Watching 1939: Dodge City (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:  Dodge City (1939)

Release date:  April 1, 1939

Cast:  Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Ann Sheridan, Bobs Watson, Alan Hale, Bruce Cabot, Frank McHugh, John Litel, Henry Travers, Henry O’Neill, Victor Jory, William Lundigan, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Gloria Holden, Douglas Fowley, Ward Bond, Cora Witherspoon, Thurston Hall (uncredited), Rand Brooks (uncredited)

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Michael Curtiz

Plot:
Wade Hatton (Flynn) is a cattle agent and travels to Dodge City, KS. When he sees the constant shooting in the streets and the innocent lives affected, he takes the job of sheriff to clean up the town.

1939 Notes:
• The sixth top grossing film of 1939
• Errol Flynn’s first western. Flynn felt that he was miscast.
• Flynn was in two films in 1939 and both were directed by Michael Curtiz and Olivia De Havilland was in both films.
• Ann Sheridan made six films in 1939.
• Henry O’Neill was in 14 films in 1939.
• Guinn Williams was in nine released in 1939.
• Bobs Watson was in five films released in 1939.

Alan Hale, Errol Flynn, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams

Other trivia: 
• Originally planned to be a movie about Wyatt Earp starring Paul Muni, according to Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode
• Gary Cooper and James Cagney were considered for the leads. They couldn’t get Cooper, since he was under contract at Paramount, and Cagney was already cast in “The Oklahoma Kid,” according to Rode’s book.
• Errol Flynn was uncomfortable taking the part, since the character in the script was so American. The script explains his accent by having a piece said by Alan Hale about all of his international travels and adventures, according to Rode’s book.
• Olivia de Havilland was unhappy on the set of this film, later calling it “an awful experience.” She had been unsuccessfully begging Jack Warner to loan her to MGM to play Melanie in Gone with the Wind. She was frustrated with always playing Flynn’s romantic sidekick and getting paid only a little more than secondary lead Frank McHugh, according to Rode’s book
• The premiere was held in Dodge City, Kansas
• The fifth of nine films that Flynn and de Havilland made together.
• The four minute saloon brawl cast and estimated $112,000, according to Rode’s book.

Olivia De Havilland in “Dodge City”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
At a glance, it’s ridiculous to put Errol Flynn, an Austrailian, in a western playing a character modeled after Wyatt Earp. But somehow “Dodge City” (1939) works and Flynn is great in it.

Flynn wasn’t comfortable making the film because he was Australian. But in the film, Alan Hale’s character explains all that away describing Wade Hatton’s adventures all aroudn the world.

“Dodge City” doesn’t feel like your typical run-of-the-mill 1930s western. For starters, it’s filmed in gorgeous Technicolor. But rather than a one dimensional “let’s run the bad guys out of town” story, the story revolves on bringing law and order to a town that has zero laws. Now, bad guys are run out of town and people do ride off into the sunset at the end, so all typical western elements were not lost in this story, but it has a few other tidbits that make this film great.

For starters, child actor Bobs Watson is in the cast and Bobs is at his best with his heartbreaking tears in several scenes. An event involving Bobs ends up being the turning point of what brings Errol Flynn’s character to decide he will help bring law to Dodge City.

And “Dodge City” wasn’t Flynn’s last western. Once they saw they could successfully sell Flynn as a western star, he was cast in Virginia City (1940), Santa Fe Trail (1940), San Antonio (1945) and Montana (1950), just to name a few.

The film is bursting with character actors: Alan Hale, Bruce Cabot, Frank McHugh, John Litel, Henry Travers, Henry O’Neill, Victor Jory, William Lundigan, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams and Douglas Fowley. Hale’s character is quite funny throughout the film.

For Olivia de Havilland, she found “Dodge City” to be a career let down — yet another film where she played second fiddle to Flynn as his romantic lead. However, 1939 was a catalyst for de Havilland’s career which was significantly boosted by her role as Melanie Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind,” a role she was fighting for while making this film.

Ann Sheridan, wasted in “Dodge City”

To me, the real career let down in this film went to Ann Sheridan. Why was she even cast? Did all of her scenes end up on the cutting room floor? We see Sheridan in a handful of scenes, most memorably singing “Marching Through Georgia” before the big, four minute bar fight breaks out. I’m not sure that we see Ann against after this scene. You would think Sheridan’s character would be there to seduce Flynn’s character to get something she wanted or plot more with the bad guys, but we see very little of her or her romance with Bruce Cabot’s character. One thing you can say about Ann Sheridan: she looks fabulous in the vibrant Technicolor and her red hair looks like it’s on fire it’s so colorful.

“Dodge City” is a very entertaining “good guys brings law and order to the west” film. If you don’t care for westerns, watch this if only for Michael Curtiz’s beautiful Technicolor vision of the west.

Flynn and de Havilland in “Dodge City”

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Musical Monday: Bloodhounds of Broadway (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.

This week’s musical:
“Bloodhounds of Broadway” (1952) – Musical #589

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Harmon Jones

Starring:
Mitzi Gaynor, Scott Brady, Mitzi Green, Marguerite Chapman, Michael O’Shea, Wally Vernon, Richard Allen, Mary Wickes (uncredited), Charles Bronson (uncredited)

Plot:
New York bookie Robert “Numbers” Foster (Brady) is in danger of being subpoenaed. He and one of his men, Harry “Poorly” Sammis (Vernon), high tail it out of New York to Florida while Numbers’s girlfriend and singer of his club, Yvonne (Chapman), testifies that Numbers is only a gambler. On their way back to New York, Numbers and Poorly take a wrong turn in Georgia in the country and run out of gas. They come across Emily Ann Stackerlee (Gaynor), who is burying her grandpappy. The two men take pity on the now orphaned girl and bring her back to New York. Emily Ann ends up being older than they expected, so they try to give her a part in their nightclub act. However, Yvonne is jealous and holds the testimony over Numbers’s head.

Trivia:
– Victor Mature and Jean Peters were originally set to star with Mitzi Gaynor, according to a 1951 Los Angeles Examiner article. Their roles were filled by Scott Brady and Marguerite Chapman. Martha Raye and Zero Mostel were also announced by the Hollywood Reporter as acting in the film, but their roles were played by Mitzi Green and Wally Vernon.
– This film is based on the works of Damon Runyon. In 1952, Twentieth Century-Fox was sued by Cy Feuer and Ernest H. Martin, the producers of the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, which is also based on the works of Runyon. Feuer and Martin said the film used “Guy and Dolls” in a misleading advertising campaign.
– Mitzi Green’s last film
– Charles Bronson in an uncredited role
– Remade in 1989 under the same title starring Matt Dillon and Madonna
– Produced by George Jessel
– Costumes by Travilla

Highlights:
– The bloodhound dogs
– The colorful Technicolor musical numbers

Notable Songs:
-“80 Miles Outside of Atlanta” performed by Mitzi Gaynor
-“I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin'” performed by Mitzi Gaynor, Richard Allen, Mitzi Green

My review:
I adore Mitzi Gaynor, but some of her early 20th Century Fox films can be hard to come across. I recently joined DVD Netflix and was excited to see “Bloodhounds of Broadway” (1952) was one of the movies you could rent. I knew “Bloodhounds” was on DVD for a few years, but never wanted to take the gamble to buy it and not like it.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the film’s description involving bookies and a naive girl. This plot sounded too similar to “Guys and Dolls,” a story and film I don’t particularly care for. But I was pleasantly surprised by how charming and fun “Bloodhounds of Broadway” was, and other than gambling, the two stories aren’t similar.

Going into the film and looking at the cast list, I only knew of Mitzi Gaynor, Michael O’Shea (who was low on billing) and vaguely of Marguerite Chapman. I wasn’t familiar with leading man Scott Brady, who was extremely handsome, and surprised that he was the brother of bad boy actor, Lawrence Tierney. For the first time being aware of Brady, I thought he was swoon-worthy in his role and a decent actor. In the DVD’s featurette, “Mitzi Gaynor: Impressions of the Fox Years” was complimentary and said Brady had a rare mix of looks and acting chops.

Scott Brady and Marguerite Chapman in “Bloodhounds of Broadway”

Mitzi Gaynor is her usual energetic self and sells a song like no other. Her character is sweet and Gaynor has to put on a southern drawl. As a southerner usually this bugs me because it’s generally done badly, but Gaynor’s accent didn’t bother me. The only time I wasn’t a fan is when she starts singing “80 Miles Outside of Atlanta” in a twangy fashion. I started off thinking “Wow this is terrible,” but the number then turns more sultry and I thought it was great by the end.

The “Bloodhounds” part of the title is because Gaynor’s character literally has two bloodhounds, Nip and Tuck, who come to New York with her from Georgia. Since I love hounds, I of course loved this.

Mitzi Gaynor dancing with one of the bloodhounds in “Bloodhounds of Broadway”

Mitzi Green is entertaining in her last film role. Her character was a mix of Eve Arden sass with Joan Davis humor. Marguerite Chapman doesn’t have much screentime, but her character is easy to dislike.

One standout actor to me who intrigued me was Richard Allan, who played Curtaintime Charlie, a tap dancer (or hoofer) in Numbers’ nightclub. I was struck by how handsome Allan was and surprised I had never heard of this dancer. He doesn’t have much screentime but performs a cute version of “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin'” with Green and Gaynor. After that number, we don’t see much of him. I have a feeling he was supposed to be groomed as a new screen dancer, but it looks like he never got the same chance as others, including his idol Fred Astaire. Allan was a decent dancer and very handsome, so I wish he had a little more screentime.

Charles Bronson on the left

Also, I was a little startled to see Charles Bronson show up as one of the bookies.

All in all, “Bloodhounds of Broadway” is a really fun and glittering film. The storyline is slightly convoluted, but the Technicolor cinematography, Travilla costumes, attractive leads and songs distract you from that.

Love musicals? Want to learn more about musicals? Enroll in Turner Classic Movie’s Mad About Musicals online class through Ball State University!

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Hollywood stars who married royalty, nobility

With the royal wedding happening this weekend, much ado has been made about Meghan Markle being an actress and marrying into royalty.

Of course, she isn’t the only actor or actress to marry into royalty or nobility. Well cited examples include Grace Kelly marrying Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, making Grace Kelly a princess. The two were married from 1956 unti her death in 1982. And there was Rita Hayworth, who became a princess when she married Prince Aly Khan, who were married in 1949 and divorced in 1953.

But I started wondering was there anyone else? I found a few other actors who were married to royalty or nobility, though some titles have been up for debate:

Actor Donald Cook (unable to find a photo together with wife)

Donald Cook and Princess Gioia Tasca di Cuto (1937 to 1961): Actor Donald Cook was married to Princess Giovanna Mastro – Giovanni Tasca Di Cuto from 1937 until Cook’s death in 1961. I can find little on Princess Giovnna, except that the two lived in Long Island in the 1940s and also had a home in Connecticut. An April 1971 newspaper called Gioia Cook the great-granddaughter of Prince Niccolo of Sicily. According to a 1966 newspaper, calls Gioia a “former” royal and calls her Gioia Cook. It seems Donald Cook did not take up a title as other stars did. After Donald Cook’s death, Gioia owned a restaurant called Leopard.

Pola Negri and Prince Serge Mdivani

Pola Negri and Prince Serge Mdivani (May 14, 1927 – April 2, 1931): Pola Negri said she was engaged to silent film star idol Rudolph Valentino, who died suddenly in 1926. Serge Mdivani then started courting Pola, and proposed to her (he was turned down). The Mdivani’s were a Georgian aristocratic family who went to Paris (and then Serge and David to America) when the Soviets took over Georgia. Serge and David presented themselves as royalty in Los Angeles and were treated as such, though it seems like their titles may have been phony (we are still counting his as a noble/royal wedding though). According to her memoir, Negri had no interest in marrying Serge and was not attracted to him. Negri was criticized for marrying Prince Serge six months later in France on May 14, 1927, according to Pola Negri: Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale by Mariusz Kotowski. The marriage made Negri Mae Murray’s sister-in-law who was married to Serge’s brother, David. Serge gambled Negri’s money and after the stock market crash in 1929, Negri lost millions. When the money was gone, so was Serge. Serge died in 1936 after a polo accident.

Mae Murray and Prince David Mdivani

Mae Murray and Prince David Mdivani (June 27, 1926 – February 11, 1934): Mae Murray and Prince David Mdivani met at a party at Pola Negri’s house. Pola invited David because she heard he was charming and would be good company for her mother, according to an LA Magazine article. Murray was 14 years older than David and their marriage was tumultuous. Murray filed for divorce in 1931 and then again in 1933, which finally ended the marriage. Murray and Mdivani entered a custody battle for their son, Koran, in 1933, who was living with Sara Elizabeth Cunning in New York, the wife of a surgeon who performed surgy on the child. The custody battle lasted until 1940. Murray gained custody but Koran ended up living with the Cunnings.

Zsa Zsa Gabor and Prince Frédéric von Anhalt

Zsa Zsa Gabor and Prince Frédéric von Anhalt (1986-2016): Frédéric von Anhalt was not born into royalty, but adopted. At age 36 in 1980, he asked Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt of Germany to adopt him as an adult and he assumed the title of Prince. Anhalt moved to the United States in 1984 and met actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. Anhalt married Zsa Zsa, and he was her ninth and last husband. The two were married from 1986 until her death in 2016. The marriage made Zsa Zsa Princess Von Anhalt, Duchess of Saxony, though genealogists question the title since Anhalt was not of royal birth.

Pola Negri and Count Eugene Dombski (1919- 1922): Pola Negri met Count Eugene Dombski while arguing with customs from Warsaw to Berlin. The Count was the man in charge. Shortly after, the Count invited Negri to dinner and said he wanted to marry her, according to Pola Negri: Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale by Mariusz Kotowski. Negri’s mother encouraged her to accept and the two married in Nov. 1919. However, it was a lonely and boring marriage for Negri, because the count was often away for work. Negri had also given up her acting career to take up the social position of countess, which left her unhappy and still wanting to work. The couple separated in 1920 and divorced in 1922 when the count wanted to remarry.

Gloria Swanson and Marquis Henri de la Falaise (January 1925 – November 1931): Henri de La Falaise, Marquis de La Coudraye was a French nobleman who got involved in producing, directing and translating films. He met Gloria Swanson while acting as a translator for Swanson for the film Madame Sans-Gêne (1925). The couple married in 1925 and divorced in 1931. A January 1931 newspaper said the couple had lived apart for two years prior to their divorce.

Constance Bennett and Marquis Henri de la Falaise (November 1931 – November 1940) Constance Bennett also married the Henri de La Falaise. Henri married Constance days after his divorce finalized with Gloria Swanson. Together they founded Bennett Productions. The two were married until they divorced in 1940, though newspapers in 1936 said the marriage was “on the rocks” as of 1934.

King Vidor and Eleanor Boardman (September 1926 – April 1933): King Vidor was … a Hollywood director from Texas and not royalty. Just kidding!

Comment below for any other celebrities of classic Hollywood who were married to royalty or nobility!

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Watching 1939: Henry Goes Arizona

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: Henry Goes Arizona (1939)

Release date:  Dec. 8, 1939

Cast: 
Frank Morgan, Virginia Weidler, Guy Kibbee, Slim Summerville, Douglas Fowley, Owen Davis Jr., Porter Hall (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Edwin L. Marin

Plot:
Henry (Morgan) is a down-on-his-luck New York vaudeville actor. He thinks he has a stroke of luck when he inherits his half-brother’s ranch in Arizona. But he may not be so lucky when he finds out his brother has been murdered.

1939 Notes:
• Douglas Fowley was in nine films released in 1939
• Frank Morgan was in four films released in 1939
• Virginia Weidler was in 10 films released in 1939.
• Slim Summerville was in four films released in 1939

Other trivia: 
• Dennis O’Keefe was originally set to play the role of Danny but O’Keefe was injured in a wreck. George Murphy replaced O’Keefe, but the role went to Owen Davis Jr., according to the Hollywood Reporter.
• Working title was “Spats to Spurs”
• Native American athlete Jim Thorpe appears in the film in an uncredited, non-speaking role.

Douglas Fowley, Guy Kibbee, Virginia Weidler and Frank Morgan in “Henry Goes Arizona”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
In 1939, Frank Morgan performed in the role that he is best remembered for today: the Great Wizard of Oz in “The Wizard of Oz.” Of the four films Morgan made in 1939 in addition to “Oz,” two were musicals with top stars: Balalaika with Nelson Eddy and Broadway Serenade with Jeanette MacDonald.

And then there was “Henry Goes Arizona,” a low budget comedy with a title that feels like it’s missing a word.

But this hour-long comedy is actually quite delightful and I will argue to say more fun than the Eddy or MacDonald high dollar films.

There aren’t any real surprises in “Henry Goes to Arizona.” Each lead actor plays the character type that you expect to see:
– Frank Morgan is a nervous flibbertigibbet who is a fish out of water New Yorker in Arizona.
– Virginia Weidler is a fearless child who isn’t afraid of anyone, even in the face of danger. But below the fiesty exterior, she is also a sweet child.
– Guy Kibbee is a doddering judge (who also drinks too much)

Each character is one you have seen these actors play in another film, and they always perform the role well. “Henry Goes Arizona” is no exception. It is a funny film with some drama and danger thrown in from an evil farmhand played by Douglas Fowley.

As far as the year 1939 goes, “Henry Goes Arizona” is representative of other light, low budget films that came out of MGM during the late 1930s and early 1940s. It is also interesting to see that after performing in three other more important films, that Frank Morgan was also cast in this comedy. Nevertheless, it’s a fun to watch and won’t take up too much of your time.

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Musical Monday: Broadway Rhythm (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.

This week’s musical:
Broadway Rhythm (1944) – Musical #228

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Roy Del Ruth

Starring:
George Murphy, Ginny Simms, Charles Winninger, Gloria DeHaven, Nancy Walker, Ben Blue, Lena Horne, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Kenny Bowers
Themselves: Hazel Scott, Tommy Dorsey and His Band, The Ross Sisters

Plot:
Jonnie Demming (Murphy) is a Broadway producer and clashes with his family. His father, Sam (Winninger), is a former vaudeville star and still wants to act post-retirement and has ideas of how the show should be run. His sister Patsy (DeHaven) has left school to perform in a nightclub act and wants her brother to give her a job. Jonnie also has issues with his show. He needs a leading lady and tries to get Hollywood star Helen Hoyt (Simms), who also wants to get on Broadway. The only problem is she doesn’t like the show’s script.

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Watching 1939: They All Come Out (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:  They All Come Out (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 4, 1939

Cast: 
Rita Johnson, Tom Neal, Bernard Nedell, George Tobias, Edward Gargan, John Gallaudet, Addison Richards, Frank M. Thomas, Ann Shoemaker, Charles Lane, Paul Fix (uncredited), Frank Faylen (uncredited)
Themselves: U.S. Attorney General Homer Stille Cummings, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons James V. Bennett

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Jacques Tourneur

Plot:
Kitty (Johnson) meets jobless and down-on-his-luck Joe (Neal). After paying for his meal, Kitty hires him to be the driver for the gang she’s in, lead by Reno (Nedell). When the whole gang goes to jail, Kitty and Joe try to lead a crime-free life, but their past follows them.

1939 Notes:
• The film introduction says that it is the first film to record “scenes actually photographed in our federal prisons.”
• Director Jacques Tourneur’s first American feature-length film. He directed films until 1934 in France, and then directed shorts in America from 1936 to 1939.
• Character actor Charles Lane was in 18 films released in 1939.
• Tom Neal made 10 full-length films released this year.
• Rita Johnson was in seven films in 1939

Other trivia: 
• The beginning of the film says, “Dedicated to the United States Department of Justice, whose cooperation made this picture possible.”
• The film was originally supposed to be part of a two-reel “Crimes Doesn’t Pay” series. Studio head Louis B. Mayer extended this to four-reel documentary. It was then lengthened to a seven-reel full-length film, which was director Jacques Tourneur’s first American feature film, according to Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall by Chris Fujiwara.
• The film has a prologue and epilogue with the real-life U.S. Attorney General, Homer Stille Cummings, and Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, James V. Bennett
• Rita Johnson’s prison dress came from the Federal Prison Camp of Alderson, West Virginia, according to a Sept. 17, 1939 article.

Tom Neal and Bernard Nedell in They All Come Out (1939)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
At first glance, “They All Come Out” is a run-of-the-mill B-budget movie released by MGM. However, this is an interesting 70 minute film.

The film had an interesting history and evolution. It started out as a documentary for the “Crime Doesn’t Pay” series. This explains appearances made by real-life U.S. Attorney General, Homer Stille Cummings, and Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, James V. Bennett at the beginning and end of the film.

Before filming, federal facilities in Atlanta, Chillicothe and Springfield had already been filmed, as well as the infamous Alcatraz.

But the film ended up being lengthened, giving Jacques Tourneur his first feature-length American film. This film gives an interesting look at the prison system and shows it working to help improve lives.

Since 1936, Tourneur had been filming shorts and documentary shorts in the United States. With this film launching his career, Jacques Tourneur, he went on to direct feature films such as “Cat People” (1942), “Out of the Past” (1947) and “Stars in My Crown” (1950).

The year 1939 wasn’t only important to director Tourneur, but the film’s star, Tom Neal. Neal was an amateur boxer in college in 1933. In 1938, Neal made his film debut in “Out West with the Hardys” and then proceeded to make 10 feature films in 1939. In the film, Neal’s character is a kid who gets caught up with crime and tries to lead a crime-free life once he’s out of jail. This differed drastically from his real life. Neal’s off-screen persona could be described as “violent.” For example, Neal beat actor Franchot Tone while they were both dating actress Barbara Peyton, leaving Tone with severe injuries. Later in 1965, Neal was convicted with involuntary manslaughter after his wife was found dead due to a gunshot wound to the back of her head. Seeing this kid in the film trying hard to straighten out his life and comparing it to his real life is honestly rather disheartening and sad.

While “They All Come Out” wasn’t shot in the originally planned documentary format, some of the film still has some documentary-like format. Government leaders introduce and end the film and some of the on-location filmings of the federal institutions was used in the film. 1939 critics called it “experimental, something new” in a July 1939 newspaper review.

While low budget, “They All Come Out” is an interesting film that does offer a different point of view and look at the prison system, as well as an intersting blend of documentary and narrative filmmaking.

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Five years of the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival

Each year when I return from the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), I have a hard time articulating the experience.

“How was your trip? Who did you see?”, friends and coworkers ask.

I practically stutter like Porky Pig as films I watched and classic stars I clapped for swirl in my head like a kaleidoscope, thinking “Where do I begin?” The same thing happens when I try to put into words here about this extraordinary festival. So many exciting things happen over the span of three and a half days that it can be difficult to put your arms around it to begin to describe it: Tearing up as 100-year-old Marsha Hunt was interviewed by Eddie Muller, standing inches away from former child star Claude Jarman, Jr. as I interviewed him on the red carpet, excitedly hugging and catching up with friends I only see once a year at the festival.

The 2018 TCMFF festival was my fifth time attending. The festival began in 2010, and my first year was in 2013. I have attended every year since, except I, unfortunately, was unable to attend the 2017 festival due to other obligations.

Covering the red carpet for the 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival

TCMFF 2018 was full of firsts for me. It was my first year covering the red carpet arrivals (a separate post to come on this), my first time seeing a movie at the Cinerama Dome, and the first time my boyfriend, Brandon, attended the festival (and his first time in California). I even skipped all midnight screenings so I could sleep, something I generally don’t do. I also had the opportunity to visit the American Society of Cinematographers clubhouse with TCM Backlots, which was an amazing experience.

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Musical Monday: The Girl Most Likely (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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Girl Most Likely (1958) – Musical #96

Studio:
RKO Pictures

Director:
Mitchell Leisen

Starring:
Jane Powell, Cliff Robertson, Keith Andes, Una Merkel, Kaye Ballard, Tommy Noonan, Frank Cady, Judy Nugent, Kelly Brown

Plot:
Dodie (Powell) is a dreamer who wants to get married to a millionaire. Her real-estate boyfriend Buzz (Noonan) proposes after he gets a raise, and she uncertainly accepts. Shortly after she meets Pete (Robertson), who she believes is a millionaire but is only a mechanic. She enjoys Pete’s company, and then meets a real millionaire, Neil Patterson, Jr. (Andres), which is what she has always dreamed of. With proposals from all three men, Dodie then has to pick which man she wants to marry.

Trivia:
– Remake of Tom, Dick and Harry (1941), starring Ginger Rogers
– Jane Powell’s last musical film
– This was the last film produced by RKO and was distributed by Universal Pictures. It was released two years after it was made.
– Kaye Ballard’s first feature film
– Director Mitchell Leisen last film he directed. After this, he directed on television.
– In November 1956, the Los Angeles Times reported that Carol Channing was to co-star as Powell’s best friend, but Channing was not in the film.
– Tommy Noonan is dubbed by Robert C. Oates
– Cliff Robertson is dubbed by Hal Derwin

Jane Powell with Tommy Noonan, Cliff Robertson and Keith Andes in “The Girl Most Likely”

Highlights:
– The pink clouds with angels singing when Jane Powell gets kissed

Notable Songs:
– “The Girl Most Likely” performed by a the Hi-Los over the credits
– “I Don’t Know What I Want” performed by Jane Powell

My review:
Jane Powell is a favorite of mine, but “The Girl Most Likely” is far from her best film, yet it still holds a certain charm because of Jane.

The problem with “The Girl Most Likely” is that it would have been better as a straight comedy. The songs, which mainly manifest themselves in dream sequences, are lousy. The worst are “We Gotta Keep Up With the Joneses,” a frantic dream sequence about keeping up with your neighbors; and “Crazy Horse,” where Jane and Cliff Robertson are dressed as Indians and she imagines having his six children.

While some of the songs are terrible and drag on, the film is very colorful and pretty costumes designed by Renié. This is also another musical remake of a 1940s comedy. It reworks “Tom, Dick and Harry” (1941) which starred Ginger Rogers, Burgess Meredith, George Muphry and Alan Marshall.

“The Girl Most Likely” marked the end for many things. It attempts one last hoorah of the musical era when it was dying fast.

It was Jane Powell’s last musical and her second to last film. She had performed in musicals at MGM since 1946, had left MGM. It also marked the last film directed by Michell Leisen, who opted to direct television in the 1960s.

And it was the end of RKO, which was created in 1928. “The Girl Most Likely” was the last movie filmed at RKO. The film was then distributed by Universal. While filming was going on, offices were closing up at RKO and construction crews would ask director Mitchell Leisen if he was done with an area so they could start tearing it down.

While this musical marks the end of careers and a studio era, it still is rather light and colorful. It’s sad to see a glittering career like Jane Powell come to an end, but even her last (and perhaps worst) film is better than the final films of her contemporaries.

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Watching 1939: The Roaring Twenties

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:  The Roaring Twenties (1939)

Release date:  Oct. 28, 1939

Cast:  James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane, Gladys George, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh, Paul Kelly, Robert Armstrong (uncredited)

Studio: 
Warner Brothers

Director:  Raoul Walsh

Plot:
During World War I, three men meet in a foxhole and become friends: Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) who wants to go back to his pre-war job as a mechanic, George Hally (Bogart) who is a bit brash and wants to run a saloon, and Lloyd Hart (Lynn) who is college educated and wants to be a lawyer. When the war ends, Eddie returns home and can’t find work. Prohibition begins and Eddie gets mixed up with bootleggers. He also meets and falls in love with Jean (Lane), who doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, and gets Jean a job singing in a club owned by Panama Smith (George). The years go by and Eddie and George work together as bootleggers and Jean grows closer to Llyod.

1939 Notes:
• James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart made two films together in 1939: Roaring Twenties and The Oklahoma Kid (1939). Cagney starred in three films in 1939 and Bogart starred in seven films in 1939.
• Priscilla Lane was in five movies released in 1939 and she co-starred with Jeffrey Lynn in four of them: Four Wives, Yes, My Darling Daughter, Daughters Courageous and Roaring Twenties. Jeffrey Lynn was in six films in 1939.
• Gladys George was in four films in 1939, Frank McHugh was in eight films in 1939, and Paul Kelly was in six films in 1939.

Priscilla Lane and James Cagney in “The Roaring Twenties”

Other trivia: 
• Gladys George’s character of Panama Smith is based on Texas Guinan. The role originally was cast to Glenda Farrell. It then was offered to Lee Patrick and Ann Sheridan before George got the role.
• Raoul Walsh replaced Anatole Litvak as a director
• A 1920s nostalgia craze followed this film, including popular 1920s songs recorded again and magazine publishing 1920s photospreads, according to James Cagney Films of the 1930s by James L. Neibaur.
• Working title was “The World Moves On”
• Writer Mark Hellinger based the film off of what he witnessed as a newspaper reporter in the 1920s. He based the characters on real-life gangsters Larry Fay, Moe Snyder and Hymie Weiss.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
James Cagney is a versatile actor: he could play bad guys, comedy roles and he could sing and dance. But when it comes to 1930s films, his roles as gangsters sneering “You dirty rat” readily come to mind.

“The Roaring Twenties” was one of his last gangster roles, and his last role of the 1930s, but it’s different from his characters in films like “Public Enemy.” In this film, Cagney returns from war wanting to live a simple life and falls into a career of bootlegging. It’s not what he necessarily wanted, but he ends up being successful at it. But the character has more depth than the usual bad guy gangster who just wants money. We see him pining for Priscilla Lane, knowing deep down that she isn’t his.

Humphrey Bogart’s character is really the antagonist of this film. Bogart started in films in 1928, with his first standout role coming in 1936 as Duke Mantee in “The Petrified Forest.” However, I feel like he was stalled from 1936 to 1939, but in 1939 he started to progress again into larger roles and he was a bonified star by 1940.

Jeffrey Lynn plays his usual handsome nice guy and I won’t deny that I love him. Lynn and Priscilla Lane make a great pair, and Warner Brothers agreed since this is one of four films Lynn and Lane co-starred together in 1939 alone! My only beef is that I could have used more Lynn/Lane romance!

James Cagney and Gladys George in “The Roaring Twenties”

And in the background of our glittering stars is Gladys George as Panama Smith, a character modeled after Texas Guinan. She loves Cagney’s character from afar and suffers for it. George plays the role beautifully and heartbreakingly.

What I think is interesting about “Roaring Twenties” is that it’s not your usual crime film. It is almost filmed like a documentary where there is narration and it jumps forward a few years to progress us through “the roaring twenties.” The film begins during World War I and follows the three soldiers through the end of the war, returning home, prohibition beginning, organized bootlegging and the crime accompanying it, the introduction of Tommy guns, and then finally the end of prohibition.

The 1930s are often categorized with gangster films and I feel like “Roaring Twenties” caps off the decade well. It nicely packages up the history of bootleg whiskey and organized crime into a gift that gives more heart to the story than just Tommy guns and criminals with molls.

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Musical Monday: Silk Stockings (1957)

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:
Silk Stockings (1957) – Musical #50

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Rouben Mamoulian

Starring:
Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Janis Paige, Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, George Tobias, Wim Sonneveld, Barrie Chase (uncredited)

Plot:
Russian composer Peter Illyich Boroff (Sonneveld) is living and working in Paris, France. Film producer Steve Canfield (Astaire) plans to use Boroff as the composer for his upcoming musical film, but this is complicated when three comrades from Russia — Comrades Brankov (Lorre), Bibinski (Munshin) and Ivanov (Buloff) — come to Paris to take Boroff back to Russia. However, Canfield steps in and charms the comrades with the highlights of Paris in the spring. Russia sends Ninotchka Yoschenko (Charisse) to Paris to bring Boroff and the comrades home, and Canfield works to charm her with Paris as well.

Trivia:
– A musical remake of “Ninotchka” (1939)
– This is an adaptation of the 1955 Broadway musical “Silk Stockings,” written by George S. Kaufman, Leueen MacGrath, and Abe Burrows with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The Broadway musical was based on “Ninotchka.”
– Cole Porter wrote the song “Ritz Rock and Roll” specifically for the film, according to the book Dance’s Duet with the Camera: Motion Pictures
– Choreographed by Eugene Loring and Hermes Pan.
– Produced by Arthur Freed
– Gregory Gaye and George Tobias were both in the original “Ninotchka” film
– Cyd Charisse dubbed by Carol Richards

Highlights:
– Janis Paige
– The Technicolor

Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse Silk Stockings, the remake of Ninotchka

Notable Songs:
– “Stereophonic Sound” performed by Fred Astaire and Janis Paige
– “All of You” performed by Fred Astaire

My review:
Musical remakes of 1930s and 1940s comedies was a phenomenon in the 1950s — from “The Awful Truth” to “Philadelphia Story.”

And Ernst Lubitsch’s “Ninotchka” (1939) fell into the mix of being recreated as a Technicolor, Arthur Freed musical. In the 1939 film, the issue that causes Ninotchka to arrive deals with selling the jewels of a grand duchess. In this musical film, the plot follows a composer, who is going to score a film, and being sent back to his home of Russia.

This musical version didn’t originate on screen. Lubitsch’s story was first adapted in 1955 as a stage musical with music by Cole Porter. Many, but not all, of the songs are used in the film. Cole Porter is one of the greatest American songwriters that every lived, but this music isn’t his best. For example, I’m not a fan of the songs “Too Bad (We Can’t Go Back to Moscow)”, “Satin and Silk”, “Josephine” and “Siberia.” (But Peter Lorre being in a musical number for “Too Bad” and “Too Bad” is great). However, the song “Stereophonic Sound” knocks it out of the park. I almost want to give it a standing ovation after watching the number. To me, that number (and Janis Paige) is the highlight.

The dancing in the film is also gorgeous, particularly the duets with Charisse and Astaire.

Since the movie deals with Hollywood, there are some Hollywood jokes. For example, Janis Paige’s character is Peggy Dayton is a former “swimming star,” which is a joke on Esther Williams.

I do think this version of the “Ninotchka” story is interesting, because of the United States relations with Russia during both times. In 1939, the USSR and the U.S. were allies. But by 1957, the two were enemies and the Cold War was in full force.

But one thing I don’t like about the film, or other remakes/musical remakes, is when scenes and dialogue are pulled and delivered straight from the original. For example, some lines from the original Ninotchka are delivered and the scene of blindfolded Ninotchka waiting for the “firing squad” and falling down when she hears a champagne cork pop is a straight from the 1939 version. That generally bugs me, because I feel like a remake should deliver as much new content as possible and not a rehash.

When I first saw this musical in high school, I remember feeling very disappointed. Rewatching it now, I enjoyed it more. It is extremely colorful, and while it has a few clunkers of songs, it is a fairly fun musical. It just isn’t one of Arthur Freed’s best.

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