April 16, 2014

Celebrating MGM's 90th Anniversary!

Greta Garbo reluctantly poses with Leo the Lion. Whose idea was this??

April 17, 2014 marks the 90th anniversary of one of the biggest and most successful Hollywood studios the world has ever seen. Yes ladies and gents, I'm talking 'bout Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Instead of occupying your time with gobs and gobs of information, I'm going to go ahead and list the facts - only the facts - here goes:

  • MGM was formed on April 17, 1924 when entertainment mogul Marcus Loew gained control of three different studios: Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures,
  • Ars Gratia Artis is the MGM studio motto - it is a Latin phrase meaning Art for art's sake and was chosen by Howard Dietz, MGM's chief publicist at the time,
  • Dietz also designed the famous MGM logo which features Leo the Lion surrounded by a role of film (interesting tidbit of information: this logo was originally designed by Dietz for Goldwyn Pictures Corporation back in 1916 and was later re-designed for the bigger studio's inception),
  • the studio's heyday existed throughout the 1930s and the 1940s when MGM billed itself as having "more stars than there are in heaven." Dudes weren't lying either! Classic film stars like Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor, John Barrymore, and Mickey Rooney were just some of the studio's permanent fleet of contracted stars.
  • MGM was the last Hollywood studio to convert to making sound pictures,
  • Louis B. Mayer, MGM's reviled studio chief was terminated and eventually replaced by Dore Schary in August 1951,
  • the studio's famed "Arthur Freed Unit" produced some of the best film musicals ever made during the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s (On The Town, Gigi, Meet Me In St. Louis, An American In Paris, Singin' In the Rain, The Bandwagon, etc), and
  • MGM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on November 3, 2010 but emerged from it just over one month later on December 20th (Merry Christmas indeed!).

On a more personal note, MGM was the very first movie studio I fell in love with back when I started discovering classic film. For that reason, it's always held a special place in my heart. At the time, being six or seven years old, my brain wasn't sophisticated enough to appreciate such film genres such as noir, suspense, or gangster flicks. Brightly coloured, family-friendly musicals were more my game at that age and so I chose to focus my attention on films such as The Wizard of Oz, Easter Parade, and Summer Stock. Singin' In the Rain had me crushing BIG TIME on Donald O'Connor and Meet Me In St. Louis had me wishing I lived in a giant Victorian house just like the Smith family did.

A shot of MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot, $24.54 on amazon.ca

One of the best books I've come across that is devoted to the giant studio is MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot by Steven Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyan. This hardcover coffee table book was released back in February 2011 and is still available on amazon to order - and I wholeheartedly suggest you invest in a copy! It basically delves into the movie studio's ginormous backlot and explains what each one was used for and lists all the films that each appears in. This is an utterly fascinating behind-the-scenes look at some of our favourite films and the exterior sets that were used in the making of them.

The first time I made my way through this book I had such fun picking out the sets and sound stages that I recognized from years of watching MGM films. Oh look! There's Esther Williams' water tank! And Camille's cottage! Oooh, and the Hardy's house! Believe me, the excitement was almost much too much for me and I nearly had to have a lie down. Take a sneak peek at all of the A-list stars' dressing rooms and see how those ritzy vast interiors were constructed by countless faceless workmen, many of them working around the clock to meet rigid studio deadlines.

TCM celebrates the 90th anniversary of MGM beginning at 6 AM EST on April 17th with the showing of silent feature Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). The MGM marathon continues for the next forty-eight hours and is sure to be a hit with viewers of the network! Unfortunately, I'll be at the office slaving away yet something tells me my cable box will be working overtime, recording two-days' worth of stellar MGM films!

April 11, 2014

Jean Harlow in colour!

"I've been looking so long at these pictures of you that I almost believe that they're real." -The Cure

We're all so used to seeing Jean Harlow depicted in sparkling black and white in zesty pre-codes and sophisticated MGM dinner satires, so it comes as somewhat of a shock when we're presented with colourized images of the early screen bombshell.

Harlean Harlow Carpenter lived a short, but certainly not an uneventful life, and died at the tender age of twenty-six in 1937 of what doctors dubbed cerebral endema, a complication of kidney failure. Hospital records also mention the possibility of uremia playing a role in the star's untimely death. According to IMDb, Harlow made more than forty screen appearances in the relatively short time span of just nine years in Hollywood.

Madonna has NOTHING on Jean Harlow. Just saying.
Lovingly referred to as "The Baby" by her family, close friends and co-workers, Harlow endeared herself to virtually everyone she came into contact with whether in her personal life or on-set, in her professional life. Frequent co-star and MGM "King" Clark Gable thought of Harlow as his kid sister and eventually served as one of the pallbearers at her funeral which took place on June 9, 1937. On that day, Hollywood respectfully carried out a moment of silence for their fallen film star and paid tribute to her and her can-do attitude. Her final film appearance was in Saratoga (1937) alongside Gable and in order for MGM to release the film, Harlow's stand-in was used to complete the scenes that had not yet been filmed.

Seeing her in colour like this is somewhat jarring at first because, again, I'm so used to seeing her only in black and white photographs or film sequences. This way, she definitely looks much more alive and human whereas in good old black and white, there is an unattainable, goddess-like quality about her.

Do you ever wonder what it would have been like to come face-to-face with your favourite classic film star? I do. All the time.  And Harlow is usually at the top of my list of people I wish I could have met. To me, she's always seemed so genuine and carefree; very friendly and easy to get along with. She never seemed stiff, snooty, or pretentious and I suspect that's one of the reasons why she was so popular on the MGM lot. Plus, if I had met Harlow chances are I would have also met William Powell (her boyfriend from 1935 to her death in 1937). What a treat that would have been!

Red-Headed Woman indeed!
When I came across these colourized photos of Harlow online a couple days ago, this one on the left stood out to me the most - firstly because she didn't have her hair dyed platinum blond in it and secondly because the colours in it worked so well together! You'd think that this particular colour scheme would clash and seem a tad bit over-the-top but it just looks lovely, from the red of her hair to the pale lilac of her silk dressing gown.

Jean Harlow will always remain an angelic figure in my mind - yes, even despite all those cheeky pre-codes she made back in the day. Maybe it's her cherub-like face. Maybe it's her platinum curls. Maybe it's her undeniable charm that endears her to me.  Or, maybe it's because she died so young and really didn't have a chance to mature into a full-grown woman.

I know that when I was twenty-six years old I didn't have a clue as to what being a real woman entailed. All I really knew at that age was that I wasn't one yet. I still had a few years to go before I reached my full potential and finally understood what it meant to be all grown up. Maybe I haven't explained myself properly and maybe I've made a mess of things, but all I'm really trying to say is that Harlow remains "The Baby" in my mind too. She never had a chance to grow up and I think this is one of the reasons why so many people are still intrigued and fascinated by her.

If you're on the hunt for a couple of really great Harlow reads, check out Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow by David Stenn and Harlow In Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell In the Glamour Capital by Darrell Rooney and Mark A. Vieira.

April 9, 2014

The passing of a giant (well, figuratively speaking)

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland: frequent co-stars and life-long pals.

Sorry for the sudden disappearance folks -- it's been awfully quiet on the Eastern front lately.

Well, you know, apart from the fact that MGM's favourite teenager Andy Hardy - or, Mickey Rooney - has passed away at the mighty age of ninety-three. I'm ashamed to admit that I've never been the biggest fan of Rooney, but I can't deny the huge impact he had on the movies and on Hollywood in general. The man made something like 330 movies (337 acting credits according to IMDb)! Can we all just stop and think about that for a moment? THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY SEVEN. Wowee!

In other news, this year's TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) is set to begin on Thursday April 10th and runs to Sunday April 13th. Unfortunately another year has come and gone and I have still never attended this heart-stoppingly glorious festival (I know, I'm pretty cut up about it too). Despite the fact that I remain a TCMFF virgin, I choose to live vicariously through those lucky people who do attend year in and year out.

I live for your blog updates and screening reviews and I'm one hundred per cent thrilled for each of you who get to fly over to California to bask in the glory that is TCM! I promise that one year - hopefully in the foreseeable future - I will join you for heaps and heaps of fun and frivolity! Until that time, though, I will have to make do with hearing and reading about your TCMFF experiences online.

Check out Will's impressive guide to this year's festival [here] - he always writes the best guides and reviews of the screenings he's attended. His posts are truly impressive and each one of them contains more information than you can shake a stick at! It's all you'll ever need to know about the TCMFF, so head on over there right now (and please tell him I said hello!).

Well this was sort of anti-climactic, wasn't it? No real point to this post except to recap a couple of things and point you in the direction of an incredible classic movie blogger and writer. Actually, never mind what I said just a few moments ago ... this post actually has served a purpose!

April 1, 2014

Weekend Recap!

I've been on a huge classic movie kick lately - I blame Warner Archive and TCM for this, obviously. This week it was equal parts owned DVDs and movies that I had DVR'd sometime within the past month or so. I'm still trying to make my way through all of the unwatched discs I've had sitting in my collection and I must say that I've made quite a bit of headway into the stash!

Rex Harrison & Gene Tierney in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
First, let me tell you about The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947) -- I had recorded this off of TCM back in late February and only got around to watching it on Saturday morning. This is the kind of movie that captures and holds your attention right from the get-go (and I have a feeling it had a lot to do with Gene Tierney's angelic face and Rex Harrison's booming voice). I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that they didn't like this movie! The story of an English widow who moves into a haunted seaside cottage and comes face to face with its previous ghostly owner is one that is absolutely spell-binding and I really liked the chemistry that the two leads shared in this film. I also really liked the ending -- it gave me legitimate goosebumps and I was left mumbling something along the lines of "...this is my new favourite movie." Have you seen it? If not, you really REALLY should!

Okay, next come some of the DVDs that had been in my collection for a long while but that I had never cracked open until now (a crying shame, I know). This week alone I watched Mr. Skeffington (1944), The Girl From Missouri (1934), Riffraff (1936), Mata Hari (1931), and Reckless (1935). I'm going to be completely honest and say that the only two films I actually enjoyed out of the bunch were Mr. Skeffington and Mata Hari. Those of you who know me well, know that I'm a pretty big admirer of Jean Harlow, but I can't say that any of those films impressed me (least of all Riffraff). I don't think they were her best films, by any means, but I still had high hopes for them because I just love watching her so much. And don't even get me started on Spencer Tracy's performance in Riffraff -- he's one of the greatest actors ever and he was just awful in this film; all shouting, slapping, and pushing and not much else (sorry Spence).

I'm writing this on a Monday and tonight looks to be a pretty decent line-up on TCM: Eva Marie Saint: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2013), On The Waterfront (1954), Raintree County (1957), and North By Northwest (1959) - essentially a night paying tribute to the beautiful Ms. Saint. I've already got my cable box primed and ready! How about you? What will you be watching this week? Tell me in the comments section down below!

March 27, 2014

Stardust vs. Monster Kid Radio

Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) is at the mercy of the Gill Man - eek!

Well, I knew something like this would happen eventually. Back when I used to record and post videos on my old YouTube channel, I recorded one featuring my thoughts on The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954). Out of the ten videos I posted, that one received the most views and I'm almost certain it's because a lot of people disagreed with what I had to say.

There's nothing that I love more than a really good, healthy debate! Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I love hearing other people's -- whether they agree with me or not. This is what makes us avid movie fans: we are willing to stick by our beliefs in the name of film! If we don't like something, we're not afraid to admit it. In fact, oftentimes we'll lambast it to death. And if we love something, we'll wax lyrical about it for decades!

This morning I found a couple of YouTube-related emails in my inbox relating to the video I posted on the Gill Man back in January 2013. Derek M. Koch from Monster Kid Radio featured me and my scatterbrained opinions in one of his recent podcasts entitled Monsterkiditorial #1. Give it a listen - the guy has some very valid points and I enjoyed his critique immensely! It was well thought-out and I can't help thinking that he pulled back a little bit so as not to provoke my ire (bless him).

I admit, I am not the most succinct reviewer on the face of the Earth, but I am very passionate when it comes to classic film (no matter if I'm a fan of the movie or not). I like to keep things casual - both here and in my older videos - and sometimes I may come across as snobby, cold, or childish. I just really like laughing, is all!

I want to attract the people who have never seen a classic film before. I want to appear open and likable - just a regular gal who is obsessed with classic film. There are many film blogs and periodicals out there that are very professional and solidly-written (well done!), but I honestly don't think that the average person wanting to get into classic film is going to want to read those. Instead, they may turn to the more "fun" blog to get a basic understanding of the genre, you know?

Anyway, give Monster Kid Radio a listen and tell Derek I sent you *wink*

March 26, 2014

My birthday book wish list!

I know ... I said I wouldn't buy any more books after my last huge book haul. God knows I don't need more of them clogging up valuable space on my shelves - but if shelves weren't made for books, what were they made for? I'll be turning thirty-two this coming May and what better way to celebrate than by creating another classic film-inspired wish list? I don't do parties and I don't do birthday cake. But I do do presents (especially if said presents are books - and makeup).

Here are some books I've had my eye on recently and I can't wait to add them to my collection come birthday-time!

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen -- We all know how Carole Lombard's life ended: on her way home from a hugely successful war bond-selling tour, in a fiery plane crash in the Potosi Mountains in Nevada, USA. Lombard, her mother, and twenty other poor souls instantly lost their lives that evening and plenty of speculation has been made regarding weather conditions, the pilot's inexperience, and the fact that Lombard and husband Clark Gable had separated prior to the plan crash.

I'm excited to read this book because I'm anxious to see whether it'll shed more light on the horrific accident that claimed the life of one of Hollywood's brightest stars. I've always been a great admirer of Lombard's and I'm always eager to gobble up any tidbit of news concerning her life and career, so when I heard this book was coming out, I started counting my cash! Have any of you read this book already? What did you think of it?
Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel by Christina Rice -- This biography has been on my wish list since Christmas 2013 (really, waiting so long to nab a book shouldn't ever be allowed). Written by the most fabulous librarian in the world, @christinarice on Twitter, this is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. I suspect there are already many of you who have already read it and loved it - if you have, please tell me about it in the comments section down below!

Granted I've only seen one of Dvorak's films before - the utterly fantastic pre-code Three On A Match (1932) - I feel like I wanna know more about her. That one performance of hers was so bloody dynamic and heart-breaking that I literally couldn't tear my eyes away from her. She totally stole the film from her co-stars Bette Davis and Joan Blondell (not an easy task to accomplish by any means) and walked away with the picture. I cannot WAIT to get stuck into this book!
Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews by Carl Rollyson -- SWOON. This man makes me melt. I don't even know where to begin with this one. Maybe I should just cut and paste heart-eyed emojis in this here slot ... I'm really trying very hard to suppress my inner fangirl right now ...

Moving quickly on! Dana Andrews; the suave film noir favourite of the masses. He's the sort of dude that slinks through the shadows wearing a fedora and fixing you with a steely stare until your knees buckle and you confess everything in a pathetic heap of tears and cold sweat. Boy, that was quite the vision, wasn't it? Devastatingly handsome with a sexy-as-hell voice, what more could you ask for in a classic noir film star? If I'm lucky enough to pick this book up, it'll be the first Andrews biography I read. Have there been many others? If there have, I haven't come across any. I feel like not enough people know who he is and that needs to be remedied pronto!

The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend by Glenn Frankel -- This is the film that turned me onto classic westerns. Without having watched it last year I'd still be against hunkering down for two hours to watch men on horses in the American southwest, fighting for cattle and whatnot.

I posted a Holy Moly Discovery blog post in its honour [here] right after having seen it for the first time. It was beautiful. It was gripping. It was exciting. I immediately understood why The Searchers (1956) had such a devoted fan following and why it is often ranked as one of the best films ever made. Now I'm dying to know more about it. That's why I want to read this book. I didn't even know it had been released - I just stumbled upon it a few days ago whilst browsing Amazon! In a matter of a few seconds, I had added this baby to my wish list and that was that. No questions asked and certainly no regrets!

And there you have it - my 2014 birthday wish list (category: books)! Please let me know if you think there is anything else I should add to it! I'm always open to suggestions! Also, if you've read any of the books I spoke about here, let me know what you thought of them - the good, the bad, the ugly, everything! If there is a book I would choose to recommend to you, it would be Eve Golden's recent biography of John Gilbert. I really enjoyed that one and spoke about it here! Now, get reading!

March 24, 2014

Rap music for the flapper generation (seriously)

You gotta fight -- for your right -- to PARRTTAAYY!

This is going to seem like a far stretch, I promise you.

I was driving to work last Friday morning, listening to The Beastie Boys' License To Ill album. So many hits came off of that album and none greater - or more influential - than Fight For Your Right. There I was, grooving to the music and mouthing the lyrics as best I could (I'm far too white for rap music), when all of a sudden a thought hit me:

This must have been what flappers felt like in the early 1920s when the old school formalities and restrictions of the Victorians and Edwardians were slowly being torn down (but still heavily enforced by parents and guardians the world over).

Your pops caught you smoking and he said, "No way!"
That hypocrite smokes two packs a day.
Man, living at home is such a drag,
Now your mom threw away your best porno mag (busted).

Am I right, or am I right?? All I kept thinking the entire time was how relevant this song was to the kids and young adults growing up in the 1920s and early 1930s. Attempting to break free from the heavy restrictions their parents set upon them must have been a chore in and of itself - no drinking, no smoking, no pornography, no foul language, no entertaining men without a chaperone, no bare ankles, no dalliances with the African American bandleader, no loud music -- NO FUN!

LIFE Magazine's shot of a New York speakeasy.

The threat of Prohibition didn't bode well either. The nationwide ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcohol was eventually enforced in 1920 and lasted for thirteen years, coming to a jubilant end on December 5, 1933 (thank you Santa). Prohibition - or, as I like to call it the-rise-of-illegal-Canadian-Club-whiskey-in-the-states - literally sapped the fun out of every parlor and gin joint in the USA. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not a drinker (I never fancied the taste of alcohol), but banning ALL alcohol seems a little severe and a touch fanatical if I'm being totally honest. And everyone knows that when something is banned, it only increases the item's notoriety, desirability and value. I should know: my elementary school banned bicycle shorts when I was in the fourth grade and that didn't end well either because we proudly wore them underneath our ripped jeans anyway. So there!

Don't step out of this house if that's the clothes you're gonna wear!
I'll kick you out of my home if you don't cut that hair!
Your mom busted in and said, "What's that noise?"
Aw mom you're just jealous it's the Beastie Boys.

Enter the birth of the speakeasy: every drunkard's answer to a gin-soaked heaven. If people couldn't enjoy a drink or two in public anymore, then they sure as hell were going to find a way to do it in private. Perhaps not every funeral parlor was converted into a speakeasy a la Some Like It Hot, but the notorious party havens popped up literally everywhere in major cities across the US. Used to satiate the public's appetite for alcohol, these bars and clubs were regularly raided by the police whose job it was to enforce Prohibition and do away with anything having to do with the consumption of "the devil's juice." A bit harsh, no?

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is this: whilst listening to Fight For Your Right, all I kept picturing in my pretty little head was a line-up of flappers and their beaus kicking and punching the air with their fists, belting out the Beastie Boys' lyrics. They must have felt the same way the Boys' did - truly, all they wanted to do was escape their parents, have a house party, drink with their pals and get so shit-faced that they wouldn't remember a single detail of the previous night's shenanigans the morning after. Who could begrudge a flaming youth that?

March 19, 2014

Weekend Recap! Sniffle Cough Wheeze!

I'm sick with the flu.

And you know what that means, don't you? Lots and lots of tea, blankets, tissues, and classic movies! Although I'm sure none of us like being sick, it does have an upside: when you're sick you can book time off work, stay at home, and laze about the house. And with all that spare time on your hands, why not watch a classic film or two? Perhaps a film that you've had in your collection that you haven't watched yet or something you've been dying to see but never got the chance to till now. Or maybe your cable box is stuffed to the brim with movies you've DVR'd off of TCM - now is the perfect time to gobble them up one by one!

Robert Taylor & Jean Harlow star in Personal Property (1937).

Within the past couple of days alone I've watched Personal Property (1937), Midnight (1939), and Suzy (1936). Out of the three, I liked Personal Property the best - it was witty, charming, and kept me entertained from beginning to end! The only aspect of the film that let me down was Robert Taylor's lack of an English accent - his character comes from a stuffy English family and his mother, father, and elder brother all had posh accents which clashed with Taylor's American one. But, no matter, I was consoled by Taylor's bathtub scene (heh) and his dynamic chemistry with leading lady Jean Harlow.

In other classic-film-related news, I've registered for Jeanine Basinger's Marriage and the Movies: A History course at  Wesleyan University [link here]. It's a free online course beginning on April 21, 2014 that delves into the way marriage was portrayed in both classic and fairly modern films. Basinger is the author of some of the best classic film books currently on the market: A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960, The Star Machine, and I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage In the Movies. If you're interested in enrolling for this promising online course, please click on the link above. The course description states that each student will have between four to six hours of homework each week and the course itself lasts for five weeks. If you have already registered for the course, you can get a head-start on the material by reading some of the items listed on the Suggested Readings list and by watching the films listed in the Course Syllabus.

March 17, 2014

St. Patrick's Day Profile: The Irish Mafia

James Cagney, Frank McHugh, Pat O'Brien, and Spencer Tracy circa the 1940s.

James Cagney, Frank McHugh, Pat O'Brien, and Spencer Tracy - these were the original members of what Hollywood journalist Sidney Skolsky dubbed the "Irish Mafia." This formiddable group of Irish-American actors regularly got together to discuss life, world issues, and their work for the Hollywood studios. Like the memebers of Hollywood's Brat Pack after them, these actors hated the term "Irish Mafia" and instead chose to call their little group the "Boy's Club."

Later members included Lynne Overman, Frank Morgan, and Ralph Bellamy. The group began meeting and socializing in the mid-1930s and became known all over town for their wild nights of boozing and rollicking good fun. Occasional guests would be invited to partake of the night's festivities, but only those that the group deemed worthy. Bert Lahr, Lou Calhern, and Jimmy Gleason were three of those guests and, no doubt, reveled in every minute spent with this notable crowd of successful Hollywood thespians.

James Cagney and Spencer Tracy were the two most successful actors of the bunch but their enormous fame surprisingly didn't invoke any nasty feelings of oneupmanship, envy or jealousy amongst the group's other members. I can guarantee you, though, if this group had consisted of women, there'd be an awful lot of claw-sharpening and back-stabbing going on! I'm a woman, I admit it. We're usually loathe to get along with everyone in our circle of friends. It's been proven that women often end up resenting their friends' successes and triumphs -- why is that? Why can't we just celebrate each other like men do?

Anyhow! I'm veering from the point ...

The Irish Mafia - or, Boy's Club, whichever term you prefer - went on socializing and partying together well into the 1940s, but began to see less of each other and eventually broke up with the deaths of Lynne Overman and, later, Frank Morgan in the late 1940s. Although the remaining members stayed close pals, their partying heyday was over and each settled into life in their own way: Cagney and Tracy stayed in California, McHugh moved East to Connecticut, O'Brien began touring in one-man shows across the country, and Bellamy moved to New York.

In honour of these good, fun-loving men, I wish you a very Happy St. Patrick's Day!

March 11, 2014

Happy 20th Anniversary to TCM!

So, as most of you probably already know, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year! I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to tell you what TCM means to me and how it's shaped my life up till now. So, without further ado, my toast to TCM:

I may be aging and sprouting more gray hairs as we speak (or, err, type) but I still remember the first day our house got TCM as part of our regular cable package. It was an otherwise unassuming day in a small town just outside of Toronto, Ontario, Canada and I gingerly made my way up my street to the communal mailbox to retrieve what I thought was another whackload of bills and ads. One of the envelopes I ended up pulling from the depths of the mailbox was from our cable provider telling us that as part of our basic cable package, we would now have access to ten more specialty channels. One of those channels was TCM.

My days afterward were filled with constant streams of black and white films and if anyone in my house dared to change the channel, I'd whip my Italian slipper off my foot and launch it in his/her general direction. I had awful aim - and still do - but still, I taught them a lesson. I was obsessed with TCM and referred to it as "my classic movie channel" as if it was brought to Canada especially for me.

TCM brought me that much closer to what has become my life-long passion: classic film. It's comforted me when I was feeling down and helped me get better when I was ill. It's given me strength when members of my family were stricken with cancer and disease, lifting me up from the depths of worry and despair. TCM is my cure-all. Late at night when I can't sleep or early on a Saturday morning when I'm restless and eager to start my weekend, TCM is there for me. Yes, I know this is all starting to sound terribly cliche and a tad bit morbid, but I'm speaking the truth.

I'm sure this is the same for many of you. I'm almost 100% certain that you feel the same way I do about our favourite classic movie channel. Just think of how many 'favourites' we've discovered with the help of just ONE channel. Think of how many remarkable friends we've made through TCM, its annual film festival, and Twitter's own #TCMParty tag -- personally speaking, I've met some absolute gems that I couldn't picture my life without now! You all are amazing xx

Thank you TCM. Here's to many more years of life-changing programming and exciting film fests!


March 5, 2014

Shedding the load! My journey of letting go.

Even James Stewart seems appalled by my actions.

I'll be moving house in about a year's time.

The amount of movies I have in my DVD/Bluray collection is worrying. One day last week, I stood standing in front of the mouth of hell (actually, just my movie shelves) and wondered aloud: How on Earth am I going to transport all of this when it comes time to move out?! Throwing out/donating/selling my collection was out of the question - I have spent the better part of my life collecting (and loving) films and television show boxsets and there was no chance in hell that I was going to send them off to the four corners of the Earth without first attempting to kill myself. Seriously.

That's when an idea popped into my head (light bulb and all) -- instead of painfully whittling down my collection to its bare bones, why don't I just get rid of the DVD cases and keep the discs stored in a binder? That way, not only would it free up a heck of a lot of shelf space, but when it comes time for me to pack up my belongings and leave my parents' house, I wouldn't have 50+ heavy boxes to cart over to my new condo. In that moment I became the smartest human being in my town. Well, maybe just my street.

Now, at this point some of you may be thinking this chick's whack! but hear me out: unless it's some specially packaged limited edition boxset, the most important feature of a DVD or bluray is the disc itself. The outward packaging changes all the time what with the constant re-releases of films and TV shows on amazon, so what does it really matter if we get rid of the plastic/paper skin? Plus, as I was removing all of my discs from their plastic homes, I noticed that a lot of the cases were quite flimsy and cheaply produced. It really makes you wonder how companies are getting away with charging consumers $20+ for something that can easily fly away in the wind. I don't know about you, but before my massive clear-out, I thought that the majority of my cases were a little stronger than that!

DVD artwork for My Man Godfrey (1936)
The plastic/paper case clear-out began on a Monday and carried into the Tuesday and Wednesday of that same week. Phew! During the whole purging process, I came across a handful of cases that I just couldn't bring myself to part with -- My Man Godfrey Criterion Collection DVD because its cover is an art deco masterpiece and because it was one of the first DVDs I ever bought (back when they cost $40), both of my Forbidden Hollywood DVD collections because the outward packaging contained racy stills of Barbara Stanwyck and Norma Shearer (oh ho ho!), and both the American and Swedish versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (badass packaging, trust me). More packaging that I couldn't bear to send to the recycling yard? All of my collectors edition limited bluray boxsets - Casablanca, Ben-Hur, Singin' In the Rain, Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and the Paul Newman Collection. Just because of their overall pleasant aesthetic alone, I think those would look great sitting on my future condo media unit shelf, displayed to all of the two people who'll visit me (namely, my parents).

My next step was to try to figure out what to do with all of the discs I had piled on my newly emptied shelves now. I spent about half an hour trolling around the Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart websites looking for a practical storage solution when I saw this. Hallelujah! Not only would this keep the bulk of my collection in one tidy place, it would also be really easy to transport from one place to another! Both of my parents thought it was a really good idea because I suspect even they weren't looking forward to helping me pack all of those cases I had stored in my room when it came time to move house. Bless them.

Placing discs totally at random in my new DVD binder.
Sorting came next and boy did that ever turn out to be a walk in the park ... /sarcasm. First I wasn't sure if I should separate the DVDs from the blurays, then I wasn't sure whether I wanted to separate the films from the TV shows, and then I wasn't sure if I wanted them alphabetized. If I put them in alphabetical order, that would mean that every time I added a new film or TV show to my collection, I'd have to take everything out of the binder and re-order them. Uhhhh no thanks. So I settled on just dividing the films from the television show discs. Nothing has been alphabetized and I truly thought it would bother me at first - knowing how OCD I am regarding order and organization - but it's sort of like I've introduced an element of fun into my collection: if everything is placed into the binder at random, that means I'll see more of the films that I own when I pop it open. Let me give you an example: let's say I'm in the mood for watching The Thin Man (which I am, coincidentally), instead of flipping the binder open to the "T" section, I'd have to actually flip through all the pages until I find The Thin Man disc. Whilst I'm flipping away, I could come across a disc that I haven't watched before and choose that one instead! See how this works?! BRILLIANT.

One of the cool features of this DVD case is the 20-odd slots it's got on the front inside cover of the binder. I'm thinking of using those slots for discs I've not yet seen and would like to watch that week. I can pick a Saturday or Sunday night to go through my collection and pick out those discs that I'd like to watch from Monday to Friday and slot them in those easy-to-reach pockets. Then, once I've made my way through them, I can put those discs back in their original sleeves and take out some more films to replace them on my to-watch list! Cool, huh?

Being the person I am, I honestly never thought I'd be able to let go of the vast majority of my DVD/bluray cases. I'm someone who holds on dearly to the things she's collected over the years - namely books, films, and memorabilia. It's true, I don't like clutter and I don't like having many items sitting on one surface, but I love my STUFF. My stuff is important to me but there was no reason for me to keep all of those cases. They just took up way too much room and would have been so hard to pack and transport over to my new place, it just wasn't practical keeping them all. Besides, let's say I did keep all of those cases, who knows how much money I would have had to spend on new shelving once I moved into the condo? Methinks I've just saved myself a whole lot of cash (which is always a good thing).

Now I've got to worry about my books. How do I whittle down that collection? Yikes.

March 3, 2014

Weekend Recap: Bring on Halloween!

Greta Garbo + doggies looking equally intimidating in Queen Christina (1933).

A word to the wise: I hate Halloween. I've always hated Halloween.

Halloween 2014 will be something different entirely, though. Why? Because I'm adamant about disguising myself as Greta Garbo this year. Yes, you read that right. I doubt I can pull it off, but hell, I'm going to try! Those eyes, those brows, that aquiline nose, those sharply-lined lips. That gaze that could rip a man's clothes off within 100 paces.

You may well ask what it is I've been drinking today (you saucy minx), and I shall glare coldly at you until you shrivel in on yourself and bow before my slipper-shod feet. Well, not really. I'll admit that I haven't been drinking anything actually, I've just finished watching Queen Christina (hence all the talk of bowing and kissing of feet). Yup, this was my first time watching this film and I must say that I was quite impressed! I honestly didn't think I'd like it all that much because all the marketing that MGM did for this film hinted at a very regal, stuffy facade when, underneath, it was a lovely tale of passion, responsibility, love, and pride. Plus, John Gilbert's saucily-wigged presence certainly helped.

AND GARBO! Not to mention her costumes (designed by none other than MGM's fashion genius Adrian) - holy moly, I die. The only thing that would have made this film even better would have been a half-hour-long explicit love scene between the two leads (Gilbert and Garbo, of course). I'm not far off in thinking that this would have been entirely possible too - I mean, Queen Christina is a pre-code, after all. Although, I shouldn't be complaining since there was plenty of girl-on-girl snogging going on *ahem* I can hear all the men scrambling to get their hands on a copy of this movie right now, as we speak. If you listen very carefully, you can hear their mad stampede to Best Buy.

Queen Christina was one of the films I had housed in my DVD collection that I hadn't yet seen and I'm glad to have crossed another one off my To-Watch list. I also watched Algiers (1938) earlier on in the week but that one's hardly worth mentioning here since I didn't care for it much at all. Charles Boyer does absolutely nothing for me - but his accent is pretty - and Hedy Lamarr looked comatose most of the time. The film struck me as being a very cheap imitation of a film noir/suspense thriller that didn't quite live up to its promise. Will I be watching it again any time soon? Probably not. Am I glad I only spent $5 on it? Hell yes.

Enough about me. What did you all get up to this weekend? Tell me about it in the comments below!

February 26, 2014

Weekend Recap: A real winner!

In the days leading up to this past weekend, I did two marvelous things: I watched Edge Of the City (1957) starring Sidney Poitier and John Cassavetes and I finished reading Eve Golden's biography of John Gilbert. Coincidentally, both made me cry. In my quest to watch all of my DVDs and read all of the books sitting on my shelf, I'd say I've been doing pretty well since I knocked off two items in a matter of a couple of days! The film was amazing, thrilling, and reminded me a lot of On The Waterfront (1954) - which isn't a bad thing. I also may have a slight crush on Cassavetes now. How lovely. Ruby Dee's performance as Poitier's wife in Edge Of the City was a stand-out one and I promised myself that I would mention it in this post. 

John Gilbert by Eve Golden was, perhaps, one of the best biographies I've read in a while - I suppose that's why it only took me a couple of days to get through! Usually what happens when I read a lengthy bio is I get bored about half-way through and have to fight really hard with myself NOT to flip ahead to the next chapter. I'm not saying this happens ALL the time, but I found myself doing that recently with a celeb bio that focused way too much on politics. Anyway! I've always admired Gilbert from afar and I've seen a few of his silent films, but I never quite understood how severe his fall from grace was in the early 1930s. Well, now I do. And the whole ordeal of discovering just how terrible it was made me shed many tears. Ugh. Someone pass me some tissues please ...

Another book I've had my eye on this weekend was Lulu In Hollywood by Louise Brooks - I picked it up on Thursday night and dove right into it, but had to stop after only a few pages. Unfortunately, it just didn't capture my attention and no one is more shocked than I am by that statement! If anything, I thought this book would be a real winner because I've heard so many great things about it from others who have read it before. I found it rather bland if I'm honest but knowing the history behind this book, I'm bound to pick it up again soon and give it a second chance.

This week will be spent watching more movies and reading more books - I've got my eye on Mr. Skeffington (1944) and Algiers (1938) and, in terms of books, I've been wanting to pick up Karen Swenson's biography of Greta Garbo again (I read it once before when I was very young and just getting into stars like Garbo, so I'd like to revisit it again and see if I pick up anything else from the book). From what I remember, Swenson probed deep into the reclusive star's life and her book is widely known as the definitive Garbo biography. When I originally read it, I had borrowed it from my local library. The copy that I currently have sitting on my bookshelf was purchased off of ebay a few years ago for a hefty sum I'd rather keep private.

What did YOU get up to this weekend? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

February 24, 2014

Pre-code Perversion: Red Dust* (1932)

I've never hated Mary Astor more than I did whilst watching Red Dust (1932). But more on that later.

Can you believe I hadn't seen this film in its entirety since now? Yes, I've seen bits and pieces of it when I was lucky enough to catch it on TCM, but I've never had any luck tracking it down on either ancient VHS or DVD for that matter. It was one of the only Harlow films that I didn't own and I'm feeling heaps and heaps better about life now that it's nestled comfortably on my movie shelf. Thanks to the kind folks at the Warner Archives, I can watch this movie whenever and as often as I like!

A clean-shaven Clark Gable plays Dennis Carson, the owner of a rubber plantation located in primitive Indochina. Jean Harlow plays Vantine, a down-on-her-luck prostitute with a heart of gold who drops in and causes a stir amongst the lads whilst parading around the place in transparent kimonos and flimsy gowns (care of MGM's chief designer Adrian, of course). Dennis and Vantine begin to get along just fine - if you catch my drift - until a preppy engineer and his snooty wife show up at the plantation (played by Gene Raymond and the aforementioned Mary Astor).

When two women who have eyes for the same man (i.e. Gable - and who wouldn't?) are forced to inhabit the same home with him, you better believe that there's going to be fireworks! Despite the fact that only one of these women is single, both of them actively pursue Dennis and it leads to all sorts of witty dialogue and titillating scenes (namely a very naked Harlow bathing in a rain barrel). Much to my dismay - and to the rest of the audience's, I suspect - Dennis casts Vantine aside for the more ladylike Barbara Willis (Astor) and when the two of them get caught in a rainstorm things between them quickly escalate.

Jean Harlow and Mary Astor face off in Red Dust (1932).

What we have next are gale-force winds, a terrified sissy of a woman, a virile man, buckets and buckets of rain and two sets of lips that must meet (or dry up, probably). It's like a scene out of The Notebook but more sexy and with less Ryan Gosling. Vantine rightly suspects that something is going on between Dennis and the very married Barbara and she doesn't like it one bit, going so far as to push a servant out of her way and onto the floor in a fit of jealous rage. I can't say I blame her really because I honestly didn't think Astor was attractive at all until she was nearly drowned in the storm; she looks surprisingly fetching when he's dripping wet from head to toe! If she had spent the rest of the movie with her hair wet and makeup smudged I wouldn't have blamed Dennis for falling for her. But to cast aside a wonderful, fun-loving woman like Vantine for some snooty, entitled socialite is just WRONG.

The dialogue in this film is absolutely fantastic (the screenplay was written by John Lee Mahin) - there is a whole three-minute conversation between Dennis and Vantine about cheese. Cheese! Listening to them made me feel absolutely famished and frustrated at the same time because I'm lactose intolerant and can't go near the damn stuff - Grrr! My favourite line in the film was uttered by Harlow (naturally) upon her arrival at the plantation: "I'm not used to sleeping nights anyway!" Oh ho ho! If you weren't aware of the release date of this picture, you'd still know it was a pre-code just by that one line alone.

Harlow and Gable worked together on-screen beautifully, and having just said that, I'm mourning the fact that I didn't include them in my list of favourite on-screen pairings. They performed in six films together for MGM from 1932 right up until Harlow's premature death in the summer of 1937. The last film she ever made, Saratoga (1937), co-starred Gable and he was absolutely devastated when her passing was announced. He went on to serve as a pallbearer and an usher at the actress's funeral.

Red Dust was later re-made by MGM in 1953 and was retitled as Mogambo. It starred Clark Gable (reprising his starring role, but this time labeled a big game hunter living in Africa), Ava Gardner (taking over Harlow's role), Grace Kelly (a suitably stuffy stand-in for Astor), and Donald Sinden playing the dejected husband who is cheated on. Now that I've seen both films, Mogambo is a poor imitation of the original Red Dust. If I had to choose only one version to watch for the rest of my life, there's no doubt in my mind which version I'd opt for. For those of you who are curious, I'll give you a couple of reasons why: I've never been able to stomach Grace Kelly, this story looks better filmed in good old black and white, and despite how good Ava Gardner is in her role, there's no comparison between her and Jean Harlow.

Red Dust can be purchased on DVD through the Warner Archive website [click here].

February 20, 2014

Contest: MoviePass Giveaway!

"With MoviePass, see a movie a day without breaking the bank," says the New York Times.

The generous folks over at MoviePass contacted me earlier in the week and have offered to run a contest on Stardust for all you lucky readers! MoviePass is a "Netflix-like experience" for the moviegoer - it's an exiting new subscription service that gives you an all-access pass to movie theaters nationwide for a flat monthly rate! The MoviePass allows you to see a brand new film playing in theaters every single day. This is great for those of you who enjoy seeing the latest releases as soon as they come out at the cinema! MoviePass works at 95% of theatres in the USA so you should no trouble finding a participating location near you! There are no black out dates and all first run major releases are available. Some restrictions apply - check the website for more information.

This giveaway is for a free year's subscription to MoviePass and all you have to do is enter below!

Here's how it works:

MoviePass was featured as App of the Week in the New York Times and was also featured in WSJ, CNN, Los Angeles Times, Hollywood Reporter, and Time Magazine. Enter below for a chance to win a free year of movies from MoviePass. Be sure to like MoviePass on social media and share with your friends for extra entries! MoviePass only works in the United States.

This giveaway ends on Thursday February 27, 2014 -- a winner will be picked at random by MoviePass on Friday February 28, 2014. Good luck everyone!

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February 17, 2014

Pre-code Perversion: Safe In Hell* (1931)

The film is called Safe In Hell. In the first four minutes alone two cigarettes are smoked, a pair of thigh-high garters are revealed, our braless heroine makes a lewd gesture at a hotel bellhop, a face is slapped (hard), a liquor bottle is thrown across a room and a dude gets himself killed.

Yup, you've guessed it ladies and gentlemen. It's a pre-code!

Safe In Hell was released in December 1931 (er, not the greatest holiday movie I can assure you) by First National Pictures and was directed by William Wellman. Pre-code hottie Dorothy Mackaill stars as Gilda Carlson, a down-on-her luck prostitute who tries to make ends meet whatever way she can (this usually entails sleeping around with greasy-looking Lotharios). Her pimp calls her up one night and gives her the following information: go to such-and-such a hotel and entertain some chap whose wife has gone out of town and needs some company (how romantic). Leaving the plot behind for a moment, I'd just like to say that I watched this film on Valentine's Day -- let's move on. Dorothy gets to the hotel and discovers that her 'gentleman' is the very man who raped her years ago and forced her into prostitution. Obviously, she gets pissed and unintentionally (but justly) kills the man.

Dorothy Mackaill stars alongside Donald Cook in Safe In Hell (1931).

While the police are out looking for Dorothy, her boyfriend returns from his life as a naval officer and whisks her away to relative safety on an extradition-free Caribbean island that seems as if its sole inhabitants are a bunch of inbred, ill-mannered men and one woman (a native hotel clerk). The men act as if the last time they'd seen a beautiful woman was eons ago when cave men hunted for their dinner. Being a woman myself - in case that wasn't apparent from the get-go - I felt slightly uncomfortable watching the men react the way they did to Dorothy. Their eyes nearly popped out of their sockets, crotches rose in heat, and tongues were definitely wagging.

Just when I started getting somewhat used to this group of boys, up pops a gangster. No pre-code is complete without a gangster! It was getting to the point where I was actually wondering: hmmmm ... so when is the mob guy gonna show up? Well, this one's a real tough guy ladies and gents, a REAL tough guy (can you sense my sarcasm?). This dude is clad in white linen, pirate's gold hoop earrings and a single beaded strand of hair poking out of his floppy chapeau. Almost like a cheaper 1930s version of Capt. Jack Sparrow from Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean (2003). He sits around sweating and chomping on a thin cigar that's probably the same size of his - well, you know!

All of the men housed in the same hotel as Dorothy try to win her over because she's the first white woman they've seen in ages. None of them get anywhere with her, but that doesn't stop them from trying. They're almost obsessed with gaining leverage with her and fight amongst themselves to come out on top. This is Dorothy's - and every woman's - idea of hell and I suppose this is where the title of the film came from. She's supposed to be safe from the law here but lies in constant danger of being groped to death by a bunch of rabid men. Not only that, but she must keep her wits about her at all times to remain one step ahead of them. She's a hard-nosed dame who does what she needs to in order to survive (literally, as you'll see).

There's a stirring twist that takes place about 3/4 of the way through the film that, at first, gives both the audience and Dorothy hope. But, like all pre-codes before and since, hope always shatters and what's left behind is an overwhelming sense of dread and foreboding. Without giving too much of the story away, I'll just go ahead and tell you this: a trial happens, a verdict is reached, a suggestion of further rape is hinted at, and our heroine makes a choice that will ruin everything yet save her soul in the end.

For a film that is only 74 minutes long, this pre-code certainly does pack a punch - err, more a wallop if I'm completely honest. It's everything an early talkie needs to be: experimental, dramatic, sinister, flamboyant, and endearing. This was my first time watching Safe In Hell, but I can tell you unequivocally that it will not be my last. Safe In Hell can be purchased on DVD through the Warner Archive website [click here].

February 14, 2014

My Favourite Screen Couples!

Seeing as how it's Valentine's Day today, I thought I'd write a special post listing all of my favourite on-screen couples! They aren't listed in any particular order but I will say this about them: they're all my favourites for a reason, and I explain those reasons down below. Each of these pairings is heaven sent (in my eyes, anyway) and the world of classic film wouldn't be the same without them. They each make me smile, cry, laugh, and dream. Without further ado, here they are:

Fred Astaire + Ginger Rogers: Could there possibly be a more obvious first choice than Fred and Ginger? I think not. In my eyes, they are the ultimate on-screen couple because not only do they complement each other but they give each other traits that they otherwise wouldn't have if they were standing on their own or paired with anybody else. Someone once said that Astaire gave Rogers class and Rogers gave Astaire sex appeal. Yup. They certainly did. Sparks flew, toes tapped, faces were slapped (more than once) and bumbling supporting characters like Eric Blore and Edward Everertt Horton stole almost every scene of every film the pair ever made together.

William Powell + Myrna Loy: God bless these two. That's all I really need to say about Powell and Loy, but for the sake of this blog post, I'll carry on for a few more sentences ... The Thin Man (1934) was the first of their films that I watched and, after that, I made a promise to myself that I'd watch every single one of their other on-screen pairings before my next menstrual cycle (seriously). They were both so haughty and debonair yet really naughty and normal at the same time. They bounced off of each other like two vibrant beach balls and I loved them immediately.

Spencer Tracy + Katharine Hepburn: I would say that these two are the most elegant of the bunch. Possibly even the most well-bred? They ooze intelligence and long-term commitment. They performed alongside each other in nine films over the span of twenty-five years and their audience never once grew tired of them. Sure, some of the films they made together weren't all hits, but the public seemed to always be on their side. Like Powell and Loy, there was a sense of normalcy about them - you could actually picture Tracy and Hepburn married in real life, let alone on-screen. When I'm in the mood for a smart, sophisticated classic film, I know who to call on!

Humphrey Bogart + Lauren Bacall: And to think it all began with a step-by-step explanation of how to whistle! These two were absolute dynamite the moment they appeared on-screen together in Howard Hawks' To Have and Have Not (1944). No other on-screen pairing has elicited so much passion and heated feelings in me and I have no qualms admitting that whatsoever. You all know what I'm talking about. The way Bogie looked at Bacall and the way she flirted with him is enough for me to believe that these two were made for each other. No other screen couple has taught me so much about mutual attraction or sex and I'm a better person for it. Yes, I said it. If I'm a passionate person, it's partly because of the magic that was Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Glenn Ford + Rita Hayworth: Speaking of sex, the next couple on my list was simply drenched in it. Is it just me, or was there a lot of pent up animalistic lust simmering between these two? The first of their movies that I saw was Gilda (1946) and I've made sure to re-watch it at least once every couple of months since then. Gilda is better than reading an issue of Cosmopolitan magazine; there's better sex, better kissing, better salacious back stories, better slapping, and better looking models. Want to get your knickers in a twist? Sit down and watch Ford and Hayworth battle it out on-screen whilst fighting incredibly hard not to bed each other at every moment. Now that's entertainment!

Montgomery Clift + Elizabeth Taylor: Lastly, we come to the two most beautiful people ever photographed together on film. OH. MY. WORD. You'd be hard-pressed to find another equally good-looking couple anywhere - does one even exist?! It's not only their physical beauty that attracts me to Clift and Taylor, rather it's the vulnerable emotional bond that they share. These two were said to have been the best of friends off-screen, and you know what? It shows. It shows every time they look at each other whether on film or in an old photo. Take, for instance, the photo posted above ... look at them. I'm sure I speak for everyone here when I say that I'd love to find someone who looks at me that way.


February 13, 2014

Farewell Bright Eyes: Shirley Temple Black (1928 - 2014)

Shirley Temple circa the 1930s, fifty-two curls and all!

Would you be surprised if I told you this was the third crack I've taken at writing this post? See, this is what happens when one of my absolute favourite classic film stars dies - someone I thought of as invincible and otherwise untouchable. Untouchable by death especially.

I grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada completely enamoured of the curly-topped Temple. Though there wasn't much going on in our town there was a whole lot happening indoors, in front of my television. Admittedly I only owned a handful of Temple's classics on good ol' VHS - Bright Eyes (1934), Heidi (1937), Curly Top (1935), Dimples (1936), and Sing & Dance Along (released on home video in 1998) - but that didn't deter me from watching them over and over again until the tapes wore out.

These were happy movies that made me forget my troubles and just relax and luxuriate in a world where things like homework and tests didn't exist. I suppose this is the same effect that these films had on Depression-era audiences; Temple made everyone - even the most hardened of film critics - forget their troubles and ultimately fall in love with her. That dimpled smile is so hard to resist! When people ventured out to the cinema, often spending their last dime on a ticket, they wanted to be taken away to a world where money didn't matter and love was the ultimate gift.

They got what they paid for when they purchased a ticket to a Shirley Temple film. Not only did she save the public, she also saved her movie studio, 20th Century Fox, from receivership. She served as the United States Ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia and also served as the Chief of Protocol of the United States. She later retired from films in December 1950.

Shirley Temple Black passed away at her home in Woodside, California at the age of eigthy-five on Tuesday, February 11, 2015.

February 12, 2014

Weekday Watch: Blackboard Jungle (1955)

First, let's get the technical stuff out of the way: this film was directed by Richard Brooks and released in March 1955. It starred Glenn Ford as high school English teacher Richard Daddy-O Dadier, Anne Francis as his insecure, jealous, and fragile wife Anne Dadier, Sidney Poitier as troubled student Gregory Miller and Vic Morrow as rotten apple Artie West. The film is based upon Evan Hunter's novel Blackboard Jungle.

In carrying out my mission to watch all of the DVDs and blurays on my shelves, I came across this un-watched classic, pulled it out of its case, and popped it into my laptop fully expecting to fall in love with it - it's got Ford and Poitier in it for God's sake, what's not to love?! What I wasn't expecting was to fall head over heels for actor Vic Morrow (what a dynamo)!

Richard Dadier scores a job at an inner-city high school full of dirty, unkempt delinquent boys. Not only does he have to contend with an unruly homeroom English classroom full of bad seeds, he also has a pregnant wife at home that constantly frets about her fragile condition (having miscarried before) and her husband's seemingly illicit affair with one of his work colleagues (the rumors of that affair are untrue, in case you were wondering).

In true Glenn Ford fashion, Dadier spends nearly the entire film trying his hardest to break the backs, so to speak, of his hard-headed pupils. He thinks of all sorts of different ways to engage his students and finally capture their attention, but nothing seems to work until he shows them a cartoon of Jack & the Beanstalk. Odd. But maybe not so odd considering Jack was a regular delinquent himself; selling a cow for only a handful of beans and thus giving away his whole family's livelihood for a tuppence.

It seems as if Dadier has finally won his students over until one of them drives Anne Dadier stir-crazy by mailing her mysterious, stalker-ish notes that ultimately lead to her hospitalization. A suspenseful classroom showdown ensues and Dadier emerges the victor, having finally triumphed over a couple of hard-knuckle, knife-wielding adolescents. I swear, the last half hour of this film had me sitting on the edge of my seat, chewing my fingernails!

"Who threw this baseball?" Without a doubt, one of my favourite scenes in the film.

I received Blackboard Jungle as part of the TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection for Sidney Poitier and I knew right off the bat that this film would come out a winner. Not only had I heard wonderful things about it from other classic film fans who had seen it before, but I also knew it was one of Poitier's first film roles. And really, when it comes down to it, who can resist Poitier? He's been absolutely spectacular in everything I've seen him in so far and he certainly had an undeniable knack for choosing worthy film roles. However, having said all this, I have to admit that I spent most of Blackboard Jungle studying Vic Morrow.

The character of Artie West was Morrow's first film role (I know! Can you believe that?!) and he later went on to star in the popular 1960s television series Combat! In Blackboard Jungle, Morrow played the lowest of the low. The worst public school delinquent you've ever seen or heard of (seriously). I kept thinking to myself, what's this guy's back story? what's his motivation? why is he constantly making bad decisions? ...and you know what? The viewer never really does find out why. That's the only complaint I have with this movie. I never did find out why Artie West was so bitter or what his deal was. It seemed like the only aspect of his life that was resolved by picture's end was his enforced confinement in a juvenile detention center.

I really liked this film. I enjoyed it from start to finish and was never bored - not once. I've said this many times before, but I'll risk saying it again: I can't believe it's taken me this long to sit down and watch Blackboard Jungle. It's something that should have been done years ago, perhaps even when I was still in school. Blackboard Jungle is the type of movie that every student should watch because it serves as a thrilling, realistic social commentary on the public school system and student life in general. I think we could all learn something from this film; how to respect others, the dangers of abuse, and the shocking truth that all is not well in the world despite what we may think.

February 10, 2014

Fantasyland! If I lived at 5133 Kensington Avenue ...

A view of the charming Smith household at 5135 Kensington Avenue.

Welcome to another edition of Fantasyland! where I dream up ideal scenarios for the classic film fan and insert myself into the daydream. I'm warning you now, if you haven't seen Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) - and really, who hasn't? - you won't understand a single word I'm about to say. If I lived next door to the Smith family at 5133 Kensington Avenue ...
  • Esther Smith (Judy Garland) would be singing about the GIRL next door (namely me),
  • I'd periodically go 'round to the Smith house, call on Tootie (Margaret O'Brien), wait till she was standing in front of me and then give her a great big shove (because, if I'm honest, sometimes she annoys me),
  • I'd get a part-time job helping the milkman deliver milk on the milk wagon,
  • I'd save all my nickles from said part-time job to buy Esther a new nightgown because who knows how much ice cream Tootie spilled on Esther's good lace one,
  • I'd look into every nook and cranny of my home and hope to find a secret passage somewhere - anywhere! There's bound to be at least one in a Victorian house of that caliber,
  • I'd smuggle a bottle of tequila onto that there trolley and get Esther and the gang totally raging drunk - then I'd sheepishly offer to clean up the mess of vomit everywhere on-board (have you seen the way that trolley moves?! It's liable to make anyone queasy),
  • after a hard morning's work on the milk wagon, I'd pop into the Smith house for a lively sing-song 'round the piano with Esther and Rose (Lucille Bremer),
  • in the winter I'd help Tootie and Agnes (Joan Carroll) build snowmen in the backyard (and if Tootie threatened to destroy them in a fit of rage, I'd throw a snowball at her),
  • I'd corner Mama Smith (Mary Astor) and force her to answer the following question: is she at all familiar with the stuff that dreams are made of?,
  • I'd be the judge of how good the Smith family's tomato sauce really is because I'm Italian and we know about things like that, and lastly,
  • I'd want to dance with all the shy, nerdy guys at the Christmas ball because that's how I roll.

Now it's your turn! Tell me what your life would be like if you lived on Kensington Avenue in the comments section below!