Watching With Warner: THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK (1944)

Another fantastic offering from the Warner Archive, and another installment in my month-long Warner watch-a-thon!  This time it is THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK, a truly wonderful film from the brilliant mind of Preston Sturges.  The miracle of this film just might be that he managed to get it past the censors because this is one of the most pre-code post-code movies I have seen!

Governor McGinty, played by Brian Donlevy, (an inside joke for you Preston Sturges fans) is in his office just before Christmas when he receives a frantic call from the editor of a newspaper in a little town called Morgan’s Creek.  He has a fantastical tale to relate to the governor, and when the governor finds out what the story is about he calls all his advisors and aides to his office immediately to hear the story.  The editor begins his tale…

The Morgan’s Creek newspapers are full of warnings about the dangers of young women and soldiers having a good time.  Beware the horror of the wartime marriage!  After reading this the town policeman, Officer Kockenlocker (William Demarest), decides that there is no way that his daughter is going out to the farewell dance for the soldiers that night!  His eldest daughter, Trudy (Betty Hutton), is devastated by his refusal but soon comes up with a plan.  She believes that it is her patriotic duty to go out and support the boys, so she enlists the help of her childhood friend Norville (Eddie Bracken).  Poor homely, stuttering, Norville is in love with Trudy but is unable to impress her by enlisting because of his blood pressure.  Trudy had already turned Norville down for a date earlier that morning, so he is beyond thrilled when she calls up and tells him that she changed her mind.  He is still thrilled when he picks her up and says good-bye to her father and younger sister, Emmy (Diana Lynn), and drives to the local movie theater.  He becomes decidedly less thrilled when Trudy reveals her true intentions and asks Norville to wait for her in the theater while she goes to the dance alone.  He finally agrees and even lets Trudy take his car, intending to stay at the theater until 1AM when the last picture is finished.  Trudy happily drives off and is soon having the time of her life at the dance.  However, just one farewell dance is not enough and Trudy goes to not one, not two, but three parties with the soldiers.  Dancing and drinking lemonade everything is going wonderfully until Trudy accidentally jitterbugs into a chandelier.  The next thing she knows it is 8AM and she has just arrived at the theater to get Norville, who keeps implying that she is drunk even though she never had a drink before in her life!  She cannot remember anything about the night before or where she has been, and poor Norville is forced to take the brunt of her father’s anger upon their late return.

It’s just lemonade! Isn’t it?

Later, while taking off her party clothes, Trudy is chatting with Emmy when all of a sudden she has a flash and remembers someone mentioning something about getting married.  The two sisters laugh off the thought until they look down at Trudy’s ring finger.  Desperate to remember who it was she married, Trudy tries to come up with a name but all she can get was that it had a Z in it…sort of like “Ratzkiwatzki”.  When Emmy suggests that they simply go and look up the license Trudy remembers that everyone used a fake name, making it impossible to find out the truth!  Things go from bad to worse when, sometime later, Trudy comes out of the doctor’s office with the news that she is pregnant.  Emmy and Trudy try to come up with a plan of what to do, even going to the local attorney to try to get the marriage deemed illegal.  Unfortunately, even though neither party used their real names and Trudy has no idea who her husband is the marriage is indeed legal.  Emmy now comes up with a new plan and it again involves Norville.  Even though up until now Trudy has resisted Norville’s advances, Emmy now tells her to encourage them as Norville is the perfect candidate to marry Trudy.  Initially resistant to the idea, after all it is bigamy isn’t it, Trudy finally agrees and invites Norville over for dinner.

After a lovely meal with the family, Emmy and her father go off to clear the dishes while Trudy and Norville go out on the front porch to talk.  Trudy hints to Norville that she is open to the idea of marrying him at last and Norville, devoted to Trudy since childhood, is stunned.  He eventually takes the hint and proposes, and then promptly falls off the front porch.  Touched by Norville’s kindness and goodness of heart, Trudy refuses to deceive him any further and tells him everything.  Shocked at first, Norville reiterates his desire to marry Trudy but she refuses.  Now Trudy has begun to see the real Norville and has fallen in love with him for real.  Because of her love, she will not marry him and make him a party to bigamy.  By this time, however, rumors have begun to swirl throughout the small town and these rumors soon make their way back to Trudy’s father.  Unaware of Trudy’s true situation, Officer Kockenlocker uses all of his fatherly talents (and his service revolver) to help convince Norville to propose.

Having recovered from his “talk” with his future father-in-law, Norville now has a flash of brilliance!  Marriage by proxy!  Or at least something like that.  In order for Trudy to get a divorce from Ratzkiwatzki she needs a marriage license with the right names on it.  Norville goes about gathering the needed supplies, ring, money, and military uniform (which appears to be from the time of the rough riders), and returns that evening to retrieve Trudy.  Under the guise of a normal date, the two make their way to the Honeymoon Hotel just about twenty-five miles outside of Morgan’s Creek.  Once there the two begin the ceremony of getting married but when the time comes to sign the license there is a problem.  Trudy has signed her rightful name and Norville has signed his, but has told the proprietor that his name is Ratzkiwatzki.  The man now believes that Norville has kidnapped Trudy and is marrying her against her will, and promptly draws a gun.  Calling to his wife to phone the police, Trudy and Norville are warned not to move.  Imagine the surprise of Emmy and her father when Norville and Trudy return from their date in the back of a squad car, escorted by a bevy of police.


This was a movie that I had heard mentioned several times but had never seen.  And yes, I will admit, I am late to the party but this is a fantastic film!  Watching this I was constantly amazed at the cleverness of the script and the acting in its ability to slip things by the censors.  No one ever mentions drinking alcohol, they talk about drinking lemonade.  The first time that Trudy actually says that she is going to have a baby isn’t until about three-quarters of the way into the film, prior to take it is all done with implications and knowing glances.  One of the extra features on the disc from Warner Archive is a short film about Preston Sturges and his circumventing of the Hayes Office when making this film.  Sturges never provided the censors with a completed script, giving them only a few pages at a time which prevented them from seeing some of the racier content in context.  He also played a good game of following the rules to the exact letter and no more.  For example when the censors suggested that a line be changed from “…people aren’t as dirty-minded as when you were a soldier…”, Sturges changed the line to “people aren’t as evil-minded as when you were a solider”.  See?  All fixed!  I think that is part of what makes this film so much fun, because it is an exercise by Sturges in thumbing his nose at the censors and having them thank him in return.  The fact that a film that talks about bigamy, drunken marriage, one night stands, pregnancy, divorce, abortion, and suicide can not only get by the Hayes office but be fun and funny as well speaks to the genius of its creator.  The genius of Preston Sturges is also the subject of a short film which is another bonus feature on the disc.  Speaking of the disc, the film itself looks gorgeous and is just as crisp and clean as you could hope for.  The Warner Archive has done a great job in remastering this film and putting out the disc!

Betty Hutton is hysterical and remarkably self-assured for being only twenty-two at the time this movie was made.  Rumor has it that she and Eddie Bracken were constantly trying to outdo one another when it came to the physical comedy in the film, which lead to some great moments.  In fact, Norville walking through the screen door was a complete ad-lib by Eddie Bracken.  Eddie Bracken was not an actor I was overly familiar with, but his portrayal of Norville certainly won me over.  He is really funny as the stuttering “boy-next-door” but he is more than just a fall guy.  I think that this film works so well because of the terrific cast.  Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, William Demarest, and Diana Lynn (who really steals the show as Emmy) are so great together that you can’t help but loving them and rooting for them.

This was also a film that poked fun at things that you weren’t allowed to make fun of in the movies like the army, the police force, and family life, I think it allowed audiences to see themselves in the story and even laugh at some parts of their own lives.  When this film first came out it was so popular that it was literally standing room only in theaters and no wonder.  They don’t make movies like this any more, but I really wish they did.


February 2015 Highlights for Turner Classic Movies

February is here and with it comes TCM’s 31 DAYS OF OSCAR.  This is a month that divides some TCM fans, some preferring to stick to the classics from before 1970 and others welcoming the more modern “classics” of the recent Oscars.  Regardless of your feelings about 31 DAYS OF OSCAR there are still some great films showing on TCM this month.  Here is a quick round-up of the offerings to be had!

31 Days of Oscar

Every night TCM will highlight a different year of the Oscars starting on February 1st with 1927-1930.  The greatest year of the golden age of Hollywood, i.e. 1939, will be featured on February 6th.  Here are some great movies being shown as part of the 31 Days of Oscar, in my opinion, as well as some I am looking forward to checking out!

February 4th (1936-1937) – SWING TIME 8PM EST, THE AWFUL TRUTH 10PM EST



February 8th (1942-1944) – GASLIGHT 12AM EST, WOMAN OF THE YEAR 2AM EST


February 10th (1946-1947) – THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY-SOXER 2:45AM EST

February 12th (1949-1951) – BORN YESTERDAY 1:30AM EST

February 13th (1951-1953) – HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE 8PM EST

February 14th (1954-1956) – MARTY 1AM EST

February 15th (1957-1958) – I WANT TO LIVE! 1AM EST

February 18th (1960-1962) – THE APARTMENT 8PM EST

February 24th (1979) – A LITTLE ROMANCE 8PM EST

February 25th (1980-1985) – OUT OF AFRICA 12AM EST

Here are some other movies being shown in February that I am interested in, or that I think are worthy of a look!

February 5th – MANHATTAN MELODRAMA 6AM EST How I have not seen this film, the one that got John Dillinger killed, I do not know but I intend to see it this month!  Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and William Powell!, LITTLE CAESAR 9:30AM EST Edward G. Robinson’s iconic pre-code gangster film

February 10th – AFTER THE THIN MAN 4PM EST I love all movies in the Thin Man series and this one has Jimmy Stewart in it!

February 11th – CAPTAIN BLOOD 11:45AM EST Nothing beats a good Errol Flynn/Olivia de Havilland swashbuckler…nothing

February 13th – WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? It seems somehow fitting that this movie is being shown on Friday the 13th…Bette David and Joan Crawford at their campy horror best

February 14th – VIVACIOUS LADY 6:30AM EST  I recently got this movie from the Warner Archive and can’t wait to see it, Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stewart and Beulah Bondi, LIBELED LADY 8:15AM EST Can’t wait to see this one for the first time, Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy are always great but I am interested to see a post-code Jean Harlow, HOLIDAY 10AM EST I think this is one of my favorite Katherine Hepburn movies and Cary Grant makes it magical

February 15th – THE BLUE DAHLIA 2:30PM EST This one intrigues me with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, a man fighting to prove he didn’t kill his wife…I’ll be watching, KEY LARGO 6PM EST Bogie and Bacall with gangsters in the middle of a hurricane…fantastic film

February 19th – WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION 12:30PM EST This is a really interesting and fun film directed by Billy Wilder, Marlene Dietrich as the wife who might have more to do with the murder her husband is on trial for and Charles Laughton as the lawyer defending him

February 20th – I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAN GANG 10AM EST Paul Muni and Glenda Farrell in a pre-code film about what happens to a WWI veteran sentenced to a chain gang, I have been meaning to see this film for some time and I can’t wait to do that this month, WHITE HEAT 11:30AM EST James Cagney is a twisted gangster with mommy issues, I watched this some years ago and you really can’t take you eyes off him

February 21st – THE PRODUCERS 6:15PM I’m wearing a cardboard belt!

February 24th – BERKLEY SQUARE 5PM A lovely film with Leslie Howard as a young man transported back in time to meet his ancestors during the American Revolution, IT HAPPENED TOMORROW 6:30PM EST The premise of this one got me, a newspaper editor who writes headlines that predict the future is too good to resist

February 25th – MISTER ROBERTS 5:45 PM EST Just a great film that should be seen, Henry Fonda with Jack Lemmon and James Cagney

February 28th – THE NARROW MARGIN 12:45PM I recently posted about this great noir that shows how B movies should be made, make sure to catch this one

If you are looking for more suggestions about what to catch on TCM this month, Kristina at Speakeasy has a great round-up to check out!  And because I love pre-codes…here is Danny at‘s list of what movies are coming up this month.  Finally, here are some musings from Laura on what to see in February!

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?

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.

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.

Classics with Criterion: IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)

My husband is starting to enjoy classic films.  As I write this he is sitting next to me laughing along to A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, his first time watching the Marx Brothers.  The other night I decided to show him IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT for two reasons.  First, I wanted to watch my new Criterion Edition of the film.  Second, I wanted to test my theory that a truly great classic film can be enjoyed by anyone (even if that person doesn’t think they like classic films).  A good story is a good story and a great movie is a great movie.  And if any film is both a good story and a great movie it is certainly IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.

On board his yacht in the waters of Florida, millionaire Alexander Andrews (Walter Connolly) is trying to persuade his daughter Ellie (Claudette Colbert) to eat.  She is pitching a fit, shouting at crew members, throwing things, and refusing all food that is sent to her cabin.  The cause of her displeasure is her own father who, after discovering her hasty marriage to playboy aviator King Westley (Jameson Thomas), has “kidnapped” her and taken her away on his yacht.  He hopes that time apart from her new husband, a man whom he considers to be a fortune hunter, will give Ellie time to reconsider her actions.  If that doesn’t work the annulment he has in the works should do the trick.  Disgusted with her father’s continual attempts to control her life, Ellie bursts from the room and runs out onto the deck.  Climbing over the rail she swan dives into the water and quickly swims off.  Her father’s men hurry after her but cannot catch up to her, and she swims out of sight.  Andrews sends word to his personal detectives to be on the lookout for Ellie, to keep an eye on all modes of transport going to New York (and back to King Westley).

In a Miami bus station an old woman buys a ticket for the night bus to New York.  Two of Andrews’ detectives are watching nearby but this elderly woman doesn’t attract their interest.  As she steps away from the counter the woman crosses the floor and hands her ticket to Ellie, who has been hiding nearby.  Slipping past the detectives, Ellie boards the bus where she finds herself sitting next to a slightly drunk and newly fired newspaper man named Peter Warne (Clark Gable).  The two take an instant dislike to each other, Ellie being offended by Peter’s rough way of speaking to and dealing with her, and Peter finding Ellie a spoiled brat.  However, at the next stop on the route Ellie’s bag is stolen while she smokes a cigarette and Peter takes off after the thief.  Unable to catch him, Peter returns empty-handed to Ellie who reveals that all her money is now gone and she has only four dollars left.  Peter suggests that she wire her father for more money or report the theft to the bus driver, but she refuses raising his suspicions.  His theory of Ellie’s true identity is confirmed when she leaves the bus at the morning rest stop, assuming that the driver will hold the bus to wait for her.  Ellie returns to the station twenty minutes late to discover that the bus has left her behind and the next bus to New York won’t leave until eight o’clock that evening.  But Ellie is not alone as she soon discovers that Peter has also stayed behind.  He hands her a newspaper with her photograph on the front page.  Ellie offers to pay him once she gets back to New York, to give him any amount of money to keep her secret.  Peter is offended that Ellie thinks that she can just buy people off when he was willing to help her if she would have just asked.  The two argue and then part ways until boarding the bus to New York that evening.

Onboard the bus Ellie finds herself sitting next to one Mr. Shapely, who is more than slightly interested in Ellie.  Believe you me, Mr. Shapely would love to have Ellie as his something on the side and isn’t shy about letting her know.  Ellie tries to get him to leave her alone but he persists until Peter stands up and requests to change seats with Mr. Shapley.  When asked why Peter replies that he would like to sit next to his wife, much to Mr. Shapely and Ellie’s surprise.  Ellie tries to thank Peter but he dismisses her saying that the other man’s voice was getting on his nerves.  The bus continues on for a time but soon is stopped by a washed out bridge.  Peter manages to secure lodging for himself and for Ellie, sharing a cabin at a nearby lodge.  Because money is tight and room fees are high, Peter has them sharing one cabin and posing as a married couple.  Ellie enters the cabin reluctantly as Peter readies the beds.  She wonders why he is going through so much trouble to help her get back to New York.  Peter tells her that all he wants in return for helping her are the exclusive rights to her story, which he hopes will get him his job back. If she does not go along with his plan then he will call her father and reveal her location.  She reluctantly agrees and Peter returns to his bedtime preparations.  He strings a rope between the beds and hangs a blanket, calling it “The Walls of Jericho”.

The next morning the two prepare to leave for New York, taking in a quick breakfast complete with lessons in doughnut dunking etiquette, when they hear people approaching the cabin.  Ellie recognizes the voices as those of two of her father’s detectives.  Realizing they are about to be caught, Peter and Ellie spring into action now behaving like a married couple having an argument.  Caught off guard by the yelling and crying in the cabin the two detectives leave quickly before taking a closer look at the bride.  Unbeknownst to them Andrews has offered a $10,000 reward in exchange for information regarding his daughter.  A new picture is published in the newspapers, along with the reward offer, and it is this picture that catches the eye of one Mr. Shapley.  Back onboard Peter and Ellie continue on their bus ride, the trip becoming more pleasant as musicians take out their instruments to play “The Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”.  Other passengers join in, taking a verse here and there, and even Peter and Ellie find themselves singing along.  Everyone gets caught up in the song, including the driver who lets go of the wheel to applaud the song.  The bus swerves off the road and promptly gets stuck in the mud.  A young boy cries out to his mother, who has fainted, and while Ellie tends to his mother tells Peter of how neither one has eaten since boarding the bus as they spent all their money on the tickets.  Peter guilty looks at his money and is about to put it back into his pocket when Ellie returns, and after comforting the boy hands him the money to buy food with.  Now penniless, Peter and Ellie must be careful while traveling.  While the driver tries to figure out their next move, Mr. Shapley approaches Peter and asks to speak with him about Ellie Andrews.  Peter quickly leads him away from the bus where Mr. Shapley offers to keep his mouth shut in exchange for half of the $10,000 reward.  Peter pretends that he is part of a gang who have kidnapped Ellie for a large ransom and threatens Mr. Shapley in order to keep him quiet.  Thoroughly convinced, Mr. Shapley takes off running into the woods (and he might be running still) while Peter hurries back to the bus to retrieve Ellie.  Worried that Mr. Shapley might still go to the police or that someone else might recognize Ellie, Peter believes that it is better to continue on foot.  The two are forced to spend the night in a field, sleeping in haystacks.  As the night passes Peter’s mood darkens, but Ellie has begun to see Peter in a new light and as the night deepens her eyes stay locked on his sleeping form nearby.

After walking for the better part of the day, Ellie asks when the hitching part of “hitch hiking” starts.  Peter extolls the virtues of proper technique when thumbing a ride and takes his place at the side of the road.  But after several cars drive past him, Ellie asks for a chance to try her luck.  Not even using her thumb, Ellie flags down a car and soon the two of them are passengers of a jovial man who seems to have a knack for putting anything into song.  Peter is in a sour mood, but this soon turns to anger when the man driving them attempts to abandon them and take off with their belongings.  Peter chases after him leaving Ellie behind, only to return sometime later driving the very car that had left them.  It seems their roadside savior was in fact a car thief, making a living by picking up hitch-hikers and then taking off with their belongings.  Ellie tends to Peter who is slightly battered from his fight with the man, which ended with Peter tying him to a tree.  Meanwhile in New York, Andrews has resigned himself to Ellie’s marriage in order to get her to return.  Westley publishes an appeal to Ellie in the newspapers, telling her that all is forgiven, which she sees but hides from Peter.  The pair is now just three hours away from New York but Ellie insists that they spend one more night at a lodge.  That night across the walls of Jericho, Peter tells Ellie about his dreams in life which include moving far from the bustle of the modern world, to a simple life on an island in the Pacific he once saw.  He hopes to one day find a girl who would go with him to that sort of life.  But suddenly Peter stops talking because the walls have been breached, and Ellie is standing in front of him.  She confesses her love for him and pleads with him to take her away with him, to take her to his island.

This is the original romantic comedy and it is just SO good!  I hadn’t seen it for a few years and it is even better than what I remembered.  My husband said that this was a “sweet movie” and it is. It is also astonishingly well done. It is a simple story but it is just done so well that it becomes something greater. I loved every moment of this film and could not imagine anyone other than Claudette Colbert or Clark Gable being in it.  The Criterion Edition looks gorgeous, and I can’t wait to dig into the extra features that are included on the disc.

It is so surprising that at the time it was made really no one in the industry, aside from Frank Capra, liked the film or thought it would do well.  Claudette Colbert apparently hated making the film, and once it was complete told a friend that she had just finished making “the worst picture”.  Clark Gable came to set on the first day saying “Let’s get this over with”.  But this would go on to sweep all the major categories at the Oscars in 1935, the first time that had ever happened, and would also grow in popularity and respect as the years went on.  According to Frank Capra, it was not until the film started to make its way out to the theaters in smaller towns in rural America that the box office returns began to increase.  It was the people in local towns and small movie theaters who helped make this film a success, going to see the film and then taking their friends and family to see it as well.  And it is fitting that it is those people who had such an impact on the outcome of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, because it is those people who Frank Capra seemed to have in mind when he made it.  Whenever I watch a Frank Capra film I always feel a common thread running through them, this feeling that people can and should be decent, hard-working, honest and true.  I always have a sense of wanting to be something better and more honorable after watching a Frank Capra film, and this is no different.  Though perhaps not as lofty as MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON or MEET JOHN DOE, this film shows us that we can be kind to each other and that there is nothing so satisfying as dunking a doughnut or riding piggyback, if they are done honestly and without airs.

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas: I’ll BE SEEING YOU (1944)

Here we are three days before Christmas and I have one more movie for the holiday season.  It seems to be almost poetic that we end with this film because it has something in common with my other favorite under appreciated Christmas movie, REMEMBER THE NIGHT (which was the movie that started us off for holiday movies).  I’LL BE SEEING YOU is not a movie that I had heard of before but I recently came across this post by SisterCelluloid.  She described this movie so beautifully that I had to set my DVR and watch it for myself.  And thank goodness (and SisterCelluloid) I did!

In a train station at Christmas time men and women bustle to and fro, soldiers and sailors on leave chat, buy souvenirs, and rush to catch their trains.  Amidst all this chaos two people drift, just slightly out of sync with the rest of the people around them.  Mary Marshall (Ginger Rogers) and Sgt. Zachary Morgan (Joseph Cotten) are each passengers on the train to Pine Hill, on board which they meet.  Each carries with them a secret, one that makes them social outcasts.  Zachary suffers from shell shock and has been living at the military hospital.  The doctors there have granted him a Christmas vacation away from the hospital to prove to him that he is getting well and will eventually be able to return to the real world.  Mary is an inmate at the Women’s Prison and is on furlough for Christmas, traveling to visit with her relatives.  Of course neither one shares their secret with the other.  Mary pretends that she is a traveling sales girl and Zachary claims he is going to see his sister.  As the train pulls into the station the two disembark together.  Mary climbs into her cab and Zachary asks her name and the address where she will be staying.  He tells her he plans to call her, which Mary happily agrees to and the two part company.  Zachary goes to the local YMCA and Mary arrives at the house of her Aunt Sarah (Spring Byington), Uncle Henry (Tom Tully), and cousin Barbara (Shirley Temple).

Mary finds herself welcomed with open arms, at least by Aunt Sarah and Uncle Henry.  Barbara, with whom she is sharing a room, is friendly but there are not so subtle slights such as separate soaps for each of them and towels marked by names.  Mary notes these slights but makes no mention of them, feeling that it is almost her due because of her situation.  She feels out-of-place in the world having lost three years inside the prison.  She laments to Aunt Sarah her loss of youthful dreams such as having a husband and a child, a home of her own.  She feels that she is out of sync with the rest of the people around her, and she regrets not having something purposeful or meaningful in her life because of her prison sentence.  With three years left to serve it doesn’t seem to Mary that these are things that will change any time soon.  And then the telephone rings.  It is Zachary and he is calling to speak with Mary.  He asks her to come out with him as he has found that his sister is not in town, so he will be all alone.  Mary counters and invites him to dinner, much to Barbara’s delight.

Dinnertime arrives and so does Zachary, and he is instantly made to feel at home.  Barbara is terribly excited to have a soldier over for dinner and it is all Aunt Sarah can do to get her back into the kitchen to help.  Zachary privately confides to Mary that he doesn’t really have a sister in town, he simply got off the train to keep seeing Mary.  Before Mary can respond to this news dinner is served, and conversation turns to Zachary and his many medals.  Barbara notes that he has been awarded the Purple Heart and wonders how he was wounded.  In order to change the subject Aunt Sarah asks Zachary about his sister but just as he is about to tell the truth about his pretend sister, Mary steps in and backs up his story.  All forgiven, Mary and Zachary leave to attend a war movie.  During the film Zachary can barely look at the screen and after he is evasive when answering Mary’s questions about his time in the war.  But, he happily notes, Mary is the first person that he feels comfortable enough with to talk about his experiences.  He is feeling so good that he suggests that they go and get a drink at a local soda fountain.  While there they are served by a soda jerk who was a soldier in the First World War.  He relates to them the story of his own experience with shell shock that has left him with a facial tic.  Zachary becomes more and more uncomfortable during his story, until he finally rushes from the booth and out into the night air.  Mary follows and Zachary apologizes for his behavior but he is unable to tell her the truth behind his emotional reaction.

Back home Mary finds Barbara still awake, writing letters to serve as morale boosters to her list of soldiers.  As Mary goes to put her coat in the closet she finds that Barbara has divided the closet, keeping her belongings separate from Mary’s.  Sensing Barbara’s distrust, Mary relates to her the real story of why she was sent to prison. For those who haven’t seen this movie, I”m not going to spoil this part here.  It is a big reveal and pretty shocking, deserving of the surprise the filmmakers intended.  I think that those who have seen this movie would agree with me.  After learning the truth, Barbara begs Mary for forgiveness and the two cousins make a fresh start.

The next day Zachary calls on Mary and invites her out to the lake.  He wants to explain his behavior from the night before and reveals his condition to her.  He is most afraid of ending up like the soda jerk and becomes frustrated because he knows himself better than the doctors do.  They tell him that he is doing just fine, but he knows his timing and his rhythms and something is still off.  He asks Mary to help him believe in himself just as she believes in herself.  Mary agrees but is distracted because while they have been walking they have gotten closer and closer to the state line.  She encourages Zachary to have faith while subtly steering him away from the border.  Once home she confides in her Aunt Sarah, wondering if she shouldn’t just tell Zachary the truth about her situation.  She feels that Zachary is beginning to care for her, and she obviously cares for him (even if she denies it) so that it might be for the best to be honest.  However, Aunt Sarah advises against it wondering what good would it do as Mary is only on furlough for a few more days and after all “it isn’t as if they were getting married”.  Mary sadly agrees but things take a turn when Zachary invites the entire family to the YMCA for a New Year’s dance.

This is such a wonderful movie, I really hope it becomes more well-known.  Ginger Rogers is terrific and shows every reason why she is an Oscar award-winning actress.  Too often I think Ginger Rogers gets pushed aside and categorized simply as a dancer or Fred Astaire’s partner, but she was an extremely talented actress.  I liked her in KITTY FOYLE, for which she won said Oscar, but I LOVED her in this.  Mary is guarded, sad, grateful, loving, and fragile.  The emotions she shows feel honest and real, and it never feels like acting.  Joseph Cotten is wonderful, really showing a different side of himself.  I’m used to seeing him in roles such as GASLIGHT or THE STRANGER, roles where he is completely self-possessed and confident.  But as Zachary Morgan, he shows such a vulnerability and brokenness that he seems to be a different man altogether.  Together, he and Ginger are just magic.  It’s more than just chemistry, it’s believability.  You honestly feel that these are two real people and you are simply watching their lives unfold.  I loved this movie and I hope to find a copy for my own collection soon, which is a bit difficult as it is out of print.  Hopefully it gains a larger audience, especially now that TCM has added it to the rotation.  This might be a Christmas movie, but it is a film that is beautiful, poignant, and touching any time of year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watching with Warner: THREE ON A MATCH (1932)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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