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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Never have I stumbled over a more delightful film.
While searching for films about sports, the 1955 British film “Geordie,” released in the U.S. as “Wee Geordie,” came up in the results. I hadn’t heard of this film or several of the stars, but I decided to give it a go and I’m glad I did.
Geordie is smaller than the other students and gets picked on.
Directed by Frank Launder, “Geordie” follows a young boy named Geordie MacTaggart (Paul Young) who is the smallest in his class and Scottish village. The “wee” boy is fed up with being picked on at school and harassed about his height.
Geordie spots an advertisement for a mail-order body-building course on the back of his father’s (Jameson Clark) newspaper. He orders Henry Samson’s (Francis DeWolff) exercise correspondence and continues to work through the course until he’s a tall, strong 21-year-old man (Bill Travers — who was 6′ 6″). Geordie’s girl Jean (Norah Gorsen) is aggravated by the exercises and feels like it takes up all of his time.
At 14, loving both classic films and fashion, I always kept my eyes peeled for the film’s costume designer. With 293 credits to his name from 1932 to 1963, Orry-Kelly was a name I often spotted.
Dark Victory (1939), Now Voyager (1940), Casablanca (1940), American in Paris (1951), Auntie Mame (1958), Some Like it Hot (1959), and Gypsy (1963) are just a few films that he added to his resume.
While many today will name Edith Head when put on the spot to name a costume designer, she wasn’t the only one in Hollywood. Head’s costumes were lovely and she deserves all her accolades, but many costume designers seem to be cast in a shadow as dark as her round black glasses.
“Women He’s Undressed” (2015), a new documentary directed by Gillian Armstrong, gives audiences the opportunity to learn more about the prolific costume designer, Orry-Kelly.
The same year Peggy Ann Garner performed her award winning role in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” the 13-year-old actress found herself in a coming of age comedy, “Junior Miss” (1945).
Similar to “And So They Were Married” (1936), Christmas is merely a backdrop to adolescent antics in “Junior Miss” (1945), but the holidays play larger roles in this coming of age film. Continue reading
“Gidget Goes to Rome” isn’t the best of the three Gidget feature films, but it isn’t the worst.
While Sandra Dee is the best actress who plays Gidget, Cindy Carol is a distance second.
In this film, we join Gidget and her friends for a third summer. Gidget (Carol) is about to go off to college and is planning a trip to Rome, Italy with her friends—Lucy (Noreen Corcoran) and Libby (Trudi Ames). She’s trying to convince her boyfriend Moondoggie/Jeff (James Darren) and his buddies—Judge (Joby Baker) and Clay (Peter Brooks)—to come along. But before they can head abroad, Gidget’s parents need some convincing. They will only let Gidget go if she has a chaperon. Judge enlists his rich, eccentric Aunt Albertina (Jessie Royce Landis). Without her knowledge, Gidget’s father (Don Porter) writes to an old friend he met in Italy during World War II, Paolo Cellini (Cesare Danova).