Classic movies in music videos: Boots by The Killers

This is December’s edition of Comet Over Hollywood’s classic film references in music videos.

The song's single cover channels "Citizen Kane"

Right on the heels of watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) in Mount Airy, I want to share a reference of the film in The Killer’s 2010 Christmas single “Boots.”  It was the fifth Christmas single the band wrote to help raise money for AIDS.

The video starts off with George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) praying for help in “It’s a Wonderful Life” right after the $8,000 is lost and he thinks he is going to jail. The song also mentions the movie title in the chorus.

The cover of the single also references “Citizen Kane.” The snow globe with the boots inside is similar to the snow globe Charles Foster Kane is holding when he dies.

“Boots” was directed by “Napoleon Dynamite” director Jared Hess and the homeless man in the video is street performer Brad “Super Bad Brad” Prowley- I had no idea he was anyone well-known until a today.

Most of the band’s Christmas songs are silly and fun, such as “Don’t Shoot Me Santa Claus”, “Great Big Sleigh” and “The Cowboy Christmas Ball.” However, this video is about home, memories and is a bit more serious and sentimental. I believe this might be, because Flowers’ mother passed away in February 2010 and he was dedicating it to her and childhood memories, though this is just an assumption.

As most of you know The Killers are my favorite band. In past classic film in music video posts I have shared their videos “All the Things I Have Done” and “Bones.”  From what I have heard in interviews and read in articles, I feel like lead singer Brandon Flowers appreciates the old times and classic film. He was raised in Las Vegas and tries to channels the Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Elvis days of 1960s Las Vegas in his performances and music.

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‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in Andy Griffith land

Tonight I had my third classic film on the big screen experience- and I have to add it might be my favorite thus far.

The Earle Theater in Mount Airy, NC. Taken from the Surry Arts Council

I drove roughly 30 minutes with fellow Elkin Tribune reporter, Kristin Zachary, to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) in Mount Airy, North Carolina.  Some of you may recognize Mount Airy as the town the television show “Andy Griffith” is based off of. The town is full of Andy Griffith related places such as the Andy Griffith Playhouse/mall/Parkway, Opie’s Candy Store or Barney’s Lunch Counter-but I digress, that is another post.

The film was showing at The Earle Theater, built in 1938 and opened in time to show “Gone with the Wind,” according to the Mount Airy News.

I can’t tell you when the last time I had watched “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Though my family owns it, it isn’t a Christmas movie we watch every year like “Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” “Bishop’s Wife,” “Christmas in Connecticut” or “White Christmas.”  I think part of the reason we don’t is because my dad gets very, very angry when Thomas Mitchell loses the money.

I had forgotten what a good movie it was, but then it’s a Frank Capra film so it’s pretty much flawless.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, the film is about George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart. He is in a bad place in his life, and his guardian angel comes to help. Before coming down to Earth the angel looks back over George’s life- reviewing events like saving his little brother from drowning, the death of his father and getting married. We see the struggles George Bailey has gone through for his family and how he has had to set aside everything he wanted in life to help everyone else out-mainly to keep his father’s business out of greedy Mr Potter’s hands. Before being visited by his guardian angel, he feels like he has reached the end of his rope and everything he has worked for has been for nothing. Bailey wishes he was never born and Clarence the Angel (played by Henry Travers) shows him what Bedford Falls would be like if Bailey hadn’t been born and how much he has affected everyone around him.

We meet grown up Mary (Donna Reed) for the first time.

Capra has some great camera shots. Most of my favorites were toward the end when George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) hasn’t been born such as when childhood friend and local hussy Violet (Gloria Graham) is being arrested- the camera is in her face as she is struggling with the cops.  Another shot is  the close up of George Bailey’s face as he is frantically looking around Pottersville/Bedford Falls. Other shots I liked were at the graduation dance with the close up on Mary (Donna Reed) when George first sees her after many years and ( also at the graduation dance) when the two boys (one being Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Schwartz) are planning to open the swimming pool floor.

Some other thoughts I had during the movie:

-The last time I saw “It’s a Wonderful Life” I was probably in late elementary school or in middle school. Sometimes I didn’t understand why George was upset with how his life was going. Now that I’m out of college and have my own ambitions, I can relate to him a lot more.

George yelling at Uncle Billy for losing $8,000.

-Thomas Mitchell (who played Uncle Billy) broke my heart. He was so sweet and forgetful and didn’t mean any harm to anyone. I almost died at the part where George is yelling at him and calling him a stupid fool for losing the money and then….Uncle Billy cries….and a squirrel jumped on his arm-further tears from me.  I understand being upset over the loss of $8,000, but who sends the absent minded relative to the bank with that much money?

-I always knew Donna Reed (who plays Mary) was a good actress, but I was really impressed with her acting in this movie. Unfortunately, she wasn’t given the chance at MGM she deserved, because many roles that might have gone to her, went to June Allyson.

-Gloria Graham (who plays Violet) isn’t one of my favorite actresses, but she also does a great job in this movie. It may be my favorite role of her’s.

Lionel Barrymore, as Mr. Potter, is the richest, greediest man in town.

-Lionel Barrymore is my favorite of the Barrymores and he sure can play a good bad guy. Barrymore plays Mr. Potter who is the richest man in town, greedy and wanting to have control everything. However, is anyone else bothered by what looks like a bald cap on Mr. Barrymore?

-I never realized how many funny parts were in this movie, either. Kristin and I were cracking up the whole time, particularly because a little boy with a really funny laugh was sitting in front of us. Every time he laughed at the funny parts, we would laugh harder.

At the end of the movie, Kristin and I walked out wiping tears from our eyes and she said, “They sure don’t make movies like that anymore.’

George running through the streets of Bedford Falls thankful to be alive.

Overall, the uplifting film mixed with the small town ambiance of Mount Airy, it was a very lovely experience and is my favorite classic film experience thus far.

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Birthday Blogathon: Film #4 Since You Went Away 1944

For my fourth evening of birthday favorite films I chose:

Since You Went Away (1944)

Jane and Bridget listening to Anne read a letter from their father. (This actually is my desktop background).

Brief plot: The story of Anne Hilton and her two daughters Jane and Bridget on the American World War II home-front while their father is overseas fighting. The film stars Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple, Joseph Cotton, Robert Walker, Hattie McDaniel, Monty Wooley and Agnes Moorehead (among several cameo appearances).

Why I love it: 

Jane and Bridget talking about a boarder with their mom

My favorite time period is the World War II era. One thing that particularly fascinates me about this time is the war effort on the home front-what this film call the “unconquerable fortress”. This movie chronicles life on the home front and daily adjustments Americans went through in order to help soldiers overseas-there aren’t many films that show this. But aside from the historical aspect of the film, the actors, camera shots and script make “Since You Went Away” absolutely perfect.

Cast: This film has a very strong, star-studded cast and every actor is perfect. Claudette Colbert does an excellent job as Anne Hilton and Shirley Temple (Bridget) and Jennifer Jones (Jane) embody how I think a 1940s teenager would act. Joseph Cotton plays family friend Tony Willett who used to carry a flame for Anne. Monty Wooley is Col. Smollett who boards at the Hilton home during tough financial times and Robert Walker is his grandson Bill who falls in love with Jane.  Hattie McDaniel is the Hilton’s maid, Fidelia, who has to quit and work at another reason residence, because the Hiltons can no longer afford her. However she comes back to live with them, because she doesn’t like the other servants at the new employers home. Lastly, Agnes Moorehead is Emily Hawkins, Anne’s catty friend who thinks war sacrifices mean hoarding food in a cold storage unit and hosting canteen dances.

But one very special thing this film is the plethora of uncredited cameos. Tim Hilton, Anne’s husband that has already left for basic training when the movie begins, can be seen in photos. The actor who is supposed to be Tim is Neil Hamilton-known for his role of the commissioner in the 1960s show “Batman” and who usually played cads in early 1930s films.

Throughout the film, you can see:
-Dorothy Dandridge and Ruth Roman at the train station
-Guy Madison as the sailor Bill and Jane meet at the bowling alley
-Lionel Barrymore as a clergyman in the Hilton’s church
-Kennan Wynn at the Hilton’s Christmas party as Tony’s friend
-Silent star Alla Nazimova as Anne’s immigrant friend who works in the shipyards with her.
-Rhonda Flemming as a girl at the dance
-Terry Moore as a refugee child on the train
-Character actor Grady Sutton (who pops up in so many movies!) looking for Suzy Flemming at the dance-I wonder if he ever finds her?
-Jimmie Dodd of Mickey Mouse Club fame as a train passenger
-And other recognizable faces like Jackie Moran, Craig Stevens, Lloyd Corrigan and Irving Bacon.

Emily and Anne in the background of the Paradise Cocktail Lounge-strangers talking in the front.

Script:  
One that makes me laugh every time is when Fidelia brings in a cake for Col. Smullett’s birthday and says she did something different to it.
Col: “What was the experiment with this cake?”
Fidelia: “I tried something new:I bought it!
I also like when Jane tells Emily Hawkins off after Hawkins said well-bred girls shouldn’t be war nurses: “Please don’t worry if our hands come in contact with their mangled bodies. We’ll survive even if they don’t!”
But my absolute favorite part of script is something I’ve always thought was very creative. During four separate scenes-Anne and Emily at the cocktail lounge, the canteen dance, the train on the way to see ‘pop’ and the train station as Bill is about to leave.

The camera takes the audience through crowds of people, and we hear snippets of several different conversations. It gives you a sense of what different people were talking about during the war, patriotic or unconcerned with the country’s conditions. Here is the dialogue from each of those scenes:
-The Paradise Cocktail Lounge scene:
1.”The moral breakdown of this country is caused by drinking….this is lousy scotch.” 2. “I don’t mind red finger nails but red toe nails is going too far”
3. “I went shopping before the hoarders got there.”
4. “I can’t write everything the baby says down on those little V-cards.”
-The Canteen Dance scene:
1.“I feel so good, don’t you feel good?”
2. “Now Suzy Flemming, she’s a one man woman.”
3. “I love to read books, don’t you think they are so….”
4.”Why do they call you Walt, is that your nickname?”
-The Train to see pop:
1. Business Man: “If we keep stopping like this, I’ll miss the biggest deal of my life.’ Armless Soldier: “Well I’m in no hurry, I’ve got plenty of time from now on”
2.“My husband’s never seen the baby”
3.“And after the Germans came we didn’t have milk or meat at all”
4.“Only serving two meals a day is simply outrageous”
-Train Station as Bill is leaving:
1.“Let me look at your darling so I can picture you always…now go and don’t look back” (Said to two different girls by the same soldier)
2. To a crying baby held by Dorothy Dandridge: “Look at the nice apple daddy got you”
3. “I’m sorry mom I’ve only got 5 minutes, my furlough was canceled.”
4.”I swear I can’t tell any difference between it and butter.”
5. Little girl to MP: “Hello, my mommy’s a sergeant.” MP squats down to child: “She is!”
6.”What’s a good excuse for being AWOL?”
7. Ruth Roman: “Agnes, look at that dame, nylons!”
8. Soldier: “Five months pay…give me some War Bonds! Plenty of them!”
9. Two soldiers: “I wonder where we can go for free where we don’t have to dance with hostesses.”

Jane at the train station

Camera technique: I feel some of the camera techniques in this film might compete with Hitchcock. The director took advantage of light and shadows. One example of this is Bill and Jane sitting on the Hilton’s back porch talking. The two are back-lit so we only see their silhouettes. The only light from the couple is when Bill lights his cigarette. Another is when Jane is saying goodbye to Bill at the train station. She stands there waving goodbye, the camera pulls back and her shadow stretches about 100 feet across the station. Another shot I really like is when Guy Madison leaves Jane and Bill after they walk around downtown. He gets on the bus and walks to the back, but the camera stays on him as he walks and the bus is driving away to the left and going off screen. But some of my shots are during the dance at the canteen.  One part is the shadows as couples waltz (seen at 2:05 in the video below). Also right after they find out Johnny Mahoney dies, there is a shot through a star emblem and you see everyone dancing in the background, very beautiful.

Home front: I feel like this movie is so natural and believable not just a bunch of Hollywood stars playing roles. No, not all families were as well off as the Hiltons were before Mr. Hilton went off to war and not everyone’s mother looked like Claudette Colbert-but we see a lot of what I think is pretty realistic.
-A cop pulls Tony and Anne over just to chat, because he doesn’t see cars much since gas rationing.
-Bridget keeps a plant in the sink to make sure it gets water, because her father gave it to her.
-Anne initially doesn’t really understand why Tim enlisted. She doesn’t do much for the war effort to start out with, because she feels like missing her husband and taking in a boarder is enough. By the end she is working in a shipyard.
-Jane starts off as a silly, boy crazy high school girl and matures throughout the film. Part of it has to do with falling in love with Bill, but another part of it has to do with her work as a nurse and what she sees at the hospital.
-Bridget is in her early teens throughout the film, so she still is pretty young and unchanging, but she seems to be the average, patriotic teenager saying her “Pop looks like a parade all by himself” when he is in his uniform.
-We also see a glimpse of war life as people talk about rationing. There isn’t any ice cream at the soda fountain and instead they have a “Victory Punch,” and we see Bridget sorting scrap metal.
-Along with the patriotism we also see those who didn’t care about the war, like Emily Hawkins. At one point she flippantly says to Anne after Tim is missing in action, “Oh, and I’m sorry about Tim. I’m sure he’ll show up sometime.”

Hotel, after Tim couldn’t meet them

Drinking Victory sodas at the soda fountain

Bridget and Monty Woolley looking for “We-Took-It,” Texas on the map

To review: This film is two and a half hours so I feel like I could write on and on and on about it forever, but in a nut shell-I adore this film. It’s perfect. The shots, the characters, the American life on the home front. Its one that makes you laugh at some scenes and crying in the next. It’s one emotional roller coaster of a film-and I can sincerely say it’s my all time favorite.

This concludes Night 4 of Birthday Blogathon Week.

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Birthday Blogathon: Film #3 State Fair 1945

For my third evening of birthday favorite films I chose:

State Fair (1945)

"It's a grand night" for State Fair

Brief plot: The Frank family travels to the annual Iowa state fair, entering their prize hog, minced meat and pickles into contests. The two children find romance at the fair, but it is uncertain if it will continue once the fair ends. The cast includes Fay Bainter, Charles Winneger, Jeanne Crain, Dick Hyames, Dana Andrews and Vivian Blaine.

Why I love it:

“State Fair” isn’t a high-brow film chock full of symbolism and deep meaning, but its one of my favorites.  It makes me happy no matter what, and that’s what entertainment is about.

Music: I’m a huge musical fan-viewing 432 in the past 8 years. There isn’t a song in this musical I don’t like. “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” is my favorite song in the whole movie. It’s a bit repetitive and very simple, but its a happy, ethereal song. Another close favorite is “It Might As Well Be Spring.” “State Fair” is a Rodger’s and Hammerstein musical, something that most likely surprises R & H fans. It’s very different than their other long, 9 song, operatic musicals. I think State Fair is a musical written for the average American. The songs are written like popular radio songs, easy for the average person to sing and fit the plot of farm families heading to the annual fair. If we had pig farmers singing show stopping, big budget musical numbers, I probably wouldn’t like this movie very much.

Characters/Cast: Everyone in this movie is perfect. Fay Bainter and Charles Winninger(Melissa and Abel Frank) are perfect as a sweet, loving farm couple. Jeanne Crain, as their daughter Margy,  looks her prettiest in this movie and it’s nice to see Dick Haymes in this movie as Wayne. He has a wonderful singing voice and we don’t get to see him in many films-he may have been a bigger star except for personal problems. Vivian Blaine (as Emily Edwards) is beautiful and I love her as a red-head. She was very talented and I wish she could have been in more films. But my favorite character and actor in this movie is Dana Andrews-he is so charming, rugged and handsome as reporter Pat Gilbert. I just adore him.

Charles Winnenger adding brandy to the minced meat!

But most of all I love all the mini cameo’s of well-known character actors. Frank McHugh pops up as a song plugger. It’s weird seeing him in color, after becoming so used to him in early 1930s comedies. He is funny as ever particularly when he and Wayne get drunk. During the hog judging at the fair, we see Will Wright as one of the judges. We see Wright a few times in “Andy Griffith” grumpy old man Ben Weaver, but can be spotted in uncredited roles in 1940s and 1950s. Henry Morgan plays a carny working a side show game who conned Wayne the year before. Wayne returns to get even after practicing the game all summer and humiliates Morgan. It’s a very humorous scene particularly when Morgan starts shouting, “We’re having fun here!” as everyone is walking away.
Of course, the best character actor role in the whole film is Donald Meek as the minced meat judge who eats too much of Melissa Frank’s alcoholic minced meat and gets drunk. He is hilarious!

Humor: This movie is very sweet and poignant but has several funny scenes.  One of the funniest scenes is at the beginning. Melissa Frank doesn’t want to add brandy to her minced meat so Abel adds some when she isn’t looking. Then after he leaves, she adds even more! The result of course is Donald Meek getting drunk of the minced meat.
Another funny scene is the first “It Might As Well Be Spring” reprise with Margy in the gazebo on the farm. She’s thinking about a man and thinking he’d be like “Ronald Colman, Charles Boyer and Bing” and then each of those actors have small speaking cameos as she’s imagining it. Then when her yucky boyfriend Harry (Phil Brown) comes over and sees the prize hog Blue Boy. Harry says: “Blue Boy’s the biggest boar in the world I bet!” and Margy says: “All depends on how you spell it.” That always gives me a good laugh.

Margy and Pat are the cutest.

Nostalgia: State Fair is a very sweet, poignant and honest movie filled with slices of 1940s American life. Fay Bainter sings a little at the beginning, she doesn’t have the best singing voice in the world but somehow that part shows that she’s a simple, hardworking country mother. Wayne practices for the carnival game using his mother’s embroidery hoops. Margy doesn’t want to live on a big scientific farm with Harry and wants a simple, loving life.  The fair looks clean, exciting and perfect. Waynes dances at the little nightclub at the fair. Mrs. Frank’s minced meat wins first prize and she cries happy tears. The way Abel Frank cries when his hog Blue Boy wins first prize pig (that part gets me every time).  And when Abel and Melissa Frank try champagne for the first time and say ,”It’s better than any of that French stuff.” All of those simple moments in the movie make “State Fair” perfect. They are all so sweet and make me want to travel back in time and live just like that.

Margy's green dress on the last night of the fair.

Fashion: Like with “Shadow of a Doubt,” I love the clothes in this movie. Margy wears the cutest outfits and my mom ‘oooo’ and ‘ahhh’ over them every time we watch the film. All of her clothes are cute and colorful but not too glamorous for a farm girl.  Most of her outfits are peasant dresses, pinafores or jumpers. My favorite outfits are the simple white peasant blouse and blue skirt she wears at the beginning while singing “It Might As Well Be Spring,” the red dress she wears during the minced meat judging, the green dress she wears the last night of the fair and the blue jumper with the yellow blouse at the very end.  I also love those sports coats that tie around the waist- both Dana Andrews and Dick Haymes wear.

To review: “State Fair” is a perfect, honest film. The only thing wrong with it is that it doesn’t go on forever. The color, the slice of life it offers, the music and the characters all put a smile on my face. The only thing that makes me sad about this film is that life isn’t like that today.

Okay, I'll admit-I tear at the end. And I wish I was Margy right here.

This concludes Night 3 of Birthday Blogathon Week. Please stop by again tomorrow for another favorite film of mine!

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Birthday Blogathon: Film #2 Shadow of a Doubt

For my second evening of birthday favorite films I chose:

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

From LIFE: Stroboscopic multiple exposure of Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten talking and struggling as characters from Alfred Hitchcock's film "Shadow of a Doubt."

Brief plot: Charlotte “Charlie” Newton is bored with her small town life and feels her family isn’t living to their full potential. She wants a miracle to come along-it does in the form of her namesake- Uncle Charlie Oakley. However, her beloved uncle has a dark secret. The film stars Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotton, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn,  Patricia Collinge, MacDonald Carey and Edna Mae Wonacott.

 Why I love it:

I’ve seen 40 of Alfred Hitchcock’s 57 films that he directed. I like almost all of them, particularly those from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s but “Shadow of a Doubt” is by far my favorite.

It’s much different than most of his more famous films like “North by Northwest”, “Psycho” or “The Birds.” I feel like the danger of the characters in those films is a little far-fetched. Not many of us steal money from our boss and flee, are chased by an airplane or live in a town inhabited by crazed birds.  The terror of “Shadow of a Doubt” is more realistic and obtainable to the average person.

Most of the cast, receiving gifts from Uncle Charlie.

The Characters: Though Charlie considers her family “average” they are actually pretty quirky. Dad (Travers) and his buddy (Cronyn) get together each night and harmlessly discuss ways to murder people without getting caught. Young Ann (Wonacott) is nosy, intelligent and is reading “Ivanhoe” while her father is reading dime store mysteries. The mother (Collinge) isn’t the grounded, serious type of mother you’d expect from a small town-she’s no Emily Hardy. She’s flighty, clueless and never shuts up. They are not what I would consider your typical small town, 1940s family.  All of the actors in this film are prefect as well. Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotton are two of my all time favorite actors-not to mention Cotton is a huge heartthrob of mine.  Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn are adorable and Edna Mae Wonacott is hilarious.  Edna Mae hadn’t had any acting experience prior to this film, Hitchcock discovered her in her hometown of Santa Monica where the film was shot. You can read more in an excellent post The Lady Eve wrote about Edna Mae.

Location: It’s fun to see small town America in 1930s and 1940s films. I don’t know what Santa Monica looks like now, but I think it looks so beautiful in this movie. It’s also different than the locations we see in lots of other Hitchcock films.  “Rear Window” is in the city, “To Catch a Thief” is on the Rivera, “Foreign Correspondent” is in London,  “Lifeboat” is in the middle of the ocean.  Several of these film settings aren’t where your average American is going to be, but small town Santa Monica looks like the sort of place most Americans were familiar with during the 1940s.

Teresa Wright at the bottom of the stairs while Joseph Cotton looks down.

Camera Shots: This movie has some shots that are competitors with one of my all-time favorite shots-the strangling scene in “Strangers on a Train.”  Scene I love in “Shadow of a Doubt” include Joseph Cotton pacing back and forth and Hitchcock shoots up from the floor.  During another scene, Cotton is giving a rather powerful speech at the dinner table and we are looking at Cotton’s profile. Throughout the speech the camera gets closer and closer to his face until he looks straight into the camera and says the last word. So haunting and perfect. Another shot  interesting  is so simple but excellent. Joseph Cotton is walking up the stairs and turns around half way. We look down the stairs at Teresa Wright who is standing on the front porch with the door open looking back up at him. The angle along with the light coming in from outside and her shadow hitting the entry way floor is perfect.

Here is the scene with the speech I discussed-also my favorite part of the movie: 

Script: For a thriller, there are several funny, clever little lines in the film. One part that always makes me giggle is when Ann Newton (Edna Mae) is saying her prayers, “God bless mama, papa, Captain Midnight, Veronica Lake and the President of the United States.”

Another Ann Newton/Edna Mae line to Teresa Wright who is humming the Merry Widow Waltz: “Sing at the table and you’ll marry a crazy husband.” Younger brother Roger Newton says, “Supersticions have been proven 100% wrong.”

I also giggle when the father/Travers finds out they got a telegram: “I knew there’d be trouble if your Aunt Sarah got her license.”

But aside from the goofy little lines, there are some very powerful lines as well, such as the speech Cotton gives at the table about fat old widows and their money and later when he tells Wright that she is a silly, ordinary, small town girl.

Simple yet appropriate gown for Wright's character.

Fashion: This might seem silly, but I’ve always loved the clothes in this movie. The scene where Charlie is walking quickly, almost running away from her Uncle Charlie in downtown Santa Monica always sticks out for one main reason-Teresa Wright’s spectator pumps. While re-watching this, I thought about Wright’s clothes in this film and other movies she’s in like Mrs. Miniver. They dress her in very similar outfits: tailored suits and wide shoulders with white accents on the jacket or dress.  Even the evening gown she wears at the end is great. It’s not very glamorous, but it suits Wright’s personality and is appropriate for a small town high school girl. Joseph Cotton also looks severely handsome in every suit he wears. The only thing that bothers me in MacDonald Carey’s hair. What’s with that?

To Review: This has always been my number one favorite Hitchcock film-“Sabatuer”, “Foreign Correspondent” and “Strangers on a Train” following close behind. It pleased me very much that this was also Hitchcock’s personal favorite film. I think I like it so much because it’s simple and not very flashy. It gets overlooked by Hitchcock fans for this very reason but it has more meaning than most of his films-not to mention some of the best performances from all of these actors.

Here is the second speech I discussed about “ordinary girl in a small town”: 

 This concludes Night 2 of Birthday Blogathon Week. Please stop by again tomorrow for another favorite film of mine!

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Review: Battleground (1949)

Originally posted in 2011, this review on “Battleground” and is now repurposed for the William Wellman Blogathon.

Battleground (1949)

Van Johnson and John Hodiak listening to a Christmas Eve sermon in “Battleground”

Brief plot: The film depiction of the 101st Airborne Division when they are trapped in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The division is surrounded by Germans and unable to get any air support due to heavy fog that lasts for days. The World War 2 film has a star-studded cast with Van Johnson, John Hodiak, James Whitmore, Marshall Thompson, Riccardo Montalbon, George Murphy, Don Taylor and Leon Ames.

Why I love it:

I originally saw this film when I was in high school-the sole reason I wanted to see it was because of my insane crush on Van Johnson.  But as I watched it, I feel in love with the script, the way it is shot, all of the characters and the tone of the film.

James Whitmore discovering the sun finally breaks through the fog, shouts “It’s shinin’!”

Accuracy: World War 2 is my favorite period in history-the way the whole United States bonded together in a way that we will most likely never see again. I really like war films made during war time, but there is a certain amount of patriotic propaganda mixed in that makes war time battle films not as credible-I’m not saying I like them less for this, they just generally aren’t as historically accurate.

I also enjoy several war films made in the 1950s and 1960s, but they also have their own historical inaccuracies. The hairstyles and dresses are usually 1950s or 1960s styles, rather than 1940s styles. An example of this is Gina Lollabridgda in “Never So Few.” Her outfits are all wrong for wartime-let alone for a woman living in war torn Asia.

“Battleground” is made just soon enough after the war to be patriotic, but also very accurate. I’ve heard that it is one of the most accurate war films of the Golden Era- depicting conditions and sentiments of the soldiers. I would like to clarify that I say its the most accurate WW2 depiction of the Golden Era, because I realize that in recent years, films like “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Band of Brothers” have given a better historic account of the events.

George Murphy as “Pop”

Filming: I love the way this film is shot. The darkness of their uniforms against the snow and fog that lead the soldiers to be trapped in Bastgone is perfect. There is almost a grittiness to it too. Though the snow is pure and white, it is ugly and dangerous because the reason why they are surrounded and with no help from air support. William “Wild Bill” Wellman directed the film, and this might have alot to do with the gritty feel of the film.

Cast: Look at the actors I listed above. Could you ask for a better cast? Sure, none of them were ever as big as Clark Gable or Spencer Tracy, but they were all amazing actors. I really think this film helped both John Hodiak and Van Johnson flex their acting muscles better than fluff films they were in before.  I also love Marshall Thompson’s performance. He starts off as a young kid, eager and excited to fight, but as the situation in Bastogne gets more serious, he becomes bitter.

Script: I enjoyed the story line, but I also liked the little Army jokes or lingo they used. For example, whenever they were talking about the Army, they had an ongoing joke of “I found a home in the Army.” Or how they called bombs “In-coming mail.”  Though the film is only 2 hours and doesn’t give us enough time to really get to know the characters, we learn their personalities enough by things they say or sing. The country character, Abner always says “That’s for sure, that’s for dang sure” and butchers the name of Bastogne calling Baaast-oog-nee.” Another example is John Hodiak’s character is well spoken, educated and was a newspaper man.  Douglas Fowley, who plays Private Kippton, always clicks his false teeth in the film-something he really knew how to do in real life and it added a bit of his personality to the script.

Another thing I like about the film is that the screenwriter actually fought in the Battle of the Bulge, so he had some knowledge of the events. Things like Ricardo Montalbon’s character never seeing snow before and getting excited, isn’t just hokey Hollywood glitter-it actually happened.

Marching back to Bastonge

To Review: This film was made at a time that MGM was switching from L. B. Mayer to Dore Schary as studio head, so it’s a little different from the frothy MGM movies we are used to.

Though I realize there are several World War 2 movies, more realistic than this one, “Battleground” is my favorite war movie. I think this film was made at the right time, giving the U.S. a few years to recover from the war but also before the downward spiral of the communist scare began.

Before I leave, I’d like to share with you my favorite scene:

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Elkin goes to war and Hollywood

Fred Norman, 19, in 1943 when he enlisted.

I met one of the last Americans to see Churchill, Stalin and Truman together and who also has met several Hollywood stars.

            On Wednesday, I was excited about the interview and wore a skirt and turtleneck rather than my usual outfit of jeans.  I wanted to show respect to this particular interviewee.

            It was already a crazy morning after driving 20 minutes to a wreck and I was running a little late for our 10 a.m. appointment.

            I pulled up to a beautiful ranch style home, I later found out he and his wife built it in 1954, and was greeted at the door by 88-year-old Fred Norman before I even rang the doorbell.

            I’d seen younger photos of him and he looked basically the same-still wearing his hair in the 1940s wave style and a few pounds heavier.

            “Hello!!” he happily said inviting me inside. We sat down and started to talk about his war years.

            Norman was in the 3rd Army, sixth division (or Super Six) that fought under General George S. Patton. Under Patton he fought in the Siege of Bastogne to relieve the U.S. 101st Airborne Division who was surrounded by the German in the Battle of the Bulge (this is shown in the 1948 film “Battleground”).

            Norman was with the American, French and British forces who went into Berlin, Germany after the Russians.  He was also there with hundreds of other soldiers and tanks that lined the Autobahn as Harry Truman, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin rode into Berlin for the Potsdam Conference that determined Nazi Germany’s punishment.

            “Churchill had his daughter Sarah with him and Stalin was in the biggest limousine I’ve ever seen,” Norman said.  “Truman road up in a convertible and I slipped out of rank and snuck into the forest to take a picture. I’m probably one of the last people living to see those three together. I was 21 at the time and it was 66 years ago so there can’t be many of us left.”

            Born and raised in Elkin, N.C., Norman was 19-years-old and a student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he was drafted into the Army. He was sent to California for basic training before going overseas to England.

            After the war, Norman married his sweetheart since the fourth grade, Nan ‘Hon’ Johnson. She passed away in 2007.

Fred Norman and his division in front of their tank in Bastogne. I said he was like Van Johnson in “Battleground.” He got bashful and said “I don’t know about that”

“When I got out of the Army I said, ‘Nan we aren’t having any long engagement, we’ve been engaged since the fourth grade,’” Norman laughed.  “Hon and I were married for 62 years and we had a great life. Someone may go but the memories never leave.”

            Towards the end of the interview I asked if he saw any movie stars or went to the Hollywood Canteen while he was in California for training.

            “I saw a bunch of stars when I went to Hollywood, but I don’t think you’d know anything about them,” he said.

            I quickly said I was actually a big movie fan. Mr. Norman smiled real big and we talked an extra 30 minutes about people he had seen at the Canteen and during the 1940s and 1950s.

            “I remember seeing Joan Blondell at the Hollywood Canteen-she was real famous at the time. That was a really great thing they did for us,” Norman said. “I also saw Frank Sinatra, he was mine and Hon’s number one.”

            Norman and a friend used to travel to New York City to see the Lucky Strike Radio Hour and listen to Frank Sinatra sing.

            “The girls just went crazy for him. I asked my friend ‘What has he got that we haven’t got?’ Every time he would move the girls would go crazy,” Norman said. “He was sitting on a stool and knelt down to adjust his loafer and the girls went ape. They did the show again two hours later for California audiences and I’ll be doggoned if those girls waited another two hours to listen to Frank again!”

            Norman also saw big band leader Kay Kyser several times since they both went to UNC Chapel Hill, but at different times.

Fred Norman and a friend at the Hollywood Canteen in 1944.

While overseas he saw Marlene Dietrich perform.

            “See what the boys in the backroom will have,” he sang thinking about the famous song Dietrich sang. “World War 2 was so different. Everyone was so dedicated. I don’t believe anyone would do that now.”

            In Berlin, Norman saw one of the most modern theaters he had ever seen. It had 12 doors that lead to every row of seats and an elevator stage.

            “The elevator stage rose up and there was Mickey Rooney,” he said. “I didn’t know how small that rascal was! He came out and said, ‘I know you are all going to tell me to get off my knees, but this is as tall as I get.’ He gave quite a show.”

            Norman met many incredible actors that we have lost today, but most importantly I’m thankful for what he did for our country. He fought under one of the greatest generals our country will ever see, and is the sweetest man I have ever met.

            For a long time, Norman didn’t talk about his war experiences.

            “I didn’t talk about the war for many years after I got home. Nobody did, I didn’t even talk to daddy about it,” he said. “It wasn’t until Tom Brokaw came out and said we needed to tell our stories that I did. I don’t mind telling some of the anecdotes, but there are a lot of things I saw that I just don’t want to talk about.”

            I’m proud that I was able to talk to him, and that I consider this man a friend.

            Thank you Fred Norman, and all the other veteran’s who have served our country.

Fred Norman today showing off his Nazi helmet and flag he captured during WW2.

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The most beautiful woman in Hollywood: Hedy Lamarr book review

Hedy Lamarr-The most beautiful face on screen

Dubbed “The Most Beautiful Woman in Films” in the 1940s, actress, art connoisseur and inventor of radio guided torpedoes during World War 2, Hedy Lamarr has an impressive resume. However, writing a book is not one of them.

Lamarr’s autobiography “Ecstasy and Me” published in 1966 reminds me of a bad late-1960s film: story lines that jump around with random flashbacks that don’t make sense.

The book begins talking about how important sex has been in her life. She shares a few anecdotes of some of her earliest sexual exposures as a young girl and how once a husband was having sex with another woman-in their bed, while Hedy was asleep.

What does any of this have do with anything? To be honest, I’m not sure.  I think Miss Lamarr is attempting to say that her sexual encounters shaped her life or draw some sort of metaphor. After telling these stories she says, “But we will discuss these experiences further later,” but she really doesn’t.

Films

The controversial nude scene in “Ecstasy” wasn’t censor’s biggest problem with the film.

Hedy continues to give a vague account of her childhood, jumping from birth to age 14 when she became interested in acting to 17 when she was in her first film, “Symphony of Love (Symphonie Der Liebre)” which is now known as “Ecstasy” (1933).

Hedy actually does talk about “Ecstasy” in some detail. The famous nude scene was filmed under some false pretenses. She didn’t want to do it at al, but was told she would “ruin the picture” if she didn’t. The director made a deal with her and said he would film the shot from 50 yards away on a hill. But the director was sneaky and used a telephoto lens to zoom up on the scene (28).  However, the real censorship issue wasn’t the nudity but the close-up of Hedy’s face while she was supposed to be having sex-she was really being poked in the butt with a safety pin to get the desired facial expressions (18).

Hedy Lamarr skims over most of her films with the exception of “Ecstasy” (1933), “Algiers” (1938) and “Samson and Delilah” (1949).

I wanted to hear more about one of my personal favorites, “Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) and she didn’t even mention her relationships with Lana Turner or Judy Garland. She glossed over “Come Live with Me” (1941) and “Heavenly Body” (1945) and dismissed “Her Highness and the Bellboy’ (1945)  saying it was so bad she didn’t care to discuss it-though she did say June Allyson had the best role in the film.

Hedy surprisingly got along with the notoriously difficult Cecil B. DeMille during “Samson and Delilah.” DeMille gave actors quarters whenever they came up with a good idea for the movie-Hedy received five.

Besides the three films she listed above, Hedy doesn’t have a lot of mainstream well known films. I think part of this was because she was deemed difficult to work with and also turned down several roles. The casting agencies referred to her as “The Hedy problem.”

Gossip

One of my favorite parts of reading star autobiographies are the back stories to movies, friendships with other stars and relationships with co-stars. You don’t get a lot of this from Hedy Lamarr. Hedy actually made false names for some actors. Since it was 1966, several of them or their families were still living. So if she was talking about sleeping with an actor she may say, “We will refer to him as Sam.”

Though she does share a few unexpected tidbits:

Hedy Lamarr and John Loder in “Dishonored Lady” (1947). They were going through a divorce at this point which made good publicity for the film.

•She got along with Robert Young in “H.M. Pulham, Esq.” (1941)-a personal favorite of mine and also her favorite film- and thought he was a great actor. She once asked Louis B. Mayer why Young wasn’t a big star and Mayer said he didn’t have any sex appeal. Hedy said she was pleased when he was a success in the television series “Father Knows Best.”

•One thing that surprised me the most was Reginald Gardner was one of Hedy’s first close friends in Hollywood. Hedy even said, “We became very good friends. In fact we really should have become husband and wife. Frankly, I wanted to marry him, but he was never sure enough” (50). This sure was surprising to me!

•Hedy told a very funny anecdote concerning Errol Flynn and his crazy parties. Hedy told her stand-in Sylvia who went to a Flynn party with her, “Many of the bathrooms have peepholes or ceilings with squares of opaque glass though which you can’t see out but someone can see in. So be careful. Never got to a room Errol sends you to change if there is swimming” (182). One time Hedy, Errol and another party guest watched a “busty Italian star” changing into her bathing suit and laughed when she sniffed her armpits and tried to hide red clothing marks.

Love

One thing Hedy Lamarr did not make a passing grade in was love. She went in and out of marriages like people buy and return clothes. She married Austrian munitions aristocrat Fritz Mandl because of his prestige, but she didn’t love him. She found he was demanding and kept her a virtual prisoner so she fled. I’ve heard that he allegedly forced Hedy into a sexual relationship with Hitler, but she doesn’t discuss this.

Hedy then rushed into marriage with writer Gene Markey-Joan Bennet’s ex-husband- who she was married to for less than a year. The two knew each other for a few days and got married. They adopted baby James Markey together but it was right before their divorce. During this time a single woman couldn’t adopt a baby. Hedy included a long column Louella Parson’s wrote about “Hedy Lamarr suffering for her adopted baby boy.” But Hedy ends the topic of James Markey after this article and never says what happens with the legal battle, though in her obituary he is listed as one of her children.

Probably her best marriage (if that’s saying much) was to actor John Loder. They actually had a courtship, but they got married because he wanted to see how many times they could have sex in one day on their honeymoon-in competition with a story he heard. The real problem with this marriage was Hedy. I think she was too demanding of him but he was also lazy. She got obsessively protective over her children and seemed to divorce him because she wanted her children to herself.

Later Hedy married three other times. One was because she simply wanted a husband and to settle down and he seemed like a good candidate. The others were also for security.

That’s a wrap

Hedy Lamarr in court in 1966-at the time this book was published

In all, I did think the book was interesting and it was nice to learn a little more about Hedy Lamarr, but it was a really poorly written book. I felt like she left me hanging on a lot of aspects and I wanted to know more or a different side of the story.

The book was published during a bad time in her life. She had just been arrested for stealing a few inexpensive items from a store and didn’t have much money. She even said her lawyer and friends like Frank Sinatra would bring her food to make sure she was fed.

Hedy seemed like a bit of a rash diva, but I still like her. She had an interesting out look on life-detailed in the book with a transcript of a psychologist conversation.

I plan on reading the Hedy Lamarr biography that came out last year so I can hopefully get some more information.

Life Lessons from Hedy

At the end of Hedy’s book she some life tips she has learned. I will leave you with my favorites:

-I never drink beer, it’s too plebeian.

-I’d rather wear jewels in my hair then anywhere else. The face should have the advantage of this brilliance.

-American men, as a group, seem to be interested in only two things, money and breasts. It seems a very narrow outlook.

-I don’t fear death because I don’t fear anything I don’t understand. When I start to think about it, I order a massage and it goes away.

-I can excuse anything but boredom. Boring people don’t have to stay that way.

**Also, happy birthday to Hedy Lamarr with this book review. I inadvertently planned to publish it today and had no idea it was her birthday!**

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Old Hollywood Halloween: jump on the ‘Bandwagon’

The difficult thing about being a classic film lover at Halloween is no one knows who you are supposed to be.

Some of you might remember my Carmen Miranda costume from last Halloween. Several of my friends thought I was Chiquita Banana and I tried to correct them-Carmen Miranda was spoofed so many times by Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck that surely they would know.

This year I decided to be Cyd Charisse in the “Girl Hunt” number from “The Band Wagon” (1953). I knew most people might now know who I was so I said “someone from an old musical” and elaborate if they liked classic film.

I guess this is a rather odd choice for a Halloween costume, but I had an old red sequined dance costume that would be prefect. All I had to do was go to Hobby Lobby, buy some similar colored material and sew it on. For not having a full length mirror as a reference, I was pretty pleased.  I can’t wait to see the photos of any other classic film costumes!!

Halloween 2011: Cyd Charisse from the "Girl Hunt" number in "Band Wagon"

Happy Halloween!!

P.S) I apologize for my blogging absence, still no internet in my apartment so using my work computer and free Wi-Fi at McDonalds. I miss reading everybody’s blogs!

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Comet Over Hollywood is flitterin’

A few weeks ago I posted that I finally had found a reporter job.  Well this past week I also finally found an apartment in the North Carolina town where the job is located- I’ve had a heck of a time finding a place to live. 

Today I am moving (or flitterin’ as they say in “Summer Magic”)  three hours away from my home in South Carolina and will start my new job on Thursday.  

I wanted to let all of you know that I won’t have internet access until Friday when it is installed. Not a big deal I guess but it might get kinda lonely without it those first few days!

Until Friday I just wanted to let you know that I won’t really be on Twitter, no blog updates or updates to the Facebook page.  When I have internet I will finally have my Hedy Lamarr book review of “Ecstasy and Me” posted. 

The lack of internet will give me a chance to catch up on some movies and write some blog posts (via Word) that I’ve been meaning to work on.

Have a great week!

-Jessica

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