Coming up in December

This is what I have planned:

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Credit where it is due..I will kick the month off with a column about unusual film credits.

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20th Century Fox superstars, parts 1 & 2..it’s time to look at the heavy hitters from this prominent Hollywood studio.

Some of Fox’s highest paid..following up on the previous superstars column, I look at top salaries earned by people who worked at 20th Century Fox.

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TV about the movies..sometimes even on a hit TV show about Hollywood, it’s hard to separate the myths from the myths about the myths.

High school and the classics..around Christmas, I will present a personalized column about classic films that had significance for me as a teenage student.

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Evelyn Keyes & Glenn Ford..in this column, I take the keyes to the ford and start the ignition. It’s a ride that lasts for six films.

Looking back on TOMORROW..a review of the wartime melodrama TOMORROW IS FOREVER.

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Grandmother and her movies

My grandmother used to call me Ish when I was a teenager, because my mother often had my hair cut like his. At the time, I didn’t know who Ish Kabibble was, and I thought Grandma was making the name up.

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My grandmother was someone that lived and breathed movies from the 40s and 50s. Her love for the classics rubbed off on me. One summer we went to Florida, and she kept calling my sister Esther. This was because we had spent a lot of time in the swimming pool, and my sister liked to show off some of her fancy diving techniques. My sister knew as much about Esther Williams as I did about Ish Kabibble.

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On other occasions my grandmother referred to my sister as Miss Blondell, because her hair was golden like the sun. Again, we thought it was another made up name. How were we to know there was someone named Joan Blondell who made a lot of movies at Warner Brothers?

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At our church, there was a kid named Alfie. My grandmother attended mass with us and met him. On the way home, she started to hum ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’ from the Michael Caine movie. We moved the following year, and we never saw that boy again. I wonder whatever happened to Alfie Zucker.

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When my baby sister was born, my grandmother would often sing her to sleep. Usually it was a tune from a June Haver film we heard. That’s right. Grandma broke out in verses of ‘Oh You Beautiful Doll.’ We indulged her. We never once thought my grandmother was strange– she was fun. She was a classic movie fan who saw the world through all those scenes and songs of her favorite films.

Movie pilgrims

There are different types of pilgrims in the world of classic film. And I do not mean John Wayne saying ‘howdy Pilgrim.’ Of course, to fully understand this, one should look at the definition of the word and its various meanings. According to an online dictionary, pilgrim means someone who travels or wanders– usually to a sacred or holy place.

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When John Ford was making his first sound pictures at Fox in the early 1930s, he produced a wonderful movie called PILGRIMAGE. The main character, played by Henrietta Crosman, captures the essence of the above definition perfectly. Ford cast Crosman as the mother of a farm boy who goes off to war (WWI) and does not come home. In order to obtain some sort of closure and peace of mind, the rural woman makes a pilgrimage to the battlefields of Europe where her son’s life was taken. It’s a very moving story, and I highly recommend it.

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But of course, there are other more traditional representations of pilgrims in the movies. One of them is a British offering from 1941 called PENN OF PENNSYLVANIA. It features Deborah Kerr in one of her earliest roles. The historical drama presents the life of William Penn, a Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania. After a charter is bestowed to Penn and a group of followers seeking religious freedom, they leave England to establish a colony in the New World. The film is not entirely accurate but it has its moments.

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There is also 1952’s PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE from MGM, which TCM airs every year around Thanksgiving. This time we have a Technicolor drama that depicts the Mayflower voyage of pilgrims across the Atlantic. Spencer Tracy plays Captain Christopher Jones, a man who becomes involved with a fellow passenger and his wife. Van Johnson is also along for the journey, and he doesn’t get sea sick once.

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Southern Bette

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It’s time for another column, and I figured I would talk about a southern belle who was really (shh, don’t tell) a yankee. I’m referring to Massachusetts-born Bette Davis. But you would never know she’s from the north in two of her best pictures.

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While Atlanta was burning, New Orleans was dealing with yellow fever. And who was more equipped to handle the crisis than Julie Marsden, dumpling– a.k.a. JEZEBEL (1938). She was Warner Brothers’ answer to Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND. The studio figured Bette would be perfect for the role…and audiences, after all, would think it was another day for another good movie. But unfortunately, they didn’t get to see the character’s red dress, because the film was shot in black-and-white.

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In the 1960s, Bette went all southern again, and I do not mean Ann Sothern. This time, she was a mad heiress in 20th Century Fox’s gothic melodrama HUSH..HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. Bette’s old costar from Warners, Olivia de Havilland, turned up as her much put-upon sister. Guess what, honeychile: Olivia was born in Japan and raised in California. Apparently, movie goers didn’t care if you weren’t really from the south, as long as you could successfully put on the dialect and reinforce the stereotypes.

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This time Bette went all out, and in fact her performance is so over-the-top in spots that you wish Vivien Leigh had stopped by the set to give her some pointers. Now, there’s an actress who knew how to do it right, chitlin. Vivien received an Oscar twice for playing southerners, and she wasn’t even an American.

Movie trailers

A movie trailer for most people is a coming attraction. It advertises the virtues of a soon-to-be-released motion picture. The idea is to generate interest, so people will choose to see the new film when it hits theaters. Classic movie trailers are an art form.

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But the kinds of trailers that have caught my interest lately are of the mobile home variety. Recently, I watched HITCH HIKE LADY, a charming Republic Pictures road comedy starring Alison Skipworth and Mae Clarke. It was produced in 1935, and for its time, the trailer that is used in the story has quite a few bells and whistles. It is so posh, in fact, that crook Arthur Treacher and his partner hide out inside and have a grand old time.

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Trailers feature prominently in other classic comedies. In CROSS COUNTRY ROMANCE, Wendy Barrie runs off on her wedding day and ends up on a transcontinental journey with working class guy Gene Raymond. Of course, they fall in love, and the trailer hitched to the back of Raymond’s vehicle will serve as their honeymoon suite.

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In UNEXPECTED UNCLE, Charles Coburn spends time pitching horseshoes in a trailer park. That is when the kind old retiree is not playing cupid in the love life of Anne Shirley. The story is a bit far-fetched in spots, but as always, Coburn’s performance is a ringer.

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Then there’s THE LONG, LONG TRAILER– Vincente Minnelli’s ode to the open road, presented as a romantic comedy starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. This was the second of three feature films that Lucy and Desi made together and probably their best. Don’t miss the classic scene where Lucy is stuck in the trailer as Desi drives, and the going gets so rough, the salad she’s making is literally tossed all over the inside of their home on wheels.

Actresses that married soldiers

Recently while looking up information about a war-time propaganda film called GUNG HO, starring Randolph Scott, I came across the name of a starlet unfamiliar to me. Her name was Grace McDonald, and she was quite beautiful. Since I was curious to learn more about her, I clicked on a link that took me to her wiki page.

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There isn’t very much written about Grace McDonald on her wiki page. Just a few things. Apparently, she was the sister of musical actor Ray McDonald who also worked in motion pictures during the 1940s. Oh, and something I found rather fascinating– she gave up her career and any chance at real movie stardom when she married a serviceman and moved off to Minnesota.

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Of course, there have been other actresses who married military men. And not all of them abandoned Hollywood to do so. In fact, some of them like Ginger Rogers continued their movie careers, especially if the marriage did not work out. In the following picture, Ginger is being romanced by her soon-to-be third husband Jack Briggs. Briggs was a U.S. Marine.

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Then there’s Carole Landis. She was touring an Army camp in London during 1942, when she met Captain Thomas Wallace of the U.S. Army Air Corps. They quickly began dating, fell in love and were wed. Though the union dissolved by 1945, it was for a brief time, one of Carole’s happiest relationships.

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What about actresses that were married to entertainers who then became enlisted men during the war? This is one of my favorite pictures of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Doesn’t it just say so much? It was a different time then.

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Recommended films vol. 6

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MADAME RACKETEER (1932) 
Why you should watch it: Alison Skipworth gives a fun performance as a con woman. After hosting tea parties with other female inmates in prison, she gets released on parole. Then, she sets out to fleece as many men as she can.  Skipworth was primarily a character actress at Paramount in the 1930s, but in this film she is the star.  The story takes a few unexpected turns when she winds up a hotel and learns that her two grown daughters are there.  The girls have long since thought their mother was dead, but Skipworth knows they need some maternal protection– especially with a hoodlum on the prowl. George Raft plays the hoodlum.

 ***

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SUNDAY DINNER FOR A SOLDIER (1944)

Why you should see it: a well-chosen cast brings a simple, yet extraordinary war-time story about love and hope to the screen, courtesy of 20th Century Fox.  The movie pairs Anne Baxter and John Hodiak as the young romantic leads. Baxter would become Mrs. Hodiak a short time later.  The rest of the players are seasoned professionals—folks like Charles Winninger as Baxter’s father; Anne Revere as a townswoman trying to get Winninger to the altar; and Jane Darwell as another townswoman trying her best to provide accommodations for visiting servicemen. The film has all the typical feel-good elements a family picture made during the war would be expected to have.  Take a seat at this cinematic table and help yourself to a serving of sweet corn.

***

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THE MAN WITH A CLOAK (1951)

Why you should see it: this is one of MGM’s more inspired biopics, and it boasts a wonderful cast—Joseph Cotten, Barbara Stanwyck, Louis Calhern, Leslie Caron, Jim Backus—need I go on?  Stanwyck was a last-minute replacement for Marlene Dietrich, and while one wonders what putting Dietrich with Calhern would have been like, the results of this motion picture are so smooth and so good that it seems to have turned out the way it should have. The film has some genuinely suspenseful moments, and it brims with atmosphere and the studio’s generally excellent production values.