Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve!

My schedule for the day:
Fun, fun, fun!
Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Five cans of paint!!

This is one movie I can feel pretty confident that most people have seen (Home Alone). 

What is your favorite part?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Do your vines have tender grapes?

Our Vines Have Tender GrapesImage via Wikipedia
We are celebrating the fourth day of Christmas films here at ReelRevival with Our Vines Have Tender Grapes

It is one of the greatest films ever made, and also has one of the best Christmas moments on film. It's a total win-win situation.

Read my original review here.
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

The man who Came to Dinner, film posterImage via Wikipedia
Three Monty Woolleys? Oh dear. That's a lot of... cantankerousness, and energy, and... beard. If those are things you are even remotely interested in, The Man Who Came to Dinner should be satisfactory to you. In this, shall we say, adventure, a star-studded cast takes on a Broadway play that tops the charts in energy and action. Never a dull moment here - but please be assured, you might need to be feeling energetic yourself in order to keep up. 

Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Jimmy Durante, Billie Burke, Reginald Gardiner, Richard Travis, and Mary Wickes, all colliding with each other and Monty Woolley for 112 minutes. The Great Woolley is a famous lecturer and critic who feels nothing but disdain for almost every person in the world, except his assistant, Bette Davis. He is the man who unwillingly came for dinner at the Stanley residence and never left. 

Having broken his hip on the slippery stairs outside the home, the critic is at first forced to remain in the home to heal; he finds himself so enjoying meddling in (and wrecking) the lives of the family that he decides not to leave. And all of this as he prepares for a Christmas Eve radio broadcast live from the home. 

Will he learn any Christmas lessons?
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's a Holiday Affair

What do Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, and Wendall Corey have in common? A Holiday Affair that changed each of their three lives. Janet Leigh, as Connie Ennis, is in a long-term but uncommitted relationship with Carl Davis (Wendall Corey). 

This isn't because Carl hasn't asked her to marry him, but because she can't let go of the memory of her husband, who was killed in the war. The situation is further complicated by her son, Timmy, who isn't crazy about the idea of his mother remarrying - at least marrying Carl.

Everything changes when Connie, who is a comparison shopper, gets Steve Mason (Mitchum) fired from his job in the toy department at a large department store. From that point on they walk in and out of each other's lives more consistently than Esther Williams goes swimming.

The story is sweetened by little Timmy, adorably portrayed by Gordon Gebert. Timmy learns a few important Christmas lessons, including the value of friendship and loving-kindness over material things.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

The time has come for Moonlight Bay!

On Moonlight Bay (film)Image via Wikipedia
Well folks, tonight we officially kick off the first of twelve days of Christmas films with On Moonlight Bay, starring Doris Day and Gordon MacRae. The rhymes in that sentence are irresistible. 

Four words. I love this movie. This is a good movie. It is fun, it is clean (thank goodness for old films), and it is spectacularly cute. And I'll tell you why.

First, Doris Day's chemistry with the leading man is memorable. This was the third film Doris made with Gordon Macrae, and it was such a hit that Warner Bros. immediately started the wheels turning on its sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon. Day and MacRae made a great couple, not only for their stunning good looks, but also by the amazing quality of their voices. As we know, Doris Day was one of the greatest actresses to ever open her mouth on film; mixed with MacRae's majestic baritone, the sound is nearly too good to tolerate. 

Second, the cast is an all-around A Team effort. Leon Ames (we'll see him again next week in Meet Me in St. Louis), Rosemary DeCamp, Billy Gray, Ellen Corboy, and the unforgettable Mary Wickes round out the cast of characters like a match made in heaven. Few child actors were as capable as Billy Gray, and the calibre of Ames, DeCamp, and Corboy was matched by few projects. Actually, given the build-up to production, it is a surprise to me that Warner Bros. would make such a cast investment in Moonlight Bay. I suspect that with gaining the rights to make these films out of the Penrod stories, the studio was interested in trying to replicate a little of the success Meet Me in St. Louis had enjoyed. If you are familiar with both movies, you will see the similarities between them. 

Third, the story itself is sugary and frivolous, but it manages to work in sincere moments of joy, heartache, lesson-making, and sentiment. We see summer, fall, winter, and spring in a home where a girl grows from a tomboy to a feminine woman, while her family takes on changes of small and great significance (a new home, new neighbors, a world war) and remains remarkably the same. 

Fourthly, this movie is not about Christmas, but it features some lovely Christmas moments. We get to hear two lovely Christmas songs: "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," and "Merry Christmas All." There are lights, and snow, and angel's wings, and all of the jolly things we associate with Christmas. And Doris Day is there throughout. 

What more could you need?

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas Films movie list

Christmas in the post-War United States
Here is the full list of the films I have selected for this year's Twelve Days of Christmas Films. You will no doubt notice that some important Christmas films, like The Grinch and Christmas in Connecticut are not included. I have to save something for next year!

So I have assembled here what I hope will be a blend of the familiar and unfamiliar. Have fun trying something new this year! Also, while not every film is exclusively about Christmas, each features Christmas moments or lessons.

1. On Moonlight Bay 
A Doris Day favorite, featuring Gordon MacRae and Mary Wickes (one of the best supporting actresses ever). The whole cast is delightful.
2. Holiday Affair
Splendid Robert Mitchum piece with an absolutely adorable little boy.
3. The Man Who Came to Dinner
Hyper-actively Christmas!
4. Our Vines Have Tender Grapes
Click on the link to read my previous review.
5. Home Alone
A must-see every year.
6. Frosty the Snow Man
This film, featuring the voice of Jimmy Durante, is aired on CBS every year, so it will be easy for you to find. Find the schedule here.
7. White Christmas
Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney frolic through a white Christmas.
8. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
This one is also broadcast on CBS, but you can't wait until December if you want to catch it there. They are showing it Tuesday, Nov. 30.
9. Meet Me in St. Louis
You're missing out if you've never seen Judy Garland sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to Margaret O'Brien in this film.
10. Miracle on 34th Street
This movie proves - in court - that Santa is real. What could be better?
11. The Bishop's Wife
My second favorite Christmas movie, and the one always reserved for the night before Christmas Eve. Starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven, and outstanding supporting cast.
12. A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott)
Every Christmas Eve, forever and always. Simply fantastic.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas Films
Featured December 13-24 right here on Reel Revival.

Who: Everybody and anybody, these are great to watch with family!
What: Enjoy some favorite Christmas films, and try a few you've never seen before.
When: December 13-24
Where: Watch the films in the comfort of your own home, then join the discussion here on Reel Revival (a few of these movies are even aired on network television every year, so you don't even have to go out and find them).
Why: Because Christmas only comes once a year. Make merry and be jolly! Besides, there are some really good films on this list.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

High Noon

Cropped screenshot of Gary Cooper from the tra...Image via Wikipedia
Recently my in-laws were visiting from the mid-West, and when we decided to watch a movie together they selected High Noon, one of the most important Westerns ever made. Before the film started I mentioned that the plot and making of this film had many parallels to Hollywood's war with Communism in the 50's. I mentioned that John Wayne hated the film, because he would not accept its premise. The subject was one familiar to me because I wrote a paper about it in my Junior year at Hillsdale College. 

I think I will reproduce it here, as it contains some information I worked very hard to compile, and it will add a different texture and "voice" to the tapestry of this blog. 

Here it is, entitled:
Do not forsake me oh my darling...
"The image is a classic one now: a man, haggard and alone, plodding the length of a dusty, empty street to meet almost certain death under the hot sun at high noon.  Audiences loved it then, and they still love it now.[1]  High Noon is magnetic, perhaps because of its insistent rhythm (the film seems to have a heartbeat of its own), and, hate it or love it, it seems always to provoke strong responses.  Two presidents, Eisenhower and Clinton, loved it so much they claimed it as their favorite movie of all-time.[2]  John Wayne and Howard Hawks hated it so much they made Rio Bravo as a retort.[3]  This is one of the ways in which the history of High Noon is representative of the history of the United States in that period.  Another is that the team behind High Noon consisted of a variety of men with starkly different political ideals, from the stoutly conservative Gary Cooper to the Russian communist Carl Foreman, and that the two men most responsible for the creative vision of the film, Zinnemann and Foreman, were each trying to send completely different messages to the audience. 

"Released in 1952, High Noon starred Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly (in her first major role), Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado and Lon Chaney, Jr., Henry Morgan and Lee Van Cleef in minor roles.  The film was produced by Stanley Kramer, directed by Fred Zinnemann and written by Carl Foreman, featuring an unforgettable soundtrack by Hollywood great Dimitri Tiomkin.  It runs for eighty-five tense black and white minutes.  High Noon was received well by audiences, earning the eighth spot on Variety’s ‘Top Grossers of 1952’ taking in 3.4 million dollars in box offices across the country.[4]  In his New York Times review, Bosley Crowthers strongly urged readers to experience the film’s poetic power for themselves.[5]

"The story-line is simple and powerful.  An aging marshal, Will Kane, is married and planning to retire from law and order to live a quiet life with his Quaker bride, Amy, when he learns that a dreaded enemy from the past is returning on the noon train to seek his revenge.  Acting on the advice of friends, he hurries out of the town, only to return under the influence of his conscience, stating, “They’re making me run.  I’ve never run from anybody before.”  His new bride cannot and will not support his decision to take up the gun once more, and as the marshal searches the town for an ally, he is systematically rejected by the men of the town who wish that he would “just leave” and cannot understand why is he being “so stupid”.  Finally, the marshal faces his enemies alone at high noon and prevails against four ruthless gunslingers with the help of his wife, Amy, who has relented in her pacifism and taken up a gun in defense of her husband’s life.  At the film’s end, Kane drops his tin star in the dust and leaves Hadleyville behind forever. 

"High Noon has long been the source of social analysis and cultural critique.  Critics have examined the film’s supposed messages about everything from feminism, marriage, masculinity, and religion, but the most widely discussed view of High Noon is that the film is an allegory of McCarthyism and the political pressure that arrested Hollywood during the Cold War.  The incumbent idea is that the film was meant as a condemnation of the blacklisting and anti-communist attitude of Hollywood agencies such as the various Screen Guilds, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the vigorously conservative Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPAPAI), as well as the scrutiny directed on the entertainment industries by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC)

"During the final war years and the close of the forties, concern over possible communist or radical subversion in all spheres of domestic life (labor, education, entertainment, etc.), sparked a nationwide effort to ferret out and deal with individuals who had ties the communist party (CPUSA) or were engaging in potentially subversive activities.  In 1947 the HUAC subpoenaed and examined a number of individuals involved in the film industry, many of them screenwriters.  Nineteen declared that they would not give evidence implicating other individuals, ten refused to answer any questions at all.  Those ten, now known as the “Hollywood Ten”, all served time in prison as a result of their refusal and controversial invocation of the First Amendment.[6]  Agencies like the SAG and MPAA rallied behind the HUAC, pledging to keep known and suspected Communists off of Hollywood payrolls.[7] 

"Initially, prominent Hollywood liberals such as Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Danny Kaye and John Huston spoke out against the proceedings, organizing “two national radio broadcasts, a series of…ads in the trade papers, and a highly publicized, star-studded trip to Washington, D.C…”[8]  But by the second wave of anti-communist pressure in Hollywood that began again in 1951, the opposition was grimly silent.  Blacklisting was by then an established practice, and it came as no surprise when agencies such as the pro-McCarthy Screen Director’s Guild began requiring loyalty oaths of its members.  This was the political atmosphere that High Noon was born of, and it had direct and substantive effects on the film and the filmmakers involved in the project; two of the three men most responsible for the ideological fabric of the finished project came under fire from a few of these agencies during production.[9] 

"Fred Zinnemann, the director from Vienna, had already established himself as a craftsman of small independent films that focused on the stark realities of human behavior and posed a difficult or troubling question to the audience.[10]  These qualities were the very concerns that characterized film in post-WWII America.  The world was not as simple as it once seemed, and the black-and-white, happy-ending approach that carried Americans through the hardships of the World War no longer made satisfactory fare.  Zinnemann, one of the best of the post-war directors because of his keen and intuitive understanding of this shift, looked at High Noon as an opportunity to explore the internal struggles of very human people.[11]  To accomplish this in the film, Zinnemann made editing and filming choices that emphasized the internal struggle of Will Kane, featuring recurring close-ups of Gary Cooper’s pained face and editing the sequences in a tight formation of gritty footage: no fade outs, no color, just gritty, white skies and the swinging of the pendulum.

"Carl Foreman, the screenwriter and originally the Associate Producer under Stanley Kramer, had a vastly different intent for High Noon.  In fact, Carl Foreman’s goal in writing the film was the very sort of thing that HUAC and the MPAPAI feared.  To Foreman, High Noon was “a parable about Hollywood and McCarthyism.”  In an interview Foreman explicitly stated his motivation for writing High Noon.  He saw:

a community beginning to crumble around the edges as these high powered politicians came in…putting this community through an inquisition…and people were falling to the wayside one way or another.  They were either capitulating to these gangsters…from out of town…or they were being executed by them here.  And I could see my time was coming sooner or later…and I wanted to write about that.  I wanted to write about the death of Hollywood. (Buhle, 421).

"When thought about from this angle, it is very easy to see exactly what Foreman
described playing out onscreen.  But a lot of people didn’t think about it.  To Foreman’s delight, some viewers were aware of the film’s message and wrote to tell him so.[12]  But it is safe to say that most of the film audience didn’t take it that way.[13]  Even Zinnemann claimed ignorance of the allegory.[14]  Certainly the film would not have enjoyed such huge success if audiences had connected all of the dots.  Some even chose to read the film the opposite way, that it was glorifying the stand against communism.[15]  Although audiences in the Fifties were attracted to films that explored sobering human qualities, they were still interested in movies that entertained and inspired.  High Noon proved to be a deeply satisfying combination of all of those traits, and that made it a legend."  

     [1] The American Film Institute’s lists of bests and greatest consistently rank High Noon near the top.  Current rankings are: #27 of the 100 best; Will Kane is 5th best hero; High Noon is 20th most heart-pounding film, “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling” is #25 best song, and Dimitri Tiomkin’s tense score is the 10th best.  The full lists can be found at the American Film Institute’s site:
     [2] Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner, Radical Hollywood: The Untold Story Behind America’s Favorite Movies, (New York: The New Press, 2002), 418.
     [3] Phillip Drummond, High Noon, (London: British Film Institute, 1997), 38.  John Wayne even bragged to have been instrumental in Carl Foreman’s blacklisting and expulsion from the States. 
     [4] Drummond, High Noon, 43.
     [5] Bosley Crowthers, “High Noon”, The New York Times, July 25, 1952.
     [6] Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund, The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-1960, (New York: Anchor Press, 1980), 356.
     [7]Ceplair and Englund, Inquisition, 445.  From the Waldorf Statement:  “We will not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States by force or by illegal or unconstitutional methods.”
     [8] Ceplair and Englund, Inquisition,  276-277.
     [9] Drummond, High Noon, 19.  Zinnemann initially refused, but eventually agreed to sign a loyalty oath for the Screen Director’s Guild.  Carl Foreman was a genuine communist and was fired from High Noon by the producer Stanley Kramer when he refused to cooperate with HUAC.  He was then blacklisted and left for England.  See Gabriel Miller, ed., Fred Zinnemann Interviews, (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 140 and 149.
      [10] Miller, Interviews, 9.  “It’s a perfectly valid approach to present a problem or a question or an issue to an audience, and let them determine for themselves how they feel about it…I felt it was very important to let the audience supply their own answers.”
     [11] Miller, Interviews, 35.  “The theme of my films is…simply a question of conscience…It is a question of a person who has strong belief in something and who is prepared to stand up to it regardless of the consequences…Sometimes it is the conflict within the person himself, as in High Noon.”
     [12] Miller, Interviews, 89
     [13] Phillip L Gianos, Politics and Politicians in American Film, (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 1998), 71.
     [14] Miller, Interviews, 151.  Zinnemann is recorded as saying, “I did not think of it in political terms.  To me the film was about conscience and degrees of compromise.”
     [15] Drummond, 73.

Selected Bibliography
Buhle, Paul and Dave Wagner.  Radical Hollywood: The Untold Story Behind America’s Favorite      Movies.  New York:  The New Press,  2002.
Ceplair, Larry and Steven Englund.  The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community,1930-1960.  New York:  Anchor Press,  1980. 
Crowther, Bosley. “High Noon”.  The New York Times.  July 25, 1952.
Drummond, Phillip.  High Noon.  London:  British Film Institute,  1997. 
Gianos, Phillip L. Politics and Politicians in American Film.  Westport:  Praeger Publishers, 1998.
Meyer, William R. The Making of the Great Westerns.  New YorkArlington House Publishers,  1979.
Miller, Gabriel. ed. Fred Zinnemann: Interviews.  Jackson:  University  Press of Mississippi,  2005.
Patterson, James T.  Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974.  New York:  Oxford University Press,  1996 
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In the coming months at Reel Revival

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 film)Image via Wikipedia
Readers, I am full of news about a couple of events I am planning for Reel Revival in the next few months. The first is a festival of Christmas cheer in which I will be highlighting some of my favorite classic Christmas movies on the site. 

In January we will kick off the new year through participation in the Hitchcock Blogathon organized by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Each participating blogger will release a review of a classic Hitchcock film on the same day. Look for my review of The Man Who Knew Too Much on January 17th.  

Stay tuned for more information on these events, and, as always, comment or email your suggestions.
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Thursday, November 4, 2010

That wraps it up...

I want to officially wrap up the first annual Octoberfest by saying thank you to everyone who participated.  It was a great success, and I will look for ways to improve upon it for next year.  

As always, comments and suggestions are welcome, and if you would like to make a statement on your overall impression or on certain movies in particular, I would love to read them!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Miss Marple Marathon

Over the past two days I went on a Miss Marple marathon as I made and prepared decorations for my Halloween party and accomplished other household tasks.  I watched Murder at the Gallop, Murder Most Foul, and Murder Ahoy.  My copy of Murder She Said is in another box somewhere and I haven't dug it out yet.  But that's ok: SuperFan Tori is on that one.  

I have watched these films so many times that I know the staging without even looking at the screen, which is great because if I'm listening to the dialog and looking at what I'm busy with, I can still see the action in my mind's eye. And I promise you these never get old. The reasons are simple:

1. Margaret Rutherford's performance. One of the most appropriate, brilliant, and thoroughly enjoyable conversions of a character from book to screen that ever occurred in classic film. 

2. Music. The Miss Marple theme song is incomparable.  If you have your speakers turned on you've already been treated to it. It is so good, I almost wish the intro would never end.

3. Mr. Stringer.  Played by Stringer Davis (Rutherford's real life husband I have only just learned, this character is one of the cutest and sweetest old men to ever grace the silver screen.  He makes a perfect side-kick to the plucky Marple.

With varying, interesting plots and superb supporting casts throughout the series, this is one that I can heartily recommend in its entirety, and I am confident in saying that it would make a fine gift for any lover of mystery, Christie, or old movies.

Amazon sells the set, but single movies are more economical. Murder Ahoy comes in at just over $5. 

However and whenever you enjoy these films, I do hope you will send a comment my way so I can know about it!

-Incidentally, this is a fascinating read if you are interested in Rutherford and Davis personally.
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Vanishing Act

I just want to let everyone know that my invisibility lasted a little longer than intended.  That potion was stronger than I thought.  But I will be back in force next week, so expect some howl-ful posts.  

SuperFan LogoImage via Wikipedia
Many thanks to superfan Tori, who has continued to give feedback and share her movie-watching experiences.  

I love it!
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This is not a clip from City in Darkness, but if you are unfamiliar with the Charlie Chan movies, this will give you a little taste of how fun they are.  

City in Darkness is particularly fun, and particularly dark.  Anybody watch it?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Murder Ahoy

Murder Ahoy stars Margaret Rutherford. 

'Nuff said.

Anybody watch it today?
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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ministry of Fear

What would you do if you had just been released from an insane asylum, 
and one of the first people you run into is a fortune teller, who furtively whispers strange messages to you...

and you are suspicious that this character may be after your life...

but you don't know who to trust...

Your life is in certain danger...

It must be Ministry of Fear...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ghosts on the Loose

Ghosts on the Loose, starring Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bela Lugosi, and Ava Gardner in her first credited role, is a fun and flippant way to start our month of scare-mare. There is nothing serious at all about this film. Not in the least. It is just some simple, ridiculous fun, and what is more ridiculous than hearing Leo Gorcey stumble over those big words and pretend to understand the notations on a music score? And Bela Lugosi (AKA Dracula) asking why he is always surrounded by idiots? Priceless. What about the East Side Kids getting "German measles" after a close call with that gang of Nazis? Corny. 

But hey, it's the first of the month. We want to ease into this fest - no point in scaring ourselves silly on the first day.  

Here's the trailer.

And the stars of the show dressed up in Octoberfest finery:

Bela Lugosi, immortalized by his performance as Dracula, here a Nazi.
Ava Gardner, here in a crystal ball.
Leo Gorcey, tough-talking leader of the East Side Kids.
Huntz Hall, Leo's simple-minded side-kick.
If you watched, be sure to comment on this post and let me know what you thought.

Coming up tomorrow:  Ministry of Fear...
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

REEL Octoberfest kicks off tomorrow!

The time has finally come.  Tomorrow we kick off the REEL Octoberfest.  

Are you with us?

Feel free to comment below and tell us which of the 31 films you are planning on enjoying this month.

And remember - it's not too late to join the fun.  Check out the REEL Octoberfest homepage for more information.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Biopics Two Ways

A little time ago my husband and I watched a film that I had brought home from the library. It was a biopic, a dramatized biography. If you are familiar with biopics as a genre, you probably already know that they may or may not have a strong relationship to the facts of the people they are about - so watcher beware: "biopic" does not mean bona fide biography!

This particular biopic, Lillian Russell, starred Alice Faye in the title role with Don Ameche, Henry Fonda, Edward Arnold, and Warren William helping out in supporting roles. And did she ever need help. Here I was, having read all these rave reviews about Lillian Russell being one of the greatest musicals ever made, blah blah blah, and my frown just kept getting fiercer as the minutes on the DVD counter piled up. Now, I haven't had much experience in Alice Faye movies, but I can tell you that after watching this one, I'm not sure I'll accumulate it.  

Apparently, A&E said this of Alice Faye in a documentary: "She rose from the mean streets of New York's Hell's Kitchen to become the most famous singing actress in the world. When the pressures of fame became too much, she had the courage to leave Hollywood on her own terms." That's quite a claim to make, quite a glowing recommendation of talent and magnetism. The most famous singing actress in the world? I dispute this claim. I'll bet you $23.80 (as Nancy Drew would say) that more Joes on the street will recognize the name Judy Garland than Alice Faye. Just sayin'.

Judy Garland
Then there's this (gathered from her IMDB webpage): "She introduced almost twice as many 'Hit Parade' songs in her movies (23) as each of her closest competitors: Judy Garland (13), Betty Grable (12) and Doris Day (12)." Strange.  I admit that I don't know how to go about verifying this claim, so I'll just grant it. I say, "If Alice Faye generated more hits on the Hit Parade, it was because the Parade itself was more of a hit in her time than it was in Grable's and Day's, and because the songs themselves were already good." From the performance I witnessed in Lillian Russell, I can't see that Faye is equipped to make a hit out of any song.

So this is amounting to a very harsh review of Miss Faye's performance. It wasn't going to be until I read all of these claims about her being the best and most famous. I don't want to seem vindictive here, but because of my previous ignorance about Alice Faye I was planning on graciously dismissing her disappointing performance as the result of a bad day or out-of-control B career. If she just didn't have it, I wasn't going to ridicule her for it.  But after seeing the wide acclaim and these praises, I must make some objections.  

Alice Faye as Lillian Russell
The film is based on the story of Lillian Russell, the (truly) famous musical star who tenaciously pursued fame and sensation at the turn of the century. Lillian is an innocent young woman who longs for a career on the stage and disobeys her suffragette mother to pursue it by singing in Tony Pastor's theater. Immediately upon performing in public for the first time, legions of rich men line up at her door and send her flowers, jewels, and gifts of all kinds. She forgets all about a shy newspaperman (Fonda), who was to be her true love, and marries her pianist/composer, the tight-strung Edward Soloman (Ameche), much to the chagrin of two other rich men who think they are poised to marry her. Soloman botches her London debut by having a fight with the producers, then works himself to death writing an opera for her, literally. So she goes home to the states and is eventually reconciled to her long lost newspaperman, whom she marries.  

Alice Faye turns in a singularly dull and emotionally cardboard performance. She plays the initial innocence well, but misses the ambition, misses the passion, misses the determination, misses the greed, misses the pain of losing a husband, and misses the pluckiness one would imagine she should be expressing. She is a flat actress in a three-dimensional role. Don Ameche is decent, Henry Fonda provides some relief by acting well, and Edward Arnold is fun as Diamond Jim. The real star of the show, however, is Helen Westley, who plays Lillian's spunky grandma.  Her performance is not only enjoyable, but also rich and dynamic.  If you ever watch this film, look for her.

The Truth
The real Lillian Russell
Of course, Lillian Russell bears little resemblance to Lillian Russell.  We can always expect the classic biopics to clean up reality, even if in modern film they fabricate sordid details.  A modern production would gobble this story up, because the real Lillian Russell was as famous for her extravagance and loose living as for her beauty and stage talent. She married four times, but had an appetite for sensation that led her to make use of many more men than that. Her large appetite also extended to food, and she was known to be able to eat as much or more than any man. Her only child, conceived out of wedlock, died after being stuck with a diaper pin by his nanny. The pin apparently punctured the poor little baby's stomach. It is not my impression that Miss Russell suffered much grief.  

Her career, though, was magnificently successful, spanning four decades and unprecedented popularity. So immense was her popularity that her's was the first voice to be carried cross county via a telephone line when Graham Bell introduced long distance service. She also had an interesting second career as a columnist and activist after retiring from the stage. She even went on diplomatic missions. Marie Dressler was quoted as saying of Russell, "I can still recall the rush of pure awe that marked her entrance on the stage. And then the thunderous applause that swept from orchestra to gallery, to the very roof."

What is truly frustrating about this film, however, is not the story, but Miss Faye's inadequacy of voice.  To put it very simply: it is boring. Not bad, not off-key, not terrible, just boring and flat. This sabotages the effect of the entire film.  It is difficult to suspend disbelief and get carried away in her stardom and magnificence when you're not sure how she could have a singing career in the first place.  Add to this my befuddlement about Miss Faye's own personal acclaim as a great singer and I am speechless. 

Did you notice the dull look in her eyes? It's there for the whole film.  

My husband hasn't seen many classic biopics, maybe one other, so by the end of this I was desperate to show him a really good one to make up for it.  My solution to the problem? I'll See You in My Dreams, starring Doris Day, who was apparently so outgunned by Faye on the Hit Parade. When it comes to proven talent and real performance though, there is no comparing Faye to Day.  Rhyme.  Anyway, judge for yourself.

These might help you make a decision too.

My point?  Doris Day knew how to do it, and do it she does in I'll See You in My Dreams.  I think it's a delightful film, and that's more than my bias talking.  Everything about the film, from the direction to the cinematography, has a gentle way of rolling the story along while allowing the audience to enjoy all of its treats for the senses, from the deep shadows in the ragtime room, to the fabulous quality of Day's voice, to the endearing acting of Danny Thomas.  

Doris Day as Grace LeBoy Kahn and Danny Thomas
as Gus Kahn
The film tells the story of Gus Kahn, great lyricist of the stage and screen, who put words to a whole age of American music.  From "Pretty Baby" to "It Had to Be You," Kahn penned the lyrics to many of the songs we still recognize as greats today.  His wife, Grace, wrote the music for many of them, too.  This biopic chronicles, with surprising accuracy, the time from Grace and Gus's meeting through their partnership, marriage, separation, reconciliation, and to the end of Gus's career.  It is about a timid guy who can't quite seem to say "I love you" unless it's through a song, and the strong woman who made and then almost destroyed his career unwittingly.  It introduces themes of leadership in the home, raises questions about the line to be drawn between pushing someone toward greatness and controlling his life, and delicately expresses the importance of those three little words.  It is more than entertainment, it is interesting. 

I encourage everyone to give it a spin sometime. 

Directed by Michael Curtiz (also director of Doris's first film, Romance on the High Seas) and supported by greats like Frank Lovejoy, Patrice Wymore, James Gleason, and Mary Wickes, it is well worth the 110 minutes it takes.  

And then tell me, am I right or am I wrong?

(you are also more than welcome to defend Alice Faye if you so choose)
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