The Joan Fontaine Centenary Blogathon: Born to Be Bad

This post is part of the Joan Fontaine Centenary Blogathon, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and The Wonderful World of Cinema. Read the rest of the posts in this event HERE!

Back in the early 1980s, I worked as a cashier at a movie theater on New York City’s Upper West Side. It showed mainly foreign and independent films, and sometimes reissues of older films. It was very common for famous people to come to the theater to watch films.

I will never forget the day Joan Fontaine came to the theater.

She came very early for the film she wanted to see, my boss informed me, because she wanted to be seated first and not cause a commotion when she entered the theater.

The theater was not officially opened yet, so she waited by the ticket booth while my boss and the ushers rushed around to open everything early to accommodate her.

Being a New Yorker, I usually pretended not to recognize famous people because that was considered totally uncool and Un-New Yorker-like.

I couldn’t help it. While trying to act totally nonchalant, I kept sneaking what I hoped were discreet looks at her.

She had to be in her 60s at this point, but I had never seen a more beautiful, elegant woman. She was coiffed and dressed like many wealthy women who lived on Upper East Side—hair styled in a sleek bun, wearing a lovely fur (this was before real furs were a no-no). Her skin was smooth and clear. She looked much younger than her age. She smiled patiently as if it was no big deal a famous star was being left to cool her heels outside a theater.

I had seen many famous people, as I said, but never anyone who screamed “STAR” the way she did.

When choosing which film to write about for this blogathon, I immediately alighted on Born to Be Bad, because it is so atypical of most of her roles.

Based on a book called All Kneeling by Anne Parrish, the film was directed by Nicholas Ray. It is also an atypical film for Nicholas Ray, and for that reason it is often erroneously categorized as a film noir. It is in no way a film noir. It fits much more in the melodrama category.

Fontaine portrays Cristabel, an ambitious and scheming young woman who steals her cousin’s (Joan Leslie) wealthy fiancée (Zachary Scott) even though she is having a passionate affair with a rugged author (Robert Ryan).

Cristabel is an interesting villain because her scheming is of the passive-aggressive variety. Like a spider sitting on someone’s shoulder, she gently poisons everyone without most realizing what she’s doing. Here is where Fontaine’s particular kind of beauty enhances the role: she looks so darn INNOCENT. Yet she is a huge ball of malevolence.

Her cousin Donna works as Cristabel’s uncle’s assistant and agrees to let Cristabel live with her while she goes to business school. (Which, in my opinion, is one hell of an imposition on an employee.) Donna has an eclectic circle of friends, including her very wealthy fiancée Curtis, her artist friend Gobby (Mel Ferrer), and her author friend Nick, who she is helping to get published.

The only one who sees through Cristabel right away is Gobby, who paints her portrait though her boyfriend objects he makes her look like Lucrezia Borgia. (Gobby is clearly coded as gay–he convinces husbands he’s “harmless”–and gets some of the best lines in the movie.) The other men, even Cristabel’s uncle, are her pawns who believe everything she says.

When Cristabel manipulates Curtis into asking Donna to renounce any right to his fortune, Donna finally gets what’s going on and breaks off with Curtis. Cristabel and Curtis marry soon after, causing Nick to run away to India (but not before giving her the “you’ll never get me out of your blood” speech).

Though Curtis is besotted with Cristabel, it’s obvious right away that she can’t stand him. She uses lots of excuses to be out of his company. When Nick returns, she tries to resume their relationship without promising to leave Curtis.

Her schemes finally catch up with her. While claiming she doesn’t want anything from Curtis, she takes a huge armful of furs when she leaves him.

This film is delightful to watch just because Fontaine is playing something so out of her wheelhouse. The cast is very strong, and the film has the added benefit of Ray’s stylized direction.

Unfortunately, the film was made during Howard Hughes tenure at RKO. As he often did, he insisted on rewrites and reshoots. Ray was incensed when he took away his right to the final cut.

Even so, over time the reputation of Born to Be Bad has improved, when it was dismissed as a soapy women’s picture during its initial release. I know I enjoy it immensely every time I watch it, especially when I contrast the deliciously villainous Cristabel with the elegant woman waiting to get into a movie theater all those years ago.

 

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Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon: Father of the Bride (1950)

This post is part of the Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Read the rest of the posts in this event HERE!

Film lovers talk a lot about what makes a classic film. One element often mentioned is the film still feels relevant even decades after it was made.

I contend Father of the Bride, starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, is one of those films.

Unless you were rich, weddings were usually modest affairs pre-World War II. With the rising middle class, that changed profoundly. Suddenly, many people who would have previously had small church or city hall weddings were putting on big catered affairs.

My mom and dad were married during the 1950s and both wanted a small wedding. My mother proposed my grandfather give them the money he was going to spend on the wedding.

My grandfather gave them a choice: “Have a big wedding, or your mother and I will use the money to take a trip to Paris.”

They had the big wedding.

My grandfather was a little unusual, in that he had saved for years to give my mother (their only child) a big wedding. Most fathers were (and still are) appalled by how much money goes into what is basically a four-hour party.

Enter Stanley Banks (Spencer Tracy) who is not only appalled his beloved 19-year-old daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) is engaged, he’s even more upset that his wife Ellie (Joan Bennett) insists they give her a “nice” wedding.

At every turn, he tries to keep the costs of the wedding down, and at every turn he is thwarted. Insisting the house is “good enough” for a wedding, he is stunned when the wedding list grows to over 250 people, which will require tenting in the yard and other expensive modifications to the house.

What’s funniest to me is how Stanley is the only one who thinks this is ridiculous. Everyone else acts as if the extravagance is completely normal.

Hands down my favorite part of the movie is when he digs up an old suit in the attic and is certain he can still fit into it. This makes me howl every time I watch it because it reminds me of my dad (who did not want my sister to have a big wedding, just like Stanley).

My mother insisted he buy a new suit.

“I have a suit.”

“What suit?”

He went to his closet and returned with a powder-blue leisure suit, circa The Six Million Dollar Man era.

My mother lost it. “YOU CAN’T WEAR THAT TO YOUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING!”

“Why not? It’s fine. I’m not spending money on a new suit.”

I intervened and suggested he wear his tuxedo, since it was an evening wedding.

My mother, not at all mollified: “That tuxedo is really old, it’s probably out of style, too!”

We were watching a taped episode of a soap opera and a character on screen was wearing a tuxedo. I ran to the closet and took out the tuxedo jacket, holding it up to the TV.

“See, see? The lapels are exactly the same. It’s almost identical!”

Crisis averted. He wore the tuxedo.

Father of the Bride captures perfectly the constant underlying hysteria that goes into making a wedding happen. At one point Stanley and Kay are having a midnight snack because they can’t sleep. Kay confesses she is worried about getting married. Stanley mistakenly thinks she’s nervous about the wedding night and tries to reassure her. (Which I think it very sweet and a bit unusual for a 1950s movie—especially since it’s a conversation between a father and daughter.)

She says it’s way sillier than that: she’s having nightmares about the wedding going wrong. Stanley, who is also having nightmares about the exact same thing, realizes that he’s not alone in his fears of disaster.

Father of the Bride may not be considered a masterpiece of cinema, but there are so many things about it that still resonate today. We’re still so obsessed with weddings there are tons of TV reality shows devoted to the subject.

The film may not be considered one of Spencer Tracy’s greatest performance, but I love Stanley and how he has such a hard time letting Kay go. You don’t see a whole lot of strong father/daughter stories on film. This is one of my favorites.

Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blogathon: Juana Inés (2016)

This post is part of the Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blogathon, hosted by Aurora at Once Upon a Screen. Read the rest of the posts in this event HERE!

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

This now-famous quote by Senator Mitch McConnell, which was meant to demean Senator Elizabeth Warren, is a perfect way to describe many of the great women in history, and certainly describes the subject of the 2016 Mexican TV miniseries, Juana Inés.

Based on the life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (née Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana), the seven part miniseries concerns one of the greatest poets of the Baroque era. Born in New Spain (Mexico) during the 17th Century, she was illegitimate, but nevertheless had an uncle influential enough to get her a place at the Spanish viceroy’s court, where she soon became a favorite of the viceroy and his wife. Still in her teens, she was already a poet and remarkably well-educated for a woman of her time and place. She could read and write Latin and Greek, as well the language used by the Aztecs, Nahuatl. It’s even more remarkable when one considers she was almost entirely self-taught.

When the viceroy’s daughter needs a new tutor, Juana Inés applies for the position (she was only 17 at the time). In an attempt to humiliate her, she is forced to undergo an examination by some of the greatest intellectual and religious minds in the country.

Reader, she passes with flying colors.

Unfortunately, her illegitimate status makes it impossible for her to marry well. Instead, she enters a convent. She finds the Carmelite order too confining and leaves. Eventually she finds a sponsor who is willing to pay her dowry to enter the richer (and less strict) order of Hieronymite nuns, where she stays with until her death. She writes voluminously and collects an impressive library, as well as corresponds with some of the greatest minds of the age, including Isaac Newton.

However, both her fame and intelligence gain her enemies within the Catholic Church (remember, the Spanish Inquisition still exists). She is finally forced to swear she will give up her writing and library. After her death from the plague at the age of 43, it is discovered she never stopped writing and had hidden many of her books.

Juana Inés not only wrote religious poetry, but also love poetry. She had a passionate relationship with another viceroy’s wife, María Luisa Manrique de Lara y Gonzaga, who became her patron after she returned to Spain and helped spread her fame throughout Europe and the New World.

The Mexican television series Juana Inés is a sumptuous production that does justice to the life of this fascinating woman. Arantza Ruiz plays her as a young girl and Arcelia Ramirez plays her as a mature woman. Both give superlative performances.

Hernán del Riego plays Father Antonio Núñez de Miranda, Juana Inés’ confessor, and alternately her sponsor and nemesis. In the series, he is portrayed as a kind of Salieri figure, who appreciates her gifts but is also jealous and resentful of them.

The series does not dance around whether or not Juana Inés was bisexual—it leaves no doubt that the relationship between Juana Inés and María Luisa was both emotional and physical.

The series is amazing in the wealth of details (they even recreate a hair decoration she wore in a portrait made before she became a nun). But what I love about it the most is how they portray Juana Inés as a woman who gave zero you-know-whats for the patriarchy. Again, this was an especially dangerous time for a woman to defy the Church and the status quo. And yet she did just that. She finds a way to always be her true self even though her options were severely limited.

As of this writing, Juana Inés is available for streaming on Netflix. There is no option for a dubbed version, but do give the subtitled version a chance. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

The Texas Blogathon: Days of Heaven (1978)

This post is part of the Texas Blogathon, hosted by Quiggy at The Midnite Drive-In. Read the rest of the darn good posts HERE!

Days of Heaven was director Terrence Malick’s second film after the much-celebrated Badlands. A difficult shoot, a long editing process, and a simple tragic story told from the distancing point of view of a child, it was mostly well-received, though some critics complained it was too pretentious and arty.

Today, it is considered one of the best films of the 1970s and one of the top films of all time.

The story begins in 1916 and concerns Bill (Richard Gere) a young Chicago mill worker who kills his foreman after an argument. With his lover Abby (Brooke Adams) and younger sister Linda (Linda Manz) he jumps a train and heads west. Bill and Abby pretend they are siblings to prevent talk about their relationship. Arriving in the Texas panhandle, the trio finds work for a rich farmer (Sam Shepard).

The work is relentless and brutal. It soon becomes apparent that the farmer has his eyes on Abby. Overhearing a conversation between the farmer and his doctor, Bill concludes the farmer will die soon. He encourages Abby to marry him so they can live well after the farmer dies.

Of course, things do not go as planned. The farmer does not die quickly. Jealousy and the farmer’s suspicions about the true nature of Abby and Bill’s relationship compel Bill to leave for a time. When he returns, the festering feelings lead to tragedy.

The plot, as I said, is almost absurdly simple. There is very little dialogue, and most of that seems improvised. Reportedly, Malick threw away the script during filming and encouraged the actors to “find” the story.

This lead to the difficulties with editing. Malick eventually hit on adding a voice-over by Manz. Her unique voice and matter-of-fact delivery enhances the action of the film. Her commentary is anything but on-the-nose; instead, it’s oblique and contemplative, as if she’s remembering the events at a later date.

The film was not shot in Texas. Alberta, Canada stood in for the Texas panhandle. However, it certainly has the wide-open spaces feel of Texas. The farm spreads as far as the eye can see. The farmer’s Victorian mansion looks almost absurd stuck in the middle of it. The opulence is also a stark contrast to the way the farm workers live, outside regardless of the weather.

And they work. How they WORK. As Linda says in the voice-over, they work from sun-up to sundown with no breaks. It’s backbreaking work, too. They can be let go at the whim of the foreman at any time.

Some critics have complained that the love triangle is shown at such a distance it strangles the emotion of the story. But I find the distance is necessary. Bill uses Abby to gain a better life, but you can almost understand why. Without regulations and unions, workers were treated vilely during the early 20th Century. Watching Bill shovel coal into a huge furnace—probably having to do it for 12 straight hours—seems utterly inhumane. Children work side-by-side with adults near dangerous equipment. There’s never the slightest chance that all that hard work will elevate them to something better.

All of this to enrich one man (his foreman comments after the harvest is done that he will make well into the six figures from the one year—a fortune now, and even bigger one then). The farmer (who is never named) seems like a nice fellow and unfortunate at that, considering he is dying. But when he begins to suspect the truth about Abby and Bill, he turns into a possessive and violent man, who probably believes he’s entitled to deal with them in any way he sees fit because of his place in life.

The film is rightfully famous for its cinematography (by Nestor Almendros, who was beginning to lose his sight during the shoot). The film crew even complained about the complicated set-ups and shooting during the time of day as the sun is setting. The film production ran over so long that Almendros had to leave for a prior commitment. Haskel lWexler took over for him, but was only credited with “additional photography,” making it seem his contribution to the film was minor.

In spite of all the problems with the film’s production, it remains today one of the most breathtaking examples of the hyper-realistic films of the 1970s. Nestled in the overwhelming beauty of the landscape is poverty, brutality, betrayal, tragedy, and loss. As Linda comments, most of us are half angel and half devil. Days of Heaven makes the case more eloquently than most films.

 

 

The Adrienne Barbeau Blogathon: The Great Houdini (1976)

This post is part of the Adrienne Barbeau Blogathon, hosted by Steve at MovieMovieBlogBlog. Read the rest of the posts in this event HERE!

Aside from her work on the television sitcom Maude, I’m not that familiar with Adrienne Barbeau’s work. However, I remembered she appeared in a TV movie of the week back in the 1970s about the magician Harry Houdini and decided to revisit it for the blogathon.

I saw it during its original broadcast, but didn’t recall that it’s actually a very good movie, especially considering how cleaned up most biopics were and still are. On top of that, it boasts a stellar supporting cast, including Ruth Gordon as Houdini’s mother, Bill Bixby as Reverend Arthur Ford, Peter Cushing as Arthur Conan Doyle, Maureen O’Sullivan as Conan Doyle’s wife, Nina Foch as Reverend Le Veyne, Vivian Vance as Minnie, the Houdinis’ nurse/companion, who also narrates the film. And of course, Adrienne Barbeau, as Houdini’s mistress Daisy White.

Paul Michael Glaser stars as Harry Houdini and Sally Struthers as his wife/partner Bess. The film is mainly concerned with their marriage and professional relationship, as well as Harry Houdini’s not very healthy relationship with his mother (Gordon). It also traces his fascination with the supernatural and his crusade to unmask most mediums as phonies and hucksters.

As I said, the film doesn’t clean up his life, and is very honest about his deep depression after his mother’s death, Bess’s alcoholism, and his affair with Daisy. Yes, it does fictionalize a few things: Bess never had a miscarriage after witnessing an almost failed escape stunt, nor did Houdini die after another escape mishap. Bess did not prove that Harry truly contacted her after death with a secret message only the two of them knew. But it’s understandable that these were added to increase the drama. And Minnie is a made-up person, though Vance gets some of the best lines in the movie.

(My favorite: while telling spiritualist Reverend Ford to leave Bess alone, she says “If you contact Robert E. Lee, tell him he lost.”)

Barbeau has only a few scenes, but they’re all good: at the beginning by Harry’s graveside (the story is told in flashback) she encounters Bess. Telling her she has to leave because she has a matinee, Bess counters with, “What’s his name?” (The dialogue is pretty good all around.)

She encounters Harry for the first time backstage and is clearly star struck. While Harry is depressed and separated from Bess, Daisy shows up to check on him (i.e. seduce him). But it’s not done in a cheap way. She confesses to many things (including having had an abortion) and tells him she loves watching him escape because it always gives her hope.

In another likely fiction, Daisy shows up the night Houdini receives the sucker punch to the belly that supposedly kills him (it really didn’t—he died from peritonitis because he ignored the signs of appendicitis). She assures Bess that he is no longer interested in her. Their argument about Daisy is what causes Harry’s distraction when the young man sucker punches him.

Doing research for this film, I found that many Houdini aficionados consider this the best film about his life. Impressive for a TV movie of the week from the 1970s, which have a reputation for being churned out on the cheap.

When it ended after this recent viewing I commented to my mom, “Gee, Adrienne didn’t have a lot of scenes.”

She said, “Yeah, but she was really good.”

The Duo Double Feature Blogathon: James Stewart & Kim Novak

This post is part of the Duo Double Feature Blogathon, hosted by The Flapper Dame and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. Read the rest of the posts HERE!

SPOILERS FOR VERTIGO AND BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE:

James Stewart and Kim Novak made two movies back-to-back that were released in 1958: Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo, and the delightful romantic comedy, Bell, Book and Candle. These are two of my favorite films, due in no small part to the chemistry between Stewart and Novak.

The films couldn’t be more different from each other. Vertigo is a dark tale of obsessive love, while Bell, Book and Candle is a vibrant comedy about a man who literally falls under the spell of a witch. Yet both actors are perfect in their roles.

Novak was not originally slated to play the double roles of Madeleine/Judy in Vertigo. Vera Miles was cast but had to drop out due to pregnancy. Hitchcock made a deal with Columbia to have them lend out Novak if Stewart would agree to co-star with her in Bell, Book and Candle, which is why the two films were made so close together.

Vertigo is based on the French novel D’entre les morts (Among the Dead) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Hitchcock originally wanted to adapt their novel Celle qui n’était plus (She Who Was No More), which became the film Les Diaboliques, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. There is a legend that Boileau and Nercejac deliberately wrote D’entre les morts specifically for Hitchcock, but that has since been debunked.

John “Scottie” Ferguson, a policeman who retires after he witnesses the death by falling of another officer, is tapped by an old friend to trail his wife. The husband claims he is only worried his wife is mentally ill and may take her own life. He is convinced that she has taken on the personality of her ancestress, a Spanish woman who had her child taken away from her during colonial times in old California.

Scottie reluctantly agrees but becomes fascinated by the beautiful Madeleine. He witnesses her jumping into San Francisco bay and rescues her. From there, they become romantically involved. Scottie has a mental breakdown when Madeleine throws herself off the tower of an old Spanish mission. After a stint in a mental institution, he runs into a girl named Judy who has a remarkable resemblance to Madeleine. Obsessively, he changes her look so that she resembles the dead Madeleine. Judy is resistant but eventually agrees because she loves him. It is revealed that the woman Scottie was following was not Madeleine at all, but Judy, who had been her husband’s lover and partner in crime. The person Scottie witnessed falling from the tower was the real Madeleine, who had been murdered by the pair.

Bell, Book and Candle is about a witch named Gillian Holroyd, who has romantic feelings for her neighbor Shep Henderson. When she finds out he’s going to marry a hated schoolmate of hers, she casts a spell on him so he falls in love with her. When he realizes what she is and what she did to him, he seeks out an antidote to the spell. He meets with her months later and realizes she has lost her powers because she genuinely loves him.

The two films are certainly very different but do share at least one major theme: obsessive love. Both protagonists (Scottie and Gillian) are nearly destroyed by their obsession. However, in Gillian’s case, she at least gets a happy outcome, though it’s sad she has lost her magical powers.

I wouldn’t call Novak a great actress, but she has a unique screen presence. Along with Grace Kelly, she epitomizes Hitchcock’s “cool blond” seductress. (Honestly, I have a hard time imagining Vera Miles playing Madeleine/Judy.) Novak’s remoteness serves her well in Vertigo and makes perfect sense for Gillian’s character in Bell, Book and Candle. In both films she brings out something in Stewart that is more complex than what he showed in his earlier roles—a darkness, including a darker sensuality. He always had great comic timing, but the scene where the spell is broken in Bell, Book and Candle totally cracks me up every time I see it.

Kim Novak tells a story that she met up with Stewart years after they made the movies and tried to talk him into doing another film with her. He declined, saying he was too old to play a romantic lead.

It’s a shame they only got to make the two movies. Too bad Novak wasn’t able to cast a spell on him to make him say yes.

Announcing the “It Takes a Thief” Blogathon!

Time for a new blogathon! I am inviting you to write about thievery in films.

The caper, the heist, kidnappings, great escapes, con artists, high-class jewel thieves, art forgers, hungry peasants stealing bread, in any genre–all will be accepted!

You many write about films from any era from any area of the world.

You may also write about television shows, either those featuring a thief as a main character (for instance, Remington Steele or White Collar) or individual episodes featuring thievery (the “Dead Freight” episode of Breaking Bad or “The Train Job” episode of Firefly).

This is a very expansive topic, so my only rule is no duplicates, unless it’s two versions of the same story (i.e. the two versions of The Lavender Hill Mob).

The blogathon will run Friday, November 17 – Sunday, November 19. You may post any day (or earlier, if you wish).

To claim your topic, please request your choice in the comments section below, or contact me on Twitter (@DebbieVee). Include the name and URL of your blog. Then grab one of the banners below, display it on your blog and link it back to this post.

Thanks for joining in!

THE ROSTER SO FAR:

Moon in Gemini: Fun with Dick and Jane (1977)

MovieMovieBlogBlog: Take the Money and Run (1969)

Cinematic Scribblings:  Le Départ (1967)

lifesdailylessonsblog: How to Steal a Million (1966)

Liz Durano: The Usual Suspects (1995)

Realweegiemidget Reviews: The Angels’ Share (2012)

Movies Silently: Alias Jimmy Valentine (1929)

The Stop Button: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

B Noir Detour: Comparison of The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Rififi (1955)

Once Upon a Screen: The Killing (1956)

Silver Screenings: To Catch a Thief (1955)

Outspoken and Freckled: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

Caftan Woman: You and Me (1938)

A Shroud of Thoughts: The Saint (1962 – 1969)

Destroy All Fanboys!: Topkapi (1964)

Cinematic Catharsis: White Heat (1949)

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: Remember the Night (1940)

Critica Retro: Jewel Robbery (1932)

Peyton’s Classics: The Devil’s Brother (1933)

CineMaven’s Essays From the Couch: Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1954)

The Midnite Drive-In: The Maltese Falcon (1931) and Satan Met a Lady (1936); the three actors who played Mr. Freeze in the classic Batman TV series (1966 – 1968)

Wide Screen World: Road to Perdition (2o02)

Love Letters to Old Hollywood: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Dreaming in the Balcony: Arsène Lupin (1932)

Thoughts All Sorts: Man on a Ledge (2012)

Film Noir Archive: Thief (1981)

Top 10 Film Lists: Criss Cross (1949)

The Story Enthusiast: Trouble in Paradise (1932)

It Came From the Man Cave!: JCVD (2008)

Sat In Your Lap: Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

Random Pictures: Payback (1999)

Sometimes They Go to Eleven: The Split (1968)

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood: Grand Hotel (1932)

LA Explorer: Charade (1963)

Silver Screen Classics: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Totally Filmi: Sapthamashree Thaskaraha “Seven Good Thieves” (2014)

4 Star Films: The Big Steal (1949)

 

 

 

The It’s Just a Joke Blogathon: Soapdish (1991)

This post is part of the It’s Just a Joke: The Movie Parody Blogathon, hosted by Steve at MovieMovieBlogBlog. Read the rest of the punchlines HERE!

The 1991 film Soapdish was made less than thirty years ago, but the state of the daytime soap opera could not have been any more different then than it is now.

Still popular with college students, not yet besieged by massive competition from cable, the internet, social media, and more sophisticated prime time soaps, it was the major networks’ cash cow.

Soaps had also morphed from romantic/family dramas to adventure stories that included globe-hopping (and on-location shoots) as well as wacky stuff such as mad scientists, space aliens. and witchcraft.

As the 90s progressed, all the aforementioned competition, not to mention the lengthy O.J. Simpson trial, resulted in the fortunes of daytime drama steadily cratering. Soap actors who were given multi-million dollar contracts were either let go or given massive wage cuts. Set budgets were slashed. Game and talk shows were cheaper and more profitable. Today, only four daytime soaps remain on the air.

But there was a period of time, from the late 1970s (the beginning of the General Hospital Luke & Laura craze) to the mid-90s when soaps crossed over into the mainstream as a cultural phenomenon.

Soapdish savages that phenomenon by parodying, not only soap operas themselves, but the backstage goings-on that sometimes seemed like a soap in and of itself.

Celeste Talbert (Sally Field) is the star of a soap opera called The Sun Also Sets, and, yes, a bit of a diva who needs constant reassurance from her fans during visits to the shopping mall. On the show since she was a teenager, she is finding her status tenuous because she is now middle-aged. Younger actresses, such as Montana Moorehead (Cathy Moriarity) and Ariel Maloney (Terri Hatcher) plot to bring her down so they can have their time as stars of the show.

Producer David Seton Barnes (Robert Downey, Jr.) is sexually obsessed with Montana and does her bidding when it comes to sabotaging Celeste. Rose Schwartz (Whoopi Goldberg), the show’s head writer, is Celeste’s best friend and tries to protect her from those who are out to get her.

One of Montana’s plots features bringing back to the show Jeffrey Anderson (Kevin Kline) who was Celeste’s boyfriend when they co-starred on the soap. A down-and-out actor forced to play dinner theater to senior citizens, he leaps at the chance to return to the show. Celeste’s niece Lori (Elisabeth Shue) talks her way into a part as an extra on the show. To Celeste’s horror, she realizes Jeffrey and Lori are attracted to each other.

Just like on a real soap opera, Celeste harbors many secret sorrows over the past relationship. It all literally explodes in front of the camera (and reporters from Entertainment Tonight) as Celeste confesses that Lori is really her daughter by Jeffrey.

This movie is totally over-the-top, but it works because it plays to what we expect from soap operas: tons of melodrama. All of this is played by a top-notch cast. Clearly, Celeste is based on actress Susan Lucci (though she wins way more awards than Lucci ever did). Robert Downey, Jr.’s comic timing is impeccable as a man torn between his sexual desire and toadying to the higher-ups out of fear that he will lose his job. Elisabeth Shue, still very young here, holds her own with the seasoned professionals. There are brief appearances by Carrie Fisher and Kathy Najimy as the casting director and head of wardrobe on the soap.

Gary Marshall is a scream as a network executive who is trying to get The Sun Also Sets better ratings than a game show.

“I would like to voice my strong concern about this show’s spiraling decline in ratings. David, ever since you took us to the Caribbean, it’s been Jamaica homeless people sucking soup, and a big wave outside that cost a hundred thousand dollars. That’s depressing and it’s expensive, two words I hate. You know the words I like? I like the word “peppy” and the word “cheap”. Peppy and cheap.”

Rose has a rant when told to bring back a character who had been decapitated 20 years before:

“How am I supposed to write for a guy who doesn’t have a head? He’s got no lips, no vocal cords!”

(As a soap viewer of long standing, I have no doubt that many head writers over the decades have had similar rants when told to bring back characters from the dead, even when it made absolutely no sense.)

Then there is Kevin Kline, who is always funny, but almost steals the whole thing during a live soap opera broadcast where he can’t read the teleprompter without his glasses.

Soapdish may feel like a throwback because of the way soaps have declined, but it’s still an enjoyable parody of the genre. Where else are you going to get dialogue like this:

“Sudden speech, the last sign of brain fever. She could blow at any moment!”

 

Game of Thrones Season 7: The Great, the Good, the Meh and the Ugly

BIG, BIG SPOILERS, DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE NOT DONE WATCHING SEASON 7!

So there have been a lot of critics pooping all over this season of Game of Thrones, wailing that it is past its heyday, blah, blah, blah, blah…

In my opinion, overall, this season was fantastic. The pace of the truncated season was increased so that things happened faster than a raven can fly across Westeros. Several set-piece sequences outdid those of previous seasons. Answers to questions book readers have been waiting for over 20 years were finally given.

Sure, it had its downers, but even Season 4, designated by many critics its “Imperial” season, had them, too.

Let’s break it down!

THE GREAT:

Episode One Cold Opening:

The scene of Walder Frey passing out wine to the male members of his family to thank them for their part in the Red Wedding took me longer to figure out than it should have. Was it a flashback? We had just seen a “previous scenes” segment that showed Arya murdering Walder Frey.

Well, of course it was Arya in a mask, poisoning en masse the entire Frey male line. “Winter has come for House Frey,” she tells Walder’s final child bride.

Perfect beginning to the season.

Cersei Turning Out to be an Effective Leader:

Most of us probably thought Daenerys, with Dorne support, advice from Tyrion and Varys, part of the Iron fleet lead by Yara, the Unsullied, the Dothraki, and three grown dragons, would be close to unbeatable.

That’s why their early defeats were pretty shocking. While the Unsullied easily took over Casterly Rock, the bulk of the Lannister army captured Highgarden, and all the Tyrell gold. Olenna Tyrell was forced to drink poison. Euron Greyjoy, now allied with Cersei, easily defeated Yara’s fleet, capturing Yara, Ellaria Sand and two of her daughters. The alliance was crushed with astonishing speed.

Who’d have thunk it? Seems Tywin Lannister wasn’t the only one who underestimated his daughter. Not to mention it would have been pretty darn dull if Daenerys had easily taken over Westeros.

The Loot Train Battle

Since the Battle of the Blackwater at the end of Season 2, Game of Thrones has set a standard for television battle scenes that often out-do movie battle scenes on a fraction of the budget. This season was no exception. While Jaime and Bronn transfer spoils they won when they took over Highgarden, the Dothraki show up to wup some Westeros ass, capped off by Daenerys arriving on her dragon Drogon. The Lannister army is decimated.

The look on Jaime’s face said it all. His foolish attempt to assassinate Daenerys said it all. At this point, we’re back to believing Daenerys is utterly unbeatable.

The Westeros Seven

There has been a lot of negative commentary about the penultimate episode, Beyond the Wall. Sure, it’s easy to pick apart what seemed like a massively foolish plan to go beyond the wall and capture a wight to show Cersei. Why didn’t they go on horseback? Why did they tease the wights into fighting? Why didn’t they take more men with them? Why does anybody listen to Jon Snow, ever?

Pshaw.

I loved the Dream Team of disparate heroes: Jon, Jorah Mormont, the Hound, Beric Dondarrion, Gendry, Thoros, and Tormund. Many of them hated and distrusted each other. It was a perfect visual for the situation in Westeros: they have to unite to fight a common enemy or all die.

The Ice Dragon

Talk about a game changer. As I said, after the Loot Train Battle, Daenerys seemed unbeatable, even when it came to the Army of the Dead—until the Night King took down her dragon Viserion with an ice javelin and turned him into a zombie dragon.

How do you beat THAT?

THE GOOD:

Sansa and Arya Take Down Littlefinger

Another storyline critics have been complaining about is the one where Littlefinger tries to sow seeds of distrust between Sansa and the recently-returned to Winterfell Arya.

Dudes. Did anybody REALLY think Arya would fall for that crap so easily? I wasn’t even that convinced that Sansa would fall for it. She had been watching Littlefinger in action for a LONG TIME. She used his ambition and “love” for her to get the army from the Vale to support Jon.

Watching the surviving Stark children (including Bran) cause the fall of Littlefinger, the man who directly and indirectly caused much of their misery, was immensely gratifying. So was seeing Sansa and Arya acknowledge they respect the other’s strengths.

The Hound’s Redemption

Every moment more the Hound appears on screen, the more I love the character. I’m not a big fan of redemption arcs in general (see my comments on Theon’s below) but this one WORKS.

Why? Because the Hound has always been capable of empathy. Under all his gruff and grumble is someone who genuinely cared about Sansa and Arya. His regret over the two peasants he killed rang true because he initially thought he was doing them a kindness by saving them from starvation.

“I’m sorry you’re dead. You deserved better.”

I believe he really means that.

Olenna’s Revenge

At the moment she took the poison, the Queen of Thorns told the truth about Joffrey’s assassination—SHE had killed him, not Tyrion.

Perfect end to the character. Diana Rigg was spectacular in her last scene.

The Final Outcomes of This Story Can’t Happen Without Gilly

Gilly makes two key discoveries while reading books at the Citadel:

Where to find the dragonglass needed to fight the White Walkers.

Rheagar Targaryan annulled his first marriage and married Lyanna Stark, making Jon Snow not only not a bastard, but the true heir to the Iron Throne.

Annoyingly, Sam takes credit for discovering both.

A lot of women can relate, Gilly.

THE MEH

Jon and Daenerys’ Lack of Chemistry

Beyond the whole “Ew, she’s really his aunt” thing, I found Jon and Daenerys very blah onscreen together. Maybe it was so many years of anticipation that made it impossible to meet expectations.

Theon’s Redemption

Look. I don’t care if Theon is ever redeemed. No, I didn’t wish on him what he suffered at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. No, I don’t blame him for running away when his uncle captured his sister. He’s been through a lot and that is a totally understandable reaction for someone who is so obviously dealing with PTSD.

But they seem to want to rewrite history. “I always tried to be the right kind of person.” Uh, no, he didn’t, including in the beginning before the Starks’ fortunes cratered. He was an obnoxious, self-involved ass. Unlike the Hound, he never showed empathy for others.

I hope Yara is rescued, but don’t expect me to see Theon as a hero. Even his motivation for rescuing her is selfish.

THE UGLY

The Burning of the Tarlys

I am still trying to puzzle out the purpose if this scene. Sure, Sam’s father was a total creep, and his brother Dickon was a dope. But burning them up seems to have served no storyline purpose whatsoever.

I highly doubt it will turn Sam against Daenerys. (Doesn’t he now become the heir to the fortune he was denied as the eldest brother?)

We get that Daenerys is a badass and can be a ruthless ruler. We didn’t need any more proof that she can sometimes give into the worst of her Targaryen impulses.

It was also weird that they replaced the actor who played Dickon during Season 6 with Tom Hopper, who played Billy Bones in the Starz series Black Sails. Because of this, it seemed the character would have some storyline importance.

Instead, pffft!

Jorah’s Cure

I’m glad Jorah is not going to turn to stone. I’m also very appreciative of Sam’s heroism in attempting the cure for Jorah’s greyscale, risking his own life.

But DAMN.

That was SUPER-GROSS to watch.

Emo Bran

Or, should I say, Non-Emo Bran?

Since he’s become the Three-Eyed Raven, he’s become SO CREEPY. It was especially horrifying to hear him recount to Sansa the details of her wedding night with Ramsay Bolton. And poor Meera Reed, who got a “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” response when she said goodbye to him. The woman risked EVERYTHING for him.

The evolution of Bran’s character has been one of the most disappointing. Hopefully, there’s more to come that will make him less of a soulless ghoul.

Season 8 Might Be Delayed Until 2019

Are you frickin’ KIDDING ME???? The final scene was such a massive cliffhanger and we might have to wait more than a year to see the conclusion????

(INCOHERENT INTERNAL SCREAMING)

Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon – Final Wrap-Up!

Once again, I would like to thank all the bloggers who participated in the Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon–so many great posts! Go HERE for a complete list of all the posts with links.

Here are two more posts that did not make it into the daily recaps:

Outspoken and Freckled asks if the workplace has really changed since the movie 9 to 5 came out.

Serendipitous Anachronisms advises those who want to get ahead to watch Working Girl.

That’s a wrap!

Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon: Day 3 Recap

It may be a day of rest for some, but we still have bloggers working hard on posts for the Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon!

In Once Upon a Screen‘s second entry for the blogathon, she looks at Billy Wilder’s classic office drama, The Apartment.

Thoughts All Sorts peeks in on the BDSM relationship between boss and employee in Secretary.

Cinemaven’s Essays from the Couch tells us The Best of Everything for young women in the 1950s was limited to marriage, with a career meant as a stepping-stone.

Cinematic Catharsis overcomes the creepy crawlies to review Arachnophobia.

MovieRob‘s second contribution to the blogathon is another melding of the horror/workplace genres, Little Shop of Horrors.

Moon in Gemini finds the sisterhood shared by the midwives in Call the Midwife realistic and poignant.

Realweegiemidget assures us the kids are all right in Adventures in Babysitting.

dbmoviesblog reminds us not to mention the war in her review of the Britcom, Fawlty Towers.

Anybody Got a Match? writes about Libeled Lady, a screwball comedy set in the newspaper industry.

If you still have a post to contribute, no worries! I will do another update tomorrow.

I am always amazed at the quality of the contributions to these blogathons, and this one was no exception. Deepest thanks to all the contributors!

 

 

Sisterhood & Heroism: Call the Midwife

This post is part of the Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon, hosted by ME. Read the rest of the posts in this event HERE!

I really don’t care for medical shows.

For one thing, I’m squeamish. For another, I hate going to the doctor or being in hospitals.

Oh, yeah. And I’m kind of a hypochondriac, so anytime I hear symptoms for a disease, I start wondering if I have it.

So when many people started enthusiastically recommending the British TV series Call the Midwife to me, I was, like, no way, ick.

As I’ve mentioned before in other posts, it’s a never-ending hunt for shows to stream for my mom, who is house-bound and disabled. I’m in the room with her a lot when she watching TV, so I end up watching what’s she’s watching whether I want to or not.

This is how I finally saw Call the Midwife, and holy moly, was I hooked from the very first minute.

Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, it concerns midwives, some of whom are Anglican nuns, who work out of a convent called Nonnatus House. They service an East End London neighborhood called Poplar. Beginning during the 1950s (now up to the early 1960s), the series traces not only the personal stories of the midwives and their patients, but the many social and cultural changes, as well as medical advances and scandals of the time period.

Told the first three seasons from the point of view of Jenny Lee (later Worth), a newly qualified midwife, the series still features narration (by Vanessa Redgrave) as the older Jenny. Nonnatus House is headed by Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter), who is loved and trusted by both the nuns and midwives. There is also Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt), who was one of the first women in Great Britain to qualify as a nurse midwife. Elderly and sometimes confused, she is nevertheless beloved by the other Nonnatus House residents. Over the years some of the other characters have come and gone, but currently there are original characters Trixie (Helen George), a midwife, Sister Mary Cynthia (Bryony Hannah), a nun who started as a midwife, and Shelagh Turner (Laura Main), a nurse/midwife who started as a nun.

Each episode features at least one childbirth, and those scenes are emotional and sometimes even terrifying. The midwives also care for patients who are not pregnant, sometimes nursing the elderly, dealing with epidemics, accidents, and the extreme poverty of some of their patients.

Not only do the patients have to cope with illness and other challenges, the women experience mental illness, alcoholism, tuberculosis, their own pregnancies, and crises of faith. The residents of Nonnatus House support each other through their many trials and joys. The love and friendship the women share is the heart of the show.

To the show’s credit, the patients they serve reflect the diversity of post-World War II London. Cultural differences and prejudice are also challenges the midwives and their patients must frequently face. The series doesn’t turn away from controversial subjects such as illegal abortion, female circumcision, and sexual slavery, among others.

If this sounds kind of dry and is making you yawn, let me clarify that the writing of this show is phenomenal, and does a masterful job of weaving the issues in with the emotional lives of the characters. They achieve this by focusing the story on these women who work so hard to give their patients the best care and their babies the best start in life.

So many of these stories could easily turn to sap, but the way the show avoids this is a careful balance of matter-of-factness and optimism. As in real life, tragedy strikes unexpectedly, and there is little time to do anything other than deal with it.

They also build stories in a way that feels very realistic—for instance, before the thalidomide scandal hits, we are shown some of the most beloved characters confidently prescribing it to patients as a way to alleviate severe morning sickness. They do not connect this to the troubling trend of babies born with deformities until the drug is pulled off the market. Watching these good people realize what they have unwittingly given to their patients is devastating.

Jessica Raine, who plays Jenny, left the series after Season 3. One of the other popular characters from the beginning of the show has also departed since (Chummy Noakes, played by the wonderful Miranda Hart). It would seem this would have hurt the show profoundly, but it has not. This is a true ensemble piece. I can envision the series carrying on for many more years with an ever-changing cast.

Call the Midwife is a rare television series that not only deals with women in the workplace, but the main characters are almost all female. The show is written and directed mostly by women.

One of the most crushing scenes of the most recent season featured nurse Trixie putting make-up on a comatose woman (a side-effect of the brand-new birth control pills) so her children wouldn’t be afraid to see her before she dies.

Women caring for other women is a theme we don’t see very often on television. Call the Midwife does it with grace and genuine insight.

 

 

Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon: Day 2 Recap

Bloggers are working their buns off, contributing more great posts for the Workplace in Film & TV blogathon!

Movies Silently takes us behind the scenes of early movie-making with A Girl’s Folly.

Sat In Your Lap embraces the lack of plausibility of the pre-code melodrama Alias the Doctor and discovers it’s an obscure gem.

The Blonde Screwball reviews the Carole Lombard/Fred MacMurray screwball comedy about a manicurist, Hands Across the Table.

A Shroud of Thoughts praises WKRP in Cincinnati as both a great workplace and character-driven comedy series.

Critica Retro traces the career path of a railway mogul played by Spencer Tracy in The Power and the Glory.

Wolffian Classic Movies Digest tackles Charlie Chaplin’s hilarious masterpiece about the rise of technology, Modern Times.

Don’t forget to join us for Day 3 tomorrow!

 

 

Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon: Day 1 Recap

Everybody ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work?

Here are the first amazing posts for the Workplace in Film & TV blogathon:

Once Upon a Screen takes a look at Meryl Streep in the Workplace: Doubt, The Devil Wears Prada, and Silkwood.

MovieMovieBlogBlog makes you appreciate your own employment situation with his review of Glengarry Glen Ross.

Silver Screenings was made a bit uncomfortable by the boss/secretary dynamic in My Dear Secretary.

Cinematic Scribblings writes about The Organizer, whose idealism may both help and hurt factory workers fighting against exploitation.

Caftan Woman reveals the classic TV show Car 54, Where Are You? is much more than just a goofy comedy.

MovieRob reviews Compliance, a movie based on a true-life incident where a prank call to a fast-food restaurant went too far.

The Midnite Drive-In found real-life inspiration while watching the film Teachers.

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society examines the The Impatient Maiden, a pre-code film about a young medical intern.

The Stop Button was disappointed the film FM squanders its cast and story set at a popular radio station.

That’s it for today! Come back tomorrow for more workplace fun!

Reminder: the Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon Starts Soon!

There’s still plenty of time to sign up for the Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon! It begins Friday, August 18 and runs through Sunday, August 20.

If you wish to join in, leave a comment here or under the original post, or contact me on Twitter (my handle is @DebbieVee).

Looking forward to a very labor-intensive blogathon!