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 tag line 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 night life.

-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

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.

To read more about Norman’s war experiences, you can read my article on the Elkin Tribune website.

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

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Boola boola and rah rah rah: College in the movies

A typical day at Winthrop…not. (From “Good News

After a fast Christmas break, I have moved back into my Winthrop University dorm for the last time.  In honor of my last semester as a college “co-ed”  here is a blog with different representations of college in classic film and judge at how realistic the films portray college.

*I’d like to point out that all of these are classic films, so don’t be disappointed that I didn’t review “National Lampoon’s Animal House” or “Accepted.”

 

Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in “The Freshman”

•The Freshman (1925)-

Harold Lloyd is very excited about going to college after seeing a movie about a popular campus. Lloyd’s only purpose at college is to be the big man on campus. He achieves this by doing a silly dance before he shakes people’s hands and fumbling around the football field. However, he just makes a fool of himself. To review: I’m not a huge fan of Harold Lloyd actually (I am loyal to Buster Keaton), but this is actually one of my favorite silent movies. It’s heartbreaking to see how people make fun of him but also hilarious at the same time. I really don’t know what college life was like in the 1920s, but in my college experiences there is not one BIG popular person. I will say, I am on a fairly small campus of 6,500 people so there are notable figures but no one person who I would say is the most popular.

Pigskin Parade (1936)- Winston and Bessie Winters (Jack Haley and Patsy Kelly) are college coaches trying to have a winning season. Things are going rough until hillbilly Amos (Stuart Erwin) and his sister Sairy (Judy Garland)-also a redneck- come to campus.  Amos can throw a winning football pass after throwing melons on the farm. To review: Its been a long time since I’ve seen this movie but I remember it being pretty excruciating. Between Judy’s country accent and the Yacht Boys singing, it was pretty obnoxious.

 

Rosemary and Priscilla Lane publicity shot for “Variety Show”

•Varsity Show (1937)-

Priscilla and Rosemary Lane (as Betty and Barbara) and friends are trying to put on a show on Winfield Campus, but the faculty doesn’t like swing music. They pull in former student and Broadway star Chuck Day (Dick Powell), to help with the show, but his last performances have laid eggs. To review: I love Priscilla Lane and Dick Powell, and its fun to see them in a movie together. However, this is another stereotypical song and dance college musical. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in college put on as big of a show as they do in this movie.

Vivacious Lady (1938)-Francey (Ginger Rogers) marries college chemistry professor Peter (James Stewart). The marriage is a secret from his family because he is already engaged and his father (Charles Coburn)  is the college president. Stewart and Rogers go to extreme measures to stay together, including Rogers becoming a student at the college. To review: This is one of my favorite movies. Rogers and Stewart have wonderful chemistry and there are several funny moments. I did think most of the college students in Stewart’s class looked a lot older than college students though.

Bathing Beauty (1944)- Caroline (Esther Williams) goes back to her old job as a teacher at a girls’ college after a misunderstanding with her boyfriend Steve (Red Skelton). Steve tries to win Caroline back by finding a loophole in the rules and enrolling in the school. Comedic moments ensue with Red in a tutu and Harry James jazzing up music class. To review: I love this movie. Esther is beautiful in Technicolor. Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay spice it up with Latin rhythm along with other musical talents like Ethel Smith and Harry James. I know that James and Cugat don’t come and jazz up “I’ll Take the High Road” in music class in college, but it certainly does make college look fun. I also love the ever pert and fun Jean Porter in this movie. She really seems like the quintessential college/high school young lady of the 1940s to me.

Susan Peters is a co-ed with “Young Ideas”

Young Ideas(1943)- Romance author Josephine Evans(Mary Astor) marries college professor Mike (Herbert Marshall) and cancels her book tour.  Astor’s children, Susan (Susan Peters) and Jeff (Elliot Reed), oppose of the marriage, especially since it may mean their mother’s book career is over. Susan and Jeff enroll in college and do whatever they can to break up the marriage. To review: This is a classic, fun MGM movie from the 1940s. I love Herbert Marshall and he was really funny in this movie. Susan Peters and Elliot Reed were pretty bratty but Richard Carleson gave a nice balance to it. This movie seemed the most of what college might have been like-though I do wonder if freshman really wore little beanies.

•Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble (1944)- Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) goes to college and is surrounded by beautiful girls-his dream. Two twin blondes trick him and he falls for the icy Kay Wilson (Bonita Granville). Hardy competes with professor Dr. Standish (Herbert Marshall) for Kay’s attention. To review: I don’t like the Andy Hardy movies as much when he goes to college. However, the way college was represented seemed to be pretty realistic.

Peter Lawford and June Allyson in “Good News”

Good News (1947)- In the 1920s, co-ed librarian June Allyson isn’t exactly what you would call a vamp. Allyson falls for popular, football star Peter Lawford but he is interested in modern woman, Patricia Marshall.  Several songs are fit in during the pursuit of love, including a great number involving “The Varsity Drag.” To review: Once again, I wonder if in the 1920s, schools were so small to have one person who is the most popular? The movie is fun and colorful, but it seems more a vehicle for Joan McCracken and Patricia Marshall-neither who did much else in movies. I wish June Allyson was in the movie more, because she was the whole reason I watched it.

Apartment For Peggy (1948)- Peggy (Jeanne Crain) and Jason (William Holden) are married, and Jason is going to college as a chemistry major using the G.I. Bill.  Professor Henry Barnes (Edmund Gwenn), a professor at the college, has decided he has lived long enough and wants to commit suicide. The couple lives in a trailer, but needs more room because Peggy is expecting. The professor agrees to let the couple rent out his attic as an apartment and his views on life begin to change. To review: This is a really fun and cute movie. It is very light hearted but let me warn you for some sad parts. I think the college aspect is pretty realistic when put in perspective of post-war men using G.I. Bill to go to college and their wives and their struggles.

Mr. Belvedere Goes to College(1949)- Clifton Webb as Mr. Belvedere decides to enroll in college since his highest level of education is from the fifth grade.  Though he is older than all the students, Belvedere is considered a freshman and has to deal with ritual hazing. During all of this he makes friends with Tom Drake and beautiful Shirley Temple who has a secret. To review: The movie is very funny, and Clifton Webb gives a droll perfomance as always. Other than the hazing, I thought this seemed pretty similar to a real college. It was pretty large and it didn’t seem like there was that one person in charge.

The Varisty Drag from Good News:

Other college films:
College (1927)- Starring Buster Keaton
College Swing (1938)- Starring Bob Hope, Gracie Allen and Martha Raye
Dancing Co-Ed (1939)-Starring Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford,  and Artie Shaw
These Glamour Girls (1939)- Starring Lana Turner, Lew Ayres and Anita Louise
Second Chorus (1940)- Starring Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith and Artie Shaw
The Feminine Touch (1941)- Starring Rosalind Russell and Ray Milland
The Male Animal (1942)- Starring Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Leslie
The Falcon and The Co-Ed (1943)- Starring Tom Conway
Mother Is A Freshman (1949)- Starring Van Johnson and Loretta Young
HIGH TIME (1960)- Starring Bing Crosby, Tuesday Weld and Richard Beymer
Joy in the Morning (1965)- Starring Richard Chamberlin and Yvette Mimeux

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Island of misfit Christmas movies

 

Stanyck, Bondi, MacMurray, Patterson and Holloway in “Remember the Night”: My favorite Christmas movie

Tis the season for Christmas posts. For these last five days before Christmas, I’m going to try to post several posts. Probably not every day, but at least throughout the week.

This post deals with two things my family and I love combined together: Christmas and movies.

For at least the past 22 years, it’s a Christmas family tradition for us to watch “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964), “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965) and “A Garfield Christmas” (1987) on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Of course we also watch classic holiday films such as “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947), “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), “White Christmas” (1954), “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) and “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946); just to name a few.

But instead of doing a worn out review of all of these wonderful classic films, I want to highlight some holiday films that are sometimes forgotten by the general public:

 

Rogers and Niven celebrating the New Year in “Bachelor Mother”

Bachelor Mother (1939):

I always forget this is a Christmas movie and I bet you do too. Polly Parish (Ginger Rogers) is working as a sales girl in a department store during the Christmas holidays. One day she finds a baby on the steps outside an orphange and picks it up before it rolls down the stairs. No one believes that it isn’t her’s and she is forced to take it home.  The store owner, J.B. Merlin (Charles Cobern) and his son David (David Niven) make sure that Polly doesn’t get rid of her baby, all during the Christmas season. To review: I love movies with babies and this is a very funny movie. My favorite part is when Rogers and Niven go out to celebrate the New Year.

Beyond Christmas (original title: Beyond Tomorrow) (1940): Last year, I had my mother tape this movie and we randomly watched it in the middle of the summer. This is one of my favorite Christmas movies. The movie stars Harry Carry, C. Aubrey Smith and Charles Winninger as three old bachelors who live together. Every Christmas they drink their Tom and Jerry’s and do nothing more.  But this year, the men decided to invite strangers off the street for Christmas dinner. The strangers (Jean Parker and Richard Carlson) eventually fall in love. The three old men die shortly after Christmas in a plane accident, but their ghosts help bring the couple together and work through rough times.  To review: It’s a really heartwarming, cute film. The whole thing might not take place during Christmas, but it reflects the spirit of Christmas.

 It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947): I only just saw this movie last Christmas and think it is really charming. McKeever the hobo (Victor Moore) lives in wealthy folks mansions when he knows they are away in another home. He invites recently evicted Jim Bullock (Don DeFore) and Bullock’s homeless army buddies to stay in millionaire Jim O’Connors (Charles Ruggles) mansion for the Christmas season. O’Connor and his daughter and ex-wife (Gail Storm and Ann Harding) come back to their mansion after family problems and live amongst the homeless folks, never telling them their real identity. To review: Its a really cute movie and also rather funny. Charles Ruggles and Ann Harding are perfect in it, and Victor Moore always plays the best absent-minded characters.

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938): Mickey Rooney usually drives me bananas, but I really enjoy the Andy Hardy movies and this is my favorite.  Christmas doesn’t come without crisis for the Hardy family.  Mom Hardy has to go take care of sick grandma and Andy is swamped with girls:
– Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford) is going away for the holidays leaving Andy without a date for the Christmas dance
– Andy Hardy agrees to take Beezy’s girl, Cynthia Potter, (Lana Turner) to a dance to discourage other dates
-Betsy Jenkins (Judy Garland) comes back to Carvel a grown up woman.
All the women causes a lot of confusion and crazy Mickey Rooney moments.  The Hardy’s are worried mom won’t be able to come home for Christmas, but in the end it all works out. Andy gets his date to the dance, Betsy sings and mom makes it home on Christmas Eve. To Review: It’s a really cute movie, and a chance to see Judy Garland treated like a young woman rather than a child. It’s also fun to see three of Andy’s love interests all in one movie.

Remember the Night (1940): A couple of years ago, Turner Classic Movies premiered this Preston Sturges film. With the release of the DVD last year, it’s gaining popularity, but still isn’t up to par with other Christmas classics. Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) steals an expensive diamond bracelet and is on trial only a few days before Christmas. Prosecuting lawyer John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) postpones the trial until after Christmas, since it is hard to get a jury to convict someone as guilty before Christmas. John hates to see Lee spend Christmas in jail so offers to for her to stay with his mother (Beulah Bondi), aunt (Elizabeth Patterson) and farm hand (Sterling Holloway) in Indiana.  To review: This is my favorite Christmas movie. The two old women together bickering is adorable, Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck have fantastic chemistry and Sterling Holloway offers a lot of comic relief.

Hattie McDaniel putting the presents under the tree that General Hilton sent to her in “Since You Went Away”

Since You Went Away(1944): 

This is a World War II movie that takes place on the American home front. The film follows a year with the Hilton family: Ann (Claudette Colbert), Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Brig (Shirley Temple) as they struggle with their father away at war, rationing and taking in boarders. The whole movie isn’t a Christmas movie, only at the very end. The family has a Christmas party with friends and a few soldiers. They play games and try to forget that their father isn’t there to join in the fun and some loved ones were killed in the war. But in the end, they get the best Christmas present they could ever ask for. To review: This is sort of like “Meet Me in St. Louis”: The whole thing isn’t a Christmas movie, but can be considered a Christmas movie. It’s one of my all time favorite films. I think that it really shows the true Christmas spirit and what is imporant at Christmas: family.

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