Cleaning Out the DVR Pt. 23: Spring Cleaning Edition


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Continuing my quest to watch all these movies sitting in my DVR (so I can record more movies!), here are six more capsule reviews for you Dear Readers:

FIFTH AVENUE GIRL (RKO 1939; D: Gregory LaCava) – A minor but entertaining bit of screwball froth revolving around rich old Walter Connolly , who’s got  problems galore: his wife (the criminally underrated Veree Teasdale) is cheating on him, his son (Tim Holt in a rare comedy role) is a polo-playing twit, his daughter (Kathryn Adams) in love with the socialism-spouting chauffer (James Ellison ), and his business is facing bankruptcy because of labor union troubles. On top of all that, no one remembers his birthday! The downcast Connolly wanders around Central Park, where he meets jobless, penniless, and practically homeless Ginger Rogers, and soon life on 5th Avenue gets turned upside-down! Ellison’s in rare form as the proletariat Marxist driver, 

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Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Kitty Foyle (dir by Sam Wood)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1940 best picture nominee, Kitty Foyle!)

Kitty Foyle opens with a title card informing us that, before the film can tell us the story of Kitty Foyle, it is necessary to remind audiences of how Kitty Foyle — and so many other “white-collar” girls — arrived in their present (which is to say, 1940) situation.

We then get a strange little montage of life at the turn of the century.  A woman meets a man.  The man marries the woman.  They’re a happily married couple.  The man goes to work.  The woman takes care of the house.  The man comes home.  Everything’s perfect.  Then suddenly — oh my God, it’s the suffragettes!  They’re holding rallies!  They’re parading around with signs!  They’re demanding the right to vote!  They’re demanding prohibition!  Suddenly, women are expected to be independent and to have careers…

Which leads us to New York in the 1940s, where a bunch of women in an elevator discuss how difficult it is to find a good husband, especially now that they’re all busy working as salespeople and administrative assistants.  Apparently, this is the price that we all had to pay for the right to vote.  On the one hand, the women who cast their first votes in 1920 elected Warren G. Harding and spared the nation from another four years of Wilsonianism.  On the other hand, it’s now difficult to find a husband.

Fortunately, Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers) doesn’t have that problem.  She has a wonderful suitor, a man who has just asked her to marry him.  His name is Dr. Mark Eisen (James Craig).  He may not have a lot of money but he’s handsome, he’s considerate, and he spends all of his time providing medical care to the poor and indigent.  When Mark asks her to marry him, he asks her if she’s sure that she’s over that man from Philadelphia.  Kitty says that she is.

Of course, as soon as Kitty returns home, that man from Philadelphia is waiting for her.  Wyn Stafford VI (Dennis Morgan) is handsome, rich, and totally in love with Kitty.  Of course, he’s also married to his second wife.  (The identity of his first wife isn’t revealed until late in the film but you’ll be able to guess who she is.)  Wyn is in love with Kitty and he wants her to run away to South America with him.  Kitty says yes.

However, as Kitty is packing to leave, her reflection in the mirror starts talking to her.  It turns out to be a pretty judgmental mirror.  The rest of the film is an extended flashback, showing us how Kitty was raised by her single father (Ernest Cossart), how she first moved to New York, and how she met and fell in love with both Wyn and Mark.  Will she run off and live in wealthy sin with Wyn?  Or will she stay in New York and marry honest, hard-working Mark?

The main problem with Kitty Foyle is that there really isn’t much suspense as far as the film’s central dilemma is concerned.   Mark is a living saint who heals children.  Wyn is a heel who wants to abandon his wife and son so that he and Kitty can live in South America.  About the only thing that Wyn has going for him is that he’s got a better sense of humor than Mark but, in 1940, that wasn’t necessarily considered to be a good thing.  There’s really no question about who Kitty is going to pick and, in fact, the answer is so obvious that you kind of lose respect for Kitty when it takes her so long to make up her mind.  It’s like being told you could either marry a Nobel Peace Prize winner or someone who embezzles from a charity and replying, “Let me think about it…”

Of course, the main focus of Kitty Foyle is less on the love triangle and more on Ginger Rogers’s performance as Kitty.  This was one of Ginger’s first films after she stopped making films with Fred Astaire and it’s obvious that the film’s main theme was that Ginger Rogers could do more than just dance with Fred.  In Kitty Foyle, she gets to make jokes.  She gets to cry.  She gets to fall in love.  She gets a huge dramatic scene in which she mourns the loss of a child.  She does it all and yes, she does it very well.  Still, Kitty Foyle is never as much fun as the movies that she made with Fred.

Ginger Rogers won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Kitty Foyle, beating out Katharine Hepburn, Joan Fontaine, Bette Davis, and Martha Scott.  Kitty Foyle was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: 42nd Street (dir by Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley)


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If you’re a regular reader of this site, it will not take you by surprise to learn that the 1933 Best Picture Nominee, 42nd Street, is one of my favorite films of all time.

I mean, how couldn’t it be?  Not only is it a pre-Code film (and we all know that pre-Code films were the best) and one the features both Ginger Rogers and Dick Powell in early roles but it’s also a film that depicts the backstage world of a stage musical with such a combination of love and snark that it will be familiar to everyone from community theater nerds to Broadway veterans.  42nd Street is a classic musical, though I have to admit that I think the majority of the songs are a bit overrated.  Even more importantly, 42nd Street is the ultimate dance film.  The film’s big production number, choreographed and filmed in the brilliant and flamboyant Busby Berkeley style, is such an iconic moment that it’s still being imitated and lovingly parodied to this day.

Every dance movie owes a debt to 42nd Street but few have come close to matching it.  Remember how much we all hated Smash?  There were a lot of reasons to hate Smash but the main reason was because it tried to be 42nd Street and it failed.  There can only be one 42nd Street.

It’s hard to estimate the number of show business clichés that currently exist as a result of 42nd Street.  Then again, it can be argued that they were clichés before they showed up in 42nd Street but 42nd Street handled them in such an expert fashion that they were transformed from being urban legends to immortal mythology.

42nd Street takes place in the backstage world, following the production of a Broadway musical through casting to rehearsals to opening night.  It’s an ensemble piece, one populated by all the usual suspects.  Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) is the down-on-his-luck producer who desperately needs a hit.  Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) is the celebrated star who is dating a rich, older man (Guy Kibbee, who made quite the career out playing rich, older men) while secretly seeing her ex, a down-on-his-luck Vaudevillian (George Brent).  From the minute that we first see Dorothy, we know that she’s eventually going to end up with a boken ankle.  It’s just a question of which chorus girl will be promoted to take her place.  Will it be “Anytime” Annie (Ginger Rogers) or will it be the naive and wholesome Peggy (Ruby Keeler)?  You already know the answer but it’s still fun to watch.

If you had any doubts that this was a pre-code film, the fact that Ginger Rogers is playing a character named “Anytime” Annie should answer them.  42nd Street is often described as being a light-hearted camp spectacle but there’s a cynicism to the film, a cynicism that could only be expressed during the pre-code era.  The dialogue is full of lines that, just a few years later, would never have gotten past the censors.

(This is the film where it’s said that Anytime Annie “only said no once and then she didn’t hear the question!”  This is also the film where Guy Kibbee cheerfully tells Annie that what he does for her will depend on what she does for him.  Just try to get away with openly acknowleding the casting couch in 1936!)

The menacing shadow of the Great Depression looms over every glossy production number.  Julian needs a hit because he lost all of his money when the Stock Market crashed and if the show is not a hit, everyone involved in the production will be out on the streets.  The chorus isn’t just dancing because it’s their job.  They’re dancing because it’s an escape from the grim reality of the Great Depression and, for the audience watching, the production numbers provided a similar escape.  42nd Street said, “Yes, life is tough.  But sometimes life is fun.  Sometimes life is sexy.  Sometimes, life is worth the trouble.”  Someday, 42nd Street promises, all the misery will be worth it.

Ultimately, 42nd Street is all about that iconic, 20-minute production number:

42nd Street was nominated for best picture but it lost to the nearly forgotten Cavalcade.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #31: The Gay Divorcee (dir by Mark Sandrich)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by the end of July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

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The 31st film on my DVR was the 1934 musical, The Gay Divorcee, which I recorded on June 7th when it aired on TCM.

The Gay Divorcee is a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical, which means that the plot is less important than the dancing, the singing, and the charm.  The charm is especially important.  Don’t get me wrong — The Gay Divorcee includes some wonderful music, including Night and Day and The Continental, which went on to be the first song to win an Oscar for Best Original Song.  The dancing is incredible, as you would expect from any film featuring Astaire and Rogers.

But it’s the charm that makes The Gay Divorcee especially memorable.  Full of sophisticated dialogue delivered by a cast of wonderful 1930s character actors, The Gay Divorcee offered up an escape to a country that was still reeling from the Great Depression.  Some audiences went to a Warner Bros. gangster film and some audiences went to an Astaire/Rogers musical but what they all had in common was that the movies provided them a break from the harsh realities and hopelessness of everyday life.

As for the plot — well, it’s about rich people doing silly things.  Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) wants to get a divorce from her husband, a gynecologist named Cyril (William Austin).  Apparently, Cyril doesn’t want to give her a divorce so Mimi, her aunt (Alice Brady), and her lawyer (Edward Everett Horton) come up with a plan that could only work in an Astaire/Rogers musical.  Mimi will visit England and, while staying at a properly luxurious hotel, she will pretend to have an affair with Rodolfo Tonetti (Erik Rohodes), a professional gigolo.

However, upon arriving at the hotel, Mimi runs into Guy Holden (Fred Astaire).  Guy is a friend of Rodolfo’s and he also happens to be in love with Mimi.  Mimi, meanwhile, mistakes Guy for the gigolo and they proceed to dance the night away…

Listen, the plot doesn’t matter!  What matters is that The Gay Divorcee features Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers at their best!  This, after all, is the film that features Fred Astaire singing Cole Porter’s Night and Day

And, of course, there’s The Continental

The Gay Divorcee was one of the ten films nominated for best picture of 1934.  However, it lost to an equally charming film of the 1930s, It Happened One Night.

The Gay Divorcee was a fun and needed escape for viewers in the 30s and you know what?  We still need an escape today.

 

Cleaning Out The DVR #35: Stage Door (dir by Gregory La Cava)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of today!!!!!  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

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The 1937 film Stage Door is a great example of a unique genre of American film, the Katharine Hepburn Gets Humbled genre.

In the 1930s, Katharine Hepburn went through a period of time where she was considered to be “box office poison.”  She was undeniably talented but it was obvious that the studios weren’t sure how to showcase that talent.  They put her in high-brow films that often did not have much appeal to audiences.  As well, the press hated her.  Katharine Hepburn was outspoken, she was confident, she was a nonconformist, and, too many, her refusal to do interviews and sign autographs marked her as a snob.  Very few people wanted to see a movie starring Katharine Hepburn and therefore, very few people were willing to make a movie starring Katharine Hepburn.

(Interestingly enough, as I sit here typing this, another KH — Katharine Heigl — is pretty much in the exact same situation, with the main difference being that Hepburn was a far more interesting actress.)

Fortunately, Katharine Hepburn was smart enough to recognize the problem and she started to appear in films like Stage Door.  In Stage Door, she essentially played a character who mirrored the public’s perception of her.  Terry Randall is a snobbish and pretentious aspiring actress who comes to New York to pursue her career and moves into a theatrical rooming house.  At first, her attitude makes her unpopular with the other actresses living in the house.  But, as the film progresses, Terry slowly starts to let down her defenses and reveals that she’s just as insecure, neurotic, and vulnerable as everyone else.  She also proves herself to be willing to stand up to manipulative producers and condescending directors.  When she’s cast in her first Broadway show, it turns out that the show is being financed by her father and his hope is that she’ll do such a bad job and be so humiliated that she’ll give up acting.  And, at first, it appears that Terry will be terrible.  During rehearsals, she is stiff and mannered.  (Hepburn was actually quite brave to portray Terry as being such a believably bad actress.)

Of course, Terry isn’t the only actress at the rooming house who has issues to deal with.  For instance, Judy Canfield (Lucille Ball) has to choose between pursuing her career or getting married and starting a family.  Kay (Andrea Leeds) is a once successful actress who is now struggling to find roles, can’t pay her bills, and has become suicidal as a result.  And then there’s Jean (Ginger Rogers), Terry’s cynical roommate and frequent enemy and occasional friend.  Jean is falling in love with Anthony Powell (Adolphe Menjou), the lecherous producer of Terry’s play.

Stage Door is a wonderfully entertaining mix of melodrama and comedy.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll really find yourself hoping that all of the actresses at the rooming house will have their dreams come true.  While the film is dominated by Hepburn and Rogers, it truly is an ensemble piece.  Not only does the cast include Eve Arden, Lucille Ball and Andrea Leeds (giving the film’s best and most poignant performance) but the great dancer Ann Miller appears as Jean’s equally cynical best friend.  Stage Door may be 79 years old but it’s aged wonderfully.

At the box office, Stage Door was a modest success and it directly led to Hepburn being cast in the classic screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby.  Stage Door was nominated for best picture but it lost to The Life of Emile Zola.

Cleaning Out The DVR #28: Top Hat (dir by Mark Sandrich)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

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The 1935 film Top Hat is a film that, much like An American In Paris, is pure joy.

Top Hat features Fred Astaire as Jerry Travers, a famous dancer who has come to London to star in a show that’s being produced by his friend, Horace Harwick (Edward Everett Horton).  (Oddly enough, Gene Kelly also played a character named Jerry in An American In Paris.)  Jerry may be sophisticated and refined but he’s still enough of an American that, upon leaving a snooty British club that insists on total silence, he still breaks up the tedium with some impromptu tap moves.

Back at his hotel, Jerry is practicing a tap routine and makes such a racket that he ends up waking up the guest staying in the room below him, Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers).  When Dale goes upstairs to complain, Jerry immediately falls in love with her.  Soon, he is pursuing her all over London, trying to win her heart.  Eventually, he even follows her to Venice.

And Dale is definitely attracted to Jerry.  Whenever they get near each other, they start dancing.  (Needless to say, whether they’re dancing or talking or merely looking at each other from across the room, Astaire and Rogers have wonderful chemistry.)  However, Dale thinks that Jerry is actually Horace.  And Horace happens to be married to her friend, Madge (Helen Broderick.)  Convinced that Jerry is pursuing an adulterous affair with her, the indignant Dale makes plans to marry the Italian fashion designer, Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes).

The plot is typical screwball comedy stuff and the fact that you don’t even end up getting annoyed with all the misunderstandings is a testament to the abilities of Astaire, Rogers, and their wonderful supporting cast.  Even if not for the dancing, Top Hat would be a success because of the chemistry between the actors and film’s mix of sophistication with just pure silly fun.  I imagine that for audiences dealing with the daily realities of the Great Depression, Top Hat offered a wonderful escape.  And you know what?  It still provides a wonderful escape for today, as well.

(Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just dance this presidential election away?)

And then, of course, there’s the dancing.  That really is the main reason that we’re here, right?  Check out a few scenes.  They’ll make you happy.

(Incidentally, I’m a bit disappointed that YouTube does not feature more from Top Hat.)

Top Hat was nominated for best picture, though the award itself went to Mutiny On The Bounty, a film that did not feature quite as much dancing.

Shattered Politics #8: Magnificent Doll (dir by Frank Borzage)


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I’ve always been tempted to write one of those quizzes that you always see on Facebook, “Which American first lady should you be?”  That’s a question that I’ve often asked myself.  I know that I would not want to be any of our most recent first ladies.  (Sorry, Michelle.  Sorry, Laura.  Sorry, Hillary.)  Occasionally, I think that I would have liked to have been Jacqueline Kennedy, if not for what happened in Dallas.  Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice, is definitely a historical role model for me but it’s debatable whether she could truly be considered a first lady.  And, of course, there’s always Grover Cleveland’s wife Julia but ultimately, for me, there’s really only one choice.

If I could be any American first lady, I would be Dolley Madison.

Dolley, of course, was the wife of James Madison, who was not only our fourth President but also one of the smartest.  Madison was a skilled writer and scholar but he had absolutely no social skills.  Dolley, on the other hand, was vivacious and was, by the standards of the dentistry-free days of the 19th Century, one of the most beautiful women in America. Whereas James was uncomfortable meeting with people and struggled to express himself, Dolley was the world’s greatest hostess, bringing opposing forces together through the sheer force of her own charm and ability to throw a great party.  When the British invaded Washington D.C. during the War of 1812, Dolley was the one who saved the famous portrait of George Washington from being burned with the rest of the White House.

So, yes, I would definitely be Dolley Madison.

(Yes, I know that there’s some debate over whether her name should be spelled Dolly, Dolley, or Dollie.  I spell it Dolley and since I would have been her, I think my opinion counts for something.)

It’s a shame that there haven’t been many movies made about Dolley Madison.  Perhaps the best known is 1946’s Magnificent Doll, which is not a very good movie but which is amusing if you know something about history.

Magnificent Doll opens with young Dolley Payne (Ginger Rogers) being forced to marry John Todd (Horace McNally), a much older lawyer.  (John saved the life of Dolley’s father and, in gratitude, Dolley’s father gave him his daughter.)  Though John falls in love with her, Dolley refuses to show him any sign of affection and good for her!  (Seriously, arranged marriages suck.)  But then John dies of yellow fever and Dolley declares that she did love him all along.

But life goes on!

Soon, Dolley and her mother are running a boarding house in Philadelphia.  Fortunately, they happen to be running it at the same time that the Continental Congress is attempting to write the Constitution.  Several of the delegates are staying at the boarding house and two of them take a romantic interest in Dolley.

First there’s Aaron Burr (David Niven), a charming scoundrel who appeals to Dolley’s wild side.  Aaron does things like take her to a bar and kiss her underneath a staircase.  Aaron is vain.  Aaron is self-absorbed.  Aaron is an ambitious and charismatic brooder whose moods can be unpredictable.  Aaron is exiting!  Aaron is dangerous!  Aaron is a rebel!

And then you’ve got Aaron’s friend, James Madison (Burgess Meredith).  James is shy and gentle.  He’d rather read a book than go out.  He’s the type of smart kid who all the other kids make fun of but he’s also a good, decent man who has a great future ahead of him.  He just needs someone to bring him out of his shell.

In short, Aaron is the type of boy that you hope invites you to prom.  James is the type of boy that you marry.

And, when Dolley does marry James, it sends Aaron Burr into such a tail spin that he nearly prevents Thomas Jefferson from becoming President in 1800…

And, needless to say, this film is in no way historically accurate.  It is true that Aaron Burr was nearly elected President in 1800 and, had he been, Thomas Jefferson would never have been President.  However, most historians seem to agree that has more to do with Aaron Burr being ambitious and nothing to do with Dolley Madison.  In the end, Magnificent Doll may be amusing in its inaccuracies but bad history is still bad history.

That said, there’s still a part of me that enjoyed Magnificent Doll, despite the fact that it moves way too slowly and none of the actors (with the exception of David Niven) appear to be all that invested in their roles.  I think, ultimately, the reason I enjoyed Magnificent Doll was because it really is basically just a YA version of American history and, as a result, it does have some curiosity value.  One gets the feeling that if Magnificent Doll were released today, it would be split into two different films and that it would be promoted on social media with hashtags reading #TeamAaron and #TeamJames.

That said, if there’s any first lady who deserves a biopic (one that’s good as opposed to so-bad-its-interesting) it’s Dolley Madison.  (Personally, I would cast Amy Adams in the role.)  #TeamDolley all the way!