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TFTMM on… My Fair Lady (1964)

Well, it’s May 20, so let’s celebrate “Eliza Doolittle Day” with My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison!

This is, obviously, the tale of common flower girl Eliza Doolittle, as played by Audrey Hepburn.  After listening to Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) bragging that he could help her improve her English enough to work in a flower shop, she comes to his home, offering to pay for some lessons.  Professor Higgins’ guest, Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White), makes a bet that Professor Higgins can’t teach her proper English and how to be a lady in time for the Embassy Ball, which Henry takes him up on. Eliza struggles for a while, but finally gets a handle on it.  Sadly, things don’t go quite as well as they had hoped when Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering take Eliza to the races.  However, Professor Higgins is determined, and they keep working to prepare Eliza for the Embassy Ball.

Of course, we can’t discuss My Fair Lady without mentioning the music!  The music is most of the fun with this movie, with songs such as “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On The Street Where You Live” and many others!  I personally enjoy “I Could Have Danced All Night” the most, but I can easily put on the movie’s soundtrack, and be smiling (and dancing) in short order!  It’s just that much fun!

I should address one of the biggest controversies associated with this movie: Audrey Hepburn’s casting as Eliza instead of Julie Andrews.  Personally, I like Audrey better as an actress and very much prefer her in this role.  I know, she couldn’t handle all of Eliza’s songs, which is why she was dubbed for most of her songs (although she can be heard during a couple of songs, most notably the first part of “Just You Wait”).  I know a lot of the blame lies with two people: Jack Warner (the head of Warner Brothers) and William S. Paley (the president of CBS).  William Paley had financed the Broadway show and held the rights, so he apparently asked for a lot of money.   Besides the high cost of the film rights, Warner Brothers would only have the film rights for a short period of time before the movie reverted to CBS, so Jack Warner needed the movie to be a BIG hit, way too much of a financial risk to rely on the then-unknown Julie Andrews, who had yet to appear on the big screen at the time this movie was being cast. For me, Audrey did a wonderful job, and I just can’t imagine anybody else in that role!

It took me some time, but this is a movie I have come to enjoy very, very much!  I mainly saw it at first due to my late grandmother, who really liked it.  I didn’t care for it as much, but I still enjoyed watching it with her. I probably didn’t really start to care for the movie until we finally made the upgrade to Blu-ray and a high-definition television (which happened long after my grandmother passed away). I enjoyed watching it far more than I thought I would. Not much later, I heard about a new restoration of the movie on the way. I would end up seeing that new restoration when it premiered in theatres (the first of two times I have had the good fortune to see this wonderful movie on the big screen), and again (and again) with the Blu-ray for that restoration! I very much understand why my grandmother enjoyed it, and it has been yearly viewing around May 20 ever since! So, obviously, I recommend this movie!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from CBS Home Entertainment, and is two hours, fifty-three minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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TFTMM on… Two Weeks In Another Town (1962)

Here we are for the 1962 movie Two Weeks In Another Town, starring Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson and Cyd Charisse.

Washed-up actor Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas) has been staying at a sanitarium due to his alcoholism and general life issues. He got a message from his frequent director Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson) to come to Rome and do a small part in the movie he was working on. Once there, however, he finds that there is no part, but Kruger asks for his help in getting the dubbing done for the movie. Of course, he finds the whole production to be a mess, with a quick deadline in which to finish the entire movie before somebody else is brought in to do it, the leading man (George Hamilton) is angry with the whole business and Kruger is apparently having an affair with the leading lady (and his wife knows about it, too). When Kruger has a heart attack, Jack tries to help finish the movie.

I have to admit, going into this movie, I had some relatively low expectations due to a lot of what I had read. The movie is the follow-up to what is considered one of the best dramas about Hollywood itself, The Bad And The Beautiful, which also stars Kirk Douglas and was directed by Vincente Minelli (heck, this movie even shows a few scenes from that movie as an “example” of what Andrus and Kruger had done before). I haven’t seen the earlier film, and I admit, it wasn’t one I had any interest in. I tried this movie because of actress (and dancer) Cyd Charisse (although having Kirk Douglas and Edward G. Robinson in this movie didn’t hurt, either). In spite of what I had heard previously, I ended up enjoying the movie and the performances of all the actors and actresses involved. And right now, I admit to also being curious about the earlier movie as well.

Does this movie have flaws? Yes. I’m not thrilled with the fact that Kirk Douglas’s character is somewhat abusive with some (but not necessarily all) of the female characters (but then again, outside of Daliah Lavi’s Veronica, very few characters come out of this movie looking squeaky-clean for one reason or another). The movie is a little loose with its plot (although, from what I’ve read, nowhere near as much as the novel it is based on). Part of the problem here is apparently how involved the censors and studio executives were in trying to make this more of a family movie (and how well they did with that is debatable for the reason I already specified). The use of rear projection screens is also somewhat disconcerting and quite noticeable, especially in a later scene when you should be feeling a little more fear because of how Jack Andrus is driving, but the rear projection really takes you out of the moment. If, and only if, you can get past these points, then I do think this is an enjoyable movie, and one I would recommend.

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, forty-seven minutes in length.

My Rating: 7/10

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TFTMM on… Road To Zanzibar (1941)

Time to hit the road again! This time we’re on the Road To Zanzibar, again with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour!

Carnival performers Chuck Reardon (Bing Crosby) and “Fearless” (Hubert) Frazier (Bob Hope) have to go on the run after they accidentally burn down a carnival. Instead of buying tickets to go back home, Chuck Reardon buys what turned out to be a phony diamond mine.  When Fearless sells it to a dangerous man, they end up on the run again. They run into Donna Latour (Dorothy Lamour) and Julia Quimby (Una Merkel), a pair of con artists who persuade Chuck and Fearless to take them on a safari to find Donna’s “father” (who is in reality a millionaire that Donna wants to marry). Thing is, while on safari, both Chuck and Fearless fall in love with Donna, and she starts to develop feelings for one of them (and if you know the series, you can guess which one).

For the second film in the Road series, more of the series’ trademarks are falling into place. Bing and Bob bring back their “patty-cake” routine from Road To Singapore, acknowledging that film when, in the first of the two times they use it in this movie, the guy they try to use it on gets them first. Then, of course, there are those marvelous quips by both Bing and Bob, not to mention we see their type of relationship more solidified. Admittedly, this is probably the most politically incorrect movie in the series, in between the background images for the opening credits and the cannibalistic African tribe that they have to deal with.

Personally, I really enjoy this movie and all its wonderful comedic moments. One moment would definitely have to be when Fearless Frazier has to fight a gorilla (ok, so it’s just a person in a gorilla suit). It’s an amusing fight, with Chuck periodically lighting matches from outside the cage to distract the gorilla (although he distracts Fearless at least once). Then, of course, there’s the song “It’s Always You,” which mocks the moments in musicals where the background music just comes out of nowhere. I could easily list quite a few more, but I do like this movie and would easily recommend it (at least, if you can get past the politically incorrect stuff).

This movie has been made available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (and has been available on DVD for years from Universal Studios). The transfer on the new Blu-ray looks about as good as I’ve ever seen the movie, with only a few scratches here and there, and is the way I would certainly recommend seeing the movie. The movie is one hour, thirty-two minutes in length.

My Rating: 8/10

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Top 10 Dance Routines

Well, I seem to have made it to the 100 post mark for this blog, so I felt the need to celebrate! Considering I have always been quite fond of musicals, which originally inspired me to take up dancing, I feel like doing my top 10 dance routines from the movies! Now, I did set up a few limits. Mainly, I tried to limit the number of dance routines featuring any specific dancers to about one solo routine and one partnered routine per person (otherwise, I could easily list quite a few for some dancers with ease)! I should also mention, that it’s not just the dancing itself, but sometimes the music that influences my opinion as well. Again, this list is entirely my own opinion, and not necessarily even my favorite dance routines and/or songs, but those that just mesh well. They will be presented as song, dancer(s), movie.

1. “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” Fred Astaire, Blue Skies

Fred Astaire’s big tap solo that was originally intended to be his last, as he went into retirement after this movie (which, thankfully, was short-lived). This routine allowed Fred to show he still had some considerable skill, improved by using special effects, such as his cane flying into his hand from the ground. But most famously, we have Fred dancing with a background chorus that consisted entirely of him (long before the days of CGI), which demonstrates just how well-rehearsed and precise he could be with his movements!

2. “Never Gonna Dance,” Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Swing Time

While Fred Astaire partnered with a number of talented ladies over his career, few are better remembered than Ginger Rogers, who brought her talents as a dramatic actress to the table. It took a lot of thought to pick which one of their routines to add to this list, but I went with “Never Gonna Dance.” This wonderful dance showcases their dramatic abilities, coupled with superb dancing (not to mention beautiful music that also brings back “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Waltz In Swing Time”)!

3. “Singin’ In The Rain,” Gene Kelly, Singin’ In The Rain

Of course, no list of famous dances would be complete without this classic! You can’t help but smile when thinking of Gene Kelly’s iconic dance, joyful in what could otherwise be depressing weather! So grab an umbrella and start dancing (and singing!) in the rain!

4. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” Marge and Gower Champion, Lovely To Look At

For me, this one just HAS to be on the list. The husband-and-wife dance team of Marge and Gower Champion wasn’t renowned for their acting ability, and neither made a huge mark in the movies, but this movie (and most particularly this routine) was one of their best. From their kiss at the beginning of the routine that sends them “up among the stars” to the end of the routine, we are treated to some wonderful dancing, some superb lifts and one of the most beautiful orchestrations of this (or any other song) that I’ve had the chance to enjoy!!

5. “Barn Dance,” group dance, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers

Ok, so I’m simplifying things by calling it a group dance, but if I listed everybody, you’d spend too much time reading that list! But still, who can pass up the chance to watch the six brothers constantly one-up the men from town as they show off for the ladies! Between the music, the high-flying leaps and flips, this is always fun!

6. “Make ‘Em Laugh,” Donald O’Connor, Singin’ In The Rain

Yep, Donald O’Connor’s classic comedy dance is here, too! While the music might have borrowed heavily from the Cole Porter tune “Be A Clown,” Donald brought all of his abilities to hear, with pratfalls, and many different comedy bits (and some dancing as well)! Always fun to watch (and good for a laugh)!

7. “Ragamuffin Romeo,” Marion Stadler and Don Rose, King Of Jazz

As I’ve said before, a wonderful example of some old vaudeville style dancing! While neither of the two dancers here have any lasting fame, what they do is still impressive! She’s supposed to a doll made up of rags, and, with her flexibility, she acts and moves just like it! The lifts are just phenomenal, and I could easily watch this dance!

8. “Yankee Doodle Boy/ GiveMy Regards To Broadway,” James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy

While he was a song-and-dance man himself, James Cagney ended up being typecast as a gangster for a lot of his movies with Warner Brothers. But this movie (and most particularly these two songs paired together) helped change that. Cagney successfully portrayed George M. Cohan, making use of the real Cohan’s style of dance, while still maintaining his own!

9. “Honolulu,” Eleanor Powell and Gracie Allen, Honolulu

This is one of those dances I just love to watch! For me, it was this dance that proved to me what I had heard many times, that Eleanor Powell was one of the few women at that time who could out-dance Fred Astaire. The music is fun, as is watching Gracie Allen dancing with Eleanor, but once Eleanor starts with her solo section, that’s when the real fun begins! I love watching her tap dance and jump rope at the same time (since I would probably get tangled up if I tried)!

10. “Heather On The Hill,” Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, Brigadoon

As wonderful a dancer as she is, of course Cyd Charisse needed to be represented on this list! While there are other dances that she did that I enjoyed more (but can’t include because of my own silly rules), I can’t deny the beauty of this duet with Gene Kelly. With some beautiful music to help, this romantic routine with its lifts and balletic quality is certainly still worthy of inclusion!

Well, that’s my list! I hope everyone enjoyed it (and I’d certainly like to hear what everybody else’s lists would be)! Also, if there’s enough demand/ interest, later on I might just do a “Top 5 Dance Routines I Would Love To Learn!” But that’s all for now!

TFTMM on… Mame (1974)

Time for us to “open a new window” and dig into the 1974 musical version of Mame, starring Lucille Ball.

In the late 1920s, young Patrick Dennis’ (Kirby Furlong) father Edward Dennis dies unexpectedly, and he is sent, along with his nanny Agnes Gooch (Jane Connell), to live with his flapper Aunt Mame (Lucille Ball).  She tries to raise him her way, but Dennis’ will had stayed that Patrick should be raised traditionally. The representative of the Knickerbocker Bank (who is supposed to reimburse Mame for raising Patrick the right way) discovered that Mame wasn’t raising him right, and so took him away and put him in a boarding school. Of course, this is also the same time the stock market crashed, so Mame has been wiped out and must find work. She meets Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Robert Preston), who falls for her and they spend a few years together until he dies in an avalanche. Meanwhile, Patrick has grown older (now played by Bruce Davison), still loving his Aunt Mame, but he has become more traditional like his father had intended, much to Mame’s dismay.

Personally, I’d like to think that this movie qualifies as a Christmas movie. I know, it’s only for about fifteen to twenty minutes near the beginning of the movie and it supposedly takes place just before Thanksgiving, but I think it’s still enough. It’s a wonderful scene in which we get to see how much Mame and Patrick mean to each other, along with Agnes Gooch and Mame’s butler Ito (George Chiang). We get the song “We Need A Little Christmas,” which evokes the feeling of wanting positive feelings and memories and the general spirit of Christmas, particularly when life was otherwise threatening to drag them down.

I admit, I was a little wary going into this movie after having read a number of negative reviews about the movie, specifically with regards to Lucy’s singing ability (or lack thereof). I will agree, she really couldn’t sing (and I certainly feel sorry for the sound technicians who had to piece together what we did get from many different takes). And I will agree that maybe she might have been too old for the part, but as an actress and comedienne, I like her very well in the role, and I certainly enjoy listening to her and Beatrice Arthur as Mame’s friend Vera Charles trading insults for the “Bosom Buddies ” number. It’s not the best movie in the world, but it is just good fun, and one I would suggest trying out!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is two hours, eleven minutes in length.

My Rating: 7/10

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TFTMM on… Maytime (1937)

Let’s celebrate the month of May by digging into the Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy musical Maytime.

Jeanette MacDonald plays Marcia Mornay, a rising opera star under the tutelage of Nicolai Nazaroff (John Barrymore). When she is presented to the court of emperor Louis Napoleon, Nicolai convinces an important composer to write an opera for her. Later, Nicolai proposes to her, and she accepts out of gratitude. In her excitement, she is unable to sleep and takes a carriage ride. She stops at a tavern when the horse runs away, and she meets Paul Allison (Nelson Eddy), who is instantly smitten with her. She resists, but she still meets him a few more times. Even though she likes Paul, she decides to stay with Nicolai and breaks things off with Paul. However, they meet again a few years later when Nicolai brings her to New York to do an opera there.

Originally, Maytime opened as a Broadway show on August 16, 1917, with music by Sigmund Romberg, and the book and lyrics provided by Rida Johnson Young. It would prove to be quite popular, with a second production running alongside the first, and it would be the second-longest running show of the decade. In 1923, it was made into a silent movie, keeping the story (sadly, this film no longer exists in its entirety, although four out of its seven reels have survived and been restored). It would come back again for the 1937 film, this time being planned as the third film for the then-hot screen team of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. This time, however, they would drop the story (although I get the impression that they kept a few elements of the original story) and most of the score as well, with the exception of the song “Will You Remember,” as they tried to play to the strengths of the two stars.

Of the eight movies starring MacDonald and Eddy, this ended up being the third one I saw, following Rose-Marie and Naughty Marietta (hmm… 2, 1, 3? Sounds like I might have seen the Dudley Do-Right movie too much growing up 😉 ). Anyways, I had no idea going into this one what it would be like. I had some familiarity with the other two, as I had heard some of the music before, and seen a few clips included in the That’s Entertainment films. This one, not so much. The closest I could claim was the song “Will You Remember” being included in the musical biopic on composer Sigmund Romberg, Deep In My Heart, which I didn’t care for after my first viewing (but that’s a story for another time).  With Rose-Marie setting the bar quite high for the series, I found myself feeling disappointed with this movie for the first hour.  Then I got to the May Day section, which included the song “Will You Remember,” and my opinion changed completely. That was the only song retained from the original score, and it was the only one that needed to be. I really enjoyed the song, which so strongly evokes the feeling of spring for me now, and the rest of the movie after that. Especially the finale, which was so wonderful, it gives me chills every time I watch it (but make sure you have a good supply of Kleenex)! And with repeat viewings, this movie just gets better and better! Is it perfect? No, I will admit, it does have some problems with sexism, although how much of that is inherent to the period the movie is set in, I’m not sure. But this is still a wonderful movie, and one I highly recommend!

This movie is available on DVD either individually or as part of a four-film Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy set from Warner Archive Collection and is two hours, eleven minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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TFTMM on… Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Next up from 1939 is the Cary Grant and Jean Arthur drama Only Angels Have Wings.

Jean Arthur plays chorus girl Bonnie Lee, whose ship makes a stopover in the port of Barranca. She meets a pair of American flyers and goes with them to buy them a drink. However, their party is short-lived, as their boss Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) tells one of them that they have to fly the mail out. The flight is cut short by the foggy weather, and the pilot dies trying to land. Horrified at first by the almost indifferent reactions of his co-workers, Bonnie decides to stay when she develops an attraction to Geoff and tries to learn to be more accepting of the lifestyle the pilots have taken on. Everything gets a bit harder, though, as Geoff is forced to ground his buddy Kid Dabb (Thomas Mitchell) and has to hire Bat MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess), a pilot trying to live down his mistake of jumping out of a plane and leaving his engineer, Kid’s brother, to die. His wife, Judy (Rita Hayworth), makes everything even more complicated, as she was Geoff’s former girlfriend, who soured him on women.

In learning about this movie, I found out that its director, Howard Hawks, had been a flyer himself, back during the first World War. Not only that, but a lot of the characters were based on people he knew. Considering that, it does seem like Jean Arthur’s character is the audience’s representative, as we’re also coming into the world of this group of flyers. No doubt, we’re all horrified to see their reactions to the death of the young flyer near the beginning of the movie, but, as we begin to get an idea of what their life is like, it becomes easier for us to understand them and want to stay as well. And from that point on, the focus seems to shift away from Bonnie Lee onto the men, although we still empathize with her. And, to a large degree, we need an “in” to this world, as I suspect it was a vastly different life for the airplane pilots at that time than it was for most people, considering commercial flight wasn’t a big thing yet. Never mind the how different it would be for today’s audiences, since flight technology has come so far since then.

I really liked this movie. It’s definitely different from the other Cary Grant/ Howard Hawks collaborations, being that the others are all screwball comedies while this one is more dramatic. I do love the camerawork on this movie, particularly for the flight scenes. Almost gives us the feeling of flying right along with them, and never more so than when Richard Barthelmess’s character (or, more likely, the actor’s pilot stand-in) has to fly a doctor up on a cliff and we follow the plane as it goes around to make its landing. It seems like I read something that said this movie influenced the TV shows Tales Of The Gold Monkey and Tailspin, and I can certainly see that. I’ll admit, this movie’s pacing might make it harder for modern audiences to watch, which is made somewhat worse by the almost episodic nature, not to mention some of the plot threads that are not as fully realized as we might expect them to be (like their need for regular mail delivery within a set length of time to earn a contract with the government). Still, I do enjoy it, and would easily recommend it!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection, and is two hours, one minute in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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