Another great movie watching month with 46 new to me films. Got to see lots of June Allyson, whom I adore, and became familiar with TCM’s Star of the Month, Gene Hackman. The one film of his I’d seen prior was The Royal Tenenbaums, so I had a lot to see. Here are my favorites.
Home Before Dark (1958)
dir: Mervyn LeRoy
Everything about this film felt so honest. Jean Simmons plays Charlotte Bronn, a young woman returning home from a mental institution. She struggles to readjust to her old life, which becomes increasingly difficult owing to the lack of empathy she receives from her husband and family. If I didn’t love Susan Hayward in I Want to Live! so much, I would have wanted Simmons to win the Best Actress Oscar.
Invitation to the Dance (1958)
dir: Gene Kelly
Gene Kelly was a genius. This film is part silent (no dialogue), part ballet, and part animated film. It’s quite an ambitious offering with four different sets of stories. All are performed through dance and pantomime, coming to life in vivid color.
dir: George Stevens
The three hour runtime definitely made me wary anytime I caught this film on TCM. But it’s three hours of enthralling story and characters. This was the fourth film I saw this year in which Elizabeth Taylor was a southerner. This is really an inter generational story, dealing with conflicts of gender, race, class, and wealth. Rock Hudson was definitely underrated as an actor. He and Elizabeth are a glorious pair; they were both so gorgeous. Would I watch three hours of them just staring at each other? Probably. James Dean also gives an outstanding performance. The film itself is beautiful, with frames that looked like actual paintings. It’s a sprawling epic that still feels intimate. Not to mention! Dennis Hopper and Carroll Baker playing the children of older Taylor and Hudson.
dir: John Crowley
Having captivated nearly everyone and generating so much award buzz last year, this was definitely a film I had been looking forward to. It reminded me so much of my mother, although she was an immigrant navigating life in 1970s America. And unlike Eilis, the heroine of Brooklyn, my mother had to learn English all on her own. Despite my own personal connection, this really is a lovely film, anchored by Saiorse Ronan’s dignified presence. Eilis leaves her native Ireland for better opportunities abroad. Her beloved sister arranges everything with a priest, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent). That was something else I loved, a positive and warm portrayal of Catholic clergy. Eilis falls in love with Tony (Emory Cohen) but her journey is about so much more than romance. Julie Walters as the landlady in her boarding house was probably my favorite character.
Three Men in White (1944)
dir: Willis Goldbeck
Tepid plot, very young Van Johnson, and a hysterical Lionel Barrymore. I loved it a lot, probably more than I should, considering the unremarkable narrative. But what charm and humor! Besides, all Van Johnson has to do is show up and I automatically love any movie. Dr. Gillespie (Barrymore) is in the process of selecting a new assistant. It’s between Dr. Adams (Johnson) and Dr. Lee (Keye Luke). Dr. Lee is Chinese, affectionately referred to as Brooklyn, and is able to exist as a hardworking, driven intern, who takes pride in his hyphenated identity. It was just wonderful to see such a fair and glowing characterization in a classic Hollywood film. The film also features Ava Gardner in an early role (something I’ve been loving a lot this year). This time she’s actually listed in the credits and has a substantial speaking part.
June Allyson films
The Bride Goes Wild (1948)
dir: Norman Taurog
A misleading title with an unsatisfying ending. I thought June was a newlywed who…goes wild but that’s actually not the case. Despite the issues it was another great comedy pairing her for the third time with Van Johnson. He’s an alcoholic children’s author (Greg Rawlings) who hates kids and she’s a sheltered children’s book illustrator (Martha Terryton) who wins a contest to illustrate his latest book. Sparks begin to fly when he loosens her up by getting her drunk (without her knowledge, yes I know it’s problematic, he doesn’t get away with it, but he blows in her ear). In order to appease Martha’s violated sensibilities, Greg’s flustered publisher John (Hume Cronyn) tells her that widowed Greg is under a lot of strain because he has a wicked, misbehaving son. Greg doesn’t have a son so they basically hire a bratty kid (Butch Jenkins) from the local orphanage and obviously she finds out but who cares, they’ve fallen in love and he’s not a kid hater anymore. I have just one more film left of theirs to see, Remains to Be Seen, but I have no hope in actually tracking it down. I wish they’d made so many more together.
The Three Musketeers (1948)
dir: George Sidney
June sadly doesn’t have a lot to do in this film, save for being Gene Kelly’s love interest. She didn’t have a great experience while filming, but the film is amazing. What’s most impressive (apart from Vincent Price’s dastardly grins and evil machinations) are the sword fights and choreography. There’s one scene that sticks out in my mind, where the crashing waves provide a backdrop against one thrilling fight sequence. Lana Turner, Angela Lansbury, Van Heflin, and Frank Morgan also star, for a who’s who of MGM contract players.
The Reformer and the Redhead (1950)
dir: Norman Panama
This time June costarred with husband Dick Powell, for a slight screwball comedy with a little Bringing Up Baby in its DNA. June plays Kathy, a young woman who works at the local zoo alongside her father Kevin (Cecil Kellaway). Kathy and Kevin are both eccentric animal lovers who often bring wild animals home. Kevin is fired from the zoo for criticizing a corrupt political boss (Roy Collins) with ties to the zoo. Kathy soon gets in touch with Andy Hale (Dick Powell), an attorney running on the reform ticket to expose the corruption. I was surprised by how much I loved the film, and I adored June in it. She was so feisty, passionate, and tough, even fighting a woman much bigger than her. It’s not quite as zany as screwball comedies from the 1930s, but it is an enjoyable ride.
Gene Hackman films
I chose two films where Gene Hackman’s characters are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. He was my favorite in Bonnie & Clyde, and I’m happy to report that I’m not a big fan of the film, just like Robert Duvall. I also really liked him in The Gypsy Moths.
I Never Sang for My Father (1970)
dir: Gilbert Cates
I have a great relationship with my dad. I’ve often been told by friends and relatives that I’m really lucky to have the father I do. But this film, about the strains on a relationship between a grown man and his father, really affected me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I grew up in a culture where my father is a rarity. Tom Garrison (Melvyn Douglas) reminded me of other fathers I know; distant, cold, difficult to love. His son Gene (Gene Hackman) is a widower who’s always struggled with his lack of affection for his overbearing father. Melvyn Douglas is sympathetic at times, but Tom is overall a complex character. And Hackman’s performance is so heartbreaking. I was surprised that someone so gruff could be sensitive.
The French Connection (1971)
dir: William Friedkin
The car chase scene. Charnier’s smug look as he waves to Doyle from the moving train. Images I’d seen and could fully appreciate in the context of the film. It would probably make for a good triple feature with Traffic and Sicario, for anyone stupid enough to watch three movies about the war on drugs in quick succession. (ME). And Hackman’s Oscar win was totally deserved too. Seeing him as a ruthless cop was honestly kind of triggering but he’s fascinating to watch. I’m still not sure exactly why I enjoyed the film so much, but I found it really intriguing. Drugs are bad!