Libeled Lady

After I returned home from work, I watched “Libeled Lady,” which had four big stars, Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy.  It seemed at the beginning that the focus was going to be on Tracy and Harlow, but Powell took over the story.  He had one of those scenes in which he went fishing and fell into the water numerous times while accidentally hooking a big fish, which was all predictable but still funny.  The plot had a bit of “The Gay Divorcee” in it, although it seemed like a questionable way to getting the job done.  Loy’s character is suing the New York Evening Star, Tracy’s employer, for $5 million.  Concocting a marriage scheming to get Powell alone with Loy was a roundabout, unreliable way to get the suit dropped.  None of these reporters was looking at what kind of person she was, who her friends were, and how to influence her.  Naturally, the plan goes awry, as the principals, Connie and Bill, fall in love.  It was a bit difficult to believe that Tracy’s and Harlow’s characters, Warren and Gladys, were about to get married.  Gladys did get a chance to fire off some of the sharpest bits of dialogue when she confronts Connie.  What happens in a comedy like this couldn’t play out in real life, particularly in the long tun, as Connie’s feelings for Bill were based on deception.  Her initial suspicions about him were correct, and it was a few days of his company that turned her around.  Once the equilibrium is restored, however, she will see things she doesn’t like.  When I watch these movies from the 1930s, I see that there were more comedies that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in the early days.  Some of the comedies that actually won the Best Picture Oscar were “It Happened One Night,” “You Can’t Take It with You,” “The Sting,” and “Annie Hall.”  People sometimes complain about the bias towards drama in giving out these awards.  The reason that “Libeled Lady” didn’t win is that it only touches on the deeper emotions.  It mentions them in passing, as Gladys suffers her disappointments or Connie has her suspicions.  The script here felt like it had touches of Preston Sturges, with a bit of a reversal of “The Lady Eve.”  It was headed towards bigamy, and so there was a bit of playing with the audience, giving a bit of suspense.  The ending wasn’t totally satisfactory.  Gladys seemed to have a simmering unhappiness about the whole thing.  Movie audiences saw William Powell and Myrna Loy as a screen couple, but it was Powell and Harlow who were planning to get married, but Harlow died before that could happen.  She was filming “Saratoga” when she began to feel ill.  Initially, there was no real concern, but she came to look gray and bloated, and Clark Gable would later say that he smelled urine on her breath.  She was taken to a hospital, slipped into a coma, and died on June 7, 1937.  She was only 26.  She was buried in the gown she wore in “Libeled Lady” with a white gardenia and a note from Powell in her hands.  “Sarasota” was finished using doubles and revising the script, and it was released on July 23, 1937.  It was one of MGM’s biggest movies of the year.  In my lifetime, I remember Harlow’s name mentioned in the Kim Carnes song “Bette Davis Eyes”: “Her hair is Harlow gold.”  Today is a birthday for Trent Reznor (53), Craig Ferguson (56), Bob Saget (62), and Gary Paulsen (79).

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Anthony Adverse

I worked for a long time writing my final exam.  I watched “Anthony Adverse,” a movie from 1936 starring Fredric March, Olivia de Havilland, Edmund Gwenn, and Claude Rains.  Gale Sondergaard won the first Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Faith Paleologus.  Tony Curtis’ favorite novel was “Anthony Adverse,” and he was buried with a copy of it when he died in 2010.  The story had a woman dying while giving birth to a son, with the husband leaving the baby at a convent.  When the boy is ten years old, in one of those wild coincidences, he is sent to become an apprentice to his real grandfather.  The scene in which he gets stripped naked was unusual.  The boy becomes a man who looks like Fredric March, who falls in love with the cook’s daughter Angela, who looks like Olivia de Havilland.  He is sent off to Havana to deal with a debtor and becomes involved with slave trading.  He returns to Paris to look for Angela.  Fredric March reminded me of Laurence Olivier.  I didn’t understand why Anthony wasn’t able to contact Angela or vice versa, even if all of this was happening two hundred years ago.  There was also an attempt to kill Anthony by force his carriage to veer off the side of a mountain, but it only led to the death of Don Luis’ driver and the loss of the carriage.  Don Luis and Faith were stranded, and I had to wonder how they ever made it to Paris.  The ending of the film brought to mind “Kramer vs. Kramer,” but really wasn’t an ending at all, as the situation with Angela wasn’t resolved, and it’s really the start of the part of the story that takes place in the United States.  Anthony still has to deal with money.  Olivia de Havilland was twenty years old when this film was released, and I am still amazed that she is still alive.  I read that this film was considered the worst to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.  I would say that it isn’t even close to “Doctor Dolittle.”  The story had elements of a Charles Dickens novel, although it switched to locations around the world.  I didn’t get how this was supposed to be a spiritual journey, as Anthony did suffer guilt over the death of Brother Francois, but money was still controlling his life.  It was curious how his son dropped everything to follow him.  It was almost comical how there was an intersection of the characters with Napoleon.  It rather reminded me in fact of “Love and Death.”  The movie did win four Oscars, including cinematography and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score.  I liked watching Fredric March more in this film than in some of this others, when he becomes irritating.  I heard about the death of Tom Wolfe, who wrote “The Right Stuff.”  I read only “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” and it didn’t change my life.  Kathie Lee Gifford praised it years ago, and I wished I could forget I heard her.  Some of the people who died on May 17 include Sandro Botticelli (1510), Paul Dukas (1935), Lawrence Welk (1992), Henry Jones (1999), Dave Berg (2002), Frank Gorshin (2005), Donna Summer (2012), and Guy Clark (2016).

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Les Misérables

After I returned home, I sat down to watch “Les Misérables,” not the musical of a few years ago, but the 1935 movie with Fredric March as Jean Valjean.  I had seen the musical version from 2012 several times, and I appreciated how this film went along at a good pace, and without Anne Hathaway.  The scene in which Valjean was given the silver candlesticks was quite powerful.  Charles Laughton was Javert, and he was memorable as this relentless hunter.  When Russell Crowe played this character, he hardly inspired any emotion other than the dread of having to hear him sing.  When Cosette wants to stay behind for Marius, it feels like a horrible mistake, and we really feel like Valjean is in eminent danger with the violence right outside the door.  When it was Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne, I didn’t think anything was going to happen.  I didn’t see why Valjean cut the ropes tying Javert’s hands.  I also don’t know why he confessed to his real identity at the trial and then complained about the confiscation of the money.  It’s like he lost any sense of the real world.  Cosette was such a fool for secretly seeing Marius.  It put Valjean’s life at risk, and Marius seemed like a real chump to begin with.  I was curious about Rochelle Hudson and so looked up some information about her.  She was in “She Done Him Wrong” and “Rebel Without a Cause,” as well as a television show called “That’s My Boy” with Gil Stratton.  In 1972, someone found her dead in her home, sprawled on the bathroom floor.  She was only 55.  John Carradine was a notable member of the cast.  Gregg Toland was the cinematographer.  I didn’t know very much about the director Richard Boleslawski.  He made movies with Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Boyer, and Irene Dunne.  He died in the middle of the production of “The Last of Mrs. Cheyney” with Joan Crawford, William Powell, Robert Montgomery, and Frank Morgan.  There were many differences of this version of “Les Misérables” with the novel, like the absence of the character Gavroche, but I liked watching this film more than the 2012 musical.  I thought this was one of best performances I’ve seen from Fredric March, although I don’t remember “I Married a Witch” or “Death of a Salesman.”  This film doesn’t end with the death of Valjean.  Producers never wanted to end their Hollywood movies on a sad note.  I thought about those candlesticks and why Valjean didn’t sell them.  There is a lot to think about in this film.  I’d like to see it again one of these days.  According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for May 16, “Great Day in the Morning,” starring Robert Stack, was released.  In 1966, Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” album was released.  In 1970, the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album “Déjà vu” reached Number One on the album chart.  In 1986, the ninth season finale of “Dallas” aired on CBS, revealing that Bobby Ewing was still alive and that the entire season was his wife’s dream.  Also in 1986, “Top Gun” was released. Today is Pierce Brosnan’s 65th birthday.

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The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

I watched “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.”  The star was Gary Cooper, and the story was about the British cavalry in Bengal.  Cooper was Lieutenant MacGregor, in charge of newcomers Forsythe and Stone, the commanding officer’s son.  The movie goes on about impartiality and proper military behavior, but you have to question the presence of the British in this region of the world.  When Hitler says that this was one of his favorite films, you have to at least feel uncomfortable about it.  The movie reminded me of “Gunga Din.”  The younger Stone was a frustrating character, like a kid who causes Charles Bronson to die in “The Magnificent Seven.”  A woman led to his downfall, and he was in an impossible situation.  Only Gary Cooper could have been heroic enough and dumb enough to rescue this youngster.  I couldn’t see how he and Franchot Tone could have applied makeup that was convincing enough for them to pass themselves as carpet sellers.  Where did they get that stuff to sell, anyway?  We didn’t get to see the torture scene, which involved removal of fingernails.  There was a difference between a movie like this and “Marathon Man.”  The three prisoners at the end have to formulate a plan to keep the Bengal Lancers from getting slaughtered.  In Hollywood, you can use the gunpowder from a few bullets to do just about anything.  How do you get to the gunpowder, anyway?  Is it like opening a bottle of aspirin?  What do you use for a fuse, and how do you know that it’s going to work?  I wondered how someone like Cooper would react to getting shot.  Would he have anything left to a heroic act, or would the pain be just too overwhelming?  The ending reminded me of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer” was one of the better Gary Cooper movies that I’ve seen.  Funny that I should be seeing this movie during the week that a royal wedding will be on television.  I wondered about Gary Cooper’s last days.  On December 27, 1960 his wife learned about the spread of his cancer to his lungs and bones.  He learned that he was dying on February 27, 1961.  On April 18, the day after the Academy Awards ceremony, newspapers around the world announced the he was dying.  He made his last public statement on May 4, and he died on May 13, six days after turning 60.  The friends who attended his funeral on May 18 included James Stewart, Henry Hathaway, Joel McCrea, Audrey Hepburn, John Ford, John Wayne, Edward G. Robinson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Randolph Scott, Walter Pidgeon, Bob Hope, and Marlene Dietrich.  Henry Hathaway, the director of “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer,” would also work on “True Grit.”  Some of the people who died on May 16 include Django Reinhardt (1953), Andy Kaufman (1984), Margaret Hamilton (1985), Sammy Davis, Jr. (1990), and Jim Henson (1990).  Today is a birthday for Pierce Brosnan (65) and Danny Trejo (74).

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One Night of Love

After I returned home from work, I watched a Supergirl episode and then sat down for “One Night of Love,” a movie from 1934 about a singer named Mary Barrett who puts herself under the control of the maestro Monteverdi to make it to the opera.  It would be hard to believe that a movie with classical music at its center could be a hit today, although something like “Amadeus” might have a case.  Grace Moore was Mary Barrett.  Moore made her debut in opera with the Metropolitan Opera, performing the role of Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme.  “One Night of Love” was about the relationship between Mary and Monteverdi, as Monteverdi puts Mary through physical training before she gets to sing even a single note.  He puts books on her stomach and tells her to move them using her diaphragm.  He has her eating meals of melba toast and spinach.  The preparation for musical performance seemed to have something in common with training for boxing.  Mary’s insecurity and stage fright were annoying to the extreme, and I couldn’t see how Monteverdi could tolerate so much of it.  He has to deal with her growing ego.  I thought he would be more devious at the end, because as in “All About Eve,” there is always a younger person waiting for a chance to replace the old guard.  I guess you could say that this story had a bit of “My Fair Lady” in it, with Monteverdi having less of a sense of humor than Rex Harrison did.  The funny thing was that I briefly saw Rex Harrison in a Dick Cavett Show from 1979 last night.  Monteverdi has to go through the wringer to get Mary out there on the stage for her role of Carmen.  A couple of the opera scenes made me wish that this film had been photographed in color.  Mary was the jealous type, and I couldn’t imagine a happy ending with her.  The opera scene at the end is from Madame Butterfly.  I wondered how much Monteverdi could have really helped her in that situation.  Grace Moore received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for “One Night of Love.”  The other nominees were Claudette Colbert for “It Happened One Night,” Bette Davis for “Of Human Bondage,” and Norma Shearer for “The Barretts of Wimpole Street,” and Colbert won the award.  Moore went on to be in “The King Steps Out,” “When You’re in Love,” and her last film, “Louise” in 1939.  She was 48 when she died in a plane crash near the Copenhagen airport on January 26, 1947.  “One Night of Love” gave movie audiences a taste of opera, not too much of it at one time for the impatient masses.  Moore was a better singer than an actress, but she need have some great moments up on the screen.  According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for May 15, Tony Bennett won the Grammy for Record of the Year for “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” while Robert Goulet won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1963.  In 1968, “The Swimmer,” starring Burt Lancaster and Joan Rivers in one of her first film appearances, was released.  In 1971, Three Dog Night was Number One on the singles chart for a fifth week with “Joy to the World.”  In 1976, the Sylvers had the Number One single, “Boogie Fever.”  In 1981, “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island” aired on NBC.  In 1998, “Bulworth,” starring Warren Beatty and Halle Berry, was released.  In 2003, June Carter Cash died of complications from heart valve surgery at age 73.

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The Gay Divorcee

I watched “The Gay Divorcee,” the second of the pictures starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  The plot had to do with a woman seeking a divorce and mistaken identity, although none of that really mattered, as everyone just wanted to see the dancing and singing.  Ginger Rogers did stand out in this cast, and we would see some of the same people again in “Top Hat.”  She had a scene in which her dress is torn, reminding me again that in the movies, clothes get torn easily compared to real life.  Fred’s pursuit of Ginger gets to the point of being dangerous with their cars going down the road.  In the context of today’s world, would this aggressive behavior be looked upon as harassment?  Fred literally puts up a road block to have a few words with her.  The soundtrack could have used more of Cole Porter, but it still has “Night and Day.”  The big number is “The Continental.”  At one point, Fred cuts out paper figures to cast a shadow on the wall as a bit of deception that was unbelievable.  The story had more to it than “Top Hat,” at least in terms of suggestive humor.  The screenplay didn’t separate this picture from countless comedies of average quality.  It was Astaire and Rogers do the dancing, the big production gave the audience a lot to look at, and the songs were pretty good.  Mark Sandrich directed “Top Hat,” “Follow the Fleet,” “Shall We Dance,” and “Carefree.”  He worked on some entertaining films.  He was only 44 when he died in 1945.  Ginger Rogers was popular through the 1940s, winning an Oscar for “Kitty Foyle” and appearing in Billy Wilder’s first film, “The Major and the Minor.”  Her career declined in the 1950s, but she did appear in Howard Hawks’ “Monkey Business” and also “We’re Not Married.”  Her last film was “Harlow” with Carol Lynley in 1965.  She appeared on television on “Here’s Lucy” in 1971 and “The Love Boat” in 1979, and her last role was in “Hotel” in 1987.  Fred Astaire’s last musical film was Francis Ford Coppola’s “Finian’s Rainbow” in 1968 with Petula Clark.  The last time he danced on screen was for the television series “Battlestar Galactica” in 1979.  His last film was “Ghost Story” in 1981.  I thought “The Gay Divorcee” was a good film, although “Top Hat” was the one I will remember.  I heard the news that Margot Kidder had died.  She was 69 years old.  She married three times, to writer Thomas McGuane, actor John Heard, and director Phillipe de Broca.  During the 1980s, she was in “Willie and Phil,” “Some Kind of Hero,” and three Superman movies.  She was in a confusing Tab commercial that promoted calcium in 1986.  She faded from view in the 1990s.  I’ll remember her for the first two Superman films.  Some of the people who died on May 15 include Emily Dickinson (1886), Edward Hopper (1967), June Carter Cash (2003), and Barbara Stuart (2011).  Today is a birthday for George Brett (65) and Chazz Palminteri (72).

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Flirtation Walk

I am still not used to not having Me TV on Sunday nights for Columbo. I instead watched “Flirtation Walk,” a movie from 1934. The title was not the greatest, as it makes a reference to something that is not central to the story, and the main character is in the Army. Dick Powell is a private and somehow instantly falls in love with the general’s daughter Kit, played by Ruby Keeler. His rival Biddle is an officer. Dick is about to desert but decided to apply to West Point to compete with Biddle. There was a beautiful luau scene on the Hawaiian beach. I wondered how they set up those shots, which had a Busby Berkeley quality. Dick had a magical singing voice, shown on “Hawaii Aloha.” At West Point, the men perform the Hundredth Night, which had a slight resemblance to something that was in Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion.” It seemed that the behavior of the principal characters was totally unbelievable in a military setting, as it involved punching and leaving the base. Dick did a couple of things that were unacceptable, and it would be difficult that this person would go on to succeed at West Point in a manner that was somewhat like Richard Gere in “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Kit plays a female general, which was outlandish in 1934 and was symbolic of women in relationships. I didn’t see Kit’s magnetism in this movie, although she did have chemistry with Dick Powell, as they were in “42nd Street” the year before. It doesn’t seem that too many people remember the director Frank Borzage, who also worked on “7th Heaven” and “Smilin’ Through.” The movie tries to make the case that people like Dick are the heart of the Army. I don’t know why anyone should have anything against the officers. It’s really an appeal to the audience that went out to movie theatres in the 1930s. I don’t know if anyone remembers this movie, especially in the light of something like “On the Town.” It might have been fun to see a movie like this in color, especially the scenes in Hawaii. I’m not sure that we really wanted to see this story take a turn to a setting like West Point. I listened to the Robert Hilburn Rock ‘n’ Roll Times radio program on KCSN using I Heart Radio. He played music from The Kills, Ron Sexsmith, and The White Stripes. I was too sleepy to continue reading his Paul Simon biography. I caught the NBA score, as the Celtics decisively won over the Cavaliers. I’m wondering, as everyone else is, how the Warriors will do in Game 1 against the Rockets. Are we going to see a rematch of 1986 with the Celtics and the Rockets? I’m not too sure that I want to be reminded of that year. According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for May 14, “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, was released in 1938. In 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young announced their breakup. In 1977, Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You” was Number One on the singles chart. In 1989, NBC aired the final episode of “Family Ties.” In 1998, Frank Sinatra died of a heart attack at age 82 in Los Angeles. Also in 1998, the last episode of “Seinfeld” aired on NBC. In 2015, B.B. King died in his sleep at age 89.

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