About Jnpickens

Classic film lover and reporter in North Carolina.

Musical Monday: The Desert Song (1943)

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

This week’s musical:
The Desert Song (1943) – Musical #500

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Robert Florey

Starring:
Dennis Morgan, Irene Manning, Bruce Cabot, Faye Emerson, Lynne Overman, Gene Lockhart, Jack La Rue

Plot:
A group of desert bandits, lead by Paul Hudson (Morgan), work against Nazis in Morrocco who want to build a railroad for the Axis.

Dennis Morgan and Irene Manning in “Desert Song” (1943)

Trivia:
-Prior to it’s 2014 DVD release, this film was difficult to see due to a copyright issue with one of the songs in the film.
-This is one of several film versions of “Desert Song.” The first was in 1929 starring John Boles and Carlotta King, and another in 1953 starring Gordon MacRae and Kathryn Grayson. Since this was filmed during World War II, the Nazi aspect would be added.
-The remake had been planned since 1936, according to The Star-Spangled Screen: The American World War II Film by Bernard F. Dick
-New songs added to the film were “Fifi’s Song,” “Gay Parisienne,” and “Long Live the Night.”

Highlights:
-Dennis Morgan
-The Technicolor cinematography

Notable Songs:
-“One Alone” performed by Dennis Morgan
-“The Riff Song” performed by Dennis Morgan

My review:
The Desert Song (1943) is a visually gorgeous and lush Technicolor musical. It is has a jaunty, heroic plot with lovely music.

But this film is special to me, and not because of any of the songs or the plot. It’s because of the circumstances of when I first saw it.

Robert Osborne introducing Desert Song (1943) in 2013

It was my first-time attending the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival in 2013. I was excited to see this musical because it was one I had never seen. And while waiting in line to get into the theater, the film festival volunteer confided that she heard Robert Osborne would be introducing the movie. Excited to get a closeup view of my idol presenting a film, I sat in the front of the theater. It wasn’t a highly attended movie and no one was sitting around me, but I sat in my seat quivering with excitement.

Then there he was, discussing “The Desert Song” (1943) only a few feet away. Robert Osborne told how the film hadn’t been seen in 50 years because of copyright issues — the film was finally released on DVD in 2014. Since this was a rare screening, Osborne said he was looking forward to this film the most at the festival. And since he had never seen it, he would be joining the audience to watch the film. As the colorful screen flashed on the screen, I could hardly concentrate, knowing Robert Osborne was behind me. And after the film, I had the opportunity to meet him briefly.

Prior to “The Desert Song” (1943), I had only seen the 1953 remake with Kathryn Grayson and Gordon MacRae, which is slightly different and doesn’t include Nazis.

Aside from my personal experience with this film and its previous rarity, what’s special is that it’s an early-1940s Warner Brothers in color – that’s also a rarity. And it’s gorgeous to look at. Each studio held a slightly different quality: MGM was magic and cheer, Fox had this humming and glossy happiness to it, but Warner Brothers had a slightly grittier feel. And that grit mixed with a musical makes an interesting and satisfying combination.

Leading lady Irene Manning isn’t a well-known actress today and is okay. I do wish there was a stronger leading lady. It’s Dennis Morgan who is the highlight here. Morgan is handsome, sings beautifully and is a wonderful hero of the film. The film has a wonderful supporting cast with Bruce Cabot and the fabulous Faye Emerson.

“The Desert Song” has some beautiful songs and an intriguing plot. While I may prefer the 1953 version, the 1943 version is something special. It’s a little-seen film that you should catch if you can. Turner Classic Movies is airing “The Desert Song” on Thursday, Aug. 24, at 8 p.m. ET. Don’t miss it if you can help it.

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

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Actress Beauty Tips #38: Positive Moves with Angela Lansbury

This is the 38th installment of the classic actress beauty tips that I have read about and tested. 

Actress Angela Lansbury has had a long and varied career. Lansbury started in films in 1944 and on the stage in 1957, and she still works in both mediums today. She was active on television with her own show. And she even joined the exercise craze of the 1980s, releasing the video “Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moves: My Personal Plan for Fitness and Well-Being.”

But this video isn’t filled with crunches, leg lifts, arm circles and donkey kicks. I even really hesitate to call this a “workout video” or even strength training. This is more a series of stretches, movements, and advice encouraging the viewer how to stay active in small ways.

Angela Lansbury filmed the video in 1988 at age 63, while she was still making “Murder, She Wrote.” She later followed up with a book version in 1990.

In the video, Angela Lansbury admits to not being a fitness expert or diet fanatic, but that she takes 30 minutes each day to do these stretches so she can continue the lifestyle and activities she enjoyed when she was younger. Her stretches and movements also don’t need any equipment or a “tricky outfit.”

Filmed at her home in Brentwood, Angela greets us (acting surprised to have company) in her backyard while she’s gardening.

“I made this tape because I want to share the thoughts and truths of staying healthy and active,” Lansbury said in the video. “It’s never too late to maintain fluid and graceful movement.”

Before she swings into action, we see Angela Lansbury in a bath towel in her bathroom. She tells us that every morning she gives herself a mini massage with aloe lotion, which allows her to stay in touch with her body and see if she’s in shape.

Exercises begin with 10 minutes of gentle stretches on Angela’s back porch, while she wears a comfortable looking, long-sleeved body suit. The gentle stretches include breathing while slowly lifting your arms up and down, bending over while stretching arms up behind your back, or doing breast stroke and back stroke motions while standing.

After these—if the viewer has time—Angela invites us inside for some more in-depth stretches on the floor, which include glute bridges, laying on the floor with your knees to your chest and moving them to either side of your body, or moving your leg up and down with the assistance of a scarf or resistance band around the foot.

Following all of this, we go into some rhythmic movement and moving freely. Angela walks in a jazzy manner, prances a bit and encourages you to move easily and feel loose and free—there’s no right or wrong way!

Angela Lansbury doing her more indepth movements.

She also demonstrates that our gestures and body language can make a tremendous difference in what people think about us and our success. All the while, Angela is encouraging us to be positive and banish bad thoughts.

“If I have a negative thought, I say cancel that—I’m going to expect the best,” Angela says.

Now that we are done with our fitness, the remainder of the 50-minute tape is advice on little activities you can do to stay active around the house.

“Puttering is valuable for your health and contributes to your longevity,” she said.

Angela’s suggested activities include:

  • Taking a walk. Angela briskly walks down the street in khaki pants, a button up shirt, and a sweater around her shoulders. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
  • Take a five or 10-minute cat nap. “Women of a certain age have to martial their forces if they want to do things that they can enjoy.”
  • Activities like gardening don’t require a lot of thought and releases the tensions of the mind.
  • Sewing, which requires a lot physically. If you don’t like to sew, Angela suggests home decorating, refinishing furniture, or mowing the lawn.
  • Washing your car. We see Angela washing her Mercedes.
  • Baking bread.
  • Indulge in small ceremonies that are comforting. Angela still has tea in the afternoon with a cookie to enjoy peace and quiet.
  • Bike riding.

Angela’s diet:

She tells viewers that she doesn’t diet but eats the following throughout the day:

  • Breakfast: Fruit and cereal
  • Lunch: A “salad sandwich” or a large salad
  • Dinner: Poultry or fish with vegetables
  • Dessert: Tofu based ice cream

 Other philosophies and lifestyle tips:

  • Sexuality: Take a bath with soft towels and fragrant oils. Angela tells us: “Femininity and sexuality go hand in hand. They used to think women lose interest in sex after menopause, but now we know it’s not true.” Angela tells us how to keep romance in life, and that it’s important for a woman to maintain a mystery about herself at any age. “A woman of loveliness and dignity feels good and know she’s looking her best. She can continue to get attention as a feminine, sexual person.”
  • Glamour: “I never was considered a beauty but I can project the illusion of great glamour.” Women who aren’t actresses can also emit glamour, she tells us as she puts on earrings and is dressed in a lace dress.

In review:

The idea to the do a fitness tape was the idea of Angela Lansbury’s agent, Lee Stevens of the William Morris Agency, according to a 1988 article.

“My immediate answer was, ‘Go on with you. I’m not interested in that. I’ve never been to an exercise class in my life,’” Angela is quoted in a 1988 newspaper article. “…It’s surprisingly personal and extremely revealing of me. I hope it will be the kind of gift younger women want to give their mothers for Christmas.”

Throughout the video, Angela Lansbury seems very happy, sincere and encouraging. Seeing that she is still working and making appearances in 2017, I do believe she practiced the lifestyle she describes in this film.

Do know that this video isn’t Crossfit or even aerobics. And while you won’t be drenched in sweat at the end, Angela’s movements are a great stretch. These are good exercises to increase and maintain flexibility, mobility and balance — especially those who are older. I think it also could be a good start if you are looking to begin exercising.

The only downside to the film is the new age 1980s music, but otherwise, Angela Lansbury’s video is pleasant—and positive.

You can watch the whole exercise video here:

Other exercise videos we have tried:

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

Review: “Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches” (2016)

Rod Taylor

In the 1950s, Hollywood was filled with suave and stylish stars like Cary Grant and William Holden, and the brooding method actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean.

And then there was Rod Taylor, who was in a class all his own.

Hollywood’s top director, Alfred Hitchcock, cast him in “The Birds” (1963), Walt Disney wanted him to voice a Dalmatian, and even Albert “Cubby” Broccoli approached Rod Taylor about playing James Bond. (He refused because he thought that sort of story was best for television—it would never work in films—later saying this was the stupidest remark he ever made).

A 2016 documentary, “Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches” highlights this standout actor’s life and work. Rod Taylor himself helps tell his story through an interview that was filmed in 2012.

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Musical Monday: Camelot (1967)

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:
Camelot (1967) – Musical #235

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Joshua Logan

Starring:
Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero, David Hemmings, Estelle Winwood, Lionel Jeffries, Laurence Naismith,
Gary Marshal

Plot:
The story of King Arthur (Harris) and his marriage to Queen Guinevere (Redgrave). King Arthur’s philosophy is “Not might ‘makes’ right, but might ‘for’ right” so he creates the Knights of the Round Table of noble knights to help carry out a rudimentary idea of democracy and England’s unification. One of the knights is Sir Lancelot (Nero), who the Queen grows fond of, which causes problems with the other knights. Causing further problems is the arrival of Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred (Hemmings).

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Review: The New Gidget TV series (1986-1988)

The 1980s are remembered for big hair, leg warmers and neon colored clothing set to a soundtrack of David Bowie and Michael Jackson. But it was also filled with 1960s nostalgia and reboots.

The Monkees were on a revival tour in 1986, Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man” sold Campbell’s Soup, and the California Raisins sang Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

And then there were the television reboots. There was “The New Leave It to Beaver” (1983-89), The New Monkees (1987), The Munsters Today (1987-91), and The New Lassie (1989-92).

Caryn Richman and Dean Butler as Gidget and Moondoggie in a publicty shot for “The New Gidget.”

And there was “The New Gidget” (1986-88), which was the last film or TV show about Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, the surfing girl midget. While three made-for-TV movies filled the gap (Gidget Grows Up, Gidget Gets Married, and Gidget’s Summer Reunion), “The New Gidget” (1986-88) comes 20 years after the first Gidget (1965-66) TV show graced the small screen.

Following the made-for-TV movie “Gidget’s Summer Reunion” (1985), the television show follows married Gidget (Caryn Richman) and Jeff “Moondoggie” Griffin (Dean Butler) working as a travel agent and architect. Gidget’s niece Dani (Sydney Penny) lives with the couple while her parents, Gidget’s sister Anne and brother-in-law John, live overseas. William Schallert plays Gidget’s father, Russ Lawrence, and reminds Gidget that Dani’s exploits aren’t too different from her own as a teenager. Gidget’s old friend LaRue (Jill Jacobson) runs the travel agency with her in Santa Monica.

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Musical Monday: Interrupted Melody (1955)

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:
Interrupted Melody (1955)– Musical #343

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Curtis Bernhardt

Starring:
Eleanor Parker, Glenn Ford, Roger Moore, Cecil Kellaway, Ann Codee

Plot:
Biographical film on Australian opera singer Marjorie Lawrence, whose rising fame comes to a halt when she becamesf ill with polio. Paralyzed from the waist down, Marjorie isn’t sure if she will ever be able to perform or have the will to.

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Musical Monday: That Midnight Kiss (1949)

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:
That Midnight Kiss (1949)– Musical #258

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Norman Taurog

Starring:
Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza, Ethel Barrymore, Keenan Wynn, J. Carrol Naish, Jules Munshin, Thomas Gomez, Arthur Treacher, Marjorie Reynolds
Themselves: José Iturbi, Amparo Iturbi
Narrator: Leon Ames

Plot:
Wealthy Abigail Trent Budell (Barrymore) wants pianist José Iturbi (himself) to help launch the opera career of her granddaughter Prudence (Grayson). Iturbi finds her talented and Abigail sponsors an opera company so Prudence can get her start. With a new talent, famous tenor Guido Russino Betelli (Gomez) is hired as her lead. Betelli is demanding and difficult to work with. Abigail meets singing truck driver Johnny Donnetti (Lanza) and encourages Iturbi to also make him a singing star.

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Musical Monday: The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976)

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:
Slipper and The Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976) – Musical #567

Studio:
Paradine Co-Productions

Director:
Bryan Forbes

Starring:
Richard Chamberlain, Margaret Lockwood, Kenneth More, Gemma Craven, Annette Crosbie, Edith Evans, Michael Hordern, Lally Bowers, Christopher Gable, Sherrie Hewson, Sherrie Hewson, Julian Orchard

Plot:
Prince Edward (Chamberlain) of the small kingdom of Euphrania wants to marry for love. But his father the King (Hordern) needs to arrange a political marriage with a princess from another kingdom so their small domain is not invaded. Outside the palace walls, Cinderella’s (Craven) father dies and her stepmother (Lockwood) forces her into servitude. The King holds a ball so Prince Edward can find a wife and Cinderella’s fairy godmother (Crosbie) fixes it so Cinderella can go. Prince Edward and Cinderella fall in love, but their romance is complicated because she isn’t of noble blood.

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Book Review: “My Way of Life” by Joan Crawford

A disclaimer before I begin my review of “My Way of Life” by Joan Crawford: this is a book review. I’m not here to discuss Christina Crawford and whether or not her “Mommie Dearest” accusations are true. I’m also not discussing the “Feud” TV show. Furthermore, I do like Joan Crawford and have watched almost all of her films, minus a handful of her silents (I would say my favorites are A Woman’s Face, Possessed (1947), Mildred Pierce and Love on the Run). Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll continue.

Actress Joan Crawford by photographed George Hurrell, 1935. The blouse was designed by Adrian.

Starting in Hollywood in 1925, Joan Crawford endured a career that spanned 47 years. When her career began at age 19, she was every bit the flapper—the personification of youth. Even author F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see in smart night clubs.”

As her career continued into the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and on, Joan Crawford assumed the sophisticated lady persona that was popular of the time. Well-dressed, well-mannered and well-bred, this was an image that Crawford maintained for the rest of her life. And this is what “My Way of Life” focuses on.

My Way of Life” is really a Hollywood self-help book. The book begins with Joan telling her readers what she is doing today, in 1971 when the book was published. Joan lives alone in an apartment in Manhattan, always busy at her desk. She tells us a bit about her background, the school she dropped out of (Stephen College in Missouri), her early days in Hollywood, and a bit about each of her husbands (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.; Franchot Tone; Phillip Terry and Alfred Steele).

Joan dictated the book on a tape machine, which was then put together by Audrey Davenport, who Joan thanks at the start of the book.

“It’s my philosophies rather than an actual biography. My life story has been told over and over. My thoughts about life are newer,” Joan Crawford said in a July 6, 1971, newspaper article.

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Musical Monday: Eve Knew Her Apples (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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Eve Knew Her Apples (1945)– Musical #282

Studio:
Columbia Pictures

Director:
Will Jason

Starring:
Ann Miller, William Wright, Robert Williams, Charles D. Brown, Ray Walker

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