Pages to Screen: The White Cliffs of Dover (1944)

“A war is on” and there was “no sale for poetry” were some excuses Alice Duer Miller was given when she tried to book published and was turned down by many publishers.

Miller’s book was a 70-page long form poem about an American woman falling in love with an Englishman right before World War I breaks out called “The White Cliffs.”

The poem follows Susan, who is “a traveler, the guest of a week” in England. The trip turns into a lifetime after she meets and falls in love with John. John is killed in World War I, but she continues to stay in England and raise their son in the traditional, upper class English life. As Susan sees another war on the horizon for England, she understands the inevitable future of her son; following in her husband’s footsteps.

While there was initial reluctance to publish, Miller’s later was made into a feature film and was performed on the radio several times by English actress, Lynn Fontanne.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill also believed that the book played a role in encouraging the United States’ entry into World War II.

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Pages to Screen: Light in the Piazza (1962)

As soon as I started reading the book, I could see the story playing out in my head just as it does in the movie.

When Elizabeth Spencer’s 1960 novella “Light in the Piazza” was adapted for film, the movie is nearly identical to the original printed word. This doesn’t often happen.

In the opening pages, Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara explore a piazza. Clara loses her hat causing her to meet Fabrizio — just like in the film.

From page one, this Italian love story was a much needed respite after finishing Glendon Swarthout’s book “Where the Boys Are.”

The book “Light in the Piazza” was a turning point in the career of Mississippi-born author, Elizabeth Spencer; featuring many firsts for her. It was her first novel not set in her home state of Mississippi, and it was her first book that featured a female protagonist.

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“The way I was brought up. It was considered that men did all the interesting things out in the world and women were pretty much reduced to a domestic pattern or minor careers,” Spencer was quoted in her Washington Post obituary. “The whole idea of a woman in the arts must have horrified my family at first.”

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Summer Movie Classics: An interview with John Malahy

Even as summer winds down, I’m still grasping to the last few weeks of summer until the fall season begins at the end of September.

Reading “Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drenched Classics” by John Malahy is the perfect read to keep the summer feeling. Malahy highlights quintessential summer films, from MOON OVER MIAMI (1941) and GIDGET (1959) to JAWS (1975); each putting you in the sun and sand mood regardless of the weather.

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Pages to Screen: Where the Boys Are (1960)

Often, the book is better than the film.

But in the case of WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960), skip Glendon Swarthout’s book and just enjoy the movie.

The film and book both follow Midwest college girls traveling to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for their spring vacation in search of love and suntans. But while the movie is fun and charming, the book is frankly vile.

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Bear with me because I have a lot to unpack.

I first watched WHERE THE BOYS ARE when I was 14 and loved it. I was eager to read the book and didn’t until this summer at age 32, and I’m thankful I read this as an adult and not a young teen.

The book was written by Glendon Swarthout and published in 1960, with the movie releasing in Dec. 1960. Swarthout also wrote “They Came from Cordura” and “The Shootist,” which were adapted into films.

To follow the review easily, here is a breakdown of the characters in both the film and movie. Several characters in the book and movie are similar, though they interact differently in the book:

Character Book Movie
Merrit Main character, narrator Played by Dolores Hart
Tuggle Merrit’s friend and travel companion Played by Paula Prentiss
Ryder A love interest of Merrit’s Played by George Hamilton and love interest of Merrit
TV Thompson A love interest of Merrit’s Played by Jim Hutton and the love interest of Tuggle
Basil Jazz musician, love interest of Merrit’s Played by Frank Gorshin and the love interest of Angie (Connie Francis)
Quentin Jazz musician, love interest of Tuggle Not in the movie
Swimming nightclub performer Ramona Named Lola Fandango, played by Barbara Nichols
Angie Character not in book Played by Connie Francis
Melanie Character not in book, but similar to the minor character, Susy Played by Yvette Mimieux

The book is written in the point of view of 18-year-old college freshman, Merrit. So … 41-year-old Swarthout is writing in the POV of a college girl. Now, this has been done successfully in cases like “Gidget” by Frederick Kohner, but his novel came from stories directly from his daughter. I can’t say Swarthout was successful in effectively doing this (in my opinion), though I guess in a way he was since it spurred a hit movie that made Fort Lauderdale a travel destination.

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Both the movie and the book focus on sex, but in different ways. The movie mainly asks the question of should you “play house” before marriage and if you can get a man without falling into bed. The book is more about Merrit’s sexual experiences. While in the movie, the three male characters each date different characters, in the book they all want Merrit.

And exactly 33 pages in was when I decided I hated the book.
Rape is very casually mentioned in Swarthout’s book.

Merrit goes on a date with Herbert “TV” Thompson and he tells how he got the nickname “TV”:
TV went on a date with a sorority queen and when she refused to sleep with him, he raped her. He panicked, worried she would report it to the police, so he bought her an $800 color TV. The story got around, so he was called TV and couldn’t get any dates or make friends. “To clap the climax he later learned that the queen had round heels for everyone else.”

“There were tears in my eyes. It was the most heart-rendering story I had ever heard.”

That’s right. TV Thompson tells a story about raping a girl … and Merrit feels sorry for him. And it was okay because she had “round heels,” I guess?

Later, a character named Susy tries to commit suicide after three “Yalies” get her drunk and try to rape her. I would compare this to the character of Melanie in the film, which is treated with more drama and gravity. In the book, the suicide and rape of Susy are treated almost flippantly, calling her a “Suicidal Mermaid,” because she tried to drown herself in the pool.

Before the book got offensive, its crime was that it was boring and confusing.
The book is written in a meandering, scattered stream of consciousness where stories overlap in confusing manners. I guess this is meant to give the impression of how a college girl thinks … in Swarthout’s opinion. The book gets convoluted as Swarthout cuts into the main narrative so Merrit can tell a story to explain something unrelated for several pages. While reading, I would forget why we were discussing this second story and what we were doing prior.

Some examples:
• Merrit first meets Basil while he and his jazz band are playing. Basil comes over to ask her for a date. After agreeing, Merrit describes something she learned in a Core Living class for three pages all in one long paragraph.
• While Merrit and Ryder are kissing, the story halts as she turns to “Incidentally, this is why I had decided in high school to become a teacher.” And for five and a half pages, Merrit describes her teaching experiences before we get back to current time.

Swarthout also uses some storytelling methods that I guess you could call clever, but were frankly annoying.

For example, the girls are having an argument with older tourists. To illustrate the yelling and talking over each other, Swarthout wrote a full page of text with no punctuation. I thought “I’m not reading that” and just skimmed.

Other times, he tried to write words phonetically so the reader would get the idea of an accent. However, he did this with a southern police officer, and as a southerner, I had no idea what words I was supposed to be reading.

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Film similarities and differences
While the book and movie are fairly different, several tidbits from the book are in the film. But they are simply told in a more charming manner.

The film begins with Merrit in a courtship class taught by elderly Dr. Raunch. Merrit gets in trouble for her discussion on dating and sex. In the book, this is one of the previously mentioned flashbacks that cuts into the story.

In both, TV tells a story about angrily writing a rich lady who complains about her life who sends him money in response. In the book, however, the woman is Barbara Hutton.

Frankly, George Hamilton and Jim Hutton were perfectly cast in the film as Ryder and TV. Paula Prentiss is more how Merrit is described in the book.

In the movie, Merrit is more reserved while she isn’t in the book.

The book is also frankly wild. There is a whole thing about trying to get college kids to go fight in the Cuban revolution — which isn’t in the film.

What was the goal?
The inspiration of the book came when Glendon Swarthout, PhD, then a Michigan State University (MSU) associate English teacher, accepted an invitation to go to Fort Lauderdale with his students. TV Thompson was based on the student who invited him.

“It occurred to me as the week progressed that this would make a very fine novel,” Swarthout told Larry King in a 1985 interview. “I could at the same time write a kind of profile of that particular generation-their aspirations, their hopes, their fears and so on.”

In a 2011 Michigan State article, several MSU professors praise the book for being witty and forward thinking.

For 1960, I will admit that it is forward thinking, especially the depiction of Merrit being sexually active. But at the same time, the female characters face certain consequences for being sexually active, while the boys don’t.

So what was the goal? Was it to slut shame? That sex comes with consequences? Or was it an attempt of saying sex outside of marriage was okay? I’m really not sure.

While the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film was criticized as commercial, I’ll soak in those artificial Cinemascope, Joe Pasternak-produced rays any day over reading this book again.

This article is part of the 2021 Classic Film Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Out of the Past.

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

Review: Enchanted Island (1958)

With bright blue eyes and a soprano singing voice, Jane Powell won over audiences with her first screen appearance in 1944.

She became one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s top musical starts from 1946 to 1955 — every one of her movies was filmed in Technicolor. Her co-stars were other bright new stars from “Holiday in Mexico” (1946) with Roddy McDowall to “Two Weeks with Love” (1950) with Riccardo Montalban.

But as the studio system declined and musicals failed to reign supreme, Powell’s career declined too. The last time movie audiences saw her in a starring role in a feature film was in 1958 in “Enchanted Island.”

But rather than a singing sweetheart, Powell dons a long black wig, a sarong and a tan as she plays a Typee woman who lives on a South Sea Island.

Set in 1842, a ship stops at a South Sea Island. Sailor Abner Bedford (Dana Andrews) is belligerent with the captain (Ted de Corsia), because the sailors are refused shore leave. The captain eventually relents, but Abner argues with the captain when he disapproves of drinking and carrying on with the native women; warning Abner and the crew that anything beyond the shore is dangerous.

After a fight, Abner jumps ship and sailor Tom (Don Dubbins) tags along. Abner’s intentions all along were to escape the ship, because he wants to be a free man.

Abner and Tom travel deeper into the island jungle and come across a tribe, the Typees, who are rumored to be cannibals. Abner falls in love with one of the Typees, Fayway (Jane Powell). The two are going to marry and Tom disapproves, believing that Abner needs to return to Western Civilization.

Tom runs away to return to civilization, and Abner and Fayaway live happily together. However, their happiness fades when Abner believes the Typees are watching him — making him feel less free — and he also has suspicions about what happened to Tom.

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The Loneliness of a Classic Film Lover: 10 years of blogging at Comet Over Hollywood

Celebrating 10 years of Comet Over Hollywood

“The Loneliness of a Classic Film Watcher.”

That could be a film title for anyone who loved classic films long after the movie’s initial release, but was also before chatting about films online with strangers became mainstream.

You were considered odd and didn’t really have anyone to talk to about your interest; bottling up your obsession inside so that you may bust at any moment.

If you loved classic films at least 20 to 40 years after their initial release, you know the loneliness I mean.

I don’t care if you turned up your nose to “RoboCop” in 1987 to watch “Roman Holiday” (1953), or rolled your eyes when your friends went to see “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) and stayed home to watch “Red Dust” (1932), you know what I’m talking about.

For me, I was starting middle school in 2000. Paris Hilton was frequently in the headlines, frosted lip-gloss and velour jogging suits were in fashion, and O*Town was the hot new boy band.

And there I was, age 12, daydreaming about Davy Jones of the Monkees. I grew up on classic films, but I was 13 when I embraced it as my own interest. I’ll never forget returning to school for the eighth grade after the summer and gushing to my friends about “Pillow Talk” (1959) and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961). Most people didn’t know what I was talking about, and as I progressed into high school, I was just the weird, old movie girl who wore headbands to look like she was from the 1960s.

Fast-forward to 2009.

I was a junior at Winthrop University in Larry Timbs, PhD, news writing class. Citizen journalism was all the rage and blogs were the thing to have. Think about how 2019 is with podcasts — that was blogging 10 years ago.

Dr. Timbs urged us to start blogs and went as far as to say that news outlets may not hire us if we didn’t write on a blog. As a college junior, I was anxious about getting a newspaper job after college and trying to get an internship that summer.

So I headed back to my dorm and — feeling like I had to do anything that very moment to be a good job candidate — I created Comet Over Hollywood on April 1, 2009, 10 years ago this month.

And as I typed furiously my first (terrible) piece on the Delmer Daves’ film “Susan Slade” (1961), I had no idea what lay ahead or that I would still be doing this 10 years later.

While the creation of Comet Over Hollywood gave me an outlet to write, it also unexpectedly filled that void of loneliness I, a classic film lover, carried in those days.

Through writing about my favorite films, I met other people close to my age that enjoyed the same films I did and shared my enthusiasm. And over the years, these blog comments turned into dear friendships with several people who still write and that I’ve met in person—including Raquel at Out of the Past, Jill at the RetroSet and Angela at The Hollywood Revue.

Blogging friendships expanded to chatting with other film lovers on Twitter and Facebook. Now, a classic film lover in their teens or twenties can easily connect with like-minded people across the country. Social media gets a bad rap, but for those friendships, it is worth it.

As for 10 years? Comet Over Hollywood has grown and evolved just like I have. A few of my favorite things out of writing it includes:
• Doing silly things like trying wacky classic actress beauty tips.
• Having the opportunity to interview people connected with classic films. I never considered this as an opportunity when I start.
Making friends over the years.

I would like to close with some unsolicited blogging advice. I have been asked, “How do you find the time to blog?” If you follow me, I have tried to post at least once-a-week since 2013. There isn’t a magical answer; you just have to do it. My advice is that you can’t make blogging an option or think of it as an extra-curricular activity. You can’t blog three times a year and expect anyone to consistently come to your page, no matter how good your articles are.

It’s work. Think of it as something you have to do, like exercise or homework. You may not feel like doing it, but you will be happy with the result. Heck, I’m writing this at 10:19 p.m. on a Friday night when I want to be in bed but here I am.

I hope that I’m still sharing my love of classic films with you for another 10 years. Thank you for all of your support over the years. I truly appreciate it. You made me feel less alone.

And thank you, Dr. Timbs, for unknowingly working as the driving force behind this page.

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

The Romanovs: 100 years of legends and rumors

One-hundred years ago, on July 17, 1918, the last royal family of Russia—Tsar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, their five children and a few aides —were taken into a cellar and assassinated.

Romanov family portrait in 1913

And while this was the end of the Romanovs and the Russian monarchy, it was just the beginning of 100 years of legends, rumors and myths that surrounded the royal family. From a 1928 American film based on Romanov imposter Anna Anderson to a 2016 Broadway musical, the world has been fascinated by the Romanovs. The curiosity doesn’t just revolve around if any of them survived (DNA and science now tell us that they didn’t), but also the relationship with Rasputin, the “mad monk,” the royal lifestyle and the seemingly charmed lives that the grand duchesses lived.

Below are films released from 1928 to 1997 about the last Tsar of Russia and his family:

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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.

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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 — a film began autoplaying.

I was excited to find a new-to-me classic Christmas film (which I have previously palmentioned 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 a car wreck at the height of his career. He now drinks too much and walks with a limp.

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