DVD Haul! A Morning At The Princeton Record Exchange

Today I finally got to go to one of my favorite places to find classic films on DVDs (and Blu Rays), a little place called The Princeton Record Exchange.  Located in Princeton, NJ (funnily enough) this is a shop that sells various CDs, DVDs, and vinyl providing customers with tons of different movies, music, and TV shows.  They are also staffed by some truly friendly, knowledgable, and helpful staff (Hi to Mike who was nice enough to cut open our emergency stroller)!  And where else can you get an $8 Criterion or a $6 Blu Ray?!

So, without further ado…here is my haul!

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What I Got

THE GOOD FAIRY – Margaret Sullavan and Herbert Marshall in a film directed by William Wyler and written by Preston Sturges?!  How have I not seen this one yet??

Literary Classics Double Feature – Both versions of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA!

A STAR IS BORN – Janet Gaynor and Frederic March in the original film about a wife whose star is rising even as her husband’s is falling.

DR. MABUSE; THAN GAMBLER – This is not one that I had heard of but it looks to be something like a serial directed by Fritz Lang with “shoot-outs, car chases, bomb explosions, (and) gruesome deaths…” Color me intrigued.

THE WILDCAT – Being a fan of Fritzi’s over at Movies Silently, I am always alert for the name Pola Negri.  When I saw that it was directed by Ernst Lubitsch I knew that I had to get this one!

THE BELOVED ROUGE – This is another one thanks to Fritzi and her video review of this John Barrymore silent flick.

THE VIVIEN LEIGH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION – This collection has FIRE OVER ENGLAND, STORM IN A TEACUP, DARK JOURNEY, and ST. MARTIN’S LANE.

THE AFRICAN QUEEN – Commemorative Box Set on Blue Ray!

FRANK CAPRA THE EARLY COLLECTION – I have wanted this collection for a long time because I loved THE MIRACLE WOMAN.  It also has LADIES OF LEISURE, RAIN OR SHINE, FORBIDDEN, and THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN.

LADY OF BURLESQUE – I will watch Babara Stanwyck in anything…and this is one that I haven’t seen yet…and it is directed by William Wellman!

I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG – Paul Muni pre-code for only $8!

Criterion Collection – I grabbed a bunch of Criterions for less than $15 each!  THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, BLACK NARCISSUS, and GREEN FOR DANGER were all over half off!  I splurged on a Criterion edition of REBECCA because it is out of print and I love that movie!


If you are ever in the Princeton area I highly recommend heading over to The Princeton Record Exchange.  They are continuing to build up their classics collection and there were TONS that I didn’t get!  They also give you a 6% discount if you pay with cash, just FYI.

Let me know if you ever head over that way and I might just see you there…because I am sure that I will be back!

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Blogathon Update!

Exciting news!  Flicker Alley is now sponsoring the Classic Film History Project Blogathon!  As you might remember they also sponsored the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon which I also took part in (link to post in the sidebar —–>).  This is very exciting news and it not only means a new banner:

But also a giveaway!  Here are the details:

Giveaway

Flicker Alley is going to be giving away a copy of their 3-D Rarities collection for the event. The prize will ship after its release date (June 2015 at the earliest but possibly later). And since we know many of you online and some of you in real life, Flicker Alley will be handling all aspects of the contest and winner selection.

This drawing will be open to readers and participants alike but entry will be limited to residents of the United States and Canada only. Entering is easy. Just follow this link, sign on to the newsletter and you’re in like Flynn! The contest closes on the last day of the blogathon, June 28. If you are the winner, Flicker Alley will contact you via email within 30 days.

Here are the complete rules:

Open to residents of the United States and Canada only. Void where prohibited. Contest ends June 28, 2015. Winner will be chosen at random by Flicker Alley, LLC. The winners will be notified by email within 30 days of the closing date. If the winners cannot be contacted or do not claim the prize within 14 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this competition. The prize has a retail value of $39.95 USD. By submitting this form, you are granting: Flicker Alley, LLC, http://www.flickeralley.com, permission to email you. You can revoke permission to mail to your email address at any time using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email.

This is looking to be a grand old time of a blogathon and I can’t wait!  Stay tuned!

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: THE TUNNEL (1935)

Lots of things happening around the blog lately.  As I posted previously I am taking part in the Classic Film History Blogathon with not one but TWO entries, as well as the upcoming Beach Party Blogathon.  AND lest we forget I am also taking part in the Summer 2015 Classic Film Reading Challenge…which means that very soon there will be BOOK REVIEWS!  I am still trying to find time to watch other films for the blog, and clear off my DVR in the process, which leads me to THE TUNNEL…

A group of millionaires gathers to take in an evening of music at some unspecified date in the future (there is an illusion to a past event being in the 1940s so it is safe to assume that we are at least in the 1950s) somewhere in England.  They are introduced to brilliant engineer Richard McAllen (Richard Dix) who has come up with a crazy idea.  Having already built “The Channel Tunnel”, McAllen now wants to build a tunnel underneath the ocean to connect America and England.  While he pitches his idea, McAllen’s wife Ruth (Madge Evans) and his best friend Freddie Robbins (Leslie Banks) wait anxiously outside.  Though initially skeptical the millionaires, lead by arms dealer Grellier, finally agree to back the Tunnel Project.

Years pass and the tunnel construction moves head, now improved by the newly invented radium drill.  McAllen is a celebrity but is constantly pulled away from spending any time with Ruth and their growing son Geoffrey.  In fact he cannot even attend Geoffrey’s birthday because he is summoned to New York to take part in a publicity promotion lead by Varlia Lloyd (Helen Vinson), daughter of one of the Tunnel Project backers.  Varlia has been in love with McAllen for years and the photos of the two together plant doubts into Ruth’s mind.  Feeling increasingly isolated and distant from her husband, Ruth decides to join the Tunnel Project as a nurse without letting McAllen know.  While working there she becomes affected by the mysterious tunnel gases and begins to go blind.  Not wanting to be pitied and tired of playing second fiddle to the Tunnel Project, Ruth takes Geoffrey and leaves her husband with no explanation.  Heartbroken at this turn of events, McAllen throws himself into his work and even begins to alienate Robbins.

Still more years pass and the project begins to take its toll both in funds and in lives.  The leaders of America and Great Britain (Walter Huston and George Arliss respectively) continue to promote the project and the peace that they hope it will bring.  McAllen is now just a shell of the man he used to be, Robbins is losing his patience, and Ruth lives in the countryside with Geoffrey who is now trying to get a job in the tunnel alongside his father.   The project is nearing completion when disaster strikes.  While digging the men hit an underground flow of fire and lava, causing the deaths of hundreds.  When the smoke clears and the situation is assessed, it is discovered that they are digging straight towards an underwater volcano.

This film was based on the 1913 novel Der Tunnel by Bernhard Kellermann, which sold 100,000 copies in its first six months of publication and became one of the most successful books from the first half of the twentieth century.  The book had been filmed several times, the first being in 1915 as a silent film directed by William Wauer.  The other three versions were all filmed at roughly the same time (from 1933-1935) in German (Der Tunnel), French (Le Tunnel), and English (The Tunnel).  This was not uncommon as at the time the studios didn’t have the technology to dub dialogue for different languages and so just filmed a movie multiple times in multiple languages.  The films would utilize the same sets and locations but different actors and directors.

THE TUNNEL is what I would call a curio.  It is not a fabulous film but it is certainly an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, especially if you like British melodrama (which I do).  The fact that it is set in the future makes it interesting as the sets and props are unique interpretations of what the movie makers felt the future would be like.  It is a combination of 1930s fashion and design mixed with imagined futuristic technology, transport, and architecture.  Combine that with the engaging dynamic of Richard Dix and Leslie Banks, and this is a film that is at least deserving of a look.

Taking Part in the 2015 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge!

As you might be able to guess from the title I have decided to be completely crazy and try to take on the 2015 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge hosted by Raquel over at Out Of The Past!  Here is the lowdown:

Here are the details:

Runs June 1st to September 1st, 2015
Open internationally!
Sign up for the challenge here.
Read a classic film book
Write a review and post it on your BLOG or Goodreads profile
Submit your review link here.
Repeat until you have read and reviewed 6 books!
Review 6 and be automatically entered to win a prize.

Go to the official summer reading page for full details including rules, entry forms, prize details, a challenge button and more.

Six books in three months. It’s not as difficult as it sounds! Aim for reading two books each month. Don’t procrastinate! Keep the two books a month pace or you’ll fall behind. You can do it. If you need some help, check out my 10 tips for getting in more classic film reading.

If you want to read fewer than six books, that’s okay too! Just set a goal that works for you. You can start reading and reviewing at any time, just make sure your reviews are up by September 1st.

If you do complete six books in the time frame given, you’ll be eligible for a prize! I’ll randomly select one person to receive the following prize pack:

A copy of Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide: From the Silent Era through 1965 3rd Edition, revised by Leonard Maltin and presented by Turner Classic Movies
Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz Fan Club pins from Your Fan Club by Kate Gabrielle
TCM pen purchased from the 2015 TCMFF gift shop
Depending on the number of challenge finishers, I’ll plan on a runner-up prize too. Note the Maltin guide doesn’t come out until late September so the prize won’t ship until October.

Again, all the details about the challenge are on the dedicated page which can be accessed at the header of this blog. Good luck to all participants!

So, if you like reading and if you like classic films join me in this challenge!  It will certainly be a lot of fun!  And be sure to keep an eye out for upcoming BOOK REVIEWS!

June 2015 Highlights for Turner Classic Movies

Here are some of the upcoming items of note for TCM in June!

The Star of the Month is Pin-Up Girls and on June 3rd you can catch Betty Grable in the TCM premiere of 1944’s PIN UP GIRL!

This is the Summer of Darkness on TCM with every Friday in June showcasing various film noir.  Totaling fifty-three films this month, the Summer of Darkness will show such gems as BORN TO KILL, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, GUN CRAZY, THE STRANGER, DARK PASSAGE, and many more!

Sundays in June you can attend TCM Movie Camp for four entertaining and family friendly films like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and MR BUG GOES TO TOWN.  The TCM Movie Camp will also show STEAMBOAT BILL, JR and MONSTER ZERO.

June 1st is all about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward with six of their films being shown, including PICNIC and RALLY ‘ROUND THE FLAG BOYS!  June 4th will feature eight films about the fictional British hero created in 1920 by H.C. Mcneill, Bulldog Drummond.  June 18th is all about giant marauding creatures and will bring viewers six movies of bug and beast smashing goodness to enjoy.  Guest programmer Edgar Wright will choose four movies on June 23rd, among them DAMES and O LUCKY MAN!

This month The Essentials will show THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, BULLITT, HERE COMES MR JORDAN, and THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.  TCM Underground presents MIAMI CONNECTION, THE MANITOU, VIGILANTE, and TWICE UPON A TIME.  Silent Sunday Nights is back with SCARAMOUCHE, GREED, SHERLOCK HOLMES, and THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC.  And don’t forget TCM Imports which will feature RASHOMON, ZERO FOCUS, THE CASTLE OF SAND, RED DESERT, and BAND OF OUTSIDERS.


Here are some daily themes worth keeping in mind this June!

June 1st – Birthday Tribute to Frank Morgan

June 8th – WWII Thrillers

June 11th – Starring Richard Dix

June 16th – Robert Osborne’s Picks

June 18th – Birthday Tribute to Jeannette MacDonald

June 23rd – Tuesdays with Monty (Montgomery Clift)


This month I am doing something a little different with my movie “check-out” suggestions.  Here are some films that I am looking forward to seeing for the first time!

June 1st – A LOST LADY (6:30AM EST) Frank Morgan and Barbara Stanwyck?  Yes please!, TROUBLE FOR TWO (1:45PM EST) Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in a film about a prince who gets mixed up in a suicide club right before he gets married…tell me you aren’t intrigued.

June 2nd – SPLIT SECOND (11:45PM EST) Escaped cons holding hostages in a ghost town that is the target of a nuclear test!

June 3rd – THE KILLERS (2AM EST) Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in film noir heaven.

June 5th – M (6AM EST) After reading Citizen Screen’s post about this film I am intrigued to see it!

June 8th – I SEE A DARK STRANGER (2:30AM EST) I can’t wait to see this film about reading about it on Nitrate Diva’s blog!

June 10th – WITHOUT LYING DOWN (6AM EST) A documentary about the women who helped shape Hollywood by taking on traditionally “male” roles such as writing, directing, and producing.

June 14th – RUGGLES OF RED GAP (8AM EST) Basically I want to see this because it has Charles Ruggles and Charles Laughton in it.

June 15th – THE FALLEN IDOL (12PM EST) A boy thinks that the servant he idolizes has committed a murder..bonus Ralph Richardson, HEAVEN CAN WAIT (8PM EST) Ernst Lubitsch directing Gene Tierney and Don Ameche.

June 19th – HOLLOW TRIUMPH (8PM EST) Paul Henrid stars as a crook on the run posing as a psychiatrist.

June 22nd – JEANNE EAGLES (8PM EST) A biopic of the famed actress starring Kim Novak!

June 26th – THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME! (8AM EST), LADY IN THE LAKE (11AM EST), POSSESSED (2:45PM EST), THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS (8PM EST), Basically just call in sick and stay home to watch TCM Summer of Darkness all day because this is awesome!

June 27th – THE MOON AND SIXPENCE (10PM EST) A film loosely based on the life of Gaugin but I am excited to hear the melodic tones of both Herbert Marshall and George Sanders in the same film!

Also, just pointing out that my favorite movie, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, is being shown on June 30th at 1PM EST…which also happens to be my birthday!

Time to Take Part in Another Blogathon!

I am very excited about this upcoming blogathon that is being hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently, Ruth at Silver Screenings, and Aurora at Once Upon a Screen!  I am going to be sharing at least one posting in the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon this June!  I am really looking forward to this one so I might expand my topics as we go along but for right now I am planning to write about films depicting the return of soldiers to the homefront after World War II.  This is shaping up to be a really great event so head on over and sign up!

My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon: THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)

This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon hosted by Rick’s Classic Film and TV Cafe.  Check out all the other terrific entries here!

I can’t tell you exactly when I started loving THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  I can’t tell you exactly what made me start watching it or what made me keep watching it.  What I can tell you is that it is one of those movies that holds a special place in my heart.  It is one of those films that I have to watch every few months, one of those films that I know lines of dialogue from, one of those films that I tell everyone about.  Any time that I see that THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is on TV, it doesn’t matter what point in the movie we are at, that is it I have to stop everything that I am doing and watch.

I am not going to get too involved in the plot, as I think many people know the movie and for those who don’t I really don’t want to spoil much and would much rather entice you to see the film and let me know what you think!  That having been said…

Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) is a Philadelphia socialite from a very old and very wealthy family.  She is the ex-wife of one C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), sportsman and recovering alcoholic.  The marriage between the two childhood sweethearts broke up due to Tracy’s imperious and holier-than-thou attitude which is due mostly to her wealth and privileged upbringing.  Two years later Tracy is engaged to self-made man, and wind bag, George Kittridge (John Howard).

Tracy’s absentee father has caused the family some embarrassment of late by taking up with a dancer.  Unfortunately for everyone, the publisher of the biggest gossip magazine has gotten a hold of some dirt on the affair and is now threatening to publish it.  C.K. Dexter Haven now shows up at Tracy’s door with a reporter named Mike Conner (James Stewart) and a photographer named Elizabeth Imbrey (Ruth Hussey).  It seems that Dexter has agreed to allow Mike and Liz to cover Tracy’s upcoming nuptials in exchange for the magazine agreeing not to publish the embarrassing information about Tracy’s father.

What follows is a most delightful mess of family dysfunction, love triangles, champagne, swimming, and redemption.  All in all my idea of a really perfect movie.

Katharine Hepburn was considered undesirable in 1938.  Several flops had led her to be added to Manhattan movie theater owner Harry Brandt’s list of “box office poison”.  Taking some time away from Hollywood she starred in a play on Broadway, entitled THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  Inspired by the life of socialite Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, a Philadelphia socialite known for her crazy antics, it was written by Philip Barry who happened to be friends with Montgomery Scott’s husband.  Barry wrote the role of Tracy Lord specifically for Katharine Hepburn and she played alongside Joseph Cotten (Dexter), Van Heflin (Connor), and Shirley Booth (Imbrey).  Barry and Hepburn both backed the play, with Barry forgoing a salary, and the play (and Hepburn) were a great success.  Howard Hughes, then Hepburn’s boyfriend, purchased the film rights and gave them to her as a gift.  In the hopes of undoing her label of “box office poison”, Hepburn sold the rights to Louis B. Mayer in exchange for $250,000 and veto rights over director, producer, cast, and screenwriter.

George Cukor was selected as the director and Donald Ogden Stewart was brought in as screenwriter.  Hepburn initially wanted Clark Gable to play Dexter and Spencer Tracy to play Connor but both had other commitments, and Mayer was still wary of Hepburn’s poisonous status.  As insurance he put in two A-list celebrities to co-star with Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.  Grant agreed to the part as long as he received top billing and his salary would total $137,000 which he would donate to the British War Relief Society.  The film went into production in Culver City from July 5 to August 14, 1940 and was opened for general release on January 17, 1941.  THE PHILADELPHIA STORY went on to break a box office record by taking in $600,000 in six weeks.

Now that we know a bit more about the history of the film, let’s talk about why I love it so.  But first, here is the trailer which should give you a little taste of the greatness to come!

First of all, can you beat this cast?  Katharine Hepburn is Tracy Lord.  Full stop.  No one else but Katharine Hepburn could pull off the role and give Tracy the complex dimensions that she does.  Tracy is cold and aloof but underneath it you can sense that hurt and disappointment with her father and her ex husband have made her that way.  She is privileged and wealthy but she also is in love with George and with the hope that he will give her something real, honest, and true because he is a self-made man.  She is totally in control and wildly out of it.  Tracy Lord is a woman who starts as one thing and ends as another and we take the journey with her and whats more we actually like her as well.  In spite of the hard time she gives everyone, in spite of what other people say about her, we still like her and find ourselves rooting for her.  Only Katharine Hepburn could do this and Tracy Lord is the role she was meant to play.

Then there is Cary Grant.  What can I say?  I would watch Cary Grant tie his shoes and it would be amazing.  Here he brings his quintessential light humor to the role and where C.K. Dexter Haven could have been a somewhat nasty piece of work, he makes him into a man who is still in love with his ex-wife but feels betrayed by her lack of support and, more importantly, love during his struggles with alcoholism.  He brings a humor to his scenes and seems to be having a fantastic time during the filming.  Just watch his face sometimes, even when he isn’t the focus of the scene and you will see what I mean.  And let’s be honest, only Cary Grant could start off a film shoving a woman to the ground by her face and still be a man you root for.

James Stewart won an Oscar for his role as Mike Connor and while I would have liked to see a double Oscar between him and Cary Grant, you can’t deny that this is a breakout role for him.  Not to say that he had never made any great films prior to this, I mean THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON are fantastic, but I think that this film really showed Jimmy Stewart holding his own in an ensemble and even having moments of outshining even Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.  Mike is a complex character, an everyman who is tired of being the everyman.  He wants to be comfortable and rich but sees the “old money” families as obstacles to his ultimate happiness.  He wants to be an author but he works as a newspaper reporter for a gossip magazine.  He also wants to dislike Tracy Lord because of everything she stands for in his mind, but he can’t because there is something magnetic in her and he can’t resist.  Starting out cynical and hard, Mike ends up being chivalrous and genuine making a transformation that we can all believe and one that makes sense.

Like I said, this is a dream cast.  And let’s not forget Ruth Hussey, Roland Young, and Virginia Weidler.  Oh how I love Virginia Weidler in this movie.

If you didn’t at least smile once during that clip…then I’m sorry I can’t help you.

And that brings me to what I think I love the most about this movie.  The words.  I have loved words and books ever since I was little.  True story, my first word was book.  Even now when I am driving or going for a walk or cooking in the kitchen, I would much rather listen to a podcast or a book on tape than music.  So for me, the script in this film is just heaven.  The quick and witty dialogue, the truly funny jokes, the pure poetry of the monologues…this film makes me feel like a really great book has come to life before my eyes.  The quality of the writing is palpable and I would be just as happy closing my eyes and listening to this movie as I would be watching it.  Donald Ogden Stewart wrote in his autobiography that adapting the screenplay for THE PHILADELPHIA STORY was the easiest job he ever had because the original material was so perfect.  So whether it is thanks to Philip Barry or Donald Ogden Stewart that we have dialogue like;

C. K. Dexter Haven: Sometimes, for your own sake, Red, I think you should’ve stuck to me longer.
Tracy Lord: I thought it was for life, but the nice judge gave me a full pardon.
C. K. Dexter Haven: Aaah, that’s the old redhead. No bitterness, no recrimination, just a good swift left to the jaw.

Or

Margaret Lord: Oh, dear. Is there no such thing as privacy any more?

Tracy Lord: Only in bed, mother, and not always there.

Or

Macaulay Connor: The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.

Well, I could go on.  But whoever it was…the script is divine and the movie is divine and I love it.  I wish that I could fill this entry with clips of the film and quotes of dialogue and bits of trivia, but I can’t.  What I can do instead is to wish you all a Happy National Classic Movie Day and encourage you all to go out and watch my  favorite movie, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.

The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon: CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933)

This post is part of The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Margaret Perry!  Check out all the other entries here!

Warning!  This blog entry will discuss various plot points and the ending of the film in question.  There will be advance warning before the ending is revealed but in order to have good discussion of the film I feel that the main points of the plot need to be revealed.  

It is a fine evening out in England and the lovely young socialites and their lovers are having a treasure hunt.  The instigator of this event is Carrie Valentin, aunt to Monica Strong (Helen Chandler).  Monica is having a grand time at the party with her married boyfriend, Harry Rawlinson (Ralph Forbes), and is all set to win the grand prize of a sable scarf when Aunt Carrie announces that there is a problem.  It seems that the scavenger hunt was too easy and there are too many winners so there is a bonus item.  The party guests must find a truly faithful husband and a women over twenty who has never had a love affair.  Monica knows just who to bring and rushes home to get her father, the parliamentary leader Sir Christopher Strong (Colin Clive).  Harry meanwhile steals a motorcycle and rushes off to find the female counterpart to the final item and ends up colliding with her on the motorway.  Lady Cynthia Darrington (Katharine Hepburn) is a renowned aviatrix and has also never had a lover or a love affair.

Back at the party Christopher and Cynthia share their respective stories and help Harry and Monica claim their prizes.  Cynthia agrees to dine with Monica and Christopher later in the week, and then takes her leave to head to the airfield for an early morning flight.  Cynthia soon becomes a great friend to Monica and begins spending a great deal of time at the home of Christopher and his wife Elaine (Billie Burke).  Elaine begins to have some misgivings at the growing closeness of Cynthia and Christopher but she remains silent, convincing herself that her husband loves her and that will be enough.  Christopher meanwhile finds himself more and more drawn to Cynthia, who is the complete opposite of Elaine.  Her single-mindedness and determination draw Christopher to her in spite of his love for his wife.  Cynthia has also begun to develop feelings of her own and begun to fall in love with Christopher.

Monica meanwhile is running wild with Harry, who is still married.  Elaine finally steps in and forbids her daughter from seeing him any longer.  Harry agrees to take time apart from Monica, much to her chagrin, and leaves the house to return to his wife.  Monica is devastated and hurries off to her room where she remains for some time.  The family takes their annual trip to Cannes, with Elaine going ahead to get the house ready.  She cannot wait for the arrival of her husband, delighted at the prospect of finally having him all to herself again.  But to her dismay she receives a telegram informing her that not only are Christopher and Monica coming to join her but they are bringing a surprise guest in the form of Cynthia.

One night the entire family go to yet another party hosted by Aunt Carrie.  At the party Elaine watches with increasing unease as Christopher and Cynthia glide around the dance floor.  She complains of a headache and takes her leave of the party.  Monica has found a swarthy young man to occupy her time and she manages to leave with him, with her father’s blessing surprisingly.  But Christopher is blind to all dangers to his daughter’s honor in is now single-minded desire to be alone with Cynthia.  Christopher and Cynthia take a moonlit boat ride and it is here that they finally confess their love for each other.  Upon their return they decide that they must not pursue their relationship any further and part with a kiss.  Unfortunately, Elaine cannot hear what is being said and can only watch in despair as her husband kisses another woman.

Cynthia keeps her word and stays away from the Strong family, that is until Monica appears on her doorstep.  She is determined to kill herself because Harry, who is now divorced from his wife, refuses to marry her after finding out about her dalliance in France.  Cynthia convinces her to reconsider her suicide plan, which Monica finally agrees to, before hurrying off to attempt an around the world flight from England to New York.  After a grueling and deadly competition, Cynthia is declared the winner and she returns to New York exhausted.  While in her hotel she receives a call from Christopher who is desperate to see her.  That night she hosts him in her hotel room and they consummate their affair.  The couple now begins seeing each other in earnest, much to Elaine’s increasing despair, and Cynthia agrees to give up her high-flying and dangerous life style.

Warning to anyone who doesn’t want to know the ending of the film!  This would be the time to stop reading!

Things are happy for a time, but nothing lasts forever.  Monica and Harry are now married and expecting their first child.  Going out to lunch at one of their old haunts they spot Christopher and Cynthia having an intimate moment in the back corner.  That night at a party celebrating their upcoming blessed event, Monica denounces the affair to Cynthia and warns her that she will confront Christopher later that evening so as not to hurt her mother.  She ends her friendship with Cynthia and Cynthia takes this as her cue to leave.  On her way out, Cynthia is stopped by Elaine who wishes to thank Cynthia for what she did to save Monica from her suicide which has led to their present happiness.  Later that night Cynthia is waiting for Christopher to come to her apartment for dinner when she receives a note instead.  Christopher is remaining home with his family to toast the health of his new grandchild but promises that he will join her the following evening.  Cynthia goes to her desk and writes a note to Christopher  in which reveals that she too is pregnant.  She does not send the note and the next evening she and Christopher are sitting in front of the fire.  Cynthia asks Christopher if he would marry her, at the expense of his family and his happiness, if she was pregnant.  Christopher says that of course he would, but they don’t have to worry about that do they?

As the early light creeps in, Cynthia sneaks out of the house to take part in a dangerous aeronautical test.  In an attempt to climb to 3500 feet, she climbs into her plane and readies her oxygen mask.  On the table in her home is the note to Christopher with a new postscript in which she says that courage conquers love and that she hopes he will understand when she doesn’t come back.  Taking off from the airfield Cynthia begins to climb higher and higher into the sky.  As she climbs, Cynthia sees the faces of the people that she has loved and hurt, and remembers the moments spent with Christopher.  Tears stream down her face and in her emotional turmoil she rips off her oxygen mask.  Too late does she attempt to recover from her mistake and she blacks out.  The plane plummets to the earth and erupts into a fiery wreck, killing her.  Sometime later a statue is erected in Cynthia’s honor with a plaque that reads HER LIFE AND COURAGE INSPIRED US ALL.

This is such an interesting film with so many fascinating aspects to possibly discuss.  This is the first leading role for Katharine Hepburn and the only time she ever played “the other woman”.  This is also the film that gets the most credit for the development of the “Katharine Hepburn persona”, the independent, slightly masculine, non-conformist attitude that would become a staple of Katharine Hepburn’s career.  It was directed by a woman, Dorothy Arzner, as well as written by one, Zoe Akins.  And there is also the sad tale of Helen Chandler and her descent into alcoholism.  Lest we forget this is also a pre-code film so there are two extramarital affairs, one out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and a fiery death scene all in seventy-seven minutes.  So when it came time to write this blog post I decided it was best to narrow things down and focus on two topics.  One being the possible parallels between this film and Katharine Hepburn’s own love life, and the other being the ending.

The ending of this film deserves a moment or two of discussion.  My main issue was did Cynthia go up in order to commit suicide?  I am not so sure.  I know that in her note she tells Christopher that she isn’t coming back, but I wonder if she was simply planning on leaving and raising their child on her own.  After spending time to convince Monica that she shouldn’t kill herself, to then go and do the exact opposite seems a little odd.  And Cynthia never seemed to be the sort to just want to end it all.  I think that she realized that Christopher was never going to leave his family, that she would always be the mistress.  She knows that Monica hates her now and that Elaine will soon know everything.  She knows that Christopher would marry her if she told him she was pregnant but that it would ruin their love for each other because he would only do it out of duty and not because he wanted to.  And then there is the matter of giving up her aviatrix career.  Before they are discovered by Monica, Cynthia was telling Christopher that she was feeling that she wanted to go back to flying and doing what she loved.  She missed having that purpose and independence, and she hated the idea of becoming a woman just waiting all day for her man to come home.  Having thought of all this, the idea that this strong, single-minded, independent, fiery woman would go out and commit suicide to spare her lover having to marry her doesn’t quite make sense to me.  I can’t help but wonder if she wasn’t planning to go out and attempt the altitude climb to start her career again before going out into the world to live her life with her child.  She is looking back on what has transpired and realizes that she has lost friends, hurt people, and will never see the man she loves ever again.  Her emotions take hold and she can’t breathe so she rips the mask off.  We can see the shock and panic when she realizes her mistake and tries desperately to get the mask back on but it is too late.  Why bother to try to get the mask back on if your intention was to take it off?  In my mind the character of Cynthia is complex and vibrant, and perhaps this is why I can’t quite wrap my head around the apparent suicide.

I tend to think that Katharine Hepburn put a lot of herself and her own personal experiences into this role.  In fact, the scene where Christopher calls her hotel room after her world flight closely mirrored when Howard Hughes returned from his global flight and called his girlfriend, Katharine Hepburn.  The character of Cynthia is uninterested in men for the most part, preferring instead to keep her mind focused on other matters such as her flying career.  She tells Christopher that they are both different from most people and that is why they are attracted to each other.  I can only imagine that this might have been close to something Katharine Hepburn would have felt in her life.  She was a truly unique and independent person and not prone to flights of fancy.  Looking at two of her great loves, Spencer Tracy and yes Howard Hughes, we can see that this men are also unique and independent.  The sense of resigned loneliness that is in Cynthia when we first meet her, a feeling that yes she is lonely and wishes to experience love but that she has decided to put that behind her to pursue her goals, seems to be an honest emotion coming from Katharine Hepburn herself.  I wonder if that is why she seemed to take on the persona of Cynthia Harrington over the rest of her career, because maybe she felt that this woman was not only close to who she was but also someone who she wanted to be.


If you want to read more about this terrific movie, Danny at Pre-Code.com has a great post as does The Great Katharine Hepburn!

Spending Time With Turner Classic Movies: THE HITCH-HIKER (1953)

When was the last time you invited death into your car?  This was the question posed to movie-goers by Ida Lupino’s THE HITCH-HIKER, a film noir that is tense, action packed, and unnerving…and one that is more than likely to make you second guess letting anyone into your car.

Citizens beware, a madman is on the loose.  His victims include a couple of newlyweds and a hapless salesman.  Police release the photo of their suspect, ex-convict Emmett Myers (William Talman), but he has already moved on from Central California to Mexico.  It is here that he flags down two men on their way to Baja for a fishing vacation.  Draughtsmen Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) and garage owner Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) are in for a rude awakening as their helpless hitch-hiker quickly pulls a gun and takes the two hostage.  Myers orders the man to pull of the road where he takes charge of their guns and ammunition and informs them as to his true identity.  Myers then asks when the two men are expected back from their trip and Roy assures him that they are not going to be missed anytime soon, which is of course a lie.

Later at a roadside gas station Roy converses with the owners in Spanish which sends Myers, who does not speak Spanish, into a paranoid snit.  He flashes his gun to warn the two men to keep quiet about what is happening.  Myers then takes a look at the road map and decides that he will catch the ferry at Santa Rosalita which is about 500 miles away.  Forcing the two men to drive him, Myers takes great delight in abusing them mentally and physically.  At one point he forces Gil to shoot a can out of Roy’s hand with a rifle.  He also berates them for being “soft” and tells them tales of his physical toughness.  He also warns them to not try to escape as one of his eyes does not close so they would never know if he was really sleeping or not.  Listening to the radio as they drive the men soon hear a report about Roy and Gil’s disappearance causing Myers to realize that they lied to him about when they were expected back.  Now even more paranoid, Myers becomes extremely agitated when the car horn becomes stuck and forces the men to pull the car over.  Demanding the men fix the horn, Myers becomes even more panicked when a man with a burro comes down the road.  Luckily the man passes them by and the horn is fixed.  Back in the car the radio has stopped working and Myers, convinced the men have sabotaged it, hits Roy over the head with his gun.  Gil convinces him that the mountains are interfering with reception and Myers calms down.

Despite Myers’ best efforts the group has attracted attention, namely of the gas station owner of the last stop they visited.  The owner goes to the police with his suspicions and soon his information is being sent to an American agent who has come to Mexico to work with the police in this disappearance.  The American agent and the Mexican police commissioner agree that the most likely destination is Santa Rosalita and focus their efforts in that direction.  Back on the road Myers is getting even more paranoid and demands that Roy drives faster.  Roy protests but gives in when Myers waves his gun around again.  It doesn’t take long before a tire blows out and Roy barely controls the car over to the side of the road.  Both Roy and Gil are working on a frayed nerve and Roy in particular is starting to lose his cool.  Myers is also coming unglued and this frustration and upset is evident as the men exit the car to fix the tire.  Myers keeps his gun trained on them and when a car begins to pull over to help, he leaps into the backseat and warns  Roy and Gil to say nothing unless they want to die and get the good Samaritans killed too.  Roy and Gil say nothing to the young couple who stops to help and they soon leave but not before becoming suspicious of the strange and silent Americans by the roadside.

Let’s talk about Ida Lupino for a moment here.  While mostly known for being a fine actress, recognized for roles in films like THEY RIDE BY NIGHT, THE MAN I LOVE, DESPERATION, and LADIES IN RETIREMENT, Ida Lupino also had quite a career as a director.  Directing a few major motion pictures and many television episodes, Ida Lupino was the first female director to direct a film noir.  How did this happen, how did Ida Lupino get her start in directing?  In the mid 1940s while on suspension for turning down a role she began to become interested in directing.  But it wasn’t until 1949 that she finally got her chance to put these skills to use but it wasn’t through the best of circumstances.  While making NOT WANTED the director, Elmer Clifton, suffered a heart attack and was unable to complete the filming.  Ida Lupino, who had co-written and was co-producing the film, stepped in and the rest is history.

Does the fact that THE HITCH-HIKER was directed by a woman make a difference?  Maybe, but not in the way that you might think.  THE HITCH-HIKER is a very different noir starting with the setting.  While most noirs take place in dark alleys and rain-soaked roadways, this film takes place in a car riding along a deserted highway in the desert.  This is not to say that there is a lack of atmosphere or tension, in fact there is atmosphere to spare.  The isolation of the desert, the empty highway, the oppressive heat and desolation, the fact that the very environment is trying to kill you, all add up to seventy-one minutes that never let up.  Ida Lupino takes a different spin on the noir though.  Instead of focusing on the “big picture” of it all, instead she examines the more intimate relationships and interactions between the three men in the car.  More to the point she focuses on the effects of the interactions, the effects that Myers’ up bringing had on his psyche, the effects of Myer’s torture on Roy and Gil, the effects of being trapped for days in a car with a psychopath.

THE HITCH-HIKER is not rife with subplots and secondary characters.  In fact the only times that a subplot is brought up it is simply to help move the primary story line along.  Secondary characters come and go so quickly you might be tempted to consider them a walk on role.  But because of this lack of extra padding the film feels lean, sparse, and to the point.  It seems that Ida Lupino had a good story, one based on the real life killing spree of Billy Cook in the 1950s in California and one that she co-wrote with Robert L Joseph and her husband Collier Young, and she let the story speak for itself.  While many other noirs would most likely have played up the police search, the ensuing manhunt, and the search for the missing men, Ida Lupino takes things down to a much more intimate and personal feel which makes the stakes feel even higher and more urgent. The fact that Roy and Gil are so completely ordinary and un-remarkable makes the premise even scarier. These men are not heroes in hiding, not detectives, not even reformed tough guys. These men are just two friends trying to have a fishing trip. They have wives and kids and jobs, and they could be anyone of us.


If you want to hear more about Ida Lupino and her career in acting and filmmaking check out that fabulous podcast from You Must Remember This.  Also, the fabulous Girls Do Film has an equally fabulous post about THE HITCH-HIKER which you should definitely go read!

Shorts! Blogathon: TROUBLES OF A GRASS WIDOWER (1912)

This post is part of the Shorts! Blogathon presented by Fritzi over at Movies Silently!  Check out the other entries here!

Grass Widower

noun
Definition of GRASS WIDOWER

1
: a man divorced or separated from his wife
2
: a man whose wife is temporarily away from him

What is a fellow to do when his wife becomes so fed up with him, she goes back home to Mother?  In the case of Max Linder the answer is, attempt to carry on with hilariously disastrous consequences.

The plot is quite simple.  A husband (Max Linder) is making his wife (Jane Renouardt) crazy and ignoring her during dinner.  Finally fed up with this behavior the un-appreciated wife decides to head back home to her mother.  Her husband is initially delighted at having the whole house to himself and sets about doing daily activities.  However, he soon finds that things are not so delightful and the house descends into chaos.  Will his wife ever return?

So, let’s get a little background shall we?  Gabriel-Maximillien Leuvielle, better known as Max Linder, was a French actor, director, comedian, producer, and screen writer of the silent film era.  His parents were vineyard owners and expected him to continue in the family business but Max was enthralled by the traveling circuses and theaters that came to town.  In 1899 he enrolled in the Bordeaux Conservatorie and from 1901-1904 was a contract player in the Bordeaux Théâtre des Arts, adopting the stage name of Max Linder.  Then in 1905, Max got his big break.  “Do you want to do some cinema?” asked one of Linder’s colleagues at the theatre. “What’s that?” said Max.   “A kind of theatre, except that you act in front of a machine. You joke around. You’ll get 20 francs.” answered his friend.  Max agreed and was filmed skating, and falling, over and over on a frozen lake for a short called Les Débuts d’un Patineur.  This was to become his first success and showed Max a world that he had never known before, cinema shorts.  Max was eager to continue and soon began producing his own short films.

Max’s onscreen personality was a dapper dandy, a suave gentleman full of charm and manners, but one who was liable to get into various comedic disasters usually due to his womanizing behaviors.  His characters were usually dressed with a top hat and a distinctive mustache, and Max often adapted and improvised his performances to fit the desires of the movie going public.  Max Linder soon became the very first internationally recognizable film star.  Signed on by Pathe, in 1910 Max Linder and his films were so popular that he was filming a comedy a week at the studio and was earning 1 million francs a year.  But soon Max had to take a break from his demanding schedule.  A childhood bout of cholera and a roller skating accident that occurred during his film career had damaged his health and continued to trouble him years later.  But this absence was short lived and by 1911 Max Linder was back and making shorts.

In 1914 World War I broke out and Max enlisted in the French Army.  He served for two months as a dispatch driver before being dismissed due to his poor health.  After being dismissed, Max continued to do his part to support the war effort by entertaining the troops.  In 1916 Max was offered a contract to make films in America which he accepted.  While in America Max Linder met and befriended Charlie Chaplin, a relationship that would go on to affect Chaplin’s entire career.  For example, Max Linder’s influence can directly be seen in Chaplin’s Little Tramp character.  American audiences largely ignored Linder’s films and they made little to no money, leading to Max’s contract in America being cancelled.  Max returned to war-torn France where, suffering from depression, he made no films until after the war’s end.  In 1919 Max made a new film that became a moderate success in Europe but which remained unseen in America.  However, bolstered by the modest success of his newest film, Max decided to take on Hollywood once again.  Creating his own production company, Max Linder Productions, Max made two feature films starring his dapper Max character neither of which made an impact on the American audience.  He then took on the role of “Dart-In-Again” in The Three Must-Get-Theres, a spoof of The Three Musketeers starring Douglas Fairbanks.  Although both Fairbanks and Chaplin praised the film, it did not make money at the box office and Max returned to France.

Now severely depressed, Max Linder made two final films in France but he no longer felt funny. As he is quoted saying to director Robert Florey, “The public is mildly amused by my situations…but where were the explosions of laughter that we hear when Charlie’s on the screen?”  He married eighteen year old Hélène “Jean” Peters in 1923 and in 1924 the couple welcomed a daughter named Maud.  But even the joys of marriage and fatherhood could not raise Max’s spirits.  Both husband and wife suffered emotional problems which became evident in early 1924 when they attempted to commit suicide together at a hotel in Vienna, Austria before they were found a revived.  The doctor covered up the situation, calling it an accidental barbituate overdose.  On October 31, 1925 Max Linder and his wife attended a performance of Quo Vadis.  In the play the main characters bleed themselves to death and later that night the Linder’s died the same way.  Charlie Chaplin is said to have closed his studios for a day out of respect for the death of a man who is barely known by American audiences today, but one who he thought of as his teacher.

And what happened to baby Maud? She was raised by her grandparents who waited until she was about twenty years old before they told her what really happened to her parents.  After seeing one of her father’s films, Maud realized what a star her father had been and resolved to make his films accessible to the public once again.  In 1963 she made a film compilation of her father’s last three films from Hollywood entitled Laugh With Max Linder which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and won the Étoile de Cristal.  In 1983 she made a documentary called The Man in the Silk Hat which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival.  In the 1950s and 1960s she worked as a journalist, and as an assistant director for Jean-Paul Le Chanois.  She published a book in France entitled Max Linder Was My Father in 1992, and in 2008 she was awarded the Prix Henri Langlois for her work in promoting her father’s legacy.  And the most amazing part?  She is currently still alive and residing in France.

The life of Max Linder is undoubtably tragic, as so many great comedic talents’ seem to be.  He was never understood or accepted by the American audience even though he gave them one of their greatest and most popular film stars, Charlie Chaplin.  Even today he is relegated as a footnote in the history of silent comedy and is not well known, which is a shame because he is just as funny and clever as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Jacques Tati, and yes Charlie Chaplin.   There are even aspects that made me think of Mr. Bean and I wonder if Rowan Atkinson has ever watched Max Linder.  His humor is not over the top antics or crazy slap stick, it is more realistic and more grounded in every day.  The situations that Max gets into are funny of course and a little crazy but they are never too bizarre to make sense.  Max Linder is the reason that we have Charlie Chaplin and a major influence in the early days of silent comedy.  He was the first international film star and he has, unfortunately, been largely forgotten.  So, let’s take this moment to doff our top hats to the memory of Max Linder and watch him doing what he did best.