Next up from 1939, we have Errol Flynn’s first Western, Dodge City, also starring Olivia de Havilland.
Errol Flynn stars as Wade Hatton, a cattle driver bringing his herd and a wagon train to Dodge City. They find the town is a lawless place, mostly run by a crooked cattle baron/ saloon owner Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot). Wade’s defiance of Jeff causes some of the townspeople to ask him to be the sheriff. At first, he declines, but changes his mind after seeing a kid killed in a gunfight that erupted on the street. As sheriff, he begins to clean up the town, and, with the help of newspaperman Joe Clemens (Frank McHugh) and Abbie Irving (Olivia de Havilland), he works on building a case against Jeff Surrett and his men!
The lawless town run by the town’s toughest guy and his henchmen. The crusading newspaperman who keeps printing stories about the villain, even when he’s threatened. The new sheriff who manages to clean up the town. A big bar brawl. Yes, this movie makes use of many Western cliches. But at that time, the Western was becoming popular, and the studios were trying to use some of their A-list stars. However, Errol Flynn hadn’t done any Westerns up to this point and worried how well audiences would accept him in the genre, particularly with his Australian accent. Apparently, audiences DID accept him as a Western star, as he made seven more after this.
My own opinion is that this is a fun movie. I have, up to this point, seen three of the Westerns that were released in 1939 (this one, the previously reviewed Jesse James and Stagecoach). Of those three, this is the one I enjoy the most. Sure, I do think Errol Flynn could have been better, as I think he was a little too stiff for me in the scene where he was trying to rescue one of his men from being lynched, but otherwise, he worked quite well for me! This might not be his best movie, but I enjoyed it well enough that I would recommend it highly!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD individually or (Blu-ray only) as part of the five film Golden Year collection (which is what I would recommend) from Warner Home Video and is one hour, forty-four minutes in length.
And now for the movie that brought a bit of swashbuckle to Sherwood Forest, the 1938 film The Adventures Of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains.
When Richard the Lion-heart is captured during the Crusades, Prince John (Claude Rains) takes over England with the help of his Norman friends, most notably Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone). Under Prince John’s rule, the Normans overtax, torture and steal from the Saxons they rule over. Some of the Saxons rebel, led by Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn). Sir Robin, or rather, Robin Hood, robs from the rich to give to the poor (and help pay King Richard’s ransom). Along the way, Robin ends up falling in love with Maid Marian (Oliva de Havilland. Sir Guy tries (and fails) to capture Robin, eventually leading to their climactic duel to the death.
This wonderful tale covers many wonderful moments associated with Robin Hood. We have the opening fight at Nottingham Castle, where Robin starts the big rebellion against Prince John and his lackeys. We have Robin recruiting the people for his Merry Men, including the staff fight on the downed tree with Little John. We have that archery contest, which is intended as a trap for Robin. No, I’m not describing the Mel Brooks comedy Robin Hood: Men In Tights, although you can definitely see a lot of the things that Mel was spoofing in this movie, including the look of this Robin Hood.
Speaking of the casting, one can’t help but feel this is about as close to perfection as you could hope for with a Robin Hood movie! Olivia de Havilland works as a Maid Marian, who at first sides with her Norman people, but comes to realize that Robin is right, and tries to help him out (even helping to plan his escape)! Then there’s Basil Rathbone, one of the greatest swordsman in Hollywood, perfectly cast as the villainous Sir Guy of Gisbourne, who gives Robin Hood a run for his money! And Alan Hale, in his second outing in the movies as Little John (preceded by his appearance in the 1922 silent Robin Hood, and followed by the 1950 movie Rogues Of Sherwood Forest). Of course, we can’t forget about Robin Hood himself, as played so well by Errol Flynn! It’s hard to imagine anybody else being cast in the role, but he wasn’t the first choice! James Cagney was (until he walked off the set and they had to replace him)! Personally, I can’t see James Cagney as the classic type of Robin Hood (however if he was done as a 1930s-style gangster as they did for Frank Sinatra with Robin And The Seven Hoods a quarter of a century later, then I could see it). However you want to look at it, this is a wonderful movie, and one I would highly recommend as one of the best Robin Hood movies!
This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Home Video and on DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, forty-two minutes in length.
Here we are for Gene Kelly’s final MGM musical, the 1957 Les Girls, also starring Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Kendall and Taina Elg.
After publishing a tell-all book on her life, Lady Sybil Wren (Kay Kendall) is sued by a former friend, Angele Ducros (Taina Elg). In court, Sybil relates how the two of them had both been part of a dance troupe called “Barry Nichols and Les Girls.” According to Sybil, Angele had an affair with Barry Nichols (Gene Kelly) while she was engaged to Pierre Ducros. When Pierre showed up unexpectedly, Angele got really flustered during a performance. Angry, Barry broke up with her, and she tried to commit suicide. However, when Angele was given her chance to testify in court, she maintained that Sybil was an alcoholic, and that SHE was the one who had a relationship with Barry. He broke up with her when she prevented him from getting the act booked into an English theater owned by Sir Gerald Wren, her wannabe boyfriend, and then she tried to commit suicide. With two conflicting stories, they bring in Barry Nichols to testify.
The movie barely qualifies as a musical, with only a small handful of songs. The music was written by Cole Porter, in what turned out to be the last movie that he worked on. Most of the songs occur onstage, with “Ca C’est L’amour” and “You’re Just Too Too” being the only ones that occur offstage, one a romantic tune and the other a somewhat comedic duet. Probably the most fondly remembered song and dance from this movie is the song “Why Am I So Gone (About That Gal),” in which Gene Kelly, partnered with Mitzi Gaynor, does a parody of The Wild One. I personally think it is one of the movie’s best moments, and a wonderful routine!
This movie is still a lot of fun. Kay Kendall’s performance as the drunken Sybil seems to be what people enjoy about this movie, and I do agree, she is very hilarious! I will admit, if you are going into the movie thinking that the three stories of what happened will mesh, you might be disappointed, as they don’t. However, the movie does admit to that, with one guy carrying around a sign asking “What is truth?” and you can see the glances shared between Barry, Sybil and Angele at the trial, both before and after Barry gives his testimony, that leave you wondering how accurate his testimony is. But, whatever the case, I think this movie is fun. Not Gene Kelly’s best movie, but still one worth seeing just for the fun of it!
The movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, fifty-four minutes in length.
The year: 1957. The movie: An Affair To Remember. The stars: Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.
In this movie, Cary Grant plays Nickie Ferrante, a well-known playboy who has become engaged to a rich heiress. Taking a boat to New York from Europe, he meets Terri McKay (Deborah Kerr), a nightclub singer on her way home to her boyfriend. They end up falling for each other, but they try to resist it. It becomes a lot harder when Nickie brings her along when he visits his grandmother. When they get back on the ship, they make a pact to meet again in six months on the top of the Empire State Building. In the meantime, they both try to deal with their current relationships, and Nickie tries to find a way to earn a living from his paintings. However, tragedy strikes on the day they were supposed to meet.
I would say this movie kind of qualifies as a Christmas movie. The end of the movie takes place around Christmastime, with Deborah Kerr’s Terri helping a group of children who are preparing for a Christmas concert. Of course, we also see Cary Grant’s Nickie giving Terri the gift of a shawl from his grandmother. To say much more would spoil the ending (although, for this type of movie, the idea of both Nickie and Terri getting together is a foregone conclusion).
I am coming off my first viewing of this movie, but I enjoyed it very much. The movie is apparently the remake of the 1939 film Love Affair, also directed by Leo McCarey. Apparently, he tended to give his actors room to improvise, and some of those improvisations would end up making their way into the movie. All I know is that what they did for this movie worked. The movie can be funny. It can be sad. It can be romantic. Whatever the mood they go for, you can feel it! I haven’t seen the original version, but for my money, this one is absolutely wonderful, and I would highly recommend it!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox, and is one hour, fifty-five minutes in length.
And here we are for the only movie that Gary Cooper ever produced himself, the 1945 Western comedy Along Came Jones, starring Gary Cooper and Loretta Young.
In this movie, Gary Cooper plays Melody Jones, a “bronc stomper,” who has just ridden into the town of Payneville with his buddy George (William Demarest). Upon seeing his initials on his saddle, the townspeople mistake him for the outlaw Monte Jarrad (Dan Duryea). Before the townspeople can shoot them, they are helped out of town by Cherry de Longpre (Loretta Young). Of course, she has her own reason for helping them: she is Monte Jarrad’s girlfriend, and she is trying to aim the posse the wrong way! Not long after starting out, Melody realizes this, and he comes back. He ends up helping her anyways, when he sees that she wants out of the relationship.
I would say that I enjoy this movie. Most of the comedy is provided by Gary Cooper as he does a sendup of his cowboy image, as he is the biggest klutz with a gun, usually dropping it as he tries to draw or missing completely when he does manage to shoot. I would say the movie’s biggest flaw is its use of rear projection screens. While I know this was how they did things then because they didn’t have our modern technology to help, the effect is still a lot more jarring than usual, with the image really matching up poorly with the action in front. If you can get past that, then there is a fun movie to be found here, I think.
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Classicflix. The movie starts with a disclaimer that more or less says that time hasn’t been kind to the film elements and they did the best they could to restore it. There are still some scratches here and there, but I think the transfer looks pretty good (far better than I would have thought after seeing that disclaimer)! And I do have to admit, I tried this movie mostly because Classicflix released it on disc. And I wasn’t disappointed! So I do recommend this release! The movie is one hour, thirty minutes in length.
And here we are for the eighth pairing of that famous screen team of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, the 1957 comedy Desk Set.
In this movie, Katharine Hepburn plays Bunny Watson, the head of the reference library at the Federal Broadcast Network and Spencer Tracy plays Richard Sumner, the creator of a computer called EMERAC (short for Electromagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator). He is brought in to observe how Bunny and the other ladies work in the reference library, while he also figured out how to install EMERAC there. Bunny and the rest of the ladies working there are all worried that EMERAC will end up replacing them, although Richard tries to assure them that won’t be the case. Bunny has been going with Mike Cutler (Gig Young) for nearly seven years, but she finds herself falling for Richard.
Now, I would say this movie kind of qualifies as a Christmas movie. Most of the last part of the movie takes place around Christmastime. Mostly, it’s just an office Christmas party, with many of the workers partying together and getting drunk. And then, of course, they are hit with questions about the words to “Twas The Night Before Christmas” and the names of Santa’s reindeer (with Spencer Tracy’s Richard Sumner getting the question the second time and getting them mixed up with the dwarves from “Snow White”).
I think this is a fun movie. I admit, the EMERAC computer in some ways dates this movie, considering this was the age when computers took up most of a room, as opposed to the much smaller PCs, laptops, tablets, etc. that most of us are used to by this time. Of course, the worry about technology replacing people is still around, so that still keeps the movie somewhat current. But to see the reference library in action is kind of fun. I enjoyed seeing the ladies able to rattle off some information off the top of their heads, while going off in the library to find other information (of course, it’s nice to see how patient people were back then, as I can’t see people being as happy today if Google were to take that long to answer any questions like that). But, my point here is that I enjoy this movie, and would heartily recommend it to anybody!
The movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox and is one hour, forty-four minutes in length.
Next up from 1939, we have the final Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers pairing for the RKO studio, The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle, also starring Walter Brennan.
The movie starts in 1911, as Vernon Castle (Fred Astaire) is trying to win the affections of the leading lady in the show he is appearing in. When he tries to follow her to the beach in New Rochelle, he ends up meeting Irene Foote (Ginger Rogers) when they both try to save a drowning dog. Irene, an aspiring actress herself, discovers that Vernon can dance. However, she is disappointed when she comes to the show that he is in and finds out that he is only a comic actor. They start courting, and they also start rehearsing a dance routine together in the hope of being in the show. After they get married, however, they are turned down. They are offered a job over in France, but they learn too late that it was only for Vernon to do his comedy routine again. They meet an agent, Maggie Sutton (Edna May Oliver), who gets them a job at a restaurant. Once they dance there, they become quite famous, resulting in a lot of people doing ballroom dancing their way. After a while, they decide to retire, but then World War I starts up, and Vernon, who hails from England, joins the Royal Flying Corps, while Irene, who had tried to keep him from it, has to keep going on.
While considered a musical by some, I would say that it barely qualifies. I know one complaint I have heard, particularly aimed at a lot of the early film musicals, is when the movies just stop to have the stars do a song and/or dance that doesn’t advance the story or work for the character. But this movie doesn’t really do that. Being that it is a biopic about a pair of ballroom dancers, and makes use of a lot of period music (with maybe ONE new song written for the movie), I would say that doesn’t quite apply here.
I do enjoy a lot of the music, but there are two moments that stand out for me more than the others. First, I would say I enjoy Fred’s tap solo to the instrumental version of the song “By The Light Of The Silvery Moon.” He does it while is waiting for the train leaving New Rochelle, and it is the moment that Ginger’s Irene discovers that Vernon can dance. I have heard this music many times, both before my first viewing of this movie, and since, but, whenever the song gets stuck in my head, I inevitably have this version replace it, and I can see quite clearly Fred dancing to it. Obviously, I might get different mileage out of it than others, but it is still a wonderful song. The other one is a waltz medley near the end of the movie, that includes “Missouri Waltz,” “Cecile Waltz” and “Nights Of Gladness,” according to IMDB (although I don’t know the music enough to know in what order). I really enjoy the orchestration here, and it just gets me every time. The dancing is simple, but really effective in combination with the music. Again, these are some of the standout moments for me.
As you can tell, I really like this movie. I know it’s not perfect historically, with Walter being played by Walter Brennan, a white man, when the real Walter was black (and so were the orchestras providing music for the Castles). As far as I know, this was done for Southern audiences, in an attempt to get those audiences to come to the movie. I disagree with it completely (especially since Gone With The Wind from that same year was really successful), although I can partially see where they were coming from, as the Astaire/ Rogers movies weren’t doing as well by this time (a combination of the fact that this was their ninth movie together since 1933 and the fact that Fred had been labeled as “box office poison” after his solo attempt, A Damsel In Distress, had failed, with Carefree also struggling). Still, I don’t like it, although I think Walter Brennan still gives a wonderful performance, as seems to be the case in those of his films that I have seen. Other incorrect historical problems couldn’t be helped by the filmmakers, as they had to deal with the strict censors of the time. Still, I would recommend this movie, especially to those interested somewhat in the history of ballroom dancing!
The movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, thirty-three minutes in length.