Marion Crane is driving out of Phoenix

It’s Friday afternoon in Phoenix. Marion Crane is meeting her lover Sam Loomis at a hotel. Sam has a lot of debt, and until he is more financially secure, he won’t be able to marry Marion.

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After their romantic rendezvous, she goes back to the real estate office where she works. Marion’s boss is a man named George Lowery. Mr. Lowery is off meeting with an oil tycoon. When they arrive at the office, the tycoon tells Marion he’s purchasing a house for his daughter and paying for it with cash. Mr. Lowery is concerned about leaving $40,000 in the office over the weekend, so he asks Marion to take it to the bank. Marion can go home afterward.

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Instead of going to the bank, Marion just goes straight home. She is going to keep the money for herself. She has stuffed it into her purse and packs a suitcase. Then she gets on the highway and drives out of Phoenix. She drives until she’s so tired, she is forced to pull over. Marion soon falls asleep on a lonely stretch of road.

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She is awoken the next morning by a highway patrolman. The officer is suspicious of her behavior, but then lets her go.

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Marion is afraid he will remember her, so she goes to a used car lot and trades in her vehicle for a different one. As she continues to drive along the California highway, she gets caught in a fierce storm. Marion misses the turnoff to Sam’s place and ends up stopping at a quaint little motel. The charming proprietor welcomes her and offers to fix her dinner.

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Actresses marrying into royalty

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Constance Bennett was born into an esteemed acting family. She had a high profile film career and several high profile marriages. The third man she married was the ex-husband of Gloria Swanson, a French nobleman named Henri le Bailly– the Marquis de La Coudraye de La Falaise. He was a movie director in his native France, and he co-produced two films with Bennett. After nearly a decade of marriage, they divorced and she wed her former costar Gilbert Roland with whom she had two daughters.

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Virginia Cherrill‘s acting career lasted only eight years, but during this time she made the memorable film CITY LIGHTS with Charlie Chaplin. She went through husbands in rapid succession and had four of them. One was Cary Grant. Her third husband was George Child-Villiers, the ninth Earl of Jersey. She became known as Virginia Child-Villiers, Countess of Jersey.

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Geraldine Fitzgerald was born in Ireland and began her acting career in Dublin. But like so many Irish performers, she went to London to find greater opportunities. While she was in England she married Sir Edward Lindsay-Hogg. The marriage lasted from 1936 to 1946. After they separated Geraldine married again, but her second husband was not nobility.

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Rita Hayworth was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars when she walked away from movies in 1948 to marry Prince Aly Khan. There had been a year-long courtship while she obtained a divorce from Orson Welles. After they wed, a daughter (Princess Yasmin) was born to the couple. But the prince’s womanizing quickly put an end to the marriage. By 1953 Hayworth was divorced, living in the U.S. with Yasmin and back to filmmaking.

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Gene Tierney was married twice. Her first husband was fashion designer Oleg Cassini. Cassini was the son of an Italian countess and a Russian count, making him also a count. When Tierney was married to him, she was a countess. They had two daughters. After the couple broke up, she dated Rita Hayworth’s ex, Prince Aly Khan. They had a lengthy engagement but Tierney ended up marrying another man instead. Her new husband was not a member of a royal family.

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Grace Kelly gave up her screen career when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco. The prince’s actual name was Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi. His father was a count, and his mother was a princess and duchess. Princess Grace, as she became known, had three children. She remained happily married to her husband until a car crash took her life in 1982.

Visiting the set of Will & Grace

I had never watched this show, and it was in the middle of its sixth season when a friend asked if I wanted to go to the set with her. I said sure, and was glad I did. Will & Grace was recorded at the CBS Radford lot in Studio City. The location was formerly the home of Republic Pictures, and when you went in through the gates, it did feel like going on to the grounds of an old movie studio.

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The soundstage for W&G was on the far end of the lot, which meant that after we parked in the main garage, we walked the length of the entire property before we arrived at the building where we’d watch W&G. I remember seeing actors from the soap opera Passions walking around, since they taped episodes nearby. And in the soundstage next door to W&G we saw the cast and crew of Good Morning, Miami rehearsing. That series didn’t last long; it featured Suzanne Pleshette and was produced by the same people in charge of W&G.

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The episode shot for W&G was a two-parter called ‘Flip-Flop.’ At least this is the title it had when it aired, because the day we were on the set we were told it was called ‘Flippers.’ The storyline involved the two main characters working as realtors, and their client was a cantankerous old gal named Zandra (Eileen Brennan). Brennan appeared as Zandra a few other times prior to this, and she’d be invited back for one more episode. There was a subplot involving Megan Mullally’s character and her love interest played by John Cleese. But we did not see Mullally or meet Cleese, because their material had already been filmed a day earlier. They showed us Mullally’s scenes on a playback monitor so we could understand everything that was going on.

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Technically we only watched half the episode being filmed, the part that involved Debra Messing. She was in her third trimester of pregnancy and had limited hours on the set. This might have been one of the very last episodes she did before she went on maternity leave. The pregnancy was not written into the show, so she was wearing a black dress, filmed mostly from the chest up and standing behind furniture in the long shots. Jimmy Burrows was the long-time director, and it all went like clockwork. It was a manic work environment, but very professional.

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A few random memories stand out. When the cast was introduced at the beginning, Eric McCormack who played Will came on to the stage reading a copy of Playboy magazine. Obviously he was referring to the fact he was straight and only played gay on TV. It was funny but also struck me as slightly homophobic. Messing seemed exhausted; her pregnancy was clearly sapping her energy. She did her usual good job, but in between scenes she rested.

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At the end, the cast took a bow, and Eileen Brennan received the loudest round of applause. The filming for this series occurred in the afternoon. Every other sitcom I visited was filmed in the evenings. But W&G was done in the afternoon, so it felt like watching a matinee performance of a live play.

Writing the first review

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Recently I watched The White Shadow on Hulu. It stars Ken Howard and is about a basketball coach at an inner city high school in the late 1970s.

One episode was about a gay athlete. I went to the IMDb expecting to find a few comments from others who might have seen it– to see if they had perceived the story as I did. However, no other user reviews had been posted. So my review became the first one:

A gay kid on the team? (“One of the Boys” from season 1, episode 8)

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I was too young when the show originally aired to remember much about the stories, so it’s been interesting to look at the episodes again. 

Mostly I feel this episode is a product of its era. It’s obvious the writers and producers are trying to cover different social issues and it’s interesting they chose to do a story about a potentially gay youth right near the beginning. (The troubled kid is played by Peter Horton in his first acting role.) But the biases of the era are prevalent, despite any good intentions. They never use the word gay. The word homosexual is used continuously throughout the story, making it seem clinical, like the kid has an affliction that can and should be cured.

Also, they never come right out and say the kid is actually homosexual. They deliberately leave it ambiguous, meaning the audience is free to think he’s confused or misunderstood and even mislabeled by the ones who pick on him. Despite his not being confirmed as gay, they make a point of exiting him from this environment so they are not obligated to use him (or any other related gay character) again. If this episode had been produced now, he might be a regular member of the cast or at least recurring.

It’s noteworthy they made him have a breakdown in his last scene. Where he has a huge emotional catharsis then gains the fortitude to go forward in life and be a man, presumably one who can put homosexuality in its place.

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Hulu labels this as a Fox Television Classic. When I look at the episode and see its treatment of the subject, I wouldn’t say it’s classic. I’d say it’s archaic.

Essential: GOLDENEYE (1995)

Earlier this year I reviewed the Bond films of Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton. There was a six year gap between Dalton’s tenure and successor Pierce Brosnan taking over.

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In terms of hair color and build, Brosnan slightly resembles Dalton though their acting styles are dissimilar. Brosnan previously starred as TV’s Remington Steele, and he seems rather laid back as Bond. He is the thinnest person in the role, and his body movements are much stiffer than Moore’s or Dalton’s ever were. I have a feeling this was intentional, to give the character a more soldiery quality, where his motion is much more precise, almost a bit bionic.

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There are a few other notable differences. There’s a scene in this film where Robbie Coltrane, as a Russian gangster, points a gun right at Bond’s crotch. Brosnan plays this very seriously– his reactions are very specific and intense. I’m sure Moore would have played this a bit devilishly, finding the fun in extricating Bond from such a scenario.

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Besides a new Bond there is a new M (Judi Dench); a new Moneypenny (Samantha Bond); and of course, a new villain in the form of Sean Bean who plays a rogue agent named Janus. Despite this being the first film in the series not to use any of Ian Fleming’s novels as source material, the storyline does not deviate from the standard formula.

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The rogue agent is approximately the same age as Bond, also an orphan, and he possesses the same amount of skill. He’s almost like the bad side of super good Bond. We can also read into this premise a thesis on the futility of anti-British sentiment. As a traitor, Janus has developed a goal to sabotage British intelligence and bring the free world to its knees by using a satellite system to control a vast network of financial resources.

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GOLDENEYE was successful in taking the franchise into a post-cold war era. It did very well with mid-90s moviegoers, and Brosnan signed on for three more installments. (I will be covering those in the weeks to come.) More than twenty years have passed since the film was made, and much of the technology already looks outdated. I also thought this production contained a lot more violent shootings than most of the previous offerings.

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Bond is certainly a killing warrior in this film and so is Xenia, Janus’ hench woman. There’s a classic scene where she and Bond have a painful form of foreplay. It’s too bad this scene hadn’t been developed earlier so Roger Moore could have played it with Grace Jones in A VIEW TO A KILL. It needed to be done in an outrageously kitschy fashion. Brosnan seems too dignified to be throwing a woman around and burning her bottom on a bed of hot coals.

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GOLDENEYE is directed by Martin Campbell and can be streamed on Starz.

Glasses in the movies

Eyewear can be memorable in the movies. Just ask Harold Lloyd. It became a trademark for him.

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When Hildegarde Withers solved crimes she used her specs to make sure she could see all the clues and stare at anyone who might be guilty.

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Harpo Marx had his horn and a harp. Brother Groucho had a cigar, a mustache and these:

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Marilyn made lenses look sexy.

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In DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES Jack Lemmon experienced blurred vision when he used these glasses:

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Coming up in October

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Glasses in the movies…eye thought it was time to take a closer look at classic cinema.

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Writing the first review…when nobody else has commented about what’s on screen.

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Visiting the set of Will & GraceI wish I had been there more often.

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Actresses marrying into royalty…Grace Kelly wasn’t the first one.

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Marion Crane is driving out of Phoenix…and she’s never coming back.

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Join me in October!

Essential: THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET (1957)

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Sidney Franklin directed MGM’s original version of this story in 1934. It was based on a successful stage play that Irving Thalberg purchased for his wife Norma Shearer. On Broadway, Katharine Cornell had been very successful playing Elizabeth Barrett Browning; in fact, she reprised the role several times throughout her illustrious stage career. When Shearer appeared in the first big screen version, she too had a hit, winning over skeptical critics with her carefully measured performance of the reclusive poet. A lot of Shearer’s success could be attributed to Franklin, so when MGM decided to remake the property, Franklin was again assigned to direct.

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Originally MGM had planned to put Grace Kelly in the remake, but she turned down several roles and was put on suspension. So Jennifer Jones stepped in, which was a dream come true for the actress who had longed to play the part on screen. Jones, under her first stage name, had used a scene from the original play to audition for drama school when she was younger. Once Jones was signed, she and Sidney Franklin went to London where they joined an all-British cast and crew to begin the new project. Robert Browning would be played by handsome leading man Bill Travers; and Travers’ wife Virginia McKenna was also cast, playing one of Elizabeth’s sisters.

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While the earlier film featured Charles Laughton as domineering Edward Moulten-Barrett, this later production utilized the acting services of John Gielgud. Gielgud is exceptional as the tyrannical Victorian father, and his performance is a bit more modest than Laughton’s had been. For instance, Laughton would use his eyes to suggest incestuous tendencies that may have been an aspect of the father-daughter relationship. However, biographers agree that none of this can be proved about the Barretts; only that Edward was very controlling and did threaten to disinherit his daughters if they married suitors who didn’t meet with his approval (which seemed to be all of them).

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Sidney Franklin had directed Jennifer Jones in retake scenes from her earlier 1947 motion picture DUEL IN THE SUN. But other than this, he hadn’t directed a film in twenty years when this remake was produced. He had spent the 1940s and much of the 1950s serving as a writer-producer at Metro. But he was once again coaching actors in this extravagantly budgeted British undertaking. It would be his last film as director, and perhaps because television was now ruling the entertainment industry, the picture did not fare well too well when it hit movie screens. That doesn’t make it any less worthy of our attention now, since the efforts of Miss Jones and everyone else involved make it a beautiful and special experience. There’s something poetic about it.

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THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET will air on TCM on September 26th.

The news about James Dean’s death

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James Dean died on Friday September 30, 1955 at 5:40 p.m. Everyone read about it in the newspaper:

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This article, published on October 1, compared him to Marlon Brando and said he was the second young movie star to die this year. The first one was Robert Francis who perished in a plane crash at the end of July. James Dean was described by the writer as an amateur racing enthusiast who was on his way to a road race in Salinas when he was killed in a head-on collision. Apparently a college student named Donald Turnupseed was in the other car that James Dean hit. But Turnupseed only suffered minor injuries. The actor was still alive when the ambulance arrived, but he died on the way to the hospital. He had a broken neck, his arms were fractured, and he had internal injuries. A passenger named Ralph Wuetherich survived; he had serious injuries.

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The above clip was published on October 2, and it gives us a bit of irony. Supposedly he had received a speeding ticket about two hours before the crash that claimed his life. As you can see in the last paragraph, they figured out how fast he was driving from when he got the ticket to where his car went off the road.

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Here’s a newspaper from Jimmy’s home community in Indiana (he is called Jimmy in the article). It was published on October 6, which leads me to believe The Fairmount News was a weekly paper. It repeats most of the same information from the first article I included, with one notable exception– they claim he was struck by the other car, not that he struck the other car. He is not remembered as being at fault.

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Essential: LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING (1955)

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When LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING was released, 20th Century Fox was striving to bring more realism to the screen. The studio’s version of Han Suyin’s book challenged the production code, and it gave audiences something thrilling to watch. Fox turned out other romance dramas in the mid-50s that were just as topical and sensational– PEYTON PLACE and ISLAND IN THE SUN come to mind. The adult subject matter was often adapted from daring stage plays or sexy novels.

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William Holden was one of the most popular actors in Hollywood at this time, so it’s no surprise he was chosen to play the leading man. For over fifteen years, he had appeared in a succession of hits and was on the verge of being awarded an Oscar. You might say his charm, dashing looks and down-to-earth personality made him a quintessential post-WWII hero. He tended to play characters who knew what they wanted, and this is what his fans wanted.

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Leading lady Jennifer Jones was known for conveying a nervous intensity. She often played two types of females– lonely single women or tempted married ones. She brought a spiritual quality to her roles– most evident in classics like SONG OF BERNADETTE and PORTRAIT OF JENNIE. In LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING, Jones portrays a career woman of mixed race. Her character is seen as independent, but she becomes involved with Holden‘s character by destiny.

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Interestingly, the film received a B rating by the Legion of Decency. The B rating meant Fox’s production was morally objectionable. It was regarded by the Catholic Church as promoting venal sin. Today it seems rather tame, and it gives us an interesting glimpse into how romantic stories were depicted on screen ten years after the war– when movies were trying to compete with television.

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LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING is directed by Henry King. It will be broadcast by TCM on September 19th.