About Jnpickens

Classic film lover and reporter in North Carolina.

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

A “White Christmas” at the Upcountry History Museum

The Upcountry History Museum follows COVID-19 protocols, including limited capacity, requiring facemasks and no contact ticket purchasing through their website. Read more.

Learn how to book a virtual tour or visit in person.

You may be dreaming of a white Christmas, but it may not be likely that you’ll see cold precipitation in your area — especially if you live in the South like me.

The Upcountry History Museum offers the next best thing:  The Greenville, S.C. museum has brought a “White Christmas” to the Upstate of South Carolina through an exhibit. On loan from the Rosemary Clooney House in Augusta, Ky, the exhibit will be on display in Greenville until Jan. 30, 2021.

“White Christmas” (1954) is a holiday favorite starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. The film begins during World War II and then covers 10 years to show Crosby and Kaye’s characters are now entertainment successes. They meet two sisters (Clooney, Ellen), and the four travel to Pine Tree, Vermont, where they find their World War II leader, General Waverly (Dean Jagger), is running a failing inn. The group tries to figure out a way to help business while also honoring General Waverly’s service.

This is a rare time when the “White Christmas” exhibit has traveled away from its Kentucky home, said museum owner and former Miss America, Heather French Henry.

“This benefits the Upcountry History Museum because we can take our exhibit to people who may never travel to Augusta,” Henry said.

A peak into the exhibit room from the entrance.

My visit

The exhibit includes Edith Head-designed costumes, film props, and other memorabilia, such as a special lighter with Bing Crosby on it that he gifted that Christmas. The costumes include the blue lace and tulle “Sisters” dresses worn by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, the white wool dress and green velvet that Clooney and Ellen wore at the Christmas party,  the black pants George Chakiris wore in “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” and Ellen’s white “Mandy” costume.

After watching “White Christmas” since I was a child, it was amazing to see Edith Head’s iconic costumes up close and in person. I went with my parents, sister and four-year-old niece, who particularly loved the “Sisters” costumes and the “Mandy” white outfit.

With COVID-19 in mind, I felt comfortable at the Upcountry History Museum throughout my visit. My family was masked, and there were only one or two other small families there, making it very easy social distance.

The dresses worn by Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen and Mary Wickes at the Christmas party. Henry said that the white dress was one of the most delicate, because it is wool. (Photo/Jessica P.)

Moving history across states

To move all of these pieces from Kentucky to South Carolina, each item must be carefully cataloged. To avoid any wear or damage to the costumes, the costumes remain on the mannequins, and most travel upright.

The exhibit also includes items that aren’t displayed at the Rosemary Clooney House due to space, like the sleigh. The only replicas in the exhibit are the red finale dresses made by Henry’s mother, Diana French. Paramount has not been able to locate the red dresses, which are either owned by a private collector or were altered and repurposed after the film, according to the exhibit.

Since many of the costumes are now 66 years old, the condition can be a concern, but with Edith Head and her team’s great work, many are in excellent condition.

“That’s what makes it so crazy. Not only do we have a phenomenal collection, but they are also all Edith Head designs,” Henry said. “Even if you aren’t interested in the film, you may be interested in the design.”

The blue “Sisters” dresses, worn by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in “White Christmas.” Vera-Ellen’s dress on the right was restored by Paramount and the lace was hand-created. (Photo/Jessica P.)

Clooney and Vera-Ellen in the dresses, for comparison.

From Miss America to Museum Founder

Like so many people, Henry grew up watching “White Christmas,” and says being part of this is unexpected.

After Henry won Miss America in 1999, fellow Kentucky-native Rosemary Clooney was one of the first phone calls she received. The two later performed together.

Rosemary Clooney moved to Augusta, Ky, in 1980, and after Clooney died in 2002, her children reached out to Henry and her husband, Dr. Steve Henry, about purchasing her home. The Henrys enthusiastically agreed and preserved the home, creating a museum to celebrate the life and career of Rosemary Clooney.

Since the Rosemary Clooney House opened in 2005, the Henrys started working to collect memorabilia and costumes over the years, including “White Christmas.”

“Each costume has its own story about its journey,” Henry said. “In fact, when we first started, we didn’t even think we would find but maybe one or two pieces.”

Henry first was connected with Paramount when she reached out for a sketch or pattern to recreate the red finale Christmas dresses for a “White Christmas” stage show she was performing in.

“They (Paramount) realized for the first time that they didn’t know where any of the costumes were,” Henry said. “After the show, I called them back and asked if they found anything.”

It was a “snowball effect” as collectors began to contact them. The “Mandy” ivory dance outfit was their first big auction item.

“Rosemary’s ‘Sisters dress’ was on eBay labeled ‘vintage 1950s party dress,” Henry said. “Vera’s companion dress was with a collector in Texas.”

Vera-Ellen’s dress had been altered into a sleeveless dress and was resorted for two years by Betsey Potter of Paramount, who hand-created the dress’s lace.

Costumes from the “Mandy” number in “White Christmas,” including Vera-Ellen’s white costume. The exhibit said the red/orange costume may look different in the film due to the Techcnicolor process, and due to age. Photo/Jessica P.

The “Mandy” number for comparison

A Multi-Generational Tradition

“White Christmas” was the top box office hit in 1954 but has continued to be a holiday favorite for the past 66 years.

“White Christmas is a movie I have watched since I was born. My mother had us watch it and now our girls watch it,” Henry said. “What’s so great is you see that multi-generational tradition with this film.”

Henry says her favorite number is “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” but she also loves “Choreography.”

“When she comes down in the hot pink tap dress, I just love it,” Henry said. “Vera-Ellen is one of the most underappreciated dancers of her time.”

Plan your visit

The film and exhibit also tie in with her military veteran advocacy, and in connection with the Greenville exhibit, Henry partnered with the museum to create launching Operation Waverly.  Through this initiative, the museum will be collecting supplies to benefit Fellow Countrymen, a community-based non-profit committed to ending Veteran homelessness within the Upstate of South Carolina. When you visit, you can donate one of the following items for an area veteran.

Learn more about planning your visit to the Upcountry History Museum or how to take a virtual tour of the exhibit. The exhibit will return to the Rosemary Clooney House in February.

Your humble writer in front of the sleigh and replica dresses at the exhibit, located at the Upcountry History Museum.