Musical Monday: Sunny Side of the Street (1951)

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

sunny side of the streetThis week’s musical:
“Sunny Side of the Street” –Musical #487

Studio:
Columbia Pictures Corporations

Director:
Richard Quine

Starring:
Frankie Lane (as himself), Billy Daniels (as himself), Terry Moore, Jerome Courtland, Amanda Blake, Lynn Bari, Dick Wesson, Tori Arden (as herself), Audrey Long, William Tracy

Plot:
CBS Television Studio tour guide Ted Mason (Courtland) wants to be a singing star like Frankie Lane. Studio receptionist Betty Holloway (Moore) helps push him towards his goal and get him on television. But it’s his rich former girlfriend Gloria Pelley (Long) who lands Ted a high dollar contract. Romantic jealousy ensues.

Trivia:
-Filmed in “Super Cine Color”
-Scenes in this film show executives watching color television. By 1951, CBS created a color TV system. However, it failed because it was incompatible for most viewers. Color TV systems were later adopted in 1957.
-William Tracy, who plays Pepi in “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940), plays “Al Little” in this film and never speaks a word of dialogue. The character only whispers to others.
-Singers Frankie Lane, Tori Arden and Billy Daniels play themselves in the film.

Jerome Courtland wants to be a singing star in "Sunny Side of the Street."

Jerome Courtland wants to be a singing star in “Sunny Side of the Street.”

Notable Songs:
-”On the Sunny Side of the Street” sung by Frankie Lane
-”I’m Gonna Live Till I Die” sung by Frankie Lane
-”I May Be Wrong (But I think You’re Wonderful) sung by Frankie Lane and Tori Arden

Frankie Lane and Terry Moore

Frankie Lane and Terry Moore

My Review:
This is an interesting little film. It focuses on television when most film studios were wary of this new form of entertainment that could take audiences away from movie theaters.
None of the actors are remarkable in “Sunny Side of the Street.” Lynn Bari, who generally played a siren in 1940s films, plays the role of the older friend- skeptical of men but looking for love. Prior to this film, the only place I had seen Jerome Courtland prior was as “Tex” in “Battleground” (1949).
Most of the songs were pop standards when this film was released and are sung by recording stars such as Frankie Lane, Tori Arden and Billy Daniels. It’s entertaining to get a glimpse of popular music during this time.
“Sunny Side of the Street” is 71 minutes long, which is long enough for it’s plot. It’s not a remarkable film, but an interesting glimpse at how Hollywood incorporated television into a film.

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Memorial Day Musical Monday: This is the Army (1943)

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.

TitaposThis week’s musical:
“This is the Army” –Musical #488

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Michael Curtiz

Starring:
Joan Leslie, Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Charles Butterworth, George Tobias, Alan Hale, Dolores Costello, Una Merkel, Rosemary DeCamp, Dan Dailey (uncredited), Gary Merrill (uncredited), Gene Nelson (uncredited), Herb Anderson (uncredited), Victor Mature
As themselves: Frances Langford, Kate Smith, Joe Louis, Irving Berlin

Plot:

The movie starts in 1917, when dancer Jerry Jones (Murphy) is drafted to fight in World War I. Before leaving, he marries his sweetheart Ethel (DeCamp).
But before the soldiers are shipped overseas, Jones stages an all-soldier Broadway show called “Yip Yip Yaphank.” While fighting in France, Jones hurts his leg and will no longer be able to dance.
When he returns to the states, he becomes a producer, and his buddy Eddie Dibble (Butterworth) -who was the bugler in the Army-opens a music store.
Over 20 years pass, and we see Jones’s son Johnny (Reagan) preparing to fight in World War II. Dibble’s daughter Eileen (Leslie) wants to get married before Johnny goes overseas, but he doesn’t want to potentially leave her as a young widow.
Now that Johnny is in the military, he is given the order to create a military show just like his dad. This time, it’s called “This is the Army.”
Once the plot is set up, the remainder of the movie is the the actual show “This is the Army” including musical performances, a magic act, a comedian and acrobats.

Character actor Charles Butterworth is the bugler in World War I in "This is the Army"

Character actor Charles Butterworth is the bugler in World War I in “This is the Army”

Trivia:
-The movie came from two Irving Berlin shows “Yip Yip Yaphank” and “This is the Army,” according to a disclaimer from Warner Brothers at the beginning of the film. The cast of both the stage and play version of “This is the Army” included soldiers who were performers in civilian life.
-The original Broadway play of “This is the Army” came by request of the United States War Department. Irving Berlin received a letter in 1942 asking him to do a revival of the World War I show, “Yip Yip Yaphank,” to help raise funds for the Army Emergency Relief. Berlin had already considered doing this, but knew he had to change the title, according to The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin  edited by Robert Kimball, Linda Emmet
-Warner Brother’s first three strip Technicolor film.
-Warner Brother’s top film of 1943, earning $9,555,586.44. The money made was donated to the Army Emergency Relief.
-This is actress Dolores Costello’s last film.

Notable Songs:
-God Bless America sung by Kate Smith
-What Does He Look Like sung by Frances Langford
-This is the Army Mr. Jones sung by the chorus
-I’m Getting Tired So I Can Sleep sung by James Burrell
-Ladies of the Chorus sung by Alan Hale (dressed as a woman)
-I Left My Heart at the Stagedoor Canteen sung by Earl Oxford
-That’s What the Well Dressed Men in Harlem Wear sung by James Cross, featuring boxer Joe Louis
-Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning sung by Irving Berlin

Highlights:
-A disclaimer before the film noted that the Army does not condone black face, which is used in a number during the film, but says it is a part of history.
-Irving Berlin singing “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” in a rare film appearance.
-Real color footage of the attack of Pearl Harbor during the montage of the bombing.
-Alan Hale dressed as a woman in the musical number “Ladies in the Chorus.”
-Warner Brother stars such as Joan Leslie, Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Alan Hale, Charles Butterworth and Una Merkel in color!
-One of the character actors does fairly convincing speech impersonations of Herbert Marshall, Charles Boyer, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt.

My Review:

The romance between Joan Leslie and Ronald Reagan took up probably 20 minutes of this film.

The romance between Joan Leslie and Ronald Reagan took up probably 20 minutes of this film.

Like the rest of Hollywood during World War II, Warner Brothers was releasing star spangled patriotic films. Around this same time, “Hollywood Canteen” (1944) and “Thank Your Lucky Stars” (1943) were released. All three films focus mainly on musical performances and celebrity appearances (Kate Smith, Frances Langford, Joe Louis) and a very thin plot.

Other studio equivalents would be MGM’s “Two Girls and a Sailor” (1944) and Paramount’s “Star Spangled Rhythm” (1942).

But while the other four listed musicals still hold attention and are fun, somehow “This is the Army” falls flat. The initial plot set up seems promising, but after the first 45 minutes, the movie turns into musical number after number after number with little plot interlude. That is where “This is the Army” differs from similar films. For example, in “Hollywood Canteen,” you have the romance of Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton between the different performances.

The lack of plot interlude is honestly disappointing, because actress Joan Leslie and some of the other leads are maybe on screen for 20 to 30 minutes in the two hour and five minute film.

On a more technical side, the DVD print that came in the 2008 “Homefront Collection” isn’t very good. In close shots, the color is gorgeous. But in a few scenes, it looks over exposed and washed out.

When I first saw this movie in 2009, I really enjoyed it. Now I found I was rather bored. I appreciate any patriotic World War II film, because it gives you a feel of what audiences wanted during the war. After all, this was Warner Brother’s top film of 1943, so apparently audiences enjoyed it at the time. Or maybe they were watching the movie so their money would be donated to the Army Emergency Relief.

I feel that the movie could have been better structured. Actors like Una Merkel, Dolores Costello, George Murphy and Charles Butterworth are wasted in this film because they barely have any screen tirme. Less songs and more plot in this slightly over two hour film would have been more enjoyable.

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Actress takes break from screen for war effort

Publicity photo of Madeleine Carroll from the 1930s.

Publicity photo of Madeleine Carroll from the 1930s.

She went from being one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood at $250,000 a year to working for the Red Cross at $125 a month.

After starring in two Alfred Hitchcock films and the star studded “Prisoner of Zenda” (1937), English actress Madeleine Carroll left films for six years.

Carroll said she had a new career: helping win the war.

Before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in the United States, Carroll’s sister Marguerite Guigette Carroll was killed on Oct. 7, 1940, in a German air raid in London.

“My younger sister learned how to be a very excellent typist but was killed at her typewriter by a direct hit from a German bomb in London’s Blitz,” Carroll said in a 1949 Rotary Club speech. “It seems to me that had the generation previous to hers been more interested in encouraging good neighborliness between countries, there is a chance my sister might be alive today.”

But before her sister was killed, Carroll turned over her French chateau for children removed from Paris and other French cities. She also started holding benefits in Hollywood to send money to Europe, according to a Jan. 21, 1940, article in the Pittsburgh Press.

In 1942, Carroll married newcomer actor Sterling Hayden. Hayden felt his place was fighting in the war and after two roles in Hollywood he enlisted in the Marines.

Madeleine Carroll training at the American University in Washington for service in the Red Cross in 1943.

Madeleine Carroll training at the American University in Washington for service in the Red Cross in 1943.

“I’m the proudest woman in the world because my husband will be a buck private in the Marines,” Carroll was quoted in an Oct. 23, 1942, article in the Milwaukee Journal, “Madeleine Carroll Shelves film career for duration” by Sheliah Graham.  “I want to participate in the best of my ability to winning the war. We both feel that glamour has no place during this difficult period.”

Carroll and Hayden even changed their names, because they felt their star status could be detrimental to their new wartime careers. The two became Sterling and Madeleine Hamilton, according to a June 1943 article in the St. Petersburg Times, “Two Film Stars Change Their Names.”

Carroll’s first job in war work was in the newly formed US Seaman’s Service in New York as the director of entertainment, which was like the USO for Merchant Marines.

“I chose this work because while a great deal is done for the boys in the Army and the Navy, people are inclined to forget the boys not in uniform who risk and lose their lives on the ships taking food and supplies to the allied soldiers,” Carroll was quoted in the 1942 Milwaukee Journal article. “We want to raise enough money to open clubs and recuperation centers in all the big cities and American ports…we want to take care of the merchant seaman who are maimed, or otherwise ill, after the war as well as during.”

After spending 18 months with the US Seaman’s Service, Carroll worked over seas with the Red Cross.

She worked with the American Red Cross at the 61st station Army hospital in Foggia, Italy, where she hoped to be assigned as a staff aid in an evacuation hospital.

“I’m grateful to be in the Red Cross, because none of the girls stare or act like I’m a celebrity,” Carroll said in a March 20, 1944, Associated Press brief in the St. Petersburg Times.

Madeleine Carroll looking after war orphans in her French Chateau

Madeleine Carroll looking after war orphans in her French Chateau

Along with working in the hospital, Carroll worked on the hospital train for four months taking wounded men to ships that took them home, according to a May 9, 1945, Milwaukee Journal article.

Each train carried 300 to 400 men with three bunks on each side holding a wounded man. Carroll estimated working with 25,000 military men, the article described.

She recalled a time when a man with a leg injury helped on the train by shining a lantern on a man in a lower bunk with a chest injury so bad that his ribs were exposed, according to the 1945 article.

Carroll was not trained as a nurse, but tried to keep the men’s morale up with cookies, music or comforting them.

madeleine3“I never have known a man too wounded to eat a cookie,” she said.

“How nice it is to be served by Princess Flavia,” one soldier said, reaching his arm out to her, referencing her role in “Prisoner of Zenda.”

After V-E Day, Carroll helped unwed mothers in France, according to a Nov. 14, 1945, Milwaukee Journal article, “Madeleine Carroll caring for war babies born in France out of wedlock.”

Carroll received letters from girls worried about bringing up a baby on their own with an unknown father. She met girls with babies at her door step in France.

At the time the article was published, Carroll helped 40 mothers. Carroll helped with hospital bills, background checks on potential parents and adopting out the children, according to the article.

In each article written between 1942 and 1946, Carroll was credited as “the former actress” or “retired star.”

Several times she was quoted as saying she was incredibly happy and never wanted to return to films.

Hayden and Carroll divorced in 1946, and they both eventually returned to Hollywood, both making their first film back in 1947.

While Hayden’s career took off in the 1950s, with films like “Asphalt Jungle,” Carroll made three more films and made four television appearances. She retired from acting in 1955 and lived the remainder of her life out of the public eye.

Even while helping with the war effort, whenever a soldier would ask her “Are you really Madeleine Carroll,” she replied “Don’t let them kid you.”

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Musical Monday: Everything I Have is Yours (1952)

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.

everything_i_have_is_yoursThis week’s musical:
“Everything I Have is Yours” –Musical #486

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Robert Z. Leonard

Starring:
Gower Champion, Marge Champion, Dennis O’Keefe, Monica Lewis, Dean Miller, Elaine Stewart

Plot:
Married dancing couple Pamela (Marge) and Chuck Hubbard (Gower) make it big in a show on Broadway. The first night of their success, Pamela finds out she’s pregnant and can’t continue dancing. Once the baby comes, Pamela is encouraged to stay home and raise her child. Problems arise in Pamela and Chuck’s marriage as his fame grow.

Monica Lewis's character causes problems for Gower and Marge Champion.

Monica Lewis’s character causes problems for Gower and Marge Champion.

Trivia:
-The lead couple in the film, Marge and Gower Champion, were married in real life from 1947 until their divorce in 1973. The dancing couple had two children, Gregg (b. 1956) and Blake (b. 1962). The Champions starred in several other films together such as “Show Boat” (1951), “Lovely to Look At” (1952) and “Jupiter’s Darling” (1955)
-Originally supposed to star Red Skelton and Vera-Ellen, according to TCM.
-Gower Champion did most of the choreography for the film.

Marge and Gower Champion star together in "Everything I Have is Yours"

Marge and Gower Champion star together in “Everything I Have is Yours”

Highlights:
-It’s always a delight to watch the married couple dance together. Both Marge and Gower were excellent dancers and their moves, technique and dancing chemistry make all of their numbers exciting to watch.

Notable Songs:

-Everything I Have is Yours sung by Gower Champion and later by Monica Lewis
-Derry Down Dilly sung by Marge Champion
-”Seventeen Thousand Telephone Poles” sung by Monica Lewis

My Review:

When you glanced at this film in your TCM Now Playing Guide, you may have thought, “Ah, a musical starring Marge and Gower Champion in Technicolor. Sounds like a fluffy b-musical.”

And I can’t say I thought much different. I figured this would be a colorful splash of fun with several fantastic numbers. But I was wrong. This is an honest dramatic musical that look at the issues with marriage and fame.

Real life married dancers Marge and Gower Champion play a dancing married couple in the film. Though Marge didn’t give up her career for children like in the movie, the Champions in the movie and in real life both end in divorce. However, in true Hollywood form- the couple is unhappy in their divorced life and they are in each other’s arms in the last frame.

I enjoy the plot line, because I think it shows a fairly honest look at marriage. They are joyous as newlyweds, happy when the baby comes, but Pamela gets restless. She has little to do at home, because the baby has a nurse, and she wants to go back to work and dance with Chuck. But Chuck is having hit after hit with his new partner Sybil (Lewis). Jealousy also arise as Sybil is making eyes at Chuck. When Pamela finally takes an offer for a how- the marriage is blown to smithereens.

“Petty details all add up until the roof blows up,” the film says after they get a divorce.

The dancing is also a real treat of this film. Marge and Gower Champions’ dances together are exciting, interesting to watch and seamless. Their movements together and fluid and their chemistry is evident through their moves.

In several other MGM musicals the Gowers are supporting stars with a large dance number added in. This is one of the few, if not the only, where the Gowers are the leads in the film, and that makes it a real treat.

Marge Champion dances in a solo number in the film.

Marge Champion dances in a solo number in the film.

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In the company of greatness

A guttural chuckle between bites of popcorn came from behind our movie theater seats.

Toes tapped to the film soundtrack.

My friends and I giggled with schoolgirl delight and amazement.

The 79 time Grammy nominated composer Quincy Jones was sitting behind us in the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles.

Italian JobMoments before, Jones was interviewed by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz at the 2014 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival before “The Italian Job” (1969) starring Michael Caine. Jones composed the score for the film.

Jones’s music in the film is a quirky, 1960s English style with an English jig at the end.

“Nineteen year old Elton John said only a Brit could write a song like that,” Jones said. “I said, ‘Wanna bet?’”

“The Italian Job” is a British comedic caper film about a group of men stealing gold during a traffic jam in Italy. The film is also famous for it’s use of Austin Minis in the climactic heist.

“Michael Caine is one of the greatest guys,” Jones said.

Jones gave a mischievous chuckle while recalling the time he and Caine both dated actress Raquel Welch at the same time.

“That was funny,” he said. “OH that was funny.”

Other film scores Jones composed include “The Pawnbroker” (1964), “The Slender Thread” (1965),  “Walk Don’t Run” (1966) and “In Cold Blood” (1967). Along with his film work, Jones worked with musicians and performers such as Michael Jackson, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.

“Music in ‘In Cold Blood’ all boils down to building tension and then release,” he said. “The movie was filmed in the house where the actual murders took place. That was scary.”

Quincy Jones during an interview with Ben Mankiewicz during the TCMFF, April 11, 2014. Jones discussed his career and "The Italian Job" (Getty Images)

Quincy Jones during an interview with Ben Mankiewicz during the TCMFF, April 11, 2014. Jones discussed his career and “The Italian Job” (Getty Images)

Author of the novel Truman Capote was mad when he learned a “black guy” was composing the music to the film. Once Capote heard the score, he relented.

“Just drama–You know,” Jones said casually, waving his hand with dismissal.

Jones was approached by Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw to compose the music for “The Getaway” (1972), replacing composer Jerry Fielding at McQueen’s request.

“I composed the music for that film in 10 days,” Jones said. “You don’t let it get around Hollywood that you can compose a film in 10 days.”

His friendship with composer Henry Mancini helped him break into the business, he said.

“When composing for a film, you look at the script with the director and decide when the music stops and starts in the film,” Jones said.

Jones discussed his time in Hollywood and relationship with celebrities. Jones was good friends with singer, actor Frank Sinatra, who gave him a ring he still wears. However, Sinatra wasn’t kind to everyone.

1964: Quincy Jones and Frank Sinatra in Sinatra's dressing room.

1964: Quincy Jones and Frank Sinatra in Sinatra’s dressing room.

“He either loved you, or he would roll over you in a Mac truck while driving it in reverse,” Jones said.

After the interview, the 81-year-old walked a few rows back and sat right down behind us. He promptly received a bag of popcorn and became just another fan.

This is a follow up vignette from the 2014 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, April 9-April 14.

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Musical Monday: “Happiness Ahead”(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.

happiness-ahead-movie-poster-1934-1020546164This week’s musical:
Happiness Ahead” –Musical #485

Studio:
Warner Brothers Studios

Director:
Mervyn LeRoy

Starring:
Dick Powell, Josephine Hutchinson, Frank McHugh, Ruth Donnelly, Allen Jenkins,Jane Darwell, Marjorie Gateson, John Halliday

Plot:

New York socialite Joan Bradford (Hutchinson) is unhappy with life in society. Her mother has picked out a wealthy husband for her to marry, and Joan does not love him.  On New Year’s Eve, Joan ditches her parents’ high class party and goes downtown. Joan meets window washer Bob Lane (Powell) and starts posing as a working class girl so he won’t find out she comes from money. She rents an apartment on the other side of town to keep up the guise.

Trivia:

Actress Josephine Hutchinson

Actress Josephine Hutchinson

-Actress Josephine Hutchinson’s debut film role (though she did have a small role in the 1917 version of “The Little Princess” with Mary Pickford). Hutchinson went on to star in films such as “The Story of Louis Pasteur” (1936), “Ruby Gentry” (1952) and “North by Northwest” (1959).
-Reworked as “Here Come Happiness” (1941) and “Love and Learn” (1947).

Notable Songs:
-Happiness Ahead sung by Dick Powell
-Pop! Goes Your Heart sung by Dick Powell
-All Account of an Ice Cream Sundae sung by Dick Powell and Dorothy Dare
-Massaging Window Panes sung by Dick Powell and Frank McHugh

My Review:
All in all, Mr. LeRoy seems to have made a lot out of a little,” Andre Sennwald reviewed in a 1934 New York Times film review
Sennwald hits the nail on the head. “Happiness Ahead” has a very simple and overused plot–an unhappy heiress finds love with a working class man. However, this is a very charming film.
Like most Dick Powell musicals, Powell sings the same song about three times. With some films, this could be tiring. But somehow with Powell’s melted-butter-like-voice it is forgivable.
Though this isn’t a dramatically demanding role for Josephine Hutchinson, she is very likable in her first major film. She may not be as glamorous as Powell’s other leading ladies such as Gloria Stuart or Joan Blondell, or as cute as Ruby Keeler, but she is very pleasant to see on screen. Though Hutchinson went on to act in films through the 1970s, it is curious why her time at Warner Brothers in the 1930s and 1940s wasn’t more stellar.
As with most 1930s Warner Brothers films, the secondary actors were the biggest treat. Frank McHugh plays Powell’s window washing coworker, and Allen Jenkins and Ruth Donnelly play Hutchinson’s servants. John Halliday as Hutchinson’s understanding father is also hilarious.
This film may not be on the same level as other Powell musicals of the 1930s but it is very charming and pleasant. If you are looking to be cheered up, this film offers “Happiness Ahead.”

Dick Powell in a publicity still for "Happiness Ahead."

Dick Powell in a publicity still for “Happiness Ahead.”

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Just like Mom

My eyes welled with tears behind my 3D glasses.
“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard,” Dorothy Gale said at the end of “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).
I sat in the theater trying to collect myself during this unexpected emotional moment back in October when “Wizard of Oz” was re-released in 3D.
And then it dawned on me: I’m turning into my mother… and I’m fine with that.
For years I’d look over at Mom while we are watching a movie and say, “Mom. Why are you crying?”
Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in “Wizard of Oz.”
Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in “Meet Me In St. Louis.” And then again at the end of the movie when she excitedly says, “Right here, in our hometown” about the World’s Fair.

Now I get it. Now Mom and I wipe our eyes together during the train scene of “Since You Went Away.”
I’ve cried during movies for several years–”West Side Story” and “Music for Millions” at age 13 are the earliest times I can think of.
But now in half the movies I watch, I find myself empathizing instead of sympathizing.  As I have grown up, I find I share a deeper emotional connection with my mom through the movies.
At Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, I left “East of Eden” sobbing.
James Dean’s father, Raymond Massey, has a stroke in the film and they aren’t sure if he can make it.
Massey weakly whispers to his son, “Replace the nurse, but don’t get anyone else. You take care of me.”
The scene reminded me of my Mom care-giving for my Grandmama who passed away in January. Grandmama also gave me the movie as a Christmas gift one year.

James Dean talks to movie father Raymond Massey after his stroke in "East of Eden."

James Dean talks to movie father Raymond Massey after his stroke in “East of Eden.”

When I was in elementary and middle school, I would pick on my Mom and sisters for crying during films. Now I join them.
As we get older and experience more of life, not only are we attached to the characters in the films, we can understand and relate more to what the characters in the films are going through. We may chuckle sheepishly with understanding as we reach for tissues.
Now when I see Bonnie Blue fall off her horse and break her neck in “Gone with the Wind,” I don’t think, “Stupid little girl should have listened to her parents.” I think about how the loss of a child can rip apart a family.

Scout with Boo Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Scout with Boo Radley in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

When Scout sweetly says “Hey Boo” in “To Kill a Mockingbird ” as he’s hiding behind the door, I understand the innocence of a child who sees the good in a man feared by the whole town.
When nurse Paulette Goddard says goodbye to Marine Sonny Tufts in “So Proudly We Hail,” she knows that she may not see him again because he may die in battle.
But I’m not turning into Mom just through film watching. I notice I have picked up her traits as I’m cooking, cleaning and worrying about people I care about. Maybe one day I’ll be just like Mom, but right now I’m not sure if I could even scrape a mixing bowl as beautifully as Lisa Pickens.
My parents introduced me to classic film as a toddler. Now, even through our emotions, crying is just another way movies bring us closer together.
Happy Mother’s Day

I asked Mom to make me a list of films that she cries during.
“I think the list would have been shorter if you had asked for a list that I don’t cry during,” she said.
Here is Mom’s list of weepers:

Jennifer Jones says goodbye to Robert Walker as he leaves for World War II in "Since You Went Away."

Jennifer Jones says goodbye to Robert Walker as he leaves for World War II in “Since You Went Away.”

Gone With The Wind
Wizard of Oz
Sound of Music
Stella Dallas
One Foot in Heaven
Meet Me In St. Louis
Since You Went Away
To Kill A Mockingbird
The Best Years Of Our Lives
How Green Was My Valley
To Each His Own
Penny Serenade
Make Way For Tomorrow
Little Women ( from 1933 and 1949 )
White Christmas
Goodbye Mr. Chips
Mrs. Miniver
The Pride of the Yankees
West Side Story
So Proudly We Hail
Three Came Home
The Homecoming
The Glenn Miller Story
Born Free
Ben Hur
ET
True Grit ( with John Wayne )
Old Yeller
Parent Trap (with Hayley Mills )
Pollyanna
Little Princess ( with Shirley Temple )
Brave
Toy Story 3
Muppets Take Manhattan
Driving Miss Daisy
Field Of Dreams
Lassie Come Home
Homeward Bound
Cinderella
Little Mermaid
Harry and the Hendersons
Forrest Gump
Cheaper By The Dozen ( with Clifton Webb )
The Bishop’s Wife
It’s a Wonderful Life

With Mom, Dad and my two sisters at my sister Andrea's wedding in February 2014.

With Mom, Dad and my two sisters at my sister Andrea’s wedding in February 2014.

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Musical Monday: “Two Sisters from Boston” (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.

two sistersThis week’s musical:
Two Sisters From Boston” –Musical #85

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Henry Koster

Starring:
June Allyson, Kathryn Grayson, Jimmy Durante, Peter Lawford, Lauritz Melchoir, Ben Blue, Barbara Billingsley (uncredited)

Plot:
Abigail (Grayson) writes to her sister Martha (Allyson) and her other stuffy relatives in Boston that she is a successful opera singer in New York. In reality, she is working in a burlesque show.

Trivia:

-After June Allyson and Peter Lawford starred in this film, MGM publicity was tried to play them up as a couple. This was a common practice and the same attempt was made with her co-star Van Johnson. Allyson wrote in her autobiography that though she and Lawford had a good time together, it was never anything serious. The two later starred in “Little Women” (1949) together.
-Lauritz Melchoir’s second film, his first being “The Thrill of Romance” (1945). Born in Denmark, Melchoir was a Wagnerian tenor and debuted in 1924 in London. He debuted with the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1926.  Melchoir made five Hollywood films from 1944 to 1953. In the 1940s, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer signed singers and musicians like Melchoir and pianist Jose Iturbi to give the studio class and culture.
-Sammy Fain and Ralph Freed (brother of Arthur Freed) wrote the songs “Autumn Twilight,” “Indian Holiday,” “Lanterns in the Sky,” “More Than Ever” and “Seattle.”

Notable Songs:
-After the Show sung by June Allyson
-When Romance Passes by sung by Kathryn Grayson
-Performances by Lauritz Melchoir
-Down by the Ocean sung by Kathryn Grayson and Jimmy Durante

Highlights: 
-When proper June Allyson sings takes Kathryn Grayson’s place at the burlesque show, having to undress before an audience.
-Kathryn Grayson unconventionally gets in an opera in the chorus. Lauritz Melchoir is the lead. Much to his chagrin, Grayson keeps singing notes to get attention.

My Review:
This is a cute movie, but I don’t feel it exhibits the full appeal of June Allyson and Kathryn Grayson. June Allyson’s character is a simpering proper girl, ashamed of her sister’s profession in New York.
Kathryn Grayson’s character is a bit more likable but is still a bit uppity (the roles she usually seems to be typecast in).
When I originally saw this film 12 years ago, I was watching it for June Allyson, and I was a bit disappointed in her character then.
Jimmy Durante is the real treat in this film. It’s also interesting to see Metropolitan Opera star Lauritz Melchoir in films, giving a frame of reference of who was famous in the operatic world during this time.
However…despite any character flaws…this is still a fun and enjoyable movie. There are several funny parts and at the end of the day, the movie is down right cute.

Lauritz Melchoir, Kathryn Grayson, Jimmy Durante and June Allyson in "Two Sisters From Boston."

Lauritz Melchoir, Kathryn Grayson, Jimmy Durante and June Allyson in “Two Sisters From Boston.”

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Best in Hollywood: An interview (and meal) with James Best

James Best in The Cimarron Kid (1952). He said he always died in his movies.

James Best in The Cimarron Kid (1952). He said he always died in his movies.

Known for his role as Roscoe P. Coltrane on “Dukes of Hazzard,” I interviewed actor James Best last week about his Hollywood career.

Best came to Shelby, NC last week to the Don Gibson Theatre with his one man show, “Best in Hollywood,” where he tells anecdotes about his career. I interviewed Best, 87, for a preview story about the show for The Shelby Star newspaper.

I ended up going to the show and later eating at Denny’s with Mr. Best and his wife.

Before Best starred in “Hazzard,” he acted in films with James Stewart, Ann Sheridan, Maureen O’Hara, Audie Murphy, Rock Hudson, Randolph Scott, Charlton Heston, Susan Hayward, Paul Newman, Humphrey Bogart and Jerry Lewis.

“I got into acting overseas after World War II while I was in the service,” Best told The Star during a phone interview Wednesday. “I was in the play ‘My Sister Eileen’ that the GIs did. When I got back I decided to take acting up permanently and hitchhiked to New York.”

During the show, Best called himself a “dumb country boy” –born in Kentucky and raised in Indiana– asking the cab driver to drop him on Broadway, because he was going to be an actor.

In New York, Best did winter and summer stock plays and was in a show on Broadway before heading to Hollywood.

“I was put under contract in 1949 to Universal Studios and then I freelanced,” Best said. “I have made 87 feature films and made 600 TV show appearances.”

In his show, Best shows clips from several movies and tells a story about each one. He joked he always died or was injured in all of his films.

Rock Hudson and James Best on the set of "Seminole" (1953)

Rock Hudson and James Best on the set of “Seminole” (1953)

He laughed at the script writing for “Seminole” (1953), starring Rock Hudson, when his character is drowning in quicksand, made of cork.

“Those script writers were so stupid! We are sneaking up on Indians and the soldiers are taking a cannon through quicksand,” Best laughed on stage. “I was injured, riding on the cannon and Rock Hudson had to dive in the quicksand to save me.”

He told how it took several takes to get the scene right. He was supposed to breathe through an air tube underwater. One take there was no air, another time too much air causing him to float and the third he came up laughing because Rock Hudson grabbed him awkwardly.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Best was in several westerns, including five movies with James Stewart such as “Firecreek,” “Shenandoah” and “Winchester ’73.”

“Jimmy Stewart was my icon,” he said in the interview. “I was good friends with Paul Newman, and I was in five films with Audie Murphy. Randolph Scott was a lovely man.”

James Best (far right) with Paul Newman in "Left Handed Gun" (1958)

James Best with Paul Newman in “Left Handed Gun” (1958)

Though Best worked with some of Hollywood’s top stars, he says he was never star struck.

“When I started acting in Hollywood, I was doing one show after another and you work with nearly every movie star that existed,” Best told the Star. “It’s a job. It’s different than most people’s job, but it’s a job. You work four to five days on one project and then move on to the next.”

After playing everything from cowboys to murderers, Best was in his first comedy in 1966 called “Three on a Couch” with Jerry Lewis and Janet Leigh.

Though Best had already acted in nearly 100 films before 1966, the opening credits said “Introducing James Best.”

“I asked Jerry Lewis why he did that. I said ‘What do you mean introducing; I have already been in 100 movies.’ Jerry said this was introducing me to doing comedy,” Best said with a laugh. “I had played so many murderers and been on ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents,’ but I hadn’t done much comedy.”

Best learned the comedy skills he used on “Dukes of Hazzard” from Lewis.

James Best with Flash in "Dukes of Hazzard." He said he never got the girl, so he got a dog.

James Best with Flash in “Dukes of Hazzard.” He said he never got the girl, so he got a dog.

“I loved Jerry Lewis. I once told him he was five different people, and I hated three of them,” Best said. “I learned a lot from Jerry and I thank him for that.”

Most of the comedy for Roscoe P. Coltrane was improvised before the scene began.

“I didn’t want Roscoe to be mean, so I played him like a 12-year-old buffoon,” Best said. “Ninety-percent of it was improvised and it just came off the top of my head.”

After the series, Best and his wife Dorothy formed their own independent film company. At 87, he hasn’t stopped acting. He recently acted with his wife Dorothy in the play “On Golden Pond” in Hickory, NC, where he currently lives.

“Hollywood has changed so much,” he told me on the phone. “It has lost its glamour and they have given away all the secrets that made it so glamorous. It’s all reality stars now. None of them are trained actors. When I was working with Bogart, Newman and Stewart, those were actors.”

After his show on Friday, I was able to introduce myself and thank him for the interview. James Best is just your average, elderly gentlemen and is very kind.

Meeting James Best and his wife Dorothy after the show on Friday. (Comet Over Hollywood/Submitted by Wade Allen)

Meeting James Best and his wife Dorothy after the show on Friday. (Comet Over Hollywood/Submitted by Wade Allen)

My boyfriend’s father was Best’s doctor in Florida. When Dan told them who his father was, he received a big hug from Dorothy.

After the show, Dan and I were searching for a place to eat and ended up at Denny’s.

My close friend who works at the Don Gibson Theater happened to already be at the restaurant and urged us to sit with her group. James Best and his wife happened to be part part of the group.

I talked with Dorothy about what plays she had acted in with the Hickory theater and James Best taught the table the proper way to eat pancakes. (If you are curious, he cut the center out and poured the syrup into the center. “That way your syrup doesn’t run all over your eggs,” he said.)

When he was ready to return to his hotel he turned to his wife and said, “Are you ready to go sweetie tootie?”

Again, we shook his hand and he smiled warmly. A class act.

“From the time I was adopted when I was 4 years old up to now, my life has been like a roller coaster,” Best told the Star. “There have been more ups than downs and I have been enjoying everything. I thank God every day for it.”

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Musical Monday: “Pin-Up Girl” (1944)

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.

pin up girlThis week’s musical:
Pin-Up Girl” –Musical #224

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
H. Bruce Humberstone

Starring:
Betty Grable, Joe E. Brown, Martha Raye, John Harvey, Eugene Pallette, Dorothea Kent, Adele Jergens (uncredited), Hermes Pan (uncredited dancer)

As themselves: bandleader Charlie Spivak, Nat King Cole (uncredited pianist), Skating Vanities, the Condos Brothers (specialty dancers), The Pied Piper singers

Plot:
Lorry (Grable) is a popular pin up girl at the local USO canteen during World War II. She has a bad habit of stretching the truth including saying she’s engaged to every serviceman she gives a photo to. Her latest lie is that she and her friend Kay (Kent) are going to Washington, DC to join a USO show, when they are really going to work as military stenographers. En-route to DC, the girls stop over in New York and go to an exclusive night club. Another lie gets them seated at a table with war hero Tommy Dooley (Harvey), who thinks Lorry is a musical comedy star. When Lorry runs into Tommy in DC, she disguises herself (using the Clark Kent approach by just putting on a pair of glasses) so he doesn’t know it’s her.

Trivia:

Lorry (Grable) and Kay (Kent) are nearly caught in one of their lies in "Pin Up Girl"

Lorry (Grable) and Kay (Kent) are nearly caught in one of their lies in “Pin Up Girl”

-Betty Grable was pregnant during the making of this film. While her waist line is slightly larger than you are used to seeing, she is still quite small. You can tell the most when there is a side shot of her marching at the end of the “The Story of the Very Merry Widow” musical number.

-During the military drill at the end of “The Story of the Very Merry Widow,” the real Women’s Auxiliary Corp (WAC) drill team was used, rather than actresses.

-Linda Darnell and Don Ameche were originally set to star in the movie.

-The film is based on the famous 1941 pin-up photo of Betty Grable taken by Frank Powolny, according to “Twentieth Century Fox: “The Zanuck-Skouras Years, 1935-1965″ by Peter Lev.

Lorry's disguise- dull colored clothing and glasses.

Lorry’s disguise- dull colored clothing and glasses.

Highlights:

-The Skating Vanities is a roller skating sequence after the “Red Robins, Bobwhites and Blue Birds” number. It’s like a Sonja Henie ice skating number….but with roller skates. It’s almost less impressive because roller skating is more common place than ice skating.

-Joe E. Brown and Eugene Pallette may be the best part of the film.

-Though rather long, Betty Grable’s drill sequence with WAC’s is pretty interesting.

Notable Songs:
-Don’t Carry Tales Out of School sung by Betty Grable

-The Story of the Very Merry Widow sung by Betty Grable

-Once Too Often sung by Betty Grable

-Red Robins, Bobwhites and Blue Birds sung by Martha Raye

-You’re My Little Pin-Up Girl sung by Betty Grable

-Yankee Doodle Haydown sung by Martha Raye

My Review:

“Pin Up Girl” is colorful, World War II themed and has great music, but it isn’t Betty Grable’s best film. The plot is crazy and her constant lies can be a bit frustrating.
This is also probably stupid, but I hate when Twentieth Century Fox changed Betty Grable’s honey blond hair and made it bleached blond. This bothers me more than it should in this film.
This movie also ends with what I call “the smile resolution.” A couple has a misunderstanding. One of the parties is informed by a secondary character of the truth. The film ends with the misunderstood party performing on stage, the informed lead sitting in the audience and the couple grin at each other–letting the viewers know everything is alright.
I can list several movies off of the top of my head that practice this, and it leaves me feeling unfulfilled.
Though Betty Grable is the star of this film, I think Joe E. Brown and Eugene Pallette steal the show with their minor roles.
The plot is pretty silly, but then it was written to capitalize on her famous 1941 pin-up photo. Wonky plot aside, the real reason I like this movie is I love the music. There isn’t a song I don’t adore in this film. “Don’t Carry Tales Out of School” is my favorite.
If you have never seen a Betty Grable musical, try something like “Moon Over Miami,” “Tin Pan Alley” or “Springtime in the Rockies” first. They better display Grable’s appeal than “Pin Up Girl.”

My boyfriend watched this with me, and while he teaches high school theatre, he is just starting to learn about movies before the 1970s.  Here is what he thought:

“It was entertaining, though some parts stretched the limits of believability quite far.  The songs were enjoyable and the drill scene at the end was impressive, though a bit long. I give it a C+.”

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