October 31, 2014

What I'd Pack In My Halloween Movie Survival Kit

THE MUMMY (1932)

Deep down, we all enjoy watching a good horror film, don't we? We may not admit to it, but we do. I'm not the biggest fan of modern horror films because I find them predictable and cheesy, but as far as classic horror films are concerned, I'm a pushover. I love them. I love them in black and white, with a tall imposing figure dressed up as the villain, and I love the atmosphere that seems to pour off the screen.

So, let's say that some almighty power took me from my current lackadaisical life and dropped me into one of my very favourite classic horror films - what would happen? Well, first of all, I would be incredibly happy knowing that at any moment I would get to meet either Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff or Vincent Price! But then, once it dawned on me that these legendary villains would rather kill/eat/encase-me-in-wax rather than make small talk with me I'd be pretty fucking scared (sorry, but the occasion called for swearing).

Chances are, each one of them would attempt to kill me within the first five minutes of me inhabiting their world. How would I protect myself? I would need some kind of survival kit; something that I could carry with me wherever I went to ensure not only my survival but my safety and peace of mind. Here's what I'd take with me on my adventure through classic-horror-film-land:

  • A neck guard (kind of like a chastity belt, but for the neck) // There is no way I'm letting the Prince of Darkness (i.e. Dracula) anywhere near my neck. But if he should hypnotize me and make his way closer and closer to my jugular vein, this neck guard would stop him. I would give the key away to someone I trust and have them hide it from me, that way I couldn't reveal its hiding place whilst under the influence of Dracula's hypnotic powers. There'd be no way for him to bite me! Bam bosh thank-you, job done!
  • My Mom // Because everyone needs (and wants) their Mommy there with them in a frightening situation. Depending on the size of my survival kit, I don't even know if she'd be able to fit inside, but for the sake of this post (and my life) I'm going to make her fit. No one messes with my Mom - it's a known fact. I can just see it now: a villain approaches me with ill intentions and all of a sudden my Mom steps between him and me, injecting herself into the fray, brandishing either a slipper or a wooden cooking spoon (an Italian mother's weapon of choice) with deadly precision. Just one look from her would have him running in the opposite direction and cowering in a field somewhere, praying for death. Side note: this actually happened to both me and my older sister growing up. Like I said before, no one messes with my Mom.
  • A trusty sidekick // My Paddington Bear comes everywhere with me and if I'm about to come face-to-face with an evil villain, you better believe Padds is gonna be right there with me. A woman needs a source of comfort especially when placed in a tricky or deadly situation. Perhaps if I was being chased through the streets by a madman he would think twice about harming me when he saw how much I depended upon my adorable and fuzzy inanimate sidekick. Said villain would probably take pity on me, no? Well, it's worth a try anyway.
  • Kitchen provisions (i.e. spices, garlic, butcher knives, and tomato sauce) // How does one ward off a vampire? Throw bags of garlic at him and run like hell. How does one kill a villain in one stroke? Stab him in the neck with a butcher knife. And how does one survive in a foreign land where there is absolutely no authentic Italian tomato sauce to be found? Bring your own! This one's pretty self explanatory so I'll just stop right here and move on to the next item ...
  • A jar of Vaseline // Poor old Boris Karloff. He always played villains/misunderstood creatures with horribly dry skin (i.e. Frankenstein's monster, The Mummy). Maybe if someone had taken the time to apply some ointment to his epidermis, his villains wouldn't have been so fucking angry and malicious all the time. The key to surviving one of his classic horror films was creating a spa-like atmosphere, one in which the man could get a facial and seaweed body wrap. Bam bosh thank-you, another crisis averted!
  • A disposable four-bladed razor and a makeup kit // Not for me, silly - for the Wolf Man and Erik, the Phantom of the Opera! Give the Wolf Man a good, clean shave and he'll be forever in my debt. Makeover Erik with some heavy coverage foundation, some blusher, and a flattering shade of lip balm and he'll be putty in my hands. The thing with classic movie villains is that they were just misunderstood most of the time. If people took the time to really understand why they were so emo and moody, chances are, the 'villains' would have stopped terrorizing their public and would have successfully integrated themselves into 'normal' society.

Right! I'm pretty sure I've covered all my bases - and if I didn't, well, you're all invited to my funeral. Like I mentioned earlier: classic horror villains are tricky. They're not just crazed serial killers like the dudes in modern horror films are. No, classic film villains are multifaceted, depressed, and largely misunderstood human beings (well, not always human, I admit). Still, if thrown into their worlds you'd definitely need to make sure that you were properly equipped to handle the chill-inducing situations you'd inevitably find yourself in and for that very reason, you'd need to take with you a handy-dandy survival kit. My question to you is this: what would you pack in yours?

This post was sponsored by the lovely people over at Man Crates - Gifts For Men.

October 29, 2014

The 1940s: My Second Favourite Movie Decade

I spoke about my absolute favourite movie decade a couple of weeks ago here (in case you missed it) and this time I thought I'd tell you why I love the 1940s almost as much as I love the 1930s. The 1940s was a very tumultuous decade thanks to World War II and Hollywood's apparent obsession with Communism. Though, having said that, a remarkable amount of happy-go-lucky films were made during this time (Christmas movies and romantic comedies immediately spring to mind). We musn't ignore the darker films, though, because the dramas and noirs that came out of the 1940s are some of the very best - in my humble opinion - and they're a big reason why I enjoy watching material from this decade so much.

Here are the things I admire most about films from the 1940s:

The 1940s had a knack for producing the very best holiday movies // Do I need to even explain this one? No. Not really. Not when I have this list to show you: The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Holiday Inn (1942), Meet Me In St Louis (1944), It's A Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle On 34th Street (1947), and The Bishop's Wife (1947). There. Enough said.

The emergence of film noir // The 1940s is when noir started to become really really popular. Audiences were swept away on a black and white tidal wave of femme fatales and cigarette smoke into the seedy underbellies of cities the world over. Crime waits for no man and when stacks of money and pornography are involved, great movies are made. Some of my favourite noir pictures include Laura (1944), Gilda (1946), and The Big Sleep (1946).

The start of a beautiful friendship between Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn // Oh my great goodness, where do I even begin explaining my love for these two? Never was there such a natural onscreen pairing - well, aside from maybe Myrna Loy and William Powell - than there was as far as Tracy and Hepburn are concerned. They were able to melt into each others arms whilst verbally sparring back and forth until one of them was proclaimed the victor (and it was usually Hepburn, that feisty lass). It all began with a glimpse of a stockinged leg in Woman Of the Year (1942) and ended in heartfelt emotion in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967). Their working relationship and their personal love affair spanned decades and people - including myself - still talk about it today. Is it the stuff of legends? You can bet your bottom dollar it is!

The dynamic onscreen (and off-screen) pairing of Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall // Talk about sparks flying off the screen! Phew! You'd almost need to wear a welding mask watching these two interact in movies like To Have And Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946)! If chemistry is what you're after, look no further than these two lovebirds. Together, they are the epitome of sex on fire; the way they look at each other, the way they circle each other like hungry crows, the way they walk together, side by side. Bottom line, if you're feeling especially frisky one cold winter's day and find yourself contemplating reading the newest issue of Playboy, why not just pop in a Bogie and Bacall film? It'll give you greater satisfaction, trust me.

The rise of Judy Garland and the introduction of Gene Kelly // There's nothing I like better than a Hollywood musical - and if that musical was produced by MGM, even better! Judy Garland was a star in the 1930s but it wasn't until 1939 that she got her big break in one of that year's biggest blockbusters, The Wizard Of Oz. After that, she took off like a cannonball shot out of a cannon, making hit musical after hit musical for her bosses at MGM. Gene Kelly had his onscreen debut in For Me And My Gal (1942) with Garland and from there on out, he quickly became one of MGM's go-to leading men. I swear, I could watch Garland and/or Kelly all day long without even blinking an eye! Separately, they're magic. Together, they're a force to be reckoned with.

Do you enjoy films from the 1940s as much as I do?

October 27, 2014

Book Look! George Raft: The Man Who Would Be Bogart by Stone Wallace

This is a short and sweet - but highly informative - biography about forgotten Hollywood star George Raft. Just as an aside, I'd like to mention that after having read this biography of Raft, I now have a dangerously inappropriate crush on him. I'm sure he would appreciate it if he were still alive and had a chance to meet me. I think.

In George Raft's earliest days in California he was often compared to his pal, the deceased Hollywood heartthrob Rudolph Valentino. Although he cared for his friend dearly, Raft did not take these comparisons lightly and often grew upset with the constant comparisons, stating that he was his own man and did not appreciate being labeled a Valentino wannabe.

Raft gained in popularity throughout the 1930s playing gangsters in films produced by the likes of Paramount, United Artists, and Warner Bros. Despite his initial reluctance to play steely-eyed, remorseless criminals Raft was often typecast and found it extremely frustrating when it came to agreeing to play the film roles he was offered. If he refused a role, he was placed on automatic suspension and if he succumbed to studio pressure and ended up accepting the role, he risked further alienating himself from his audience and devotees.

George Raft stars alongside one of his favourite leading ladies, Carole Lombard, in BOLERO (1934).

George Raft was often labeled a gangster in his personal life too, thanks to his days growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen surrounded by real life mafia men who he'd perform favours for in exchange for his safety and his general well-being. If he took care of the East Coast mob men, they'd take care of him, that's essentially how it worked. Raft's trouble was that he was far too generous and hardly ever turned down a plea for help no matter who was asking. Later on in life he ended up losing almost his entire fortune because he gave his money away willy-nilly to any friend or acquaintance who needed his financial aid.

Generous to a fault, Raft was the sort of man who many in Hollywood and New York greatly respected. He began his career as a dancer on the stage and then the screen, following his minor dancing roles up with larger, more meatier characterizations in films like SCARFACE (1932) and EACH DAWN I DIE (1939). Author Stone Wallace delves into each period of Raft's life and career, whether up or down, and really succeeds in painting an unbiased, detailed picture of the performer. Wallace's writing style is very fluid and succinct, making for an easy-breezy read. Before I knew it, I had finished the book and was left wanting a whole lot more!

Raft certainly made a lot of bad career decisions in his time - like giving prime roles away to the likes of Humphrey Bogart who rose to stardom playing Raft rejects - and all of those instances are intricately dissected in Wallace's book. Though I'm a massive Bogart fan, at times I was left absolutely heart-broken for Raft when I learned he had refused to play characters like Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and Dobbs in THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948).

To sum up, I'd definitely recommend George Raft: The Man Who Would Be Bogart - it's direct, it's entertaining, it's honest, and it paints a fair portrait of one of Hollywood's forgotten stars.  I have to give credit to Emma over at Let's Misbehave: A Tribute To Precode Hollywood for initially being the one who turned me on to George Raft and this particular biography. Check out her engaging post on the man and the book by clicking here.

This post was written for the CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association.

October 22, 2014

This or That: Classic Movie Edition

This post was inspired by the lovely Lindsey over at The Motion Pictures (TMP) - link here!

Right! Here we go - this is where I go slightly insane trying to answer questions that are extremely hard for me to answer (considering how in love I've been with classic film for most of my life). If you'd like to answer these questions on your blog, please go ahead - I'd love to read others' opinions!

Would you rather ...

  • watch only horror or only thrillers? Well, to be honest, I'm not the world's biggest horror fan but I do love a good early horror film (i.e. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy). That being said, I'm not a huge thriller fan either. Okay okay ... if I was forced to answer this question - which I am - I would have to pick horror because I just couldn't do without Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff in my life (not to mention the very yummy Colin Clive).

  • watch only comedy or only romances? Oooh this is a toughie. Right off the bat, I'm afraid I'm going to have to go with romances only because most of my favourite classic Hollywood stars never excelled at comedy. People like Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, and Spencer Tracy never really made many comedies and if I was forced to give them up, I don't think life would be worth living.

  • watch only male or only female leading roles? I'm going to have to let the male population down on this one and answer with female leading roles. I know I'm going to regret saying that in, like, two minutes because the majority of my favourite films have mostly men starring in them. The thing I like most about female stars is their glamour and their uncanny ability to emote better than most of the males did onscreen (and in real life too, I imagine).

  • shop online or in-store? Online baby! The discounts you can find online are unreal compared to the sales that you come across in-store. Nowadays, shipping is free on most sites and packages arrive within days, so why wouldn't you want to take advantage of those pros? Yes, sometimes I miss wandering physical shelves of movies and books, but if I can find stuff cheaper online, Imma click and buy.

  • watch one movie per day or fifteen movies per week? Fifteen movies per week?! Ain't nobody got time for that. Easy there Hercules -- one a day is plenty.

  • be a director or a professional movie reviewer? This is how I would direct: Okay everyone. Stand in front of the camera. And act. Go! I think I better choose movie reviewer for this one. I'm just no good at telling people what to do because I always think they're secretly complaining about me behind my back. Plus, I love to write so reviewing movies would be a real treat for someone like me.

  • watch only your favourite genres or every genre but your favourite? Well, this one's a no-brainer! I would definitely choose to watch only my favourite genres of film. At the risk of sounding incredibly boring and unaccommodating, I would hate to spend the rest of my life watching Westerns (though I have come to appreciate them a little over the past year). Westerns and '70s horror. No thanks.

  • only watch films from physical media or only watch films on a tablet? See, I'm kinda torn on this one because when I travel or when I'm just feeling lazy, I love to watch films on my iPad. Either on a plane or cuddled up in bed, I love the convenience of a tablet. However, there's nothing quite like the feeling of opening up a new DVD or bluray and popping it into the player. Can I cheat with this one? I'm gonna have to say tablet for when I'm traveling and physical media for when I'm at home.

  • watch only films or only TV shows? This one's kinda easy for me to answer because I've always secretly preferred films over TV shows. Actually, it's only recently that I started watching loads of television; a couple of years ago I hardly watched any at all! So, films for this one. Easy-peasy.

October 20, 2014

Things I've learned being a classic movie fan!

A picture of me reading Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner

  • You will spend a lot of time on your own in darkened movie theaters and in front of the TV
  • People will start referring to you as 'eccentric'
  • Acquiring film-related coffee table books will become a sport (and second-nature)
  • Special pop-up classic film screenings will make a summer's day seem like Christmas
  • You will lament the fact that no one dresses like Cary Grant or Joan Crawford anymore
  • Men who wear trench coats and fedoras are not your friend (and they are not Humphrey Bogart)
  • It will be extremely hard for you to attract members of the opposite (or same) sex - trust me
  • TCM will become your idea of heaven on Earth and Robert Osborne will be your god
  • You will pluck your eyebrows to within an inch of their life in the hopes of looking like Greta Garbo
  • Whilst burying your nose in a biography you will begin living your very uneventful life vicariously through someone who is now (probably) dead and who had way more fun than you ever will
  • The very idea of no longer having people like Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable in the world makes you spontaneously burst into tears (even whilst waiting for your urine test results at the doctor's office)
  • Classic movie villains are way more badass than modern movie villains - with the possible exception of Khan from Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
  • Watching an hour of Astaire & Rogers dancing is way more entertaining than watching reality contest shows like Dancing With the Stars and American Idol no matter how many times the networks tell us it's going to be the greatest season ever
  • You will remain single all your life because if you cannot marry Gary Cooper or Barbara Stanwyck, you will marry no one at all
  • Each time you watch a modern movie, you will imagine your favourite classic film stars playing the roles inhabited by George Clooney and Gwenyth Paltrow (and doing a much better job of it)

October 17, 2014

The Stage To Screen Blogathon! The Odd Couple (1968)

Watching The Odd Couple whilst on holiday and eating a sandwich that Felix would be proud of.

Right off the bat, before I get started, I want to know why this film is so fucking perfect. I'm pretty sure I've never laughed as hard as I did when I watched this film for the first time back in my university days (early 2000s). I was taking a theater course at York University in Toronto and one of our group assignments was to pick one scene in a stage play to reenact in front of the class. I was a huge theatre rat back then and I excelled at being on stage, showing off to a room full of discerning audience members so the very thought of presenting a scene from Neil Simon's THE ODD COUPLE filled me with something akin to heavenly glee.

As soon as my group members and I had chosen the dinner party scene to reenact, I rushed to the library and borrowed the film because I only ever was familiar with Simon's original stage version of the script. The stage play debuted on Broadway (naturally) in 1965 and the film version was released only three years later in May 1968; following the huge success of the stage play, Hollywood producers quickly adapted the script in order to have it produced for the screen. Can you blame them for wanting to cash in on Simon's zippy, snappy masterpiece?

I never laughed so hard as I did the first time I watched THE ODD COUPLE (1968). And, you know what, it wasn't even laugh-out-loud, hilariously, stupendously funny. It was more quietly funny (if that's possible). It was a mature type of funny. Like, when rich people snigger at sarcasm at a posh cocktail event. It was that kind of funny. The script is literally perfect and must have come straight from a higher power; the comebacks and insults are dangerously witty and the one-liners never fail to crack me up. I have to be really careful of when I eat or drink during this movie because if I put something in my mouth at the wrong time, chances are someone's getting dirty (from airborne food particles, that is).

Here's what happens in the film: Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon) is about to commit suicide because his wife has left him and wants a divorce. He walks into the seedier part of Manhattan, rents a hotel room, bids the front desk clerk adieu, goes up to his room and attempts to jump out of the window. One problem, though ... the window is sealed shut and he cannot open it. Aw shucks! Next he swallows an entire bottle of pills but before he can let them overtake him and send him into an endless slumber, he heaves and throws every last one of them up. Dammit, foiled again!

Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) hosts poker night for him and his buds every week (or is it every month?), but on this night Felix is a no-show (he's too busy trying to kill himself, you see). The guys are worried about Felix, especially when his wife phones the apartment and reveals that she's asked her husband for a divorce. Now the guys are panicking because they know how devoted Felix is to his wife and children. They're wondering where on earth he is and if he's thrown himself off a bridge or out of a window yet (the answer is no). In just a few minutes, once the guys have had their fill of gossiping and harried, panicked thoughts, Felix shows up at Oscar's filthy (and smelly) eight-room apartment.

Oscar asks Felix to move in with him for a couple of very good reasons: 1) Oscar will be able to keep an eye on Felix and make sure he doesn't try to bump himself off in the night, and 2) Felix, being the 1950s housewife that he is, can whip the desolate-looking apartment into shape and become Oscar's personal chef. This would have been a good idea had it not been for Oscar and Felix being polar opposites. One likes a mess, one sprays everything with Lysol. One drops crumbs all over the floor and the other one is brought to hysterics if even one crumb is found on the kitchen counter. One flings pasta at the wall and one flings a vacuum over each and every surface of the apartment. One says "a spoon" and the other says "a ladle."

You catch my drift.

THE ODD COUPLE works for those very reasons. It is a marvelous look at two people who can't stand each other yet love each other more than life itself. The film is a fantastic depiction of the battle of the sexes - well, just the male sex. It also examines the roll of the man and the woman in the home with Oscar representing the typical "man" and Felix repping the "woman." Never before have so many themes and life variants been explored in a stage play or in a film and I think this is one of the big reasons why THE ODD COUPLE is still well regarded today. It's a riotous, unbelievably funny look at friendship and life, yet it is also a realistic glimpse into the way humans interact with each other day in and day out.

This post was written for The Stage To Screen Blogathon hosted by The Rosebud Cinema and Rachel's Theatre Reviews.

October 15, 2014

My Top 10 Favourite Classic Film Tweeters!

Tweet tweet!

I've met a lot of great people online within the past couple of years and the majority of these people are classic film fans! Turns out, the classic film online community is one of the nicest ones I've ever come across; everyone has positive things to say about one another and no one ever throws shade at anyone else. We're a mature lot - most of the time - who really seem to respect one another despite the fact that we don't always agree with each other's opinions.

I love Twitter. It's quickly become my most-used social media platform and I try to catch up on my feed at least a few times every day. If you'd like to, you can follow me at @callmeveebee but I'm warning you, I post a lot of classic film-related stuff on there (not to mention many useless, random tidbits that are probably best left unsaid - or un-tweeted).

Without further ado, here's a list of my top ten favourite classic film tweeters:

  • Aurora @CitizenScreen // Aurora posts the loveliest screen shots and portraits.
  • Cliff @IEphemera // Cliff is a veritable fount of information and specializes in pre-Codes and 1930s-era cinema.
  • Warner Archive @WarnerArchive // If you're looking for obscure movie and TV titles from the classic era, look no further than this mega-stupendous online e-tailer.
  • Karen @TheDarkPages // Specializes in film noir tweets and posts awesomely atmospheric movie stills.
  • @PreCodeDotCom // Sex, drugs, and rock n' roll in tweet-form.
  • J.P. @HollywoodComet // This lady loves vintage fashion and watches musicals every Monday. What's not to love?
  • Will @willmckinley // The master. His tweets are always the most interesting reads.
  • Joel @joelrwilliams1 // My brother from another mother! Joel tweets great links to classic film blogs on a daily basis.
  • TCM Party @TCM_Party // The ultimate hang-out spot! Come join us for TCM live tweet sessions.
  • TCM @tcm // This one doesn't need explaining. Just follow them.

Please let me know who your favourite classic film tweeters are in the comments section down below! Let's share the Twitter love x

October 10, 2014

The 1930s: My Favourite Movie Decade

Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers star in The Gay Divorcee (1934).

Whenever someone is brave enough to ask me what my favourite decade of movie-making is, my brain automatically conjures up images of black and white fairytale lands in which Fred pursues Ginger and Hepburn seduces Grant with the aid of a charming leopard called Baby. Can't guess which decade I'm referring to? Well, you definitely shouldn't be here then (shame on you!).

The films of the 1930s have always been my favourites. No question. No contest. No what-ifs. It all started when my Aunt Grace introduced me to DRACULA (1931) and THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) when I was barely ten years old (I was six or seven, actually). Since then I've always had a big, fluffy soft spot for movies produced in the '30s. I prefer them over films from any other decade - although, the stuff produced in the 1940s was almost just as good - and if it came right down to it, they'd be the ones I'd rescue from a fire (please God don't let it come to that).

Here are the things I admire most about films from the 1930s:

Nineteen thirty-nine // I mean, do I even need to explain myself here? Nineteen thirty-nine is considered Hollywood's Golden Year. A year in which a veritable shitload of amazingly outstanding films was released and literally had the movie-going public lining the streets at all hours of the day and night, clamoring to get into cinemas nationwide just so that they could get their fill of what has now become legendary Hollywood product.

My favourite Hollywood stars came into their own in the 1930s // The majority of my favourite actors and actresses graced the screen in the '30s, making names for themselves and climbing the ladder to stardom one film at a time. People like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor, William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Cagney, Spencer Tracey, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, and Katharine Hepburn all achieved enormous success in the '30s and it was thanks to them that I got turned on to classic film in the first place. I might get beat up for saying this, but can today's actors really compare to the ones I just mentioned here? I fucking think not.

The violence // We have the Warner Bros collection of gangster films to thank for the majority of the violence that graced the screen in the 1930s; films like THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), LITTLE CAESAR (1931), and ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938) lit up the screen with the rat-a-tat-tat of spitting machine guns and wailing sirens of police cars, not giving a damn about Hollywood censorship or the frail sensibilities of movie viewers. Films from the '30s were raw and gritty and ultimately paved the way for the film noir genre that clawed its way to the forefront during the 1940s and '50s.

The sensuality // This is where pre-Codes come in, I think. I went to a Catholic elementary school (and high school, for that matter) when I was younger so the very idea of discussing sex during class was unthinkable. Our teachers preached abstinence until they were blue in the face and we all just accepted it, thinking sex was immoral, tasteless, and basically the work of Satan. I had nothing to go by and until I started watching pre-Codes, I had no idea what actually happened before, during, and after sex. Loretta Young, Warren William, Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, and Barbara Stanwyck taught me the ins and outs (heh) of sex and what it meant to want somebody until your blood boiled. Films from the early '30s served as my sexual education and I'm sure the same is true for many other younger classic film fans.

Every film of the early 1930s seemed like an experiment // From the early talkies to the machinations of Busby Berkley, virtually every film produced in the early 1930s was an experiment in what could be accomplished with a set, some paint, and a camera. As time progressed, films got glossier and more fairytale-like, differing in style and tone from their early '30s predecessors. This was the decade in which Hollywood really developed and matured creatively, coming into its own and surpassing everyone's wildest dreams. It's no wonder, then, that the Golden Year of 1939 happened, is it?

So, tell me, what's your favourite film decade?

October 8, 2014

A wee little me with a wee little obsession!

Can you spot a wee little me in the picture above?

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my Mother taking me out for a day of shopping at our local mall and me making a beeline for the tiny, independently-owned cinema shop on the second floor. Sadly, that shop no longer exists (although the actual mall itself is still standing) and with it has gone so many great memories of a tiny little me getting lost amongst the shelves of 'old movies.'

Not typical childlike behaviour, I can assure you. Everyone else my age was either too busy stuffing their faces with McDonald's in the food court or wandering around the isles of The It Store downstairs, on the lower level (The It Store sold joke/comedy items like whoopie cushions and pornographic card games and greetings cards). My Mom knew she had a 'unique' child on her hands very early on and once she accepted my love of vintage Hollywood, she eventually encouraged me to pick out whatever I wanted inside the cinema store. I mean, there were far worse things she could have bought me back then (smelly plastic jelly shoes immediately come to mind).

That shop was where I first picked up VHS copies of BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963), THE THIN MAN (1934), and the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! trilogy (separately, of course, because we couldn't afford to splash out on the box set). I also remember being gifted countless MGM musicals from that store - titles like EASTER PARADE (1948), SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), SUMMER STOCK (1950), and MEET ME IN ST LOUIS (1944) were all bought by my parents and either given to me as birthday and/or Christmas gifts or bestowed upon me whenever I did well on a math or spelling test in grade school.

Those VHS copies are long gone (thanks to ebay) but the memory of acquiring them, owning them, and loving them till the tape wore out still linger in my mind. I swear, when I'm a cranky 90 year old living in splendor in the English countryside, I will still remember all those trips my Mom and I took to that pokey little shop in the mall. I know this is a rather frivolous and somewhat pointless post, but it's something I started thinking about recently. I have two young nephews and now, when I take them shopping - for Lego, not old movies - I can't help but wonder if they'll look back on our own shopping excursions with as much fondness and sentiment. They'd better, or else no more Lego Ninja Turtles sets for them! Auntie Nessa is putting her foot down! Heh.

October 6, 2014

Mashed lips and no tongues!

"You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how."

There is one thing about classic movies that genuinely makes me cringe. Like, every time. It's the way people kiss in them. Or, more specifically, the way people smush their faces together in lieu of a real, passionate, hot and steamy french kiss (with tongues). So basically, these people aren't even kissing at all - they're just mashing their faces together and praying for a good take.

I understand why, though. I get it that the censors didn't allow film actors to exhibit any real signs of passion and that, really, films stars didn't have much choice in the matter. No tongues. No open mouths. No kisses lasting longer than a couple of seconds, and certainly no saliva-induced kissing sounds (i.e. slurps). I think even head movement was restricted, come to think of it. Ugh! Can you imagine if real-life-kissing was like that? We'd all need copious amounts of ChapStick and Blistex to curb the constant lip chaffing and dryness associated with classic film make-out sessions.

I think the only consolation prize here is that the movie starlets didn't get their lipstick smudged! I've lost track of all the times I've paused a film, seconds after 'the kiss,' to see if makeup had either been transferred from face to face or smudged outside of the women's carefully lined lips. And nope, nary a spec of pancake powder had budged (that's either down to amazing makeup staying power or the stars themselves who took careful measures not to muss up their artfully crafted facades).

I'd love to know your thoughts on the whole 'no tongues' kissing trend of classic film. Do you hate it as much as I do and crave some realism? Or do you think it's cute and/or charming? I can't tell you how many times someone has asked "But did people really kiss like that back then?!" when they've sat alongside, watching a classic movie with me. What kind of an answer am I supposed to give them? Remember, I want to make old movies sound cool, so I could hardly utter a lame, non-intelligible "Yes," could I?

*sigh* I tell you, being a classic film fan is a harder job than I thought!

October 3, 2014

The 'O Canada' Blogathon! My thoughts on Norma Shearer

Norma Shearer with frequent co-star Robert Montgomery in THEIR OWN DESIRE (1929).

I hadn't discovered Norma Shearer until I was in my twenties, but when I did, my discovery was akin to a patriotic awakening. She was Canadian! And I'm Canadian!

We are both Canadian.

Edith Norma Shearer was born on August 10, 1902 in the French-speaking city of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. That's nowhere near my city of birth - Toronto, Ontario - but still, I like to think that had we been a little closer in age we would definitely have hung out with each other. Spending our Friday and Saturday nights loitering at the local mall, knocking back 7-Eleven slushies like nobody's business. Somehow the thought of getting brain freeze with Norma Shearer excites me beyond belief.

The woman was beautiful, had a magnificent figure, spoke in a sort of clipped, saucy manner, and had men falling all over themselves to snag a private moment with her. To say that I immediately idolized her is a gross understatement. I wanted to be her and I wanted immediate results.

The first of Shearer's films that I watched were THE WOMEN (1939), A FREE SOUL (1931), and THE DIVORCEE (1930) - in that order. Afterwards, since I clearly couldn't get enough of this woman, I dived head-first into more pre-Code classics like PRIVATE LIVES (1931) and THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929 (1929). Finally, came MGM prestige pictures MARIE ANTOINETTE (1938) and IDIOT'S DELIGHT (1939).

I'm going to come right out and admit something (brace yourselves): Norma Shearer may not have been the world's greatest actress but she was endlessly charming in all of the roles she played. In her earlier pictures she had a tendency to 'over-act,' using her eyebrows and arms and hands a little too much for my liking to get her character's point across. But, so what? Didn't everyone in the late '20s and early '30s? Despite her puckered brow and hyper limbs, Shearer was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1930 for THE DIVORCEE.

Anyone who can come from Canada and make it big in Hollywood earns my immediate respect. It's a huge gamble you're taking, leaving your life and family behind to see what successes await you south of the border (if any). If there is one thing Shearer had in spades it was gumption. She acquired stardom and fame as easily as picking a star straight out of the sky with her dainty little fingers. The world would see Norma Shearer's name in lights soon enough and she would be celebrated as one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's brightest stars alongside legendary figures Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Clark Gable.

Shearer married MGM boy wonder producer Irving Thalberg on September 29, 1927 and had two children by him; a boy and a girl. Thalberg was never a man with a strong constitution and after his premature death in 1937, Shearer began to distance herself from the studio and Hollywood. She officially retired from the screen in 1942 and married former ski instructor Martin Arrouge. Despite having become somewhat of a recluse, Shearer still attended some Hollywood public events after her second marriage. However she adamantly refused to appear on television, the new entertainment medium that was taking the world by storm post-WWII. In 1960 Shearer's private secretary made the following statement:

"Miss Shearer does not want any publicity. She doesn't talk to anyone. But I can tell you that she has refused many requests to appear in motion pictures and TV shows."

In like a bolt of lightning and out like a snuffed candle. Quit while you're ahead and always leave your audience wanting more, that's what my mother always taught me. I suppose, having just finished researching the bulk of this post, that is also something that Norma Shearer picked up on too. It's better to go out like a lion (Leo the lion?) as opposed to stumbling around in the dark, clutching for a shred of fame that now seems to elude you. In my mind - and in the minds of many others - Norma Shearer will always represent one of the brightest eras in filmmaking history: Hollywood's Golden Age.

This post was written for the O Canada Blogathon, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings.

October 1, 2014

My sick day survival guide!

Billy Idol
Two words, one person: Billy Idol. He's a classic, right? Bah! Either way, I can't get enough of his new autobiography called DANCING WITH MYSELF (Simon & Schuster, 2014). I pre-ordered it a couple of weeks ago and since it's arrived in the post I haven't been able to put it down! I honestly wasn't expecting much in the way of writing style or descriptiveness (sorry Billy) but the man has totally won me over - as if he didn't already possess my soul - with his literary prowess! I recently learned that when he was in college/university, he studied English Literature and you know what? It totally shows. One of the reasons why I chose to mention him here is because in his memoir he pays homage to classic film more than once; a couple of his all-time favourite classic films include THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) and WHITE HEAT (1949).

I had a sick day on Monday due to a horrible migraine that introduced itself on Sunday and refused to go away until Monday evening. Like a horrible, boisterous, unwelcome guest that refuses to leave your home this migraine totally put me out of commission for an entire day and I was forced to call in sick to work at 4:30 AM on Monday morning (have I mentioned that I didn't sleep a wink that night either? No? Well, I didn't).

Sick days are blessings in disguise and are a wonderful way for us to escape the cut-throat world of the workforce for a while and really take the time to relax, lounge about the house, and get better. Plus, they're the perfect opportunity for us to cuddle up on the couch - or in bed, whichever you choose - and spend an entire morning/afternoon in front of the telly, let's be honest here! I'm not ashamed to say that this was precisely what I got up to on Monday; I plopped my bottom down on a comfy armchair and switched on TCM once I mustered the strength to leave my lovely bed. Here's what I watched:

Lana Turner and Lee Bowman in Dancing Co-Ed (1939).

DANCING CO-ED (1939)* // A copy of this DVD was sent to me a couple of weeks ago by the kind folks over at Warner Archive and I've only just got 'round to watching it now (sorry 'bout that). If you'd like to see a very young, but perfectly coiffed, Lana Turner tapping her way through college, then this is your movie! DANCING CO-ED is one of those typical happy-go-lucky MGM musicals that were churned out between the 1930s and the early 1950s. If you're feeling down or ill this is the perfect movie to watch because it will literally make you feel like a bright young thing again (ahhh those were the days!). You can purchase the movie here.

DOWNSTAIRS (1932) // I can't get enough of John Gilbert. Really. And a talking John Gilbert is even more dishy than a silent one (if that's even possible). My DVR was kept extremely busy during the month of September thanks to TCM's terrific pre-Code spotlight every Friday and DOWNSTAIRS was one of the very last movies I had programmed on my cable box. I remember reading about the making of this film in Eve Golden's fantastic biography of Gilbert and this was the first chance I've had of actually watching the film since then. I still don't understand what the big deal was concerning Gilbert's supposedly 'effeminate' voice. Dude spoke (and sounded) like a DUDE. So there, Louis B. Mayer! Ha!

THE MERRY WIDOW (1925) // Speaking of John Gilbert ... this was another film I buckled down and watched on Monday afternoon and by this time, I was kinda getting bleary-eyed from watching so much television. Perhaps watching THE MERRY WIDOW wasn't the best decision I could have made that day seeing as how it's two-and-a-half hours long! Plus, it's a silent. That means I was reading film titles for more than 120 minutes. Not even the delicious sight of a young John Gilbert could save my eyeballs but, nevertheless, it was a film that I enjoyed. Good story. Good performances. Great moustaches (on the men, of course).

So, there you have it: my rundown of how to survive a sick day! Read a good book (or two or three), watch a few great films, cuddle up on the sofa, have a cup of tea and you're all set! Unplug the phone and shut off your computer because God knows we need a break from them every so often. When you return to work the next day looking one hundred times better and your boss accuses you of 'faking being ill,' give him/her the middle finger salute and utter these immortal words: Billy Idol and black and white celluloid saved my life! (Now may not be the best time to ask for a raise, so take it easy and ask for one another day).

September 29, 2014

Book Look! 11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories by Cliff Aliperti

I must mention pre-Codes at least three times a week on this blog (and that makes perfect sense considering I post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). So basically I pretty much mention pre-Codes in every single post. If you don't like pre-Codes, I'm terribly sorry (no, I'm not) and if you love pre-Codes, welcome back to your little slice of Internet heaven!

This week I'm here to talk about my friend Cliff Aliperti's new book entitled 11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories - and don't let the fact that we're Internet buddies cloud your judgement on this post. I went into reading this digital book with an open mind and forced myself to approach it as if it had been written by a complete stranger. I always think that method works best because I don't want to psych myself up and then be disappointed half-way through or once I've finished reading the piece.

This book serves as a handy little guide to some of the lesser known pre-Code films Hollywood produced in the early '30s. In it you will find chapters dedicated solely to the following eleven films: SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD (1930), FOR THE DEFENSE (1930), GENTLEMAN'S FATE (1931), CITY STREETS (1931), HELL'S HIGHWAY (1932), WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND (1932), CALL HER SAVAGE (1932), EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933), ONLY YESTERDAY (1933), THE SIN OF NORA MORAN (1933), and JIMMY THE GENT (1934).

Cliff's book starts off with a bang; a really engrossing introduction that had me nodding along in agreement at practically every sentence. My favourite bit was when he drew comparisons to the production values of early talkie horror films DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931), revealing that even though the films were released just ten months apart from each other, FRANKENSTEIN's production values seem far removed from and vastly superior to the more primitive DRACULA.

Cliff also includes a succinct and easily referenced chronology for those readers who are a little unsure of what-happened-when regarding not only Hollywood events, but world-wide events too (namely the two World Wars, the bills that were passed or amended by the US government, and other instances that directly affected the film industry).

Going into this book, I was only really familiar with a couple of the pre-Codes Cliff chose to profile. I've seen both EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE and JIMMY THE GENT before and only just recently watched CALL HER SAVAGE on TCM, so I was eager (and uber-curious) to read about the other films I'd never even heard of! Each film's chapter gives a brief synopsis of the movie, facts about the production and casting, a history behind the plot, characters, and studio happenings during the time of production, and little known tidbits that every classic movie fan can appreciate. Every chapter is wonderfully insightful and I really enjoyed making my way through each one. I now have a pre-Code To Watch list as long as my arm (or even one of my legs!).

I think the only thing I would change about this book would be to make it longer. I polished the entire thing off in one sitting and before I knew it, I had reached the final page. No! I thought, I want more pre-Codes! I want my pre-Codes! I swear I've calmed down since then. I would have liked to have seen more chapters dedicated to the more popular films of the genre (i.e. SCARFACE (1932), RED DUST (1932), and THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). If Cliff is reading this, here's hoping he writes another volume to go along with this one!

11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories is available on Amazon [click here] and you can also find Cliff Aliperti on his blog, Twitter, and on Goodreads!

September 26, 2014

Making classic movies sound 'cool'

"Hi, my name is Vanessa. It's a pleasure to finally meet you!"

"Hi Vanessa, I'm so-and-so and it's lovely to meet you too! So, what do you do?"

"I'm a writer."

"Wonderful! How interesting! What do you write about?"

"Mostly current event stuff and lifestyle articles, but mainly classic film pieces."

"Classic film?? How ... different. Aren't most old movies boring?"

*crickets chirping*

Steve McQueen

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to my life! I can't tell you how many times I've had that exact same conversation whilst meeting new people and, quite frankly, whilst discussing my job and hobbies with family members, friends, and work colleagues. There is a stigma attached to classic film fans like you and me, and that stigma is not a particularly complimentary one. People think we're losers. Losers who spend our leisure hours watching black and white films that are terribly passe and lifeless, surrounded by dirty, mucky pillows and blankets and, like, thirty cats (if this is you, I'm terribly sorry).

How can we inject life back into old films? How do we go about changing people's minds about classic movies? Do we concuss them, drug them, tie them up and make them watch endless repeats of THE THIN MAN series until they succumb and declare themselves classic movie converts just like us? Or, if you wanted to take the much simpler route - without possibly risking an arrest - do we sit them down in a quiet, comfortable corner and explain to them why we love TCM so much? Yes. That method sounds much more effective (and humane).

Here's how I go about convincing people that classic movies are, indeed, cool:

  • I show them a picture of Gary Cooper in his prime // This always knocks the women flat out on their faces. If it's a man I'm talking to, I'll show him a picture of Norma Shearer wearing that dress in A FREE SOUL (1931). You know the one I'm talkin' about *wink wink*
  • I casually mention how many times modern films and celebrities reference the classics // Madonna, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Lady Gaga - you name them, they've name-dropped 'em, from movies to classic film stars, modern celebs are obsessed with our classic favourites.
  • I start talking about pre-Codes // Without a doubt pre-Code movies are at the top of the classic film Cool-O-Meter. Where else could you find so much sex, so much frivolity, so many drugs, and prostitution? Well, aside from Church and Jarvis in downtown Toronto ... only in a pre-Code!
  • I whip out my iPad and show them any five-minute snippet of METROPOLIS (1927) // Enough said. Once they see how advanced silent film was, they're pretty much converted.
  • I mention Paul Newman and Steve McQueen // You can't get any cooler than these two, am I right? Side note: A lot of people are surprised when I name drop stars from the '50s, '60s, and '70s because I guess they automatically assume that the term "classic film" only applies to movies made throughout the 1920s to the 1940s (i.e. mostly black and white features). Once they realize how broad the term classic film is, they're more apt to check out a few of the titles I recommend - THE STING (1973) is always a very popular recommendation.

Classic films are like classic literature: they wouldn't be around if people didn't still devour them. There is a reason why all classics are still revered and consumed as voraciously as they are; they stand the test of time and are still relevant in 2014. Pop open a Dickens or a Hardy novel and tell me whether you think their ideals and morals still apply to this hectic, frenzied modern age. Of course they do! Same goes for old movies; the lessons learned at the end of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) still ring just as true today as they did in the post-war era.

Where else could you see the King of Hollywood, Clark Gable, strip down to his skivvies? Where else could you see James Cagney fall flat on his face, dead, on his Mother's welcome mat? Where else could you see an entire city burst into flames and burn to the ground during the American Civil War? And where else could you see Mae West saunter into a room and utter those unbelievably filthy statements of hers to a roomful of horny men? Only in classic film my friends and that's why they're so fucking cool.

September 24, 2014

Do I need classic film?

The simple answer? YES.

Now, here's the long-winded answer: I don't think my life truly depends on whether or not I watch/buy/consume/obsess-over classic movies but it does feel nice and it does make me smile on a regular basis (which is the best medicine, really).

So, how would I function in a world without classic film? If someone invaded my bedroom right now and cleaned out my entire collection of DVDs and blurays and special editions and limited edition collector series would I throw my hands in the air and proceed to have a major meltdown? Or would I be okay with it? Let's be real here, I would probably cry like a baby who's just had his/her best Paddington Bear confiscated but I'd like to imagine myself remaining cool, calm and collected just like private dick Philip Marlowe would in a jam (wishful thinking).

Warning: this post turns into a teeny tiny rant in 3 - 2 - 1 ...

Okay so I've obviously established the fact that yes, I do need classic film in my life but let me ask you something else: do we really need to buy every single classic film DVD or bluray that's released to the market? This one's easy. For me, the answer is a resounding no. Recently I've gotten really fed up with the amount of times one single movie is re-released onto either DVD or bluray and companies claiming that this latest reincarnation is the flippin' holy grail of "special collectors' editions." Wasn't it just last year that you had me spend $60+ CAD on a supposed limited ultimate collectors' edition numbered box containing the film, some random bits n' bobs, and a piece of Jesus's hair?! I mean, come on, let's be real here!

How many special edition copies of Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Casablanca do I really need? Enough to fill an Ikea shelf? Enough to pave my driveway with? Enough to construct a full sized replica of Toronto's CN Tower? I ask you! Don't you think it's getting to be a little much? For the past few months - or years even - I've tried paring down my belongings and limiting my spending habits but with so much temptation being thrown at me, it's been hard. Yes, I'd love to own that brand new coffee table book by Mark A. Vieira but what makes me think that I actually need it?

This is obviously a part of my life that I need to work on. I need to understand that even though I may need classic movies in my life, that doesn't automatically mean that I need to buy all of the things that land on my radar. HERE, TAKE MY MONEY! will no longer be a phrase I shout every single day of the working week (and on weekends, let's be honest here) - just no. I refuse. This is me being adamant. I'm stomping my foot on the ground and clenching my fists. Watch out because I mean business!

I wanna know your thoughts on this topic. First, I'd like to know whether you feel you need classic film in your life. Second, I want to know how you feel about the constant re-issues of classic movies on DVD and bluray. Are you just as sick of them as I am? How many editions of Meet Me In St. Louis do you really need before you think: right, that's enough? Tell me in the comments section down below.

I was inspired to write this post after having read this awesome article by Jen over at A Little Opulent (if you haven't checked out this amazing online lifestyle magazine yet on Bloglovin' you're seriously missing out!).

September 22, 2014

A Modern Silent: London Symphony

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know that just last year I completely fell in love with silent films. Give me an ancient black and white film with a beautiful orchestral soundtrack, plenty of emotive faces, an intriguing storyline and no sound whatsoever and I'm a very happy camper! Also, have you ever noticed how beautiful each silent movie's cinematography was? Unfortunately, that's something I think has gone the way of the do-do bird (and VHS tapes) in lieu of more grandiose and digitally processed film images. There is something so basic, yet intrinsically diverse about silent film photography and it's definitely something I will never tire of.

That's why I was mega excited to be asked to be apart of a special UK-based film project from director Alex Barrett entitled LONDON SYMPHONY. According to the project's official press release, the film can best be described as a "poetic journey through the city of London, exploring its vast diversity of culture, religion and design via its various modes of transportation." The point of the film is to sort of immortalize the 'big smoke' and celebrate its vast complexities and overall uniqueness. I don't know about you, but London, England is my favourite place on earth and there is really no place I'd rather be (except maybe in front of the television watching endless reels of classic films on TCM, but you already know this about me).

"In the early days of cinema, there were several great City Symphonies - for Berlin, Paris, Rotterdam, but never for London. Alex Barrtt is going to put that right, and his plans suggest a remarkable picture." -Kevin Brownlow, Film Historian and Author

Not only will Barrett and his team create a new silent film, composer James McWilliam will also compose a completely original film score for the picture. A full orchestra will be used to record the film's soundtrack and will be engaged for special screenings of LONDON SYMPHONY just like silent films were presented to movie audiences back in the 1900s through to the 1920s. I've been to a film screening once before in which there was a live orchestra present and I can tell you whole-heartedly that it was a truly wondrous experience. It was akin to attending a ballet or an opera; there's something about the mix of film and live music that just gets to you. The music captures the mood of the film - and the audience - beautifully and the film seems to coast along at just the right pace when it's accompanied by a group of talented musicians playing their little (big) hearts out.

"As a life-long fan of silent cinema, I've always liked the idea of making a modern day silent film. The key, for us, is to be true to the spirit of the silent era; to look at that spirit through the lens of today, thereby creating something that stays away from pastiche and parody, and becomes instead a modern interpretation of silent cinema." -Alex Barrett, Director/Editor of London Symphony

Now that LONDON SYMPHONY is past the stages of planning and development, the film is ready to go into production. It's worth pointing out that leading independent distributor Soda Pictures has expressed interest in picking up this special silent film property and all that's left to do right now is to raise funds to support the project's production. As of today's date, the film's crowdfunding campaign has gone live - you can check it out here. There is also some really neat, interesting information about the film and it's background listed on the page so it's definitely something worth looking at! If you're able to make a donation and back the project you should know that there are different reward packages available - for example, if you pledge 15 GBP or more, you will receive a copy of the finished film! Wicked, huh?

If you'd like to contact Director and Editor Alex Barrett directly, you can send him an email at Additionally, you can check out the film's official Twitter page here as well as its Facebook page here.

September 19, 2014

Pre-Code Perversion: Private Lives (1931)*

Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself: What if this were to happen in real life?

If you're at all familiar with the premise of Noel Coward's PRIVATE LIVES you'll know that something like this could very well happen to anyone, really, in this day and age (especially with so many married couples filing for divorce). Let me explain: our film opens with two weddings. Amanda (Norma Shearer) is marrying the ultra stiff Victor (Reginald Denny) and the simpering Sibyl (Una Merkel) is marrying abusive cad Elyot (Robert Montgomery). Each couple books into a hotel in France for their honeymoon and are assigned adjoining rooms with adjoining terraces.

So, what's the big deal? I hear you muttering into your morning cup of coffee. It just so happens that Amanda and Elyot have been married before and they only recently divorced because the two of them couldn't keep their claws off of each other (and not the way you're thinking either!). They fought like cats and dogs constantly while they were married, eventually seeking a welcome respite from one another in the form of a divorce.

A delicate situation like this is entirely plausible in 2014 and I'm sure it's happened to at least a handful of newly married couples in the past - you re-marry, settle down, and run into your ex-spouse on either your honeymoon or a trip to the local grocer. What then? How do you react? What do you do? Do you run away as quickly as possible in the opposite direction? Do you confront your ex in the cheese and dairy aisle? Do you hope he or she doesn't spot you while you're lying flat on your back in the sand, soaking up the Spanish sun? Well, if you're Amanda and Elyot you confront each other on your adjoining balconies, have a cocktail, smoke a cigarette, reminisce about all of the fights you've had in the past, and run away together leaving your new spouses in the dust without even a warning.

L - R: Norma Shearer, Robert Montgomery, & Una Merkel.
Amanda and Elyot travel to a remote, snowy location in which they frolic in the snow, sleep in a cabin with a handful of other married couples, breakfast together on a picturesque mountaintop and proceed to tear each other's hair out (I totally saw this coming, I'll be honest). The exes are at it again; they claim to love each other in one breath and then hurl abusive statements at each other the next. And, because PRIVATE LIVES is a pre-Code (God bless it), the audience gets to see the couple living in sin, soaking in alcohol and slapping each other out occasionally. Oh, and Amanda breaks a record over Elyot's head in a particularly heated moment.

Meanwhile, what's become of our jilted bride and groom? Victor and Sibyl reappear in the last quarter of the film, discovering the illicit lovers in their snow-capped cabin retreat. Strangely enough, and befitting the reputation of any good pre-Code, the foursome sit down at the dining room table, have breakfast together, and iron out their differences and issues as adults. I swear, this whole set-up is odd but the scene is played perfectly by all four actors!

So, who's leaving whom and who's staying together? Will Amanda and Elyot bid their tryst (and each other) goodbye for good and go back to their beleaguered spouses? Or will the two of them escape into the sunset together paying absolutely no heed to the new marital vows they pledged to Victor and Sibyl? If you've seen PRIVATE LIVES before you know what happens (stop giggling!) but if you haven't and are curious to know how the story ended, I suggest you order a copy of this DVD from Warner Archive and find out for yourself - I highly recommend this film! It's one of the best pre-Codes I've seen and Norma Shearer and Una Merkel are absolutely charming in it. The script is fast and loose, the hijinks are hilarious and the set-ups are ridiculously entertaining.

PRIVATE LIVES is available to order through the Warner Archive shop.

September 17, 2014

A friendship to write home about!

Let me ask you something: if you could pick any classic film star (male or female) to be your best friend in 2014, who would you choose? BUT HANG ON! Before you answer that question, you might want to think long and hard about whether or not this person would be able to cope with living in the present year. I mean, would they faint at the sight of a KitchenAid Stand Mixer? Would the  mere sight of a flatscreen 3D television make their palms sweaty and send them into fits of hysteria? Would they threaten to cut you off forever if they discovered your secret stash of multi-coloured vibrators you have hidden underneath your bed?

Okay - so bearing all that in mind, who would you choose?

Wanna know who I'd pick to be my best pal? None other than Katharine Hepburn (if she'd have me, that is). Something tells me that she'd size me up first before she made a final decision to befriend me or not (she seemed like an awfully discerning person). I've always admired Hepburn for her independence, her strength, her unique beauty - check out those killer cheekbones - and for all the times she never gave a fuck. When a team of prissy men told her she couldn't use the golf course on a Sunday she basically said "to hell with you" and played a round of golf anyway.

Having Katharine Hepburn as my bestest pal would be beneficial for the following reasons:
  • she'd force me to get my ass in shape (I lead a pretty sedentary life),
  • she'd defend me in a fight,
  • she'd introduce me to playwrights, millionaire aviators, and influential world leaders,
  • she'd probably be the one to finally convince me to become a feminist,
  • she'd teach me how to speak 'posh' in that funny New England accent of hers (I've always wanted to talk like her, but every time I try, I sound like an inbred idiot),
  • and, most importantly, she'd teach me what it means to work really really hard because God knows she worked her tiny butt off for the majority of her life.

Katharine Hepburn always struck me as the type of person who didn't suffer fools gladly. She had a fiery personality that came across beautifully onscreen (when it could have easily come across as pushy or unattractive). I don't think she had many close friends, but those that she did hold in her inner circle she cherished until the end. That's the kind of pal we'd all love to have, right? Someone to stick by us and flatten anyone who dared threaten our person, sensibilities, or viewpoints.

Tell me in the comments section down below who your choice would be. I ultimately chose Hepburn not only for the reasons I listed above but because she was a truly modern woman. Who better to bring back in 2014 and have her live her life all over again beside me? Man ... I don't think I'd ever stop smiling or look beyond the silver lining unless, of course, the two of us got into a row or she discovered what I was hiding underneath my bed. Whoopsee! Better dispose of those items before resurrecting her. Excuse me a moment - I'll be right back ...

September 15, 2014

Cineplex Classic Film Series: Dial M For Murder (1954)

Classic movie screenings don't happen all that often in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), but when they do you know I'll be there with bells and whistles (and popcorn). Canada's chain of Cineplex movie theatres devises killer screening schedules devoted to classic film twice a year and for most of us, this is the only opportunity we'll have of watching our favourite "old movies" on the big screen in digital format.

This Sunday's screening was of Alfred Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) starring the dashing - yet lethal - Ray Milland and the regal-looking Grace Kelly. Though I had never seen this film before, it had always been on my classically honed movie radar. I love a good Hitchcock thriller - especially if it's a murder mystery which takes place in London, England - but I've avoided Grace Kelly my entire life (don't ask - all you need to know is that I don't have the highest regard for her). Having said that, though, I'm super-duper glad I decided to drag myself out of bed, into my car, onto the highway, and into a cinema seat this afternoon for the special 3D screening! Side note: Hitchcock in 3D? Yes please!

Here's what you need to know about the film: Tony Wendice (Milland) hires an old college mate to murder his cheating wife Margot Wendice (Kelly). Tony devises an intricate plan that goes horribly wrong that leaves his mate, not his wife, dead. In order to avoid suspicion, Tony tries to divert police attention away from himself and onto his wife, essentially framing her for the murder of Charles Alexander Swann (played expertly by Anthony Dawson). The man that Margot is having an affair with, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), is a popular mystery writer who is committed to solving the riddle of the murder himself and, thus, clearing Margot of the crime and re-establishing her innocence.

I really enjoyed the film and had an incredible time keeping up with the story's twists and turns, swishing this way and that, toying with the movie audience's emotions and brain processing capabilities. Do you have any idea how many times I changed my mind about Ray Milland's bastard-of-a-husband? So he plotted to have his wife murdered, so what? She was cheating on him! But then I'd go back to sympathizing with Grace Kelly's foxy-and-impeccably-well-dressed wife; did I really want her to hang for a crime her husband initiated and essentially framed her for? I don't think so. In fact, I'm pretty certain that I want Milland's character to choke on his tongue and burn in hell. Extreme, I know. (Well done Hitchcock).

DIAL M FOR MURDER is the kind of film that leaves the audience pretty much breathless by the time its end credits roll. For me, this is the feeling I live for, especially when watching a movie classic that's earned a reputation over the years for being a prestige piece that will most likely endure for many more decades to come. Classic films like these never fail to impress me and when I leave the cinema I find myself walking taller with an inevitable spring in my step, proud of my taste in film.

One thing I like to do before leaving the theatre is listen in on other people's hushed (and sometimes very enthusiastic) conversations regarding the movie, the story, the characters, and their overall movie-watching experience. Sometimes I join in (more like butt in) and sometimes I leave in a hurry if I see that people are displeased and incensed by the picture's quality, the cinema's blasting A/C, or the stale popcorn that we were all forced to fork over $6 CAD for (Cineplex, you need to work on that).

So, what's next? Cineplex is hosting a special Halloween-flavoured screening of THE MUMMY (1932) and THE WOLF MAN (1941) together on a double bill on Wednesday October 29th and Thursday October 30th. And, before anyone asks, yes I will most likely be there despite the fact I've never liked Halloween. If there is a chance to see Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. on the big screen, I wouldn't miss it for the world! If you'd like to check out the full Cineplex Classic Film Series schedule yourself, visit the Cineplex Events page [click here].

September 12, 2014

Falling out of love with classic film

Have you ever found yourself falling out of love with classic movies?

I know we're all devoted classic film fans at heart, but I'm sure we've all found ourselves in this predicament before at some point in our lives: the bloom is gone and the mere thought of sitting down to watch another classic movie sends us running for the hills with a tub of Ben & Jerry's ice cream clutched under our arms (forget the spoon! we can eat with our hands!). No? Just me?

It's as if I overdose on TCM, special cinema screenings, and film-related coffee table books all at the same time and I can't bear to watch one more movie. Not even Gary Cooper or a rollicking good pre-Code can bring me back from the brink. Instead I have to take a step back from my DVDs, blurays, and TCM and will myself to undergo a classic movie detox. This involves staying at least fifty yards away from my movie collection and laptop, bookcases, and memorabilia collection and either reading Fiction until my eyes bleed or watching endless TV marathons of idiotic reality shows.

Once the worst has passed and I feel ready to delve back into the world of black and white cinema again, I approach TCM cautiously (I don't want to overdo it again, do I?) and watch whatever is airing in short ten-minute intervals; for ten minutes I'll pay attention to what's on the screen and for the next ten minutes I'll look away and do something else, etc, etc. It's like going back to the gym and exercising when you've been away for a while - baby steps people, baby steps.

I can't say that this madness has happened to me recently - because it certainly hasn't, not with TCM's pre-Code Fridays in the mix - but I would estimate that it's happened to me maybe twice or three times so far this year. That's pretty good considering we're nine months into 2014 and the new year is only a hair's breadth away (this reminds me: I need to get started on my Christmas shopping). I'm currently loving classic movies at the moment, perhaps more than ever, and I'm totally in the mood for discovering and re-discovering great gems from the 1920s and onwards!

I want to know what it is you do to combat classic movie fatigue. Do you have to force yourself to step away from films the way that I do? How long does it take you to get your groove back? What steps do you take to cleanse yourself of the influence of places like TCM, Warner Archive, and the Criterion Collection shop? Tell me your story in the comments section down below!

Maybe we should start brainstorming and come up with a twelve-step program!

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