Watching 1939: The Hardys Ride High (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

THE HARDYS RIDE HIGH, Mickey Rooney, Ann Rutherford, Cecilia Parker, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, Sara Haden, 1939

1939 film: The Hardys Ride High (1939)

Release date:  April 21, 1939

Cast: 
Lewis Stone, Mickey Rooney, Cecilia Parker, Fay Holden, Ann Rutherford, Sara Haden, Virginia Grey, Minor Watson, John ‘Dusty’ King, Marsha Hunt, Donald Briggs, William T. Orr, John T. Murray, Halliwell Hobbes, George Irving

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  George B. Seitz

Plot:
Judge Hardy (Stone) learns he is the heir to 2 million dollars. The Hardy family travels to Detroit to prove and claim the inheritance. The disinherited Philip ‘Phil’ Westcott (King) puts up a fight for the money, especially because he has to leave the family mansion.

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Watching 1939: Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film: Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever (1939)

Release date:  July 18, 1939

Cast:
Lewis Stone, Mickey Rooney, Cecilia Parker, Fay Holden, Ann Rutherford, Helen Gilbert, Terry Kilburn, John T. Murray, Sidney Miller, Addison Richards, Charles Peck, Robert Kent, George P. Breakston, Sidney Miller, Ivan Miller (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  W.S. Van Dyke

Plot:
Judge Hardy (Stone) owns some land that he can’t sell until he learns it contains aluminum bauxite. Meanwhile, while the Judge is elated, Andy Hardy (Rooney) is heartsick. His girl Polly Benedict (Rutherford) is being courted by a Naval officer (Kent) who is staying with her family. However, his heart is quickly mended when he falls in love with his theater substitute teacher (Gilbert). The Judge’s excitement also is turned upside down when it turns out the business deal he made may not be what it seems.

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Watching 1939: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939)

Release date:  Feb. 10, 1939

Cast:  Mickey Rooney, Rex Ingram, Walter Connolly, William Frawley, Lynne Carver, Clara Blandick, Elisabeth Risdon, Minor Watson, Jo Ann Sayers, Victor Kilian, Irving Bacon (uncredited), Delmar Watson, Billy Watson, Harry Watson

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Richard Thorpe

Plot:
Huckleberry Finn (Rooney) is a troublemaking orphan living with a widow (Risdon) and her sister (Blandick). Huckleberry skips school, lies and smokes pipes. Huckleberry feels bad when he realizes that he is going to disappoint the Widow because he isn’t going to advance at school. When his father who is believed to be dead (Kilian) shows up, he kidnaps his son. Huckleberry runs away, travels down the river and finds Jim (Ingram), the Widow’s slave that Huckleberry befriended.

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Musical Monday: Strike Up the Band (1940)

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

This week’s musical:
Strike Up the Band (1940) – Musical #301

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Busby Berkeley

Starring:
Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, June Preisser, William Tracy, Larry Nunn, Margaret Early, Ann Shoemaker, Virginia Brissac, Sidney Miller, Harry McCrillis (uncredited)
Themselves: Paul Whiteman and Orchestra

Plot:
Bored with his school’s dance band, Jimmy Connors (Rooney) tries to organize a dance orchestra with his friend Mary Holden (Garland) as his singer.

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Musical Monday: Words and Music (1948)

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

This week’s musical:
Words And Music (1948)– Musical #69

words and music

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Norman Taurog

Starring:
Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers and Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart
Also Starring: June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Perry Como, Vera-Ellen, Judy Garland, Betty Garrett, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, Janet Leigh, Jeannette Nolan, Richard Quine, Ann Sothern, Clinton Sundberg, Marshall Thompson, Mel Torme

Plot:
Fictional biographical film of the songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, chronicling their success on Broadway, abroad and in Hollywood.

Songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in the 1930s. Their career is portrayed in "Words and Music."

Songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in the 1930s. Their career is portrayed in “Words and Music.”

Trivia:
-The project started in 1946 and was originally titled, “With a Song in My Heart” and then “Easy to Remember,” according to A Ship Without A Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart by Gary Marmorstein.

-Richard Rodgers hated the movie, according to Marmostein’s book.

-Lyricist Lorenz Hart, who Mickey Rooney plays in the film, died in 1943 at age 48. Richard Rodgers was 46 when this film was released and passed away in 1979. After Hart passed away, Rodgers became songwriting partners with Oscar Hammerstein.

-“Words and Music” was Perry Como’s first film with MGM after signing a seven-year contract. His MGM career ended promptly with this film after he sang happy birthday to Louis B. Mayer and ended it with an insult, according to the book Perry Como: A Biography and Complete Career Record by Malcolm Macfarlane, Ken Crossland.

-Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland’s last on-screen performance.

-Perry Como had two songs deleted from the film: “You’re Nearer” and “Lover,” according to the Malcolm Macfarlane and Ken Crossland book.

-Tom Drake is dubbed by Bill Lee

-Cyd Charisse is dubbed by Eileen Wilson

Highlights:
-The all-star cast
-Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney’s performance of “I Wish I Was in Love Again”

Notable Songs:
-“Manhattan” performed by Mickey Rooney
-“Mountain Greenery” performed by Perry Como
-“Where’s That Rainbow?” performed by Ann Sothern
-“On Your Toes” performed by Cyd Charissed (dubbed by Eileen Wilson) and Dee Turnell
-“Thou Swell” performed by June Allyson
-“The Lady Is A Tramp” performed by Lena Horne
 “I Wish I Were in Love Again” performed by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney
-“Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” danced by Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen

My review:
“Nice music, poor plot.”

This was the general consensus among the film critics after “Words and Music” had its New York City premiere on Dec. 8, 1948. And 68 years later, these critics still aren’t wrong.

This movie is in gorgeous Technicolor, has a fantastic cast of nearly all of MGM’s major musical stars, and beautiful songs with breathtaking dances. But somehow it falls short due to the story.

“Words and Music” is a musical film where the plot weaves in and out of a patchwork of musical numbers. While this format is bizarre and a little difficult to follow, it wasn’t uncommon during this time for a musical picture to mainly be a revue of song and dance with a tiny bit of plot sprinkled in. MGM did the same thing (but a little better) in 1946 with the musical “Till the Clouds Roll By”—A film about Jerome Kern. Warner Brothers had a comparable format with their 1943 film “This is the Army,” where the story halts for 45 minutes of a musical show.

But the musical numbers aren’t the problem, in fact they are the high spots of the film. We have the opportunity to see Ann Sothern in the gorgeous Technicolor number “Where’s My Rainbow?,” June Allyson adorably in the “Connecticut Yankee” number “Thou Swell,” and Lena Horne give the best rendition that ever existed of “The Lady is a Tramp.”

Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart and Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers

Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart and Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers

The issue is the terrible and inaccurate biographical plot line. I like Tom Drake, but he’s not a very strong leading man while playing songwriter Richard Rodger. And Mickey Rooney is over the top and fairly ridiculous as the ill-fated Lorenz Hart.

Hart had a troubled life that involved alcoholism. He also was tormented by the fact that he was only five feet tall and was a homosexual in a time where this was not embraced by society, according to the book A Ship Without A Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart by Gary Marmorstein.

Ann Sothern gorgeous in Technicolor in the number "Where's My Rainbow" (1

Ann Sothern gorgeous in Technicolor in the number “Where’s My Rainbow” (Comet Over Hollywood screenshot)

Unsurprisingly though, none of this is detailed in the film. “Words and Music” depicts Hart as what New York Times writer Wilfrid Sheed quipped: “a lovelorn dwarf.” In the film, Hart’s character is turned down by a fictional love interest played by Betty Garrett in the 1920s and hasn’t gotten over it 20 years later.

There is even an odd but comical scenes where Mickey Rooney buys elevated shoes to be taller to impress the girl.

Aside from Hart’s personal life, the timeline of this film is confusing. For starters, Hart holds a huge party when he first moves to Hollywood and performs a song with guest Judy Garland.  It’s an energetic and standout scene in the film—until you stop and realize that in real life this didn’t happen. Hart moved to Hollywood in the early 1930s when Garland was still a little girl.

On a bittersweet note—Rooney and Garland’s performance of “I Wish I Were in Love Again” is also memorable because it was their last on-screen performance after starring together in 10 films through the late-1930s and early-1940s.

June Allyson in the number "Thou Swell" with twins Ramon Blackburn and Royce Blackburn

June Allyson in the number “Thou Swell” with twins Ramon Blackburn and Royce Blackburn (Comet Over Hollywood screenshot)

The musical numbers in the film also aren’t in chronological order of the years they opened on Broadway, making the story a little more confusing and “patchwork” like. For example, the film starts with the 1926 play “Peggy Ann,” then goes to the 1936 play “On Your Toes” and then back to a 1926 musical, “The Girl Friend.” While an average 1948 moviegoer may not notice this, it’s a little confusing if you are doing research or know when these musicals were on the stage.

Lastly, audiences have the opportunity to see Perry Como, aka Mr. Cool, in his first and only Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film. Como plays a fictional pal to Rodgers and Hart at the beginning of the film. However, at the end of the movie during a tribute to Lorenz Hart, Gene Kelly introduces Perry Como as…Perry Como. Someone didn’t think that out well.

While inaccuracies in musical biopics are nothing new, it’s simply that those in “Words and Music” are awfully clumsy. Despite that, “Words and Music” is an excellent showcase of MGM’s talented singers and dancers: from Cyd Charisse, Lena Horne, June Allyson, Gene Kelly, Mel Torme, Vera-Ellen and of course, Judy Garland.

Even grumpy New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther said in his Dec. 10, 1948 review: To be sure, there is much that is appealing—especially to us reminiscent folks—about certain of the musical numbers that sit like islands in the swamp of the plot. It is pleasant to hear Betty Garrett, for a starter, sing “There’s a Small Hotel” or to watch little crinkle-faced June Allyson head a big production rendering of “Thou Swell.” There is melody and magnificence in a richly-staged dance spectacle which packages two or three numbers, notably “The Girl Friend” and “This Can’t Be Love.” And it is nice to watch Perry Como and Cyd Charisse do “Blue Room” in pastels.

If you give this one a chance, I suggest drinking in the Technicolor costumes, catchy songs and mesmerizing dance steps and ignore the plot.

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

Classics at the Carolinas: Lunch with Mickey Rooney

Barbecue patrons still talk about the day Mickey Rooney came to town.

Rooney, who passed away Sunday at age 93, visited Shelby, NC to eat at Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge in 1997.  He was told it was the best barbecue in North Carolina.

Read the full story I wrote for The Shelby Star here: 

http://www.shelbystar.com/news/local/lunch-with-mickey-rooney-1.302034?tc=cr

 

(The Star/Jessica Pickens) Natalie Ramsey, VP of Red Bridges Barbecue, remembers when Mickey Rooney visited the restaurant in 1997. She holds a Shelby Star article that hangs in the restaurant.

(The Star/Jessica Pickens) Natalie Ramsey, VP of Red Bridges Barbecue, remembers when Mickey Rooney visited the restaurant in 1997. She holds a Shelby Star article that hangs in the restaurant.

 

Starring in 10 films with Judy Garland and winner of a Juvenile Academy Award along with Deanna Durbin, Rooney was the top box office draw of 1939.

I can’t deny that Rooney occasionally gets on my nerves in his films, but he was an important aspect of film history-starting in vaudeville, acting in silent films as a youngster and making movies into his 90s, including the 2011 Muppets film.

He had energy and could definitely sell a song.

What are your memories of Mickey Rooney? Did you have a favorite film or ever see him in person? 

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in "Love Finds Andy Hardy."

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in “Love Finds Andy Hardy.”

 

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

Classics in the Carolinas: A visit to the Ava Gardner Museum

Comet Over Hollywood is doing a mini-series of “Classics in the Carolinas.” I’ll be spotlighting classic movie related topics in South Carolina (my home state) and North Carolina (where I currently live and work).

Actress Ava Gardner in "The Killers" (1946)

Actress Ava Gardner in “The Killers” (1946)

One of the biggest stars to emerge from North Carolina is the actress once called “The Most Beautiful Animal” in the tagline for “The Barefoot Contessa.”

The only other North Carolinian whose fame could be equal is Andy Griffith of the “The Andy Griffith Show,” born in Mount Airy, NC.

Ava Gardner was born in rural Grabtown, NC on Christmas Eve in 1922. Gardner’s family was poor and she was the youngest of seven children.

Gardner made a screen test in 1941 for MGM and signed a seven-year contract with the studio. But her career took off after she starred with Burt Lancaster in the 1946 film noir “The Killers.”

Gardner went in to star in “Show Boat” (1951), “Mogambo” (1953) and “The Night of the Iguana” (1964).

The Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, NC celebrates Gardner’s life and career with costumes, personal belongings and film posters that tell her story.

Ava Gardner's grave in Smithfield, NC (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Ava Gardner’s grave in Smithfield, NC (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Within a couple miles of the museum is Ava Gardner’s grave site at the Sunset Memorial Park. Though Gardner passed away in London, her wishes were to be buried with her parents, brothers and sisters in Smithfield.

On Sunday, I traveled from Shelby, NC to Smithfield, NC to visit the museum for the first time. It was seven hours round trip, but well worth the drive.

The 5,000 square-foot museum is beautifully kept and Frank Sinatra (one of Gardner’s husbands) is played as you look about.

When you first enter, you watch an 18 minute documentary on Gardner’s life. Interviewees in the documentary include actresses Arlene Dahl, Kathryn Grayson and Janet Leigh; actor and Gardner’s ex-husband Mickey Rooney; actor Howard Keel; Gardner’s maid and friend Mearene Jordan and her niece.

The documentary included such facts as:

-Clark Gable was her favorite star as a child and she loved watching Gable and Jean Harlow in “Red Dust.” Gardner went on to star in the Harlow role in “Mogambo,” the remake of  “Red Dust.” Gardner also stared three times with Grable in films-“The Hucksters,” “Mogambo” and “Lone Star.”

-Rooney remembered that he dressed as Carmen Miranda when he first met Gardner and asked for her phone number. He spoke fondly on their brief marriage. The documentary said Gardner thought their marriage would be like her parents: cooking for Rooney and having children. Rooney preferred the nightlife.

-During Gardner’s first screen test, the studio could not understand her Southern accent. Her test ended up being a silent test as they took different shots of her face and movements.

-“The Killers” was the first role Gardner enjoyed acting in

-While filming “Show Boat,” actress and fellow North Carolinian Kathryn Grayson said Gardner was fun to work with. Howard Keel said she was up for anything and swore as much as he did.

-Gardner worked hard to do her own singing in the musical “Show Boat” but ended up being dubbed by Annette Warren. Her co-stars were unhappy about the dubbing and she can be heard on the soundtrack.

-Howard Hughes was obsessed with Gardner and the two fought a lot. At one point she hit him over the head with an object. She said she was so mad, she would have killed him had she not been stopped.

-Frank Sinatra was the true love of her life, but they were too much alike. Janet Leigh described them in the documentary as two sticks of dynamite together.

-Gardner didn’t enjoy Hollywood. She spent several years living in Spain and lived the remainder of her life in London.

 Items that can be found in the museum:

 Childhood items:

An odd play pin that Ava (pictured on top) used as a child. It could be rolled around and had a top. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

An odd play pin that Ava (pictured on top) used as a child. It could be rolled around and had a top. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

-The family Bible

-Ava Gardner’s 1939 high school diploma

Ava's college yearbook. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Ava’s college yearbook. Ava is documented as a Campus Beauty. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

Costumes:

A cape that was used in publicity shots for "Barefoot Contessa" but is not seen in the film. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A cape that was used in publicity shots for “Barefoot Contessa” but is not seen in the film. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Originally worn by Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight," this jacket was reworked for Gardner to wear in "The Great Sinner" also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Originally worn by Ingrid Bergman in “Gaslight,” this jacket was reworked for Gardner to wear in “The Great Sinner” also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Gardner wore this dress in "The Great Sinner" also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Gardner wore this dress in “The Great Sinner” also starring Gregory Peck and Melvyn Douglas (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A dress Gardner wore in "East Side, West Side" (1949) which also starred Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

A dress Gardner wore in “East Side, West Side” (1949) which also starred Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

A jacket Gardner wore in "Mogambo" also starring Clark Gable and Grace Kelly (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A jacket Gardner wore in “Mogambo” also starring Clark Gable and Grace Kelly (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A personal dress of Gardner's (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A personal dress of Gardner’s (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A dress Gardner wore in "Show Boat" also starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

A dress Gardner wore in “Show Boat” also starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

Left to right: Dresses from "Ride Vaquero" starring Robert Taylor and a dress from "My Forbidden Past" starring Robert Mitchum. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Left to right: Dresses from “Ride Vaquero” starring Robert Taylor and a dress from “My Forbidden Past” starring Robert Mitchum. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A costume from the film "She Went to the Races" (1945) -my personal favorite of the costumes there.  (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A costume from the film “She Went to the Races” (1945) -my personal favorite of the costumes there.
(Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A gift to Gardner from Howard Hughes. Silk was hard to come by because of World War II. In an attempt to woo Gardner, Hughes bought her this dress as an expensive and lavish gift. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

A gift to Gardner from Howard Hughes. Silk was hard to come by because of World War II. In an attempt to woo Gardner, Hughes bought her this dress as an expensive and lavish gift. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Portraits of Ava Gardner: 

ResizedImage_1385490901748 ResizedImage_1385490904985

Other personal items: 

-Script and contract for “The Night of the Iguana”

A scarf that belonged to Gardner from Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1952. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

A scarf that belonged to Gardner from Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1952. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P.)

-Awards such as the Look Achievement Award for 1948.

-A letter from Grace Kelly. Kelly and Gardner became good friends while filming “Mogambo” and Gardner even attended Kelly’s wedding in Monaco. Gardner said she always received a handwritten Christmas card from Kelly.

-Scripts from films such as “One Touch of Venus

-Bullfighter and bull figurines that she got while living in Spain.

A Tiffany's watch from director John Ford inscribed "To Ava, a Class Act, John Ford."

A Tiffany’s watch from director John Ford inscribed “To Ava, a Class Act, John Ford.”

-Several portraits of Gardner by artist Bert Pfister

-Ava Gardner’s doll collection

-Poems from Gardner’s friend and poet Robert Graves

Jewelry that belonged to Gardner. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Jewelry that belonged to Gardner. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Personal items from Gardner's London apartment. The needle point pillow talks about being an aunt. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

Personal items from Gardner’s London apartment. The needle point pillow talks about being an aunt. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica P)

-A miniature statue of Gardner from “One Touch of Venus

-Gardner enjoyed collecting China. Several glasses and plates that belonged to her were on display

Was it worth it?

Smithfield is three and a half hour away from Shelby. I was exhausted by the time I got home, but it was a worthwhile visit.

I have always been proud to be living in the same state that Gardner was born. However, even though I have seen many of her film, I never knew much about her life.

I left the Ava Gardner Museum with a new appreciation for Ava Gardner. I also left with a bottle of Ava Gardner wine from Hinnant Family Vineyards.

If you are ever in the area, I suggest a visit.

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