Review: “Hot Rods to Hell” (1967)

hot rods to hellWe all have at least one guilty pleasure film that is so terrible, but we inexplicably love it.

I have several, and one of them is the 1967 drama/thriller “Hot Rods to Hell.” It is one of those films where you laugh at the ridiculous lines and moments but have a desire to rewatch it constantly.

Originally made for TV but released in theaters, the camp film stars veteran Hollywood stars Jeanne Crain, as Peg Phillips, and Dana Andrews, as Tom Phillips.

This is one of four films Andrews and Crain made together during their Hollywood careers that spanned the 1940s through the 1970s.

Their first film together was movie musical “State Fair” (1945) where Crain plays a farm girl named Margy who meets Andrews, a reporter named Pat, and falls in love with him at the state fair.

“State Fair” ends with the two happily running towards each other and kissing in the street.

I like to imagine that “Hot Rods to Hell” is Margy and Pat 22 years later with their children.

The movie follows the couple and their two children Tina, played by Laurie Mock, and Jamie, played by Jeffrey Byron, as they move from their New England home to run a motel in California after Tom is in a serious wreck.

The film begins with Tom driving home from a business trip to celebrate Christmas with his family. A reckless driver causes the accident and leaves Tom with a back problem and some mental issues. Due to the wreck, he no longer wants to drive and can’t listen to Christmas music.

Tom’s brother arranges for the family to move to California to run the motel, believing it will benefit Tom’s physical and mental health.

Drag racing teens running cars off the road: Ernie, Gloria and Duke played by Gene Kirkwood, Mimsy Farmer and Paul Bertoya.

Drag racing teens running cars off the road: Ernie, Gloria and Duke played by Gene Kirkwood, Mimsy Farmer and Paul Bertoya.

As the family is driving through the desert in their station wagon, they encounter teenagers drag racing a modified 1958 Chevrolet Corvette.

“Run them off the road, Duke. Run them off the road,” shouts the teenage girl Gloria, played by Mimsy Farmer, as she is perched on the back of the car as they race.

The teenagers are children of local, wealthy farmers who don’t care what the teens do. The teenagers have a constant thirst to get their “kicks” but nothing will satisfy them.

“What kind of animals are those,” Tom shouts as they are nearly run off the road. “They are insane.”

Peg covers her face with her hands and screams, “Tom I can’t stand it!”

Tina, who desperately wants to be a hip teenager, defends them by saying that all the kids drag race.

The majority of the 92 minute movie involves Duke, played by Paul Bertoya; Gloria and Ernie, played by Gene Kirkwood, harassing the Phillips family on the road. They tailgate the family through small towns, try to run them off the road and follow them to a picnic ground, where Duke attempts to seduce Tina.

Tina is frightened but fascinated with the bad kids.

When the Phillips finally arrives at the motel, rather than finding solace, there is more trouble.

The motel and the adjacent a bar and grill are inhabited by the drag racers and other teens like them. The previous owner allowed the teenagers to drink and have trysts in the motel. It makes you wonder if Tom’s brother did any research on the spot before encouraging the Phillips to move there.

When the drag racers discover the Phillips are the new owners, they do all they can to make them leave; knowing Tom will sanitize the spot.

The family is terrorized by the drag racers.

The family is terrorized by the drag racers.

Frightened and disgusted with what they find, the Phillips decide to stay the night at the hotel before figuring out what their next move should be.

Tina, still fascinated with Duke, goes to see him at the bar, almost like she is thinking, “Oh these people have been terrorizing my family all day. I think I’ll go hang with them.”

Jealous Gloria tells Tom and who tries to strangle Duke.

“Tina how far would you have gone,” Peg yells at her daughter. “Are you going to end up in a motel room with any man?!”

The family leaves the hotel to get the police, and the drag racers continue to follow the Phillips family.

“Oh they’re back again,” Jamie screams. “They want to crack us up!”

After even more harassment, Tom finally and successfully stands up to Duke and Ernie.

Tom places his car in the middle of the road in a game of “chicken” and the family hides. Duke and Ernie swerves to miss the car and crashes.

The crash causes an immediate attitude change and the boys tell Tom they won’t give him anymore trouble. The film ends with Tom deciding to go back and run the motel properly.

“Hot Rods to Hell” is truly a terrible movie, but I can’t get enough of it.

Duke tries to seduce Tina, played by Laurie Mock.

Duke tries to seduce Tina, played by Laurie Mock.

The hilarious lines and the over reacting to the situations make it a true guilty pleasure and cult classic.

But at the same time, it’s sort of sad. To see 1940s and 1950s stars Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain late in their career and performing in this type of film is disheartening.

Crain was a top star at 20th Century Fox in the 1940s and 1950s and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in “Pinky” (1949).

Dana Andrews previously starred in top notch films such as the noir “Laura” (1944) and the post-war drama “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946).

However, Andrews had children in college so he had to work, said the Carl Rollyson biography “Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews.”

While the old glamorous and glittering Golden Era of film was fading, the top stars were retiring or resorting to cult films like this one to continue to make money.

To compare, Joan Crawford was killing people with an ax in “STRAIT-JACKET” (1964) and Lana Turner was drugged with LSD in “The Big Cube” (1969).

While I marvel at the beautiful films in the early careers of these stars, I also can’t get enough of their late careers. Classic Hollywood’s career downturns have turned into our guilty pleasures.

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Musical Monday: “The Time, the Place and the Girl” (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.


This week’s musical:

“The Time, The Place, The Girl” – Musical #490

picture

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
David Butler

Starring:
Dennis Morgan, Martha Vickers, Jack Carson, Janis Paige, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Alan Hale, Donald Woods, Florence Bates, Angela Greene
Themselves: Carmen Cavallaro, dancer brothers Frank and Harry Condos

Plot:
Steven Ross (Morgan) and Jeff Howard (Carson) are trying to open a night club in New York.
However, problems arise when they realize their club is next door to classical conductor Ladislaus Cassel (Sakall) and his opera singing granddaughter Vicki (Vickers). Vicki’s stuffy manager Martin Drew (Woods) works to shut the club down with the help of Vicki’s equally proper grandmother (Bates), under the premise that the noise would bother the home’s high-brow performers.
Tired of being controlled by Martin-who also sets her bedtime and won’t let her go out, Vicki slips away form home and meets Ross and Howard. Becoming friends with them, she helps to keep their club open and finds a backer for their show.

Dennis Morgan shows S.Z. Sakall and Martha Vickers how to play swing on the flute.

Dennis Morgan shows S.Z. Sakall and Martha Vickers how to play swing on the flute.

Trivia:
-Martha Vickers was dubbed by Sally Sweetland.
-Nominated for Best Music, Original Score for the song “A Gal in Calico” written by Arthur Schwartz and Leo Robin.

Awards/Nominations:
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for “A Gal in Calico” by Arthur Schwartz and Leo Robin

Highlights:
-Girls dressed as cows in the “A Gal in Calico” number. I just thought it was amusing. 
-Pianist Carmen Cavallaro appearing in the film. 

Notable Songs:
-“A Gal in Calico” sung by Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan
-“Through a Thousand Nights” sung by Dennis Morgan and performed by Carmen Cavallero
-“A Rainy Night in Rio” performed by Jack Carson, Dennis Morgan, Janis Paige, Martha Vickers (Sally Sweetland)
-“Oh, But I Do” sung by Dennis Morgan

My Review:
There is nothing remarkable about “The Time, The Place and the Girl,” but it’s fun.
I think the most notable thing about the film are it’s two leading men: Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson. The two actors starred in several films together. These days, I think they are often overlooked as a comedic duo.
Their film appearances together include: Wings for the Eagle (1942), The Hard Way (1943), Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), Shine on Harvest Moon (1944), Hollywood Canteen (1944), Two Guys from Milwaukee (1946), One More Tomorrow (1946),Always Together (1947), Two Guys from Texas (1948) and It’s a Great Feeling (1949)
It’s also fun to see Janis Paige as a young Warner starlet. I feel that in the 1940s, she took over the goofy sexpot roles that Jane Wyman previously played for Warner Brothers.
S.Z. Sakall is always funny and adorable with his accent and mispronunciations (this time he calls Philadelphia “PhillyDilly”), and Florence Bates is good in nearly every film she plays.
Maybe what was slightly lacking for me was the leading lady. Martha Vickers was certainly lovely to look at, but not overly memorable for me. It seemed like she was stepping in to a Joan-Leslie-Like role but didn’t have the sweetness and shine that Leslie had.
One low point is when Jack Carson sings in black face. The theatrical makeup is always off-putting and (obviously) dated but not a stranger to any pre-1960 musical.
Overall, the film is colorful and has some great music. Maybe it would have raised in the ranks slightly for me if there was another leading lady.

Jack Carson, Janis Paige, Martha Vickers and Dennis Morgan during the "Rainy Night in Rio" number.

Jack Carson, Janis Paige, Martha Vickers and Dennis Morgan during the “Rainy Night in Rio” number.

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The First Lady of Baseball: Laraine Day

She was a perfect mix of sophistication and fresh-faced beauty.

Laraine Day was an All-American girl next door, who played Nurse Mary Lamont in the “Doctor Kildare” film series while under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Day co-starred with top Hollywood stars such as John Wayne, Cary Grant, Lana Turner and was directed once by Alfred Hitchcock.

Day and Durocher smitten on the set of "Tycoon" in 1947.

Day and Durocher smitten on the set of “Tycoon” in 1947.

The sweet-as-pie actress married the baseball infielder and manager, Leo Durocher. Nicknamed “Leo the Lip,” Durocher was a controversial figure in the sport, known for being outspoken.

During their marriage, Day became known as “The First Lady of Baseball.”

Durocher’s professional baseball career began in 1925 playing with the New York Yankees and continued on with the Cincinnati Reds from 1930 to 1933, St. Louis Cardinals from 1933 to 1937 and the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1938 to 1941, 1943 and 1945.

Durocher managed the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and Taiheiyo Club Lions.

Durocher was the manager of the New York Giants from 1948 to 1955 while he was married to Day.

Day served almost as a mascot and public relations manager for the team. She was friends with the ballplayers, their wives and the sportswriters and their wives. She was said to have polished the rough Durocher.

Day even hosted a “Day with the Giants,” which was a 15 minute television broadcast before each Giants home game. She also wrote the books about the teams called “Day with the Giants” (1952) and “The America We Love,” though the books are also said to be ghostwritten.

While they were married, she would watch nearly 77 games each year.

Day cheers for the Giants in 1948.

Day cheers for the Giants in 1948.

“It’s making a nervous wreck out of me. I don’t feel like an average fan,” she said in a 1954 Associated Press interview. “Winning and losing affects our lives. It’s our future.”

She even adjusted her film career around his career, only making one movie per year and doing the occasional television show.

During the season, Day would go to spring training and attend every home game but stayed home with the children when the team went on the road, according to the article.

“Before I married Leo, I wanted to win an Academy Award,” she said. “Now all I want is for us to win a pennant. My work is secondary.”

But before meeting Durocher, Day wasn’t a baseball fan. She didn’t even know who he was.

Day, then married to musician Ray Hendricks, met Durocher at the Stork Club in 1944.

Everyone applauded when he entered and Day asked a friend who he was. The friend told her Durocher played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Day apparently asked, “What’s a Dodger?,” according to the book “The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age” by  Robert Weintraub.

“I didn’t know who he was, but I certainly did dislike him,” she said in a 1954 Associated Press interview, “Laraine Day Now No. One Fan of Giants.”

But the ice melted two years later when Day met Durocher on a flight. She was on her way to Minneapolis and was delayed in Chicago. So was Durocher. By the time their flight left, Day was smitten, according to the book by Weintraub.

Durocher was a well-known ladies man, being seen on occasion with actresses Betty Hutton, Linda Darnell and Copacabana show girl Edna Ryan.

Hollywood’s nice girl started an affair with the rough baseball player, and eventually filed for divorce with Hendricks in 1946. She was granted an interlocutory divorce from Hendricks on Jan.  20, 1947, meaning she had to wait one year before remarrying, according to Weintraub.

However, on January 21, 1947, Day traveled to Mexico where she received a second divorce decree and joined Durocher in Texas to be married.

Leo Durocher and Laraine Day

Leo Durocher and Laraine Day

Day and Durocher were then surrounded by gossip and scandal, with Day being called an adulterer and bigamist.

It was deemed the Mexican divorce was not legal and her Texas marriage was illegal.

A year later, in February 1948, the two remarried and the Associated Press reported “Laraine Day, Leo Durocher to Wed Again.” Durocher was 42 and Day was 27, the Associated Press reported in the Feb. 14, 1948 article.

In 1955, Day found herself in another “scandal,” while she found herself in an unintentionally groundbreaking photo.

Center fielder Willie Mays played for Giants while Durocher was manager, and Day adored the ballplayer.

April 1955 Sports Illustrated cover with Willie Mays, Laraine Day and Leo Durocher. The cover sparked controversy in 1955.

April 1955 Sports Illustrated cover with Willie Mays, Laraine Day and Leo Durocher. The cover sparked controversy in 1955.

“While I interviewed many ballplayers, the favorite of all is Willie Mays, who suffers tortures in the air and yet wins the heart of everybody,” Day is quoted in “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend” by James S. Hirsch.

Mays, Day and Durocher were featured on the April 11, 1955, cover of “Sports Illustrated.” Day stands between the two men with her hands on both of their shoulders.

But in 1955, it was an outrage that a white woman would have her hand on a black man’s shoulder.

Letters were sent to the magazine, now only a year old, from outraged readers and others asking to cancel their subscriptions, according to Hirsch’s book.

After 13 years of marriage, Durocher and Day divorced in 1960.

After their divorce, Day said she was done with baseball, according her New York Times obituary.

“When our relationship was over, so was my relationship with baseball,” the obituary quoted Day.

However, Day did return to baseball once more in 1994.

Durocher, who passed away in 1991, was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Day attended the ceremony in 1994 on her former husband’s behalf.

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Musical Monday: “Jupiter’s Darling” (1955)

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.


Jupiters-darling-1955This week’s musical:

“Jupiter’s Darling” – Musical #110

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Marge Champion, Gower Champion, George Sanders, William Demarest, Richard Haydn, Norma Varden

Plot:
A fabricated tale based on a historical event set in 216 B.C. when Hannibal (Keel) marched on Rome. Amytis (Williams) is the fiance to Roman dictator Fabius (Sanders). Curious and spirited Amytis hears Hannibal is attractive and wants to check out him, his troops and elephants that are stationed outside Rome. Amytis and her slave girl, Meta (Champion), are captured and brought to Hannibal. Amytis charms Hannibal, purposefully delaying he and his troops from attacking Rome.

Trivia:
-Remake of “The Private Life of Helen of Troy” (1927) which starred Maria Corda, Lewis Stone, Ricardo Cortez and Alice White.
-Esther William’s singing was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer.
-In the film, Esther Williams’ character rides a horse that dives off of a cliff into water. Esther Williams wrote in her autobiography, “Million Dollar Mermaid” that director George Sidney wanted her to do the stunt but she refused. Stunt man Al Lewin performed the stunt and broke his back in the process.
-Esther Williams’ last film made under contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
-The pool Williams swims in was modeled after William Randolph Hearst’s pool at his estate, San Simeon, according to Esther Williams’ autobiography.
-The “underwater statues” in the “I Have a Dream” underwater sequence were secured to the bottom of the pool wearing cleats, according to Williams’ autobiography.
-Williams broke her left eardrum, which had been broken five times before in films, while swimming in the 25 feet deep pool for the “I Have a Dream” sequence, according to her autobiography.
-The Hayes of Office, which dictated the moral censorship production codes, was uncertain about the scantily clad “marble statues” during the “I Have a Dream” sequence, Williams wrote.
-The movie opened to a disappointing box office. Williams wrote this was “not surprising.”
-Howard Keel said he felt this was the best film he and Williams made together and Hannibal was his best performance, he wrote in his autobiography “Only Make Believe.”
-In one scene, Keel and Williams walk in with a leopard. The director suggested Keel pick up the leopard and the animal bit his shoulder. Thankfully he was wearing leather armor, according to Keel’s autobiography.

Esther Williams swimming with a "marble statue" in the 'I Have a Dream" sequence.

Esther Williams swimming with a “marble statue” in the ‘I Have a Dream” sequence.

Highlights:
-The underwater, swimming “I Have a Dream” dream sequence with men painted like white marble statues. Notable mainly because it’s a bit odd, but it is staged pretty nicely too since it is all underwater. This includes swimming small children dressed as cherubs who shoot arrows.
-Husband and wife dancers Marge and Gower Champion to the song “If This Be Slavery.” The actual song is silly but this is the one dance in the movie that really show cases their talent. The dance with “The Life Of An Elephant” is a bit distracted by the actual elephants (though the babies are really cute).

Notable Songs:
-“Don’t Let This Night Get Away” sung by Howard Keel
-“I Have a Dream” sung by Esther Williams, dubbed by Jo Ann Greer

My Review:
Esther Williams is one of my favorite stars, but “Jupiter’s Darling” is just no good. And Williams knew it too, according to her autobiography.
“Jupiter’s Darling” is not just a turning point in Esther Williams’ career but also the movie musical at MGM.
This musical marks the end of Esther Williams’ MGM career. At one point, she was MGM’s top star. After 12 years at MGM, it’s sad that her career at the studio that made her famous was a bit of a dud.
To put it into context, gossip columns around this time were writing “The Mermaid on the Lot has been beached,” according to Williams’ autobiography.
She was originally supposed to star the musical “Athena,” but was replaced by Jane Powell (but if you ask me-that wouldn’t have been any better of a last MGM film than this one).
Led by studio head Dore Schary, MGM was suffering and many of it’s major stars were leaving. Greer Garson, Clark Gable and Van Johnson were already “jumping ship.”
At the same time “Jupiter’s Darling” was released, Lana Turner also suffered from bad reviews for her film “The Prodigal.” Trade papers were both saying Williams and Turner were losing their fan base.
After this film, Williams was offered the lead in “The Opposite Sex,” the remake of “The Women” (1939). Williams wrote in her autobiography she thought it was ridiculous to remake the classic and refused. Williams realized Schary was probably purposefully giving her terrible scripts and that this was the end of her career, so she left and broke her contract.
It had been over 10 years since I last saw this movie and in my mind it was the worst movie.
After revisiting it- while “Jupiter’s Darling” isn’t the worst film ever made- it’s simply not very good.
In the 1950s and 1960s, several ancient history films were being made such as “The Robe,” “Ben-Hur” or “Spartacus.” “Jupiter’s Darling” fits into that fad but it just doesn’t work. Probably because it is so historically inaccurate.
The songs are ridiculous such as “Never Trust a Woman” which has lyrics about decapitating or “Hannibal” which is simply “Hannibal, oh Hannibal we’re fighting men of Hanniabl.”
I will admit that the color is beautiful and Williams’ looks gorgeous in the Roman costumes. However, set dressing and costumes can not save this film.
It’s a shame that Esther Williams glittering career had to end with such a dud. If you have never seen an Esther Williams film, don’t start with this one.

Esther Williams and Howard Keel in "Jupiter's Darling"

Esther Williams and Howard Keel in “Jupiter’s Darling”

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Musical Monday: The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1950)

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_Daughter_of_Rosie_O'Grady_FilmPosterThis week’s musical:

“The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady” – Musical #387

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
David Butler

Starring:
June Haver, Gordon MacRae, S.Z Sakall, Gene Nelson, Debbie Reynolds, Marcia Mae Jones, Jane Darwell, James Barton, Sean McClory, Virginia Lee

Plot:
Set right at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, overly protective father Dennis O’Grady (Barton) doesn’t want his three daughters (Haver, Reynolds, Jones) to be in show business. The vaudeville lifestyle is what caused his wife, Rosie O’Grady, to pass away. He also is wary of his daughters dating, though one is secretly married.
But Patricia (Haver)-the daughter of Rosie O’Grady- disobeys and walks through the theater district and meets Tony Pastor (Gordon). Tony takes a fancy to Patricia, and she starts a career in vaudeville and a romance with Tony.

Trivia:
-Debbie Reynold’s first speaking film. Previously she was in “June Bride” (1948) but did not have any lines.
-Gordon MacRae’s character plays Tony Pastor, who in real life was vaudeville performer and he owned a theater. He was known as the “Father of Vaudeville.” Though MacRae’s character shares a name with Pastor, there doesn’t seem to be any other similarity.

The O'Grady daughters: June Haver, Marcia Mae Jones, Debbie Reynolds

The O’Grady daughters: June Haver, Marcia Mae Jones, Debbie Reynolds

Highlights:
-Gene Nelson dancing. Nelson is one of the most underrated tap dancers of the Golden Era.
-Christmas is included in the movie. Christmas scenes always make me happy.
-Debbie Reynolds first time speaking on screen.

 

 

 

Notable Songs:
-“My Own True Love and I” sung by June Haver and James Barton
-“Winter” sung by June Haver
-“Daughter of Rosie O’Grady” sung by Gordon MacRae

june haverMy Review:
“Daughter of Rosie O’Grady” is visually beautiful in Technicolor and chock full of Warner contract players.
However, it does not seem to be in any way connected with the 1943 20th Century Fox film “Sweet Rosie O’Grady” starring Betty Grable. No, it doesn’t appear that June Haver is supposed to be Grable’s daughter.
While the film is pleasant, something falls short.
I think it’s possibly because I feel like some of the talents are wasted.
Gene Nelson, who plays dancer Doug Martin in the film, is probably one of the most underrated dancers of the Golden Era. But that superlative isn’t obvious in this movie.
He has one solo dance and a few partner dances with Miss Haver, and while his footwork is fancy, it wasn’t enough to show off his true talent.
Golden voiced Gordon MacRae also doesn’t sing enough songs in this film.
When June Haver started in Hollywood, she was dubbed the “Pocket Betty Grable” and pitted as a rival to the star with the Million Dollar Legs. But when I see Haver in films, something is lacking that is in every Grable film for me.
She is pleasant, pretty, dances well and I like her well enough, but I can’t put my finger on what is missing.
I think the most notable thing about this film is 18-year-old Debbie Reynolds in her first speaking film role. She already had the energy and wit she was later known for.
I also love seeing former child actress Marcia Mae Jones as a lovely adult. You may know her as the snobby rich girl in “The Little Princess” (1939) who Shirley Temple dumps ashes on.
Actor James Barton was also a former vaudeville star. At the end he performs a comedic ice skating routine-but not wearing skates. One has to wonder if that was an old routine from his days on stage.
“Daughter of Rosie O’Grady” is pleasant. I wouldn’t say avoid it, but I also wouldn’t say to go out of your way to watch it.

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Who are your neighbors?: 60 years of peeping through the “Rear Window”

Do you know your neighbors?
The family with the dog that barks all night, the child who rides through your yard on his bike or the woman who sends flowers when a relative dies?
Stuck in his wheelchair with a broken leg, James Stewart’s character in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954) got acquainted with his neighbors through a telephoto lens.
In a New York flat, the injured photographer passes the hours watching other apartment dwellers who live around a courtyard.

courtyard
While spying through his zoom lens, L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies ( James Stewart) may have stumbled across a murder.  Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), who lives across the courtyard, had an invalid wife who suddenly no longer exists and Jeff wants to know why.
While James Stewart in his wheelchair and Grace Kelly in her Edith Head gowns take center stage-flanked by Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr- those being peeped upon are equally important in this “Is this woman dead?” story.
But who were these people? As “Rear Window” celebrates its 60th birthday, premiering on the big screen Aug. 1, 1954, let’s take a look at who “Miss Torso,” “Miss Lonelyheart” and the amorous newlyweds are.

The Neighbors:

Judith Evelyn plays Miss Lonelyheart. She prepares to go on a date.

Judith Evelyn plays Miss Lonelyheart. She prepares to go on a date.

-Miss Lonelyheart: Miss Lonelyheart is the middle aged woman in the courtyard who longs for love but has yet to find it. Jeff watches her pantomime that she is on a date and then cry that she doesn’t have a lover. When she finally has a date, the man aggressively tries to make love to her and she pushes him from the house and sobs.
Miss Lonelyheart is played by Judith Evelyn who also performed in the films “The Egyptian” (1954), “Giant” (1956) and “The Tingler” (1958). Evelyn had a career on Broadway in the plays “Craig’s Wife” as Mrs. Craig in the 1947 revival and “The Shrike” as Ann Downs in 1952. Evelyn won the Drama League’s Distinguished Performance Award in 1942.
Evelyn was married to Canadian radio performer Andrew Allan. Allan, Evelyn and her father were aboard the Athenia in 1939 and were traveling through the Irish Sea, the body of water that separates Ireland and Great Britain. The ship was torpedoed by a German submarine on Sept. 3, 1939, three days after the Germans invaded Poland. This was the first British passenger liner sunk by Germans. Six out of 85 passengers survived, including Allan and Evelyn, but her father died.

Ross Bagdasarian plays the "Songwriter," pictured here with Alfred Hitchcock in his signature cameo.

Ross Bagdasarian plays the “Songwriter,” pictured here with Alfred Hitchcock in his signature cameo.

-The Songwriter: The Songwriter has the lavish apartment with large windows. His piano music serenades the apartment courtyard for much of the film as he composes. It’s in the Songwriter’s apartment where director Alfred Hitchcock makes his cameo. The Songwriter’s composing stops Miss Lonelyheart from committing suicide…and distracts Lisa (Grace Kelly) from doing some investigative work.
The songwriter is played by Ross Bagdasarian, who actually was a composer. Bagdasarian is also known as “David Seville,” father and creator of Alvin and the Chipmunks. He wrote the “Chipmunk Song” (Christmas Don’t Be Late) in 1958, which he won a Grammy Award. Bagdasarian was also the voice of David Seville in the 1960s “Alvin and the Chipmunk” cartoon.
Along with the Chipmunks, Bagdasarian wrote songs including “Come On-A to My House” made famous by Rosemary Clooney and “Alfi and Harry,” which was the theme of the Hitchcock film “The Trouble With Harry” (1955).

Georgine Darcy plays the dancer "Miss Torso"

Georgine Darcy plays the dancer “Miss Torso”

-Miss Torso: Miss Torso is the sexy ballet dancer who lives directly across the way from Jeff. She dances her way through her morning routine, entertains men and is happy to see her military boyfriend at the end of the film.
The pretty blond dancer is played by Georgine Darcy, who studied with the New York City Ballet. Her mother, however, encouraged her to be a stripper to make a “fast buck,” according to her 2004 obituary.
When cast as Miss Torso, she didn’t know who director Alfred Hitchcock was. She was paid $350 for the role, and Hitchcock encouraged her to get an agent and study acting, but she didn’t. She was only in a handful of films and television appearances from 1954 to 1971. She was married to actor and singer Byron Palmer from 1974 until her death in 2004.

Sara Berner lowers their dog down into the courtyard. Frank Handy sits inside the apartment.

Sara Berner lowers their dog down into the courtyard. Frank Handy sits inside the apartment.

-The Couple on the Fire Escape: On hot summer evenings, this couple sleeps on a mattress on their fire escape. Each night, the wife lowers their small dog down into the courtyard in a basket and then lifts the dog back up in the basket. The dog serves as a turning point in the film.
The husband is played by Frank Cady, best known for his role as Sam Drucker on the TV shows “Petticoat Junction,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Green Acres.”
Though best known for his television roles, Cady was also in several films including “Ace in the Hole” (1951) and “The Bad Seed” (1956).
The wife is played by Sara Berner, who was a voice actor in several Warner Brothers animated shorts from 1933 to 1946. Berner was the voice of Jerry the Mouse in “The Worry Song” when Tom danced with Gene Kelly in “Anchors Away” (1945).

Rand Harper and Havis Davenport play the newlyweds.

Rand Harper and Havis Davenport play the newlyweds.

-The Newlyweds: One of the first neighbors in the courtyard we are introduced to are the newlyweds. They are moving into their new apartment as the film starts. The landlord shows the couple the apartment, and the two keep trying to steal kisses as the landlord shows them from room to room. When he finally leaves, the husband carries his new bride through their threshold. The shade is drawn to their apartment for a great deal of the film, implying that they are….getting acquainted.
The husband is played by Rand Harper who played several bit parts in “Sabrina” (1954), “The FBI Story” (1959) and the TV show “Sea Hunt.”
The wife is played by Havis Davenport who played bit roles in film and TV such as “A Star is Born” (1954). She retired from acting in 1957.

Jesslyn Fax plays the sculpting neighbor.

Jesslyn Fax plays the sculpting neighbor.

-Sculpting Woman: The sculpting neighbor uses a hearing aid, appears to maybe be a bit of a busy body and is sculpting odd shapes in the courtyard. At the beginning she tries to say good morning to mysterious Thorwald (Burr) and he practically sneers at her.
The sculpting woman is played by Jesslyn Fax. This was not her only Alfred Hitchock project. Fax appeared in a bit role in “North by Northwest,” three “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episodes and two “Alfred Hitchcock Hour” episodes.
Fax appeared in several films and television shows including “Music Man” (1962), “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955), “An Affair to Remember” (1957), “The Best of Everything” (1959) and an episode of “I Love Lucy.”

 Added bonus: When James Stewart talks to his editor on the telephone, the voice is actor Gig Young.

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Classic films in music videos: “Head On (Hold On to Your Heart)” by Man Man

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

The band Man-Man, categorized as “experimental rock,” uses several themes influenced by the 1950s in their music videos.

In their video “Piranhas Club,” a little boy starts a 1950s-like “biker gang” with his friends. The music video “Rabbit Habits” is shot in black and white and a girl turns into a werewolf. She befriends another of her kind in town and the two go on a date.

But in their video “Head On,” the band uses multiple film clips from 1950s and 1960s horror, crime and noir films that correspond with the lyrics in a humorous way.

Classic actors such as Marie Windsor, Victor Jory, Steve McQueen, Dennis Hopper and Barbara Stanwyck can all be seen in the music video.

Some of the films highlights include: 
-The Amazing Mr. X (1948)  starring Turhan Bey, Lynn Bari, Richard Carlson, Cathy O’Donnell- beginning to :10, 3:52 to 3:55
-Teenage Devil Dolls (1955), also known as “One Way Ticket to Hell”- :28 through :33
-Night Tide (1961) starring Dennis Hopper- :44 through :55, 1:40 to 1:54, 2:41 to 3:00, 3:34 to 3:36
-Carnival of Souls (1962)- :56 through 1:02, 2:35 to 2:40
-Dementia 13 (1963)-  1:04 through 1:11, 2:01 to 2:06, 3:27 to 3:33, 3:37 to 3:40
-Cat Women of the Moon (1953) starring Marie Windsor, Victor Jory, Sonny Tufts, Douglas Fowerly- 1:11 to 1:14, 1:55 to 2:00, 2:11 to 2:17
-The  Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959) starring Steve McQueen- 1:20 to 1:29, 2:18 to 2:34, very last shot
-War of the Planets (1966)- 1:33, 3:12 to 3:28
-The File on Thelma Jordan (1950) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, Paul Kelly- 3:56 to 4:15

Mary is chased by zombies in "Carnival of Souls" (1962)

Mary is chased by zombies in “Carnival of Souls” (1962)

This video cracks me up with the way some of the clips and lyrics are paired. For example, “There’s a hole your head” and someone is decapitated. I also chuckled when the organ solo corresponded with the girl from “Carnival of Souls” playing the church organ.

I tried to include the time markings for the scenes I was most certain. If you spot any other movies, comment below!

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Musical Monday: Stingaree (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.

StingareeThis week’s musical:

“Stingaree” –Musical #489

Studio:

RKO Radio Pictures

Director:

William A. Wellman

Starring:

Irene Dunne, Richard Dix, Mary Boland, Conway Tearle, Andy Devine, Henry Stephenson, Una O’Connor, Reginald Owen

Plot:

Set in Australia in 1874, housemaid Hilda (Dunne) dreams of having a singing career. The mistress of of the household Mrs. Clarkson (Boland) also fancies herself as a singer, though she is terrible. Composer Sir Julian Kent (Tearle) is coming from England to Australia and Hilda wants to perform for him. Mrs. Clarkson also thinks singing for Sir Julian will be her break into opera. Outlaw Stingaree (Dix) also comes into town at the same time as Sir Julian and poses as Julian. After meeting and falling for Hilda, Stingaree is determined to help her become an opera star.

Trivia:

-Turner Classic Movies premiered this film on their channel for the first time in 2007. “Stingaree” was part of a “Lost and Found” preservation series of RKO films produced by Marion C. Cooper. Other films in the series included with other films such as “Rafter Romance” (1933), “Double Harness” (1933), “One Man’s Journey” (1933), “A Man to Remember” (1938) and “Living on Love” (1937). In 1946, Cooper obtained ownership of the films and were shown on a limited re-release in 1955 and 1956 in New York City, according to Turner Classic Movies.

-RKO original considered Jeanette MacDonald in the film, on loan out from MGM.

-Based on a 1905 novel by Ernest William Hornug.

-For the opera scenes, the standing set from Lon Chaney’s “Phantom of the Opera” (1925) was used.

stingaree2

Notable Songs:
-“I Wish I Were a Fisherman” sung by Mary Boland (because it’s hilariously bad)

-“Once Your Mine” sung by Irene Dunne

-“Tonight is Mine” sung by Irene Dunne

Highlights:
Today’s highlights include a few scenes I enjoyed-

*Mary Boland is singing at a party and Stingaree enters with a gun to hold up the party and allow Irene Dunne to sing.

Sir Julian: My good man, being shot right now would be a favor.
Mary Boland: I will not sing for outlaws!
Richard Dix: Compassion for the outlaw!

*Mary Boland:…Why, the very foundation of empire is woman’s virginity.
Sir Julian: Chastity, madame, chastity. No empire would get very far with virginity.

*One of my favorite scenes, Boland sings at 2:25:

My Review

I first saw “Stingaree” back in 2007 when TCM aired it along with the other Marion C. Cooper films. For whatever reason, I didn’t write it down as a musical in my musical list- which explains why this is my 488 musical.

When I revisited this film recently, I realized that it was categorized as a musical-and while it was not a flashy musical in the style of “Broadway Melody of 1936″-the film is much like “San Francisco” (1936). The bulk of the film is the romantic, melodramatic story sprinkled with quality operatic numbers.

The story of “Stingaree” may be far-fetched, but I love this movie and think it’s a lot of fun. I guess you could say Stingaree the outlaw is like Robin Hood of Australia. Rather than stealing from the rich to give to the poor, he steals the rich people’s maid to make her an operatic star. It also has a few hilarious lines in it (see: Highlights).

Irene Dunne is mostly known today for her comedic roles, but she had a beautiful singing voice in a few musicals during the 1930s. Though I love MacDonald, I’m happy Dunne was the star of this film. She brought the sweetness that was needed to Hilda. This was her second teaming with Richard Dix after “Cimarron” (1931). Frankly, Dix drove me crazy in “Cimarron,” but he’s charming and very appealing as Stingaree.

Mary Boland plays her usual character as the fretting, dizzy and selfish woman. Her terrible opera singing is pretty hilarious. And as always, Henry Stephenson makes you want to give him a hug.

I would honestly put “Stingaree” on your ‘must see’ list. For folks who don’t like musicals, the songs are not overwhelming. It’s a fun romp that is forgotten and under-appreciated.

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The Queen of Technicolor, in person: Maureen O’Hara

Irish actress Maureen O'Hara, pictured here in the 1950s.

Irish actress Maureen O’Hara, pictured here in the 1950s.

Hundreds of people stood waiting, excitedly chattering.

A line wrapped up and down an alley at least four times and stretched out to Hollywood Boulevard.

When the doors to El Capitan Theater opened, people walked briskly, some even running, to get a good seat in the theater.

I waited in line for 2 hours and was the twentieth person in line.

The excitement was for a 93-year-old woman.

But not any woman, Irish screen legend Maureen O’Hara.

At this past April’s Turner Classic Movie (TCM) Film Festival in Los Angeles, O’Hara made a special appearance before a screening of “How Green Was My Valley” (1941).

TCM is now honoring the Irish actress as July’s Star of the Month.

Red-headed O’Hara started her film career in 1938, starred in several films directed by John Ford and was John Wayne’s most frequent leading lady.

Her red hair and green eyes dubbed O’Hara with the nickname “Queen of Technicolor.” Her film roles varied from serious dramas, swashbuckling pirate films to westerns.

In “How Green Was My Valley” (1941), the story of a Welsh mining family, O’Hara played Angharad. O’Hara’s character falls in love with the new minister, played by Walter Pidgeon.

Before the screening of O’Hara’s first John Ford film at TCMFF 2014, she was brought out onstage to discuss her life and career.

The line to see Maureen O'Hara outside the El Capitan theater in Los Angeles.

The line to see Maureen O’Hara outside the El Capitan theater in Los Angeles.

The audience exploded with applause and O’Hara was given a lengthy standing ovation. Several people around me were wiping tears from their eyes.

 

She modestly motioned from her wheel chair for everyone to sit down.

“I see a tear there,” said TCM primetime host Robert Osborne to O’Hara on stage.

Osborne interviewed O’Hara before the film, but kept it to 10 minutes so he would not tire her out. She was interviewed the next day in the Roosevelt Hotel lobby. The lobby of the historic hotel is transformed into “Club TCM” during the festival.

“Don’t laugh and applaud and think it means nothing,” she told the audience.

Osborne first asked about her relationship with director John Ford.

“I thought I was here to talk about me,” she said with quick wit.

Her mind was sharp and her voice sounded the same, just older. However, it was obvious O’Hara was weak in her old age. The classic actress turns 94 in August.

“I’m still here, I’m at quite an old age now,” O’Hara said. “It’s terrible thing, not to be sure of your age.”

O’Hara discussed God and religion and hoping she was able to live way beyond the years God gave us on Earth.

Maureen O'Hara interviewed by Robert Osborne at the El Capitan during the TCMFF 2014.

Maureen O’Hara interviewed by Robert Osborne at the El Capitan during the TCMFF 2014.

“So many of us (classic actors) have passed and are in heaven, and so many of us are looking towards heaven,” O’Hara said.

She said God is listening all the time and listening to see if he can catch you doing something you aren’t supposed to be doing.

During the interview a woman coughed or sneezed in the crowed and she asked her to stand. The embarrassed woman stood up and O’Hara simply wanted to bless her.

Though O’Hara is elderly, as film fans, we sometimes don’t think about the age of our favorite stars or silver screen heroes. We know them as they are in their films and forget just how old or frail they may be. It was a privilege to see O’Hara and some of the other classic stars in person at TCMFF. But also it was almost a little sad. It’s another reminder that the classic film lover’s reality actually fantasy.

And O’Hara reminded us of this when she told the audience that even though she was an actress, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking she is magical.

“Don’t be fooled in to thinking I do magical things,” she said.

Though O’Hara says she doesn’t do magical things, the ethereal feeling she gives her fans when she appears on screen is nothing less than enchanted.

Robert Osborne and Maureen O'Hara (Photo courtest of Getty)

Robert Osborne and Maureen O’Hara (Photo courtest of Getty)

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Musical Monday: Down Argentine Way (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.

Poster - Down Argentine Way_01This week’s musical:
Down Argentine Way” — Musical #273

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Irving Cummings

Starring:
Betty Grable, Don Ameche, Charlotte Greenwood, J. Carroll Naish, Carmen Miranda (as herself), Henry Stephenson, Leonid Kinskey, Fayard and Harold Nicholas (as themselves)

Plot:
Ricardo Quintana (Ameche) travels from his home in Argentina to New York to sell his prized race horse. His father (Stephenson) tells him not to sell his horse to any relative of Binnie Crawford (Greenwood), who’s brother cheated him and the two have been in a feud ever since. In New York, Ricardo meets Glenda Crawford (Grable) and falls for her. She also wants to buy his horse, unaware of the feud. When he learns who she is, he takes back his agreement to let her buy the horse. Glenda angrily follows Ricardo to Argentina.

Trivia:
-Remake of the 1938 film, “Kentucky” starring Loretta Young, Richard Greene and Walter Brennan. “Kentucky” is set in the American south and also deals with horse racing. Young and Greene’s families are feuding, because of an incident that occurred during the Civil War.

-Originally supposed to star Alice Faye, who had to drop out. Caesar Romero was supposed to play Leonid Kinskey’s role. The film ended up being a break through film for Betty Grable, who had been in films since the early 1930s, according to Hollywood Musicals Year by Year.

-First screen appearance of Carmen Miranda. Her scenes were shot in New York at the Movetone studio in Manhattan and edited into the Hollywood film, so her only film appearances are two songs and no dialogue with the characters. Miranda was performing on Broadway in “The Streets of Paris.” She made an impression on audiences and was signed to 20th Century Fox, according to Memo from Darryl F. Zannuck.

-Film gossip columnist Louella Parsons compared Don Ameche to Rudolph Valentino in this movie. She said he “has a good singing voice, but he has never been the least exciting until this movie,” she said in a Oct. 6, 1940, column.

-Don Ameche’s role was originally offered to Desi Arnaz, according to Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way by Gustavo Pérez Firmat

-Director Irving Cummings originally wanted to cut the Nicholas Brother’s three minute tap dance scene, according to Brotherhood in Rythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers by Constance Valis Hill.

Highlights:
-The Nicholas Brother’s tap dance performance.

-Carmen Miranda’s first screen appearance.

Notable Songs:
-“Down Argentine Way” sung by Betty Grable
-“Two Dreams Met” sung by Betty Grable and Don Ameche
-“Mamãe Yo Quero” sung by Carmen Miranda
-“South American Way” sung by Carmen Miranda

Betty Grable and Don Ameche in "Down Argentine Way"

Betty Grable and Don Ameche in “Down Argentine Way”

My Review:
“Down Argentine Way” may be looked upon as another colorful, fluffy Technicolor musical. But it’s an important step in two of the star’s careers and in Hollywood’s involvement with American foreign relations.
Catapulting star careers
Betty Grable, known for her “Million Dollar Legs,” started in films in bit roles in 1929. From 1929 through the late 1930s, she appeared as chorus girls-even in Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers films. “Down Argentine Way” was her first major Technicolor film, showcasing her beauty and musical talents. After this film, she became one of 20th Century Fox’s top stars.
Carmen Miranda arrived in New York via Brazil in May 1939 and started in Broadway in June 1939. “Down Argentine Way” was released in October 1940, only a little over a year from the time she arrived in the United States. Her brief appearance in the film, launched an American career, primarily from 1940 to 1945, and dubbing her the Brazilian Bombshell.
Foreign policy
Now it’s time for a brief history lesson thanks to my South American History and Policy class at Winthrop University. (I even semi led a Carmen Miranda discussion in the class):
During the President F. D. Roosevelt administration in 1933, FDR said (in a nutshell) that he wanted to be a good neighbor to other nations. The Secretary of State said no country had the right to intervene in internal or external affairs of another country. The United States had troops in South America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Due to the Good Neighbor Policy, the United States withdrew Marines who were occupying Haiti and Nicaragua.
To promote these neighborly relations, the United States worked to promote Latin America in culture. You can see the cultural impacts in films like “Down Argentine Way,” “That Night in Rio” or “Week-End in Havana.” Fashion was affected with espadrille shoes, fiesta blouses and peasant blouses. Music had a South American influence with bandleaders such as Xavier Cugat.
What does this have to do with movies? “Down Argentine Way” was one of the first Hollywood films that promoted the Good Neighbor Policy- showcasing the beautiful countries (via soundstage) and how wonderful and romantic the culture is.
“Down Argentine Way” isn’t the best film of Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda or Don Ameche. But it’s fun and beautifully colorful. The story is simple but it is important in the careers of a few Hollywood favorites.

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