Watching with Warner: CLASH BY NIGHT (1952)

I love Barbara Stanwyck.  When I started watching movies when I was younger I never saw many of her films, and so was unaware of her talents.  Growing up my favorite actresses were more along the lines of Katherine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn.  While I still like both actresses, my tastes have grown more towards Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, and Lauren Bacall.  But I think that if I had to name my favorite actress it would be Barbara Stanwyck.  She is such a tremendous talent and, from what I have read, a truly professional and hardworking actress.  There is an honesty that comes from Barbara Stanwyck in her movies, an honesty that I think comes from her as a person.  This honesty has never seemed more immediate or apparent than in CLASH BY NIGHT directed by Fritz Lang.

In seaside Monterey, Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) has returned home after spending the last ten years in the big city.  Upon her arrival she takes a moment, and a drink, in the local bar where she runs into Jerry D’Amato (Paul Douglas).  Jerry is a local fisherman who lives with his elderly father (Silvio Minciotti) and his Uncle Vince (J. Carrol Naish).  Jerry is thrilled to see Mae, remembering her from his younger days, but Mae fails to recognize him and leaves to find her brother.  Mae’s brother Joe (Keith Andes) works alongside Jerry on the fishing boats and is returning home with his girlfriend, Peggy (Marilyn Monroe), who works at the local cannery.  Joe is less than pleased to find Mae waiting for him and questions her reasons for returning.  Mae is quite upfront with Joe in admitting she made a mistake, and reveals that she was involved with a married man who died and left her some money in his will.  His wife and children contested the will and left Mae with nothing, so unhappy and alone she felt there was nothing left but to return to her home.  After hearing Mae’s story, Joe softens a bit and Peggy helps Mae unpack.  While putting clothes away, Peggy confides to Mae that she is envious of her experiences in the big city and yearns for more excitement.  Peggy admits she wants to be like Mae and never let any man tell her what to do.

Weeks go by and Mae barely leaves the house.  At the docks, Jerry asks Joe about her availability and Joe encourages Jerry to ask Mae out for a date.  Jerry does and to his great excitement, Mae agrees.  The night of their first date arrives and Jerry is eagerly getting ready when Uncle Vince comes home with an armful of beer for himself and Jerry’s father to share.  Uncle Vince advises Jerry to be careful, that women are like horses and sometimes you need to use the whip on them, all of which Jerry ignores before leaving for his date.  After picking Mae up at her house, the two go to see a movie at the local theater where Jerry’s friend Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan) works as a projectionist.  Once the movie is over, Jerry takes Mae to meet Earl introducing him as his best friend.  Mae is initially attracted to Earl but soon comes to reconsider this attraction when he launches into a misogynistic tirade about his wife, who works as a burlesque dancer.  She notes that Earl hates women and Earl does not deny it.  Mae becomes sharp and dismissive of Earl and eventually asks Jerry to take her home.

Sometime later, during a night boat ride, Jerry broaches the subject of marriage which Mae gently rebuffs.  She tells Jerry that she wouldn’t make a good wife for him and that he should find someone else who is more of the “wife type”.  Several nights later, Jerry and Mae are out a beachside bar when Uncle Vince tells Jerry that his father is getting drunk at the counter.   Jerry hurries off to stop him, leaving Mae and Earl alone.  The two begin talking and it soon becomes clear that while they each find each other attractive, there are deeper forces working against them.  Earl again launches into a rant against his wife, further cementing his attitudes against women.  Mae has her own feelings about men, having little time for those who would act more like boys than men.  Not wanting to be a nursemaid for her man, desiring instead a man who makes he feel confident and alive, Mae says that she could bear anything if she truly felt love for a man again.  Earl, somewhat drunk at this point, tries to forcibly kiss Mae causing her to slap him.  Jerry returns and Mae angrily asks him to walk her home, leaving Earl alone at the table.  Once they reach her door Mae tells Jerry that if he still wants to marry her, she would try her best be a good wife to him and to not hurt him.  The two are soon married and at the wedding reception Earl insists on kissing the bride.  Mae resists and Earl storms off angrily into the night.

Several months later, Mae and Jerry are living happily together with their newborn daughter named Gloria.  The only one who isn’t happy is Uncle Vince, who has been ousted from the house by Mae, and he complains to Jerry.  Uncle Vince says that Mae is too controlling and that Jerry has become henpecked, but Jerry denies this and sends Uncle Vince away.  That night, at Jerry’s invitation, Earl comes to call.  When he arrives at the house, the now divorced Earl is visibly drunk and soon passes out. Jerry carries him inside to sleep it off and that is where Earl revives the next morning, after Jerry has left for work.  Mae is alone in the kitchen, feeling more conflicted than ever with the arrival of Earl.  Her request for a goodbye kiss from Jerry has not seemed to settle any feelings for her, and she swallows her sobs as she hears Earl stirring.  Earl questions Mae as to the status of her relationship with Jerry.  Mae denies that anything is wrong but Earl senses that Mae has given up her hopes for excitement and surrendered to a quiet life with Jerry.  He seizes a chance and forcibly kisses her which Mae resists.  They are interrupted by the arrival of Peggy, who happily shows off her new engagement ring.  Mae offers to take the baby and go into town with her, but Peggy can’t wait and hurries out.  Earl and Mae left alone again finally succumb to their desires and kiss passionately, beginning an affair.  Sometime later Jerry finds out that his father has gotten into a fight at the bar and rushes over to retrieve him.  Once home, Jerry begs his father to tell him why he was fighting but he gets no reply.  Uncle Vince however, is more than happy to reveal that the entire town has been gossiping about Mae and Earl and his father was defending the family name.  Jerry refuses to believe this and drives Uncle Vince from the house.  But doubts soon creep in, especially as Mae and Earl have gone out to the fair together.  Jerry searches their bedroom and soon finds two brand new nightgowns, and a bottle of perfume.  At that moment Earl and Mae return and Jerry goes to confront them.

This was Marilyn Monroe’s first starring role and once again it is an example of what a talented actress she might have been given the chance.  Made prior to GENTLEMAN PREFER BLONDES and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, long before THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, this is before Marilyn was Marilyn.  The baby doll voice isn’t quite there and the vapidness is gone.  Instead there is an earnest attempt by a young actress to make an impression in a serious dramatic role.  Marilyn Monroe was known for being difficult on set, prompted by her severe insecurity in herself, often missing lines or needing retakes.  The one person in all Hollywood who never complained, the one who was always kind to her, was Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck came to this film having just gone through the emotional devastation of divorcing her husband, Robert Taylor.  Taylor, who was the love of her life, was said to have had numerous affairs during their life together and there were rumors of affairs on Stanwyck’s end as well but these are unsubstantiated.  Another possible cause of the breakup was the fact that Robert Taylor had made attempts at creating a life outside of Hollywood, a goal that Barbara Stanwyck did not share.  In spite of her emotional distress, she remained professional throughout the filming but I can’t help but think that part of the emotional impact her performance has in this film comes from her personal experiences.  There is a weariness and sadness in Mae that feels real, and looking at Barbara Stanwyck’s face you can see the truth behind the acting.  In some ways this script must have mirrored aspects of her own life and marriage, the hurts and slights suffered by both Mae and Jerry familiar and painful.  The journey of Mae, seeking to decide what is more important in life and love, whether it is better to have a life that is full of excitement and personal fulfillment or to have a life of quiet moments and caring for something bigger than oneself, must have seemed very close to Barbara’s desire to have a life in Hollywood versus the desires of her husband.

This film is a true character study of men, women, and the slowly shifting roles in the world.  What is the role of a men and a woman in a relationship or marriage?  What happens to those roles when women assert more independence?  How does a man relate to a woman who acts more liberated?  What do women want from men and what do men want from women?   Mae wanted independence but wants a man who not only supports her and boosts her up, but also is strong and confident and doesn’t need her to mother him.  She is initially happy with Jerry but soon becomes restless, and finds herself annoyed by his laid-back manner.  In Earl she finds a man who is exciting but one who has a dislike of women, a distrust of their motives and games.  I’m not certain if I believe that Earl is truly in love with Mae or if he simply lusts after her and enjoys to attention and power of the relationship.  There is a scene where Earl says, in almost a throw-away line, that he needs to be wanted and needed and I think that has more to do with his affair with Mae than actual emotional connection.  Earl and Mae are two people who have been hurt and who are fulfilling their selfish and personal desires.  The challenge to Mae is the decision she must face when confronted with the affair.  What matters more in that moment, her own happiness or the happiness of the other people in her life?  What is important and what is worth losing?

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Blog Announcement for February!

I have a riddle for you!

What do these two things have in common?

The answer?  I love Warner Archive!  Those are the four Warner brothers, in case you didn’t know, and of course it is soon going to be Valentine’s Day!  So, to celebrate my love of the Warner Archive and to finally watch all the movies that I have bought or added to my watch list on Warner Archive Instant I am taking the entire month of February to say “Be my Valentine Warner Archive!”  That means for the entire month of February I will watch nothing but Warner Archive DVDs and Warner Archive Instant!  If you would like to join me on my quest for Valentine’s Day affection, let me know in the comments below and I will be sure to link to you!

Another Blogathon for March!

Those who have read my post about DR ZHIVAGO might be surprised by this next blogathon but I am looking forward to it!  This March I will be contributing a post on BERLIN EXPRESS for The Russia in Classic Film Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently!  I am looking forward to this blogathon and there are a lot of great entries planned, including my Dad’s favorite movie…THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!

Miriam Hopkins Blogathon: TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932)

When I signed up to take part in the Miriam Hopkins blogathon I wanted to pick a film that I had never seen before.  Luckily, I had just picked up a copy of the Criterion Edition of Ernst Lubitsch’s TROUBLE IN PARADISE.  I actually watched this film twice this week, once to get an idea for my blog post and again to show it to my husband because it is just so good!  This is a precode romantic comedy, starring Herbert Marshall, Kay Francis, and of course Miriam Hopkins.  It also has a great supporting cast of various character actors including, Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton.

In the city of Venice a man has been robbed.  Francois Fileba (Edward Everett Horton) has had his wallet lightened of 20,000 francs by a very charming doctor who asked to inspect his tonsils.  Meanwhile, in another room the Baron awaits his countess. When she arrives, the countess is worried about the scandal that might break out should the marquis tell the marquis that she was there.  Luckily for all of Venice’s royalty, the Baron and the Countess are liars.  They are in fact, both thieves named Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) and Lily (Miriam Hopkins).  Once they each discover the other’s true identity they also realize that while their royals ties were fake, their love for each other is real.  They fall into each other’s arms and put the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door.

Almost one year later Gaston and Lily are still in Paris and still in love.  Speaking of love, Madame Colet (Kay Francis) has a problem.  She has two men in love with her, but she doesn’t care for them at all.  Day after day she is pursued by the Major (Charles Ruggles) and Monsieur Fileba, much to her annoyance.  The two men hate each other and bicker all the time.  In fact, they are bickering the night that Madam Colet goes to the opera with her new handbag.  The handbag is covered in diamonds and cost 125,000 francs, so naturally it attracts the attention of Gaston.  During the course of the opera, Gaston manages to steal the bag and escape into the night.  The next day Lily finds a notice about the missing handbag and the 20,000 franc reward.  As the reward is more than what they would get selling the bag, Gaston goes to Madam Colet’s home to return the stolen property.  He presents himself as a “nouveau poor” named Gaston LuValle and sets about charming Madam Colet.  She is quite taken with this gentleman and as she has no head for business herself, decides to take him on as her secretary.  Once Gaston realizes that Madam Colet has 100,000 francs in her personal safe he sets about planning to embezzle as much money as possible.

Now positioned as personal secretary to Madam Colet, Gaston begins to influence every aspect of her life.  From lipstick color, to no potatoes for breakfast, to exercise routines, he controls it all.  He also has an effect on her finances and increases her insurance against burglary to 850,000 francs, just in case.  Meanwhile, Lily has taken a job as Gaston’s secretary with the name of Votier.  One day, while typing a letter to the bank requesting that 850,000 francs be delivered to the house at the end of the month, Lily is summoned to speak to Madam Colet.  Sitting beside Madam Colet’s bed, and sitting on her hands, Lily eyes the box of jewelry and listens as Madam Colet expresses her desire for Gaston to work less.  She asks Lily to help with the work load in order to free up Gaston’s time, but she makes sure that Lily will still be leaving promptly at 5PM everyday.  And just to make sure she increases Lily’s salary by fifty francs.  Back in her room Lily is furious and when Gaston asks what Madam Colet wanted, she replies “You!”

Lily warns Gaston that she loves him as a crook, that he can do anything, rob, cheat, swindle, but whatever he does don’t “become one of those good for nothing gigolos!”.  So warned, Gaston allows Madam Colet to invite him out to dinner and dancing.  She begins to fall in love with him, and it appears he begins to develop feelings as well.  Over the next few weeks, Madam Colet introduces him to her social set which includes Francois Fileba.  While Fileba attempts to remember where he met Gaston before, Gaston runs upstairs to warn Lily.  The two decide that they must flee Paris that night and make plans to meet at midnight after Lily has cleaned their apartment and Gaston has dealt with Madam Colet.  Lily hurries off and Gaston is confronted by Fileba who asks if he has ever been to Venice,  Gaston denies it and counters by asking if Fileba has ever been to Constantinople.  Confused, Fileba is distracted by Gaston’s charm and tales of harems and leaves mollified.

That night, while Lily packs, Gaston hears a knock on his door and finds Madam Colet outside.  She looks lovely, dressed to attend a dinner party that night, and proceeds to flirt with Gaston which he does not resist.  The two kiss and soon close the door to the office, leaving the car to wait outside.  Some time later, Madam Colet prepares to leave for her engagement while Gaston asks her not to go.  She smiles, saying she wants to make it tough for him, but promises to return at 11PM for a rendezvous.  Lily is anxiously awaiting Gaston’s call to come to the station to meet him but is shocked when he calls instead to tell her that they must postpone their departure until the next day.  Smelling a rat, and suspecting a secret love affair, Lily heads off to Madam Colet’s residence.  Meanwhile, Madam Colet has just been informed that Fileba has remembered where he met Gaston before and who her charming secretary really is.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE is my definition of a perfect movie.  The writing is sublime, funny and intelligent as only an Ernst Lubitsch film can be.  Written by Samson Raphaelson and directed by Ernst Lubitsch this film is what every romantic comedy today should strive to be.  People often speak about “The Lubitsch Touch”, the ability of these movies to show the viewer just enough to get the point across and then trust the audience to figure the rest out.  In other words, Lubitsch treats the audience like adults which is something that is becoming rarer and rarer these days.

Herbert Marshall is fabulous and I would be quite content if he would come and read me the phone book all day.  His character of Gaston is sublimely charming and suave, and you truly get the sense of how much he loves Lily as well as being tempted by the lovely Madam Colet.  Speaking of Madam Colet, Kay Francis lives up to her name as the “best dressed woman in Hollywood”.  She looks stunning and plays the role of the rich widow with grace and elegance, as well as childlike innocence and womanly desire.  I have not had the privilege of seeing many of her other films but I will make a point to now.  But let us now get to the main attraction of this film, and indeed this blog post, and talk about the fabulous Miriam Hopkins.

This was Miriam Hopkins’ second film with Ernst Lubitsch, the first being THE SMILING LIEUTENANT, but this would be her breakout role.  And no wonder!  Her portrayal of Lily is a supreme example of wit, charm, and intelligence.  From what I have read, in real life Miriam Hopkins was extremely well read, intelligent, and charming so I like to think that the character of Lily is close to her true personality, minus the burglary.  Lily is totally in love with Gaston, but she doesn’t allow that to make her into a side kick or second banana.  Instead she acts like, and expects to be treated like, his equal just as clever, slick, and charming as he is.  This scene in which they discover their true identities is great, not only for the brilliant acting and writing but because it clearly demonstrates who each of the characters are.  Lily is amused by Gaston’s antics but is just as tricky as he is, and when it comes to her garter she is surprised but amused as well which I think speaks to her maturity and security in herself as a woman. (Note that the sound doesn’t come in until about fourteen seconds in)

Lily is a woman in every sense of the word.  She is clever, self-possessed, and knows what she wants.  I also loved how Miriam Hopkins shows Lily’s jealousy in a very mature way.  Lily is quite obviously jealous of the attention that Madam Colet shows Gaston but she doesn’t let it out in the typical Hollywood way.  There are no elaborate schemes, no bouts of crying and stomping feet, no passive aggressive comments.  Instead, Lily is very upfront with Gaston telling him that she knows what he is and she loves him as that but if he goes after Madam Colet she will wring his neck and she isn’t wiling to stick around with someone who doesn’t love her.  She knows what is what, she knows that Madam Colet wants Gaston and she probably even knows that Gaston is attracted to Madam Colet.  She also knows that she is a thief and that Gaston is a thief, and she makes no apologies for that.  This is what is so different about the character of Lily as compared to the romantic comedies today, and even some of the past.  Lily is written as a woman, a grown up, and Miriam Hopkins portrays her as such.

Miriam Hopkins is an actress that I am growing in appreciation for after first seeing her in DESIGN FOR LIVING and THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE.  She is an actress that I always enjoy watching because she has such a wonderful onscreen presence.  She always brings a quality to her roles that makes it seem as if you could meet these characters in the real world, and that you would like to.  She is what I would call a charming actress, in that she brings a quality to her roles that makes them irresistable and unforgettable.  Her smile seems to tell of several stories she could tell, not all of them suitable for mixed company. She has a sparkle in her eye and she brings that to her acting.  I truly enjoyed this masterful film and the actress who inspired this blogathon!

Contrary to Popular Opinion…Doctor Zhivago Heal Thyself

This entry is part of the Contrary to Popular Opinion blogathon, hosted by SisterCelluloid and MoviesSilently.  This blogathon is designed to allow classic film bloggers to share their unpopular opinions, be that a love for a hated movie or a desire to knock a sacred classic off a pedestal.  Please take this entry with the spirit it is intended…this is my unpopular opinion about DOCTOR ZHIVAGO.

It would be nice to think that all classic film fans love all classic films, but this simply is not the case.  As with modern films, classic films have some entries that are best left forgotten.  Every classic film fan has a few films they don’t like and this usually is not big deal.  But mention an idolized classic in disparaging tones and suddenly the room becomes very quiet, and you are left very alone.  People slide quietly away, shaking their heads and muttering “And she calls herself a classic film fan”.  Too dramatic?  Okay, so maybe it isn’t exactly like that but I am willing to bet that pretty much every classic film fan has a deep dark secret, a film that they can’t stand but one that is so revered by the entire classic film community that they dare not mention it aloud.  Instead they hide their disdain behind polite smiles and nods of the head all the while silently cringing inside.  Well, today is the day that I come clean.  I have a film that I just cannot abide and it is…DOCTOR ZHIVAGO from 1965, or as I call it “Three hours in Russia with selfish people”.  Blasphemous, I know but there it is.  And why is this, what has caused me to have such negative feelings toward a great film classic?

The Length

Look, I like a good epic sometimes.  Pop the popcorn, lock the doors, take the phone off the hook, and settle in for a daylong journey.  But honestly, there needs to be some movement to the story, some urgency and there just isn’t in this film.  But, I hear you say, the history, the nuances, the emoting, the revolution!  I get that, but if you took all the main plot points, the history, the revolution, you would have a movie that could probably run about two hours.  Sometimes you can argue that movies don’t spend enough time on story and character development.  This is not one of those movies.  So much time is spent on minuscule details it becomes difficult to keep track of the important points of the story.  This is a problem that comes with trying to adapt a huge novel to the big screen and I get that.  But maybe there needed to be a little more editing?  Or at least some tightening up of some story points.  The three plus hours feel like a slog through Siberia in a blizzard and about halfway through I get woozy.  I start to lose focus around the time they show up at the ice palace…which reminds me.

The Constant Depression

I’m not saying that movies need to be all sunshine and cupcakes, but at a certain point you need a little levity just to get you through.  Watching DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and seeing all the terrible things that happen to, well pretty much EVERYONE, makes me feel like I am watching someone beat a dead horse with a puppy.  Seriously.  Let’s start at the beginning when Yuri Zhivago is orphaned.  Then let’s add in Lara’s mom trying to commit suicide when she finds out that her daughter is sleeping with the same married man she is.  And Pasha and everything that goes down with him. Then Lara gets raped.  Then WWI breaks out and people are wounded, missing in action, and drafted against their will.  Then Lara and Yuri fall in love but can’t be together.  And Yuri’s poems get condemned by the communist party.  Then Pasha again!  Yuri gets abducted from his family and conscripted by Communist partisans and Lara’s life is in danger.  Then the ENDING!  (Which I will get to in a moment)  It goes on and on…watching this for three plus hours by the end I am depressed for days.

Lara and Yuri

I just can’t get behind Lara and Yuri.  I can’t root for these two people who I feel are both pretty selfish.  I get that they are star-crossed lovers, but how many times have we seen films about two married people who fall in love but DON’T act on it out of respect for their spouses.  BRIEF ENCOUNTER anyone?  I mean the whole thing with the ice palace, running off to hide out and make love until they can’t hide anymore?  Yuri is supposed to be such a wonderful man and yet here he is leaving his family to have an affair with Lara, something he was judging her for at the beginning.  And there is something that bugs me about Lara being revered as the perfect woman and yet she starts out having an affair with a married man but not just any married man, the same one her mother is having an affair with!  There must have been some odd mother/daughter conversations going on in that house.

These two characters never feel fully realized to me.  Lara is wonderful because she is pretty and blonde?  Yuri is a great man because he writes poetry and has dreamy brown eyes?  It’s all very superficial and I get the feeling that this is one of those situations where there is a lot of stuff that was left out from the book, therefore removing the back story and needed motivations of the main characters.  Without this background there isn’t much left for me to care about when it comes to these two characters, which is a shame because when you are telling an epic love story you need to be invested in the lovers.  For me it’s less of a “will they won’t they” situation and more of a “are you serious, they are doing that” situation.

The Ending

I am going to spoil part of the ending of the movie here, so if you haven’t seen it stop reading now.  I’ll wait…all gone?  Good.  The last thing that really irks me about this movie is the ending.  Here we are at the end of our saga.  We have marched across Russia, slogged through Siberia, gone through EVERYTHING you could POSSIBLY have happen to you.  Now here at last will be the payoff!  After years and years of searching for each other, longing for each other, missing each other, at long last Yuri and Lara will be reunited.  We watch as Yuri struggles from the train and across the square, trying to catch the woman he believes is Lara.  He stops and opens his mouth to call out to her…and DROPS DEAD from a heart attack!!  Are.  You.  Serious.  I just went through all of that and he DIES!?  And it wasn’t even LARA!?  I get that this is what happened in the book and all that, believe me no one is a bigger proponent of staying true to the book than I am.  But after spending 197 minutes trudging through all of Russia with two main characters that I do not like or care that much about, and surviving every single, solitary, horrible thing that has happened to them it feels like a slap in the face when the ending you are hoping for gets wrenched away.

It feels good to get this off my chest and I hope I haven’t offended too many DOCTOR ZHIVAGO fans.  We all have films we secretly dislike and this is mine.  But just think, it could always be worse…just look at what happened to Yuri Zhivago.

Watching with Warner: THE LUSTY MEN (1952)

Ain’t a bronc that can’t be rode, ain’t a cowboy that can’t be throwed

I am not a fan of westerns, I’ve said this before.  So when I first heard about Nicholas Ray’s film THE LUSTY MEN on a Warner Archive podcast, I didn’t pay much attention.  But as time went on I heard this film mentioned again and again, and with more and more enthusiasm.  Finally, during the year-end wrap up podcast the hosts of the Warner Archive mentioned it again as one of the overlooked gems of the year.  That did it.  I decided that I needed to see what the fuss was all about but I wasn’t convinced that this would be my kind of movie, after all how interesting could a movie about rodeo cowboys really be?  Holy cow (no pun intended) was I in for a surprise!

Jeff McCloud (Robert Mitchum) is a former rodeo star, having recently retired from the circuit after being injured by a wild bull during his last show.  Having no real home of his own, having spent the last eighteen years leading a nomadic lifestyle while following rodeos, Jeff returns to his childhood home in Texas.  While searching the crawl space under the house for childhood souvenirs, Jeff is discovered by the home’s current occupant.  Surprised, having assumed that the home was empty, Jeff introduces himself to the sixty-two year old Jeremiah Watrus (Burt Mustin) and the two sit down to a cup of coffee.  While trading memories and life theories, Jeff and Jeremiah are interrupted by the arrival of a local cowhand and his wife.  According to Jeremiah, the two come out to see him quite often as they are interested in buying the property.  Jeremiah won’t sell the house for less than $5000 and until the young couple has the money they content themselves by coming to see the house and talk about changes they will make when it is finally theirs.  Jeremiah invites Jeff to stay and watch the fun but Jeff demurs, and bidding Jeremiah good-bye sets off down the road.  The cowhand, Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy), recognizes Jeff from his days at the rodeo and strikes up a conversation which leads to inviting Jeff home for dinner.  After dropping Wes’ wife Louise (Susan Hayward) back at their home, Jeff and Wes go to see the rancher that Wes works for.  After some convincing Jeff is offered a job to work alongside Wes as a cowhand.

That night, after a meal of lamb chops, Wes asks Jeff about his days on the rodeo circuit.  Jeff talks about the bulls, bucks, women, and quick money.  Louise is unimpressed and tells Jeff so.  A former waitress, Louise has little patience for men who are after a fast buck and who can lose that money as soon as they get it.  She proudly tells Jeff that she and Wes have saved $1100 towards the purchase of Jeremiah’s place.  The next day Wes tells Jeff about his plans to enter the rodeo circuit starting in San Angelo, Texas.  He has taken $125 from the savings Louise mentioned for an entry fee and he wants Jeff to help train him.  Jeff advises Wes to forget the rodeo and stick with Louise and her lamb chops, to earn his money in a reliable and sensible way.  But Wes insists and Jeff finally agrees to show him the ropes.  Later that night, Louise discovers the missing money and questions Wes.  He tells her his plans and she angrily tells him that she had many men pursuing her but chose Wes because they each wanted a steady, honest life together.  Wes, just as angrily, insists that he doesn’t want to wait for years to finally have the money to buy their own place, or their own herd of cattle and that he needs to do this to get what he wants from life.  Louise emphasizes the danger of the sport but Wes won’t hear any more and goes with Jeff to compete.

With Jeff’s help, Wes is a great success at his first rodeo and wins $410.  Flush with his winnings, Wes returns to Louise and tells her that he has quit his job as a cowhand and has decided to travel the rodeo circuit instead.  Jeff will accompany him as his coach and as such will get half his winnings.  Louise confronts Jeff about this scheme, convinced that Jeff is just using Wes as a ticket to some quick cash.  Jeff points out to Louise that she latched on to Wes too in order to get what she wanted and that he, Jeff, is just helping Wes get what he wants.  Louise tells Jeff that growing up she never had a real home, or money, or security.  When she met Wes, he wanted to give her the life that she longed for and she married him for that.  So, even though she doesn’t agree with his plan as his wife she will go with Wes even if that means going on the rodeo circuit.  The three set out the next day and arrive at the rodeo camp in Tucson that night.  Upon their arrival, Jeff stops a fight that has broken out between several rodeo cowboys.  The instigator is Buster Burgess (Walter Coy) whose recent goring by a bull has left him scarred, both mentally and physically.  Jeff also reconnects with his old friend Booker (Arthur Hunnicutt) and Booker’s teenage daughter Rusty (Carol Nugent).  The next day Louise makes friends with Buster’s wife, Grace (Lorna Thayer), and Rosemary (Maria Hart), a trick rider and Jeff’s old flame.  Rosemary warns Louise about Jeff’s womanizing ways before taking her leave to let Louise use her shower.  Jeff appears and begins to flirt with Louise but he is quickly shot down.

At the rodeo Wes has entered all five events, including bull riding which he has never done before.  After performing well in all other events, Wes prepares to ride a bull named Yo-yo much to the shock of Jeff and Louise.  However, Wes stuns everyone by riding the bull and winning the event.  That night Wes collects his winnings and is invited to join in a rodeo sponsored party, where he attracts the attentions of a young woman named Babs.  Louise quickly marks her territory and sends Babs scurrying with a swift kick to the rear end.  In the middle of the party, Grace appears having left the rodeo to tend to Buster who was injured during that day’s events.  She angrily scolds all the guests for living such a careless and dangerous life, and the next day tells Louise that she and Buster are quitting the rodeo.  Wes buys their trailer and over the next few months travels the rodeo circuit with Louise and Jeff, winning events and large amounts of money.

When the group reaches the Annual Pendleton Roundup in Oregon, Louise tells Jeff that Jeremiah has agreed to sell his house for $4100 and they now have enough saved to buy their house.  Jeff congratulates her, and they two sit down to wait for Wes to return for a pot roast dinner.  However, Wes is not as thrilled by Louise’s news and tells her that he has no desire to give up the rodeo circuit to go back to their old life.  Angry, Wes storms off to a party at Babs’ apartment leaving Louise and Jeff alone.  Jeff advises letting Wes blow off steam and talking to him again in the morning, but Louise is tired of being the supportive wife and decides to go to the party and confront Wes.  Wearing her most alluring dress, Louise heads off with an admiring Jeff in tow.  When they arrive, Wes is drunk and wearing Babs’ lipstick.  Louise brawls with Babs and is kicked out of the party, taking Jeff with her.  Out in the hall Jeff confesses to Louise that he has been in love with her from the very start and offers her a way out of life with Wes.  Louise gently refuses him, citing her continued love for her husband, and begs Jeff to do what he can to save Wes and get him out of rodeo.  Jeff requests a kiss, for all the times he won’t be able to, and it is while they are kissing that Wes discovers them.  Wes insults Jeff, calling him yellow and weak for not competing, and Jeff slugs him.  Asking Louise if he is sure of her decision, Jeff exits and isn’t seen again until the next morning.  Rusty bursts into Louise’s trailer, where Louise is packing to leave Wes, and tells her that Jeff has surprised everyone by entering all the events.  Louise, realizing what Jeff is doing, rushes to the arena with Rusty.

This was one of Robert Mitchum’s favorite films and it is easy to see why.  His performance as Jeff is believable and relatable, in spite of Jeff’s background as a rodeo cowboy.  Through his acting, we can see Jeff as a man who ran away to the rodeo to find something that was missing inside himself.  The feeling that he got from riding bucks and broncs filled the void inside, left behind by not having anyone to rely on.  It is in Louise that he finally finds that feeling again, the possibility of loving her and having a home/life with her giving him the chance to find peace and happiness without needing to rodeo.  And when she refuses him, he accepts it and what it means for his life.  Robert Mitchum is an actor who doesn’t need to do much in order to make an impact, and it is in the little moments and gestures that he gives us a complete picture of Jeff and his world.

Susan Hayward is not an actress that I have seen many times but she is just so good it is unreal.  Louise is a woman who married Wes, not because he was the most handsome, the richest, the smartest, and maybe not even the one she loved the most, but because he was the one who wanted to give her the home and security she wanted so badly.  She equates this security with love, and so when Wes wants to give up their dreams of a home for such a risky and dangerous venture it is almost as if he is rejecting her love and their life together.  She eventually comes to realize that she loves Wes, in spite of everything, and must make a decision to either fight to save their marriage or leave him to his desires.  Susan Hayward gives a performance that is strong, tough, and still sympathetic.  Louise supports Wes in spite of her misgivings and you can see this struggle, especially when Louise is getting to know the other rodeo wives.  She wants to be there for Wes, but can’t understand the total commitment of some of the other wives.

Arthur Kennedy’s Wes Merritt is a character that could easily be dismissed as a selfish and immature man.  And yes, there is an element of selfishness to him.  But the reasons why Wes is doing what he wants, the reasons why he is entering the rodeo events, are more complex than just because he wants to or because he wants to prove people wrong.  Wes is a man who wants to take a chance to get what he wants because he doesn’t want to rely on other people.  He wants to finally get something of his own in this world.  He wants to be a man.  Maybe the way that he goes about it is selfish and immature, but his reasons are deeper than that.

Some people have complained about the ending, calling it weak, poorly done, or just saying it didn’t ring true.  I could not disagree more.  This is the ending that was always coming.  This is the ending that is truest to the characters and their intentions.  It is foreshadowed in the name of the horse Jeff rides.  It is the ending that was set in motion the moment that Jeff loved Louise and she asked him to save Wes.  I don’t want to say more because I don’t want to spoil anything, but once you watch this amazing film send me an email and let me know if you agree.  This is a film that needs to be seen and I am so glad that I had the chance to.

Watching with Warner: KONGO (1932)

Holy cats.  That was my thought while watching my latest film.  This is a pre-code film that is definitely not for the faint of heart. More than just bawdy humor, lusty innuendo, and social commentary, this is a film that delves into the darkness found in the hearts and minds of men.

“Deadlegs” Flint (Walter Huston) is a paraplegic who lives in the deep Kongo surrounded by his henchmen and his bitterness.  He controls the local natives with cheap magic tricks assisted by his mistress, Tula (Lupe Velez), and is venerated as a powerful “juju” master.  He lives with Tula and two thugs named Hogan (Mitchell Lewis) and Cookie (Forrester Harvey) in a compound at the center of an eighty mile radius of which he is in command.  No one enters or leaves that area without his express permission.  Although Flint spends his days and nights commanding the natives to do his bidding, his every waking moment is consumed with thoughts of revenge.  On the wall of the compound is a sign with the words “HE SNEERED” written on it, and underneath a tally of days.  The days total eighteen years, eighteen long years of plotting vengeance on a man named Gregg (C. Henry Gordon).

Eighteen years ago, Flint stole away a baby girl and hid her in a convent.  This baby, now grown into a young woman, is the key to his plan of revenge.  Now that the girl, named Ann (Virginia Bruce), has come of age Flint sends Hogan to the convent to retrieve her.  Trusting Hogan, as he is dressed as a missionary, Ann accompanies him into the jungle.  This is the last time she will ever be so trusting, or so innocent.  Two years later Ann is barely recognizable, ravaged by the black plague, frequent assaults and rapes at the hands of Hogan and others, and countless bottles of brandy.  She still has no idea why she has been brought to Flint, nor what he wants from her.  She spends her days drinking to numb the pain of the horror of her life as well as the fevers brought on by the plague.  There seems to be no way out for her and she knows it.

One day a man arrives at the camp, a doctor named Kingsland (Conrad Nagel).  Into this dark underworld comes a surgeon who is just as damaged as the rest of the inhabitants.  Kingsland is a dope fiend, addicted a root that grows in the congo, and Flint knows it.  He knows that without daily doses of this root, Kingsland while withdraw painfully and decides to use this weakness to his advantage.  One night during dinner Kingsland gets his first glimpse of Ann and is immediately attracted, and concerned.  He tells Ann that continuing to drink brandy will only increase her symptoms and fevers, and will eventually kill her. Ann tells him not to be worry about her, but she is touched by his concern.  When Flint tries to get Ann to drink Kingsland intervenes on her behalf, and is beaten for his efforts.

Over time Ann and Kingsland fall in love, each helping to heal and improve the other.  But Tula is growing jealous of the attention that Ann is receiving from the handsome doctor, Flint being more and more abusive towards his former mistress a well, and resolves to steal him away.  She begins to supply the doctor with the root he needs to satisfy his cravings, much to Flint’s displeasure.  He needs Kingsland free of drugs because he has a plan.  He intends to have Kingsland operate on his back, to help relieve the constant pain and he can’t have him high on drugs if that is to happen.  Angered by Tula’s betrayal, Flint has Hogan and Cookie restrain her as he prepares to twist her tongue with a wire when Kingsland appears with a gun.  High as a kite, Kingsland threatens to shoot Flint if he harms Tula but he is quickly disarmed and knocked out.  Flint cuts the doctor and leaves him half-submerged in leech infested waters, in order to cleanse him of the drug.  Hours later Ann finds her love out in the swamp and rescues him, taking him back to the compound to nurse him back to health.  Flint tolerates this new relationship, as he says Ann has known “so many romances, what’s one more?”, and its positive affects on Ann because he needs the operation.  Once Kingsland has recovered sufficiently he begins the procedure and not a moment too soon, as Gregg is approaching the compound summoned there by Flint.

This is a dark movie.  It is certainly the darkest pre-code movie that I have seen by far.  The story was done four years earlier, in WEST OF ZANZIBAR starring Lon Chaney, and both movies are based on a stage play that was first performed in New York in 1926.  In both the stage play and KONGO, Walter Huston plays the role of Flint and it is a role that is more complex then it first appears.  Flint is a man motivated by anger and revenge, but by the end of the film there is a change in him that is just as sad as it is surprising.  Huston does a great job of portraying a man who is more monster than mortal without ever forgetting the reasons that made him that way.  It is a role that could very easily become one-dimensional but once the truth of Flint’s revenge is revealed the darkness in Flint changes, and the man himself becomes more nuanced.

Virgnia Bruce does a fantastic job as Ann.  She begins so pure and innocent, and by using her face, body, and eyes conveys the horrors she has suffered through.  I am so used to seeing her as a society girl so this was a big change.  Ann is so raw and worn down she is almost a ghost.  The other cast of characters are all so damaged that Flint is able to control them all with harsh words, beatings, and bribes.  The world they live in is a never-ending cycle of moral degradation and the darkness starts to seep into their pores.  At the end of the movie two characters are shown in a physically cleaner state (i.e. they have showered) and it is a physical relief to see something clean in this film.  All in all this is a truly interesting example of the darkness in men’s hearts and minds, and of how a man can create his own hell on earth.  If you are a pre-code fan, and you aren’t too squeamish, give this film a look which you can now do while it is streaming on Warner Archive Instant.

Upcoming Blogathons, NEW Blogathon, Blog Announcements

January is here and there are many things happening!  Not only do I have THREE blogathons that I am participating in this month, BUT I have a few blog announcements!

First up let’s recap the blogathons that are coming up this month:

January 17th – Contrary to Popular Opinion Blogathon hosted by SisterCelluloid and MoviesSilently, I will be contributing an “anti” post about DR ZHIVAGO 

January 22-25th – Miriam Hopkins Blogathon hosted by SilverScreenings and ASmallPressLife, I’ll be writing a post about TROUBLE IN PARADISE

January 31st – Dueling Divas Blogathon hosted by Backlots, I will be writing about the relationship between Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine

And NOW I am joining a new blogathon coming up this March and I am so so so so excited about it!  I am so excited, in fact, that I am doing TWO blog posts for it!  It is the Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Danny at Pre-Code.com and ShadowsandSatin, running March 31st-April 3rd.  I am planning to write about two films, SAFE IN HELL and THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN.

I am so excited about this newest blogathon, since I have a deep and abiding love for pre-code films, that I am planning to spend the month of March watching nothing but pre-code films!  This is still in the early stages but I am thinking that this blogathon is the perfect excuse to watch all eight volumes of FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD from the Warner Archive.

Finally, a great big THANK YOU to everyone who has read this blog, left comments, RT’d entries on Twitter, liked my links on Facebook, or supported the blog in anyway!  We are over 1,000 views already and I can’t wait to share more movies with all of you!

Watching with Warner: THE NARROW MARGIN (1952)

I think that I have an addiction to the Warner Archive.  Between the sales, the podcast, and the AWESOME movies I have bought so many films that I haven’t even seen yet.  So, the other night I decided to watch one of my many offerings from the Warner Archive and I decided to let my husband pick it.  After some careful perusal he handed me a copy of THE NARROW MARGIN starring Charles McGraw and directed by Richard Fleischer.

Arriving from Los Angeles, Detectives Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) and Gus Forbes (Don Beddoe) head out from the train station to the Chicago hideout of a federal witness.   Mrs. Neall (Marie Windsor) is a gangster’s widow who is set to testify in front of the grand jury and to present them with his “pay-off” list.  Brown and Forbes are sent to make sure that she arrives unharmed, but there is one catch.  No one, not even the hitmen gunning for her, know what Mrs. Neall looks like.  Brown and Forbes arrive at the apartment where Mrs. Neall is waiting, not at all patiently.  She is surly, argumentative, and scared.  The three get ready to head back to the train station and start down the stairs.  As they descend, from the shadows a man with a fur collared coat readies himself to take the shot.  Suddenly, the back door opens and an unsuspecting tenant enters the building.  The hidden gunman startles and begins firing wildly.  Forbes comes down first and is hit immediately, Brown giving chase to the assailant while Mrs. Neall stays hidden on the landing.  Brown manages to clip the fleeing gunman, but loses him in the alley when a car pulls up and takes him to safety.  Upon returning he finds his partner is dead and Mrs. Neall is in no mood to mourn him.  She demands to be taken to safety and quickly.  Brown leaves instructions for the tenant to call the police and give his information about the assailant, and then proceeds to a taxi with Mrs. Neall.

During the ride to the station Brown bemoans the loss of his partner but Mrs. Neall once again proves herself to be a class act by showing no sympathy for the dead man.  She figures that the job of both Brown and Forbes is to protect her no matter what, and if that means dying for her than that is just fine.  Brown is disgusted but duty-bound to help her, so he hops out of the cab two blocks before the station after giving detailed instructions as to how to safely board the train to the irate Mrs. Neall.  Brown knows that he was spotted by the hitman and his getaway vehicle but that Mrs. Neall was not.  That means he is the only one who can lead them to Mrs. Neall, so by separating they have a chance to keep up her cover.  In the station, two men are waiting for him not knowing that their actual target just walked right by them.  Brown makes every effort to lose his tail, but he can’t shake them before boarding the train.  Arriving at his compartment, Brown has little time to settle in before there is a knock at his door and the conductor is standing there with a man.  The man is Joseph Kemp (David Clarke) and he claims to have lost his luggage which he thinks might be in Brown’s compartment.  Brown recognizes Kemp as the man who was tailing him at the station and knows that he is just trying to snoop around his compartment for signs of Mrs. Neall.  Brown calmly shows Kemp and the conductor that his compartment is empty of rogue luggage when Kemp wants to look into the adjoining room.  The door is locked and on the other side is Mrs. Neall, hiding in the darkness.  Brown tells the conductor that his partner missed the train and so the compartment is empty.  Satisfied, the conductor escorts Kemp from the room though Kemp promises to be back.

Brown makes his way to the dining car to get a drink but he soon spots Kemp sitting nearby.  In order to keep an eye on him, Brown takes a seat at the same table as a young woman.  The woman, Ann Sinclair (Jacqueline White), is surprised at her new visitor but soon strikes up a conversation.  Brown makes absentminded small talk until he sees Kemp exit the dining car, at which point he hastily takes his leave of Ann and hurries after Kemp.  Kemp is searching through Brown’s compartment and finding nothing.  While Brown spies on him, Kemp makes his way into the adjoining room and finds nothing again.  Frustrated, Kemp leaves and Brown ducks into a nearby compartment in order to remain hidden.  The room that he has picked is occupied however, and a little boy named Tommy (Gordon Gebert) accuses him of being a train robber.  Brown gives excuses to the woman in the top bunk and hurriedly exits, while Tommy locks the door behind him.  Brown retrieves Mrs. Neall from the bathroom, where he sent her to hide, and they both return to their respective cabins.  As Brown gets ready for bed he notices the handle of his door beginning to turn.  Grabbing the handle, Brown finds a man trying to enter his room.  The man introduces himself as Vincent Yost (Peter Brocco) and he offers Brown a lot of money, if he will turn over the list carried by Mrs. Neall.  Brown refuses the bribe and Yost begins to leave, pausing only to entreat Brown to reconsider because they are going to find Mrs. Neall eventually so why not make some money for himself?  Unbeknownst to Brown, Mrs. Neall is listening at the door and hears the whole exchange.

The next morning Brown spots Kemp leaving his own berth and seizes the opportunity to do some snooping of his own.  He finds a telegram informing Kemp that a man named Densel will be contacting him soon, but is unable to find much more before Kemp returns from the bathroom.  Entering the dining car again, Brown is met by Ann and the two strike up a conversation.  Soon Brown notices that Kemp is sitting nearby having a conversation with a very large man.  The man approaches Brown and introduces himself as Sam Jennings (Paul Maxey).  He says that Kemp has informed him that Brown is in possession of a spare compartment which he would like to buy.  Brown refuses and Jennings angrily goes to ask the conductor to intervene.  Brown goes after him and is able to smooth things over with Jennings, just as the conductor informs them that they are approaching their next stop.  During their twelve-minute stop in a small Colorado town, Brown sends a telegram to his home office informing them about current developments onboard the train.  Outside he runs into Tommy once more, and takes the time to make friends with the boy.  He then discovers that the child’s mother is none other than Ann Sinclair, the woman he has been talking to.  The two spend time conversing on the platform all under the watchful eye of Kemp, who sends a telegram of his own.  Having no idea what Mrs. Neall looks like, Kemp has picked out Ann Sinclair as most likely target and has sent word back to his bosses of his suspicions.

This was a movie that I had neither seen nor heard of before it was brought up on the Warner Archive podcast.  As mentioned in a previous post, this is a fantastic podcast that often prompts me to buy films that I might never otherwise purchase due solely to the enthusiasm of the hosts.  This film was described with such fervor I knew that I had to check it out, and I certainly am glad that I did!  This is a terrific noir, a tight little story that moves quickly and packs a punch (no pun intended).  The setting of the train makes it really claustrophobic but only in the best sense.  I felt like the story was similar to the modern film 16 BLOCKS with Bruce Willis, but having it take place on a train gave a greater sense of tension and urgency.  On a train there are only so many places to hide and only so much time available to find what you are looking for.  Having all your characters in one small place adds a dimension of fear that around any corner there is someone waiting, or someone might spot the hidden witness on her way to the bathroom.  At seventy-one minutes, this story MOVES but never feels rushed or slapped together.  There are some really great twists and turns that I don’t want to spoil for you here, but if you go along for the ride you will definitely have some surprises.

One of the best parts of this film is the camerawork.  This was one of the first films to use handheld cameras, in order to avoid removing walls on sets.  The handheld look works with the grittiness and “down in the streets’ mentality of the story, and actually adds to the feeling of tension and claustrophobia.  Another great feature is that the background is just as important as the foreground.  More than once I noticed characters walking by in the background or drifting in and out of the frame that caused me to wonder what they were doing?  Were they listening to the conversation happening on camera?  Were they spies too?  It added to the feeling of not knowing who to trust or who might be hiding around the corner.  When you watch this film, make sure you keep your eyes on all characters because you might catch them doing something.  It almost felt like a WHERE’S WALDO book in that there are people all around, but once you stop looking for Waldo you notice other little details that were thrown in.  It makes viewing and re-viewing an enjoyable possibility.

All in all this is a fun and punchy (again, no pun intended) film noir.  A B-picture that has the qualities of an A-picture, and one that I really enjoyed.  Guess I’ll have to thank my husband!

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: BUS STOP (1956)

I didn’t watch BUS STOP with the intention of doing much more than just watching it.  I was curious to see a movie that had been named by several people as an example of Marilyn Monroe’s acting talents, but I wasn’t planning on doing a blog post about it.  But here it is, days after seeing it, and I can’t stop thinking about this film.  Reasons why will become apparent, but obviously a blog post needed to be written.

Beauregard “Bo” Decker (Don Murray) is training for the rodeo.  His skills and times being good enough, he makes plans to leave his ranch for only the second time in his entire life.  His friend and father figure, Virgil (Arthur O’Connell) is accompanying him to the rodeo in Phoenix having been with him for the past twenty-one years.  The two board the bus to Phoenix and settle down in the back seat, where Virgil offers Bo some friendly advice about the women they are certain to meet.  Virgil knows that Bo is inexperienced when it comes to the fairer sex, but at the same time he feels that it is time that Virgil find someone to settle down with.  Bo is determined to find his angel while Virgil counsels finding a “plain, old girl” instead.  The bus stops at Grace’s Diner where, while bus driver Carl (Robert Bray) flirts with the sassy Grace (Betty Field), the other passengers have lunch.  Bo gulps down a meal of three raw burgers and a quart of milk while Virgil extolls the virtues of one of the new female passengers named Elma (Hope Lange), who works at the diner with Grace.  Bo is uninterested in Elma however, and the bus continues on its journey.

Once in the city, Bo is overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and the women.  Across from their hotel room, Virgil spots an attractive blonde dancing at a club and goes over to investigate.  The blonde is named Cherie (Marilyn Monroe) is she is currently being berated by her boss.  He calls her an ignorant hillbilly and leaves her in her dressing room.  Cherie’s friend, Vera (Eileen Heckart) comforts her and listens to the story of how Cherie came to be in Phoenix.  Cherie has dreams of Hollywood and of being a great “chantoosie”, instead of just a small town girl from the Ozarks.  Virgil soon enters the club and at the insistence of her boss, Cherie approaches him in order to cajole him into buying drinks.  Virgil is happy to oblige at first but after several shots whiskey and finding out that not only has Cherie been drinking tea this whole time, but that each shot is costing him sixty cents he becomes irate.  Cherie makes her exit in order to get ready to perform on stage and it is while she singing a slightly tuneless rendition of “That Old Black Magic” that Bo enters the club.  Immediately smitten with her Bo is offended when the crowd does not give Cherie’s performance the proper respect and silences the noisy rabble, so that Cherie can continue.  After the show is concluded Bo follows Cherie backstage and cajoles her into coming out back with him.  They talk briefly and Bo attempts to woo Cherie with acrobatics before passionately kissing her.  While Cherie appreciated Bo’s assistance with the crowd inside and is physically attracted to him as well, she has no feelings of love for him at all so imagine her surprise when Bo pulls her inside and tells Virgil that they are getting married.

Early the next morning Cherie is sleeping in her boarding house room when the door bursts open and in walks Bo.  He nudges and needles and even (in an attempt to impress her with his mind) recites the Gettysburg Address, all in an attempt to convince her to attend the rodeo parade with him.  Finally he resorts to dragging a sleepy Cherie out the door and off to the parade, and then to the rodeo.  At the arena Bo takes Cherie’s scarf and wraps it around his neck for luck.  Off he goes to compete, while Cherie talks with Vera about what has happened.  Cherie shows Vera an engagement ring that Bo has bought, and tells her that Bo has even gotten a marriage license and is planning on having the ceremony after the rodeo.  Just then, Vera spots a preacher in the stands and Cherie flees in a panic.  Back at the club, Vera and Cherie try to come up with a plan when Virgil comes in.  He offers to help Cherie escape from the overbearing Bo and the three devise a plan.  When Bo comes back from the rodeo, Cherie will excuse herself to her dressing room and escape out the open window to the bus station.  From there she will take the bus to Los Angeles while Virgil will take Bo home to Montana on another.  But when the time comes Cherie is unable to lie to Bo and tells him goodbye forever, sending him into a frenzy which culminates with him chasing her down at the bus station and lassoing her, before pulling her onto the Montana-bound bus with him. Imagine the surprise of the driver and other passengers when Cherie asks them for help as she is being “abducted…you know, kidnapped”.

When I first starting watching BUS STOP I had the same thoughts that Robert Osborne said he had.  First, I thought “Dude, chill out” which I thought several more times in succession.  Then I thought how terribly annoying the character of Bo was, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it through the whole movie with the performance that Don Murray was giving.  On THE ESSENTIALS, Drew Barrymore called it a “broad performance” which I think is a generous word for it.  Let’s call it what it is, which is painful.  Bo is a loud mouth, a bully, and just way too much.  He doesn’t listen to anyone but himself, and is very childlike in that he wants what he wants when he wants it no matter what.  I do agree that by the end of the film his character has come around, but he is still annoying and it is a long journey before he makes it there.  That being said, there are some great supporting characters and some very fine performances by the so-called “character actors”.  Grace and Carl have a lot of fun scenes together, and Vera is a great support to Cherie.  But for me, the true standout of this film is Marilyn Monroe.

The performance that Marilyn Monroe gives in this film needs to be seen, not just by fans but by anyone who thinks that Marilyn Monroe is nothing more than a woman in a white halter dress standing on a subway grate.  At the time of this film, Marilyn was enrolled in the Actor’s Studio and was focused on using the method acting technique in her performance.  It shows because truly this is as honest and heartfelt as an actor can be in a role, and she manages to do something that is seemingly impossible.  She ceases to be.  By this I mean, she is no longer Marilyn Monroe playing a character rather she IS that character.  She is Cherie.  It is a role that could so easily go into cartoon or caricature, just the southern accent could send it into pantomime, but it never does.  It is remarkable because someone like Marilyn Monroe shouldn’t be able to do that, or so we have been lead to think.

Marilyn Monroe really pushed to get this film made and to play this role.  In fact, it was her own production company that took on the project.  At the time no studio would seriously consider giving a B-movie pin-up girl dramatic roles, and so Marilyn took matters into her own hands.  In the same way that Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis bucked the studio system in order to get better roles, so to did Marilyn.  She was serious about her career as an actress and if her 1955 New Year’s resolutions are any indication, serious about developing her craft.  She was also painfully insecure and had no self-esteem, and it is this that makes her performance in BUS STOP so arresting and so bittersweet.

This is the performance that hints at the great actress that could have been.  What might have happened if her talents had been nurtured?  If her ego had been boosted?  If her ambitions had been supported?  The small amount of research that I have done on Marilyn Monroe has led me to believe that she was far smarter than most people realized, and far more than she gave herself credit for.  She created Marilyn Monroe, from the hair, to the voice, to the walk.  She knew what people wanted and what would get her ahead and she did it.  And then once she was in she wanted to improve and become more, so she started taking acting classes, reading books, attending lectures, and trying to get better roles for herself.  She wanted to become an actress, not just a pin-up, and I don’t think enough people respected her for that.  Even today, too many people just think of Marilyn Monroe with her skirt blown up or dancing with diamonds.  But this movie gives us a chance to see just how talented she really was.  And for me it is sad to think that she never knew that.  That she never had a moment where she felt that she was becoming the respected actress that she deserved to be.

There was some discussion about why this movie was part of The Essentials, especially when it has something like Don Murray’s character in it.  I can see why this was a question, but I don’t think that a movie needs to be a perfect movie in order to be an essential film.  In order for a film to be essential, I think it just needs to have a piece that is essential.  Maybe it is the script, the directing, the sets, the story, the music, or the acting.  For me, BUS STOP is essential thanks to Marilyn Monroe.  Her performance is essential because it is not only a fine example of method acting, but because it is an example of a tremendous talent that never had the chance to be fully realized or recognized until now.