Christmas on Film: “We’re No Angels” (1955)

Guardian angels can come in many forms, and in the film “We’re No Angels” (1955), help arrives from three convicts.

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Early Christmas Eve, Joseph (Humphrey Bogart), Albert (Aldo Ray), Jules (Peter Ustinov) and Adolf the poisonous snake, escape from prison on French colonial Devil’s Island in 1895. Joseph embezzled money and Albert and Jules are murderers. They are able to blend in easily in the town in their prison clothes, as many paroled convicts work out in the open.

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A Gift from Comet Over Hollywood

Almost every Christmas for the past four years, I try to film a special Christmas video for the readers and supporters of Comet Over Hollywood.

This year — as my gift to you — my mother and I re-enacted one of my favorite Christmas scenes from a classic film. I hope you enjoy it as much as I loved making it.

For context, here is a snippet from the trailer.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: Lemon Drop Kid (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.

This week’s musical:
The Lemon Drop Kid” –Musical #515

Poster - Lemon Drop Kid, The (1951)_02

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Sidney Lanfield, Frank Tashlin (uncredited)

Starring:
Bob Hope, Marilyn Maxwell, Lloyd Nolan, Jane Darwell, Andrea King, Fred Clark, William Frawley

Plot:
Swindler Sidney Milburn (Hope), known as the Lemon Drop Kid, gives a notorious gangster a bad tip on a horse in Florida, ending in a $10,000 debt. The Kid has to come up with the money by Christmas Eve, or else. So he sets back to New York City to ask his friends and girlfriend Brainy (Maxwell) for money. The Kid’s elderly friend Nellie (Jane Darwell) can’t get into an elderly woman’s home. The Kid and his mob set up an old lady’s home in an old gambling parlor and starts a street corner donation Santa Claus racket with his mobster friends to with a guise that they are funding an elderly woman’s home–he really plans to use the money for his debts.

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Cary Grant’s “Christmas Lullaby”

late 1940s --- Cary Grant --- Image by © CinemaPhoto/Corbis

Cary Grant in the 1940s

Cary Grant is often noted as one of the best and most attractive actors of all-time. His film resume includes some of Hollywood’s best films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” (1946) to the comedy “His Girl Friday” (1940).

But out of all of that, Cary Grant said his best production was his daughter Jennifer.

Grant became a father for the first time at age 62 with his fourth wife, Dyan Cannon. The two were married from 1965 to 1968. Grant retired from films in 1966 when Jennifer was born; a career that began in 1932 and ended with the film “Walk, Don’t Run.”

Grant doted on his daughter and this is exhibited in the only record he ever made, “A Christmas Lullaby,” which was recorded for her. The 45 was made through Columbia Records and the b-side included the song “Here’s to You.”  Continue reading

Christmas on Film: Junior Miss (1945)

junior missThe same year Peggy Ann Garner performed her award winning role in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” the 13-year-old actress found herself in a coming of age comedy, “Junior Miss” (1945).

Similar to “And So They Were Married” (1936), Christmas is merely a backdrop to adolescent antics in “Junior Miss” (1945), but the holidays play larger roles in this coming of age film.  Continue reading

Musical Monday: Shower of Stars presents A Christmas Carol (1954)

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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:
“Shower of Stars” presents “A Christmas Carol” –Musical #537

Fredric March as Ebenezer Scrooge and Christopher Cook as Tiny Tim in a 1954 TV adaptation of "A Christmas Carol"

Fredric March as Ebenezer Scrooge and Christopher Cook as Tiny Tim in a 1954 TV adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”

Studio:
CBS Television Network

Director:
Ralph Levy

Starring:
Fredric March, Basil Rathbone, Bob Sweeney, Christopher Cook, Craig Hill, Queenie Leonard
Themselves as hosts: William Lundigan, Mary Costa

Basil Rathbone as Jacob Marley

Basil Rathbone as Jacob Marley

Plot:
Set in 1840 London, this is a retelling of Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Christmas Carol.” Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (March) is warned by the ghost of his friend Marley (Rathbone) that he need to change his ways or he will end up chained to his sins. On Christmas Eve night, Scrooge is visited by ghosts to show him his past, present and future life to convince him to change.  Continue reading

Baby, It’s Not a Christmas Song

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What started out as a song to get party guests to leave is now a Christmas favorite that has come under some scrutiny in recent years.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has evolved into a song never left off a Christmas album. The catch? When it was written in 1944, songwriter Frank Loesser wasn’t thinking of the holidays.

Frank Loesser and wife Lynn Garland in 1956 performing their song.

Frank Loesser and wife Lynn Garland in 1956 performing their song.

Loesser originally wrote in the song to only be performed at parties with his wife, Lynn Garland. The duet—labeling the parts wolf and mouse—involves a man trying to convince a woman that she should stay, because it’s snowing outside. She says no, until she relents at the end.  Continue reading

Christmas on Film: “And So They Were Married” (1936)

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and so they were marriedBefore twin Hayley Mills were trying to get their parents together in “The Parent Trap” (1961), Jackie Moran and Edith Fellows worked to keep their parents apart in “And So They Were Married” (1936).

In this fun, comedic romp, divorced Edith Farnham (Mary Astor) and her daughter Brenda (Fellows) are spending the Christmas holidays at a the gala opening of a ski lodge. Because of Edith’s divorce, both she and Brenda are anti-men.

Widower Stephen Blake (Melvyn Douglas) is also heading to the same lodge, and tail rides their car up the mountain. This leaves both Edith and Brenda with a sour taste and no interest in socializing with Stephen.

After they all arrive at the ski lodge, an avalanche occurs and the three are the only guests at the new hotel for a few days until the roads can be cleared. Brenda develops a cold, forcing Stephen and Edith to eventually socialize, and they begin to fall in love.

Edith (Astor) and Stephen (Douglas) eventually like each other.

Edith (Astor) and Stephen (Douglas) eventually like each other.

Once the roads open, Stephen’s son Tommy (Jackie Moran) joins him at the lodge. Brenda and Tommy instantly dislike each other and constantly fight.

When the two children realize their parents are thinking about marriage, they decide this is terrible and purposefully argue and act like they hate each other to keep them apart.

The two act like little wretches but make a truce on Christmas Eve and Day so they are still able to get their presents. However, this backfires when the two begin smashing tree ornaments over each other’s heads and eventually short out the Christmas tree lights; causing all electricity in the ski lodge to go out.

Their bad behavior ends up in a fight and the separation of Stephen and Edith. Back home, both children realize they make a mistake as they watch their miserable parents. The two run away to bring their parents back together in their “hour of need.”

Scenes from the Christmas tree fight: Jackie Moran mistakenly believes Edith Fellow hits him with an ornament, Edith fellows is in shock after their agreement, parents try to separate the fighting children

Scenes from the Christmas tree fight: Jackie Moran mistakenly believes Edith Fellow hits him with an ornament, Edith fellows is in shock after their agreement, parents try to separate the fighting children

“And So They Were Married” is a lot of fun. Alluding that Astor and Douglas’ characters end up together isn’t too much of a spoiler, since the title tips you off to what happens. Edith Fellows and Jackie Moran play perfect brats and Mary Astor and Melvyn Douglas were never bad in any of their films. Character actor Donald Meek is also delightful in the film, constantly lamenting that “These things never happened at my hotel in Palm Beach.”

In some films, children acting like brats can be annoying, but I find it funny in this film—maybe because I love both of the actors. I think my favorite gag is when Tommy’s dog—that he’s hiding in the hotel—runs downstairs in a group of people.Brenda washed the dog’s mouth out with soap for barking and guests run screaming, thinking he is rabid.

Christmas is really just a backdrop for “And So They Were Married” and isn’t often discussed. There isn’t any fuzzy, good-will-toward-men holiday sentiment. However, I consider it a Christmas film since the climax deals with a Christmas tree-even if it is two children violently destroying it.

The same year this film was released, Mary Astor was in a nasty custody battle for her daughter Marilyn, with her husband Dr. Franklyn Thorpe. Thorpe said she was an unfit mother based on torrid diary entries about her affair with George S. Kaufman. A passage was leaked to the press and it could have ruined her career, but her fans rallied around her and Astor still ended up on top—winning an Academy Award for “Great Lie” (1941), according to TCM host and film historian, Robert Osborne.

But while Astor and Douglas are the stars of this film, it’s the children that steal the show in this one.

“And So They Were Married” (1936) may not be a classic Christmas film or even a major budget comedy, but it’s an enjoyable little film that you shouldn’t miss.

Publicity photo of Mary Astor, Edith Fellows, Jackie Moran and Melvyn Douglas in "And So They Were Married."

Publicity photo of Mary Astor, Edith Fellows, Jackie Moran and Melvyn Douglas in “And So They Were Married.”

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Review: The War Against Mrs. Hadley (1942)

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Comet Over Hollywood is setting aside the usually scheduled Musical Monday for a World War II themed piece.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Stella Hadley celebrated her birthday like she did every other year.

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Lunch is to be served promptly at 1 p.m. with guests: her son Theodore (Richard Ney), daughter Patricia (Jean Rogers), best friend Cecila (Spring Byington), family friend Elliot (Edward Arnold) and her doctor (Miles Mander).

Everyone gathers in the sitting room, waiting for Stella, played by Fay Bainter, to make her grand entrance once the last guest arrives. After lunch, everyone sits down to listen to the Boston Symphony on the radio.

But when they turn on the radio, news of the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor, Hawaii comes through. Though a national tragedy has occurred, Stella turns a deaf ear to the news.

“Please turn off that gibberish, we want to hear the symphony. I don’t know why they would permit such programs on the Sabbath,” Stella says as the news reports play before the room comprehends what has happened.

Elliot and Ted, who work for the War Department, rush to the office; Pat runs to her room to listen to the radio, and Stella is extremely agitated that the usually scheduled program has been interrupted and demands they shut off the radio.

In the process of the news, the maid tips over a tray of Mrs. Hadley’s best tea service-which was a gift from President Coolidge and begins to sob, saying her brother is at Pearl Harbor. While Stella vaguely comforts the girl, she is more concerned that she will never be able to replace the coffee cup.

As the United States enters the war and daily life changes for Americans, Stella lives in an “ivory tower,” and continues to try to live the she was before the war.

Widow of Nathanial Hadley, owner of the Washington Chronicle newspaper, Stella is one of the most prominent women in DC and, prior to her marriage, was one of the most popular girls in Washington. Since her husband died, Mrs. Hadley doesn’t approve of the way the newspaper is being run and snubs wife of the newspaper owner, Laura Winters (Isobel Elsom).

Throughout the film, several examples of changes of daily life hit Stella Hadley and she has a hard time stomaching them. She faces most of these changes with anger, indigence and a lack of understanding of what’s going on in the world.

Pat (Jean Rogers) meets Mike (Van Johnson) at the canteen on Christmas Eve. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Pat (Jean Rogers) meets Mike (Van Johnson) at the canteen on Christmas Eve. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Stella is especially unhappy when the war upsets her household as they are drafted or take part in the war effort:

  • Her chauffer, Peters, lets her know he is leaving his job, because he was drafted and is reporting for service. She says she wishes he had given her more notice and Cecilia chimes in that Stella shouldn’t give the chauffer a reference for his next job.
  • Pat volunteers at a canteen on Christmas Eve. When Stella asks why she can’t stay home, Pat says, “It’s Christmas Eve for the soldiers too.”
  • Elliot moves Ted, who drinks more than work, to active service. He feels it’s the only way Ted will make anything of himself. Stella thinks she can use her influence to get Ted out of the war but can’t. Ted isn’t happy about going overseas but comes to see that it’s his duty. Angry that Elliot can’t get Ted out of the war, Stella tells him that she never wants to see him again.
  • The butler, Bennett, (Halliwell Hobbes), becomes a local air raid warden and has to leave at a moment’s notice for drills.
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Mrs. Hadley (Fay Bainter) talks with Elliot (Edward Arnold) at the War Department, trying to get her son out of the war.

Other inconveniences include having to turn out her lights during a black out drill and having to be escorted to Elliot’s office in the War Department, rather than being able to waltz back on her own.

While working at the canteen Pat meets and falls in love with soldier Michael Fitzpatrick (Johnson). The two eventually marry, but Stella, who doesn’t approve of the marriage, doesn’t attend.

Society women even scoff at her saying she doesn’t “have an ounce of patriotism in her.”

Her determination to keep everything how it was before for the war leads to Stella ending up alone.

Pat and Mike on their wedding day.

Pat and Mike on their wedding day.

Pat asked Ted to bring her their mother the wedding bouquet, since she didn't attend the wedding. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Pat asked Ted to bring her their mother the wedding bouquet, since she didn’t attend the wedding. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

It eventually takes news of Ted and Laura Winters’ son from the war department for Stella to come around.

“The War Against Mrs. Hadley” (1942) is a real gem. World War II-era films are my favorite, and I haven’t seen many like this one.  This film is what would be known as a “B-Movie” but somehow; even low budget MGM films sparkle and make you feel good. Since this film begins on Pearl Harbor and depicts the start of World War II in the United States, it seemed appropriate to share a review on the anniversary of the 1941 attacks.

And on an interesting note–December 7 was really actress Fay Bainter’s birthday.

“Mrs. Hadley” was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay written by George Oppenheimer. However, the film lost to “Woman of the Year.”

War posterThe cast is wonderful. Fay Bainter and Edward Arnold are terrific as the main leads. Spring Byington is also hilariously flighty. “Mrs. Hadley” is also Van Johnson’s first credited role after four uncredited  films prior. Johnson said Bainter was kind and helpful to him during the filming. “Thank God for ‘Mrs. Hadley,’” Johnson is quoted in the book “Van Johnson: MGM’s Golden Boy.” “That was the beginning. Then I began to roll.”

This was also Richard Ney’s second film—his first was “Mrs. Miniver” that same year. Sara Algood has a small role as Johnson’s Irish mother, and character actress Connie Gilchrist has some hilarious lines in her five minutes on screen as the cook. One of my favorite characters, however, is the butler played by Halliwell Hobbes.

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther scoffed at the film, saying it came too late coming after the start of the war and that the character of Stella Hadley is “barely reflective of an average American type.” However, I think this is an interesting time capsule for today’s viewers, showing that not everyone was in favor of the war or willing to change their lifestyles.

In the end, when Stella changes her ways and begins holding committee meetings and hosting soldiers in her home, it is also a message to 1942 audiences that it is not too late for them to get involved in the American war effort.

While “The War Against Mrs. Hadley” is a wonderful little film and one I thoroughly enjoy, it’s unfortunately rather rare. It was never released on VHS or DVD, can’t be found online, but is occasionally aired on Turner Classic Movies.

If you ever have the opportunity to see this MGM jewel, be sure to do so.

Edward Arnold and Fay Bainter in a publicity shot for "The War Against Mrs. Hadley."

Edward Arnold and Fay Bainter in a publicity shot for “The War Against Mrs. Hadley.”

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A “Wild Christmas” with Mae West

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Mae West in a publicity photo for "Go West Young Man" (1936)

Mae West in a publicity photo for “Go West Young Man” (1936)

Mae West, known for her buxom figure, long Gibson-girl like gowns and sultry voice, slinked through 1930s films throwing around phrases like “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?”

But after only 10 films from 1932 through 1940, Mae West’s film career wanned after being dubbed “Box Office Poison” in 1937–others on this list included Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and Katharine Hepburn.

West worked to remain relevant by acting on the stage and radio. By in the 1960s and 1970s, she found herself with a cult following aided by the sexual revolution, according to No Applause–Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous by Trav S.D.

Cover of West's first rock and roll album, "Way Out West."

Cover of West’s first rock and roll album, “Way Out West.”

To stay in the public eye with the younger crowds, West began recording rock and roll albums. In 1966 at age 72, she released “Way Out West” through Tower Records, which was part of Capitol Records. This was a cover album of contemporary hits such as “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Twist and Shout,” and “Daytripper.” Sales of “Way Out West” reached the Billboard Top 200 at #116.

Following the success of her first record, West released “Wild Christmas” in 1966, a rock and roll Christmas album for Dagonet Records. This album includes Christmas hits like “Santa Baby” and original Christmas songs like “Santa Come Up and See Me,” playing off West’s famous film quote. She also covers the Beatles’ “With Love From Me To You,” loosely connecting it to Christmas.

I guess the Beatles’ didn’t mind West’s covering their songs, since they wanted to feature her on the cover of their 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club.” West initially declined saying, “What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?” But relented when they wrote her a personal letter.

Give It a Listen:

Cover of West's second rock and roll album, "Wild Christmas"

Cover of West’s second rock and roll album, “Wild Christmas”

While I thought “The Ventures” Christmas album was unique, there is nothing quite like “Wild Christmas.” It’s both horrifying and hilarious. At moments, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry, while I’m sure I was making awkward, alarmed faces.

However, I’m also not sure if I should feel happy or sad while on listening to this album. West was maintaining her time in the spotlight, which she wanted, but was it at the cost of being laughed at? Was this something she legitimately wanted to do or was this similar to actors making low budget horror films late in their career (See: Die, Die My Darling and Hot Rods to Hell). Unfortunately, very few sources gave her feelings about these albums and glossed over them, merely listing that they were recorded.

After “Wild Christmas,” West recorded one last rock and roll album in 1972 at age 79 called “Great Balls of Fire.” This time, she covered The Doors’ “Light My Fire.”

For an added bonus, check out this humorous performance with Mae West and Rock Hudson, performing “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” This song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1950, originally appearing in “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949).

What are your thoughts on Miss West’s album? Will you be incorporating this into your Christmas music playlist?

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com