Be the Henry Fonda you wish to see in the world

I know I’m not alone in saying life after November 8th has been troubling and uneasy. One of the ways I’ve been coping with this onslaught of disturbing policy and tension is by watching classic movies—it’s my tried and true method but two films recently struck a cord with me in a greater magnitude than upon my initial viewing. Coincidentally both of them happen to star Henry Fonda.

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Henry Fonda is known as Hollywood’s quietest hero and I appreciate his work now more than ever. Fonda embodied the every man persona of America much like his contemporary (and best friend in real life) James Stewart. Fonda’s characters stood for justice, compassion, and honesty. Fonda’s inspiration for the brave men he created on screen stemmed from a traumatic incident in his youth when—at fourteen—he witnessed the lynching of a black man. That event stuck with him for the rest of his life as he stood up against prejudice. Fonda believed that by making film he could raise awareness and change perceptions in the world.

In the classic western, The Ox-Bow Incident, Fonda is at his best as the moral compass of the film. He plays Gil Carter, an outsider to a small Nevada town who gets caught up in a lynch mob. This film is one of the best examples of the dangers of mob mentality. I watched this film about a week ago and it has stuck with me since. It’s eerily familiar to the kind of mentality that has infiltrated us thanks to social media, that we’ve seen play out at its worst during this past election. After a rancher is murdered, the townspeople form a posse to find the murderer or murderers. With the sheriff out of town, a deputy decides he himself must be the leader, even though this is against the law. Gil joins the posse to avoid being a target.

This film is rife with tension as the paranoia and anger becomes stronger than the posse itself. Fonda gives a signature quiet performance standing up to the mob when they find men they suspect to be the murderers despite having any sort of proof. Fonda’s Gil believes in the law and justice and won’t stand for the mockery being made. The posse made of large group of men and one women proves it’s not one that it easily persuaded which makes Gil’s fight all the more powerful. He couldn’t shake his conscience and had to speak up.

The film reminds me of 12 Angry Men in many ways. But in 12 Angry Men justice prevails, here a travesty is made of it. Gil, much like Juror #8, represents all the qualities that Fonda believed in. After the lynching occurs, the men find out that the man they believed was murdered is still alive and that they killed three innocent men. When they return to the town, Gil reads a letter written by one of the suspected men in a saloon. The character of Martin, played by Dana Andrews, wrote the letter for his wife. Fonda reads the words in a quiet, honest cadence. In the scene, you only see his lips move not his entire face. The letter reads as follows:

“My dear wife, Mr. Davies will tell you what’s happening here tonight. He’s a good man and has done everything he can for me. I suppose there are some other good men here, too, only they don’t seem to realize what they’re doing. They’re the ones I feel sorry for. ‘Cause it’ll be over for me in a little while, but they’ll have to go on remembering for the rest of their lives. A man just naturally can’t take the law into his own hands and hang people without hurtin’ everybody in the world, ’cause then he’s just not breaking one law but all laws. Law is a lot more than words you put in a book, or judges or lawyers or sheriffs you hire to carry it out. It’s everything people ever have found out about justice and what’s right and wrong. It’s the very conscience of humanity. There can’t be any such thing as civilization unless people have a conscience, because if people touch God anywhere, where is it except through their conscience? And what is anybody’s conscience except a little piece of the conscience of all men that ever lived? I guess that’s all I’ve got to say except kiss the babies for me and God bless you. Your husband, Donald.”

The letter’s words resonate so much to the current state of affairs. When I watched this moment I began to sob. The Ox-Bow Incident is a cautionary tale that I think everyone needs to see. The same with 12 Angry Men. While both have different outcomes, the meat of their stories is timeless.

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In 12 Angry Men,  the jury has to decide the fate of a seemingly clear cut case about a young man who has been accused of killing his father in a fit of anger. At first it seems the jury is ready to hand over a guilty verdict except for one juror, Fonda’s Juror #8. Fonda can’t seem to shake his doubts and stands up to the men who are fueled by personal prejudices, impatience, and the worst trait of all—apathy. Juror #8 is able to rise above the group of jurors because of his belief in the justice system. His integrity drives him to challenge the men as the deliberations ensue.

Juror #8 isn’t a perfect man. He’s a flawed character who has some pompous moments of his own but he emerges as the hero of the film because of his honesty. That allows him to gain the trust of the rest of the group as they begin to sway their decision. Like The Ox-Bow Incident before it, 12 Angry Men is another fascinating examination of humanity in all of its ugly forms. Fonda was never a flashy actor. He made it look so easy with a stern look that stood for integrity and justice. Both films serve as reminders of standing up for what you believe in no matter how difficult it is.

It’s what Henry Fonda—the actor stood for. Although a quiet man who didn’t believe in being preachy, Fonda didn’t stand for prejudice and injustice. During World War II, he joined the Navy, famously saying “I don’t want to be in a fake war in a studio.” Fonda was a man of his word and it showed in his work. It’s people like him whether it be characters or the people behind them that remind us that we too need to rise and stand up for what’s right. Let his films as old as they may be be a reminder for whatever lies ahead.

12 Angry Men is airing on Turner Classic Movies February 28th at 4:30 AM ET.

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Now that you’ve seen ‘La La Land,’ go see these classic movies immediately

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I recently fell under the spell of La La Land when I saw it in the theater. I had a lot of expectations as I enjoyed Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash immensely in 2014. I’ll admit the beginning didn’t really wow me, it reminded me of those GAP commercials from the late 90s that sold khakis using swing dancing and West Side Story numbers. However, as the film went on its charms hooked me completely thanks to Chazelle’s direction and its two leads. La La Land has become a critical darling and recently won 7 Golden Globe Awards, the most of any film in the history of the award. I’m sure you are feeling the La La Land hype or are over it yourself but channel that energy into a classic movie marathon! Here’s a watchlist of films to compliment this film.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Dir. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen)

Let’s just start with the obvious, the one many call the greatest American musical ever, Singin’ in the Rain. This iconic film is the benchmark for what an enjoyable musical adventure should be. Not only does it have impressive numbers but the dialogue is hilarious and Jean Hagan as the silent screen star Lina Lamont steals the show. The film is being screened at participating AMC theaters nationwide on Wednesday, January 18th as part of TCM and Fathom Events’ screen classics series. For tickets and showtimes in your area, click here.

Sunset Boulevard (1950, Dir. Billy Wilder)

Switching gears to a much darker film, Sunset Boulevard is one of the definitive films about Hollywood and the film industry. While La La Land celebrates dreamers, Sunset Boulevard shows you what happens when those dreams die and paved the way for some of cinema’s most celebrated one-liners. It’s easy to simplify this film to a story about a hack screenwriter who works with a former silent screen star to put her dream project on the page but it’s also a tale of ageism and an exploration of the decay of the silent era. The film was William Holden’s breakthrough role but it’s Gloria Swanson who created an icon in the complex role of Norma Desmond, one of the most grotesque and compelling female characters in the history of film. Sunset Boulevard is available to stream on Netflix.

Rebel without a Cause (1955, Dir. Nicholas Ray)

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Nicholas Ray’s classic film about teen angst spoke to an entire generation of confused, middle class youth in suburban Los Angeles. James Dean’s Jim Stark is sensitive, sweet, and desperate to be loved and understood by his parents. He connects with fellow classmates Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo) who are also undergoing the same feelings of withdrawal and isolation. In La La Land, Griffith Observatory which is an important site in Rebel, is featured and Sebastian invites Mia to a screening of Rebel as “research” for a role she’s auditioning for. An added bonus is Gosling’s attempt at a James Dean impression when he utters the iconic line, “I got the bullets!” Rebel without a Cause is airing at 3:45 AM January 19th on Turner Classic Movies.

Notorious (1946, Dir. Alfred Hithcock)

There is a recurring character seen throughout La La Land but you never hear from her directly and that’s actress Ingrid Bergman. Emma Stone’s character Mia appears to be a big fan of the legendary Swedish actress. Mia’s room has a giant poster of one of Bergman’s films that features her face prominently in her bedroom, Mia makes reference to both Casablanca and Notorious and then you later see another poster of Bergman overlooking Los Angeles in the third act of the film. When Gosling’s character Sebastian asks Mia how she fell in love with acting and filmmaking, Notorious is one of the films she mentions that her aunt introduced her to when she was younger. Notorious is one of Bergman’s best. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy who is recruited by a U.S. agent to infiltrate the Nazis. Alicia is Hitchcock’s most feminist female character. When you listen to the way Mia talks about the projects she’s auditioning for in La La Land, you get the sense she’s yearning for strong, compelling characters like Huberman so it makes complete sense that Bergman would be one of her favorites especially when we learn more about her aunt who introduced her to this film. I appreciate that the screenwriter put this film in her list of films she grew up on versus the obvious choice of Casablanca because it shows a deep love for “golden age” classic films even if her character hasn’t seen Rebel without a Cause. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964, Dir. Jacques Demy)

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg heavily inspired La La Land and has been brought up in almost every piece I’ve seen written about the film. This French musical film is known for using music throughout the film. The dialogue in this is sung during the entire production, even if that isn’t your thing, don’t let it deter you because this film is beautiful. Catherine Deneuve stars in this story about star crossed lovers who commit to loving each other until their final day but that is ultimately tested by war. The film is beautiful and vibrant but just like La La Land will break your heart. Unlike the schmaltzy Hollywood musicals of golden era, Demy challenges the traditional approach with a New Wave style that packs a gut punch. The film is airing on Turner Classic Movies January 18th at 10 PM as part of a selection of films handpicked by La La Land director Damien Chazelle. Click here to see the full lineup.

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On the town with the TCM Backlot

Last month I was in New York City for Thanksgiving weekend but it took a detour on a TCM adventure. I’m a charter member of the TCM Backlot and I was one of a group of members who won the TCM Backlot Weekend in New York contest.  The TCM Backlot is TCM’s official online fan club. The website includes exclusive behind the scenes content from TCM such as podcasts, videos both past and present, contests, and a digital subscription for the Now Playing guide.

Every month there are exclusive contests members can enter and some include specially curated backlot events. The one I won was the TCM Backlot Weekend in New York. It included the TCM Movie Locations tour of New York on Saturday morning, a screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s on Sunday afternoon, and then a ticket to the VIP preview party of the latest Bonham’s auction.

I’ve always wanted to take the TCM Movie Locations tour but in the past I’ve never been in New York City long enough to squeeze it in so I was tickled to win this contest. Also, Audrey Hepburn is my favorite and we got the chance to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the big screen! This contest combined so many of my favorite things.

The TCM Movie Locations tour is three hours but it goes by quickly and I can attribute a lot of that to our fantastic tour guide Jason. Jason has a love of movies and infectious enthusiasm that made you feel like you were getting a more one-on-one experience which is difficult to do on a full bus that had probably 50 or so people on board. He was friendly, funny, and engaging. It never felt like Jason was phoning it in, he really cares about film and wants to make sure everyone on the bus is having a great time. That may seem to go without saying but having been on tours where that wasn’t the case, it makes a big difference.

The tour was a great mixture of old and “new” classics. It kicks off with the most classic movie New York thing: Frank Sinatra, Jules Munsen, and Gene Kelly singing “New York, New York” from On the Town to get the tour going and it was perfect. It really kicked things off and transported you back to the 1940s. There were stops to locations for films like The Apartment, How to Marry a Millionaire, My Man Godfrey, North by Northwest, and the new classics of Manhattan, Ghostbusters, The Out of Towners, You’ve Got Mail, and Sleepless in Seattle. My favorite part of the tour was the stop at Holly Golightly’s brownstone in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This was a bucket list item for me. I have always loved how beautiful New York looks through the 1961 lens of Blake Edwards’ classic. Seeing the brownstone and realizing you are standing somewhere Audrey Hepburn once did felt surreal and extraordinary. So much of Hollywood’s history feels like it’s under threat of erasure. There were so many stops on the tour that are now retail spaces but were once a critical piece to a film’s narrative. It’s a bummer but it makes the TCM tour a powerful force. The fact that the tour was packed is a testament to just how timeless these classic films are.

On the second day of the weekend there were two items on the schedule a screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and a preview part of the TCM-Bonhams auction. This was my first time seeing Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the big screen and it was a thrill. I believe it was a digital print but I don’t care because there was quite the crowd in the audience and that is always exciting. Tiffany Vazquez introduced the film on the big screen through a pre-recorded introduction and I appreciate the fact that she did not gloss over Mickey Rooney’s yellowface performance as Mr. Yunioshi. This is something that TCM has always done so well and I know the crowd appreciated. It’s important to highlight this travesty and give it context. As the saying goes, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” It was after the screening that us contest winners were able to meet TCM staff.

Yacov Freedman, the TCM staffer who runs the backlot, has done an exceptional job at creating this unique and friendly space for backlot members to connect online. It was great to meet him during this event. He’s just as enthusiastic and warm in person as he is on Twitter. I had such a great time meeting him and the other contest winners. Everyone was so friendly and we were all able to share our love of classic film.

After the screening was the Bonhams auction that featured items from personal classic film collections and the estate of Maureen O’Hara. Some of the coolest items we saw were one of the giant American flags used in the opening of Patton, Kim Novak’s grey suit from Vertigo, the golden gun used by Christopher Lee in The Man with the Golden Gun, a carriage used in Gone with the Wind and countless other film posters, autographed photos, and other costumes from both classic and contemporary films.

The estate of Maureen O’Hara was particularly cool. People who roamed through the rooms were able to get a glimpse of the impressive life this woman led. One of my favorite things I saw were a collection of mugs given to her by John Wayne after production of the films they made together completed.

 

Previews to Bonhams auctions are open to the public. If you live in New York City, I’d encourage you to go. There is something about seeing pieces of film history in person that is truly spectacular. You really feel a deeper appreciation for the people involved and the process. Also, if you haven’t joined the TCM Backlot, you must! It is a great community to be a part of.

 

The best gifts for Classic Movie Lovers this holiday season

Christmas is just a few days away and if you need gifts for the classic movie fan in your life, I’m here to help! It’s an awesome time for classic movie fandom. With the growing online community of bloggers, the active and always in tune #TCMParty on Twitter, screenings popping up everywhere, and TCM’s commitment to creating a lifestyle for its brand, it seems like there’s no shortage of offerings for fans to indulge in.

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The Maltese Falcon enamel pin $12.00

I’m a ‘pinhead’ and love accessorizing jean jackets with enamel pins. There aren’t that many classic movie inspired pins but Kate Gabrielle is changing that. She’s one of my favorite online artists and a huge classic movie buff. I love her store’s pins that are both classic movie inspired and give nods to some of my other favorite fandoms: Jurassic Park, 30 Rock, and Parks and Rec. Her store is also the stop if you’re getting ready for TCMFF. She sells buttons that have become a staple at the festival.

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Gone with the Gin $12.47

TCM has a wine club but what about spirits? If you’re looking for a gift for the mixologist in your life, Gone with the Gin is it. This books gives a Hollywood twists to cocktails with punny recipes inspired by your favorite classic films.

Here’s drinking to you, kid!

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The Women squad goals tote $12.76

I love a good tote bag and what a way to make it better than adding the cast of The WomenAnyLadlesSweet, a shop on Etsy, for fabulous sass mouth queens makes a line of totes inspired by some of your favorite leading ladies with an option asking What would Joan Crawford do? I love the mix of classic film and contemporary slang.

 

Actual Film Votive candle $15

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I stumbled upon the company Actual Film Votive at a holiday market in Union Square over Thanksgiving. They sell votives with actual film cells. At first I was so bummed but then spoke to the owner, a former projectionist, who explained the 35 mm films they have can no longer can be projected in their entirety so this is a way to give them new life. I bought a votive with a cell from Singin’ in the Rain and it came in an adorable popcorn box. It’s a fun, unique gift for the movie lover in your life. 

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Classic Film Star coasters from Shabby Chic $3.22 and up

I’m of the belief that you can never have enough coasters. Shabby Chic on Etsy gives an antique twist with these gorgeous coasters. If you’re comfortable putting a drink on top of a Hollywood legend, this is for you.

 

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TCM wine glass set $45.00

What better way to pair a TCM wine club subscription with these film themed wines. Are you a gangster? Bombshell? Or Swashbuckler? Or Ingenue? If you’re looking for the right wine to pair with cheese, add your inner film personality to the list with these glasses.

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Josephine and Daphne from Some Like it Hot mug $15.00

I love the work of artist Alejandro Mogollo over at RedBubble. His prints mix bold and vibrant colors to give classic hollywood a fresh new look. Alejandro recently released this great mug featuring the likeness of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon’s characters Josephine and Daphne in Some Like it Hot. The original bosom buddies get their due with this mug and every morning you can say cheers to this dynamic duo with your cup of coffee.

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Holy Hitchcock!: ‘Jane the Virgin’ and the Master of Suspense was everything I didn’t know I wanted

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My favorite show on television right now is Jane the Virgin. It’s smart, witty, self-aware, and nuanced in its storytelling but it has also given Latinx actors representation I haven’t seen before. For those unaware of the show, the story centers around a young woman named Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) who was accidentally artificially inseminated. The premise sounds ridiculous but Jane the Virgin knows that and with that self awareness has created one of the most delightful satirical telenovelas I’ve ever seen on tv. The show is currently in its third season and is just as good as its knockout first season.

In its most recent episode, Chapter Fifty-One, the writers paid homage to the Master of Suspense with an Alfred Hitchcock theme that was effective in moving the plot along. In the episode, Jane turns to Hitchcock movies to add suspense into her novel. She explains Hitchcock’s bomb under the table theory to her husband Michael, who we learn has been trying to get her to watch these films “for years.” (Sidenote: for someone heavily on #TeamMichael, this added more ammo to my argument that he’s the better match.) This opens up the fun for the creatives on the show to add some Hitchcockian elements throughout the episode.

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Another storyline in this episode centers on the father of Jane’s son, Rafael, whose mother is a crime lord that has died but left behind a complicated web of lies and corruption. Jane’s husband is a detective who has been working on this case for the past two seasons and we learn that Rafael’s family has been involved in some stolen high-end artwork. When Michael, Jane, and Rafael discuss the pieces of the puzzle in the case, the show cuts to a parody of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as Jane Villanueva Presents with a clever silhouette of Jane’s pregnant belly before segueing into the parody that’s reminiscent of Rear Window. Jane’s outfit is an homage to Kelly’s in the film complete with pearls and Rafael and Michael deliver some old timey accents alá Jimmy Stewart.

What I loved about this sequence was that it wasn’t just the actors putting on makeup, using slick back hair and costumes, the lighting and the camerawork was very much in the style of Mr. Hitchcock so the creative team really did their research. As a fan of both Jane the Virgin and Alfred Hitchcock, I really appreciated this. The episode also drew elements from Vertigo, To Catch a Thief, and The Birds. Considering the most important plot point of the episode took place in a convent, it was fitting to get a nod from Vertigo which features a climatic scene taking place inside a church.

I love that Jane the Virgin drew inspiration from Hitchcock. Jane the Virgin is a rare comedy that has been able to tackle on some very difficult storylines but with a gusto that keeps if grounded and makes it relatable to its audience. Creating homages with universally loved works of art like Hitchcock tap into viewers of all ages. It tickled me to see this in shows I grew up with like Boy Meets World and Gossip Girl that gave nods to classic films like Casablanca and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. For the younger demographic that loves classic films but doesn’t know many people who do, this lets them know they’re not alone and it is cool! For those who have never heard of Alfred Hitchcock, this let’s them google his name on Wikipedia and hopefully check out a film of his, or seven. Thanks Jane the Virgin for reminding us that the classics never go out of style.

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Natalie Wood: The star who grew up on film

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Miracle on 34th Street, The Searchers, Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story, all these landmark Classic Hollywood films feature legendary actress Natalie Wood. Unfortunately Wood’s memory tends to focus on her tragic death. This month, Wood is Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies spotlighting her varied career from child star to adult actress.

Wood’s films will be shown each Friday in November with a special introduction by her widow Robert Wagner and her daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner. The two recently collaborated to release a book with Turner Classic Movies about Wood’s life featuring never before seen to the public photos and exclusive interviews. You can learn more about the book Natalie Wood: Reflections on a Legendary Life here.

Turner Classic Movies Social Media Producer Marya E. Gates and Lindsay Grossman of the blog, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, discuss the legacy of Natalie Wood with me in a special podcast discussion.

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The daughter of Hollywood legend Paul Henreid shares her memories

 

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In October, Coral Gables Art Cinema here in Miami hosted a double feature in honor of actor Paul Henreid showing Now, Voyager and Casablanca. His daughter, Monika Henreid, was on hand to introduce the films. During intermission, I had the opportunity to ask Ms. Henried a few questions. She’s currently working on a biography and documentary about him entitled Paul Henreid: Beyond Victor Laszlo. You can learn more about it here: henreidbeyondlaszlo.com.

The screening for Casablanca sold out and the crowd was a mix of people who have never seen it before and those of us who can’t get enough. Before both films, Ms. Henreid shared behind the scenes stories and offered more insight about her father and his work. Ms. Henreid is so welcoming and enthusiastic but she’s also a great listener. We spoke during the reception and I waited in a pretty sizeable crowd to get the chance to ask her a few questions. During my wait, I noticed just how engaging she is. She listened to everyone and was so involved in these small conversations. She is really proud of her father’s work and takes the job of maintaining his legacy seriously. You can listen to our conversation, as well as her introduction to Casablanca below:

 

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