Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2023) on… Blue Hawaii (1961)

With summer almost here, it’s time for some fun in the sun! With that in mind, we’re off on another Hawaiian trip with the 1961 Elvis Presley musical Blue Hawaii, also starring Joan Blackman, Angela Lansbury and Nancy Walters!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Feed ‘Em And Weep (1938)

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

(Length: 10 minutes, 55 seconds)

Mr. Hood (Johnny Arthur) is looking forward to a nice birthday meal with just his immediate family.  However, Alfalfa (Carl Switzer), Porky (Eugene Lee) and Philip (Philip Hurlic) interrupt him, and constantly distract him from the meal.  This was yet another funny Little Rascals short!  Obviously, the main fun is how exasperated Mr. Hood gets with all the kids’ antics, when all he wants to do is eat his food (and can’t even manage to do that)!  I had a good time with this short, and would certainly love to see it again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

After finishing his two-year stint in the Army, Chadwick “Chad” Gates (Elvis Presley) has returned to his home in Hawaii. However, despite the urgings of his girlfriend Maile Duval (Joan Blackman), Chad refuses to go to his family’s home and intends to hide out at his old shack on the beach. His reason? His parents (especially his mother) want him to work at the Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company, which his father is the vice president of, but Chad has no desire to work there. For five days, Chad manages to stay hidden. That is, until his father, Fred Gates (Roland Winters), walks into the travel agency that Maile works at and reveals his knowledge of Chad’s return. Caught, Chad has no choice but to “return” to his home and see his parents. As he had expected, they start pushing the idea of him working at his father’s company, so he leaves them again. While talking with Maile (who works at a travel agency), Chad gets the bright idea to work for the agency as a tour guide, for which he is immediately hired. His first job is to ferry a schoolteacher, Abigail Prentice (Nancy Walters), and four teenage girls around the islands. He has a lot of trouble with this group, mainly because Maile assumes that Abigail is flirting with him, and one of the four teenagers does openly try to flirt with him. Chad is fired when he gets into a fight with another tourist (mostly because the troublemaking teenager tried to flirt with that other tourist since Chad was ignoring her). However, because Abigail and her group do want Chad to be their guide, Chad goes into business for himself (with Maile’s help, since she had quit her job with the agency), and they continue the tour. Maile decides to surprise Chad by stopping at the hotel that he and his group are staying at, but ends up trying to leave Chad when she catches Abigail kissing Chad in his room. Will Chad be able to patch things up with Maile (and maintain his own independence from his father’s company), or will he be miserable trying to accommodate everybody?

Producer Hal B. Wallis was among the first to consider Elvis Presley for a Hollywood contract, signing him to do Loving You (1957) and King Creole (1958). After two years in the army, Elvis came back to Hollywood and did G.I. Blues (1960) for the producer, which was a hit with audiences. Trying to expand his range as an actor, Elvis did Flaming Star (1960) and Wild In The Country (1961), which weren’t quite as successful. As a result, he was pushed back into a more formulaic film. For Blue Hawaii, Juliet Prowse (his co-star from G. I. Blues) was set to work with him again, but she made too many demands. So, she was dropped, and Joan Blackman was brought in to play Maile. The movie was filmed in various locations in Hawaii. The movie wasn’t well-liked by critics, but audiences came to see it, making it one of Elvis’ most successful films (and soundtracks). As a result, Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, decided that this “formula” was what Elvis needed to stick with to enjoy box office success (much to his dismay).

In preparing for this review, this was probably the second time that I’ve had the opportunity to watch (and enjoy) Blue Hawaii.  Now, I’ve been doing reviews here on my blog for nearly five years now, and, as much as I enjoy musicals, I haven’t really gotten around to reviewing any of Elvis Presley’s films yet (which, even beyond this film, I’m in the process of changing). There’s one simple reason for that: while I’ve enjoyed some of his films, I’ve mainly considered them “fluff” films that are fun when I see them, but I otherwise don’t feel a great urgency to see them that often. There’s a degree to which this film still falls into that category. Most of the performances are adequate (the main exception here, surprisingly, would be Angela Lansbury, whose ditzy, status-obsessed Southern mother kind of gets grating after a while). The comedy is nothing special, but I can’t deny that the film did provide a few laughs here and there. There’s quite a bit of music in this film, but I would say that the only really memorable ones are the title tune (which is relegated to being background music for the opening credits, and, even then, I still prefer Bing Crosby’s rendition from Waikiki Wedding), Elvis’ big hit “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” and “Rock-A-Hula” (some of the others are also fun, but quickly forgotten). It’s certainly not the best musical I’ve ever seen, but I would still call it decent (and, quite frankly, it’s one of the better Elvis films, aided very much by the beautiful Hawaiian scenery), so it’s still worth giving a chance!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2022) with… Blue Hawaii (1961)

This movie is available in a 4K UHD/Blu-ray combo pack from Paramount Pictures as part of their Paramount Presents line. It feels like an understatement to say that this release is rather stunning! The image has been cleaned up of all dirt and debris, and looks nice and clear. The color really pops on the 4K UHD with the HDR, making this 4K really worthwhile! The only complaint that some might have is that, in order to restore the opening credits, Paramount’s restorationists had to go back to the original footage (minus the credits), and then re-do the credits. The problem there being that the credits don’t quite look the same as they did originally, because of the different fonts used. It’s annoying (and will bother some more than others), but I think the transfer for the rest of the film more than makes up for it!

Film Length: 1 hour, 41 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Reluctant Debutante (1958) – Angela Lansbury

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2023) on… So Proudly We Hail (1943)

In honor of Memorial Day weekend, we’re here with the 1943 World War II drama So Proudly We Hail, starring Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Came The Brawn (1938)

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

(Length: 10 minutes, 57 seconds)

The Gang is looking forward to a wrestling match between “The Masked Marvel” and “Wildcat” Alfalfa (Carl Switzer).  Alfalfa chooses Waldo (Darwood Kaye) to be his opponent because he thinks he can beat him and thus impress his girlfriend, Darla (Darla Hood). Butch (Tommy Bond) (who is also interested in Darla) takes matters in his own hands and wrestles as “The Masked Marvel.”  This one was a lot of fun!  Much of the fun is in seeing Alfalfa try to figure out who to wrestle, with his initial opponent Porky (Eugene Lee) taking him down easily enough.  The actual wrestling match between Alfalfa and Butch was fun enough, especially with Buckwheat (Billie Thomas) and Porky saving the day for Alfalfa.  Like many of the others that I’ve seen recently, this one was enjoyable enough that I would love to see it again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Under the leadership of Lt. Janet “Davy” Davidson (Claudette Colbert), a group of Army nurses, including Lt. Joan O’Doul (Paulette Goddard), leave San Francisco on a boat bound for Hawaii, where they will be stationed. However, while they are en route, Pearl Harbor is bombed by the Japanese, forcing their ship to be re-routed to join a convoy in the Pacific. Several other ships in the convoy get attacked, forcing their ship to take on survivors. One of these survivors is another nurse, Lt. Olivia D’Arcy (Veronica Lake), who reluctantly joins Davy’s group. She is bitter and angry about something, resulting in her getting along poorly with all the other nurses. One night, Davy is able to find out why: Olivia’s fiancé was killed at Pearl Harbor, and now Olivia wants to take her revenge on the Japanese. Meanwhile, Joan is falling for a soldier she met in San Francisco named Kansas (Sonny Tufts), while Davy reluctantly (at first) falls for medical technician Lt. John Summers (George Reeves). Their time together comes to an end when the boat arrives at the Bataan Peninsula, where the nurses dive right in to their work taking care of the wounded soldiers (with Olivia even doing her bit to take care of some enemy soldiers in spite of her ill will towards them). The front lines of the war get closer and closer, forcing everyone to evacuate. The nurses are among the last to attempt to leave. They are nearly caught by the enemy, and only manage to get away because Olivia sacrifices herself by “surrendering” to the enemy (with a live grenade that kills her and the enemy soldiers). The remaining nurses move on to a jungle hospital, where they try to work with dwindling medical supplies. Things get worse when the front lines collapse, and then the Japanese start attacking the hospital (wounding John Summers in the process). They have no choice but to evacuate everybody to Corregidor, dodging enemy fire the whole way. Many of the nurses make it to Corregidor, where they enjoy *some* safety in the underground tunnels. However, the Japanese continue with their air raids, making things miserable for everybody (especially with medical supplies running out and food supplies dwindling). When he’s healed just enough, John Summers joins a group that plan to go after some medical supplies to help everybody. With only a few hours together, John and Davy decide to get married, and enjoy a brief “honeymoon” together. With the Japanese barrage continuing (while John and some of the other men are still on their mission to get supplies), it’s decided to have all the nurses evacuated, much to Davy’s dismay. Will Davy and John be reunited? Will everybody successfully escape, or will the Japanese prevent their retreat?

Historically, right before Corregidor fell to the Japanese in 1942, the Navy was able to evacuate nearly seventy-five people, including a number of nurses. Director Mark Sandrich heard about their story, and, along with screenwriter Allan Scott, actually talked to them to get their story (even going so far as to hire one of them, Lt. Eunice Hatchitt, as a technical advisor for what would become So Proudly We Hail). Of course, in making the film, they still had to deal with the Office of War Information (OWI), particularly in the form of its Hollywood chief, Nelson Poynter. Some (but not all) of the changes he requested were implemented. The whole thing worked out well for everybody, as audiences took to the film, and it received a number of Oscar nominations (including Paulette Goddard’s only Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress).

Prior to the announcement of this film coming out on Blu-ray (more on that in a moment), I hadn’t really heard of this film. However, I had seen (and enjoyed) a variety of movies with each of the film’s leading ladies, so it was a movie that I was willing to give a chance. And it was worth it! It’s got a lot, from romance to wartime scenes (particularly when some of the hospitals get bombed). Heck, there’s even a brief Christmastime sequence (for those who like finding more movies to watch around that holiday like I do), with an inspirational message from the chaplain (as played by Walter Abel). What really makes this film good, though, is the relationships between the characters (and I don’t just mean the romantic ones). We see them all develop friendships, particularly Veronica Lake’s Olivia D’Arcy, who goes from being angry and bitter (and therefore, disliked by all the other nurses) to a much softer and kinder personality, whom the other nurses come to care for (and which makes her ultimate sacrifice that much more compelling). The wartime scenes are also quite effective, giving a sense of danger and death as we see everybody try to survive the attacks. The movie certainly hovers on the edge of being propaganda (since it was made halfway through the war), as it does not have any positive feelings towards the Japanese (who are a faceless enemy, as there are none actually portrayed here, which at least means that few, if any, stereotypes are used here). But, as I’ve indicated, it’s still so much more than that. I was thrilled to see this movie, and it’s one I know that I would love to watch yet again, especially around Memorial Day in honor of the sacrifices made, not only by the soldiers themselves, but all the medical personnel and even chaplains (like my late great-grandfather)! So, yes, this one is highly recommended by me!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2022) with… So Proudly We Hail (1943)

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics featuring a new 2K master. The image has been cleaned up of most of the dirt and debris (with only a few minor scratches remaining, but they really don’t take away from the viewing experience). The detail is quite good for this black-and-white film, so I would say that this Blu-ray is the best way to see this movie!

Film Length: 2 hours, 6 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Palm Beach Story (1942)Claudette ColbertSince You Went Away (1944)

Nothing But The Truth (1941) – Paulette Goddard

I Married A Witch (1942) – Veronica Lake – The Blue Dahlia (1946)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2023) on… Demetrius And The Gladiators (1954)

Well, two weeks ago we took a look at the 1953 biblical epic The Robe. Today, we’re back for the film’s 1954 sequel, Demetrius And The Gladiators (note: due to the fact that this film opens with some of the footage from the ending of the previous film, it’s recommended that you skip this post if you want to avoid spoiling The Robe)! This film stars Victor Mature and Susan Hayward.

After witnessing Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) and Diana (Jean Simmons) executed without showing any fear of dying, Roman emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson) turns to his uncle, Claudius (Barry Jones), to find out what he had learned about Christian beliefs regarding immortality. Claudius’ wife, Messalina (Susan Hayward), ponders whether there is any power in Jesus’ robe, which Diana had passed off to one of Marcellus’ servants right before they died. Hoping it will grant him immortality, Caligula sends his Praetorian Guards to find the robe. The robe itself had been returned to the apostle Peter (Michael Rennie), but before leaving Rome, he had given it to Marcellus’ former slave Demetrius (Victor Mature). Demetrius carries it around as he visits his friends, but tries to hide it when the guards come around looking for it. However, he gets into trouble when he fights with the guards after they mistreat his friend Lucia (Debra Paget). Dragged before a court, where he is unable to prove that he was freed by his former master, he is sentenced to the gladiator arena. Taken to a gladiator school run by Strabo (Ernest Borgnine), Demetrius attempts (and fails) to escape during a visit by the school’s owner, Claudius, and his wife Messalina. When Messalina learns that he tried to escape because he is a Christian and refuses to kill, she gives the order to have him sent to the arena with the other gladiators the next day. That night, when the gladiators (at least, those who are scheduled to fight the next day) are partying, a group of them decide to pick on Demetrius, since they hope to have an easy fight with him the next day. One gladiator, Glycon (William Marshall), refuses to take part and helps defend Demetrius against them. Messalina (who has been observing from behind-the-scenes) decides to have Demetrius fight against Glycon. Performing in front of the emperor and his guards, Glycon and Demetrius pretend to fight, but, when the crowd realizes what they are doing (and start booing), the two men really start to fight. When Demetrius disarms Glycon, he asks the emperor (who would determine whether Glycon would live or die) to spare him. Learning that Demetrius is a Christian, Caligula lets Glycon live but forces Demetrius to fight off a trio of tigers (a fight which he survives). While Demetrius recovers from his fight with the tigers, Messalina (known for being unfaithful to her husband) has Demetrius assigned to be her bodyguard. Demetrius rejects her advances, which, combined with her near-death experience (the result of Caligula accusing her of conspiring to have him killed, an accusation which she is able to worm her way out of), results in him going back to the gladiator school, where he is told he will be fighting in the next match. The night before, when all the scheduled gladiators are living it up, Lucia sneaks in with another one of the women, and tries to talk with Demetrius. From behind-the-scenes, a jealous Messalina tells Strabo that Demetrius will NOT be fighting (which means he isn’t allowed any entertainment). While Demetrius is dragged away, some of the other gladiators attempt to assault Lucia, resulting in her neck being broken. The next day, an angry Demetrius goes against his beliefs and kills all the men in the arena, much to the delight of the emperor and his guards. Renouncing his faith, Demetrius is freed from the arena and is initiated into the Praetorian Guards. He begins an affair with Messalina, and completely rejects his faith, even when Peter comes to see him. Caligula gets more and more paranoid and delusional, and demands his guards find the robe. Having previously had it in his possession, Demetrius is sent after it. Will he maintain his current course, or will he rediscover his original faith? And will the emperor get what he wants?

In order to get audiences back in the theater seats (and away from their television screens), 20th Century Fox was banking on the success of their first film in CinemaScope, The Robe (1953). They were so assured of that film’s success that The Robe had hardly finished filming before a sequel was greenlit (and luckily for the studio, The Robe was a hit). Obviously, with The Robe‘s ending killing off Richard Burton’s Marcellus and Jean Simmons’ Diana, the focus shifted to Victor Mature’s Demetrius. He was joined by Michael Rennie (reprising his role as the Apostle Peter) and Jay Robinson (back again as the Roman emperor Caligula). Susan Hayward was added in as new character Messalina, returning to the biblical epic genre after her success in the 1951 film David And Bathsheba, with relative newcomers Ernest Borgnine, Debra Paget and Anne Bancroft helping to fill out the cast. With the movie being started in such quick succession after The Robe (almost three weeks after the first film finished filming), they were able to repurpose some of the sets, props and costumes from the earlier film. It all worked well for Demetrius And The Gladiators, as it turned out to be one of 1954’s biggest hits.

By the time I had finally seen The Robe (1953), I heard of its sequel, and found myself wanting to see that as well. I finally got the chance almost half a year after seeing the first film, and I will say that I liked it! I will readily admit that I thought The Robe was the superior film, but Demetrius And The Gladiators still managed to be fun in its own way. Overall, I think the performances are much better in this film (not being saddled with Richard Burton’s less-than-stellar performance from the first film, outside of The Robe‘s footage used at the very beginning of this movie). Jay Robinson as the emperor Caligula is quite fascinating to watch, as his quest for the robe (and immortality) slowly drives him insane (and gradually loses the favor of his own Praetorian Guard). Victor Mature, on the other hand, gives a great performance as an early Christian who goes astray when his girlfriend is SPOILER ALERT injured (assumed dead at first, but later revealed to be alive) END SPOILER ALERT. The action scenes in the gladiator arena are most definitely some of the film’s highlights, whether it be Victor Mature’s Demetrius fighting the tigers or against all the men who “killed” his girlfriend, Lucia (as played by Debra Paget). My only complaint about this film is how, compared to The Robe, the religious aspects of the story kind of fall to the wayside (and with it, comes a less-than-memorable score from Franz Waxman, compared to Alfred Newman’s far more unforgettable score in The Robe). Demetrius And The Gladiators is a very entertaining movie, in my opinion (best seen right after watching The Robe), and I certainly would recommend giving it a chance!

This movie is available on DVD from 20th Century Fox. It was available on Blu-ray some years ago from Twilight Time, but that was a limited run, which has long since sold out.

Film Length: 1 hour, 41 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Robe (1953) – Victor Mature

I Married A Witch (1942) – Susan Hayward

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2023) on… The Robe (1953)

It’s Easter today, so we’re going with another biblical epic that fits the day! In this case, that would be the 1953 film The Robe, starring Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature and Michael Rennie!

On the way to the Roman slave market, tribune Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) meets his childhood friend, Diana (Jean Simmons), who reminds him of a promise he had made years earlier to marry her (even though she is currently pledged to the regent, Caligula, as played by Jay Robinson). Their reunion is short-lived, as Caligula shows up (looking to purchase some gladiators) and has the slave auction start. Marcellus had hoped to buy a pair of Macedonian twins as slaves, but Caligula (who strongly dislikes Marcellus) has one of his tribunes outbid him. In retaliation, Marcellus outbids him on Greek slave Demetrius (Victor Mature) (whom Marcellus had helped catch right before the auction when Demetrius had tried to escape), which causes Caligula to storm off. Later, Marcellus receives word that Caligula has arranged for him to be transferred to Jerusalem. As his ship gets ready to sail, Diana comes to see Marcellus, and they reaffirm their pledges to each other, as she hopes to intercede with the emperor on Marcellus’ behalf. Marcellus arrives at Jerusalem around the Jewish Passover (specifically, on what would later become known as Palm Sunday), with crowds of the Jewish people flocking to see Jesus Christ ride into the city. Demetrius sees Jesus arriving, and is intrigued enough to want to follow Him. Marcellus mostly spends his time over the next week drinking, but when the governor, Pilate, orders him to have Jesus arrested quietly, Demetrius tries to find Jesus to warn Him (but is too late). After Jesus has been tried before Pilate, Marcellus learns that he has been summoned back to Capri (where the emperor is), but is asked to crucify Jesus (much to Demetrius’ dismay). After Jesus is crucified, Marcellus and some of the other soldiers gamble with dice, with Marcellus winning Jesus’ robe. A storm starts up immediately, and Marcellus tries to wear the robe to cover himself, but finds himself in great pain when he touches it. An angry Demetrius accuses him of killing an innocent man, takes the robe back and runs away. On the boat trip to Capri, Marcellus bothers the crew with his nightmares (resulting from his involvement in the crucifixion). He worries that he is being driven mad, and, when he sees Diana in Capri, offers to let her out of her promise. However, after telling the emperor Tiberius (Ernest Thesiger) and his advisors what has happened, it is suggested that his troubles may end if he goes back and destroys the robe. So, with an imperial commission, Marcellus returns to Palestine. Disguised as a Roman merchant, he comes to the village of Cana, where he meets another Christian, Justus (Dean Jagger). Marcellus doesn’t fool any of the villagers, but they take him in, anyways. The next day, Demetrius comes to the village, and proves to Marcellus that it isn’t the robe that is causing him trouble, but his conscience. Demetrius takes him to meet the “Big Fisherman,” Peter (Michael Rennie), but their meeting is interrupted by some of the Roman troops. Marcellus attempts to defend the Christians by way of his imperial commission, but learns that Tiberius is dead (with Caligula in charge). Trying to invoke the commission (since it hadn’t been rescinded by Caligula), Marcellus beats the commander in a sword fight. Marcellus is reluctant to join the Christians because of his guilt, but when Peter tells him of his own mistake (of abandoning and denying Jesus when He was arrested) and tells him that Jesus forgave him, too, Marcellus does join up. After a year, Diana is summoned by Caligula, who tells her that Marcellus has become a Christian (and is therefore a traitor), proving it to her by showing her Demetrius (who had been captured and was being tortured for information). After leaving the emperor, Diana (who had been living with Marcellus’ family for the last year) learns that their chief servant, Marcipor (David Leonard), is a Christian, and has him take her to Marcellus. She tells him about what has happened to Demetrius, while he attempts to explain his faith to her. Will Marcellus be able to come up with a plan to save his friend? And will he convince Diana to join him as a Christian?

As a film, The Robe had its beginnings even before Lloyd C. Douglas finished writing his novel of the same name (published in 1942), as that was when producer Frank Ross purchased the rights for $100,000. The intention was to produce the film for RKO Pictures, but a series of problems continuously delayed the film for most of a decade. Finally, Darryl F. Zanuck (the head of 20th Century Fox), bought the rights after the biblical epic had become popular again in between Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson And Delilah (1949) and Fox’s own David And Bathsheba (1951). Of course, in the decade after Frank Ross bought the film rights, television had risen in popularity, eating away at the box office for theatrical films. Several attempts had been made to change things up to get audiences in the seats, including 3-D (but none of these attempted fads lasted). Fox bought the rights to a process called CinemaScope (which had been invented back in 1927 by Henri Chretien, although the studios had been uninterested then as they made the jump to sound), and decided to use it on The Robe (which had already started filming in three-strip Technicolor before stopping in order to make the change). It was still filmed in the Academy ratio (for any theatres that were unable to make the change to the wider screen), but the CinemaScope version was their primary emphasis in promoting the film. It turned out to be a very successful film (one of the top moneymakers of 1953), with several nominations (and wins) at the Oscars.

I first saw The Robe (1953) most of a decade ago. It was a movie I had heard of before then (mostly due to one of my relatives, Matthew Kinne, who had included it in his Christian devotional book Reflections For Movie Lovers), but it took me a while to get around to seeing. I’d certainly enjoyed some of the various biblical epics that I’d seen over the years (like The Ten Commandments, King Of Kings and Ben-Hur), so it was definitely one that I wanted to see. While I certainly wouldn’t quite put it in the same class as the aforementioned movies, The Robe is certainly one that I find entertaining enough to watch every now and then (mostly around Easter). The sets and overall scenery are very well done, and certainly help make the film visually appealing. Most of the performances work well enough to help keep me invested in the film. Richard Burton has long been accused of giving a wooden performance in this film, and, while I wouldn’t go *quite* that far, he’s certainly not the best here, either (but he’s really the only one that I think gives a slightly sour performance, and he’s not bad enough to stop me from enjoying this film). The film does contain several swordfights, all of which feel well done, and keep the film thrilling. It’s certainly a film that appeals more to Christians (like myself) with all the focus on Jesus (or rather, Marcellus’ reaction to Him), but I’d still say that it’s a film worth seeing, especially at this time of the year!

This movie was available on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox. That Blu-ray is currently out of print, leaving the DVD (also available from 20th Century Fox) as the only way to see this movie (where physical media is concerned).

Film Length: 2 hours, 14 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Jean Simmons – Guys And Dolls (1955)

Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) – Victor Mature – Demetrius And The Gladiators (1954)

Dean Jagger – White Christmas (1954)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2023) on… Santa Fe Trail (1940)

We’re back again for the month of March to look at the 1940 film Santa Fe Trail, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Rushin’ Ballet (1937)

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

(Length: 10 minutes, 54 seconds)

When Buckwheat (Billie Thomas) and Porky (Eugene Lee) run afoul of bullies Butch (Tommy Bond) and Woim (Sidney Kibrick), they turn to Spanky (George McFarland) and Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) for help.  However, even those two aren’t enough against the bullies, so they take refuge in a dance studio (where a recital is currently going on).  This was yet another fun one, with much of the humor revolving around Spanky and Alfalfa trying to keep out of trouble with the bullies (Alfalfa in particular).  The whole “dance” with the two boys dressed up to look like girls is hilarious, especially when the bullies get in on the act.  I enjoyed this one, and would certainly gladly come back to it!

And Now For The Main Feature…

It’s 1854, and a bunch of young cadets at West Point Military Academy are getting ready to graduate. However, one of them, Carl Rader (Van Heflin), instigates a brawl with some of the others because he is distributing anti-slavery pamphlets from John Brown (Raymond Massey). As a result, he is dishonorably discharged. Meanwhile, two of his classmates, J. E. B. “Jeb” Stuart (Errol Flynn) and George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan) graduate, and are assigned to Fort Leavenworth in the Kansas Territory. On the train ride there, Jeb and George are joined by Cyrus Holliday (Henry O’Neill), who is in charge of building the railroad through the territory, and his daughter Kit Carson (Olivia de Havilland). Along the way, the two soldiers see how John Brown is causing trouble in the territory, as one of his men attempted to smuggle some slaves to safety via the train, with violence resulting. Once in Kansas, the two soldiers are given a detail in which they are supposed to deliver a wagonload of Bibles. They run into John Brown and a bunch of his men (including Carl Rader), who take the crates of “Bibles” (which turn out to be crates of guns), although the soldiers are able to recover some of them and capture one of John Brown’s sons, Jason (Gene Reynolds). Jason has been mortally wounded, but, since he doesn’t really believe in his father’s cause (or rather, the violence behind it), he manages to reveal the location of his father’s hideout in Palmyra before he dies. Jeb rides into the town of Palmyra disguised, but some of John Brown’s men quickly figure it out and capture him. Before they are able to hang him, George rides in with the cavalry, chasing off John Brown and his men. They believe John Brown to no longer be a threat, and both Jeb and George are sent back to Washington D.C. At a party, Jeb proposes to Kit, but the party is quickly interrupted by Carl Rader, who has decided to turn on John Brown (since there is a reward for his capture and John Brown has refused to pay him what he had promised). So the troops are mustered and sent to the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Will they be able to stop John Brown’s plans for war, or will his crusade win out?

After the success of the Errol Flynn and Oliva de Havilland Western Dodge City (1939) (not to mention all the other films that the two stars had previously made as a team), Santa Fe Trail (1940) was put together to take advantage of their popularity. Various other stars were associated with the project at one time or another, with Wayne Morris at one point set to star as George Armstrong Custer. However, Ronald Reagan had scored in Knute Rockne, All-American (1940) and was hastily brought in to portray Custer. Raymond Massey was cast in the part of John Brown (a part he would later play again in the 1955 film Seven Angry Men). Some of the film was shot on location in places like the Lasky Movie Ranch (in western San Fernando Valley, California) and the Sierra Railroad (Tuolumne County, California). The film turned out to be a big hit, and one of the highest grossing films for that year.

I will readily admit that Santa Fe Trail was a new film for me, and I certainly enjoyed it. Errol Flynn was the biggest reason that I had wanted to see it, and he certainly makes the film work. While he spends most of the film in uniform, his brief moments in more traditional western garb still work well (and he seems much more at ease than he was in the previous year’s Dodge City). I would also say that future U.S. President Ronald Reagan performs admirably as Custer. Admittedly, it’s a rather thankless role, since he’s the third part of the film’s main love triangle, and the chemistry between Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland makes it obvious that his character doesn’t have a chance with her (except in his own mind). As a pair of cowboys who decide to join the army just to fight John Brown, Alan Hale and Guinn “Big Boy” Williams provide much of the comic relief throughout the film. I would say that the film is at its best during some of its big fight/chase scenes, like the chase when John Brown first gets his guns, the fight at Palmyra and the final battle at Harper’s Ferry. It’s not the most historically accurate film (with J.E.B. Stuart being the only person in the film that actually graduated from West Point in 1954, for example), and the film’s treatment of some of its subject matter with regards to slavery in the American South seems a little too much like its trying to sit on the fence (and certainly, the African-American characters lean way too hard into stereotypes). Still, it provided good entertainment through laughter and excitement, so I would certainly recommend giving it a chance (at least, if you can get past the issues I mentioned)!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Santa Fe Trail (1940)

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, featuring a master from a 4K scan of the nitrate preservation elements. As usual for a Warner Archive release, this film looks fantastic, with all the details coming through clearly, and the image itself cleaned up of all dirt and debris. This is particularly impressive since the film fell into the public domain a long time ago, which has meant many, many releases of this film (many of them not good quality). As I said, this Warner Archive Blu-ray looks great, and is the best way to see this film!

Film Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Sea Hawk (1940) – Errol Flynn – Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)

Dodge City (1939) – Olivia de Havilland – Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)

Van Heflin – Black Widow (1954)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2023) & Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2023): Rita Hayworth in… You Were Never Lovelier (1942)

We’re back again for a look at the other Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth film, their 1942 musical You Were Never Lovelier, co-starring Adolphe Menjou!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Spooky Hooky (1936)

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

(Length: 10 minutes, 42 seconds)

The circus comes to town, and Spanky (George McFarland) and Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) make plans to play hooky to go see it. However, their plan goes awry when their teacher tells them that she bought tickets for the whole class to see it, leaving them in trouble when they have to retrieve their “doctor’s note” from her desk! It’s another short that seems slightly more fitting for the Halloween season, as the kids get spooked by everything in the school during a storm. It does lean a little too heavily into stereotypes when the black janitor gets easily scared, too, but that’s brief enough that it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s good fun, and I would certainly recommend it!

And Now For The Main Feature…

American dancer Robert “Bob” Davis (Fred Astaire) is in Buenos Aires on a “holiday.” Otherwise translated, he’s betting on the horse races at the Palermo Race Track. When he loses all his money, he decides that it’s time for him to get back to work, and heads for the Hotel Acuña, where he hopes to dance at the Sky Room. He tries to meet with the hotel’s owner, Eduardo Acuña (Adolphe Menjou), but Eduardo refuses to see him. Bob runs into his old friend, orchestra leader Xavier Cugat (played by himself), who offers to help Bob get noticed by having him sing with the orchestra at the wedding of Eduardo’s oldest daughter. At the wedding, Bob meets Eduardo’s second oldest daughter, Maria (Rita Hayworth), although he doesn’t immediately learn who she is. She is indifferent to him, and when he does actually talk to Eduardo, he makes the mistake of referring to her as being like “the inside of a refrigerator” (which is when he learns that Maria is Eduardo’s daughter). This certainly doesn’t endear Bob to Eduardo, and it also serves to alarm Eduardo with regards to Maria. Eduardo has two younger daughters, both of whom have fiancés, but it is the family tradition to marry off the daughters in order of their age. Eduardo consults Maria’s godmother (and the wife of his best friend), Maria Castro (Isobel Elsom), on what to do about Maria’s indifference to men (side note: with two characters in the cast called Maria, we will refer to them from here on out as Maria A and Maria C). Against her advice, Eduardo decides to start sending his daughter orchids and a note from an unknown admirer, with plans to produce somebody he approved of if the idea worked. For a time, it seems to work, with Maria A receiving orchids and a note every day at the same time. The idea starts to go awry when Eduardo takes a trip for a few days (and forgets to do something about the situation while he’s gone). Upon his return, he hastily attempts to make up for it, but, in an attempt to see Eduardo, Bob ends up taking the flowers and note (without Eduardo’s knowledge). When Maria A sees Bob deliver the flowers, she remembers him from her sister’s wedding, and assumes that he is the “unknown admirer.” Frustrated with this turn of events (and obviously unable to reveal that HE is the note writer), Eduardo has no choice but to go to Bob, who demands a contract to dance in Eduardo’s Sky Room in exchange for disillusioning Maria A. However, his attempts to deter her only make her fall harder for him (and he for her). At Eduardo’s anniversary party, Eduardo is so agitated by the whole thing that he announces that Bob is leaving the country (which Bob is forced to go along with). However, Eduardo’s wife walks in on him composing a farewell note to “Maria,” but assumes it is her friend Maria C. Bob sacrifices himself by revealing the whole truth, earning Eduardo’s admiration, but also finally disillusioning Maria A. Will Bob be able to overcome this problem and win Maria A’s heart back, or will their breakup be permanent?

In 1941, up-and-comer Rita Hayworth was teamed up with Fred Astaire for the Columbia Pictures musical You’ll Never Get Rich. She had enjoyed some success in films for other studios, but it was that film that established her as a major star for the studio she was under contract to. As a result, the studio wanted to replicate that success by teaming her up again with Fred. The studio decided to do a remake of an Argentinian film made the year before called Los martes, orquideas (otherwise translated as On Tuesdays, Orchids), with music provided by composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Johnny Mercer. Fred Astaire worked out the dance numbers with Rita, but, due to the lack of available rehearsal space on the Columbia lot, they had to rehearse in a room over a funeral parlor (usually pausing when there was a funeral procession). The film proved to be another hit with audiences and scored three Oscar nominations (Best Song for “Dearly Beloved,” Best Score and Best Sound Recording), although, due to circumstances, it was also the final time Fred and Rita worked together on the big screen.

This is a film that I’ve seen many, many times, and that I first saw when it was released on DVD back in 2004 (or thereabouts). Of the two Fred Astaire/Rita Hayworth pairings, this has long been my favorite. To say that I love the Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer score is an understatement, but I particularly like the songs “I’m Old-Fashioned” and “Shorty George.” Fred and Rita’s dance duets to those songs are arguably the highlights of the whole film. Fred also has his fun dance solo for his “Audition Dance,” which is fascinating to watch as he makes use of the space in Mr. Acuña’s (Adolphe Menjou) office. The story itself is a bit ridiculous (and certainly creepy with a father writing love notes to his daughter). Still, this movie is a good source of humor that always keeps me coming back, especially with regards to Mr. Acuña’s secretary Fernando (played by Gus Schilling), who is constantly on the wrong end of Mr. Acuña’s wrath for one reason or another. The only real complaint I have against the film is that it takes a little over thirty-five minutes before we see any dancing in the film. OK, if you want to get technical, Rita does a little bit of dancing quicker than that when she (or rather I should say Nan Wynn, who was dubbing her) briefly sings “Dearly Beloved” in her bedroom, but that’s not really much of a routine. Apart from that (very) minor complaint, this is a film that I thoroughly love to see again and again, and I would very enthusiastically recommend it!!

This movie is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Film Length: 1 hour, 37 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Holiday Inn (1942)Fred AstaireThe Sky’s The Limit (1943)

You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) – Rita Hayworth – Tonight And Every Night (1945)

Roxie Hart (1942) – Adolphe Menjou – My Dream Is Yours (1949)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2023) on… To Be Or Not To Be (1942)

Welcome back everybody, and Happy New Year! As we start into the new year, I will be doing even fewer posts than I have been in the past (as I hinted at in yesterday’s 2022: Year In Review + Top 10 Movies Watched post), but I’m hoping that by doing so, I’ll still be able to stick around! And with that, let’s dig into our first film for the year, the 1942 comedy To Be Or Not To Be, starring Carole Lombard and Jack Benny!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Two Too Young (1936)

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

(Length: 10 minutes, 10 seconds)

Buckwheat (Billie Thomas) and Porky (Eugene Lee) brought some fireworks with them to school. Believing them to be too young (and wanting to play with the fireworks as well), Spanky (George McFarland) and Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) try to get ahold of them. Once again, Spanky and Alfalfa manage to bring the humor. Their attempt at portraying a “G-man” to get the fireworks was quite funny, as was Alfalfa’s recitation of “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” (with the fireworks going off in his back pocket). This one was very, very enjoyable, and worth seeing again and again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

It’s 1939, and, although the threat of war with Germany looms over the horizon, all is well yet in the Polish town of Warsaw, especially for a troupe of performers led by Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) and his wife Maria (Carole Lombard). They are rehearsing a new play called Gestapo while performing in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Maria has found herself with an ardent admirer in the form of aviator Lieutenant Stanislav Sobinski (Robert Stack), and she encourages him to come backstage to see her while her husband performs the “To be or not to be” soliloquy. She becomes interested in Stanislav, and sees him the next day. The troupe had been planning to premiere Gestapo that night, but their government orders them to cancel the play (since they fear the possibility of offending Adolf Hitler). So, they perform Hamlet again, and Stanislav once again walks out on the soliloquy to see Maria. He misinterprets her interest, and threatens to tell her husband (who is mainly angry that a member of the audience walked out on his soliloquy twice, but doesn’t know the reason why). However, before anything can be done, they all learn that Hitler has invaded the country. With the country quickly falling to Hitler, Stanislav ends up joining other Polish pilots in the British Royal Air Force. While on a break from their missions, the lieutenant and some of the other pilots meet Professor Alexander Siletsky (Stanley Ridges), who has been giving speeches on the radio in favor of the Polish resistance. When the professor accidentally lets it slip that he’s about to go on a mission that will take him to Warsaw, all the pilots (including Stanislav) ask him to take messages to their loved ones still in Warsaw. However, Stanislav becomes suspicious when he tries to send a message to Maria Tura, and the professor doesn’t recognize her name. When Stanislav tells his superiors about his suspicions later, they send him by plane to Warsaw to prevent the Gestapo from going after the families of the Polish resistance and pilots. However, the professor has also gotten there (but not in time to do any damage yet), and has Maria summoned to pass along the lieutenant’s message. She had already seen the lieutenant when he arrived, so she is careful of the professor (but doesn’t let on that she knows). The professor, now interested in her himself, invites her to dinner later that night in the hopes of seducing her to become a spy for the Nazis. She returns to her apartment to change, arriving in time to prevent a fight between the lieutenant and Joseph (who had just come home to find the lieutenant sleeping, but still only knows him as the man who walked out on his soliloquoy). They make a plan for later, hoping to fool the professor into giving them the information. They are successfully able to get the professor to the theatre (now disguised as Gestapo headquarters), and get him to give them everything by having Joseph pretend to be Colonel Ehrhardt of the Gestapo. However, Joseph slips up when the professor tells him about the message from the lieutenant (for Maria), and so the professor attempts to get away from them. However, in trying to sneak out of the theatre, he is fatally shot by Stanislav. Afterwards, Joseph disguises himself as the professor to get the rest of the information and get his wife out of the German-occupied hotel, but is immediately summoned by the REAL Colonel Ehrhardt (Sig Ruman). Joseph is able to keep up the ruse, and even manages to deflect the Colonel away from some of the resistance leaders. He makes arrangements with the Colonel for himself and Maria to get a plane out of Poland. The ruse starts to fall apart later when some of the Colonel’s men discover the body of the real professor when they are trying to get the theatre ready for the arrival of the Führer, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph unknowingly makes the mistake of calling the Colonel in order to meet with him again. Joseph is briefly able to evade capture by making it look like the real professor is an impostor (by removing his beard and putting on a fake one), but some of his troupe arrive in German uniforms and take him away after revealing him as a fake. They get out safely, but their interference has ruined Joseph’s plan to get out of Poland. Their producer, Dobosh (Charles Halton) borrows an idea from an old play they had done (which had flopped) to help get them all out of the country. Will his plan work? Will Joseph be able to perform Hamlet again (without interruption), or will they all be captured by the Nazis?

Director Ernst Lubtisch had previously started his own production company to produce his comedy That Uncertain Feeling (1941), with plans to follow that up with an original idea for another comedy (an idea that would become To Be Or Not To Be). However, That Uncertain Feeling did poorly in theatres, resulting in the production company being dissolved. The result was that Alexander Korda, a co-owner of United Artists, financed the film over at United Artists while agreeing to let the director have control over casting, writers and the final cut of the movie. At first, the director thought about casting Maurice Chevalier in the lead, but instead decided to go with comedian Jack Benny, whom he built the film around. Miriam Hopkins was considered for the female lead, but she turned it down, complaining about Jack Benny getting all the funny stuff. Carole Lombard saw the role as being more than just Jack Benny’s “straight man,” and got the part. There were some minor troubles on the film (mostly to do with the film’s satire of the Nazis), but for the most part, the cast had a lot of fun doing the film. As much fun as Carole Lombard had doing the film, it ended up being her last, as she died in a plane crash upon returning from a war bond drive. Her death, combined with the film’s comedic treatment of the Nazi menace, left the film getting heavily criticized by both critics and audiences. However, time has been favorable to the movie, as it has become not only one of the director’s best known films, but also a well-regarded film for both of its major stars.

I first saw To Be Or Not To Be (1942) a number of years ago, and didn’t immediately take to it. Part of that was the fact that I had also seen and liked the later 1983 version with Mel Brooks beforehand (since I more or less grew up with Mel Brooks’ style of humor via the likes of Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men In Tights, not to mention the classic TV show Get Smart). However, I’ve had the desire to revisit the 1942 film for a number of years now, and I finally got the opportunity to see it again in preparation for this review. All I can say is, “Wow! Time has certainly changed my opinion of this movie!” The film’s more dramatic moments really pull you in, helping you to feel for the characters and worry about their safety. Of course, this film knows the value of a laugh, and it does indeed provide many! The main moments that stick out were Jack Benny’s Joseph Tura masquerading first as Colonel Ehrhardt (“So they call me ‘Concentration Camp’ Ehrhardt?”) when meeting with Stanley Ridges’ Professor Siletsky (the only character who is played completely straight/dramatically), and then when he disguises himself as the late professor when meeting with the real Colonel Ehrhardt, as played by Sig Ruman. Speaking of Sig Ruman, his role as the Colonel is one of the funniest in the whole film, especially when (after initial prompting by the fake professor) he continually tries to place the blame for all of his mistakes on his own lieutenant, Captain Schultz (as played by Henry Victor), even at the end of the film. How I went so long without watching this movie (or enjoying it), I’ll never know. But I will readily admit to this film’s greatness now, and I highly recommend it for a good laugh (from start to finish)!

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

Film Length: 1 hour, 39 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Nothing Sacred (1937) – Carole Lombard

Broadway Melody Of 1936 (1935) – Jack Benny

Nice Girl? (1941) – Robert Stack – Great Day In The Morning (1956)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!