Musical Monday: In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

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:
“Meet Me After the Show” – Musical #25


Robert Z. Leonard

Judy Garland, Van Johnson, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Buster Keaton, Spring Byington, Clinton Sundberg, Marcia Van Dyke, Lillian Bronson, Liza Minnelli, Joi Lansing (uncredited), Chester Clute (uncredited), Anna Q. Nilsson (uncredited), Charles Smith (uncredited)

A musical remake of the 1940 film “Shop Around the Corner,” “In the Good Ole Summertime” takes place in the early 1900s in Chicago. Veronica Fisher (Garland) is corresponding through letters with an unknown man.

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Musical Monday: Brigadoon (1954)

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:
Brigadoon (1954) – Musical #53


Vincente Minnelli

Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Van Johnson, Elaine Stewart, Barry Jones, Hugh Laing, Virginia Bosler, Albert Sharpe, Jimmy Thompson, Eddie Quillan, Dee Turnell, Madge Blake (uncredited), George Chakiris (uncredited), Barrie Chase (uncredited)

Americans Tommy Albright (Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Johnson) are lost in Scotland and come across the town of Brigadoon, which only awakens every 100 years and is stuck in the 1700s. Tommy falls in love with one of the girls, Fiona (Charisse), but the town will disappear if anyone leaves and anyone who wants to stay has to leave the world they know and stay forever.

• Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was making “Brigadoon” at the same time as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” “Seven Brides” was nearly dropped, because the studio didn’t feel they could fund two extravagant musicals and they thought “Brigadoon” would be more successful, according to Powell’s autobiography. Producer Jack Cummings talked the studio into keeping the film and cut the budget and economized where he could. “Seven Brides” ended up being more successful, according to Powell’s book.

• In May 1952, the Hollywood Reporter reported that Kathryn Grayson and Alec Guinness would co-star with Gene Kelly. In March 1952, the Hollywood Reporter said David Wayne was considered for a role. Moira Shearer and Donald O’Connor were also considered for the roles of Fiona and Jeff, according the book Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood’s Dark Dreamer by Emanuel Levy.

• The film was based on a Broadway show of the same name, which ran from March 1947 through July 1948. The only person who reprised their role in the film was Virginia Bosler, who played Jean Campbell. Not all songs from the Broadway show were used. The songs removed included “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” “My Mother’s Wedding Day” and “There But For You I Go.”

• A television version aired in 1966 starring Peter Faulk, Sally Ann Howes and Robert Goulet.

Agnes de Mille was the choreographer for the Broadway musical, but all of her choreography was replaced by Gene Kelly’s in the film. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther blamed the film’s failure for the “poor choreography” because the “life and smoothness of the original” were lost, according to the book “Agnes de Mille: Telling Stories in Broadway Dance” by Kara Anne Gardner.

• Originally planned to be filmed in Scotland, but the weather was too unpredictable.

• Vicente Minnelli’s first CinemaScope film.

• Cyd Charisse was dubbed by Carol Richards.

• Dee Turnell was dubbed by Bonnie Murray

• Jimmy Thompson was dubbed by John Gustafson

• Music by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe

• Produced by Arthur Freed

Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in “Brigadoon”

– Van Johnson and Gene Kelly dancing in “Go Home with Bonnie Gene”
-The “Heather on the Hill” dance sequence
– The wedding dance

Gene Kelly and Van Johnson dancing in “Go Home with Bonnie Jean” (Screen cap by Jessica P.)

Notable Songs:
-“Waiting for My Dearie” performed by Cyd Charisse, dubbed by Carol Richards, and Dee Turnell, dubbed by Bonnie Murray
-“Go Home with Bonnie Jean” performed by Jimmy Thompson, dubbed by John Gustafson, Gene Kelly, Van Johnson
-“Heather on the Hill” performed by Gene Kelly

My review:
I remember when I watched “Brigadoon” for the first and last time. It was 2004 and I was a freshman in high school. I was devouring every musical I could get my hands on and I was bursting with excitement to see “Brigadoon.” I had seen photos and clips and it looked so beautiful. But after seeing it, I was disappointed and thereafter thought of it ruefully and with a bit of a sigh.

And then I revisited “Brigadoon” for the first time in 14 years yesterday to prepare for this musical post. It starts off with sweeping, beautiful notes and with flaming red title cards. The painted studio scenery is the backdrop for as low voices sing about lost hunters and Brigadoon. Then a flourish of Scotish townspeople rush across the screen dressed in vibrant Irene Sharaff costumes. The first few numbers are exuberant and a bit wistful (“Waiting For My Dearie”). As I watched, I found myself enjoying the film, but kept preparing myself, “Something is going to irritate me or is this is going to go south.”

But I completed the film and was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it more than I did when I was 15 years old. I won’t go as far as to say it’s my favorite, but I had fun watching it and had several of the songs in my head after watching it.

I think there are a few reasons I didn’t like it the first time I saw it. I had a strong love for Van Johnson at this time (and still do), and I didn’t care for his character. Johnson’s character is a bit of a heel, scoffing at the Brigadoon situation, and is an alcoholic. I wanted the sweet Van of “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” As for Gene Kelly, while his character is similar to his other roles, he and Van Johnson are a bit more jaded. Both characters are dissatisfied with life, and at my young age, I think this may have been a bit complex for me. Now I appreciate their desire of wanting more out of life and also appreciate Johnson’s versatility and like his bitter character more.

While Cyd Charisse doesn’t do her own singing, I think she was well cast. However, I also could see Kathryn Grayson or Moira Shearer doing well in the role. This could be a bold statement, but I think Cyd Charisse is at her most beautiful as Fiona. I like her wistful character, and I particularly love her performance of “Waitin’ for My Dearie.” Charisse only has two costume changes in this film, but her costumes designed by Irene Sharaff are simple and beautiful. I love the simple cream colored dress she wears for the majority of the film with that bright yellow shawl and orange petticoat. Then for the wedding scene, she has that gorgeous red dress.

Cyd Charisse and Dee Turnell dance in “Waitin’ for my Dearie” in “Brigadoon.” (Screen Cap by Jessica P.)

Jimmy Thompson has a small role in the film as Charlie, who is marrying Charisse’s sister, but his character is very charming and appealing. Thompson isn’t a well-known actor, but many “Singin’ in the Rain” fans would recognize him as the singer who performs “Beautiful Girl.” However, while I enjoy Thompson, I’m confused why they picked a singer to play a small role when he was dubbed by John Gustafson was dubbed.

I am curious about Thompson’s life and career but can find little on him. Thompson has 11 film credits to his name but never made it big in Hollywood, despite having a secondary lead in this film. In searches, he gets confused with a British actor of the same name who passed away in 2005.

Jimmy Thompson in “Brigadoon.” (Screen cap by Jessica P.)

In the play, the character Harry Beaton (played by Hugh Laing in the film and James Mitchell on stage) has a more expanded role and some of his own dance numbers. It would have been interesting to see that character expanded with the original numbers, though I know this would have made the film longer.

I think another thing I didn’t like about “Brigadoon” 14 years ago was the serious tone. Knowing it was the competitor of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” I thought it was going to have the same upbeat, joyful exuberance but “Brigadoon” couldn’t be more different. While there is a wistfulness to it, it focuses on life’s discontentments. There’s Harry who feels trapped in the town of Brigadoon and calls it his prison, Jeff (Johnson) is trapped by his alcohol, Fiona (Charisse) hasn’t found anyone she loves, and Tommy (Kelly) doesn’t want to marry the woman he’s engaged to. And there are consequences to finding happiness. If Harry leaves Brigadoon, the whole town disappears. If Jeff stays with Fiona, he has to live in Brigadoon forever (and live most of his life asleep). It’s a much more complicated story than “We need brides so let’s kidnap some girls!”

Because they were competitors and made at the same time, I consider “Brigadoon” a companion piece to “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” While they are completely different films, their musical stories are different and stand apart from other MGM films that were made before and during this time. Ultimately, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” was the more successful of the two films though MGM thought it would be the underdog. Unfortunately, after 1954, musicals were on the decline at MGM as studio head Dore Schary wanted to make serious message movies.

Admittedly, I do like “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” more, but I’m happy that I revisited this one after years of remembering my initial disappointment.

The highlights for me are the “Waitin’ for My Dearie” number and Van Johnson and Gene Kelly dancing together in “Go Home with Bonnie Jean.”

While I won’t be calling “Brigadoon” my all-time favorite musical, I’m happy I revisited this one. The moral of today’s story is to wait a few years and give a film another try.

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Musical Monday: Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)

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:
Two Girls and A Sailor (1944) – Musical #120


Richard Thorpe

June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven, Van Johnson, Tom Drake, Jimmy Durante, Henry Stephenson, Henry O’Neill, Donald Meek, Frank Jenks, Frank Sully, Karin Booth (uncredited), Ava Gardiner (uncredited), Natalie Draper (uncredited), Gigi Perreau (uncredited), Arthur Walsh (uncredited)

Themselves: Carlos Ramírez, Ben Blue, José Iturbi, Amparo Iturbi, Harry James, Helen Forrest, Xavier Cugat, Lina Romay, Gracie Allen, Lena Horne, Virginia O’Brien, Lyn Wilde, Lee Wilde, Albert Coates

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Musical Monday: Duchess of Idaho (1950)

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:
Duchess of Idaho–Musical #24



Robert Z. Leonard

Esther Williams, Van Johnson, Paula Raymond, John Lund, Connie Haines, Amanda Blake, Clinton Sundberg, Mel Torme, Bobby Troup (uncredited), Mae Clarke (uncredited)
Themselves: Lena Horne, Eleanor Parker, Red Skelton

Secretary Ellen Hallit (Raymond) is in love with her boss Doug Morrison (Lund), who constantly has Ellen pretend to be his fiance to get him out tight spots with women. In an attempt to play matchmaker, Ellen’s roommate and best friend Christine (Williams) travels to Sun Valley, Idaho, where Doug is also vacationing. Christine’s plan is to get Doug to fall in love with her, so he will call on Ellen to help him out. However, things get more complicated when Christine meets and falls for bandleader Dick Layne (Johnson).

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Musical Monday: Grounds for Marriage (1951)

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.

Grounds_for_Marriage_posterThis week’s musical:
“Grounds for Marriage” –Musical #371


Robert Z. Leonard

Van Johnson, Kathryn Grayson, Paula Raymond, Barry Sullivan, Reginald Anderson, Lewis Stone, Richard Anderson, Theresa Harris

When Ina Massine (Grayson) returns to New York from Europe, she tries to win back her husband Lincoln “Linc” Bartlett (Johnson) after being divorced for three years. Linc is now engaged to Agnes Young (Raymond). On the day of her New York stage comeback singing “La Boheme,” Ina has a sore throat and then suddenly looses her voice. Doctors determine that the loss of voice is psychological from the shock of Linc’s engagement. Linc then tries to throw Ina into a new romance and appoints his brother Chris (Sullivan) to do the task.

-The movie originally was supposed to star Robert Walker and June Allyson. After Allyson was no longer in the film, it was going to star Walker and Kathryn Grayson, according to a Hedda Hopper brief from July 28, 1949. Van Johnson replaced Walker.
-“That’s the only picture I really loved making,” Grayson said in a Jan. 7, 1951 interview with Hedda Hopper. “I’ve been in films since 1940, but I’ll confess that I have never been particularly interested in a film career until recently.”
-During the “Carmen” dream sequence, Van Johnson is dubbed by Gilbert Russell for the character Don Jose and Stephen Kemalyan for the character Escamillo.

Van Johnson and Kathryn Grayson dressed for the "Carmen" dream sequence in "Grounds for Marriage."

Van Johnson and Kathryn Grayson dressed for the “Carmen” dream sequence in “Grounds for Marriage.”

Notable Songs:
– “Carmen” performed by Kathryn Grayson and Van Johnson
-“La Boheme” performed by Kathryn Grayson
– “Tiger Rag” played by the Firehouse Five Plus Two

-Van Johnson playing the bird sound in the doctor’s symphony
-The “Carmen” dream sequence, which acts out the film’s predicament. Johnson is hilariously dubbed in an operatic voice. Johnson said in a Feb. 13, 1951 article in the Times Daily that he had never seen the opera.
-Van Johnson gives a speech on the common cold to the women’s club and says it’s mainly psychological or due to stress. Air is blowing on the back of Johnson’s neck and by the end of the speech, he has developed a bad cold.

My Review:
This is not your usual Kathryn Grayson musical, chock full with operatic performances in Technicolor. In fact, Grayson probably has four or five numbers because most of the movie she can’t speak or sing due to loss of voice.
Van Johnson, as always, is also a lot of fun; excelling in comedic moments and is likable (but I’m biased because he was my first film love).
I always love to see Paula Raymond in films, and I hated that she didn’t have more screen time in “Grounds for Marriage.” (Spoiler) I also would have almost preferred for Raymond to end up with Van Johnson.
It certainly isn’t the best film Grayson or Johnson made, but it is a fun and cute movie. Some of the gags can be tiring, but “Grounds for Marriage” is a nice piece of escapism.

Kathryn Grayson, Van Johnson, Paula Raymond and Barry Sullivan in a publicity photo for "Grounds for Marriage."

Kathryn Grayson, Van Johnson, Paula Raymond and Barry Sullivan in a publicity photo for “Grounds for Marriage.”

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Musical Mondays: “Thrill of a Romance” (1945)

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.

thrill posterThis week’s musical:
Thrill of a Romance” (1945)- Musical #502*


Richard Thorpe

Esther Williams, Van Johnson, Frances Gifford, Henry Travers, Spring Byington, Lauritz Melchior, Tommy Dorsey and his band

Pretty swimming teacher Cynthia Glenn (Williams) is swept off her feet by wealthy Robert Delbar (Carelton Young) who charms her in a whirlwind romance. After a short time, Cynthia and Robert are married and head to a resort for their honeymoon.
However, after only being married a few hours, Robert abandons his new bride for a business deal, leaving her alone on her honeymoon. As she mopes about being left alone, World War II hero, Major Thomas Milvaine (Johnson) sweeps in to cheer her up.
All of this happens on a glittering backdrop of Technicolor outdoor scenery, swimming sequences and musical performances from big band leader Tommy Dorsey and opera singer Lauritz Melchior.


Van Johnson and Esther Williams. This is my favorite outfit Esther wears in the film.

Van Johnson and Esther Williams. This is my favorite outfit Esther wears in the film.

-“Thrill of a Romance” is the first of four full-length films Esther Williams and Van Johnson made together. But this wasn’t their first film together. Williams has a brief part in “A Guy Named Joe” (1943) with Johnson. Their other films include “Easy to Wed,” “Duchess of Idaho” and “Easy to Love.”
-A young girl plays the piano and sings and is supposed to be Tommy Dorsey’s daughter in the film.  The girl isn’t Dorsey’s daughter and is actress Helene Stanley playing Susan Dorsey in the film. However, he did have a daughter named Susie in real life.

Notable songs:
-Tommy Dorsey plays one of his famous songs, “Song of India.” Aside from that song, it’s always fun to hear big band music in films, especially since that would have been the “pop standard” of that time period.
-Famous Danish opera singer Lauritz Melchior performs several songs in the film. This is notable since he was influential as an opera singer.

-Young Jerry Scott hiding on the terrace singing “Please Don’t Say No, Say Maybe.”
-Van Johnson lip syncing (though he can sing in real life) as Lauritz Melchior sings “Please Don’t Say No, Say Maybe.”
-Esther Williams swimming with Van Johnson

Esther and Frances Gifford.

Esther and Frances Gifford.

My review:
Not only is “Thrill of a Romance” my favorite Esther Williams film, but it is a perfect example of a mid-1940s MGM musical.
It’s not the type of musical where people break into song because they are so full of emotion they can’t speak. It is more a romantic story with a backdrop of musical performances.

Esther and Van dancing to  Tommy D

Esther and Van dancing to Tommy D

The film has a beautiful set, gorgeous costumes, catchy songs and vibrant, young actors.
MGM films always have that something extra special, and while there are a lot of special things about this movie-Esther Williams and swimming sequences stand out.
Louis B. Mayer liked to add class and culture to his films. While some musicals would have contemporary musicians featured, such as Tommy Dorsey in this one, he also featured classical performers in his films. This could vary from pianist Jose Iturbi or opera singer Lauritz Melchior, in the case of this film.
Though this movie may be dismissed as sugar coated, I always find it thoroughly enjoyable.
It will make you want to visit the resort they are staying at–and you will want Williams’s wardrobe. I don’t believe she wears more beautiful clothing in any of her other films.
It’s one of those films that if you are down, it will immediately lift your spirits.

*Though I saw this musical over eight years ago, I discovered I had never put it down on my musical list. Egads!

You can find my Esther Williams tribute here. Williams passed away at the age of 91 on June 6, 2013.

Check back next week for Musical Monday.

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“Merry Christmas, Mama”: Christmas scenes in non-Christmas films

For me, it’s always a treat when there is a Christmas scene in a film that isn’t considered a holiday film.

Not only is it because I’m a lover of Christmas, but usually something important or climatic happens during Christmas related scenes.

Below are a few non-Christmas films with important holiday scenes:

1. Battleground (1949): “Battleground,” starring a plethora of stars such as Van Johnson, John Hodiak and George Murphy, is a World War II film set during the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne. The Battle of the Bulge (Dec. 16 to Jan. 25) is when the Allies were surrounded by the Germans and were unable to get airborne assistance due to heavy fog and snow.

During one scene, a Lutheran Chaplain played by Leon Ames delivers a Christmas sermon for the men. It is a particularly moving scene, because he describes the importance of why they are fighting this war. It’s my favorite scene in the whole movie and still holds meaning today.

2. A Summer Place (1959): “Summer Place” is a stereotypical late-1950s sleezy melodrama. Already married Sylvia Hunter (Dorothy McGuire) and Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan) were teenage sweet hearts and rekindle their romance one summer when their families meet on vacation in Maine. This breaks up their marriages with Bart Hunter (Arthur Kennedy) and Helen Jorgenson (Constance Ford). To complicate things further, Sylvia’s son Johnny (Troy Donahue) and Ken’s daughter Molly (Sandra Dee) fall in love.

While over-bearing Helen is decorating their Christmas tree, she discovers her daughter Molly has been writing and meeting up with Johnny.

In a rage, Helen slaps her daughter and sends her hurtling into their plastic Christmas tree which she earlier described as “solid plastic” and that it should “last for 10 years.”

Helen Jorgensen angrily slaps her daughter Molly in "A Summer Place" sending her into their plastic Christmas tree- Screen capped by Hollywood Comet

Helen Jorgensen angrily slaps her daughter Molly in “A Summer Place” sending her into their plastic Christmas tree- Screen capped by Hollywood Comet

In this unintentionally hilarious scene, Molly looks up from behind the strewn Christmas tree branches, tinsel and ornaments and says, “Merry Christmas, Mama.”

Helen looks at 18 stockings in "Yours, Mine and Ours"

Helen looks at 18 stockings in “Yours, Mine and Ours”

3. Yours, Mine and Ours (1968):  Frank (Henry Fonda), who has 10 children, marries Helen (Lucille Ball), who has 8 children, putting entirely too many people into one home.

The comedy follows the adventures of how a family that large serves breakfast, gets to school and how the older children accept their new parents.

Christmas also gets complicated. Frank is up all night playing Santa trying to put toys together and is still working when the children get up in the morning. Christmas morning is chaos with one daughter eating candy canes off the Christmas tree and a bicycle breaking as a child rides it around the house.

But the real climax comes when Helen finds out that she is pregnant again…with their 19th child.

4. Since You Went Away (1944): A film that is my all-time favorite movie, “Since You Went Away” follows Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) and her two daughters Bridget (Shirley Temple) and Jane (Jennifer Jones) as they adjust to life on the home front during World War II. Though this film gets shown frequently during the Christmas season, it really isn’t a Christmas movie.

It begins when Anne’s husband leaves for war and goes through fall, summer, spring and ends at Christmas.

The last 20 minutes of the movie is Christmas making you laugh and cry. Jane has transformed from a selfish young teenager to a young lady, who has lost her boyfriend to the war and is now working as a nurse. Anne has come to terms that her husband is lost in action and is trying to have a normal Christmas with her family.

Christmas party scene in "Since You Went Away" with everyone playing charades. -screencapped by the Hollywood Comet

Christmas party scene in “Since You Went Away” with everyone playing charades. -screencapped by the Hollywood Comet

The Hiltons throw a Christmas party with a woman Anne met through her war work, a soldier Jane helped nurse, a family friend Lt. Tony Willet (Joseph Cotton) and his friend (Keenan Wynn) and their boarder Col. Smollett (Monty Woolley).

The party scene is fun and happy, but after all the guests leave Anne sees their servant Fidelia (Hattie McDaniel) putting presents under the tree that Tim sent her both he was reported missing.

Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) receiving the cable gram that her husband is home safe. -screen capped by the Hollywood Comet

Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) receiving the cable gram that her husband is home safe. -screen capped by the Hollywood Comet

Anne opens her gift from her husband, a musical powder box that plays their song, and starts to cry. Then the phone rings and it’s a cable gram saying Tim has been found and is coming home.

The movie ends with happy tears, hugging and excitement.

What are some of your favorite non-Christmas movie holiday scenes? Share them below!

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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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The Van Johnson War

In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to share some of my favorite war movies.

But there’s a catch…they all star Van Johnson.

It’s no denying that Van Johnson was one of the most sought-after actors on the MGM lot during World War II. Big names like James Stewart, Clark Gable and Mickey Rooney were overseas fighting the war.

Van Johnson trying to make scrambled eggs in his helmet in “Battleground” (1949)

But Van Johnson wasn’t able to get in on the action. A car accident during the filming of “A Guy Named Joe” left him with a metal plate in his head which omitted him from going overseas to fight.

 I do like other war movies besides ones that star Van Johnson. My undying love for Van isn’t the reason I’m dedicating this post to him, but because the films that Van made give a wide variety of the different aspects of war.

 War Abroad:

A Guy Named Joe (1943): The infamous movie that made Mr. Johnson a star and oddly paired him as Irene Dunne’s love interest.  Bomber Pilot Pete, Spencer Tracey, dies on a mission and becomes the guardian angel for a young pilot named Ted.  Pete helps Ted fly difficult missions and gives him his blessing as Ted starts to romance Pete’s old girlfriend Dorinda-played by Irene Dunne. Not one character is named Joe in this movie. The title comes from American soldiers nicknamed “Joe.” Filming was halted when Van had his car accident. It took three months until he could return but Spencer Tracey insisted that they keep him in the film. To Review: It’s a good movie and you get a glimpse of Esther Williams in one of her first roles (not swimming). I will say, Spencer Tracey does ALOT of talking. Not a bad thing, it can just get tiring.

Phyllis Thaxter and Van Johnson as Ellen and Ted Lawson in “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo”

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944): The true story about Dolittle’s raid on Tokyo after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The story follows Van Johnson playing real-life soldier Ted Lawson. Lawson and the rest of the men, including actors Robert Walker, Don DeFore and young Robert Mitchum, train for the mission and then drop bombs on Tokyo.  There are several scenes in the movie of Lawson marrying his wife Ellen, played by Phyllis Thaxter, their last times together and him remembering her. This may seem cheesy sometimes with lines like Him: “How did you get to be so cute?” Her: “I had to be if I was going to get such a good lookin’ fella.” But you have to consider the context. In Lawson’s book, he said the only way he got through the war was thinking about his wife. To review: This is one of my favorite World War II movies. Very patriotic, interesting, exciting and Van Johnson. Dolittle’s troops also trained at Lake Murray which is about an hour and a half from my house.

Battleground (1949): What can I say about my favorite war movie of all time? Van Johnson is a bit older and not just the fresh-faced innocent soldier. This time he’s a bit more cynical and has seen a lot more life as his character Holley. The innocent kid in this movie is played by Marshall Thompson. This is a star-studded film with actors like George Murphy, Ricardo Montalbon, John Hodiak and James Whitmore. The soldiers are fighting the Battle of the Bulge and dealing with heavy fog and lack of supplies. Since this film wasn’t made during the war, it isn’t as glitteringly patriotic. The soldiers are cynical, mockingly saying, “I found a home in the Army” and you watch the new recruits change from wide-eyed babes to hardened non-believers. To review: I’ve heard that this is one of the films that veterans consider the most accurate when it comes to World War 2 movies. It’s my favorite war movie as well as one of my favorite films. I don’t just like it for the lineup of attractive male stars but also the realism. The soldiers get downtrodden and tired. It’s exciting and nail-biting at times while other times make you want to cry. I think my favorite part is Leon Ames’ Christmas sermon about the “$64 question” if the men felt that the war was necessary or not.

War on the Homefront:

War Against Mrs. Hadley (1942): Van Johnson has a very small role, but never the less the film is great. The wealthy Mrs. Stella Hadley (Fay Bainter) thinks she is above the war and that everyone is making a fuss about nothing.  The attack on Pearl Harbor ruined her birthday and her family has the nerve to volunteer to help with the war effort. The widow thinks her husband’s status as a newspaper publisher will keep her son away from the fighting and keep her daughter away from canteens. She thinks she can work her way out of blackouts and rationing with the help of her government friends in Washington. However, Mrs. Hadley finds that even money can’t get you a break in the war. Van Johnson plays a young serviceman that Mrs. Hadley’s daughter, Pat (Jean Rogers), meets while volunteering at a canteen. They marry and mother disapproves. To review: I love this movie. Fay Bainter does a terrific job. Though Van has a small role, I think it illustrates how everyone wasn’t for the war when it started. I think it delivers a great message, even today. A country isn’t solely going to serve its people. You have to pitch in too.

The Human Comedy (1943): This is another early Van Johnson film. Mickey Rooney is really the star here. Fay Bainter (nice in this one) plays the mother of Mickey Rooney, Van Johnson, Butch Jenkins and Donna Reed. Her husband has recently died and Van is leaving to go fight in the war. The movie really shows how small-town life functioned during the war. Young Mickey Rooney helps old Frank Morgan run the telegraph office. Donna Reed and her friends go to the movies with soldiers that may never come home from overseas. To review: It’s a really poignant view of small-town American life during the war. Sometimes it’s beautiful and other times tragic. War movies don’t just have to be about the Pacific and European theaters. Wars also affect people at home. This paints an excellent, innocent portrait of this.

Who should Van choose? Gloria or June?

Two Girls and a Sailor (1944): The plot is very simple. June Allyson and Gloria De Haven are the Deyo Sisters, daughters of vaudeville parents. When they grow up they start their own nightclub act and entertain soldiers in their home after the show. A mysterious stranger donates an old warehouse to the girls so they can start a top-notch canteen. Performers like Jose Iturbi, Xavier Cugat, Lena Horne and Harry James all come and perform at this club. Van Johnson is the sailor torn between the two girls with soldier Tom Drake as his competition. The whole time the girls are trying to figure out who their mysterious donor is. To review: No one ever said every movie had to be as serious as “War and Peace.” This movie’s plot may be as light as a feather but it is so much fun. It’s actually one of my favorite movies. Lots of great musical performances and sweet moments.  The movie shows how people wanted to entertain and help soldiers on leave and unselfishly let them into their homes.

By no means are these the only great war movies out there, but it’s interesting to see how one actor’s films can span so many different aspects of the war.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day and remember the real reason of the holiday, not just a free Monday off from work or school. Have fun and be safe.

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RIP Patricia Neal

Patricia Neal in the 1960s

The first time I ever saw Patricia Neal was in the Waltons Christmas movie “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” (1973). In the Waltons pilot, she wasn’t glamorous and was a mother of seven children and living on a farm during the depression.

Many people remember Neal as being sexy in her own way but never glamorous. Paul Newman wanted her in “Hud” and George Prepard used her in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” but many forget her early days as a studio actor.

She was groomed as a Warner Brother’s glamour girl and was dubbed the “next Garbo” by Jack L. Warner, according to Stephen Michael Shearer’s book “Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life.”

Her first role was a romantic, screw-ball comedy with Ronald Reagan, “John Loves Mary” (1949). It was a role that was more suited for Jane Wyman or Eleanor Parker and Neal looked uncomfortable in the role. Neal was a stage actress who entered the studio scene after World War II. She was too late for that type of role, because they were on their way out.

Glamorous Patricia Neal

“Her way with a gag line is painful,”said Bosley Crowther, New York Times critic from 1940 to 1967, about “John Loves Mary“.

After her role in “The Fountainhead” (1949) and several other mediocre films, Neal’s Hollywood career waned and Warner Brothers did not want to renew her contract, according to her New York Times obituary. She went back to acting in plays, but came back with a bang in “A Face in the Crowd” (1957).

Like Dennis Hopper, I like to remember Miss Neal in her glamour days at Warner Brothers, no matter how bad her films were. (I will say I didn’t mind the “Washington Story” but maybe that is because Van Johnson was in it). I suppose, I like to remember her from that time, because it is often forgotten and I simply like the 1940s and 1950s better than the 1960s.

I think it’s important to explore the early part of a great actor’s career, because it is amazing to see where they ended up.

Farewell, Patricia. You were a great actress and will be missed.

Did you know?
-Patricia Neal and writer Roald Dahl were married from 1950 to 1983.
-She suffered from a stroke in the 1960s while she was pregnant and was only 39 and had to learn how to walk again.
-She is the mother of 5 children.
-She and Gary Cooper had a torrid affair during the filming of “Fountainhead.”
-She was offered the role of Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” but turned it down due to her stroke.
Source: IMDB and New York Times

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