Monday, August 20, 2012

For Me and My Gal (1942)

As if we needed another reminder that the age we so greatly love and admire is gone from us forever, this week marks what would have been Gene Kelly's 100th birthday. The beloved character of Singin' in the Rain fame, the consummate actor who was equally capable of comedy and tragedy, he whose athleticism and grandeur in dance have never met their match, has been gone from us for 16 years, but he will never leave his place in film history.

I am honored to participate in a special blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association by reviewing For Me and My Gal (1942), one of a few films he made with Judy Garland and the first film in which he starred. For a full list of participants and dates, visit this link from CLAMBA.

For Me and My Gal was a fresh break for Kelly, a Broadway actor whom David O. Selznick snatched up on contract. Moviegoers saw Kelly as a fresh face that year, but one with which they were destined to become very familiar as he took the onscreen singing and dancing world by storm. The film made for a lovely pairing with fellow screen great Judy Garland, who by then had already made a dozen or so films and perfected her delivery of the zinging one-liners that make this film, and The Pirate (six years later), so fun. 

Like most others of its time, For Me and My Gal was a wartime pep piece, extolling the virtues of self-sacrifice, armed service, support to the troops, the purchase of Liberty Bonds, and the attitude that every individual, male or female, physically fit or impaired, is depended on by his country to make his own unique and valuable contribution to the war effort. 

Harry and Jo try out together for the first time "For Me and My Gal"
The film recalls another war, the Great War, and follows the development of a small time actor (Kelly) whose grand ambitions lead him both to the verge of greatness and the bitterness of disgrace. Kelly plays Vaudevillian Harry Palmer, a self-centered quick worker who initially alienates sweet-tempered angel of the stage, Jo Hayden (Garland). But Palmer is no less a salesman than an actor, and after having assessed Hayden as a top tier performer as well as "Springtime doll," cunningly wins her business partnership and her heart. 

George Murphy (Jimmy Metcalf) is the odd-man-out in this occasion, the all-around good guy whose feelings for Jo set him on to a life path of self-sacrifice and quiet guardianship of both Jo and Harry, whose brash, erratic behavior eventually crashes him in the pits. 

Jimmy Metcalf comforts Jo.

The ups and downs of the showbiz life are perpetual, but the frustrations of being stuck in the small time are nothing compared to the tragedy and drama of war. Jo's little brother is all set to become a doctor, but like other conscientious men, he decides that his studies should take a back seat to fighting alongside "the other guys" who have gone overseas to keep his country free. 

The war is, of course, troubling. It is there casting a shadow over the showbiz climb to the top. It unsettles the audiences and the day-to-day routines of greasepaint and bright lights. 
But it is simple enough to push aside and forget as long as the actors can continue to make their entrances and follow their dreams. Eventually, however, the war intrudes on even this sheltered enclave. 

Harry's draft notice introduces a full blown life crisis. 
Harry's draft notice arrives. 
On the brink of the Palace, the pinnacle of Vaudevillian success and the realization of all of his desires, Harry cannot contemplate his call to service as anything but the most unjust cruelty of fate. 

Even his theatrical agent can do little to delay the inevitable. After two physical exam delays, Harry simply must find a solution to his problem, or risk losing the Palace, and his girl, forever to the ravages of war. And so Harry, in desperation, in thinking of himself and his dreams and the one he loves, does the unthinkable. He deliberately disables himself in order to gain the temporary reprieve which will allow him to play the Palace and marry his girl. 

His selfish act couldn't have come at a worse time. The "good" news of his draft delay comes in the moments following Jo's receipt of the worst news she could have gotten - news from the front that every sister of a uniform dreads. With one look at Harry, his injury, his elation at being delayed, Jo knows instantly the truth that condemns Harry as an ungrateful coward. 

"You'll never be big time because you're small time in your heart."

After her bitter disappointment in Harry, Jo throws herself into entertaining "our boys over there."

At the loss of his girl, Harry's priorities are re-prioritized. What does the Palace mean if he doesn't have Jo? What does an audience mean when the boys are dying in the trenches? Suddenly, Harry's desperation is not for the Palace, but for the "Pass" from the draft medical board, not for the costumes but the uniform. 

But to his panic, Harry discovers that in "temporarily" disabling himself he has, in fact, done permanent and irreparable damage that now disqualifies him from any service. 

So it is that, grudgingly, Harry enlists himself in a second class service, touring France as a mere performer. He's "in the right army but wearing the wrong uniform." But it is only within the depths of his despair that Harry finally reconciles the man he thinks he is with the man he wishes he were, and finds that true greatness comes in living a little outside of oneself, in the deep and abiding concern for others, and the arms of the one he loves. 

Harry and Jo, together again.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"Holiday in Mexico" and "Having Voice"

This morning I stumbled upon (thank you Facebook) an intriguing post by one of my favorite online journals, The Imaginative Conservative, entitled "The Lost Art of Speaking." Author Joe Sobran makes an observation having to do with our hobby in old film: that actors of the golden era, particular those legends of whom we are so fond, had not only distinctively distinguished voices, but each a dignified, dramatic way of speaking to match. Their craftsmanship, their "voice presence," one might say, is a thing of the era that died with them, followed today by the rise of pretty-boy-model-types who look great on screen but fail to either inspire or impress once they engage their vocal cords. 

Sobran mentions the greats:
Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Fredric March, Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, William Powell, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Richard Burton, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Montgomery Clift.
all of which, he says, "You can't picture... without recalling how they sounded."

How right he is. And yet, as I polish off a current viewing of Holiday in Mexico,  I can't help but notice that his list misses that great baritone, Mr. Walter Pidgeon. Pidgeon's voice, as well as his polished, manly air, is displayed pleasingly in Holiday, a feel-good, lighthearted flick typical of the mid-forties musical.

The plot and style are standard fare for the genre, and why shouldn't they be? What is more irresistibly charming than Walter Pidgeon as a smooth ambassador to Mexico and single parent to Jane Powell, a hopeless energetic (and, at times, romantic) teenage vocal performance genius? What could be more exceedingly cute than Roddy McDowell as the English Amassador's son who wants to be more than best friends with the American Ambassador's daughter? Who makes better music than Xavier Cugat and Jose Iturbi? What's not to like about Technicolor?

Holiday in Mexico is a reminder of what was once important in Hollywood, a relic of family values-based filmmaking. The aim of Holiday is simple, wholesome, uplifting entertainment. It not only delights our senses but ministers to our hearts. And that makes it well worth anyone's while. 

Besides, Walter Pidgeon had a phenomenal voice. 
(photo from

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hello all!

I thought it would be fun to share a little of what I have been doing in the absence of posts. 

This is going to be my grandmother's Mothers Day gift. Now Voyager is her favorite film. Shhh, don't tell her; it's a secret ;)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Six Degrees of Separation

It is a pleasure to participate in the Six Degrees of Separation game started by Page over at My Love of Old Hollywood. I'll just recap the game so far. Page gave us two stars, Mabel Norman and Walter Matthau, and passed the torch on to Dave of Dave's Classic Films.

He pointed out that Mabel Norman was in Head Over Heels (1922) with Adolphe Menjou. Then Becky of ClassicBecky's Brain Food gave us Adolphe Menjou in Paths of Glory (1957) with Kirk Douglas. Next up to bat was Dawn of Noir and Chick Flicks. She chose Kirk Douglas, in Lonely are the Brave (1962), with Gena Rowlands. Then the game looped back to Page, who threw in Gena Rowlands and Rock Hudson in The Spiral Road (1962)

That leaves us at four degrees, and I have been chosen to present the fifth. Naturally, I wanted to link Rock Hudson to the best star ever, Doris Day. But, needing to make the game possible to complete on the next and final degree, I chose Rock Hudson and Burl Ives, also in The Spiral Road (1962). 

I'm booting the sixth degree over to Vincent at Carole & Co. Wrap it up for us, Vince!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Christmas Banner Challenge

Kudos go to the first reader who identifies the movies, characters, and actors represented by the pictures in the Reel Revival banner. [Comment on this post] Give me all the info you can, even release dates if you know them. No Google or IMDB allowed! This is to test the latent knowledge of all you movie nuts. Honor system!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Banner feedback wanted

It's just about time for me to change the banner graphic at the top of the page, as I am accustomed to doing a few times a year. I thought that as I went into the design phase it would be nice to have some outside ideas as to what I should do with it. If you have one, comment or send me an email!

Roll Film

And I'm back! Sorry to have been gone so long. You know how life goes, though, in cycles. Some are busier than others. Having come through a REALLY busy one, I am hoping that things will slow down at least a little for the next.

I hope you noticed that even in my break from regular posting I finished and published my essay about why Doris Day is the best star ever. I hope you will read it on the Doris Day page and tell me what you think.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas upcoming, old movie watching kicks into high gear. To add to the fun, some of us old movie bloggers will be playing a game of Six Degrees of Separation to test each others' prowess and help you discover blogs you have not yet seen. Look for our first episode coming up soon!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Classic Movies of 1939 Blogathon: Another Thin Man

Today we remember 1939 as an extraordinarily action-packed year for a number of reasons. War was breaking out in Europe as Hitler made his mad dash for total domination, the American economy continued to totter on the brink of internal decay, and Hollywood was cranking out classics like tomorrow would never come. As I wrote on the subject in college, 
"1939 was a time of trouble and threat, danger and doubtfulness; the cinema, by contrast, was a place of safety and ease, security and confidence. It was an escape for the masses, a factory of dreams in which the cares and woes of the real world were sponged away by the faces of fictional characters played by real-time heroes. The actors were people to be esteemed; their movie conduct was to be emulated, their magnificently crafted dreams to be pursued."
This blogathon celebrates only a small fraction of those great films, which continue to delight today whenever and wherever audiences find them out. 
An original poster
advertising the film.
Another Thin Man was made as part of the enormously successful Thin Man Series, which spanned 13 years with 6 movies. It capitalized on the delectable pairing of William Powell with Myrna Loy, an on-screen couple who had set American movie-going hearts on fire. 

The combination was truly perfect. Powell's debonairness, distinguished good looks, incomparable voice, and jolly personality with Loy's sophisticated beauty, gut-instinct comedic timing, and quick wit gave audiences a pair who appeared to be the most genuinely in love, sincerely married, and perfectly matched couple in the history of the world. Under the direction of W.S. Van Dyke (mostly) with a fantastic screen play based on top rate literature, the Thin Man Series was a masterpiece waiting to happen.

Cropped screenshot of William Powell and Myrna...Image via Wikipedia
This particular entry, the third in the series, is one of the best, though it would be hard to say which entry isn't one of the best. Another Thin Man is essentially an exercise in misdirection, expertly done. The film opens with retired-from-detecting Nick and Nora (we know how long that will last) taking an apartment in New York with new baby, Nicky Jr. As usual, it isn't long before Nick has run into both some ex-con buddies of his and another murder. In this case the murder occurs on the remote country estate to which Nora has taken Nick for a quiet weekend of business. The murdered man is Colonel MacFay, the old business partner of Nora's deceased father, and manager of her millions.

Shemp Howard: what a face.
Marjorie Main: always animated.

                      A really delightfully solid supporting cast, including Marjorie Main and Shemp Howard, makes up a cloud of suspects and misdirectors: blackmailers, thugs, thieves, Cuban gangsters, dangerous women, double-timers, disgruntled employees, and opportunistic family members. Just try to guess who-dunnit in this tangled mess where evidence, testimonies, and even the camera are trying to point you in the wrong direction. 

I'm not going to give the solution away. That's just no fun. But I do want to discuss some noteworthy elements of the film's composition. One of those is the lighting. This is an element of filmmaking that we don't often pay much attention to because we're looking at the actors, sets, and wardrobes. There is something about the way this film looks, however, that belies its excellence in set lighting. When Nick, Nora, Asta, and the baby are en route to the Colonel's country estate, the dampness and coldness of the setting is palpable, even though it's not raining on set. This is the result of clever lighting and film editing which, when combined with the suggestive dialogue of the characters, produces a convincing effect. Lighting is everything in black and white, much more important than it is for Technicolor. In Another Thin Man it is done noticeably well. 

Thematically, the film is somewhat sordid. At least three people die unnatural deaths, and even the family pet meets a gruesome end. More than one throat is slit. Yet the film retains its charm because we are spared the blood and gore and graphic conversations that "entertain" us in modern television and cinema. 

Nick looks at a bit of evidence.
His hands often held a glass
of some sort. 
Nora steals the liquor cabinet keys for Nick.

The constant reference to Nick's drinking habit is continued from the previous films, but less of his drinking is shown on-camera or made an issue of, in spite of Nora's pick-pocket theft of the liquor cabinet keys from the Colonel. Picking up the slack from the lack of alcohol content in the film, however, is casual conversation about adultery. Nick is the kind of ingratiating character who wins your trust immediately, so even though he is unfailingly popular with the ladies we have no doubt that he remains faithful to Nora - not for lack of opportunity but out of preference. The other characters, however, (Nora not included) not only expect but encourage Nick to pursue adulterous relationships, laughingly. This is expressed on more than one occasion and, as it adds nothing to the film, becomes tedious. It is probably the movie's sole weak point. 

The loving couple.
The emphasis on marital infidelity is contrasted by Nora's unwavering support of and loyalty to her husband, particularly when police investigators attempt to turn her against her husband by trumping up stories of his previous girlfriends. Nora is steadfast, as is Nick. The films leave you in doubt that it could ever not be that way. 

Loy and Powell made such a perfect couple on-screen, in fact, that it never occurred to the public that they might not be married in real life. On one notable occasion, the booking agent at a hotel reserved a single room for the stars to share, assuming that they were indeed a happily married couple. Needless to say, other arrangements had to be made when the two stars, never married, arrived for their stay. 

I wish they had been married. It would have been truly a triumph of wit and laughter and legend. Hollywood made a number of teams famous: Hudson and Day, Olivier and Leigh, Burton and Taylor, Bogie and Baby, Hepburn and Tracy. But none were as believable, natural, and right a combination as Powell and Loy. God bless them for the masterful performances they gave. 

Please visit the Classic Movie Blog Association homepage for links to more reviews of films made in 1939.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Starting this Sunday - The Classic Movies of 1939 Blogathon

Starting this Sunday and running through Tuesday 36 Classic Movie Association Bloggers will present 41 reviews of some of the best films ever made, which all happen to have premiered in 1939. 

My review of Another Thin Man will debut on Sunday, along with reviews of these well and lesser known films:

Another Thin ManImage via Wikipedia
It’s A Wonderful World
The Women
The Wizard of Oz
The Cat and the Canary
Charlie Chan at Treasure Island
Dark Victory
Destry Rides Again
Dodge City
Five Came Back
Gone With the Wind
On Your Toes
The Return of Dr. X

Visit the Classic Movie Blog Association homepage for the full schedule and links to participating blogs.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gaslight review at

I am pleased to announce that my review of Gaslight is featured at today as the guest blog addition. Thanks to Chris and all the readers at FanFare for welcoming my review!
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