDowall guest starred as “The Bookworm.”

On the show, Batman also had the most impressive gadgets including shark repellent (in the 1966 Batman film) or Bat sleeping gas used to knock out bad guys and take them back to the Bat Cave. However, while fighting crime, Batman always reminded Robin that safety and responsibility had to come first- often telling him to put on his seatbelt in the BatMobile or to do his algebra homework.

For years, I waited for the series to be released on DVD. I happily watched as seasons of my other favorite classic television shows such as “My Three Sons,” “Emergency” and “Adam-12” were released, and constantly wondered, “But what about Batman?”

When the announcement came earlier in 2014 that the television series would be released by Warner Brothers this November, I was overjoyed. I guess sometimes it’s the simple, material things that keep us going. Complications with rights prevented the release of the television show.

Now owning the first season of “Batman” on DVD, I found it just as delightful as I did when I was 13. The color and picture on the DVD is vibrant and looks great. My only qualm is that it looks like rather than releasing the full second season on DVD, the seasons are being split up in two parts- similar to how Warner released “My Three Sons.”

Whether you find Adam West cheesy as Batman or not, there is no denying that the television show is a pleasant and fun way to spend a spare hour.

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Musical Monday: “Tanned Legs (1929)

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.

tanned legsThis week’s musical:
“Tanned Legs” –Musical #496

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Marshall Neilan

Starring:
Arthur Lake, June Clyde, Sally Blane, Ann Pennington, Dorothy Revier, Nella Walker, Albert Gran, Allen Kearns, Edmund Burns
As themselves: Johnny Johnson’s Orchestra

Plot:
There is a lot of romantic trouble as the Reynolds family vacations at a seaside resort.
Peggy Reynolds (Clyde) is unhappy with her philandering parents (Nella Walker, Albert Gran) who are both carrying on with people closer to Peggy’s age than theirs. More romantic trouble occurs as Peggy’s sister Janet (Blane) is dating Clinton Darrow (Burns), who is only interested in the Reynold’s family money. Peggy is dating Bill (Lake), who constantly proposes and she refuses.
Peggy decides she needs to fix her family. But things get even more messy when Mr. Reynolds buys stock from his mistress, Mrs. Lyons-King (Reiver) and Clinton blackmails Janet over love letters. When Peggy tries to save her sister’s reputation by taking the letters from Clinton’s room, Janet thinks her sister is stealing her boyfriend and Bill thinks Peggy is cheating on him.
The musical portion of this film comes in as the actors rehearse for the resort’s charity show.

Trivia:
-Advertised as “All Dialogue!”
-Actress June Clyde’s first credited film role. The former vaudeville star was supposedly selected for the film because of her nice legs, according to “The First Hollywood Musicals” by Edwin M. Bradley.
-Actress Olive Borden was supposed to star in the movie but was replaced by June Clyde, according to “Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Joy Girl” by Michelle Vogel.
-Pianist Oscar Levant, who later starred in several films such as “American in Paris” (1951), wrote several of the songs for this film.

Highlights:
-In the first minute, as the camera pan the beach, a man is dancing with a mermaid.

Notable Songs:
-“Come in the Water, the Water Is Fine” performed by June Clyde
-“You’re Responsibile” sung by Ann Pennington and Allen Kearns
-“Tanned Legs” sung by Ann Pennington

Allen Kearns and Ann Pennington in "Tanned Legs" (1929)

Allen Kearns and Ann Pennington in “Tanned Legs” (1929)

My Review:
Director Busby Berkeley is frequently credited as “saving the movie musical.” Berkley’s elaborate kaleidoscopic-like dance numbers set to tunes written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren graced movie screens in the early 1930s. Before that, movie musicals were frankly a mess and were quickly losing popularity.
Take “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” number from “Broadway Melody” (1929). A mess. Seriously. The number starts with two girls dancing and all of a sudden more and more and more dancers come on stage until there are maybe 40 dancers. The number of people isn’t unusual, except everyone is flailing and doing their own thing– from pirouettes across the stage to cartwheels to high kicks.
This wasn’t unusual before Berkeley figured out how to make musicals work with the dawn of sound.
“Tanned Legs” is not quite as bad when it comes to musical numbers, but you can certainly use it as a gauge of how movie musicals evolved into something much more sophisticated even three years later with “42nd Street” (1933).
In the first number called “Come in the Water, the Water Is Fine,” the camera man starts out about 50 to 100 feet away from the stage. I think it was supposed to be like a person watching from the distance, and then moving closer.
As the camera gets closer, June Clyde is just standing and singing and girls are doing odd (and sloppy) sumersaults behind her. They aren’t even together. They all lay down, lifting their legs in a sequence, but not together.
The plot is about as mediocre as the musical numbers but is rather charming in the “1920s flaming youth” sort of way.
For me, the biggest treat was seeing Sally Blane, sister to Loretta Young, and Ann Pennington in a film- it was actually the first time I had ever seen either actress perform.
If you are looking for terrific acting, fascinating musical numbers and catchy songs- this movie really isn’t for you. But you have to keep in mind that this talkie is very early in the dawn of sound period- so they were still learning.
If you are looking for a time capsule into film history, 1920s flappers and the evolution of movie musicals, this may be more for you.

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Musical Monday: Hullabaloo (1940)

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.

hullaballoo3This week’s musical:
“Hullabaloo” –Musical #497

Studio:
MGM

Director:
Edwin L. Marin

Starring:
Frank Morgan, Dan Dailey, Virginia Grey, Billie Burke, Donald Meek, Reginald Owen, Virginia O’Brien, Nydia Westman, Leni Lynn, Charles Holland, Sara Haden, Ann Morriss, Larry Nunn, Curt Bois, Jack Albertson, Leo Gorcey, Arthur O’Connell

Plot:
Out of work vaudeville star Frankie Merriweather (Morgan) is trying to break into radio. When Frankie gets his own radio show, he is immediately fired when he causes a panic with his “Battle of the Planets” when listeners think it is a newscast, because he bypassed the advertisements.
Trying to figure out how to get back into his career and pay alimony to three ex-wives, Frankie gets his children (Grey, Lynn, Nunn) into the act.

Trivia:
-Virginia O’Brien’s first screen appearance
-Frank Morgan does a radio show called “Battle of the Planets,” which is a spoof of Orson Welles’s 1938 broadcast “The War of the Worlds.”
-Frank Morgan does “impressions” of Robert Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Hedy Lamarr on the phone, and Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracey in a a scene from “Boomtown.” The “Boomtown” impression is straight from the film. Mickey Rooney and Hedy Lamarr sound like they are not the real actors doing the voice over.
-Dan Dailey and Virginia Grey whistle “A Handful of Stars.” Their whistling is dubbed by Elvida Rizzo and Morton Scott

Highlights:
-Leo Gorcey in a small role as a bellhop
-Frank Morgan’s celebrity “impressions” (That are dubbed by the stars or other impersonators)

Frank Morgan has to earn money to pay alimony to three wives.

Frank Morgan has to earn money to pay alimony to three wives.

Notable Songs:
-“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”
-“We’ve Come a Long Way Together”
-“When My Baby Smiles at Me”
-“A Handful of Stars”

My Review:

Dan Dailey and Virginia Grey in "Hullabaloo" (1940).

Dan Dailey and Virginia Grey in “Hullabaloo” (1940).

While Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is often best remembered for it’s lavish, big-budget musicals such as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Babes in Arms” or “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
However, the studio also cranked out several B-level musicals, that are equally entertaining. “Hullabaloo” is an example of one of those lower budget musicals.
Frank Morgan and Virginia Grey are the leads in this film, and while they were famous and appeared in several films, they generally were supporting roles in larger budget MGM movies.
While the movie’s plot is about actors trying to break into radio, it gives an interesting glimpse into entertainment history.
The radio is seen as an “economic salvation” for struggling vaudeville stars as they transition their careers, according to “Radio in the Movies: A History and Filmography, 1926-2010″ By Laurence Etling.
Radio was another outlet for vaudeville stars to keep performing as that medium of entertainment faded.
There are also a few notable things about this 78 minute film. First, just a couple of years after Orson Welles’s 1938 broadcast “The War of the Worlds,” “Hullabaloo” spoofs the panic that Welle’s radio broadcast caused. I thought it was interesting just because it showed how “War of the Worlds” impacted pop culture- even then- enough to joke about. I could be wrong, but I feel like could be comparative to jokes in the media about current celebrities.
Another highlight in the film are Frank Morgan’s “celebrity impressions.” Obviously…Morgan is not actually doing the impressions- most of them sound like the real actor speaking – but it’s so ridiculous to see that it’s humorous.
But for me, the true highlight was Virginia O’Brien’s first credited on-screen role. The frozen-faced singer pops on screen for two musical performances.
Though it’s a very silly film, if you have a little over an hour to spare, “Hullabaloo,” isn’t a bad way to spend it.

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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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