Friday, March 13, 2015

The Cinemascope Blogathon: Move Over Darling (and Cary, Irene, Marilyn, Dean and you, too, Enoch Arden)

While 1963’s “Move Over Darling” can never top it’s inspiration source (1940‘s “My Favorite Wife” with the dynamic duo of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne), it stands on its own as a delightful piece of movie fluff. Good fluff isn’t easy. Fluff has to be light, airy and delightful. While many a film has aspired to just those qualities, they fall as flat as a heavy, stuffy and cloying soufflé baked in an oven full of cigar smoke.

Based on the Enoch Arden poem (of a fisherman who is presumed lost only to return home years later to find his wife and family have moved on and are happy), Ellen Wagstaff Arden (get it? Arden) is presumed lost at sea in a plane crash. Fast forward 5 years and husband Nicky is ready to move on by having Ellen declared legally dead and marrying Bianca Steele (she of the clanging charm bracelet) the very same day. But wait! Ellen has been found, is alive and well and must hurry to get her family back before the new marriage is consummated. She manages to scuttle the neurotic Bianca, but Nicky must contend with the hunk named “Adam” who shared that island with his “Eve,” Ellen, for those lost 5 years.

I know – silly stuff, but representative of all that I love about Hollywood films. Sitting in the theater with my mom, I fell in love with Doris Day the minute I saw her. How did she manage to look so darn cute without benefit of modern beauty supplies?

Ellen looking cute as a button after her naval rescue
Mother Arden is played by the incomparable Thelma Ritter. I don’t care what she is doing; she elevates the film by just being there.

Mother Arden is shocked to learn her favorite daughter-in-law is not dead. She's down for the count here, but soon springs into action
Mother-in-law wants daughter-in-law back and the 2 become partners in crime against the unsuspecting newlyweds.

And look how pretty Doris looks once she is dressed in fashionable clothes. Once hubby sees her, he can't believe his eyes.

Can it be true? Is Ellen really alive?
James Garner and Doris Day have great chemistry. Both are charming and beautiful, but totally comfortable and natural. Don’t be deceived by their ease with their material and with one another - these are film artists at work. It's never easy to make it all look so easy.

Meanwhile, back to the honeymoon that won’t happen……

No honeymoon sex for you, Bianca.
Naturally, the reunion does not go smoothly. Nicky, that dog, has taken Bianca to the same honeymoon hotel that he shared with Ellen. And Bianca (the adorable and lovely Polly Bergen) will not go quietly. She wants sex on her honeymoon, and Nicky has a hard time putting her off (mainly because wife #1 is in the room next door with her ear to the wall). In order to calm Bianca down and find a good way to tell her that the dead wife has returned and he much prefers her, Nicky fakes an injury.

Nicky is a bit tangled in his lies
He returns home with his frustrated bride, only to find that Ellen is keeping an eye on them by impersonating a Swedish nurse who gives a wicked massage. Bianca finally has her fill with these lunatics and decides she should seek solace with her shrink.

At last Ellen and Nicky can reunite, except that Nicky finds out that Ellen was not alone on that island.  A series of deceptions ensue (with Ellen, fearing that Nicky won't be happy knowing she shared the island with a hunky Chuck Connors, trying to enlist the puny Don Knotts to play her island companion). See? The story is silly, outdated, and kind of dumb but with Doris Day, James Garner, Polly Bergen, Don Knotts, Chuck Connors, even John Astin and Edgar Buchanan - come on, it’s like a big old hug from a Hollywood comfortable shoe.

A  Comfort Food Cast
 In 1963, at age 10, this film produced 2 scenes that made me laugh so hard I never forgot them. The first was the scene with Doris Day giving Polly Bergen a Swedish massage that turns into a jealous pummeling. The second was Doris driving through a car wash in a convertible with the top down. It tickled my funny bone then, and, frankly, still does.

Ellen's massage turns into a cat-fight with Bianca

Aside from some fond memories, this film has some gorgeous shots of the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where “Adam” works as a lifeguard.

Ellen and Nicky share a moment at the Beverly Hills Hotel

Once Nicky learns that "Adam" is looks like Chuck Connors rather than Don Knotts, his imagination runs wild. Just what were Adam and Eve doing on that island for 5 years?

Nicky's imagination runs wild

As most everyone knows, this was the last film Marilyn Monroe was making before she died. Only a bit of film was shot, but one can only wonder what might have been.

Her co-star was to have been Dean Martin, who begged off of the film when, after Monroe’s death, Lee Remick was cast as Ellen. Eventually we ended up with Doris and Jim – more wholesome, I’m sure.

There’s a kind of disturbing part of the story concerning the children. When Ellen appears to them, they have no idea who she is. What did Nicky do – burn every photo of Ellen?

Of course, all’s well that ends well and Nicky and Ellen and the little girls all reunite for one big pool party. By the way, Jim looked mighty nice in that bathing suit. Okay, so it wasn't "My Favorite Wife," but it was fun and in modern, colorful eye-opening Cinemascope - just the way we liked it back in 1963!

This is my entry in the Cinemascope Blogathon hosted by Classic Becky's Brain Food and Wide Screen World. Click HERE for the big scoop on the Cinemascope!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Russia in Classic Film: The Last Command (1928)

Oh those Russians - so passionate, so revolutionary, so ...Russian! This is my entry in the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently. Click here for a complete list of participants.

Josef Von Sternberg's "The Last Command" (1928) has it all: World War I, the Russian Revolution and Hollywood all rolled into one great film. Based (kind of) on a true story, "The Last Command" tells the story of a great Russian General/Grand Duke who falls victim to some Bolsheviks and ends up as a Hollywood extra working for $7.50 a day.

William Powell as the Bolshevik turned Director
While thumbing through some photos in search of the right face for a small part of a Russian general, Hollywood director Leo Andreyev (William Powell) comes across a familiar face.  He instructs his assistant to call the man and have the extra report for work in his film.

The General as a $7.50 a day Hollywood extra
The lowly extra (played with brilliance by Emil Jannings) suffers the indignities of the cattle call at the Hollywood studios. He appears to be a man who has suffered a great deal. As he gets ready to go on set, the old actor flashes back to Russia in 1917. No longer is he a desperate actor working for crumbs. Instead, he is Grand Duke Sergius Alexander, commander of the Russian Imperial army and cousin of the Czar. He is also the owner of a luxurious fur coat, coveted by his underling, and a riding crop.

The General at the top of his game
The General is a bit of an arrogant elitist and treats his staff with disdain (in one of many ironic scenes throughout the film, we had earlier seen that director Andreyev treats his staff in much the same manner). When an underling is found wearing his beautiful coat, the General humiliates him, threatening to save the coat and shoot its contents if the offender ever dares wear it again.

Not only does the General have to contend with the daily stress of world War I, he also has to be mindful of the revolutionaries that threaten the very foundation of Imperial Russia. Passports are routinely checked to weed out these revolutionaries and 2 questionable passports cross his desk one day: one for the dangerous revolutionary Leo Andreyev and the other for the equally dangerous and extremely beautiful Natalie Dabrovna (Evelyn Brent). Both are working as actors who entertain the soldiers while surreptitiously participating in Bolshevik activities. 
The passport photo that leads to love
The General decides to amuse himself with these 2 and has them sent to his office. An angry exchange with Andreyev results in the General slashing the actor across the face with his whip. Andreyev is quickly whisked off to jail, but the General decides he would like to keep Natalie around as his "guest." To her surprise, she learns that the General is a man of honor who deeply cares for his troops and loves his country as much as she does. Her grudging respect eventually turns to love.

Leo's face after the whip

The General loses his heart (and pearls) to Natalie
The train on which the General and his company, as well as Natalie, are travelling is intercepted by revolutionaries and Natalie, in an effort to save him, pretends to despise him and allows him to be humiliated. She helps him escape (returning to him the valuable pearls he had earlier given her; these will finance his way out of the country). While the General lies dazed from his leap off the train he watches in horror as the same train, carrying Natalie, veers off its tracks and plunges into an icy river. 

Captured, abused and humiliated by the Bolsheviks
Fast forward to Hollywood and a dramatic reversal of roles: Andreyev is the powerful director and Sergius is at his mercy. At last the 2 enemies come face to face. Andreyev hands the General a whip, telling him that he knows Sergious knows how to use it (ouch).

The 2 enemies meet face to face
Sergius prepares for his role as the Russian General in the trenches, but something snaps. When an actor in the scene tells him his has given his last command, the General loses his grip on reality and imagines that he is once again on the battlefield fighting for Russia. After an impassioned performance, he collapses. Andreyev, who has no cause to be kind to him, assures him that the Imperial army has won. An assistant notes that it was too bad the old man died because he was a great actor. Andryev, understanding the love of Russia that binds them, replies that he was also a great man. 

The extra as star
The film is totally Jannings' show. His power is undeniable and his performance was awarded with the very first Oscar for best actor (along with his work in "The Way of All Flesh"). William Powell is clearly poised for stardom and is convincing and alluring as the revolutionary turned Hollywood director. And speaking of alluring, Evelyn Brent is a perfect Von Sternberg muse as the complicated Natalie. 

Natalie showing lots of leg for 1917
The love for Russia crossed class lines and continents, uniting Czarist and Bolshevik in a crazy place called Hollywood in this masterful and unforgettable Von Sternberg classic.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You Stepped Out of a Dream: Madeleine Carroll

This is my entry in the Madeleine Carroll Blogathon hosted by the lovely ladies at Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings. Click Here to read more about the beauteous Miss Madeleine.

Many years ago I had a friend named John. John was an elderly gentleman who grew up poor in the Bronx and became something of a self-made man, while he lived in obvious comfort, he loved to tell stories about his youth in the Bronx, growing up with many brothers and sisters and making do with very little. As we got to know one another better, we discovered that we shared a love of classic film, or, as we called them back then, old movies. He would sometimes call me in the middle of the day to try to stump me with a trivia question or to identify the name of an actor or actress whose name he couldn't remember.

Madeleine casts her spell
One of John's favorite movie stories to tell (and when he liked a story he told it many times) was about his first crush - Madeleine Carroll. John was very proud of his Irish heritage and never let anyone forget that Madeleine was a (half) Irish lass, herself. As a boy, the vision of love and romance that was Princess Flavia from 1937's "The Prisoner of Zenda" never left him and formed his image of a desirable woman.

Around this time I made my first trip to Hollywood. This was right before the days of EBay, so movie memorabilia was not so easy to come by if you didn't go out of your way for it. while diving through treasures at the Larry Edmunds Bookstore, I came across a press photo of Madeleine and knew it was something John would love. He was delighted and grateful and immediately found a place for her on his desk next to his wife and children and grandchildren. I was so happy that I could add a little Madeleine to his daily life.

Princess Flavia
This got me thinking of of how those first movie crushes shape our desires as we sail forth into the real world and into adulthood. In 1963 my Mom and I went to see "Charade" and forever after Audrey Hepburn has been my ideal of the woman I would like to be and Cary Grant as the man I wanted to love me.

The photo that sat on John's desk
So, here's to you, my old friend John. Thank you for sharing your story of your young love for this beautiful actress and how her perfect image always lingered in your dreams.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lucille Ricksen: Tragic Star

2015 is the year of the Tragic Star at A Person in the Dark. February's Tragic Star is Lucille Ricksen.
Lucille graces the cover of Picture Play: she was only 13
Sadly, dying young is an all too common story in Hollywood. However, the story of Lucille Ricksen would make even the the most cynical among us break a bead of sweat or two.
Charming Child: Lucille's beauty caught the eye of Hollywood
Lucille's story has all of the ingredients of a cliched story of the quest for fortune and fame. 

The daughter of Danish immigrants, little Lucille (born Ingeborg Myrtle Elisabeth Ericksen) began earning her keep at age 4 as a model. While most actresses shave a year or two off of their actual year of birth, Lucille's parents added a year, always making her older than her real age (she was born in 1910, but was reported to be born in 1909). Her charming looks caught the attention of Hollywood and, in 1920 Lucille and her ever-watchful mama, Ingeborg,were summoned by Samuel Goldwyn for Lucille to appear in a series of short films. At age 10, Lucille was on her way.

Lucille is featured in an advertisement for the Edgar Pomeroy serial
Little Lucille was surely the family's breadwinner (family included father Samuel and brother Marshall in addition to mama Ingeborg). From the moment she stepped before the camera, Lucille worked steadily and without respite.  But, besides having the face of an angel, the camera revealed something else: Lucille photographed much older than her actual age. Jackpot!

Young teen Lucille photographed by Edwin Bower Hesser
And so, from about 1922 (at age 12), many of Lucille's roles cast her as a woman. In 1924, along with Clara Bow and Dorothy Mackaill, she was named a WAMPAS Baby Star. Big things were predicted for Lucille.

Lucille (second from left next to Clara Bow) with her fellow baby stars
Sadly, fate had other plans for Lucille. From 1922 through 1924, Lucille appeared in 24 films. While working on 1924's The Galloping Fish with Sydney Chaplin*, Lucille fell ill and remained bedridden for weeks. Her exhausted and fragile condition only made her recovery more difficult and she was ultimately diagnosed with  tuberculosis. While tending to her daughter, mama Ingeborg suffered a heart attack and died in February 1925. Cared for by Hollywood friends, including actress Lois Wilson and Producer Paul Bern (who paid for her medical care), Lucille passed away only a few weeks later on March 13, 1925. She was only 14.
A rather disturbing photo of Lucille and her older brother, Marshall. 
The death of the beautiful Lucille Ricksen sent a chill through Hollywood. She was not a leading lady of 16 as the fan magazines pronounced, but a child of 14; a child who never had a real childhood. A lesson should have been learned, but there were more childhoods sacrificed to Hollywood to come. 

Please visit these sites for a more comprehensive version of Lucille Ricksen's story:

Michael G. Ankerich's Close-Ups and Long Shots: Lucille Ricksen: Sacrificed to Hollywood

Lucille's story is also covered in Michael G. Ankerich's Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen


Silence is Platinum

* There are some lingering rumors that Lucille died from a botched abortion with Sydney Chaplin's child, but these rumors seem to be unfounded (and nasty). 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dueling Divas Smackdown: Jean Brodie vs. Sandy: Teacher Gets Schooled!

This is my entry in the Dueling Divas Blogathon, hosted by Lara at Backlots. Click Here for more delicious diva behavior.
And now, let the battle begin. Ladies, try to keep it clean.

In this corner, Jean Brodie
Jean Brodie is a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburg. Assembling a group of impressionable admirers, the Brodie Set, who she calls the creme de la creme of her students, she proceeds to influence them with her views on learning, life, love and global politics. Miss Brodie dallies with the married music teacher, but allows herself to be courted by the very ordinary, but very eligible music teacher. She encourages her girls to experience the beauties of life in the forms of art, nature and the flesh.

Strengths: Utterly charismatic, stunning in fashionable clothes, enthusiastic and a woman of elevated taste.
Weaknesses: Arrogance, pride, narcissistic and morally dangerous. Worst of all, a phony. She does not have the courage of her convictions.

In this corner, Sandy
Sandy is one of Miss Brodie's inner circle - and her confidant and spy. She is not the prettiest, but Miss Brodie praised her for her insight. She had no idea how right she was. 

Strengths:Clear-eyed, clear-thinking, exceedingly smart, morally straight
Weaknesses: Her youth, her sneakiness, her seeming coldness

The Brodie vs. Sandy duel has 2 outcomes for me, each dependent on my age at the time I viewed their story.

As a young, impressionable girl, I adored Miss Brodie. Her artistic flair, her liberal view of love and bravery seemed brave. I loved that she took on the headmistress, Miss Mackay, tweaking her nose at every turn. I viewed Sandy's "betrayal" as one borne of jealously - a peahen's envy of the peacock's brilliance. A bright and shiny object, Miss Brodie decries the ordinariness of Sandy and her ilk. Her sacking by the headmistress seemed another example of those without imagination crushing the artistic soul.

Now that I am older and wiser, I see the mortal danger of Miss Brodie. She is a fraud. She encourages her protege, Jenny, to have an affair, but she keeps the art instructor at arms length all the while cultivating a respectable relationship with a most ordinary man. She encourages poor Mary McGregor to  follow her brother and fight with Franco. This sends Mary to her death. All the while Miss Brodie stays put in the safety of her tenure.

It is the ordinary, unextraordinary Sandy who sees, step by step, the danger of this teacher. The lives and the futures of the Brodie girls were entrusted to Jean Brodie. Instead, she played out her foolish, selfish fantasies and used her girls as props. She cared not for their future in the real world. Mary's death was the last straw for Sandy. Via the very willing Mrs. Mackay, she put a stop to Jean Brodie's influence. 

Watch the great confrontation between these 2 heavyweights:

Maybe Sandy's motives were not so pure. Maybe she was jealous of the art teacher's unending devotion to Jean Brodie even though he bedded young Sandy (a crime in itself) and maybe she was hurt because Miss Brodie preferred the lovely Jenny. It could never be black and white between those two and Sandy could never forget the great joys of being part of the Brodie Set, but in the end she did the right thing. She was ready to face the world as a responsible, if much less glamorous, adult.* 

Therefore, the winner, ultimately, must be: Sandy

Jean Brodie ignored the cardinal rule of the fight: "Protect yourself at all times." She let the person of her undoing into her inner circle.

Maggie Smith won a well-deserved Oscar for her towering and compelling performance. However, Pamela Franklin as Sandy was her equal every step of the way. When compiling the names of those who were overlooked by Oscar, Pamela Franklin's name belongs on that list.

* in Muriel Spark's novel of the same name, Sandy eventually becomes a nun.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


This is my entry in the Miriam Hopkins Blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and a Small Press Life. Click HERE to read more, more, more about the saucy Miss Miriam.
Miriam as Julia Hurstwood: she's not taking
 a philandering husband laying down
Your suave and elegant husband leaves you for a younger woman and takes the money, too. What is a woman to do? Cry or put on her big girl panties and set forth like a steamship on the ocean crushing everything in its wake? If you are Miriam Hopkins as Julia Hurstwood in 1952’s “Carrie,” it is the latter. Oh, and add some jewels and choice words for the husband and the chippie, too.
The men in Carrie's life: there really is no competition

See this film if you can for one of Laurence Olivier’s greatest, most romantic screen performances. Based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel, “Sister Carrie”, published in 1900, William Wyler’s  film version, “Carrie,” tells the story of a dumb, young lovely (Jennifer Jones) who leaves the farm for the big city (Chicago) to live with her sister. Sis lives in a cramped apartment with her husband and children and makes it clear to Carrie that she needs to get off her pretty little behind and earn her keep. Carrie soon decides factory work is not for her and allows herself to be picked up by flirty traveling salesman, Charles Drouet (played with oily charm by Eddie Albert).  The next thing you know they are playing house and Carrie has new duds and a kitten. Charlie is often gone, so Carrie has lots of time on her hands.  She takes an interest in amateur theatre and George Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier), the manager of an upscale watering hole.

Carrie loves the lifestyle George gives her - at first
George is everything Charlie is not: he is refined and cultured. Unfortunately, he is also married. And not just a little married, but a lot married – to the formidable Julia Hurstwood.  She is presented as such a bitch that you really do feel sorry for George. Sorry enough to forgive him stealing money, lying to Carrie to whisk her away to New York, marrying her while still married to Julia, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. 

George tries to hang on to Carrie,
but he knows his star is falling and hers is rising

Olivier is the whole show here. His descent into homeless despair while Carrie's star rises is heartbreaking. He risked all for love and ended up empty-handed. Carrie feels remorse, but loves the materialism of the new century. In that, she is not unlike Julia Hurstwood. I'll bet Julia was not such a bitch so very long ago, but when George tells her he means to have some happiness she says no - not if it hurts her. Sir Larry is at his best, but Miriam is not to be overshadowed. When she steams into New York to find George and Carrie living together she looks her younger rival up and down and drawls, ice cubes laced with molasses, "I thought you'd be prettier." Well, she kept the money and got rid of the future bum. Good going, Julia. Like they say, if she were a man she'd be ruthless and strong, but as a woman, she's just a bitch.

All for love: his old life is gone and so is Carrie

Check out Julia giving George what for:

I also found this very touching video someone made about George and Carrie's romance.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Tragic Star: Beautiful Olive Borden

2015 is the year of the Tragic Star at A Person in the Dark. January's Tragic Star is Olive Borden.

Beautiful Olive Borden had it all, but she ended up making beds, washing dishes and scrubbing floors at a mission for destitute women. How did this happen?

This striking beauty was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1906. Raised by her mother, Sibbie (her father had died when Olive was a baby), lovely Olive convinced her mama that she had the stuff to make it in Hollywood. Sibbie believed in her girl and Olive proved her right. By 1922 she was appearing as a bathing beauty in comedy shorts and by 1925 she was named a WAMPAS Baby Star. Signed by the Fox Studio, Olive quickly became one of the studio's highest paid stars and one if its most popular.

By all accounts, Olive loved being a star. She spent lavishly, loved to party and engaged in a 4-year affair with one of Hollywood's hunkiest stars, George O'Brien. She was renowned for her beauty, her form, her style and even her acting.  Between 1925 and 1927 she appeared in a string of successful films for Fox.

Beautiful in pearls and basic black

Fig Leaves: Directed by Howard Hawks with fashions by Adrian
and one of Olive's biggest hits

Olive Borden models Adrian's fashions in "Fig Leaves"

Olive and George O'Brien were one of Hollywood's most beautiful couples

The Joy Girl (1927)

In 1927 Fox starred Olive as "The Joy Girl," a successful comedy that gave Olive the same nickname. In 1927 Hollywood's Joy Girl was on top of the world.

The film that gave Olive her short-lived nickname

The Joy Girl looking lovely
And then, suddenly, it all went wrong. Apparently Fox, who had a lot of high-paid stars, began to experience financial difficulties. As a result, they attempted to reduce some of the highest salaries, including Olive's.  Olive refused and walked out on her contract. From there, things went from bad to worse. O'Brien, tired of her hard partying ways, ended their relationship. Talking pictures and the lack of studio support put the nail in the coffin. Her last film was 1934's "Chloe, Love is Calling You," directed by fellow alcoholic and former great, Marshall Neilan. It was not a success. She was 28 years old.

Olive made a couple of bad marriages and attempted some vaudeville work, but nothing seemed to click. In 1941 she was broke and finished. She worked as a nurses aid and an army chauffeur and served as a WAC during the war.

After the war she tried to reestablish herself in Hollywood, but all doors were closed. During the last years of her life she found religion and joined Mama Sibbie at the Sunshine Mission, a refuge for homeless and poverty stricken women. In 1947 she fled the mission and was found by her mother in a motel. Olive was close to death. Sibbie brought her back to the mission, but Olive died soon after from complications arising from pneumonia and alcoholism.

Olive as she should be remembered

For much more about the lovely Olive Borden, please check out these informative sites:

OLIVE BORDEN: Silent Star - a completely comprehensive site about all things Olive - you will learn a lot here.

Looking for Mabel: A stunning site about Mable Normand and her world.

There is also a well-reviewed bio by Michelle Vogel called Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood's "Joy Girl" that I just bought with one click at Amazon!