Sunday, February 7, 2016

Safe in the Dream of Cinema

In a dream, in a place and time that never changes, in a piece of film, that is my safe place. No matter how uncertain the world, I can count on:

C.C. Baxter and Miss Kubelik playing gin
The Little Tramp's joy at realizing the Blind Girl can see
Eve Kendall recommending the trout to Roger Thornhill
The super shine of the floor (not to mention the starry sky) as Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell tap to Begin the Beguine
Norma Desmond's cigarette holder

They are always there, always a comfort when things turn topsy-turvy. That's how it is with classic movie lovers, and like genies we can disappear into the magic lantern that is the world of cinema. 
Safe inside our enchanted bottle, we can count on the fixed, repetitive nature of film as an occasional escape from the onslaught of the unknown. 

Like many movie lovers, I tend to gravitate towards the well-known-to-me comfort of a film I have seen many times when feeling the need for escape. However, as I read the posts of other classic film bloggers, knowledgeable Facebook folks and other internet cinephiles, I realize that I also tend to resist watching some must-see classic films. 

I was recently inspired by Leticia at Critica Retro, who listed her 2016 list of classic films she must see. Brave girl! Because I can't quite commit to 12 films, I am going to try to see 6 classic films this year that I have managed to avoid because they are either slightly out of my comfort zone or for some other crazy resistance:

The Lost Weekend
This is already waiting on my DVR. Although Billy Wilder is tops in my book, I tend to avoid films about drinking. But, I have been convinced it is worth watching.

How Green Was My Valley
I know, I know.... I'm on it.

Gun Crazy 
I'm actually excited about this one. I'll do it this time!

L'Age D'Or
I'm kind of afraid, but I'm going in......

The Palm Beach Story
Why have I resisted? Probably because, for some reason, Preston Sturges makes me a little nervous. I'm not sure why, but I think it's for no good reason.

To Have and Have Not

I generally do not like Hawks, Hemingway, or Bogart and am not over the moon about Bacall, but it's a classic, right? 

Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Words cannot express the love I have for Chaplin, and there are almost no words for the love I have for Keaton, closely followed by the great Harold Lloyd.  However, when it comes to finding 2 fellows to pal around with, nobody beats Stan and Ollie for me.

Why, you ask?

They laugh a lot. Laughter is good for the soul, the spirit , your health and the universe in general. So there.

They are enterprising in ingenious ways. I would love to hear all about the ways they have attempted to make a buck.

They don't hold back. Stan and Ollie are 100% in touch with their emotions.

And their inner child.

They appreciate a fine woman.

But are good husbands.

They love a good drink.

They know how to party.

They are pro-education.

But are not "know it alls."

They are "just like that" with the Toy Maker. Huzzah!!

They take care of one another when they are sick.

And, they were loyal friends to the end.

They were and are just the best!

Friday, January 8, 2016

The France on Film Blogathon: GIGI: You would think it would embarrass all the people here in Paris to be thinking every minute of love!

This is my entry in the France on Film Blogathon, hosted by Serendipitous Anachronisms. Click HERE for the full roster of all things oo la la

I write this entry with a special ache of the heart. Paris is the one destination that never disappointed me and more than lived up to my lofty imaginings. Prayers for the city of light and the city of dreams.No matter what, we'll always have Paris.

Gigi (1958)

Gigi is all about love, all kinds of love.
Love of Family

Madame Alvarez, what a woman. Her home reflects the warmth and comfiness of this wonderful lady. She is all about love. First, there is her love for her granddaughter, Gigi. She grooms Gigi for the family business, but wants a better life for her.  In the end, she defies her sister and breathes a sigh of relief at Gigi's fate.

Although a courtesan, she obviously felt great love for Honore.
And Madame loves her daughter (Honore’s daughter?), who was not raised in the family business, but follow her passion and slaves as a soprano at the Comédie-Française. Ah, the irony. It was a soprano that caused dear Honore to stray. She is my favorite character. 
Love as a business
This is personified by Gigi's Aunt Alicia She attempts to schooled the wayward Gigi in the fine art of gems and cigars as symbols of love. She is retired from the family trade, but seems happy in her reclusive life, surrounded by the proof of past loves. 
And who can ignore the avaricious Liane d'Exelmans? While Gaston is besotted for a time with the faithless wench, she eventually can't close the business deal with the romantic Gaston.
Love as a sport

 Honore Lachille  - with a twinkle in his eye, he is the pursuer, the hunter and women are his prey.He is the true athlete. He loves his sport, he keeps in shape and he brings joy to his audience. He may be a rogue, but who can resist a lovable one? Chevalier brings his vast legend to the role. Who can tell where one ends and one begins? He is the Parisian soul of Gigi
Love as loyalty to a beautiful memory

Madame Alvarez and Honore: wouldn't it be nice if they got back together? I know it's a long shot, but I am always rooting for them. They both have known love as a business and love as a sport, yet they hold on to a sentimental and youthful love. Sigh.....
Love as romance: Gig 

 The transformation from girl to woman while skipping mistress and going straight to wife is the fulfillment of her romantic dream. She holds on to her ideals and gets her prince charming.

Love as romance: Gaston

Poor Gaston! Like Gigi, his role in the game of love has been predetermined. While Gigi is the prize, he is the buyer.  And like Gigi he rejects the cynical view of love for romantic rose colored glasses. Louis Jourdan is almost too handsome to bear.

And then there is Paris, the city of light that can embrace love in all of its forms.

Gigi gives us the Paris of our dreams: opulent, elegant and romantic. It captures beautifully the romance of youth that never deserts even its oldest practitioners. The Paris of Gigi is the spring in the step of the enchanted, the skip of the heart beat of a new love. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry and Happy Days to the Solitary Souls of Cinema

Holiday films are supposed to make us feel better. They usually end with the main characters eventually basking in the warmth of friends and family and reminding us that this is what it is all about. But what kind of Christmas would the solitary souls of cinema enjoy?

Ethan Edwards ("The Searchers")

What kind of holiday would Ethan enjoy? I seriously doubt he'd really enjoy an old fashioned rum punch with his family, even after Debbie returned home. After a morning of scorching a Comanche village or two, he might top the day off with a few swigs of Chain Lighting (a furniture varnish flavored whiskey favored in western saloons) and a meditative stare into Monument Valley.

Jay Gatsby ("The Great Gatsby")

Since Gatsby is destined not to spend his holidays with Daisy, he might throw a raucous party at his elegant/vulgar estate. All of his "friends" would be there, but in his soul he alone because she - Daisy - his true love -  is not there. His loneliness is a prison among a crowd. He stares at the green light atop his tree.

Catherine Sloper ("The Heiress")

Oh, pity the poor lonely spinster! But don't pity Catherine. She found out that Morris was a gold digger before it was too late, her hateful father is dead as a door nail and she has Daddy's fortune. No, once she finishes her tapestry she is off to Paris to kick up her heels. But Catherine will always keep her own council and walk her own solitary path, even if she takes a mate. I predict she will invent the pre-nup.

The Tramp ("The Circus")

The Tramp has always been a solitary soul. Yes, he ended  "The Kid" with a warm welcome from mother and son, and he did whoop it up (in his imagination) on New Year's Eve with those dance hall girls from "The Gold Rush," but "The Circus" finds him alone again. Christmas is a melancholy time for the little fellow, a time of sentimentality. But, the Tramp is an observer, never really a participant. His heart is great, but he is, in the end, meant to be alone, free to move on, free to find more beauty in this mixed up world.

Whether you are alone or in a crowd, make sure you taste the eggnog and look for the beauty in life. And for goodness sake, put some rum in it!

Monday, November 23, 2015


The death of fun-loving and beautiful Thelma Todd was one of Hollywood's most tragic deaths. 
Beautiful Thelma Todd
She was a smart, beautiful movie star. She was loved by her public and by many men. Yet, somehow, Thelma Todd never seemed to be able to grab and hold that brass ring. Something always seemed to be missing for Thelma. Sadly, she never had the time to find happiness and satisfying success. 

Fans of comedy know Thelma from her performances with the Marx Brothers, Charley Chase, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton (and a swell hair-pulling contest with Clara Bow in "Call Her Savage"), but if her name is generally known today, it is due to her death at age 29 and the mystery surrounding it.

Thelma was a fun-loving gal
Thelma's story has been sensationalized in print and film (anyone remember Loni Anderson's TV movie? No? Just as well), but nobody really knows what happened on the night of December 16, 1935 when Thelma died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her own car in her own garage. Author Michelle Morgan, in her new book "The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd" presents a sympathetic portrait of Thelma and a thoughtful and plausible account of events leading up to her death.

There never seemed to be a bad word said about Thelma. From her earliest years in Lawrence, Massachusetts right up to her final days in Hollywood she was universally adored by her friends and coworkers. She did, however, like so many women, have notoriously bad taste in men. Her husband, Pat DiCicco, was abusive and her married lover, director Roland West, was weak and unsupportive of her. She was so smart and so charming. If only Thelma had found a man worthy of her!

Though she was popular on screen and off, Thelma never managed to hit the real big time, instead appearing in successful Hal Roach shorts (first with Zasu Pitts and then Patsy Kelly). She was a bit Carole Lombard and a bit Jean Harlow, but she never got the A-list roles offered to those ladies. Her roles in the bigger films were generally in support of bigger stars. She was intelligent enough to know that time was not a friend to an actress in Hollywood and she needed to find another means of support and security for the future. Lover Roland West seemed to offer her just the ticket.

Thelma's cafe was a posh and popular destination
Somewhere around 1934, Thelma and Roland became partners in a very successful restaurant called Thelma Todd's Roadside Cafe. Thelma was the draw and, by Morgan's account, was very involved in the running of the restaurant and took great pride in its success. Author Morgan gives some fascinating background on the property, built in the Pacific Palisades community of Castellammare. Early residents of the beautiful (but susceptible to mud slides) area included the Thomas Ince studio. Residents in 1934 included West and Jewel Carmen. Roland West was married to former film star Jewel Carmen, but it appeared to be a marriage that was eternally on the rocks. Both Thelma and Roland lived a great deal of time above the restaurant. While there was an illusion of separate quarters, they were certainly co-habitating some of the time. Still, Thelma dated other men and Jewel Carmen didn't seem to mind West's relationship with her.

Roland West and Jewel Carmen
The last year of Thelma's life was filled with torment. First, she began getting threatening letters from some wacko called "The Ace," who turned out to be an extortionist who did a good job of scaring Thelma. More troubling was the pressure from gangsters who wanted to turn the restaurant into a profitable (for them) and illegal gambling establishment. Thelma was dead set against it.
One tormentor was caught, but another was not
This is where Morgan's book really starts to shed some new light on Thelma's story as her last days loomed. During her last night alive Thelma attended a party at the famed Cafe Trocadero Nightclub where she seemed to be in good spirits (although there was a nasty encounter with her ex-husband, who attended the night spot with actress Margaret Lindsay). Her driver left her off in the early hours of December 16th and that was the last that anyone admitted to seeing Thelma alive (except for loony Jewel Carmen, who claimed to have seen Thelma driving around town after she had actually died). Found by her maid the next morning in the driver's seat of her car still dressed in her evening clothes from the night before, her death was concluded to be either an accident or a suicide. No foul play was indicated. Buy why was Thelma there? Why didn't she just go into her apartment?

Thelma and frequent co-star Patsy Kelly.
I'm sure this never went on at Thelma's cafe! 
Over the years, the mob connection with Lucky Luciano has been popular but never proven. Morgan has another take on the gambling angle and it is a good one. But I don't want to spoil it! "The Ice Cream Blonde" is a good read for film fans and unsolved mystery fans alike. While we will never know for sure how Thelma ended up dead at age 29, clues abound and Michelle Morgan has compiled facts to present a very plausible and reasonable theory.

Thelma as she should be remembered: lovely and joyful and full of fun
A footnote on Thelma's cafe: Word has it that the beautiful building was set for demolition in January 2016, but that it may be saved. Let's hope so!

Many thanks for the book's publisher for a complimentary copy of "The Ice Cream Blonde:The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd." The book is available at all retailers, including Amazon.