Musical Monday: The Benny Goodman Story

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Benny Goodman Story (1956) – Musical #331

Studio:
Universal Studios

Director:
Valentine Davies

Starring:
Steve Allen, Donna Reed, Herbert Anderson, Sammy Davis Sr., Dick Winslow, Berta Gersten, Barry Truex, Robert F. Simon
Themselves: Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Ben Pollack, Kid Ory, Martha Tilton, Harry James, Babe Russin, Allan Reuss

Plot:
This is a biographical film on clarinet player Benny Goodman (Allen). The film follows Goodman as a child when he learns the clarinet and becomes interested in jazz and swing music. Goodman struggles with gaining interest in “hot” music, especially in New York City. Many prefer classical music, including Alice Hammond (Reed), who is interested in Benny Goodman but isn’t sure about his music. Alice and Benny have a romance, but with his busy music schedule and his skeptical mother, it’s hard for the two to be together.

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Watching 1939: Inquest (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film: 
Inquest (1939)

Release date: 
Dec. 1939

Cast: 
Elizabeth Allan, Philip Friend, Harold Anstruther, Herbert Lomas, Malcom Morley, Jean Shepherd, R. Watts-Philipp, Richard Coke, Charles Stevenson, Jack Greenwood, Jack Madren, Hay Petrie, Basil Cunard, Olive Sloan, Barbara Everest, Basil Cunard

Studio: 
Highbury Studios London

Director: 
Roy Boulting

Plot:
A gun is found in the ceiling of an old cabin where the Hamilton couple used to live. Margaret Hamilton (Allan) moved after the death of her husband Tommy. When the new owner finds the gun and sees the gun has two empty shells (indicating that it was once fired), he calls the police. Margaret is then contacted by the police and her deceased husband is exhumed. Margaret is then tried in Coroner’s Court, which is accusing her of killing her husband.

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Musical Monday: St. Louis Blues (1958)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
St. Louis Blues (1958) – Musical #659

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Allen Reisner

Starring:
Nat ‘King’ Cole, Eartha Kitt, Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Juano Hernandez, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Ruby Dee, Billy Preston, C. Bakaleinikoff (uncredited)

Plot:
A biographical film on composer and musician Will C. Handy (Cole), who is considered the Father of the Blues. Will’s father is a pastor who belives any music outside of hymns is devil-worshipping music. Nevertheless, Will is drawn to writing and performing secular music, which causes a divide between he and his father. As Will becomes successful, he is torn between his success and losing his family.

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Musical Monday: The Glenn Miller Story (1954)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Glenn Miller Story (1954) – Musical #91

Studio:
Universal Studios

Director:
Anthony Mann

Starring:
James Stewart, June Allyson, Harry Morgan, Charles Drake, George Tobias, Barton MacLane, Sig Ruman, Irving Bacon, Kathleen Lockhart, James Bell, Katherine Warren, Kevin Corcoran (uncredited), Marion Ross (uncredited)
Themselves: Frances Langford, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Ben Pollack, Barney Bigard, James Young, Marty Napoleon, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole, Babe Russin, The Modernaires, The Archie Savage Dancers

Plot:
A biographical film on trombone player and music arranger Glenn Miller (Stewart) and his courtship and marriage to wife Helen (Allyson). The film follows as he forms a band, looks for a unique sound, and his growing success until he joins the military and is lost in action in Dec. 1944 during World War II.

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Musical Monday: Rhapsody in Blue (1945)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Rhapsody in Blue (1945) – Musical #211

Studio:
Warner Bros.

Director:
Irving Rapper

Starring:
Robert Alda, Joan Leslie, Alexis Smith, Charles Coburn, Julie Bishop, Albert Bassermann, Morris Carnovsky, Rosemary DeCamp, Herbert Rudley, Darryl Hickman, Mickey Roth, Andrew Tombes, Will Wright, Johnny Downs, Gower Champion (uncredited)
Themselves: Oscar Levant, Paul Whiteman, Hazel Scott, George White, Al Jolson, Elsa Maxwell, Anne Brown, Tom Patricola

Plot:
A biographical film on composer and musician George Gershwin (Alda). The film follows his rise to fame to his death in 1937.

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Musical Monday: That’s Entertainment! (1974)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
That’s Entertainment! (1974)

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Jack Haley, Jr.

Starring:
As themselves narrating: Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lawford, James Stewart, Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Liza Minelli, Bing Crosby

Plot:
A feature film documentary celebrating 50 years of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, featuring film clips from 1929 into 1958.

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Christmas on Film: Christmas Eve (1947)

CHRISTMAS EVE (1947) is an often forgotten film. But it holds one distinction: it was the first writing job of screenwriter, director Robert Altman.

The film is about elderly Matilda Reid, played by Ann Harding. Matilda is extremely wealthy and eccentric. She invites birds inside her home to be fed and runs a train set at the dinner table, which delivers items like cream and sugar.

Matilda’s nephew, Phillip Hastings, played by Reginald Denny, is trying to prove that his aunt is mentally unfit and tries to become the executor of her estate. Matilda would prefer for her three adopted sons to manage her estate, but the trouble is that she hasn’t seen them in many years. She asks for lawyers to wait until Christmas Eve for her sons to return home to her and hires a private detective to help locate them.
As we meet each son, they have their own vignette to tell their story:
• Michael, played by George Brent, is a playboy; spending more money than he has. Michael tries to marry a wealthy woman to help pay off his debt of $70,000 in bad checks. Ann Nelson, played by Joan Blondell, is in love with Michael and tries to stop the wedding.
• Mario, played by George Raft, is in South America, where he runs a nightclub and is avoiding American police. He was involved in a crime in New Orleans and fled the country. Mario is dating Claire, played by Virginia Field, who he realizes is involved with Nazi war criminals, who he tangles with.
• Jonathan, played by Randolph Scott, is a broken down cowboy who drinks too much. Upon arriving in New York City on his way to see Matilda, he is sidetracked by a pretty girl, Jean, played by Dolores Moran. Jean is trying to expose an illegal adoption ring and wants Jonathan to pose as her husband to get a baby.

Aunt Matilda’s train set up at the table

The three find their way back to Matilda, all pretending that their lives are perfect, but Aunt Matilda sees through each of them.

Though titled CHRISTMAS EVE, the film isn’t solely a Christmas movie. With each story, it’s part comedy, film noir and adventure. Sometimes in each vignette, particularly George Raft’s area, you almost forget about the Matilda storyline. But the story ties together at the end, and we learn that cousin Phillip is responsible for the hardships of some of the boys. It’s also clear that Matilda won’t be alone anymore, as three baby girls make their way to her.

George Raft in “Christmas Eve”

The storyline in CHRISTMAS EVE is a bit unpredictable and catches you by surprise the first time you see it. You don’t go into this film expecting to see Nazi war criminals and a baby smuggling ring. But I still enjoy it.

What’s most notable about this film is Robert Altman’s uncredited work on the screenplay.

Today, most people know Robert Altman for his work in the 1970s; directing great films like M.A.S.H. (1970), THE LONG GOODBYE (1973) and NASHVILLE (1975) or writing the screenplay for McCABE and MRS. MILLER (1971).

But in his early days of Hollywood after serving in World War II, Altman worked as a writer in Hollywood. His first two films were CHRISTMAS EVE, for which he wasn’t credited, and the film noir BODYGUARD (1948), for which he received his first credit.

Altman’s father lived in Malibu, and below his apartment lived George W. George, the son of cartoonist and inventor, Rube Goldberg.

“George had an uncle who was a director. George was going to be a director, too, and I was going to be a writer, so we started working together. We wrote treatments and sold two of them, one to RKO The Bodyguard, with Lawrence Tierney, and Christmas Eve, with George Brent and Randolph Scott,” Altman said in an interview published in the book “Altman on Altman.”

The film was also known under the title SINNER’S HOLIDAY. Altman heard that producer Benedict Bogeaus was looking for a holiday tie in for the story, and made his way into the producer’s office to pitch an idea, according to Robert Altman: Jumping Off the Cliff by Patrick McGilligan.

While CHRISTMAS EVE was the starting point of Altman’s career, I feel like it was the downswing for most of its stars or their careers were beginning to change.

The leads of Ann Harding, George Brent, George Raft, Joan Blondell and Reginald Denny all found their greatest success in the 1930s, particularly during the Pre-Code era. While they were all still active in films, they weren’t of the same caliber. Here are some of the shifts in careers:
• At 45 and around the same age as her male co-stars, Harding plays a woman of 70 convincingly. This same year, she was in another holiday film, IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE. Now, she was playing mothers, while in the 1930s, she played women of questionable morals, like in DOUBLE HARNESS.
• This was Randolph Scott’s last non-western film, though he still plays a cowboy. Scott performed strictly in westerns until his last film in 1962.
• George Brent was also moving into parental roles, with his next film as Jane Powell’s father in LUXURY LINER.
• After Christmas Eve, Joan Blondell wouldn’t appear in another film until 1950.
• Actress Dolores Moran was the newest to Hollywood of the group, starting in films in 1940 with her first credited role as grownup Deidre in OLD AQUINTANCE (1943). Extremely beautiful, Moran was a popular pin-up of World War II, and her popularity seemed to diminish after the war. Moran was married to the film’s producer Benedict Bogeaus, and she also didn’t make another film until 1950.

CHRISTMAS EVE was later remade for television in 1986 with Loretta Young as the elderly woman. In the next adaptation, she is looking for her grandchildren, and it’s her son who is trying to say she is senile. Bringing everyone back together could also be compared to the television movie, THE GATHERING.

While CHRISTMAS EVE (1947) may not be a memorable Christmas favorite, I still find it enjoyable. It has something for everyone: drama, comedy, film noir and the holidays. It’s a bit of a wild ride, but a fun one.

Musical Monday: Trail of Robin Hood (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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Trail of Robin Hood (1950) – Musical #642

Studio:
Republic Pictures

Director:
William Witney

Starring:
Roy Rogers, Trigger, Penny Edwards, Gordon Jones, Clifton Young, Emory Parnell, Ed Cassidy, Carol Nugent, Bullet the Dog, Foy Willing, Cheryl Rogers (uncredited), Ralph Bucko (uncredited), Roy Bucko (uncredited), Lane Bradford (uncredited)
As themselves: Jack Holt, Rex Allen, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Monte Hale, William Farnum, Tom Tyler, Ray Corrigan, Kermit Maynard, Tom Keene, George Chesebro

Plot:
Actor Jack Holt (himself) is spending his retirement from films running a Christmas tree farm. His goal is to sell the trees at a low rate so all children can have a holiday tree. The problem is a competing Christmas tree farm, owned by J. Corwin Aldridge (Parnell), tries to put Holt out of business so they can beat him to market – his low prices will cause people not to buy their trees. Soil conservationist Roy Rogers (himself) comes to help Holt, and Aldridge’s daughter Toby (Edwards) arrives to work about Rogers and Holt.

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Watching 1939: Winter Carnival (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film: 
Winter Carnival (1939)

Release date: 
July 28, 1939

Cast: 
Ann Sheridan, Richard Carlson, Helen Parrish, James Corner, Alan Baldwin, Robert Armstrong, Marsha Hunt, Joan Leslie (billed as Joan Brodel), Jimmy Butler, Virginia Gilmore, Cecil Cunningham, Morton Lowry, Robert Walker (uncredited)

Studio: 
Walter Wanger Productions, released through United Artists

Director: 
Charles Reisner

Plot:
After a well-publicized divorce to Count Olaf Von Lundborg (Lowry), Jill Baxter (Sheridan) visits Dartmouth College during its Winter Carnival. Upon her return, she finds her old boyfriend, John Wilden (Carlson), who is now a professor at the school and was jilted by Jill when she was crowned queen of the Winter Carnival years earlier. Jill’s younger sister Ann (Parrish) is also attending the carnival and falls for the head of the ski team, Mickey Allen (Corner), but as she receives attention from the other athletes, it looks like Ann may follow in Jill’s footsteps.

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Musical Monday: The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) – Musical No. 654

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Henry Levin, George Pal (the fairy tales)

Starring:
Laurence Harvey, Karlheinz Böhm (billed as Karl Boehm), Claire Bloom, Barbara Eden, Walter Slezak, Oskar Homolka, Martita Hunt, Ian Wolfe, Bryan Russell, Tammy Marihugh
Fairy tale characters: Russ Tamblyn, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Backus, Beulah Bondi, Clinton Sundberg, Sandra Bettin, Robert Foulk, Terry-Thomas, Buddy Hackett, Otto Kruger,

Plot:
A biographical film on brothers Jacob Grimm (Böhm) and Wilhelm Grimm (Harvey). Jacob and Wilhelm have been hired by the Duke (Homolka) to write a family history of his life. But the more serious Jacob frequently pulls the workload, while Wilhelm is more fanciful and finds more importance in documenting fairy tales.
Mixed into the biographical narrative are fairy tales that are acted out as one of the narrative characters tells them. These include:
– The Dancing Princess
– The Cobbler and the Elves
– The Singing Bone.

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