Review: Friday the Thirteenth (1933)

When it comes to Friday the 13th films, audiences generally recollect horror films involving a man in a ski mask. But before those gory films came to be, British film released by Gainsborough Pictures follows a group on a bus just minutes before the clock strikes midnight on Friday the 13th.

Directed by Victor Saville, Friday the Thirteenth (1933) the film begins with the following statement:

“You hear of an accident. There are victims. Strangers to one another. Supposing we could put back the clock and see how chance made these strangers share this appalling moment.”

The film begins as we see people riding a bus on a rainy night with the clock ticking closer to Friday the 13th. Lightning strikes a crane, and the bus driver has to swerve to miss the falling debris and wrecks. Newspapers flash on the screen with headlines about the wreck and that two people were killed. Before we know further, Big Ben ticks back to the beginning of Thursday the 12th and we see what lead everyone to get on this bus.

The film is divided into six stories, which are even segmented in the credits:

On the Bus: Hale and Smith

On The Bus: This follows Alf the Conductor (Sonnie Hale) and the driver Fred (Cyril Smith) as they argue about bets and discuss their superstitions.

Max Miller as Joe

Joe of the Caledonian Market: Joe (Max Miller) is a fast-talking shyster, selling phony goods in the market with undercover cops and a detective on his tale.

Mr. Jackson

Jackson the Shipping Clerk: Jackson (Eliot Makeham) is a mild-mannered clerk who is planning to surprise his wife and take her on a cruise. However his wife, Eileen (Ursula Jeans) has another lover on the side.

Wakefield the ‘City’ Man: Wakefield (Edmund Gwenn) is an important businessman who has a very forgetful wife, Flora (Mary Jerrold). While her forgetfulness frustrates him, it may help him financially in the end.

Mr. Blake

Blake the Gentleman of Fortune: Blake (Emlyn Williams) seems good-natured when we first meet him but his intentions aren’t good, particularly when meeting up with Frank Parsons (Frank Lawton) who used to be in jail.

Mr. Lightfoot in the park with the girl who needed silk stockings

Mr. Lightfoot in the Park: Mr. Lightfoot (Robertson Hare) is a befuddled little man who is conned into buying a girl a pair of silk stockings after his dog tears her stockings.

Schoolmaster Horace (Richardson) and his girl, dancer Millie (Matthews)

Millie the Non-stop Variety Girl: Millie (Jessie Matthews) is a dancer who is in love with the schoolmaster, Horace Dawes (Ralph Richardson) and the two plan to be married. However, Horace wants Millie to give up her dancing career and she doesn’t agree with his idea.

Once we learn each of their stories, the film returns to the scenes at the beginning just before the wreck. But now, we know all of their backstories. For example, we now know the man reading the travel pamphlet isn’t as happy as he appears and the one offering to pay for another’s fare isn’t so benevolent. The crash occurs again and it is revealed where each person is and who lives and who died.

While I would consider Jessie Matthews, Ralph Richardson and Edmund Gwenn to be the biggest named stars in this film, there is no main lead actor in this story. This film is a true ensemble cast and each story gets equal pay. All of the stories are entertaining and each has a different tone. Jackson’s story is a little sad or sorry, Blake’s story is threatening, and Mr. Lightfoot’s is light and comedic. I can easily say the Ralph Richardson and Jessie Matthews story was my favorite.

This is an entertaining and interesting movie. I usually enjoy a retrospective story. My only complaint was there were too many stories to keep up with. With seven different stories, I got a little confused at one point who was who, especially when a new character was brought into one of the stories.

Never the less, this is a clever film and is a lucky gem to find on an otherwise unlucky day.

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New Comet Over Hollywood series: 1939

For classic film fans, 1939 is a mystical year filled with perfect films.

Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” and “Ninotchka” are just a few of the greats that were released in 1939.

But in 2011, I decided I wanted to see beyond more than just the big-budget box office successes of the year and dig deeper to see what made this year tick. Were all the movies special or was it just a handful?

This included watching all the B and C movies – The 68-minute movies that star people like character actor Henry O’Neill as a lead character.

So seven years ago I set out to see every film made in 1939, a count that came roughly to 515.

Read more in my 2011 post “1939: Watching a Year” about how this all began.

To date after all this time, I’ve still managed to only watch 173 movies made in 1939. So to help propel myself further, I am beginning a weekly Comet Over Hollywood series focused on the films of 1939.

Every Thursday, I will review a film made during 1939. This could range from the top tier films to those B movies shown in a double feature.

Join me every week as I “Watch a Year.”

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

Christmas on Film: The Cheaters (1945)

Last Christmas I was wrapping presents and watching made-for-TV Christmas movies on YouTube when—after finishing Susan Lucci’s Christmas Carol— this film began autoplaying.

I was excited to find a new-to-me classic Christmas film (which I have previously mentioned can be hard to find).

“The Cheaters” (1945) most likely won’t be added to my mandatory list of Christmas season viewing, but it’s a fairly enjoyable film.

Wealthy James C. Pidgeon (Eugene Pallette) is about to go bankrupt while his wife Clara (Billie Burke), children (Ann Gillis, Ruth Terry, David Holt), and brother-in-law (Raymond Walburn) are all still happily living off what little money he has left.

To top off the financial issues, Pidgeon’s daughter Theresa (Terry) demands that the family invites a charity case to their home for Christmas. She wants to impress her soldier boyfriend, Stephen (Robert Livingston), because his mother always invites a charity case for Christmas.

For their charity case, the family selects Anthony Marchaund (Joseph Schildkraut), a has-been actor who was injured in car wreck at the height of his career. He now drinks too much and walks with a limp.

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Christmas on Film: The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

Like most of us, I grew up on classic Christmas films—from White Christmas to The Bishop’s Wife to Christmas in Connecticut. And as I realized new-to-me pre-1968 Christmas movies were dwindling, I began scrounging for more. Surely there were still some left to discover!

That’s how I stumbled upon “The Holly and the Ivy” (1952) last Christmas while browsing Amazon. But much to my dismay, the only DVDs sold were Region 2 (not able to play on U.S. devices) and it didn’t appear to be streaming online.

So as the holidays rolled around again this year, I searched and found someone selling a DVRed copy of this English film and I snatched it up.

Starring Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson, Denholm Elliott, Margaret Leighton, Hugh Williams, Margaret Halstan and Maureen Delaney, the film takes place as a family returns home on Christmas Eve. And in the midst of the bright holiday, none of them are very happy and are hiding their troubles.

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Lizabeth Scott Sings!

Lizabeth Scott, “The Threat”

She usually played a mysterious blond that was up to no good. Actress Lizabeth Scott, known for her husky voice and sleek, straight blond hair was often a woman with a secret in 1940s and 1950s film noirs.

Publicity departments of the golden era of Hollywood often saddled their actors with nicknames: from the It Girl (Clara Bow), the Oomph Girl (Ann Sheridan) to the Lavender Blonde (Kim Novak).

Scott was nicknamed “The Threat,” as she was threatening to “The Body (Marie MacDonald), “The Voice” (Frank Sinatra), and “The Look” (Lauren Bacall).

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Review: The Very Thought of You (1944)

World War II films are my favorite genre. This doesn’t just include films about battle—I love looking at life on the home front, the Army Nurse Corps, and how actors were involved in the war effort in real life.

Then there are the World War II romance films, which often can involve a quick love affair that leads to marriage. A girl and a soldier meet while he’s on leave, and they marry, hardly knowing each other. They often marry so they will have someone to write home to or the girl falls in love with the uniform (we see this in Best Years of Our Lives).

One of the best in this genre is “The Very Thought of You” (1944). Directed by Delmer Daves and starring Dennis Morgan and Eleanor Parker, “The Very Thought of You” looks at whirlwind wartime marriages, and the disapproval a girl might meet from her family. War era films often show families happily welcoming soldiers into their homes and feeding them sandwiches and milk. But not in “The Very Thought of You”—we see the opposite.

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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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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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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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Review: Gidget TV series (1965-1966)

Until a few weeks ago, I never had watched an episode of the TV version of “Gidget” (1965-66) starring Sally Field. But as I kicked off my third summer of surfing through the “Gidget” franchise, I bought the series and took the plunge—and then I binge watched all 32 episodes for two weeks until I finished.

As I have mentioned before, my favorite Gidget in the films is Sandra Dee, who originated the role. At second place was Karen Valentine, who played Gidget in a TV film “Gidget Grows Up” (1969). However, I have to admit that Sally Field may nudge Valentine from that spot.

Frances “Gidget” Lawrence’s life story undergoes several adjustments throughout the duration of the Gidget series (1959-1986). In 1959, we start off with a shy, smart, innocent only child of two parents. Once she finds love in Hawaii (1961) and Rome (1963), Gidget gets less naïve and more precocious.

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