The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social: ROUGHLY SPEAKING (1945)

This post is part of The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social hosted by Fritzi of Movies Silently.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

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Sometimes there is a part of me that yearns for a simpler time. I don’t want to go back to olden days completely, I’m much too big a fan of air-conditioning, vaccines, antibiotics, and Wifi to do that. But there is a part of me that wishes for a bit more of that sense of simple community life and family connectedness, the days when kids went out when the sun came up and came home when the fireflies came out, a time when you knew your neighbor and where your food came from, a time of soda jerks and ice cream parlors. So when the nostalgia hits me, I try to find a movie that can show me that simpler time which is why I ended up buying ROUGHLY SPEAKING from the Warner Archive.

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In the 1920s, Louise Randall (Rosalind Russell) learns that not only has her father died but that her family is also penniless. In an effort to help Louise attend college her mother sells her own jewelry to pay for the tuition. Louise throws herself into her work determined to “be on the inside looking out”, and soon excels in her secretarial courses. Her first temp job is at a shipyard where she wins over her misogynistic boss with her wit and skill. Soon after Louise and her friend, Alice move out to New Haven, Connecticut and rent a room in the same building as two Yale University students. These two young men are Rodney Crane (Donald Woods) and Jack Leslie and the four become quite important to each other. Jack and Alice soon fall in love and marry, and Rodney eventually proposes to Louise.
Louise agrees to marry Rodney but their wedding is anything but acceptable. At the ceremony, Louise refuses to wear white, will not take her husband’s name, and refuses to vow to obey. Problems arise after the wedding too as Louise wants to continue working while Rodney insists that she stay home. The “happy couple” move to New York City where Louise quickly gives birth to four children, Barbara, John, Rod, Jr. and Louise, Jr. World War II breaks out and Louise does her bit, complete with victory garden and selling war bonds. She also finds a large although somewhat run down house along the Hudson River and moves her growing family there.

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Life is happy despite the hard times but one day Louise Jr. falls ill. When the doctor leaves Louise must deal with the fact that every one of her children has been diagnosed with polio. Louise now throws herself into caring for her children, nursing each one back to health even Louise Jr. who is sickest and left slightly lame from her illness. Undaunted in the face of adversity, Louise keeps her spirits high even when Rodney comes home after being laid off. In fact, she simply goes out and gets a job herself in order to help support the family while her husband gets back on his feet. But Rodney doesn’t see things in such a sunny way and takes this as a slight and a lack of sympathy on his wife’s part. Eventually Rodney finds a new job and a much younger woman. He comes home one evening to tell Louise that he is leaving her and the children after ten years of marriage.

Based on the bestselling autobiography of Louise Randall Pierson, who also wrote the screenplay, ROUGHLY SPEAKING is a great offering from Michael Curtiz.  Made a time when morale was low, this film seems to speak to the spirit of the America that was and that could be again.  Showing the indomitable spirit of a woman raising her family in spite of the obstacles thrown in front of her was most likely meant to encourage the movie going public to believe in the possibility of “the good life” once again.

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Apparently, Bette Davis turned down the lead role and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that that was a good thing.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love Bette Davis.  But there is a quality to her that doesn’t quite fit with the picture of Louise Randall.  Bette Davis always has a classiness to her, a level of being slightly above, and while I don’t doubt that she can play down to earth women there is definitely something about her that makes me feel like it doesn’t quite ring true.  On the other hand, Rosalind Russell strikes me as the perfect actress for this role.  There is a realness and “ready for anything” quality that makes her infinitely watchable and believable as an ordinary wife and mother who made her life what she wanted it to be.  I love Rosalind Russell, she just seems willing to jump into anything be it comedy, drama, romance, action, you name it.  If Rosalind Russell is in a film chances are I’ll watch it and end up liking it, if only just for her.  Luckily, ROUGHLY SPEAKING boasts a great supporting cast and director as well as a terrific story.  It is a film that I just flat out enjoyed and had fun watching which is sometimes the best kind of film of all.

 

Watching With Warner: NO TIME FOR COMEDY (1940)

Rosalind Russell and James Stewart might not be the first names that come to mind when you think couple in romantic comedy, but surprisingly in NO TIME FOR COMEDY from Warner Archive, they create a dynamic couple with wit and earnest emotion.

In the great theater scene of New York City a new playwright is creating quite a stir.  Hailing from Redfield, Minnesota (which boasts a population of 786, including the livestock), Gaylord Easterbrook (James Stewart) has written a new play full of high society comedy.  Unfortunately for him no one believes that he is the man who came up with drawing room escapades about chocolate mousse, especially since he has never been to New York City before.  His play is being staged but there are issues and re-writes are needed which brings Gaylord to the bright lights of the New York City theater section by way of the Grand Canyon.  Once there he makes the acquaintance of the leading lady in the play, Linda Paige (Rosalind Russell).  Initially mistaking him for an usher, Linda soon takes pity on the less than street savvy Esterbrook and shows him around the city.

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Later that evening Linda, Esterbrook, director Morgan Carrel (Allyn Joslyn), and producer Richard Benson gather for dinner at Benson’s apartment.  While the group eats and discusses the play, Benson’s butler is spending his time reading the script in the kitchen.  Carrel is in a sour mood and takes this opportunity to make fun of Esterbrook, his upbringing, and his play.  Esterbrook doesn’t take this lying down and once Carrel apologizes, sort of, he heads out to the terrace to get some air. Linda follows him as the butler enters the room.  While Linda and Esterbrook are getting to know each other, Benson’s butler gives his boss the sad news that he just doesn’t think that the play will be a hit.  With this new information, Benson decides to stop producing the play all together.  Linda is shocked at this turn of events and devises a way to keep the play going, despite the lack of pay and a producer, and give Esterbrook the opening he has worked so hard for.

The play is a great success and Linda and Esterbrook stay up all night in Central Park waiting for the morning papers.  The reviews are glowing and soon Linda and Esterbrook are sharing some loving words themselves.  Four years pass and Linda and Esterbrook are married.  Esterbrook has written four hit plays in the past four years, each one starring Linda.  Things seem to be going well for the couple until the evening after the opening of his most recent play.  At a party celebrating his latest success, Esterbrook meets Mr. Philo Swift (Charles Ruggles), a successful financier, and his wife Amanda (Genevieve Tobin).  Esterbrook is not in the best of moods, being smack in the middle of a case of writer’s block, and is initially uninterested in the Swifts but Amanda doesn’t take that lying down.

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Amanda is a bit of a pill it seems, something her husband is all too aware of.  Her favorite hobby is creating geniuses and she has decided that Esterbrook is the one most deserving of her time and attention.  While Linda remains loyal and loving towards her husband, Amanda is more fawning when it comes to her attentions.  She tells Esterbrook that he has been wasting his time when it comes to comedy and that he is destined to make his mark in drama.  This is welcome news as the playwright has been feeling a desire to make an impact on the theater going public.  He begins spending more and more time with his muse, and less and less time with the actual Mrs. Esterbrook.  Weeks go by and cracks begin to appear in their relationship.

NO TIME FOR COMEDY began life in 1939 as a play written by S.N. Behrman.  Starring Lawrence Olivier as Gaylord Esterbrook and Katharine Cornell as Linda Paige, the play ran for 179 performances during which time Lawrence Olivier’s wife, Vivien Leigh, was filming GONE WITH THE WIND.  While this film is mainly a romantic comedy, I did enjoy the final message of needing to support the people out there who have the courage, and sometimes stupidity, to stick their necks out and put it all out there.  To get behind the people who risk their hearts and emotions all in the name of an idea is a positive message that isn’t often mentioned in films, let alone romantic comedies from the 1940s.

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This film was full of pleasant surprises for me.  The supporting cast is terrific.  For a start, Charles Ruggles.  I mean.  Seriously.  Also, the character of Clementine played by Louise Beavers is an interesting dichotomy.  The character starts life as an actress in the first play before taking a job as the Esterbrook’s housekeeper/maid.  And while her dialogue does have a few of the stereotypical racial accents that are an unfortunate by-product of older films there are also plenty of intelligent, witty, and non-stereotyped lines of dialogue that she delivers.  She also has a delightful way of never taking Esterbrook, his moods, or his comments seriously at all.  It is an interesting thing to see because the character of Clementine is employed as a housekeeper but is not treated as subservient.

I really enjoyed the character of Morgan Carrell and some of the best lines were his.  In fact this was another pleasant surprise of NO TIME FOR COMEDY.  It is really funny and quite witty!  For example;

“Philo Swift: ‘Gaylord Esterbrook’… seems to me I’ve heard or read that name someplace. What do you do?
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: I write plays.
Philo Swift: Er, yes, I have a hobby, too. What I meant was, what do you do for a living?
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Write plays. Anything wrong?
Philo Swift: No, no; nothing, nothing. You’ll pardon me, but it does seem a little trivial for a grown man.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Well, perhaps I’ll grow out of it. What do *you* do?
Philo Swift: I’m on Wall Street.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Where’s that?
Philo Swift: I don’t know, but my chauffeur finds it every morning.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: After you get there, what do you do?
Philo Swift: Buy and sell stocks and bonds.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Surely not for a living?
Philo Swift: And not a bad one. When stocks go up, I make a little money. When they go down, I make even more.
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: That all you do?
Philo Swift: Well, yes!
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Well, who knows; maybe you’ll grow out of it, too.
[raises glass]
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Here’s hoping!”

“Clementine, Actress in Show: I saw your last picture, Mr. Carrell.
Morgan Carrell, the Director: Yes?
Clementine, Actress in Show: Oh, yeah.
Morgan Carrell, the Director: What’d ya think?
Clementine, Actress in Show: [sighs] yeah.”

“Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: [after spending the night after the play on a park bench] Hey, you don’t look bad for a girl who’s just getting up in the morning!
Linda Paige Esterbrook: For a man who’s been up all night you look great!
Gaylord ‘Gay’ Esterbrook: Don’t get the idea that I’m an authority on girls getting up in the morning.
Linda Paige Esterbrook: Well, I’m not the last word on men staying up all night either.”

This was a film that not only entertained me from beginning to end, but also gave me quite a few laugh out loud moments.

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Man, I love Rosalind Russell.  I first saw her in THE TROUBLE WITH ANGLES and ever since then I have just thought she is terrific.  As I have said before, she has a quality of being up for anything that seems authentic to her which she imbues into her characters.  It is a quality that is unique to her and something that makes her so terrific to watch.  While I agree that she and Jimmy Stewart don’t have the sizzling chemistry of Bogie and Bacall or Powell and Loy, they do have qualities that make them likable and charming.  Russell plays the part of Linda Paige with self assured calm and wit.  She loves her husband but never has a moment where she feels the need to yell or scream at him even when she knows he is spending too much time with another woman.  Rather she maintains an air of love and support, hoping that her continued presence will bring him back.  She is smart and independent without going into headstrong territory.  It is the internal spark that is Rosalind Russell that gives Linda Paige that certain special something that it just a little unique and different than most other romantic comedy actresses.  For his part, Jimmy Stewart seems to be doing Mr. Smith (from MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON) with shades of Mike Connor (from THE PHILADELPHIA STORY).  This is not to say that he is not good in this film however.  He brings his small town charm to the opening scenes as Esterbrook adjusts to big city life.  In the later parts of the film he has the indignation of the everyman intellectual railing against the plight of the world.

NO TIME FOR COMEDY was a pleasant surprise for me.  This was a film I went into blind, having no expectations, and found myself spending a very enjoyable ninety minutes with Rosalind Russell and James Stewart, thanks to the Warner Archive.  If you want to see a romantic comedy with something a little different then you might just want to give this one a watch.

 

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: TROUBLE FOR TWO (1936)

There are certain movies that I want to see simply based on the synopsis, and then there are certain movies that I want to see simply based on who is starring in them.  TROUBLE FOR TWO was a film I wanted to see for both reasons.  Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery tangling with a suicide club?  How could I say no?

Prince Florizel (Robert Montgomery) of Carovia is bored and unhappy.  He is entertaining himself by having a traveling circus teach him to balance on stilts, but his spirits cannot be raised.  He is set to be married to Princess Brenda of Irania, a woman he hasn’t seen since childhood.  Florizel’s father, the King of Carovia, decides that his son needs a holiday in London in order to clear his head before the wedding.  Florizel goes off under the assumed name of Mr. Theopholus Godall, along with his faithful right hand man Colonel “Gerry” Geraldine (Frank Morgan).

The boat voyage to England starts off quite normally and Florizel is bored again in no time.  But then, several days into the journey, Florizel meets an enchanting and mysterious young woman named Miss Vandeleur (Rosalind Russell).  Miss Vandeleur asks Florizel to hide some papers for her which he agrees to do.  Later Florizel seeks Miss Vandeleur out in her cabin where they are confronted by a shady individual who is searching for the very papers Florizel is hiding.  The would be robber leaves empty handed and Gerry is feeling a little less enthused about Florizel’s vacation from home.  Florizel for his part is having a great time and welcomes the change of pace.

Once the boat docks Florizel goes in search of his new crush but finds that the cabin Miss Vandeleur was occupying were listed as empty on the ship’s log.  What’s more, the papers he was guarding for her were simply blank pieces of paper.  Florizel resigns himself to never knowing the truth about the mysterious woman from the boat.  He and Gerry go off to eat dinner at a local tavern.  While they are enjoying their meal a young man enters with a tray of cream puffs, yes cream puffs.  He offers up his tray of sweets to the tavern as he has no more need of such earthly delights as has decided to end his own life.  Florizel and Gerry are quite shocked, as you might imagine, and invite the young man to eat with them.  While they eat the cream puffs the young man, whose name is Cecil Barnley, relates his story of a misspent youth.  Rather than cause his family more shame by continuing on living, Cecil has resolved to end his life by joining a suicide club and thereby sparing his family’s honor.  The suicide club works in a unique way allowing the members to die but not by their own hand, rather at the hand of another.  Florizel, much to Gerry’s shock, then proposes joining Cecil and becoming a member of the suicide club himself.  Cecil is delighted to have fellow members with him and escorts Florizel and Gerry to the club’s meeting place so they might speak with the club president.  As they leave Gerry demands to know just what Florizel is thinking.  The young prince wants to save Cecil and believes that if he joins the suicide club with him, he might be able to talk him out of going through with it.  Neither Gerry nor Florizel notice Miss Vandeleur eavesdropping in a booth nearby, and neither notice when she follows their carriage to the suicide club.

Once at the club Florizel and Gerry talk to the President of the club (Reginald Owen).  They are allowed to become members, after paying a hefty admission fee and explaining their reasons for wanting to die.  The men begin to mingle with the other club members when the door opens and Miss Vandeleur enters.  Florizel tries to make his way over to speak with her but the President calls the meeting to order.  The members assemble around a table and draw cards from the deck.  Cecil draws the Ace of Spades, which signifies that he will be the victim, while Miss Vandeleur draws the Ace of Clubs, which signifies she will be the executioner.  These two then leave the room to receive their instructions from the club President while the other members return to their homes.  Florizel remains behind, hoping to run into Miss Vandeleur before she leaves but he is stymied once again.  He is not overly concerned however, as he still believes that the suicide club is a big joke.  The joke seems to be on him the next morning when the paper runs the story of Cecil’s death.

Gerry wants to go home but Florizel is determined to find Miss Vandeleur again.  And so it is that the next night the two men return to the suicide club.  Once again the members assemble and draw cards.  Once again Miss Vandaleur draws the card of the executioner, but this time her victim will be…Florizel.  Gerry is horrified as his young master and the woman who might as well be a black widow, are lead off by the club President.  The two are escorted to a waiting carriage and head off to a secluded spot.  Specifically they go off to the zoo, even more specifically they go off to the lion cages.  Florizel attempts to talk to Miss Vandeleur but she isn’t very forthcoming.  Finally he gives up, just as they reach the lions.  Miss Vandeleur then turns to him and begins to unlock the cage door.

I really enjoyed this film, it was such a pleasant surprise.  Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell have such great chemistry together, they make what could have been a pretty bland B-picture come alive with a terrific energy.  I love Robert Montgomery, I would like to throw out an appeal for someone to write a biography about him, and he has such a twinkle in his eye during this film.  His prince never comes off as spoiled or petulant, rather as a lovable rascal who you would really love to get to know.  And you can never go wrong with Frank Morgan, who is terrific as the put upon friend/servant to Robert Montgomery.  Also, this happens:

Rosalind Russell makes any film she is in exponentially better just by being there.  She also has this really excellent quality about her that translates into her characters.  Her women always seem to be up for anything, able to handle just as much as the men, and have fun at the same time.  She and Robert Montgomery pair up so well because they are both irrepressible and irreverent.  Their relationship and chemistry is what takes this film from being blah to being really fun and enjoyable.  I will say that Robert Montgomery is not a terribly impressive swordsman, Errol Flynn he is not, and there are a few clunky moments that made me chuckle at their awkwardness.  But all in all this was a really fun film and a very nice way to spend an afternoon.

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: THE CITADEL (1938)

Have you ever had a movie just suck you in?  You sit down, not intending on watching a movie, and all of a sudden two hours have gone by and you are left wondering what happened.  That happened to me yesterday, while TCM was airing a Robert Donat birthday tribute and I sat down to take a short break after lunch.  I watched the end of KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR (a fantastic movie by the way) and fully intended to get up and do something else when THE CITADEL came on.

Andrew Mason (Robert Donat) is a Scottish born idealistic new physician, who has recently come to work in a Welsh mining town as apprentice to a Dr. Page.  Life is not wholly pleasant for Andrew as the town is sorely lacking in updated medical supplies, rife with superstitious townsfolk, and Dr. Page’s wife is a pain.  She forces Andrew to work for almost no money and gives him a tiny room to live in.  The townsfolk are initially standoffish of the new doctor but once Andrew saves an apparently still-born baby, they warm to him and make him into a hero, much to Mrs. Page’s dismay.  It is around this time that Andrew makes friends with Denny (Ralph Richardson), a fellow doctor who likes his drink a little too much, and meets the local school teacher Christine Barlow (Rosalind Russell).  Denny is attracted to Christine but is too shy to approach her romantically.

Andrew soon hears about a nearby town in need of a new doctor and he eagerly applies for the post.  The committee is willing to hire him but they are only offering the position to married men.  Andrew quickly says that he is engaged to be married, once he gets a position of course, and the committee offer him the job.  Andrew accepts and then goes to find Christine.  He tells her about his problem and how he needs to find a wife.  Christine tells him to go and tell the committee that there are no problems with his application and the two are soon married.  Both soon realize that they are in love and being their life together.  In their new home Andrew begins making waves by not being anything like the old town doctor, namely by not giving the patients what they want without a medical reason.  He also realizes that many of the miners are affected by a mysterious lung ailment.  He begins to do research, helped by Christine, and soon comes to the realization that the miners are contracting tuberculosis due to the dust in the mines.  He sets about writing a paper to submit to medical journals and is soon attracting the attention of fellow physicians for his forward thinking and advances.

But the townspeople are becoming suspicious of Andrew for just those reasons and they soon take action.  One morning, Christine comes rushing into Andrew’s office to tell him that all their work has been destroyed by a mob who rushed into their home.  Angered and hurt, Andrew resigns his position and takes Christine to London.  There Andrew sets up a practice and hopes to soon be caring for more appreciative clientele.  Unfortunately this is not to be and Andrew is soon left selling his own possessions in order to make ends meet, and piercing the ears of less than fashionable women.  One day Andrew and Christine go out to lunch at a local Italian restaurant, run by Mrs. Orlando and her daughter Anna.  Mrs. Orlando treats the couple kindly, having been their only friend during their time in London, and Anna shows them her new dance steps.  Lunch is scarcely begun though when Andrew is summoned to a local department store where a young woman appears to be having a seizure.  Andrew clears the room and helps the woman onto the couch.  When she starts screaming and crying again, Andrew slaps her as he has realized that she is simply putting on an act and not having a seizure at all.

The young woman’s name is Toppy Leroy (Penelope Dudley Ward), one of the richest women in London, and she asks Andrew to see her home where she offers him a drink to celebrate.  Andrew declines and heads for the elevator where he runs into Dr. Lawford (Rex Harrison), an old medical school friend.  Lawford invites Andrew to come and see some patients with him at a fashionable nursing home.  Andrew agrees and is soon caught up in the world of high-end private practice.  His days are full of golf outings and consultations which require no great medical effort on his part. Christine is suspicious about the sudden influx of cash for little work, but Andrew dismisses her worries.  In fact, Andrew has become more and more distant lately and has even begun having an affair with Toppy.  Christine is worried about Andrew and so, when he asks where she would like to go to lunch one day, takes him back to Mrs. Orlando’s kitchen.  On their way there the couple runs into Denny and the three go to lunch, where they find Mrs. Orlando but no Anna.  She tells them that Anna is sick with a lung disease but Andrew barely acknowledges this.

Denny begins to tell Andrew his new plans for an affordable care clinic for the people in the small villages and asks Andrew to come and work with him.  Andrew turns him down and asks Denny where he will get his money from, especially if he will care for people for free.  Denny is disenchanted by the changes he sees in Andrew, and though he has managed to stay sober for some time, goes out drinking.  He returns later that day, thoroughly soused, and tells Andrew exactly what he thinks of him before turning and hurrying out into the street.  Christine looks out the window in their apartment and sees an automobile accident occur.  Horrified she realizes that it is Denny who has been struck and Andrew runs to the scene.

This movie was nominated for four Academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director.  Once again, King Vidor takes a story of ordinary people and makes it into something extraordinary.  I literally could not turn this movie off and had to sit there and watch it all the way through.  The story is so well done, so absorbing, but also so real and affecting.  The story of a medical man struggling to keep his ideals and scientific curiosity in a field where money and social-climbing are becoming more the norm definitely hit home for me, a former nurse.

Rosalind Russell is wonderful in this film, quite different from we are used to seeing her.  So often in her roles, Rosalind Russell is just a little edgier, tougher, louder, brasher, and more energetic than other leading ladies.  But this film really gives her a chance to be a more reserved and gentle character, to portray a woman who loves her husband deeply and quietly and much more realistically than is usually shown.  But the one who really steals this movie is Robert Donat.

I have loved Robert Donat since I first saw him in THE 39 STEPS.  There was a special quality about him that was so different from most other leading men, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.  But I think after watching THE CITADEL I might have a better idea.  I think it is because he is kind.  There is an element of kindness and humbleness to him that comes through in so many of his performances, and it does again here.  Andrew is a kind man, who even when he becomes angry and speaks forcefully will still remember to say “Thank you for letting me speak” and “Good day”.  He is idealistic without being naive, his excitement and desire to help and heal people coming through without seeming to be contrived.  And that is what makes his fall into the superficial world of fashionable private practice all the more devastating.  To see a man who had such ideals fall so far away from that which he once held dear, shows so clearly how badly his trust and his heart must have been betrayed by the actions of the fearful townspeople.  As I said before, there is a kindness to Robert Donat and a humbleness that makes him so watchable and so wonderful.  He is an actor that suffered greatly from anxiety and shyness, perhaps so much so that it ended his career and possibly his life far too soon.  This film is a true testament to the great talent of an actor who deserves to be known not only for his career but his spirit and soul, because when Robert Donat acts that is what he gives each and every time.


If you want to learn more about Robert Donat, Meredith over at Vitaphone Dreamer has written a fantastic profile of him!  Also, there is an entire site devoted to Robert Donat so definitely go and check it out.