April was a month of musicals and Judy Garland (TCM’s star of the month). I want to live in a technicolor musical. With just three ventures into Netflix (one that I sincerely REGRET), TCM was once again my only go to for movie watching. I actually realized the other day that I’ve watched the channel (or rather, movies on the network’s Watch TCM app), practically nonstop since last July. Is that weird? I don’t know, but it brings me great joy! Speaking of TCM, I was in California (my home away from home) last month, and saw posters of the film festival. Of course it grieves me that I couldn’t attend, but hopefully I will one day.
Magic Boy (1959)
dir: Akira Daikuhara
Besides Disney, I haven’t had much exposure to pre 1970s animation. This gorgeous film from Japan tells the story of a young boy who learns magic in order to defeat an evil witch. It’s so delightful, with the most charming character designs. I particularly liked the animals a lot. It’s always wonderful to watch hand drawn films, especially since there are so few being made in America today.
Berlin Express (1948)
dir: Jacques Tourneur
Merle Oberon and Robert Ryan may not immediately strike anyone as a believable pair, romantically or otherwise. But surprisingly, they work. I loved them together in this film. It’s a nerve wracking, nourish suspense film about a Nazi attempt to silence a prominent doctor who desires to build peace. The film also displays a profound humanity and definitely keeps the heart racing. Towards the latter half, I was literally on the edge of my seat, holding my breath. Robert Ryan, who has quickly become one of my most favorite actors, is TCM’s star of the month for May (!!!!!), and this film will be airing again. I recommend it a great deal.
Deep in My Heart (1954)
dir: Stanley Donen
A musical shot in vibrant technicolor, proving once again that MGM spared no expense in this genre. And I’m heartily thankful for it. The film chronicles the life and career of composer Sigmund Romberg (Jose Ferrer). Though unfamiliar with Romberg’s music, I found myself really enjoying Ferrer’s portrayal of him. Jose Ferrer strikes me as a deeply committed and hard working actor, someone who could transition easily between menacing characters and more cheerful ones. And how great that he was Puerto Rican and had consistent work? He sings a little in this, and dances too. His performance was so spirited and full of energy. Merle Oberon also costarred, and I’m once again convinced that she received only modest praise for her acting. What I think Stanley Donen did exceptionally well was balancing the biographical portions with the song and dance numbers, which featured a cadre of MGM stars, including Jane Powell, Rosemary Clooney, Ann Miller, Gene Kelly with his brother Fred (!), and Cyd Charisse in my favorite segment.
Easter Parade (1948)
dir: Charles Waters
Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) is a big Broadway star who’s been dancing with his longtime partner Nadine Hale (Ann Miller). But Nadine begins to dream of a solo career so she ditches him. Feeling rejected and vengeful, Don begins training the inexperienced Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) to replace Nadine. Hannah eventually falls in love with Don but he doesn’t realize how much he reciprocates until much later. At first I thought, how could Judy choose Fred over Peter Lawford?! But I’ve also got a crush on Fred, so it’s understandable. Yes, he may have been a balding string bean, but he was a handsome balding string bean. And then my friend told me that Judy definitely picked Fred because of Peter’s fur coat, haha!
Easter Parade is one of the most pleasant films I’ve ever seen, makes me feel so warm inside, and teamed up two of Hollywood’s most incomparable stars in all their great talent and magic. Peter Lawford is really good too; he sings and it’s adorable. Also, I love Ann Miller even more now.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
dir: Max Reinhardt, William Dieterle
This is my favorite Shakespeare play. It’s such a whimsical, tongue in cheek story about magic with more serious underlying themes. Watching this adaptation actually made me borrow a copy from the library to reread. The cinematography is just splendid; everything shimmers and sparkles. Borrowed fairy light. The cast is brilliant too! It includes James Cagney as Bottom (note that he appeared in gangster films, musicals, and Shakespeare), Dick Powell, and the magnificent Olivia de Havilland in her screen debut.
dir: Richard Thorpe
This musical with seven sisters each named after a Greek goddess is just so sweet. And already you know it’s great because it’s about sisters who are named after Greek goddesses. They’re a family of fitness freaks who lead a very eccentric lifestyle. They don’t smoke or eat meat, and astrology and numbers help them make all their major decisions. The oldest, Athena (Jane Powell) ends up falling in love with a strict young lawyer (Edmund Purdom), who’s bewildered by the family at first before gradually falling in love with Athena too. Also featuring Debbie Reynolds.
I could be wrong, but it seems MGM had a monopoly on beautiful pajamas/nightgowns.
High Sierra (1941)
dir: Raoul Walsh
I think what I love best about High Sierra is how Humphrey Bogart is this tough ex-convict getting ready to pull another heist, but his portrayal is really complex. He’s the villain technically, but there’s a lot more to him. This is the guy you root for, especially when you see how sensitive he is. Roy Earle falls for a sweet twenty year old girl named Velma (16! year old Joan Leslie), who walks with a limp. He pays for her operation and everything, but when he proposes marriage, Velma refuses because she doesn’t love him. And it totally breaks him up. He ends up transferring his affections rather reluctantly to the tough Marie (Ida Lupino the queen), who really proves that she’s the one who belongs by Roy’s side once the police go after him.
The Young in Heart (1938)
dir: Richard Wallace
I absolutely bawled my eyes out. It’s so sentimental without being cloying, and might have been a mean, cynical movie in lesser hands. A family of close knit, loving con artists (Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Roland Young, Billie Burke) move in with a rich old woman and begin fleecing her. They’re incorrigible, and the old woman is easy to take advantage of because she’s so lonely and dotes on them. They become her new family, and slowly, she starts to chip away at their selfish exteriors. They even give her a puppy like the one she used to have as a girl. Trust me, it’s sublime.
On Dangerous Ground (1951)
dir: Nicholas Ray
What a bleak, unsparing, tough, beautiful film. Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan) is a cop who’s seen too much of criminals to believe there’s any good left in the world. He beats up suspects in order to gain information. “Why do you guys make me do it?” he snarls, teeth clenched, a gleam of unchecked violence in his eyes. Underneath his hardened shell is a deeply wounded man. Robert Ryan is everything. Jim is assigned to a murder case up in the mountains after he lets loose with his fists again, and he questions the suspect’s blind sister (Ida Lupino). Do you know where this is going? I bawled my eyes out at this too.
dir: Blake Edwards
This right here was my 30th William Holden film! Although I burst into tears when TCM host Ben Mankiewicz mentioned that it was his final film (I knew that, but hearing it out loud was rough), I was instantly cheered up because this movie is hilarious. I’m glad that Bill’s last movie was so funny. It’s a scathing Hollywood satire, wherein a producer attempts suicide multiple times after his latest film flops. Newly inspired however, he decides to reshoot the whole thing as an erotic musical. While Bill Holden might have easily been forgettable amidst so many bizarre personalities, his wry, understated performance holds it all together. That’s what he was best at. And even he gets to be funny. Julie Andrews also stars.
The Harvey Girls (1946)
dir: George Sidney
Another Judy Garland film, also featuring Cyd Charisse and Virginia O’Brien in the above still. I only have one tiny complaint about this film, and that is Virginia O’Brien being the “ugly” one. Where? Other than that, it’s terrific. This film combined the genre I hate (westerns) with the genre I love (musicals), and it was a dazzling technicolor treat about waitresses fighting to bring propriety to the west. They were all girlfriends who loved each other and I couldn’t have been happier. Angela Lansbury also appears a saloon girl!
See what I mean about MGM and pajamas?? Oh, and the film’s best known song “On the Atchinson, Topeka and the Sante Fe” is so catchy and was definitely on my mind when I saw this plaque at Disney’s California Adventure.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
dir: Stanley Kubrick
Ok, at first, that’s all I was going to write. I have nothing new to add, except that I did watch this on a plane, which couldn’t have been more appropriate. I read a pretty annoying review which claimed no one actually likes this film, they just like other people thinking they do. I disagree. How pretentious can you get? I loved this film, particularly the classical music in space, the images, the intentional ambiguity of the whole piece. It’s a film you really have to sit with, and I can’t wait to revisit it.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
dir: Vincente Minnelli
A turn of the century family, the famous “Trolley Song”, luminous Judy Garland, precious Margaret O’Brien, plenty to love in this classic. I always love seeing a beloved film that’s been firmly snug in pop culture and understanding all the hype. It’s so lovely.
In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
dir: Robert Z. Leonard
As a glorious technicolor musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner (1940), this film has a lot to love about it, even if the original is superior. I loved the scenes that mirrored the 1940 film, as well as the differences in plot and character. Judy Garland once again, proves just how amazing she was as an actress. We love her voice, but she was so great in heavy dramas and light comedies. She heightened the emotion in any scene and made it so natural. I also have a crush on Van Johnson now. The general consensus is that he just can’t compare to Jimmy Stewart, but I thought he was just fine. He was handsome in a boy next door way (a way I used to think was bland), but at the end, he plays seductive & flirty quite convincingly. Buster Keaton had a supporting role and he was underused in my opinion. Other than that, a beautiful movie.
Till the Clouds Roll By (1946)
dir: Richard Whorf, et al
This film is so flawed and yet I love it so much. It’s a biography of composer Jerome Kern (my darling Robert Walker), and it features a bevy of MGM talent in glorified cameos. So many of my favorite people were in this; Lena Horne, June Allyson (who weirdly received top billing), Kathryn Grayson, Cyd Charisse (in a segment that was far too brief!), Van Johnson, Judy Garland once more, Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, and Van Heflin. Robert Walker and Heflin are the only two who don’t do any singing and dancing, so I guess it’s unsurprising that they would get lost amidst all those vivid musical numbers. This film is similar in structure to Deep in My Heart, but where that film succeeds, this one fails. Jose Ferrer delivered a fervent portrayal of Sigmund Romberg, and his life outside of the production numbers was interesting to me. As Jerome Kern, Robert Walker doesn’t get to do much. This is no slight against him, just the script was lacking. Kern is like a supporting player. The music is the real star. And you get to see so many Golden Age Stars, I really can’t recommend it enough.