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Friendly Persuasion- A Movie Review

In Movies on December 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm


Allied Artists Pictures Corporation.1956. Colour.

” I’m just his father, Eliza, not his conscience. A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.”

Set in 1862 during the American Civil War, Friendly Persuasion shows a Quaker Family in Southern Indiana trying to hold true to their pacifist beliefs in a time when the choice was not whether or not to fight, but for which side to fight.

Quakers are formally known as The Religious Society of Friends, they are a Christian denomination founded in 17th century England, who sought freedom from religious persecution by migrating to America and other countries. In a nutshell, they practise plainness, pacifism and believe in equality for all people. Though early American Quakers owned slaves, by the time of the civil war they had changed their views and no longer believed in slavery but they also did not believe war was the way to gain freedom. Some Quakers did go on to fight in the war but most did not. For their part, Quakers were involved in the Underground Railway which helped migrate slaves to the safety of the northern states.

In the film, based on the book by Jessamyn West, Gary Cooper plays Jess Birdwell, the patriarch of the Birdwell family, who are Quakers living in a town that also is inhabited by other citizens who are not so strict in their views. The Birdwell family each must deal with culture clashes. Little Jess (Richard Eyer) is spirited and sometimes must be reined in but he is good hearted and lovable. Teen daughter Mattie (Phyllis Love) is particularly finding it a struggle to be plain as she discovers romance, music and dancing. Josh, (Anthony Perkins) the grown son suffers most with a struggle to define his character as a young man when strength is gauged by physcial toughness and the willingness to fight in the war. Jess’s wife, Eliza (Dorothy McGuire) tries to keep steering the family back to their Quaker ways but even she can not stop the changes the Civil War will bring.

The role of Jess Birdwell was first offered to Bing Crosby and Montgomery Clift. Gary Cooper balked at playing the father of grown children, though he was 55 at the time of filming and he never watched the completed movie because he hated the way he appeared in the film, but I found him likable and believable. Both Katherine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman turned down the role as Eliza Birdwell, yet Dorothy McGuire plays the role with convincing virtue and grace.

On a personal note, my ancestor William Nichollias was sent to Tasmania as a convict from England. He was a Quaker and became married to a colonial Quaker, Isabella Rayner in 1835 ,this was the first Quaker marriage in Hobart Town,Tasmania.


The Bells of St Mary’s- A Movie Review

In Movies on November 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm


RKO. 1945. Blk & Wht.

The Bells of St Mary’s is the sequel to the 1944 film Going My Way but it stands alone and you don’t need to watch them in chronological order to understand or enjoy it. Bing Crosby stars in both films as Father Chuch O’Malley, a Catholic Priest with a unconventional and light-hearted attitude to life. In The Bells of St Mary’s he has been sent to St Mary’s school to help prevent it’s building being condemned, therefore saving the school from closure. He has to liaise with the owner of the building next door, who is also head of the town council and in a position to condemn the school and buy the land for himself. Played by Henry Travers, Horace P. Bogardus is ruthless,cranky and doesn’t like children. Sister Superior Mary Benedict, however is praying for the miracle that Mr Bogardus has a change of heart and gives his brand new builing to St Mary’s. Sister Benedict (Ingrid Berman) also has to deal with the rule-bending Father O’Malley, who has begun to shake up the ways of the school. They share a friendly rivalry, engaging frequently in differences of opinion and often have to agree to disagree.

Ingrid Bergman was making The Bells of St. Mary’s when the 1944 Academy Awards ceremony took place. Bergman,Bing Crosby and The Bells of St Mary’s, director Leo McCarey had all been nominated for Oscars, Crosby and McCarey for the prequel Going My Way. All three won Oscars that night, with Bergman taking the Best Actress award for Gaslight (1944), the first of her three Academy Awards. Bergman was obviously relieved to have won, she was quoted as saying,
“I’m afraid that if I went on the set tomorrow without an Oscar, neither of them would speak to me.”. She need not have worried, her scene in the chapel asking for strength in her faith is particularly authentic and touching.

The Bells of St Mary’s is light and humourous and has a great message that makes it ideal family viewing,especially during the holidays.
It is available on DVD. Try the following links.
Amazon USA
Fishpond Australia

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Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner- A Movie Review

In Movies on October 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm


Watch the trailer at TCM

Columbia Pictures. 1967. Colour.

” We told her it was wrong to believe that white people were somehow essentially superior to the black people, or the brown or the red or the yellow ones for that matter. People who thought that way were wrong to think that way. Sometimes hateful, usually stupid, but always wrong, that’s what we said, and when we said it we did not add; “But don’t ever fall in love with a coloured man.”

Joanna (Joey) Drayton has fallen in love and plans to marry a man she has known for just 10 days. Her fiance, John Prentice (Sydney Poitier) is a fine man, a doctor and philantropist- and a ‘coloured’ man, while Joey is a privileged ‘white’ girl. The news comes as a shock to Joey’s and John’s parents and they meet for dinner at the Drayton household to discuss the impending marriage, which has become an even more pressing issue due to the fact that Dr Prentice has a plane to catch that evening and Joey intends to go with him. The only person in attendance for dinner that night who is not shocked at the idea of marriage between a white woman and a black man, is long time family friend Monsignor Ryan (Cecil Kellaway) who makes a most profound remark,
“Shocked? Why should I be shocked? I’ve known a good many cases of marriage between races in my time, strangely enough, they usually work out quite well. I don’t know why, maybe because it requires some special quality of effort, more consideration and compassion than most marriages seem to generate these days…could that be it.”

Joey is played by Katherine Houghton who is the niece of Katherine Hepburn who stars as her mother, Christina Drayton. Hepburn secured the part for Houghton, who Hepburn felt that as an unknown would have a greater chance of evoking sympathy from the audience.

Spencer Tracy plays Joey’s father Matt Drayton with his usual depth and strength despite the fact that he was gravely ill during filming. He was so ill that Hepburn and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner director and producer Stanley Kramer placed their salaries in escrow to ensure the film was made because insurance would not cover Tracy if he could not complete the film. Filming had to be adapted to Tracy’s ill health with scenes being shot around him or with a double, as he only filmed in the mornings to conserve his strength.

When Tracy’s character said, “The only thing that matters is what they feel, and how much they feel, for each other. And if it’s half of what we felt- that’s everything…”, Hepburn cried real tears knowing his time was near and their time together as a couple was about to end. They had filmed 9 movies together and had been romantically involved for 26 years in a secret relationship. Spencer Tracy died just 17 days after filming ended and the film was released 6 months later. Spencer Tracy received a posthumous Best Actor Academy Award nomination for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Katherine Hepburn never watched the completed film as she found the memories of Tracy to painful.

Even though Sydney Poitier was an Academy Award winner for Best Actor for Lillies of the Field 1963, he was greatly intimidated at the thought of acting alongside ‘giants’ such as Tracy and Hepburn. He said, “When I went to play a scene with Tracy and Hepburn, I couldn’t remember a word. Finally Stanley Kramer said to me, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘Stanley, send those two people home. I will play the scene against two empty chairs. I don’t want them here because I can’t handle that kind of company.’ He sent them home. I played the scene in close-up against two empty chairs as the dialogue coach read Mr Tracy’s and Miss Hepburn’s lines from off camera.”

Poitier played in 3 films that year where his character faced a racial issue. It was a time of great civil rights unrest and the film addressed not only the issue of interacial marriage, which was illegal in 17 U.S. states at the time, but also the prejudice as to social standing within the African American community as well. In August of 1968 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was showing in theatres, civil rights activist Martin Luther King was assassinated and a reference made to him also ‘coming to dinner’ was removed from the film. The modern versions of the film have reinstated this line.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is available on DVD, try the following links.
Amazon USA
Fishpond Australia

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is also showing on TCM USA on October 29th 2012 at 1:30am and November 10th 2012 at 2am.

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Comments also welcome.

Now Showing- All That Heaven Allows

In Movies on October 5, 2012 at 10:35 am


One of my earlier reviewed movies on this blog, Rock Hudsons’ All That Heaven Allows, will be showing today at 12:31pm on ABC1, Australia. If you want to know more about this film, you can read my review, whick can be found at the link below.

All That Heaven Allows- A Movie Review.

Also, this week was the anniversary of Rock Hudsons’ death. I wrote about this and also included some trivia on Rock Hudson. This post can be found at the following link.

On This Day- Rock Hudson

Also starring Rock Hudson is Magnficent Obsession which is showing on Fox Classics Australia on Saturday November 6th at 9:25 pm and two hours later on Fox Classics 2. Magnificent Obsession is one of my favourites, so a review will be featured on the blog soon.

Comments on the movies and from Rock Hudson fans are welcome.

Mother Wore Tights- A Movie Review

In Movies on October 4, 2012 at 9:54 am


20th Century Fox Studios. 1947. Colour. Musical.

Mother Wore Tights stars Betty Grable as Myrtle McKinley who, after graduating high school is sent to San Francisco to attend business college. Immediately upon her arrival she is sidetracked and joins the chorus in a vaudeville theatre. Her guardians are her grandparents and they are horrified. They are very straight-laced (and expect Myrtle to be too) but Myrtle continues on, becoming part of a successful act with comic singer/dancer Frank Burt (Dan Dailey). Myrtle and Frank marry and continue their act until Myrtle becomes pregnant and urges Frank to let her stay home and be the ‘Mama’. They have two daughters, Iris and Mikie, who is the narrator of the story. Myrtle enjoys looking after her girls, but when Frank is in a jam and calls on her to rejoin the act, Myrtles’ grandmother convinces her to return to her husbands’ side and the vaudeville life.

This is definitely a film that is perfect holiday season viewing. A Christmas reunion between the touring parents and the girls is full of the Christmas spirit and the theme of ‘family ties’ runs through the movie particularly when the teenaged Iris is struggling with embarrassment at her parents’ inelegant profession. Iris is played by Mona Freeman with a convincing teenage attitude toward her sister and parents, never mind that Mother Wore Tights was set very early in the 20th century- some things never change. Mikie is played by child actress, Connie Marshall, who was very charming and talented but had a short career due to polio.

Mother Wore Tights was the top grossing film for 20th Century Fox in 1947 and a favourite of Betty Grables’. She was pregnant during the filming with her second child, and still sang and danced-(and tap danced!) and wore figure-hugging gowns and costumes. Remember though, she was the highest paid woman in Amercia that year and her legs were insured with Lloyds of London for $1million, which would help to ease any morning sickness, etc.!

Mother Wore Tights is not yet available on DVD, though Amazon and other retailers sell VHS copies. Otherwise look out for it on movie rental or on television, it is probable that it will be shown coming into the holiday season. If anyone finds a reputable link, please post it in the comments section. Also, any other comments are welcome.

Daddy Long Legs- A Movie Review.

In Movies on September 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm


Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. 1955. Colour. Musical.

While on a business trip in France, wealthy American businessman Jervis Pendleton III (Fred Astaire) needs assistance with his car and wanders into a nearby orphanage to find a telephone. While waiting there he watches the bright and bubbly 18 year old resident, Julie Andre (Leslie Caron) as she interacts with the children. Delighted by her, yet made aware of their great age difference he decides to arrange for her to be sent to an American college and anonymously sponsors her financially.

From college she writes him letters with the salutation ‘Dear Daddy Long Legs’, for all she knows of him is that one of the orphans saw him only briefly from a window and noticed his shadow, long against the wall, as he left the orphanage. Pendleton never bothers to read her many letters until one day when his assistant Mr Griggs (Fred Clark) gives in to the pleas of the secretary Alicia Pritchard (Thelma Ritter) who is tired of filing the unanswered letters.

” Jervis, a person is not a corporation. A person is flesh and blood and feelings and has to be treated as such.”

Pendleton reads through the file of Julies’ letters and arranges to meet her via his niece, also Julie’s roomate, at a college dance. He does not reveal his identity to her as they dance and talk and even upon further meetings, as their feelings deepen.

Leslie Caron is charming and unaffected as the French girl given the gift of a chance of education in America. Her excitement is contagious, especially when she discovers the trunk of beautiful gowns Pendleton has delivered to her. We also feel her frustration and sadness at the way Daddy Long Leg’s pays no attention to her or her academic achievements.

Leslie Caron plays the part with an innocence that makes it a little easier to accept the age difference (30 years) between Julie and Pendleton. It may also affect your opinion of the relationship between a college girl and her ‘sugar daddy’ to know that Fred Astaire played the part sensitively and in spite of suffering a personal crisis. The day before Daddy Long Legs was due to commence filming his wife of 21 years, Phyllis Potter died of lung cancer. Astaire was devastated and offered to pay production costs upon his resignation from the film. Twentieth Century Fox was set to hire Maurice Chevalier to replace Astaire, but his friends talked him into doing the film to help him with move through his grief. Knowing this, one of my favourite songs, also in the film, “Dream” is especially touching.

Musical fans will also enjoy the lively music and dance numbers, especially “Something’s Gotta Give” and “Sluefoot”. Astaire asked for Caron to play the role after seeing her dance in American in Paris, and they are very graceful together.

Fans of the recently deceased writer Nora Ephron might be interested to know that the 1955 screenplay of Daddy Long Legs was written by her parents Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron. This version is the fourth of six movies based on the novel by 1912 novel by Jean Webster, another version being Curly Top 1935 with Shirley Temple.

The novel Daddy Long Legs is available to read on your kindle for free

Daddy Long Legs is available on DVD. Try these links below.

Fishpond Australia

Duchess of Idaho- A Movie Review.

In Movies on September 16, 2012 at 11:07 am


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 1950. Technicolor. Musical.

Duchess of Idaho features swimming star Esther Williams playing Christine Duncan, a nightclub water performer who cooks up a scheme to help her room mate, Ellen (Paula Raymond) land her boss. Ellen is frequently called upon by her boss, Douglas.J.Morrison (John Lund) to pose as his fiance to help him shake off girlfriends with marriage on their mind. When Ellen thinks of Mr Morrison she also has marriage on her mind, but he barely knows she exists. Christine decides to follow Mr Morrison on a trip to Sun Valley, catch his attention, and then not so subtly hint at marriage so that Ellen will be called upon to rescue him, and capture his heart. Complications arise when Christine must keep up the ruse with Mr Morrison while finding herself feeling romantically inclined toward a band leader playing in Sun Valley, Dick Layn (Van Johnson).

Duchess of Idaho was the fourth film co-starrring Esther Williams and Van Johnson as romantic leads with a ‘mismatched lovers plot’, as Esther Williams called it. Williams is also quoted as saying,
“As happy as I was to be working once more with Van, the recycled plots were getting to me. At one point I turned to Van and said, ‘Didn’t we do this scene before in an elevator?” He laughed. “Esther, this is our fourth picture together: We’ve done this scene in an elevator; at the side of the pool, and we’ve even done it swimming in the pool together; with you holding me up so I could say my lines and not go blub-blub-underwater.” He was not exaggerating…We could laugh about it, but the truth was that there was a definite predictability to the plots of my films. Audiences had come to expect a certain kind of film from me, and these movies were immensely popular.”

Duchess of Idaho differed in that it featured entertainers in cameo roles, such as Lena Horne, Red Skeleton, Mel Torme and Eleanor Powell. Eleanor Powell played herself being coaxed into dancing by Dick Layn at the night club where his band is playing. In her book, The Million Dollar Mermaid, William writes that she was touched, watching Powell rehearsing until her feet bled, in order to make her brief cameo as perfect as possible.

Yes, the plot is predictable and used over and over in Hollywood because it was popular with movie goers and fits the musical comedy genre. Hollywood is STILL using the same plot, only now it is called a ‘chick flick’. Still we watch, and enjoy despite knowing the formula, and once the truth about the scheming is told and the tension is resolved and couples’ are set for ‘happily ever after’, the fun- and the movie is over. Fade out. The End. Credits roll.

Duchess of Idaho is available on DVD. Try the sources below.

Fishpond Australia

Amazon USA

Dream Wife- A Movie Review.

In Movies on September 11, 2012 at 6:18 pm


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 1953. Blk/Wht.

“If a woman can run a home and still find time to have a career that’s fine, but first things first…”

I wonder if Cary Grant recieved threatening letters when his character, Clemson Reade uttered these words in the film, Dream Wife. No doubt, he would now, but Dream Wife was released in 1953 and things were different then- and Cary Grant had quite a large female following.

Clemson Reade is engaged to ‘Effie’ (Deborah Kerr) a high-powered, workaholic U.S diplomat, who is neglecting her fiance while she tries to negotiate an oil deal with the fictitious country, Bukistan. Clem is none too happy about being put on the back burner, he wants a wife who will devote herself to making him happy. Naturally, the engagement is called off.

“Suppose I had found a girl who was trained from the day she was born to be a dream wife.”

While discussing the pitfalls of matrimony with his collegues, Clem recalls an earlier business trip where he met the princess of Bukistan, a woman raised to serve her husband. Clem quickly sends off a proposal via telegram, which is accepted. As a diplomat with knowledge of the Bukistan culture, Effie has been assigned to look after Clem and the princess, Tarji, while she is in America. However, being engaged to a foreign princess has it’s problems, the language barrier, royal protocol and cultural differences. As they go about life in New York, Clem is disconcerted by the way Tarji walks behind him and does not eat with him- and the fact that he is not allowed to embrace or kiss his fiance. When he complains to the unsympathetic Effie, she says,

“But this is what you wanted isn’t it? It’s going to pretty difficult undoing 3000 years of history but I’ll try.”

And she does, teaching Tarji about womens’ rights in America, and the women who fought for them. Princess Tarji takes so greatly to being a ‘free woman’ that she almost starts an international incident and puts the future marriage in jeopardy.

Grant plays the bewildered man trying to assume some sort of normalacy in spite of an overbearing female, a character he had played many times before. After Dream Wife he went into a self-imposed retirement until he was persuaded to star in To Catch a Thief by Alfred Hitchcock.

Dream Wife was co-written and directed by Sydney Sheldon, and you may recognise a similar ‘desirable female’ in his later well-known sitcom ‘I Dream of Jeannie’. He also wrote the novels, Bloodline and Rage of Angels. Sheldon was married for 34 years (until her death) to his second wife Jorja Curtright, a stage and film actress and interior designer, who also edited some of Sheldon’s novels. Many years later, in an interview with the publisher, Harper Collins, he said of his mother, Jorja and his third wife, and the similarities in his female characters. They “epitomize the type of woman who is intelligent, purposeful and resourceful—but never at the expense of her femininity.”

Even now, there is still tension and soul searching in regards to women working, raising children and striking a balance, the recent movie ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ emphasizes this. Whatever your opinion, often characters like ‘Effie’ in Dream Wife are written as quite aloof and tough (despite her silly hats) and there are very few male characters faced with a work/home balance dilemma.

Some viewers may enjoy Dream Wife because of the tension they release by scoffing, making sarcastic comments and throwing cushions at the screen. Others will relax, maybe become a little nostalgic at the ‘old fashioned values’ and covet the gowns and silly hats.

Dream Wife is available on DVD. Try finding it at the links below.

Booko- a website that helps find the best prices on books,CD’s and DVD’s internationally.

Fishpond Australia buy or rent

This Earth is Mine- A Movie Review

In Movies on September 8, 2012 at 12:06 pm


Universal International Pictures. 1959. Technicolour.

When This Earth is Mine was released in 1959 it recieved poor reviews, but I go into a movie like this knowing it is a melodrama and prepared for some of the corny dialogue and over-emotional acting and just appreciate the soapiness, the frothy wardrobe and the lush sets and scenery.

Claude Rains plays Phillipe Rambeau, patriarch of the Rambeau family, who as a poverty stricken youth, came to America from France and began growing grapes to make wine for the church. He created a life of wealth for him and his family that was threatened by prohibiton and his refusal to break the law and sell to bootleggers. He has a spiritual connection to his vineyards and the grape, and is given some of the best monologues in the film. Look out for this speech given at a family celebration early on in the film;

” The grape is the living proof of the existence of God, because it is a fruit the God created complete and which knows what it was created for and knows what to do, it will turn itself into wine….From the infancy of the world wine has been the symbol of man’s communion with God…the first miracle of our Blessed Saviour was performed at a wedding when he turned the water in wine to bless the union of a happy couple.”

The wedding Phillip hints at is the arranged marriage of two branches of the family in order to consolidate the familys’ wine holdings. Elizabeth (Jean Simmons) is unaware that she is expected to become a bride when she arrives at the Rambeau estate in California from England, and another cousin John Rambeau (Rock Hudson) has other ideas for Elizabeths’ future.

Rock Hudson had made a name for himself in previous melodramas such as Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows (see my review here) He is expert at playing the family outcast with a chip on his shoulder. A rake, playing with womens’ affections and resorting to corruption and brutality for financial gains. His invalid mother says,
“you are at war with yourself. The best qualities in you, the wonderful things, I sometimes think you wont let grow…”

Phillipe’s daughter, Martha played by Dorothy McGuire has a poignant role, as the bitter and miserable outcome of Phillipe Rambeau’s focus on building a dynasty rather than a functional family.

The screenplay for the film, based on the novel The Cup and the Sword by American novelist Alice Tisdale Hobart. It was filmed in Napa Valley California, with real vineyard workers used as extras. The costume design by Bill Thomas looks to me to be very much of the time the film was made (1959) and not the time in which the film was set(1931), but I do love the luxury and glamour of a 1950’s frock.

This Earth is Mine has not been officially released on DVD, but collectors editions are available at the links below or you can view it when it is aired on TCM.

Buy it here
Classic Movie Reel

One Foot in Heaven- A Movie Review

In Movies on September 3, 2012 at 1:48 pm


Warner Bros.1941. Blk/Wht.

One Foot in Heaven is based on Hartzell Spences’ biography of his preacher father, and the life of the Spence family. It begins with the decision by William Spence (Frederic March) to answer the call to become a Methodist minister rather than follow a career in medicine. His in-laws are upset at his change of career plan and the prospect of taking their daughter so far away from Canada to America.

Though upon hearing her new husbands’ decision, Hope Morris Spence (Martha Scott) claimed ” whither thou goest, I will go…”, she immediately finds life as a ministers’ wife difficult. Dr Spence is supportive and with his guidance she rallies.They have children and they move from town to town and live through WWI, a low ministers salary,uncomfortable living conditions, contention from parishoners and the changing times, all on the families’ ability to compromise and on the strength of their faith.

One Foot in Heaven was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture and credits Dr Norman Vincent Peale as technical advisor.Viewers who grew up as children of the clergy vouch for the realism of the movie and the conflicting feelings of teenagers growing up in a strict household.

The quality of acting, moments of humour and real life drama, such as running out of money for food and the anxiety the teenage children face at the inability to fit in with their peers, makes this movie relatable to a wide audience, despite its religious themes. It is a story of married love and family love and friendship, of faith and courage and persistence.

(As yet, this movie is not readily available on DVD, but can be viewed on TCM and some movie hire websites.)

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