An Old-Fashioned Christmas Movie On The Farm (2019) with… Holiday Inn (1942)

It’s certainly time for a holiday celebration, and what better movie than the classic Holiday Inn (1942), starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire!

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Pinch Singer (1936)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 5 (1935-1936) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 17 minutes, 26 seconds)

A local radio station holds an amateur talent contest with a $50 prize. The Eagles Club (that’s the Gang) decide to have Darla (Darla Hood) perform, but when she’s late, it’s up to Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) to go on in her place! This was yet another fun short! Some of the fun was in seeing various other kids (not otherwise connected with the Little Rascals) performing to various songs. Of course, with the regular cast, the auditions where Alfalfa attempted to sing (but kept getting the gong), and Buckwheat (Billie Thomas) lip-synching (if you can call it that, since he’s supposed to be whistling) to a record were comic bits that all managed to keep me laughing! There are a few problematic moments, such as Alfalfa wearing blackface as a “disguise” during one of his auditions, and another trio also wearing blackface during their performance. But, realistically, these moments didn’t really detract from this short that much, as I thought it was entertaining throughout (and I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing it again)!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby), Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) are a song-and-dance team working together in nightclubs. Jim, who is in love with Lila, has decided to retire from show business, marry Lila, and live on a farm. Lila loves Jim, but she also loves Ted and wants to keep dancing, so she decides to stick with the act. Jim still goes to live on the farm, but his dreams of a lazy life are quickly proven false. So, instead, he comes up with an idea to turn the farm into an inn that is open holidays only (as in, only fifteen days a year). Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), a wannabe singer and dancer, is steered his way by Jim’s former manager, Danny Reed (Walter Abel), and she gets the job at the inn. On New Year’s Eve (when Jim’s “Holiday Inn” opens), Ted learns that Lila has left him to marry a millionaire, and, after getting drunk, makes his way to the inn. Upon his arrival, he dances with Linda, but passes out at the end of the dance. However, the audience appreciated the dance, and the late arriving Danny is ecstatic about the reception to Ted’s “new partner.” However, Danny never saw who Ted’s partner was, and, upon waking up in the morning, Ted doesn’t remember what she looked like, either. Jim (who likes Linda), sees Ted’s reaction of falling for his new partner (even if he doesn’t know who she is or what she looks like), decides to try to hide Linda’s existence at the inn on the next few holidays. However, it’s not enough, and Ted and Danny do find out who she is. However, Ted and Danny want to take her away from the inn, but she’s promised to stay at the inn (and she thinks she is engaged to Jim). So, Ted comes to the inn under the guise of wanting to work with them and “enjoy life’s simple pleasures.” Jim is suspicious of Ted’s motives, which is all but confirmed when, on July 4, he overhears Ted and Danny discussing some Hollywood agents who are coming to the inn to see Ted and Linda perform. Jim tries to keep Linda away, but she still manages to arrive (although after the show). Jim and Linda have an argument and break up, with Linda going to Hollywood with Ted while Jim stays at the inn. The question remains: will her Hollywood success with Ted be enough, or will Jim be able to convince her to return to the inn (and him)?

In 1917, composer Irving Berlin wrote a song called “Smile And Show Your Dimple.” It didn’t enjoy much success initially. At least, not until he repurposed the music for the 1933 Broadway musical revue As Thousands Cheer, in which he gave it new lyrics and a new title: “Easter Parade.” With the song now a hit, Irving Berlin came up with the idea to have a revue based on the various American holidays. On the stage, this idea never got off the ground, but a meeting with movie director Mark Sandrich (who had collaborated with Irving Berlin on three of the Astaire-Rogers pictures) resulted in them pursuing the idea for a film. Since they were both at Paramount Pictures, they wanted to go with the studio’s big musical star, Bing Crosby, and decided to bring in Fred Astaire (who had been freelancing after his contract with RKO had ended a few years before). Big female stars like Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth were considered, but a budget-conscious Paramount had fought hard enough against Fred being cast (since he and Bing were two of Hollywood’s highest paid stars), so they ended up going with some unknowns for the female leads, nightclub dancer Virginia Dale and Marjorie Reynolds (who had up to that point been known for her roles in various Poverty Row Westerns). The resulting film went over well with audiences, with the song “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” becoming a hit at first. The song “White Christmas” (which won Irving Berlin his only Oscar for “Best Song”) became more of a hit over time due to the war and homesick soldiers requesting it on the Armed Forces Radio.

I will readily admit that the song “White Christmas” is one that I enjoy listening to (as long as there isn’t any actual snow on the ground), but I can also definitely say that there are a few other songs and dances that I enjoy in this movie. One of them is the song “You’re Easy To Dance With,” sung and danced by Fred Astaire and Virginia Dale. Amongst Fred’s early Irving Berlin film musicals, it continues the trend of him doing a dancing-related song. He reprised it with Marjorie Reynolds at the New Year’s Eve party, except this time he was drunk (and I do mean drunk, as Fred had two drinks of bourbon before the first take, and one more between each take, with the seventh and final take being what we see in the movie). Even drunk, Fred still proves that he can dance better than others can sober.

Then, of course, there is the more patriotic song “Let’s Say It With Firecrackers” to go along with July 4. This is Fred’s big tap solo in the movie, and he worked with actual firecrackers for it! Apparently, it took about 38 attempts before Fred was satisfied with it, but it is very impressive to watch him do, just the same! Apparently, a little bit of animation was used to further emphasize some of the blasts, but I still have to give Fred credit for trying to pull this one off (and doing pretty well, at that)!

I will admit, this movie is certainly not a perfect one. I personally think that the lyrics for the song “I Can’t Tell A Lie” are rather cringeworthy, and the music itself is rather forgettable. The only redeeming quality with that song-and-dance is the fun of watching the music changing styles and “throwing off” Fred and Marjorie’s characters in their dance (since Bing’s character was trying to stop them from kissing in their dance). Then there’s the song “Abraham,” where the use of blackface really drags it down (and I have a really hard time understanding why Bing did it, especially since he had been so instrumental a few years earlier in getting Louis Armstrong cast in 1936’s Pennies From Heaven). The lyrics don’t help, either, and I certainly appreciate them not being used when the song was brought back for the “not-quite-a-remake” film White Christmas (1954) when Vera-Ellen and John Brascia danced to it. Still, in spite of those flaws, I do like this movie and would definitely recommend trying it out (for any holiday associated with this movie)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Studios.

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2022) with… Holiday Inn (1942)

On November 1, 2022, Universal Studios released Holiday Inn (1942) on 4K UHD. Honestly, this is a bit of a disappointing release. The 4K disc looks terrible, with a picture that is darker at times and loses some of the detail, and grain tends to be very distracting here, as if they are working from elements (or an older transfer) that doesn’t have 4K worth of data, although there are some moments here and there where the 4K disc actually looks good. Frankly, the included Blu-ray (which appears to use the same transfer, or close enough) actually looks better throughout. The Blu-ray is lighter and the grain is nowhere near as prevalent as it is on the 4K. Also, depending on your feelings about this, the film starts with a vintage Universal logo preceding the film’s Paramount logo. I only mention this because the film was originally produced by Paramount, was part of a large group of films sold to Music Corporation Of America (MCA)/EMKA , Ltd. in the 1950s, before becoming part of Universal Studios’ library when MCA took over the studio in the 1960s. Realistically, this release is at best recommended to those who don’t have the Blu-ray already (and even then it is questionable). If you already have the Blu-ray, then don’t bother with this one. If you want either the Broadway show or the colorized version of the film (neither of which is included as extras with this release), then I would suggest going with one of the earlier Blu-ray releases.

Film Length: 1 hour, 41 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

My Favorite Blonde (1942)Bing CrosbyRoad To Morocco (1942)

You’ll Never Get Rich (1941)Fred AstaireYou Were Never Lovelier (1942)

Marjorie Reynolds – The Time Of Their Lives (1946)

Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire (screen team) – Blue Skies (1946)

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The King Of Hollywood And I: A Birthday Celebration (2019) with… It Happened One Night (1934)

Well, it’s February 1, so let’s celebrate Clark Gable’s birthday with one of his well-regarded classics (and his only Oscar win for Best Actor), the 1934 film It Happened One Night, also starring Claudette Colbert.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Hearts Are Thumps (1937)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 6 (1936-1938) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 10 minutes, 38 seconds)

It’s Valentine’s Day, and Spanky (George McFarland), Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) and Buckwheat (Billie Thomas) have decided to swear off women by forming the “He-Man Woman Haters Club.”  However, they no sooner get through taking their oath before Darla (Darla Hood) catches Alfalfa’s eye, and Spanky decides to get even with him.  This one was a riot from start to finish!  Most of the fun is in watching how Spanky tries to get back at Alfalfa by putting soap in the food Darla prepared for him (all without either Alfalfa or Darla knowing about it), plus the inevitable bubbles that come later!  I had a lot of fun with this one, and I feel that it’s worth seeing again and again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Wealthy heiress Ellen “Ellie” Andrews (Claudette Colbert) has just married famous aviator King Westley (Jameson Thomas), although her father, Wall Street banker Alexander Andrews (Walter Connolly), believes him to be a gold digger. As a result, Ellie is kidnapped by some of her father’s men right after the ceremony and taken to Miami (away from King). When her father threatens to have the marriage annulled, Ellie runs away from him. In an attempt to evade her father’s private detectives, she gets on a bus bound for New York (where King is). Getting on that same bus is recently-fired newspaperman Peter Warne (Clark Gable). Once he realizes who she is, he “offers” to help her get to New York in exchange for the story (or else he will turn her in to her father). While her father grows more frantic (even offering a truce with King), Ellie and Peter make their way to New York via bus and, when other passengers start to figure out her identity, on foot. As they travel, they find themselves starting to fall in love with each other. Will Ellie finish her journey to New York (and King Westley), or will she end up staying with Peter Warne?

In the early 1930s, Columbia Pictures was one of the “Poverty Row” studios, making generally cheap B-movies while having almost no stars under contract (generally borrowing them from the bigger studios). In their favor, they had director Frank Capra (who had just received the studio’s first nomination for Best Picture with 1933’s Lady For A Day). With the help of writer Robert Riskin, Capra adapted the Samuel Hopkins Adams short story “Night Bus” (originally published in Cosmopolitan in August 1933) for the big screen. The script was offered to many big stars, most of whom turned it down, for one reason or another. The legend is that MGM star Clark Gable was sent to do this film as “punishment,” either because of an affair or the result of him starting to get too big for his britches. The reality is closer to being that MGM had nothing for him at the moment (but still had to pay him a regular salary), and loaning him out essentially allowed MGM to make a profit. Regardless, Gable was not happy about the assignment, going so far as to show up drunk to his first meeting with the director. Leading lady Claudette Colbert wasn’t thrilled either (back in 1927, Capra had directed her in her first film, For The Love Of Mike, which bombed), but with four weeks free and the offer of her usual Paramount salary being doubled, she consented to making the film. Even so, she caused a lot of trouble for the director and, upon finishing the film, believed that the movie itself was awful. At first, the movie didn’t do big business (even with positive reviews), but, when it moved on to secondary theaters, the movie became a big hit. The film ended up being nominated for five Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Writing), winning all five (with actress Claudette Colbert, who didn’t think she would win, famously being brought to the ceremony from the train station, since she had been planning to take a trip).

It Happened One Night is a movie that I have had the pleasure of seeing (and enjoying!) multiple times over the years. Being labeled as a screwball comedy was certainly part of the film’s initial appeal to me. Admittedly, that label might throw others as far as what it is like. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely has memorable comedic moments, including Peter (Clark Gable) and Ellie (Claudette Colbert) deceiving the detectives at the auto camp, bus passenger Oscar Shapely (Roscoe Karns) attempting to blackmail Peter into splitting the reward money (only for Peter to turn the tables and scare him off by acting like a gangster) and the famous hitchhiking scene (one of the film’s rarer moments when Peter is humbled instead of Ellie). But the film does achieve a balance of sorts with more dramatic moments as we see the characters genuinely fall for each other. This movie is the full package, with both stars putting in fine performances (in spite of their offscreen issues), with Gable’s performance cited by some as being partial inspiration for Warner Brothers’ famous Looney Tunes character Bugs Bunny. Everything about this film makes it fun to see whenever I get the chance, and, as I consider this to be one of my favorite Clark Gable movies, I certainly would recommend this great film with ease!

The movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2022) with… It Happened One Night (1934)

On October 25, 2022, Sony Pictures Entertainment released It Happened One Night (1934) on 4K UHD as part of their Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection Volume 3 (which is the only way that it is available on UHD in the U.S., unless you buy an individual copy via eBay). According to the booklet included as part of the set, the film was given a 4K restoration in 2012 (which was the source of the transfer for the nearly ten-year-old Criterion Collection Blu-ray/DVD). The transfer on the 4K UHD builds on that restoration, taking care of additional flicker and dirt (which was better hidden on the Blu-ray), while adding an HDR color grade. The film’s popularity throughout its ninety years has resulted in sections of the original camera negative being damaged and replaced with duplicate footage (even as early as 1939). As a result, there was only just so much that could be done on those dupe sections even with today’s restoration technology. Some of those sections look a bit rougher (but still pretty good). The vast majority of the film, though, is a thing of beauty, that to me makes this UHD easily worth it. It’s now my preferred method of seeing this great film, and is a very highly recommended release (so get it while it’s still in print, either as part of the set or through eBay, as it may not ever get a solo release via retailers)!

Film Length: 1 hour, 45 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Dancing Lady (1933)Clark GableMutiny On The Bounty (1935)

The Sign Of The Cross (1932)Claudette ColbertCleopatra (1934)

The Bitter Tea Of General Yen (1932) – Walter Connolly – Libeled Lady (1936)

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949)

Time for a bit of time traveling, by way of the 1949 movie A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, starring Bing Crosby, Rhonda Fleming, William Bendix and Sir Cedric Hardwicke.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Shrimps For A Day (1935)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 4 (1933-1935) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 20 minutes, 42 seconds)

The Gang are taken to a party hosted by the sponsor for their orphanage, where an adult couple finds a lamp and wishes to be kids again. They are mistaken for being part of the group of orphans, and are brought back to the orphanage. This short managed to be both hilarious and full of heart. As the two adults-turned-into-kids, George and Olive Brasno do a pretty good imitation of adults as kids, and quickly gain our sympathy as they are forced to deal with the problems the other kids are facing, like being forced to take castor oil, and listen to the mean couple in charge of the orphanage, Of course, Spanky (George McFarland) keeps getting into trouble, and manages to provide most of the humor (especially when the “new” orphan tries to get to sleep in between the squirming Spanky and Scotty). To nobody’s surprise, I really liked this one, and can’t wait to see it again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

In 1905, blacksmith Hank Martin (Bing Crosby) is trying to return a horse to his owner during a storm, and is knocked out by a tree branch.  When he wakes up, he finds himself in Camelot, circa 528 A.D., where he is discovered by Sir Sagramore Le Desirous (“Saggy”) (William Bendix). After being taken to the court of King Arthur (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), Hank is then condemned to be burned to death.  Performing a “miracle,” he is freed and then knighted by the king, becoming “Sir Boss.”  At a ball given in his honor, Hank meets one of King Arthur’s nieces, the Lady Alisande la Carteloise (Rhonda Fleming), and falls in love with her, even though she is engaged to Sir Lancelot (Henry Wilcoxon).  Hank jousts with Sir Lancelot, winning his own way, but “Sandy” goes back to Lancelot.  Hank decides to leave, but reconsiders his decision when he sees a regular family broken up by the plague and some unjust laws. To see if he can fix the overall problem, Hank convinces the king and Saggy to join him on a trip through the kingdom so that King Arthur can learn what his people really think of him.  However, the evil wizard Merlin (Murvyn Vye) overhears, and decides to take matters into his own hands. Will Hank, Saggy and the king be able to evade Merlin’s men, or will Merlin take over the kingdom?

In 1889, famous American author Mark Twain published his story A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court. In the years following, the story was adapted for several films (including a 1921 silent film and a 1931 talkie with Will Rogers) and a 1927 stage musical (with music by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart). In 1944, Bing Crosby starred in Going My Way for his home studio Paramount Pictures, a role for which he won the Best Actor Oscar. With that Oscar win under his belt (and a few major hits that followed it up), Bing became a big enough star that his contract with the studio gave him his choice of directors, writers and cast. For A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, he chose director Tay Garnett (known at the time for directing the 1946 drama The Postman Always Rings Twice, although he had had his start in 1920 as a gag writer for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach). It had been hoped that they could use the score from the 1927 Broadway show, but they were unable to do so as a result of it being purchased by MGM for their musical tribute to Rodgers and Hart, Words And Music (1948). So Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen composed some new songs for the film to add to Victor Young’s score. For the leading lady, the role was offered to Deanna Durbin (who turned it down), before being given to Rhonda Fleming (who had recently attained leading lady status, and would gain the nickname of “Queen Of Technicolor” alongside Maureen O’Hara). The movie was filmed in 1947 with retakes occurring in 1948, but, for reasons unknown to me as yet, was released in 1949 to great success.

This is one of those rare book-based films that I can actually claim to have read the original novel (not only that, but the Wishbone version as well). Outside of the 90s film A Kid In King Arthur’s Court that I saw as a kid, and the bits and pieces I’ve seen of the Disney film Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979), I haven’t really seen any other adaptations of this story, so my comments are mostly with regard to this film. My feeling has long been that the film’s writers essentially took a few moments and characters/character names from the book and changed things around to build this film around Bing Crosby and his persona. In the novel, the incident with the solar eclipse, for example, was the method for which Hank proved his sorcery (and become “Sir Boss”) near the beginning of the story, but in the movie, it’s used towards the end of the film. For the movie, the character of Alisande la Carteloise (portrayed by Rhonda Fleming) was made one of King Arthur’s nieces, instead of being a commoner. We also saw Merlin (Murvyn Vye) become the central villain, with the church not being included at all (no doubt due to the Production Code). The film also seems to take place over several weeks versus several years in the original novel. Many other changes were implemented beyond this handful of examples, so how you feel about the original novel will certainly impact how you look at the movie (at least, if you have read the novel).

Me, personally? I like Bing Crosby and his screen persona, so I definitely prefer this film over the novel. I have long enjoyed some of the music, with the romantic duet “Once And For Always” (performed by Bing and Rhonda Fleming) and the comedic song “Busy Doing Nothing” (performed by Bing, William Bendix and Sir Cedric Hardwicke) being the main standouts. The comedy is superb as well, with two scenes in particular really imprinted in my mind. One is the ball where Bing’s Hank modernizes the music and dancing, much to the initial chagrin of the king and his guests (at least, before they also realize that Hank’s ways are more fun)! The other would be the unusual (to say the least) jousting tournament between Hank and Henry Wilcoxon’s Sir Lancelot. It’s not a perfect film, with some otherwise ridiculous moments that don’t really make much sense (seriously, why was Bing’s Hank allowed so much movement when he was supposed to be getting burned at the stake?). Still, it’s a film that I’ve enjoyed many times since I got it on DVD years ago as part of a double-feature with the equally fun (in my book) The Emperor Waltz (1948), and for that reason alone, I have no hesitation in recommending this musical comedy!

The movie is available on DVD from Universal Studios.

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2022) with… A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949)

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On August 23, 2022, Universal Studios released A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949) on Blu-ray. This Blu-ray seems to be working with an HD scan that looks pretty good. Most (if not just about all) of the dust, dirt, and other artifacts have been cleaned up. For the most part, the color looks pretty good, similar to the recent Blu-ray release of Blue Skies (1946) from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. There are some minor sections where the color doesn’t look quite as vivid as it seems like it should, but it’s an overall good release of a wonderful film (and certainly as good as it is likely to get anytime soon).

Film Length: 1 hour, 47 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Emperor Waltz (1948)Bing CrosbyThe Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad (1949)

Out Of The Past (1947) – Rhonda Fleming – The Killer Is Loose (1956)

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