Kicking off Noirvember with a week of films I’ve never seen

Happy Noirvember, mugs and dames!

What’s Noirvember? It’s a celebration of all things film noir. It was started by @oldfilmsflicker eight years ago and it’s taken on a life of its own. This year, I’m really committing to Noirvember here on the blog. I started on Wednesday by watching a new-to-me noir each day until Sunday as I decided to break up the month with different themes each week. I was so glad to finally sit down and watch these films that I’ve been wanting to see but haven’t gotten the chance to.

Here’s a recap of the films I watched during the first week of Noirvember.

Union Station (1950, Dir. Rudolph Mate)

 

Not all noirs are created equal. For every masterpiece that is Laura, there are probably 10 bad noirs around. I really wanted to like Union Station but this fell flat to me, which is surprising because it stars…WILLIAM HOLDEN. Union Station was the second film pairing of Holden and Nancy Olson. The duo made this one right after another noir masterpiece, Sunset Boulevard. In this film, Holden plays the top cop of the Union Station railroad police. Olson, on a train, notices a man with a gun and her instincts tell her he’s up to no good. She alerts the police and this helps them in their search for her friend, a blind heiress who has been kidnapped. Union Station has some really great suspenseful moments, and a few scenes are actually quite brutal but there were some aspects of Holden and Olson’s performances that didn’t do it for me. Not for one second did I buy Holden as the lead of a railroad police force. He didn’t seem to have the commanding presence I’m used to seeing. Also, a majority of the film he’s wearing a fedora and coat that are much too big. The ill-fitting costume honestly made it hard for me to take seriously. I wanted to really like Olson’s character, a sharp female who isn’t afraid to track down criminals in order to do the right thing, but she came across as annoying to me. In some scenes, I kept thinking that she should go home and let the police do their jobs. When it comes to the film noir canon, Union Station isn’t exactly memorable when it comes to story but the climax of the film is suspenseful and again, there are some standout moments so I still recommend it but I was disappointed in its two leads, two actors who I adore.

Gun Crazy (1950, Dir. Joseph H. Lewis)

I don’t know what took me so long to see this one! WOW! This film just left me with my jaw on the ground. Peggy freakin’ Cummins! My goodness! She is so good in this film. Her beauty and cooing perfectly masquerade her ice cold interior she’s hiding underneath. She has such presence here, you feel her power. The sexual tension between her and John Dall is electric from their very first scene together. It’s not just the performances that make Gun Crazy a masterpiece of the genre. Lewis’ direction is outstanding. The final bank heist that ultimately dooms the couple is one shot and it adds so much to the film’s suspense.

In a Lonely Place (1950, Dir. Nicholas Ray)

In a Lonely Place is another highly regarded noir that I hadn’t gotten around to watching. What I didn’t expect from this film was how genuinely moved I was. To me, this is one of Humphrey Bogart’s best performances. He easily comes across as a hollow jerk but as the film progresses there is a vulnerability to his character that is heartbreaking. But the real star here is Gloria Grahame. Grahame is excellent in a very difficult role that you don’t fully understand how hard of a job she has to put together her character until the film’s final scenes. She comes into the film as a mysterious woman but the more you learn about her, the more you’re drawn in. What I love about this film is that as much as it is a film noir, it has deep psychological comments on love, loss and loneliness. There’s an extra layer there that really packs a punch in the end.

Lured (1947, Dir. Douglas Sirk)

This Douglas Sirk film blends a strong cast and element of mystery, horror, light comedy and film noir. Lucille Ball plays a dancer who, get this — is enlisted by police to help them find her missing friend who they believe might be the latest victim of a serial killer. I feel like “women helping the police” inadvertently became the theme this week. The killer is murdering young women he meets through personal ads in the newspaper. He announces their killings with poems. Ball is great in her part, in one of her dramatic roles that are often overshadowed by Lucy Ricardo. She’s tough and no nonsense. George Sanders, Boris Karloff and Charles Coburn round out the cast. Karloff’s part is kooky but he’s given time to chew the scenery as only he could do and it’s great, he’s one of many characters Ball meets on her quest to find answers.

Phantom Lady (1944, Dir. Robert Siodmak)

1944 was a banner year for film noir. Along with Phantom Lady, Laura, Murder, My Sweet, Gaslight, and To Have and Have Not were all made. That’s crazy! Phantom Lady is considered a “B noir” and is elusive when it comes to home video. I think the only official DVD release is in a TCM boxset, which is disappointing because it’s excellent. In the film, Ella Raines plays a secretary in search of a woman who may prove that her boss didn’t murder his wife. Raines’ performance is what I was missing out of Olson’s in Union Station. Raines commands the film as a strong woman who goes head to head with authorities and puts herself in danger to try and solve the murder. Raines is also Franchot Tone, who receives top billing, doesn’t appear in the film until 45 minutes in and he makes the most of his role turning in a chilling performance. If that doesn’t convince you to see this movie, noir regular Elisha Cook Jr. (best known as the “gunsel” in The Maltese Falcon) plays a drummer in a jazz band and there’s one scene in particular that is worth the price of admission alone.

Next week will be dedicated to the queen of film noir herself, Barbara Stanwyck, with a marathon of her noirs.

Advertisements

Michael Jackson reinvents the music video with the help of classic movies

Happy Halloween!

If there’s one song you’ll hear throughout the holiday, it’s without a doubt Thriller, the iconic and groundbreaking Michael Jackson single that owns Halloween. The single off of the album of the same name (which is also the best selling album of all time) was actually the seventh and final single to be released. It wasn’t even released near Halloween, it actually came out in February of 1984. In concept, the Thriller album is much more darker than Jackson’s previous Off the Wall drawing heavily from darker and supernatural themes that are evident in its beats and lyrics.

thrillermarquee

The 14-minute short film that accompanied the song is timeless but it mixes something many may not talk about when it comes to Michael Jackson: his love of classic Hollywood. Jackson’s genius was heavily influenced by old Hollywood and Thriller wasn’t the first instance where he paid homage to his favorite films. On the same album, the music video for Beat It, Jackson rewrites West Side Story. Rather than the two rival gangs being torn apart, in Beat It, they come together through the power of music and dance.

beatitjackson

In Thriller, Jackson chose to collaborate with director John Landis after seeing American Werewolf in London. He thought Landis would be the perfect choice to bring this horror musical to life. If you’re going to create a horror musical, why not add one of the greatest actors of the genre to it? Well, that’s exactly what Jackson did. Vincent Price was brought on to lend his signature voice to a monologue on the track. By all accounts of the making of this film, Price was delighted to take part and recorded his session in just two takes.

In an interview with Johnny Carson, Price said he was given a choice between taking a percentage of the album proceeds or being paid a flat $20,000. He chose the flat rate as his career was well-established and money wasn’t a big issue. When Carson suggested that Price could have done a lot better if he had chosen album proceeds, he laughed and said “How well I know!” There’s been some accounts that Price actually demanded more money after the albums sales have soared but I haven’t read reputable sources for that, just random internet message boards so take that as you will.

Jackson_PRice

Not only is Price’s voice in the film, his name appears prominently on a marquee at a movie house where Jackson and his date (portrayed by Ola Ray), you can see it as they leave the movie theater. There is also poster of one of his most famous horror films, House of Wax, outside the theater as well. Price got a kick out of the song and in this clip delivered his voice-over on a late night show complete with the creepy laugh that still haunts me!

Jackson would go on to infuse classic movies into his work in other ways. In the music video for Leave Me Alone, there are images to his close friend Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor and Jackson were kindred spirits in many ways. The most obvious way was the fact that the two were former child stars who grew up in the public eye and with the intense pressure that comes from that. Leave Me Alone was his way of sticking the middle finger to the tabloids.

Leave Me Alone was featured in Jackson’s short film, Moonwalker, but the real staple of Moonwalker is Smooth Criminal. Smooth Criminal is Jackson’s love letter to film noir and Fred Astaire. The film is an homage to Astaire’s Girl Hunt Ballet from The Band Wagon. In Smooth Criminal, Jackson is in a 1930s style lounge wearing a white suit and fedora similar to the style of suit Astaire wore in The Band Wagon. 

Jackson_AstaireSmoothCriminal

Astaire once commented on Jackson’s dancing saying, “Oh, God! That boy moves in a very exceptional way. That’s the greatest dancer of the century.” Jackson dedicated his 1988 autobiography, Moonwalk, to Astaire. It’s fitting that the video Jackson paid tribute to Astaire features one of his most iconic dance moves, the anti-gravity lean. It’s still jaw dropping ever time you watch it. Below is Smooth Criminal with The Girl Hunt Ballet underneath to compare.

In one of his final music videos, Jackson brought on close friend and legend Marlon Brando for You Rock My World. Similar to Smooth Criminal in its aesthetic,  Jackson wears a suit and fedora along with Chris Tucker and try to get the attention of a woman. Brando pays a sort of mob boss with Michael Madsen thrown in the mix. At over 13 minutes long, it’s another short film but not as grandiose as the others. Still – it was one of the final things Brando acted in and his presence is felt throughout even if it’s a glorified cameo.

jacksonbrando

I always get a kick out of watching the little nods to classic movies in Jackson’s music videos. I didn’t get to delve into Billie Jean, Remember the Time, and Liberian Girl but perhaps that’s for another post.

They don’t make artists like Michael Jackson any more. We were lucky he entertained us.

signature

A tale of two Ritas

Rita Hayworth and Rita Moreno are two of the most popular actresses of the classic Hollywood era but while one is celebrated for being a Hispanic trailblazer, the other had that chance taken away from her in the United States. Rita Hayworth’s Spanish roots are now discussed as a piece of trivia in her life and as a horrifying reminder of whitewashing in Hollywood. When Moreno arrived in Hollywood, she came as Rosa Moreno and has said she was heavily influenced by Hayworth. Hayworth’s paternal uncle actually coached Moreno in dance and Rosa ended up changing her name to Rita in her honor.

Rita Hayworth was born in Brooklyn, New York as Margarita Carmen Cansino. Her parents were both dancers. Her father, a renowned classical Spanish dancer, wanted Rita to follow in the family’s dancing footsteps. She eventually became a part of his act and they made their way to Hollywood. Rita was noticed by the head of Fox Film Corporation and he ended up signing her to a short contract. Because of her, what they called “exotic and dark” features, she was reduced to playing “foreigner” roles such as an Egyptian and Russian under the name Rita Cansino. Her time at FOX was underwhelming as the roles for foreigners and dancers were few and far between, she was dropped but then Harry Cohn and Columbia Pictures signed her to a seven year contract. Believing there were not many roles for “exotic foreigners” at his studio either, Cohn had Rita Cansino’s name changed to Rita Hayworth to amplify her mother’s American roots. If that wasn’t enough, the studio had her hair dyed red and she underwent a painful electrolysis procedure to raise her hairline. Rita Hayworth was born. With her Spanish features all but gone from her looks, she appeared in eight films in 1937. The general public began to notice and fan mail poured in. She continued to work steadily which led to a breakout role in the film Blood and Sand for 20th Century Fox, the same studio that dropped her. In a cruel twist of irony, she portrayed a Spanish woman in the film named Doña Sol des Muire. But this character was (surprise surprise) a sultry temptress! It was the first of many screen sirens she would portray during her career.

ritahayworth_colorHayworth had a long and prosperous career in Hollywood. She was so popular that a photo of her was one of the top two pin-ups requested by GI’s in World War II. Hayworth even served as the cultural ambassador to Brazil for President Roosevelt under the Good Neighbor Policy. Although Hollywood whitewashed Rita, there are elements of Rita Cansino you can pick up on when you watch her films knowing her background. In a film like Gilda, her dancing scenes in the nightclub showcase her roots as a dancer and commanding of the crowd. Then comes The Loves of Carmen. This film is close to the Rita that came to Hollywood more than any other character she portrayed. In this retelling of the opera Carmen, she portrays a gypsy in Spain and performs classical Spanish dances, the kind she grew up with. Watching this film, it’s hard not to be heartbroken by thinking of what may have gone on in her mind as she performs dances she used to but now as woman with an image that was completely overhauled by Hollywood. The studio may have whitewashed her looks but they couldn’t take those pieces of her Spanish identity.

I often wonder how frustrated she must have felt in films where she did play a Hispanic woman such as Blood and Sand, Carmen, and You Were Never Lovelier. Many of these parts, save for Carmen, were just beautiful women that didn’t have much to do aside from dance, seduce and smile. They also had heavy American overtones to them. She wasn’t given the opportunity to showcase the character’s dimensions and Spanish backgrounds as she should have been. It wouldn’t be until Rita Moreno’s Anita in 1961’s West Side Story that audiences would finally see a fully realized Latinx character, this time of Puerto Rican descent.

ritamoreno_bwphoto

As Anita, Moreno brings to life a character who is loyal, hard working and fierce. During her solo America, we learn more about her struggle with leaving behind her home country, making it in the United States, and her dual identity. This song does so much for progress and representation that it still packs a punch today and is still very much relevant. Moreno won an Oscar for her portrayal of Anita beating out the tough competition of Hollywood icons such as Judy Garland in Judgment at Nuremberg.  Progress was made that night as Moreno became the first Latinx actress to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It was quite the achievement but was this lauded in the papers the next day? Nope. To make matters worse, Moreno continued to be offered stereotypical ethnic roles after her groundbreaking achievement. She wouldn’t work again until seven years later! Even before Anita, she was playing the roles that Rita Hayworth was being offered before her whitewashing including the slave girl Tuptim in The King and I and what she herself called “conchita” roles in westerns and other pictures.

After her self imposed exile from film, she found work on television and expanded to theatre where the roles were richer. This would lead to her winning the EGOT in the shortest amount of time of any performer. Moreno continues to be challenged in a wide range of roles to this day. Last year, she starred as the matriarch of a Cuban family in a reboot of One Day at a Time on Netflix. At 85, there is nothing stopping her.

But the stories of these Ritas are still very similar to the kind of struggles Latinx performers face today. Look at Lin-Manuel Miranda for example. He has made a name for himself on Broadway but he had to write those roles himself, those weren’t coming his way. When was the last time you saw a Latinx actress portray the starring role in a film? Bonus, when was the last time you saw a Latinx actress portray something other than a maid or a sexpot? The careers of Rita Hayworth and Rita Moreno should be celebrated but if you look deeper, they serve as a cautionary tale that Hollywood still needs to do better when it comes to Latinx representation on the big screen.

signature

 

Why Ricky Ricardo was more groundbreaking than you remember

ilovelucy_lucydesiIt’s hard to imagine since it’s been in the public conscience for decades but this year, I Love Lucy will celebrate 66 years! It’s an incredible milestone for a show that hasn’t been off the air since it went on the air in October of 1951.

I Love Lucy is remembered and celebrated for its hilarious comedy and the standout performance of Lucille Ball but looking back on the show, it’s amazing to see just how groundbreaking it was. We take for granted the couple of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz because of all that we know about them but for audiences in 1951 seeing a Caucasian woman married to a Cuban man was really a sight that wasn’t all that common and at worst, not easily accepted.

Arnaz and Ball were very vocal about this during the production of the series and in retrospectives. The story goes that Ball wanted Arnaz to play her husband on the show but studio execs said no because no one would buy that the two would be married because of their differences but the duo fought back pointing out that they had already been married for 13 years!

DESI ARNEZ_SLIDE_1

Beyond the interracial relationship, one can not deny what Ricky Ricardo means to Hispanic and Latino culture. It’s easy to point the finger at his broken English to say Ricardo was a stereotype but in actuality, he was a more groundbreaking character than you think. Ricardo was a loving husband and father, he spoke Spanish, English, and even though his Spanglish was a point of comedy on the show, nobody made a big deal about Ricardo being Cuban. It was accepted and appreciated. He’s one of the most positive representations of a Latino character we’ve ever seen on television.

For starters, in the Ricardo household, Ricky was the breadwinner with a successful nightclub act. At his job, he was a leader and we see that in many episodes where he interacts with his band and the club manager. In his nightclub act, he was always pushing the envelope infusing Spanish music, dance and costumes. Later on in the series, Ricardo took full control by opening up his own club, Club Babalu, referencing his most famous song.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated on I Love Lucy is how they dealt with the cultural differences between Lucy and Ricky in a way that was relatable. In the episode ‘Be a Pal’, Lucy thinks Ricky is losing interest in her and tries several methods to win back his affection. With the help of Ethel, she tries to transform their home into Cuba or what she thinks is Cuba by going out and buying a bunch of things she believes will remind him of his childhood home. She takes it up a notch even further by dressing up as Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda. The situation she gets herself into is even more hilarious when you see that the only things she could find were what America in the 50’s and even now thinks is Spanish when it’s actually more of a Mexican influence: donkeys, ponchos, chickens and fruit. Then she sings a song in Portuguese but she thinks it’s Spanish. All of this makes Ricardo’s reaction even funnier because he’s so lost in the situation. None of this is anything like what he grew up with. It’s a very American situation that displays the lack of cultural knowledge, but Ricardo reminds her of his love for her, that he’s happy in America just the way things are and tops it off with a sweet kiss.

Ricardo’s English is always a source of comedy on the show, and there are moments on the show where Lucy tries her hardest to communicate with Latino characters specifically Ricky’s mother and other members of his family. Arnaz was committed to pointing out multiculturalism in the United States and worked with the writers to address that. One of my favorite moments of the series is when Ricardo reads a bedtime story to his son, little Ricky. There are two things at play here. One, we see a Latino character caught between two worlds trying to tell a bedtime story to his son who will grow up to be bilingual. Two, we see a Latino character as a devoted father when often times society tells us that isn’t the case. The touching and hilarious moment below:

I love the episodes where we meet Ricky’s family most notably when Ricky’s mother visits New York and ‘The Ricardos visit Cuba.’ The episodes showed the audience his relationships with his mother and uncle. For a 30-minute situation comedy in the 50s it’s easy to skim through them but as I revisit these episodes, I see the added depth these relationships had on Ricardo as a character. Ricardo, like Arnaz, never forget where he came from and was always committed to being the best he could be in America, the place that gave him a shot. That was something very important to Arnaz that he spoke about often. In this moving clip from Ed Sullivan’s ‘Toast of the Town,’ he describes this transition giving a deeper insight into his legacy.

Desi Arnaz was a television pioneer whose commitment to the industry is still thriving. If it wasn’t for Desi Arnaz, you wouldn’t have reruns, tv shows wouldn’t be shot with multiple cameras, writers wouldn’t be acknowledge at the Emmy awards, the list goes on but never forget his acting and what he brought to American audiences when it comes to Latino representation.

signature

Summer of Tone: The great Franchot Tone binge-watch

Every year when fall comes around, I always ask where did the year go? For me, this year is a little different. It’s been a whirlwind! I moved and started a brand new job three months ago and I’ve had a hard time catching up ever since. Sorry blog readers! (All two of you! :P) But I have had a productive summer in another arena, I watched A LOT of Franchot Tone movies.

This summer was meant to be the “Summer of Bette and Joan.” I was intrigued to watch more of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s films after the You Must Remember This series on Crawford and the public’s newfound fascination with Davis and Crawford thanks to the FX miniseries Feud. I only caught half of the episodes of Feud but unfortunately, didn’t get to finish it. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either. I just didn’t find it gripping and felt it was more caricature than introspective study on these women and the double standards of Hollywood. A friend of mine lent me a copy of the book The Divine Feud which is one of the source materials for the miniseries and one thing struck me was learning that Franchot Tone may have been the catalyst for one of the most iconic rivalries in cinema history. Franchot Tone. This guy:

It makes sense! Look at that classy gentleman! Legend has it that Davis fell in love with Tone on the set of Dangerous but he was engaged to Crawford at the time setting off this most famous feud. Of Tone, Davis wrote in her autobiography, “I fell in love with Franchot, professionally and privately, everything about him reflected his elegance, from his name to his manners.” When it comes to Davis’ lovers, Tone is way more dashing than that dog Gary Merrill. Crawford and Tone were only married for 4 years but if you do a Google image search, JoanTone was one of Classic Hollywood’s most glamorous couples. They apparently became better friends after the divorce and Crawford took care of Tone during the final months of his life. It’s quite a sweet story in the end despite their differences.

Tone was actually a discovery for me earlier this year when Clark Gable was Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies. I saw him in Dancing Lady and was smitten with his sophisticated charm. I actually didn’t put two and two together that he portrayed Archie Taylor, the wealthy man who bets another man to keep quiet for a year for $500,00, in a memorable episode of The Twilight Zone. I binge-watched the entire Twilight Zone series in January so it was only a matter of time that I would fall into a rabbit hole of Franchot Tone.

Tone is an interesting actor whose name isn’t as recognized as it should be in the canon of Classic Hollywood. His wealthy background served him well in his roles as he was often cast as the rich guy who wooed women. During this great binge-watch, I noticed a pattern in his films: he turns up the charm to our heroine, she resists him because she can’t be bought, and in the end he either does a caddish thing and gets rejected or is a wealthy man with heart of gold who proves himself and gets the girl. This was true in many of his MGM films but these were rather limiting of his talents. I’m so glad I didn’t write Mr. Tone off because I discovered this man possessed a wide range that didn’t get the opportunities it should have. Tone was a trained theater actor who was part of an elite, groundbreaking group of performers in his home state of New York before coming to Hollywood.

Here’s the list of films I watched:

Dangerous                                       Reckless

Today We Live                                Bombshell

Mutiny on The Bounty                The Unguarded Hour

Advise and Consent                     The King Steps Out   

Uncle Vayna                                    Between Two Women

Exclusive Story                               The Girl Downstairs

Gentlemen are Born                     The Wife Takes a Flyer

The Girl From Missouri                 Pilot #5

Suzy                                                     Honeymoon

The Bride Wore Red                    Quality Street

Fast and Furious                        Love on the Run

But wait! There’s more! The great Franchot Tone binge-watch didn’t end with 22 films. I even watched a tv movie he did where he starred as Natalie Wood’s father, Too Old for Dolls, and his Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode that pairs him with Mary Astor. It was a lot of Tone. It helped that Tone was one of the stars honored during Summer Under the Stars so I had access to many of the film mentioned above but then I found other films of his during other Summer Under the Stars days, Warner Archive and two Tone films aired last week on TCM.

It was great to have so many resources at my disposal but I almost wish I didn’t watch them all so quickly because now, I don’t have that many left! Towards the end it felt more like a weird obsession where perfect Franchot Tone was following me and appearing in my thoughts! Actually, why am I complaining? He’s wonderful.

Tone has a very different look compared to his contemporaries. He does look like a member of NY’s elite and it’s striking compared to the Clark Gable’s and Robert Young’s of his era. I just wish his characters had more meat on them like William Powell’s. He got to shine and was recognized by the Academy with an Oscar nomination as the idealistic Ensign Byam in Mutiny On the Bounty where he got a meatier role to showcase a character’s moral struggle. At the time of this Oscar ceremony, Best Supporting Actor wasn’t a category yet and some historians credit Tone as being a catalyst for it saying he would have won if the Best Actor field hadn’t been crowded with his Bounty co-stars Charles Laughton and Clark Gable. Even if he didn’t get the biggest parts in his pictures, I will say this, for every “lousy” character Tone played, he made the most of them and brought a natural quality that made him stand out. When you go away from the rich playboy roles and into roles like the poor mailman in The Bride Wore Red, a doctor in Between Two Women, and a devoted member of the military in Pilot #5, he’s able to unfold a lot more layers to these men even if the material he was given didn’t show it on the page. In the comedies Fast and Furious, Honeymoon, and The Girl Downstairs, Tone is able to let loose and a lot of that comes through in his face. He makes so many great faces in comedies that fuses through in his body language, I think he would have done well in a screwball.

In his later years, hard drinking and an infamous, near fatal fist fight hardened his looks but he was able to use that in his performances. One of my favorites is as the aging president in Advise and Consent. On his Summer Under the Stars day, TCM aired the rarely seen adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Here, all that theater training shines through in a production that was a labor of love for Tone who not only acted in it but co-produced and co-directed. The film has the pace of a play with a lot of dialogue that feels slow moving at times but it’s one you have to stick with because it feels as close to seeing Tone on the stage and the results are worth it.

If you look at Tone’s body of work in the 30’s, he worked with every great leading actress in the era from Davis, Crawford, Jean Harlow, Myrna Low, Loretta Young, Rosalind Russell, Maureen O’Sullivan and Ann Sothern. Of all his collaborations, I love his films with Jean Harlow best. He made four with her: Bombshell, Reckless, The Girl from Missouri and Suzy. The two were gorgeous together, had excellent chemistry and matched wits. Whereas in some of the films of JoanTone, Crawford’s characters steamroll over him because of the way they were written which was the case for many of her films. But in the JoanTone films, it’s sweet to see their offscreen love come through. I’d even say the same for Dangerous. There are scenes in that where you can sense Davis was smitten with her costar especially in this scene where they’re playing cards.

As the summer of Tone comes to an end, I’m hoping to visit his roles in Phantom Lady and Five Graves to Cairo, and if you have any suggestions on films I should watch or revisit, let me know in the comments. Tone has a body of work with a wide range of characters and films. His television work is also great and it’s impressive that he was still a working actor in some fashion up until the decline of his health. Not that many stars were primed to survive the 30s era or even television so the fact that Tone was able to take chances and get a new life as a character actor speaks to his talent. While it rouses our interest to read the salacious stories, Tone should be remembered for his work but the fact that two of the most gorgeous and powerful women ever in Hollywood fell for his charms tells us Tone definitely had a lot going for him.

Me and Miss. Jones: My favorite performances of TCM’s Star of the Month

I’ve written often on this blog and on Twitter about my love for actress Jennifer Jones. This month TCM is honoring her as their “Star of the Month” for the first time in the channel’s 23 year history. I couldn’t be more excited! Jones is one of those actresses who has unfortunately been forgotten or not as celebrated as others. This could be due to her reclusive nature. Jones rarely gave interviews and made very few public appearances.  Unfortunately her turbulent private life and love life have gained more attention than her work which is sad because to me, she’s a very interesting and unique actress. She played a lot of ethereal characters but the humanity she brought to them made them more than what some would consider a “manic pixie dream girl.”

I first became fascinated by her in the film “Since You Went Away” very early on in my classic Hollywood fandom. “Since You Went Away” is one of my all time favorites. It’s a beautiful wartime drama about a family on the home front during WWII. Jones plays the teenage daughter of Claudette Colbert who is in love with a soldier (played by real life husband at the time Robert Walker). I was taken with not only how beautiful she was but also the childlike vulnerability underneath. Jones portrayed a myriad of characters from saints to sinners, a wretched, dependent housewife or an independent doctor, and she was convincing in all of them. Unfortunately, because of her dark brown hair and unique features, she was called upon to play ethnic roles most notably as a “half-breed” in “Duel in the Sun,” a half Cuban in “We Were Strangers,” and a half Asian/half European in “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.” It’s outrageous and in each of these films her character experiences racism yet Jones was able to showcase their dignity and humanity.

I’m excited TCM is airing some of her harder to find on television titles such as “Ruby Gentry,” “We Were Strangers,” “Good Morning Miss. Dove” and “Tender is the Night,” these are all films I haven’t seen but I’m bummed “Carrie” isn’t on the list. It’s an underrated film pairing Jones with Laurence Olivier. If you ever happen to run into it, definitely pick it up and give it a watch.

Here’s my list of films you shouldn’t miss during the celebration of Jennifer Jones.

“The Song of Bernadette” (Dir. Henry King, 1943)

In her first starring role, Jones is Bernadette Soubirous, in this moving tale of unrelenting faith. Jones’ performance is silently powerful as the young French peasant girl who sees a vision of the Virgin Mary. Don’t let the religious theme or the film’s nearly 3 hour running time hinder you, what this film ultimately boils down to is the universal theme of sticking to your beliefs. Jones is so good in this film in a role that is a lot more complicated than one might think. Legend has it that Henry King himself directed the screen tests and instructed actresses to look beyond the camera at a shining light. He said he knew Jones was his Bernadette because “she didn’t just look – she saw.” This was the first of several collaborations and I believe Jones was at her best under his direction.

“The Song of Bernadette” airs Tuesday, September 5 at 8:00 p.m. ET

“Since You Went Away” (Dir. John Cromwell, 1944)

I mentioned this film above but I believe it’s one of the best films about war and its impact on families at home Hollywood has ever produced. The all star cast is stellar and its themes are relatable even today.

“Since You Went Away” airs Wednesday, September 6 at 5:30 a.m. ET

“Duel in the Sun” (Dir. King Vidor, 1946)

David O. Selznick’s attempt at making another Gone With The Wind doesn’t come close but this seductive western is a relic worth watching. Nicknamed “lust in the dust” by the censors and media for its frank portrayal of sex, the film’s overblown production history has overshadowed this film. I think Jones does a good job as the sensuous Pearl, a woman who wants to be a “good girl” but can’t shake the temptation of her vices. The film features in all star cast including Gregory Peck, who is loathsome as a villain, Joseph Cotten who plays his brother, Lillian Gish, Charles Bickford, Lionel Barrymore and Butterfly McQueen. A head’s up that this film is an unapologetic product of its time. It’s definitely something.

“Duel in the Sun” airs Wednesday, September 6 at 3:00 a.m. ET

 

“Love Letters” (Dir. William Dieterle, 1945)

“Love Letters” reunites Jones with Joseph Cotten who appeared in “Duel in the Sun” and “Since You Went Away” with her. The duo made four films together and she considered him one of her favorite costars. I always enjoyed the camaraderie between these two. Jones plays an amnesiac victim with two personalities who Cotten falls for. She pulls of this dual role with dream like fragility that would serve her well in when she re-teamed with Cotten and director William Dieterle for “Portrait of Jennie.”

“Love Letters” airs Tuesday, September 5 at 11:00 p.m. ET

“Portrait of Jennie” (Dir. William Dieterle, 1948)

“Portrait of Jennie” is one of the most unique films to come out of the studio era. This fantasy romance has Cotten playing a struggling artist and Jones as Jennie, a sweet and mysterious woman who inspires his work. I won’t give up too many details because I’m afraid to spoil the film but I will say it’s unlike any of the classic Hollywood films of its time.

“Portrait of Jennie” airs Tuesday, September 12 at 8:00 p.m. ET

“Cluny Brown” (Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1946)

Jones didn’t have many opportunities for comedy, this and “Beat the Devil” are her only comedy films and it’s a shame because she had chops. In this unnderrated Ernst Lubistch film,  she’s irresistible as a naive maid who’d rather follow in her uncle’s footsteps and become a plumber. Charles Boyer lays on his usual charm as a Czech writer who falls for her. The film also features a young Peter Lawford in an early role. It’s a sweet comedy that will make you wish Jones made more of them.

“Cluny Brown” airs Tuesday, September 6 at 1:00 a.m. ET

“Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” (Dir. Henry King, 1955)

Based on the true story of a Eurasian doctor who falls in love with an American war correspondent in Hong Kong, Jones and William Holden heat up the screen in this Cinemascope production. This is a flawed film with a script that has dialogue that makes me shake my head and Jones playing a half-Asian but I love this movie. I really buy the chemistry between the two leads and Jones looks so beautiful in gorgeous Chinese dresses. The film is groundbreaking because it was shot on location and also featured many Chinese actors except for Miss. Jones so I want to give credit where it’s due there and I must say the cinematography is breathtaking. The film also featured the popular title song “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” that won an Oscar.

“Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” airs Tuesday, September 19 at 10:00 p.m. ET

I’m so excited for Jennifer Jones month on TCM. Unfortunately I work nights so I won’t be able to see as many of the films featured in real time but I will be tweeting as often as I can so join the conversation and let’s celebrate all things Jennifer Jones.

 

 

Thanks for the memories, Great Movie Ride

Last month Disney’s iconic Great Movie Ride attraction closed its doors for good. The Great Movie Ride was the last original attraction from the opening day of what was then known as Disney’s MGM Studios in 1989. In 2014, the ride was given an upgrade when it partnered with Turner Classic Movies. The ride was refurbished with the addition of Robert Osborne as a narrator and an updated ending montage. The TCM Backlot organized a special goodbye celebration with Disney’s fan group, D23 the day before the ride bid farewell. I was one of the lucky few that was able to attend the event (I was told the registration for the event filled up within seconds, I still can’t believe I got in) and it was only fitting that my plus one be my mother. I loved being able to share this experience with her because it brought me back to my childhood. I must admit it was a lot more emotional than I expected because sitting with her felt like I was transported to the late 90s at the peak of my classic movie adolescence obsession.

When it was announced that Disney was closing it to make room for a Mickey and Minnie-themed attraction, I was devastated. It sounds dramatic but it’s honestly true. I grew up in Orlando and yes, I used to go to Disney World all the time. My dad worked there for over a decade so I’ve experienced countless birthdays, character breakfasts, you name it. My mother even tells the joke that at one point when she asked me if I wanted to go to Disney I once said, “again?” in an exasperated tone. Growing up as an awkward classic movie fan, The Great Movie Ride was my place. It was the ride I always looked forward to and I would drag my parents to take me on it every time.

Being on The Great Movie Ride felt like you were in a classic movie. I felt like one of those small town girls who go to Hollywood and sees the bright lights of tinsel town as their dreams of stardom occupy their thoughts. From putting my handprints on Audrey Hepburn’s in the forecourt of the Chinese Theater facade to walking into the building and waiting in the queue looking at memorabilia worn by iconic stars, Disney created a tribute to the Hollywood dream factory. I was already a big classic movie fan before I road the ride but the Great Movie Ride’s trailers before the attraction and montage at the end introduced me to films and actors I love ’til this day. This was more than just a theme park ride. This deepened my life long love affair with film.

What I didn’t realize about the Great Movie Ride was that it was inspiring me to learn more about these films and the people who made them come to life. There was also a camaraderie created by the ride host that made it a communal experience. If you stopped and looked around, you could see people being moved by seeing the clips of the films and parents telling their kids about the movie on the screen that they saw “in the good old days.” For someone who felt alone liking these movies at a young age, this showed me a community I didn’t know existed.

We arrived at 7 am for the event to check in. It was so early and before the park opened but excitement filled the air. There were people in custom made Great Movie Ride shirts, people dressed in vintage clothing, some Backlot t-shirts and even a guy dressed up as Indiana Jones. When we all huddled in the forecourt of the theater, we were greeted by two imagineers who were instrumental in bringing this ride to life. They then led us on a guided walking tour where we could see just how detailed the ride was and get an up close look at the animatronics.

During the tour I gained a much deeper appreciation for the ride in particular the gangster and Alien sets. These were always my favorites because they were so immersive but being able to walk inside them I got to see so many details like a pair of heels, just what was written on the headlines of the newspapers on the floor and the detailing of the Ripley animatronic. When we got to the gangster set, one of the imagineers who started his Disney career as a Great Movie Ride tour guide recreated the gangster part and still had the dialogue memorized. It was a real treat! After our walking tour we got to ride the ride for one last time. When the tour guide gave his final spiel and said goodbye, there was a long thunderous applause. It was really special.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the ride, we were treated to a brunch and Q&A session with the imagineers. I asked them what it was like working with Robert Osborne and why they thought that was a good fit for the ride. These two men didn’t actually work with him the day they shot his intros and recorded his track but they did tell me that adding him gave the ride the emotional component they felt it was missing. They elaborated saying that films are passed on either generationally or from a friend and having Robert there was like seeing a friend because he’s not just an icon when it comes to classic movies but an ambassador of the art. It’s his familiar face that reminds viewers of that uncle they watched movies with or that friend who gave you the copy of The Wizard of Oz. I was a bit bummed that I didn’t hear about the day of the shoot but I got a tap on the shoulder after the question was asked and it was from Michael Roddy, the Show Director for creative entertainment at Disney World. He told me that he was the one who directed Robert that day and actually wrote his scripts. Michael said Robert could not have been nicer and was so enthusiastic during the shoot. He added that you could just tell how much he loved movies and that he took the time to talk to everyone involved in the small shoot from the camera man to the person giving him water. When one of the TCM staffers gave a toast before the brunch, she told us Robert really loved being a part of the ride adding he was really thrilled and honored TCM collaborated with Disney for it.

I have to say the brunch was very bittersweet. It was then that it hit me that I was never going to see animatronic Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart again, never mouth the words “we had faces” when Gloria Swanson says them in the montage and feeling heart eyes at seeing William Holden sitting next to her, I was never going to wonder if we were going to get the gangster or the cowboy as our tour guide because The Great Movie Ride is no more. I’ll miss what The Great Movie Ride did for me and how it inspired countless other filmgoers but I will cherish these memories and share them in hopes that it will inspire a love of the classics for others like Disney did to me.