Coming Attractions: Another January Blogathon!

This January I will be participating in not one, not two, but THREE classic film blogathons!  I have never had the chance to participate before and I am really looking forward to these!  I already mentioned two of these in a previous post but I wanted to let everyone know about the third one!

On January 17-18, 2015 is the Contrary to Popular Opinion blogathon hosted by Sister Celluloid and Movies Silently.  This is a fun one, where classic film fans will be either defending a classic film, actor, director, etc. that is not well liked, or lambasting a popular one.  The idea is that if we all join together, we can’t lose our classic film fan membership cards!  I will be posting an “anti” post about…DR ZHIVAGO.  Sorry Dr Z fans, but don’t unfollow me just yet!

Looking forward to seeing all the posts and entries for the January blogathons!  I am most excited to get to talk with other classic film fans, and classic film bloggers!

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas: CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945)

This past weekend some very lucky people attended TCM’s screening of CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT and A CHRISTMAS CAROLE in select theaters.  Unfortunately, I was not able to attend due to a previous engagement with a young man…i.e. my infant son’s nap time.  Luckily, I happen to own a copy of CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT and so I was able to plan my own private screening!  This 1945 film was directed by Peter Godfrey and stars Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet(!!), and the fabulous Barbara Stanwyck.

Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) is an injured war hero, shot down by the Germans and left adrift in a raft for eighteen days with only his friend Sinkewicz for company.  Now recovering at an army hospital, he finds that the food being served is not living up to his raft bound hallucinations.  In order to pass the time, his nurse reads to him from a popular magazine column called DIARY OF A HOUSEWIFE.  The articles describe a bucolic lifestyle and mouthwatering meals, all written by Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck), a wife and mother living in the domestic bliss of Connecticut.  To Jeff, these stories are welcome breaks in his day and the recipes described therein definitely pique his interest and his appetite.  But there is still the best issue of the disappointing meals.   He notices that Sinkewicz is getting all sorts of delicious foods, but why?  Simple!  It’s the Magoo.  Basically, according to Sinkewicz, the nurses are more than happy to do all sorts of favors for men who are in love with them and if Jeff wants that juicy steak for dinner he better start laying it on thick.  At first Jones objects but his stomach is stronger than his principles and soon he is wooing his nurse, a young Miss Mary Lee (Joyce Compton).  The plan works a little too well.  Jeff is getting the best food the hospital can provide, but now Mary wants to get married!  In an effort to dissuade her, Jeff tells Mary that he has never had a home and that he doesn’t ever think of himself as getting married as a result.  That gives Mary the idea that if she could send Jeff to a real home to spend his Christmas in, why then he would have to agree to get married!  How could any man live in domestic bliss and STILL not want to get married?

Mary sets about writing to the publisher of the magazine she has been reading to Jeff, a Mr. Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet).  It seems that Mr. Yardley owes Mary a bit of a favor as Mary was the one to nurse his daughter back to health during a bout of the measles.  Mr. Yardley is preparing to spend Christmas alone, his daughter unable to leave her war work, and without any good food (due to diet restrictions from his doctor).  Thankfully, his plans for solitude and turnip whip are cut short by the arrival of Mary’s letter.  In it she asks if there is any way that Mr. Yardley could help Jeff spend Christmas with Elizabeth Lane, at her farm in Connecticut.  Mr. Yardley is only too happy to oblige and immediately calls Elizabeth’s editor to arrange things.  But Elizabeth’s editor is not as thrilled by this idea and attempts to change Mr. Yardley’s mind.  Mr. Yardley will hear no objections, saying that the two things most important to him in his staff are to always tell the truth, and obey all his commands.  So naturally, Elizabeth’s editor agrees but he has good reason to be hesitant.  It seems that Elizabeth Lane does not live on a farm in Connecticut but in an apartment in the city.  And she does not cook delicious meals, her Uncle Felix (S.Z. Sakall) does.  The real Elizabeth can’t cook, can’t farm, and isn’t domestic in the least!  She isn’t even married, though architect John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) is constantly proposing to her.

Elizabeth and her editor decide that the best plan of action is to have her go and speak to Mr. Yardley, and explain to him that there is no way that this can happen because her pretend baby has pretend whooping cough.  Or maybe scarlet fever?  Unfortunately, Mr. Yardley isn’t very good at listening and Elizabeth isn’t very good at making him.  By the end of the conversation not only is Elizabeth still hosting Jeff at her farm, but now Mr. Yardley is going to be joining them!  Elizabeth and her editor are resigned to defeat, and Elizabeth even agrees to marry John since she has nothing else to fall back on.  John is thrilled and begins planning their wedding trip to his farm in…Connecticut.

The big day dawns, and Elizabeth and John arrive at his farm.  The plan is that they will be married in the morning and play host/hostess extraordinaire to Mr. Yardley and Jeff in the afternoon. Uncle Felix has also come to stay during the holiday and will be providing the food for the coming charade. The farm is perfect and John has thought of everything, including a baby provided by a neighbor who needs a babysitter during the day.  He has also provided a judge in the living room to perform the wedding ceremony.  Everything seems to be in order and Elizabeth prepares to become Mrs. Sloan.  But the nuptials are interrupted by the arrival of Jeff.  He is terribly excited to meet Elizabeth and see her in her daily routine, one which he has read so much about (and knows better than she does).  So while he and Elizabeth go off to bathe the baby, who may or may not be a boy named Robert, John sets about entertaining the newly arrived Mr. Yardley.  That night, while John and Mr. Yardley chat, Elizabeth trims the Christmas tree accompanied by Jeff’s piano playing.  She finds herself attracted to this attractive young man, and he seems taken with her as well.  But he can’t do a thing as she is a married woman, or at least she will be once John can get the judge to finish the ceremony.

As the days go by, and Christmas draws closer, Elizabeth and Jeff grow closer and closer.  It also becomes harder and harder to keep up the ruse, and Elizabeth begins to wonder if things wouldn’t be better if she just came clean to Jeff and Mr. Yardley. But John reminds her that if the truth is revealed both she and her editor would surely lose their jobs, so Elizabeth resigns herself to continuing on.  One morning a neighbor woman comes to drop off her baby for the day.  She will be late in returning to collect the child as this is her overtime day.  John tries again to sneak in a wedding ceremony but to no avail.  Uncle Felix, never a big fan of John and sensing the attraction between Elizabeth and Jeff, is running interference even going so far as to pretend that the baby has swallowed his watch.  Later that night everyone, except Uncle Felix, goes to a holiday/war bond drive dance in town.  Elizabeth and Jeff dance together, their mutual attraction becoming more and more obvious even to the point where Mr. Yardley is becoming concerned.  The two slip off to talk and eventually find themselves in a horse drawn sleigh.  While they sit there talking the horse gets it into his head to go for a walk and does just that, taking Elizabeth and Jeff with him. Rather than being alarmed by this situation the two are quite happy to continue sitting there and talk, that is until the police pull them over and arrest them for theft.  Despite their attempts at explaining things Jeff and Elizabeth are taken off to jail.  Meanwhile, back at the farm, Uncle Felix is watching the baby while waiting for his mother to come and collect him.  Soon Uncle Felix is snoring in front of the fire, and so he doesn’t see when the neighbor woman returns from work and goes upstairs to retrieve her son.  The only person who does see is Mr. Yardley, who has just returned from the dance and believes that this woman is in fact kidnapping Elizabeth’s child!  The next morning when Elizabeth and Jeff return from their night in jail, they find the house filled with strange men.  It seems that Mr. Yardley has not only called the police to report a kidnapping, but he has notified the newspapers too!  And just when it seems that things can’t get any more complicated, the neighbor woman shows up again with HER baby.

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT is definitely a lighter movie for the holidays.  I would say it is a sillier Barbara Stanwyck than we often get to see but she does a great job as usual.  Barbara Stanwyck is not only fantastic at drama, but she also has real comedic talents.  Some of her facial expressions and gestures in this movie are just hysterical, and she gets a good chunk of the laughs.  I love Sydney Greenstreet and it is fun to see him in a role that is more or less the “straight man” to everyone else.  S.Z. Sakall definitely steals the scene a few times and Reginald Gardiner is so funny as the long suffering suitor.  The funniest parts are when he keeps trying to marry Elizabeth and everyone, including Elizabeth, are coming up with reasons to postpone it.  This is also a lesser known holiday movie, though perhaps not quite as unknown as REMEMBER THE NIGHT, but definitely one that should be in your classic film rotation during the holidays.  An easy and enjoyable movie, perfect for the Christmas season. Hopefully, there will be another chance to catch this in theaters some time and I will be able to take advantage of it!  Until then, I will just watch my DVD copy and wait for TCM to air it on December 21st at 2PM and again on December 24th at 10PM.

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas: REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940)

About halfway through watching REMEMBER THE NIGHT on TCM I had a momentary pause.  “How?” I wondered, “How have I never seen a movie THIS good?”  Now that Thanksgiving is past I am finally allowing myself to start watching Christmas movies and thankfully, TCM is there with a great one!  My first movie of the holiday season is a fantastic film written by Preston Sturges and directed by Mitchell Leisen, REMEMBER THE NIGHT from 1940.

Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) is a girl with a penchant for taking things that she can’t afford.  One day in New York City, Lee walks off with an expensive bracelet.  The theft is immediately noticed and when Lee goes to a local pawn shop, she is trapped inside by the owner who has heard about the bracelet going missing and recognizes it immediately.  This isn’t Lee’s first run in with the law, in fact it is her third offense.  That means possible jail time and what with it being almost Christmas, the more offenses mean the more likely a conviction.  At least that is what the District Attorney (Paul Guilfoyle) is betting on.  He calls up prosecutor John Sargent (Fred MacMurray), who happens to be getting read to travel back home to Indiana for Christmas.  John, much to his dismay, is assigned the case and heads off to court to bring the state’s case against Lee.  He isn’t too thrilled, because not only is his trip being delayed but juries are notoriously lax at Christmastime.  It won’t be so easy for him to get a conviction.

In the courtroom Lee’s attorney is putting on a Broadway show, explaining to the entranced jury that Lee was not responsible for her actions.  Why the poor girl was hypnotized into an acute state of schizophrenia by the beauty of the jewels on her wrist!  Rather than objecting to this dog and pony show, John sits quietly biding his time.  When the defense rests John steps forward and requests that he be granted a continuance, as his only expert witness who could address the defense’s claims of psychiatric disorder is out of town until after Christmas.  As the defense has rested and the prosecution can’t offer a case without their expert, the judge has not alternative but to adjourn the case until January.  Lee is less than thrilled with the continuance, as she will now be remanded to the jail until her court date unless she can post $5000 bail.  On her way out she throws a sarcastic “I hope YOU have a ‘Merry Christmas'” to John, who asks his clerk to get Fat Mike the bondsman.  Fat Mike appears and John asks him to get him a $5000 bond for “a friend”.  Fat Mike is all wink wink, nudge nudge, no charge, and “she’s out”.

John returns to his apartment and continues packing for his trip home.  Soon there is a knock on the door, and Fat Mike drops off an indignant Lee.  After a bit of confusion, it is finally cleared up that John is just as surprised as Lee and that he did NOT ask Fat Mike to bring her up to his apartment at all, and she is welcome to leave any time she likes.  So naturally, Lee says that she will stay.  When John tells her that he is getting ready to leave for a trip home and actually could she please go, Lee wonders where John intends for her to go?  John offers to square her bill at the hotel she was staying at, but the price is a bit too steep for him.  As their discussion isn’t getting them anywhere, John offers to take Lee to a dinner club to get something to eat.

Over drinks and dinner, Lee and John discuss life and life philosophies.  It seems that Lee has been taking things for as long as she can remember.  She tells John that everyone believes in right and wrong, but right and wrong mean different things to different people.  For example, if John was broke and starving to death he would steal a loaf of bread to eat.  But if Lee was broke and starving to death, she would get a six course dinner in the restaurant across the street and then say she lost her purse.  While they sit together talking, who should stop to talk with John but the very judge who is presiding over Lee’s trial!  Shocked by John’s dinner companion, he hurries away with his wife.  As the meal draws to a close and the two prepare to part ways until the trial reconvenes, Lee asks John for one more dance.  They move across the dance floor to the tune of “My Indiana Home”, and discover that they are both Hoosiers from towns just fifty miles apart.  John offers to take Lee home for Christmas, asking how long it has been since she was home.  Lee, it turns out, has never been back ever since she ran away.  She has only heard from her mother once, a letter she received telling her that her father had died.  She isn’t even sure if her mother is still alive, though she hopes so.

The two set off on their Christmas road trip and soon hit a speed bump, literally.  Part of the road is under construction and they have to take a detour down a country road.  Completely turned around and lost, the two weary travelers decide it best to sleep in the car overnight and start again in the morning.  They are awakened by the sounds of cows mooing, and not that far off.  In fact, the cars are all around them and even in the car with them!  John offers to milk the cows for their breakfast, but is interrupted by a rifle in his face.  The landowner has discovered them, and mistaken them for trespassers.  Placing them under citizen’s arrest, the man leads Lee and John to the local courthouse to stand trial.  John tries to use his skills as a lawyer to explain the situation, but the judge is unwilling to listen and be pushed around by New Yorkers!  Lee, sensing that this is getting them nowhere, creates a distraction by setting fire to a wastebasket.  While the judge and the landowner race about put out said fire, Lee and John hurry off to their car to make a quick escape.

John and Lee finally arrive at Lee’s mother’s farm.  Nervous, Lee asks John to go with her to the door which he agrees to readily.  Lee knocks on the door and is greeted by a man, who turns out to be her mother’s new husband.  He calls to his wife to come to the door and now it is Lee’s mother (Georgia Caine) who appears.  But if John was expecting to see a warm mother-daughter reunion, he is to be disappointed.  Lee’s mother is a cold and disapproving woman, who instead of welcoming home her lost daughter, berates her and extolls all her shortcomings and faults.  She tells Lee to leave, that no one wants her here and that she has always been a disappointment to her family.  Outside, Lee breaks down and begs John not to leave her here with these people.  John agrees and offers to take her home with him, to spend Christmas with his family.

Finally, they arrive at John’s home and are greeted by his mother (Beluah Bondi), his Aunt Emma (Elizabeth Patterson), and their simple minded field hand, Willie (Sterling Holloway).  Lee is surprised to find that she is welcomed with open hearts and arms, and treated like one of the family.  She even gets presents from the family for Christmas!  John, fearing that his mother might get the wrong idea about why he brought Lee with him, tells her all about Lee’s troubled past and her current prosecution.  While things are platonic between John and Lee, his mother has no concerns and even comes to care for Lee as a daughter.  But during the New Year’s dance, things between the two become more romantic and John’s mother begins to worry.  On the night before they are to leave she comes to Lee’s room.  John loves Lee, this is clear to her, but as fond as she has become of Lee she is afraid that entering into a relationship with her will damage John’s career and reputation.  John has worked so hard to get where he is today, and she doesn’t’ want anything to ruin that.  Lee agrees to stop things from going any further with John, even though she loves him deeply.  It is because of her love, and his mother’s plea, that Lee insists on returning to New York to stand trial even as John offers to leave her in Canada instead.

Back in the courtroom the judge is convinced, having seen the two of them together at dinner, that John will try to throw they case in favor of Lee.  But as they start, John seems to be going at Lee harder than ever.  He is hounding her on the witness stand, challenging her testimony, and demanding answers like a man on a mission.  But his mission is not to convict Lee, but to garner sympathy for her from the jury.  If he appears too hard on her the jury will surely vote in her favor, if only out of compassion.   But Lee senses what he is doing, and fearing for his career and reputation, begs the judge to accept her plea of guilty!

This is such an underrated and under appreciated film.  I am so glad that I got a chance to see it on TCM, not just by myself but along with the members of #TCMParty on Twitter.  If you aren’t familiar, #TCMParty is basically a viewing party via Twitter so that classic film fans can all watch the same film and tweet about it.  Many of us were seeing REMEMBER THE NIGHT for the first time that night, and we were all stunned at how good this film is.  The Preston Sturges script is so witty and smart, so funny and so touching.  This was the last film that Sturges made as strictly a screenwriter.  Tired of watching directors change his scripts during filming, including this one, Sturges made the move to writer/director/producer and thank God he did.  But the story of REMEMBER THE NIGHT is so good, so well though out, and so well written it makes the movie truly special.  I don’t think anyone could write a story like Preston Sturges.  This film goes from comedy, to pathos, to drama, to romance, and back again.  And it does it in a way that makes perfect sense to the story and to the characters.  The acting is top notch too.  This is the first of what would be four collaborations between Stanwyck and MacMurray, and even this early on in the partnership you can really see the chemistry.  You believe they are in love and not movie love but real, honest, make you popovers in the morning love.  Also, can we just take a moment here to talk about how fantastic Barbara Stanwyck is?  There is a scene in which Lee has just been left in her new room by Aunt Sara, after receiving a nightgown to sleep in.  Barbara Stanwyck has no lines, but just does everything on her face and in her eyes.  In that moment you know exactly what Lee is thinking and feeling, and without one word ever being said.  All in all, I really loved this movie.  So much so, I ordered it from TCM after the viewing because I wanted to add it to my collection to watch during Christmas time for years to come.  If you get the chance to see this movie, do it!  It is a fantastic movie any time of the year, but I am so glad that it was my first Christmas movie of the season!

Coming Attractions for December and January

Hi everyone!

Just a quick post of some of the things you can look forward to over the next month or two!

Now that it is after Thanksgiving, I can finally break out the Christmas movies!  Hopefully I will be able to have a bunch to post about, but I will definitely try for at least two or three.  I’m thinking of CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT, IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE, and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  Of course these may change, but if there are any Christmas films you think I should blog about leave me a comment below!

In January I am taking part in my first blogathons ever!  The first one is January 22-25 and is hosted by SilverScreenings and ASmallPressLife!  It is celebrating the lovely Miriam Hopkins and I will be contributing a post about TROUBLE IN PARADISE.

The second blogathon will take place on January 31st and is hosted by Backlots!  The topic is Dueling Divas and I will be posting about sisters, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine.

So there are some coming attractions for the next two months!  Thanks to everyone for making me feel so welcome to the classic film blogosphere, and to all of you who come and read these posts!  I am having a lot of fun and I can’t wait to blog more!

Watching with Warner: THREE ON A MATCH (1932)

After watching THREE ON A MATCH (1932) on Warner Archive Instant I had two reactions.  First, how do they cram so much into just sixty-four minutes?  Second, how is Ann Dvorak not a huge thing?

THREE ON A MATCH tells the story of Vivian (Ann Dvorak), Mary (Joan Blondell), and Ruth (Bette Davis).  These three girls all attend Public School No. 62 as children, though each has a very different path to follow.  Ruth is studious and practical, Mary is independent and headstrong, and Vivian is popular and privileged.  Mary is always getting into trouble, sneaking off to smoke with boys, and showing off her bloomers, much to the disapproval of Vivian.  At graduation Ruth is awarded Valedictorian and, as her family cannot afford to send her to high school, goes off to business college.  Vivian is voted Most Popular and is sent off to an exclusive boarding school, while Mary barely manages to graduate at all.  When Ruth wonders what will happen to Mary now that they have left school, Vivian sniffs that she will probably end up in reform school.  Flash forward a few years and Ruth is working hard in business college, Vivian is reading saucy novels among breathless girls at boarding school, and Mary is indeed in reform school.

Several more years pass and Mary is now working as an actress when she happens to run into Ruth, who is now working as a secretary.  As Mary recounts her chance meeting to a hairdresser that afternoon, the woman in the booth next door overhears and realizes that she also knows Mary.  In fact the other woman is Vivian, who is now married to a successful lawyer named Robert Kirkwood (Warren William) with whom she has a 3 1/2 year old son.  The three women agree to meet for lunch to catch up on old times.  Over sandwiches and tea, the women share a match to light their cigarettes causing Mary to note, “Three on a match.”  The “Three on a Match” superstition was created around WWI, at first believed to be from soldiers on the battlefield but later discovered to have been created by a large match manufacturer in an effort to decrease sharing and increase sales.  The saying goes that three on a match, the last one on the match is soon to die because in the time it takes for the three to share the match a sniper has enough time and light to find his target.

Mary asks what the other two have been up to over the years, and each discusses their lives and their envy of the others.  Surprisingly, even though Vivian has everything the other two could ask for she is the least satisfied with her life.  She complains that she feels restless, that the things that give pleasure to others hold nothing for her, that they simply leave her cold.  Ruth speculates that perhaps it is because things have always come easily for Vivian, which she does not disagree with.

Later that night, Vivian and Robert are returning from a party to find that their son is still awake.  Vivian tucks him back in and goes back to her bedroom, while Robert spends some more time with his son.  Once alone Vivian hurries to get ready for bed before Robert comes in.  When Robert does finally appear, Vivian is already in bed and pretending to be asleep.  Sensing something is wrong, Robert asks Vivian what he can do to make her happier.  After some discussion, it is decided that Vivian will take a trip abroad with just herself and her son.  Robert is sad to have his family leave but he truly wants to help Vivian find the happiness that is eluding her.  When the day of departure comes Vivian is excited to have some time on her own, and is even looking forward to the prospect of caring for her son without the help of the nursemaid.  Robert offers to spend some time with the two of them before the ship departs but he is interrupted by the arrival of a message from his office.  Work calls him away and he leaves Vivian with a kiss, before hurrying out down the hall and past Mary who has just arrived.  Mary and several friends are onboard to throw a farewell party for another friend who is sailing.  She invites Vivian to join her and Vivian, who has noticed Mary’s handsome friend Mike (Lyle Talbot), happily agrees.  By the end of the night Vivian and Mike are smitten with each other.  Vivian is thrilled by Mike’s attention, and feels more alive and desired than she ever has before.  Mike asks her to leave the ship with him and she agrees.  Vivian returns to her state room to collect her son and her baggage before disappearing into the night.

Robert is going crazy looking for Vivian and his son, but no one can find her.  But Mary knows where she is, and is concerned for the safety and health of the child.  Vivian and Mike are wrapped up in each other, alcohol, parties, and drugs.  Vivian’s son is often hungry and dirty as his mother no longer cares enough to get him food or bathe him.  Mary has a plan to get Vivian’s son away from her and into the care of Ruth, and Ruth’s sister.  Mary goes to see Robert and lets him know just where Vivian has been staying and what she has been up to.  Leading the police to the apartment, Mary finds Vivian passed out in the room and her son playing in the bathroom.  Father and son are happily reunited, and Vivian relinquishes control having no grounds to object to Robert taking the boy into his care.

Some years pass, and Robert has become more friendly with Ruth and Mary.  Ruth is wonderful with his son, and Mary is just wonderful.  Robert asks Ruth to stay on as governess to his son, and he asks Mary to stay on as his wife.  Now divorced from Vivian, Robert marries Mary and settles into a happier life.  But one day Vivian appears on the corner and asks Mary for help.  It seems that Mike has left her, after spending all her money and now she has nothing.  Mary, feeling sorry for Vivian, gives her what she can and tells Vivian to come again to talk with her.  Walking around the corner Vivian meets with Mike, who has in fact not left, and presents him with the money.  Mike has gambled away more money than he can pay, and now he owes $2,000 to a night club owner named Ace (Edward Arnold).  Ace tells Mike that if he does not return the money life will become very painful, a threat which will be backed up by his main enforcer Harve (Humphrey Bogart) and his gang.  Mike is desperate and decides to go to see Robert.  In an attempt at blackmail, Mike threatens to tell the papers about Mary’s stay in the reform school unless Robert pays him $2,000.  Robert refuses and sends Mike away, telling him that if the story about Mary makes its way into the news that Mike will be sued for libel.  On his way out of the office Mike spies Robert’s son coming to see his father, and he suddenly has an idea.  In the park Mike corners the little boy, and tells him that Vivian needs him and he must go to her at once.  The child agrees and goes off with his “Uncle Mike”, little knowing the truth behind Mike’s actions.  In the apartment Vivian is getting high and she is less than thrilled with Mike shows up.  Things go from bad to worse when there is a knock at the door, and in walks Harve and the gang.  Apparently, Ace has had an idea of a way to get even more money out of Mike.

This movie is an essential Pre-Code viewing.  It has everything that the Hayes Code hated!  There is sex, violence, drinking, drugs, and skin.  There is also a nice bit of foreshadowing at the beginning, but I won’t spoil it for you.  Joan Blondell is great as Mary, her quick patter delivery and snappy comebacks giving a bit of comic relief.  Bette Davis is a really minor character here, but you can still tell that this is an actress to watch even if all she is doing is putting on her stockings.  Warren William, the “King of Pre Code”, is sympathetic as Robert a man who really wanted only the best for his family.  But let’s be honest here, this is really Ann Dvorak’s movie.

I will admit that I hadn’t really heard of Ann Dvorak until recently.  I had heard some talk of her online, and seen her biography written by Christina Rice which I have since bought, but aside from that I didn’t know too much about this actress or her films.  That changed during TCM’s month of pre-code films, starting with HEAT LIGHTNING.  Here is the talented and gorgeous actress who is relatively unknown today, especially outside of classic film fan circles.  How can that be?  I won’t presume to offer any theories at this point, at least until I have read her biography.  That might be a blog post for the future.  But let’s talk about Ann Dvorak in this film.  She is amazing.  She starts out as a child (played by Anne Shirley by the way!) who has everything she wants and who looks down on those who are too different, wild, or free.  She grows into a woman who craves those very things, but who has settled into a quiet and respectable life.  When she is given a taste of what she desires it becomes too great of a temptation, and she is ultimately destroyed by those desires.  Ann Dvorak gives such a complete performance, moving from put-together socialite, to unsatisfied wife and mother, to debauched mistress, to fallen woman, finally to strong and protective mother.  She changes in degrees throughout the film, so each time you see her she is slightly different, moving further down the path towards ruin.  I had heard that in this film Ann Dvorak is like “an exposed nerve”, and this is totally true.  It isn’t just near the end, when she is so raw and wired that she seems ready to take flight and burst through the screen, but really throughout the whole film.  There is never a moment where you don’t know exactly what Vivian is feeling.  Good emotions or bad, Ann brings them out on her face and through her performance and through her we experience everything.  I can’t wait to read the biography, to see more films (I have Scarface on my DVR!), and to learn more about this amazing actress who definitely deserves more recognition.

Personal Collection of Classics: IN A LONELY PLACE (1950)

I was born when she kissed me…I died when she left me…I lived a few weeks while she loved me

Over Thanksgiving I was able to spend time with my parents, and one night my Dad suggested that we watch one of his favorite classic films.  However, I had to promise to blog about it.  This weekend I posted a clue on my Twitter and now we will find out who guessed right!  The film that we watched was IN A LONELY PLACE, directed by Nicholas Ray.

Humphrey Bogart stars as Dixon Steele, a Hollywood screenwriter with a volatile and violent temper.  He spends his time with his agent, Mel Lippman (played by Art Smith), and a formerly great but now alcoholic actor, Charlie Watermann (played by Robert Warwick).  One night Dix meets Mel at Paul’s Restaurant to have a few drinks and to hear about a possible new script.  Dix it seems, has been out of circulation for a time and is in need of a hit.  Mel appears to have the answer by way of a book adaptation for a trashy best selling novel.  The problem is that in order to adapt this novel, Dix needs to read it.  However, salvation comes in the form of a check girl named Mildred Atkinson (played by Martha Stewart).  Mildred has not only read the book but loves it, and is more than willing to relate the entire story to Dix over drinks at his apartment.  But Mildred isn’t that kind of girl, so don’t get any ideas.  She breaks her date with her boyfriend, Henry Kessler (played by Jack Stewart), and heads off with Dix, as Mel promises to call on him around 11AM the next day.  Upon arriving at his apartment the two cross paths with Dix’s striking neighbor, Laurel Gray played by Gloria Graham.  Both Dix and Laurel exchange meaningful glances as Mildred notices the architecture.  Dix and Mildred spend a few hours together at his apartment going over the story, which is just as sordid and sappy as you can imagine, before Mildred takes her leave.  Dix is already in his robe and slippers, and having already noticed Laurel on her balcony, heads off to his bedroom in the hopes of maybe one more look.

Early the next morning, long before Mel is due to show up, Detective Brub Nicolai (played by Frank Lovejoy) knocks at Dix’s door.  Dix answers dressed as he was the previous night.  When Brub asks, Dix states that he was asleep and has been home all night.  Brub, a former soldier under Dix’s command and now a detective, tells Dix that his boss wants to talk to him at the station.  Dix seems unaffected by the news, and gets ready while making light conversation with Brub.  At the station Dix is questioned by Captain Lochlear (played by Carl Benton Reid) as to his activities the previous night.  Dix answers all questions with a cavalier attitude that annoys Captain Lochlear.  Hoping to provoke some reaction from Dix, he informs him that the reason why he is here is because Mildred Atkinson has been brutally murdered.  She was killed the previous evening around 12:30AM, strangled and thrown from a moving car.  Since Dix was the last person to be seen with her, naturally the police have some cause to suspect him.  Not helping is the fact that Dix has a long record of fights, assaults, and even violence against a old girlfriend named Fran Randolph, as well as his general “I don’t care” demeanor.  But before things can go any further, in walks Laurel Gray.  She has been brought in to corroborate Dix’s claim that he did not leave the apartment with Mildred but instead stayed home.  She does this while matter-of-factly admitting that she remembers Dix because she “likes his face”.  With his alibi verified Dix is allowed to leave, but Captain Lochlear is still convinced that he is guilty.  Bub feels differently however, believing that Mildred’s boyfriend deserves a second look.

Dix returns home to find Mel in a panic, not knowing whether or not to believe the rumors that Dix has murdered someone.  He knows Dix and is his closest friend, but there is a part of him that doesn’t know how far Dix’s rage can take him.  Dix teases Mel by going along with the story that he has murdered someone and just pulled a fast one on the police.  Mel is about the have a heart attack when the doorbell rings and who should it be, but Laurel Gray.  She and Dix exchange pleasantries and flirtations, while Dix thanks her for backing him up.  The phone begins to ring inside and it is Brub, calling to invite Dix to his house that night for dinner.  But Brub is really asking because Captain Lochlear is convinced that Dix is guilty, and hopes that Brub will be able to gather more information from him over dinner.  Dix agrees to go to dinner but also asks Laurel for a midnight date that same night.

Dix goes to dinner and meets Brub’s wife Sylvia, played by Jeff Donnell.  Over the course of the meal, the subject of Mildred Atkinson comes up again and Dix says that while he did not kill her her, he has a theory on how it was done.  He claims that his writer’s imagination gives him insight and he can think like the killer would.  He has Sylvia and Brub act out his theory of the crime, and is so convincing that Brub himself is carried away into almost strangling his wife.  Dix again seems unfazed by this, shrugging it off as a good story.  He takes his leave of the now uneasy couple, and hurries back to his apartment for his date with Laurel.  Three weeks later Dix and Laurel are inseperable, side by side at all times.  This relationship has done nothing but good for Dix.  He has given up drinking and, much to Mel’s delight, is writing again.  He is working on the script for the bestseller when Laurel is summoned to the police station.  Captain Lochlear is still on the hunt for evidence that Dix is guilty and he believes that Laurel has it.  At the police station he confronts Laurel with the truth about Dix, his history of fights, of violence, and finally his abuse of Fran.  Faced with all this evidence, he asks, how can Laurel still believe that he is innocent?  But Laurel holds firm, stating her faith in Dix, and leaves the station.  But the seeds of doubt are sown.

Some time later Laurel and Dix are spending an enjoyable evening with Brub and Sylvia at the beach.  Everyone is having a lovely time, until Dix finds out about Laurel’s meeting with Captain Lochlear.  Angry at being kept in the dark and accusing Laurel of conspiring against him, Dix speeds off in his car with Laurel beside him.  The ride in silence for a time until Dix’s erratic driving almost get them into an accident with a teenage football star.  When the young man approaches Dix with fury, Dix in turn attacks him and nearly beats him to death.  He only is stopped by Laurel’s screams.  Afterwards Dix seems calmed and almost apologetic towards Laurel, and the two drive home.  But Laurel is becoming increasingly uncomfortable around Dix, her own doubts about his innocence beginning to come through.  As much as she loves Dix, there is a part of her that is not entirely sure that he isn’t capable of murdering someone.  Just as she is beginning to consider leaving Dix, he proposes.  What can she do?  Does she accept the proposal of a possible murderer or refuse and risk his wrath?

IN A LONELY PLACE is a film that I feel resonates just as much, if not more, with today’s audience as it did when it was originally released.  The threat of violence that surrounds Dix grows more and more menacing as the film progresses.  In the beginning Dix is charming and funny, if just a little hot headed.  But as the story goes on, the moments of charm and wit decrease, replaced with more and more moments of paranoia, jealousy, and rage.  We begin to feel, along with Laurel, a growing unease and an increasing suspicion.  Do we really believe Dix when he says that he is innocent?

Nicholas Ray and his then wife, Gloria Graham, were going through a divorce during the filming and I think that it had a big influence on the film.  The ending was shot twice, with the second version being the one that is included in the film today.  After you have watched the film go and look up what the first ending was supposed to be, then compare it to the one that is.  If you take into consideration that the second ending was concocted by a man going through a divorce I think it makes the ending even more powerful because it feels like a true emotion coming straight from the director to the screen.

This film is one that I enjoyed very much but also one that I feel that I will need to see again because there are so many facets and layers to discover.  While the story itself is engrossing and the acting superb, I still don’t feel like I have gotten everything from this film that I can.  IN A LONELY PLACE is definitely a film that I recommend at least one viewing of, if not multiple.  It is a story and a film that will keep revealing pieces of itself each time we return to it, just like Dixon Steele.