What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… That Certain Age (1938)

For today’s recent Blu-ray release (and Musicals: With A Song And A Dance In My Heart blogathon entry), we’ve got another Deanna Durbin film from 1938, That Certain Age, also starring Melvyn Douglas!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Pups Is Pups (1930)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 2 (1930-1931) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 18 minutes, 39 seconds)

Farina (Allen Hoskins) gets a job as a page at a pet show, and the rest of the Gang get their pets ready to enter in the show. This was another fun short, with all the various goings-on. While the main “story” of this one is focused on the kids preparing for the pet show, the real focus seems to be on Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) as he plays with his five puppies (which have been trained to come when he rings a bell). The other humorous recurring bit is Dorothy DeBorba (making her series debut) getting all dressed up, only to go jump in a mud puddle. Overall, a very fun entry in the series, which continues to suck me in!

And Now For The Main Feature…

To help some poor Boy Scouts go to camp, Alice Fullerton (Deanna Durbin) offers to help put on a show with her Boy Scout boyfriend, Kenneth “Ken” Warren (Jackie Cooper). However, they run into trouble because they want to use the guest cottage at her home as a rehearsal space, and her father, newspaper publisher Gilbert Fullerton (John Halliday), has effectively ordered his reporter Vincent Bullitt (Melvyn Douglas) to come stay there to work on a series of articles. Alice and her friends are furious when they are chased out by the servants as they prepare the cottage for Vincent, but Alice gets an idea when her mother, Dorothy Fullerton (Irene Rich), says that the idea is to provide Vincent with peace and quiet so that he can do his work. When Vincent arrives, Alice and her friends try to make the cottage seem haunted. At first, Vincent is scared, but quickly realizes he’s being fooled when he finds a wire being used to move some furniture around. He gets them all in the cottage, and finds out why they are trying to scare him away. When he admits that he doesn’t want to be there himself, they all come up with a plan to fool Alice’s father so that Vincent can leave. However, when Alice learns that Vincent is a little sick with a fever, she makes sure that he has to stay. In the process, she develops a crush on Vincent, and starts spending a lot of time with him. Ken starts getting jealous over this development, and offers Alice’s part in the show to Mary Lee (Peggy Stewart), who had also offered them some rehearsal space. However, Ken still wants to make up with Alice, and sends his younger sister, Butch (Juanita Quigley), to tell her so. She doesn’t find Alice, who is busy buying a birthday present for Vincent. Instead, Butch finds Alice’s diary, in which she tells of her feelings for Vincent, and Butch proceeds to show it to Ken. At Vincent’s birthday party, Alice tries to wear a more grown-up dress. Upon seeing her in it, her parents force her to go back up and change (which she does, while also refusing to come back). Ken brings her diary back to her, admitting to having seen some of it, and she admits to her feelings for Vincent (and how she views Ken as her friend). Despondent, Ken fakes relief and prepares to leave the party. Before he leaves, though, he tells Vincent off (thereby revealing to Vincent that Alice has feelings for him). Unsure of what to do, Vincent tells her parents, and they all try to figure out how to help her past this infatuation. But will they be able to help her get over Vincent before Ken up and joins the Navy?

That Certain Age had four new songs written for it. Those songs are “My Own,” “Be A Good Scout,” You’re As Pretty As A Picture” and the title tune, all of which were written by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson. Two other songs, “Les Filles de Cadiz” (by Léo Delibes) and the Aria from “Romeo et Juliette” (by Charles Gounod) were also included. I’ll admit, after the last two Deanna Durbin films I saw (three if we go all the way back to It Started With Eve), I was slightly disappointed with the music here, as none of it really stuck with me that strongly. I’ll admit, after listening to them again, that I did like “My Own” (which was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar, one of two nominations this film received) as well as “You’re As Pretty As A Picture.” They’re not as good as some of the other songs she’s done, but I think they are still worth listening to. Realistically, though, I love listening to Deanna sing, even with less memorable music, so it’s only a minor complaint with this movie.

So far, though, of the six Deanna Durbin films I’ve seen, this one was the weakest (but, if you’ll notice my score on it, I still have a VERY favorable opinion of it). One of my biggest problems is that it seems to be fairly similar to the later Nice Girl?, and that film had, in my mind, better music and better comedy. Don’t get me wrong, this film certainly has its moments in the comedic territory. The section where all the kids try to “haunt” the guest cottage in an effort to get Melvyn Douglas’s Vincent Bullitt out of there is quite funny (especially after he realizes what’s going on). There’s more fun later on when watching the three adults trying to dissuade Alice’s interest in Vincent (and how their attempts backfire). I still had a very enjoyable time with this one, even if the music and comedy weren’t quite as strong as in some of the others. It’s still one worth recommending, in my book!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Studios. This film has a pretty good transfer for the Blu-ray release. There are some scratches and other dirt here and there, but nothing that would seriously mar the viewing experience. Like Nice Girl? and Mad About Music, this was one of the nine titles Kino Lorber Studio Classics licensed for Blu-ray releases before being dropped (along with three others) when what was intended to be the first volume of three 3-film sets bombed. I’m certainly glad that this one made it out just the same (and, much to my delight, no sooner had I finished watching this movie than the other three dropped titles were announced for Blu-ray release at the beginning of this month, along with a fourth Deanna Durbin title that hadn’t been licensed out)! A highly recommended Blu-ray release!

Film Length: 1 hour, 41 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Mad About Music (1938)Deanna DurbinThree Smart Girls Grow Up (1939)

Melvyn Douglas – Ninotchka (1939)

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

Well, I’m a little late (by about a week) in talking about this movie (considering one of the film’s stars was featured last month), but let’s get into it anyways! I’m talking, of course, about the 1948 film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy!

Coming Up Shorts! with… The House Of Tomorrow (1949)

(Available as an extra on the Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection or as part of Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 2 Blu-ray or DVD from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 6 minutes, 51 seconds)

We are given a tour of the house of tomorrow by the narrator. A very fun cartoon, as we see what types of contraptions that Tex Avery visualized for the future. Of course, there’s a running gag about the unwelcome “mothers-in-law” (which may be overdone just a little). Some aspects are dated, in between how it treats housewives, plus the image of the bikini-clad girl (possibly looks like Virginia Mayo, but I’m not 100% sure) for the “tired businessmen.” Apart from those issues, it looks like a lot of fun (just don’t start asking questions, or you’ll have a toilet plunger thrown at you)!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Advertising executive Jim Blandings (Cary Grant) lives in an increasingly cramped apartment in New York City with his wife Muriel (Myrna Loy) and their daughters Joan (Sharyn Moffett) and Betsy (Connie Marshall). One morning, their lawyer and friend Bill Cole (Melvyn Douglas) comes over to talk with Muriel about remodeling the apartment, but when Jim hears the $7000 price tag, he rejects the idea completely. At work, he is given a new advertising account that one of his colleagues had failed to satisfy. While looking over some of his colleague’s previous ideas, he sees an ad for a home in Connecticut, and decides to look into it. He and Muriel become enamored with the place, but the real estate salesman, sensing a golden opportunity, misrepresents the place (and sells it to them for more than it’s worth). Bill quickly figures out they paid too much for less than they were told, but, they want the house more than anything, so Jim decides not to push against the idea. They turn to a few experts to see what improvements can be made to the house, but every one of them suggests tearing it down and starting fresh. So, that’s what they do (although they get in trouble with the owner of the mortgage for not asking him first). Further troubles arise as they try to get the house designed like they want but within a decent budget. And then, of course, there’s all the difficulties (and rising costs) that come about as they try to build it. Plus, they’re evicted from their apartment before the house is complete. With all these problems (and an advertising campaign that Jim is struggling to put together while he focuses on the house), will he be able to stay sane, or will they lose everything?

Eric Hodgins, at one time a vice president of Time, Inc., originally tried to build his dream house (in 1939), but the costs skyrocketed from the estimated $11,000 up to $56,000 at completion. After two years, he was bankrupt and forced to sell his home. But he wrote an article on his experiences entitled “Mr. Blandings Builds His Castle” for Fortune magazine in 1946. This article was turned into a novel that same year, and it was quickly picked up for a movie by David O. Selznik. With the funds from the movie rights, Eric Hodgins tried (and failed) to buy back his house. But, back to the movie, David O. Selznik planned to use it to pair up Cary Grant and Myrna Loy (who had worked together previously in two movies), hoping to make them the next (Spencer) Tracy and (Katharine) Hepburn. That didn’t happen (as this was the last film that Cary Grant and Myrna Loy made together), but it was pretty well received by audiences and critics.

While I’d heard of this film before, I can’t say as I’ve ever really had the chance to see it. But, it’s a comedy, it stars Cary Grant, and it also stars Myrna Loy! That was enough of a combination for me to want to see it (especially when the Blu-ray was announced, but more on that in a moment)! Having finally seen it, the movie turned out to be even better than I would have imagined (and I imagined it would be good)! The story overall is fun, and the comedy certainly makes it better! I admit, I get a few Green Acres vibes here (you know, the 1960s sitcom), in between the dishonest real estate salesman, the broken down house, and even the doorknob on the closet! Plain and simple, this one was a good time, and one I look forward to revisiting periodically! So, if you get the chance to try it, do it! You won’t regret it (just make sure somebody is there to get you out of the closet)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection. The Blu-ray features a new transfer from a 4k scan of the original nitrate camera negative. As I said, this was my first time seeing it, but I would say this new Blu-ray is a typical Warner Archive release. In other words, it’s a WONDERFUL transfer, with great detail and clarity! The picture has been cleaned up of all dust and dirt and other debris. Throw in two radio productions of the story, both of which feature Cary Grant (with one featuring Irene Dunne and the other featuring Cary Grant’s then-wife Betsy Drake), and I’m sold on this release! So, if you want to see this movie looking its best, this is the way to do it!

Film Length: 1 hour, 34 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #9 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Notorious (1946)Cary GrantRoom For One More (1952)

Song Of The Thin Man (1947) – Myrna Loy

Ninotchka (1939) – Melvyn Douglas

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Original Vs. Remake: Ninotchka (1939) Vs. Silk Stockings (1957)

Now that we’re back for another edition of “Original Vs. Remake,” let’s take a look at the 1939 comedy Ninotchka and its 1957 musical remake, Silk Stockings. Since the two plots have enough differences, I’ll just borrow the two plot descriptions from each of the individual reviews.

Ninotchka: Three Russian commissars (Sig Rumann, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach) come to Paris with the intention of selling jewelry that had once belonged to the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire). However, Swana is living in Paris, and she learns about the jewels through a former Russian nobleman working at the hotel the commissars are staying at. She sends her lover, Count Leon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas), to delay the sale of the jewelry in the hope that she can reclaim it. Leon helps introduce the commissars to some of the pleasures of Paris and capitalism, but special envoy Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, or Ninotchka (Greta Garbo) is sent to to take over the case. Leon accidentally meets her on the street, and is instantly smitten (although at first neither realizes who the other is). Once she overhears his telephone call with one of the commissars, they realize who they are with. Leon still likes her, and keeps trying to go out with her, which becomes easier after he is able to make her laugh and loosen up. Swana sees all this going on, and jealously takes advantage of Ninotchka when Ninotchka comes back to her hotel room drunk and leaves the safe containing the jewels open. Swana agrees to relinquish her rights to the jewelry if Ninotchka would immediately return to Russia, which she reluctantly agrees to do. (Length: one hour, fifty-two minutes)

Silk Stockings: Movie producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) wants Russian composer Peter Boroff’s (Wim Sonneveld) music for his new movie, and tries to help him stay in Paris. The Russian government is displeased with this, and sends three commissars (Jules Munshin, Peter Lorre and Joseph Buloff) to bring him back. When Steve distracts them with wine, women and song, special envoy Nina Yoschenko (Cyd Charisse) is sent to try again. She proves to be more resilient, but as the attraction between the two develops, even she manages to loosen, and Steve proposes to her. However, when Nina, Peter and the three commissars hear how Peter’s music has been changed for the movie, they are all offended and they all return to Russia. (Length: one hour, fifty-eight minutes)

This is another instance where it’s not really worth noting the similarities. With Silk Stockings being a remake of Ninotchka (with a Broadway musical in between the two film versions), there is definitely some similar dialogue. We do get George Tobias in both movies, although he plays different parts in each movie (and neither are very long). But really, not much else beyond the very basic story is the same.

So let’s get some of those obligatory surface differences out of the way. First, Ninotchka = comedy, Silk Stockings = musical. Secondly, outside of the leading lady’s character having the same first name (and nickname), none of the characters share names between the two movies. Thirdly, Ninotchka had the Russians coming to sell some jewelry to buy food for the Russian people, with the sale being delayed by the original owner and her lover. Silk Stockings has the Russians coming after a Russian composer who is seeking asylum and providing music for a movie producer, who is trying to prevent him being taken back to Russia.

There are certainly some differences in characterization, but the three commissars do seem to be a bit more vivid. In Ninotchka, when we first meet them, they are already showing signs of wanting to enjoy some of the benefits of staying in a capitalistic society. Instead of staying in the hotel their government had already arranged for, they are arguing themselves into a better and classier hotel, and decide to go with the royal suite, at least partly because it has a safe for them to store the jewels in. In Silk Stockings, since they are coming after Boroff the composer, it’s up to Fred’s Steve Canfield to distract them with the glitz and glamour, almost like a devil who knows how to tempt some of the people he has to deal with and keep them from their mission.

Another major difference, to me, is how the two movies treat the Russians. While Ninotchka is intended as a comedy and a satire of communism, the Russians are not being portrayed in a completely negative light. Sure, the three commissars want to enjoy the benefits of capitalism away from their own country and we see some of the problems of communism itself (including the reference to the then-recent mass trials that resulted in “fewer and better Russians”), but the fact remains that they are in Paris to sell the jewelry to buy more food for their people. Which really puts the Grand Duchess Swana in a bad light, as she just wants her jewels and doesn’t really seem to care at all what happens to the Russian people. And, to a degree, Melvyn Douglas’s Count Leon comes around to the idea of communism, at most, being frustrated with the Russian government for denying him a visa to come and see Ninotchka when she goes back to Russia. Silk Stockings goes a different route, not portraying them as well. In between them trying to force composer Peter Boroff to return (and the three commissars), the political philosophy is never embraced by Fred Astaire’s Steve Canfield (which in some respects injects a bit of sexism and American disregard for other cultures into the story, considering it is used as this story’s excuse to separate the two lovers and have her return to Russia of her own free will). Personally, I suspect this change was partly due to how society changed between the two movies, in between the start of the Cold War and the anti-communist feelings that had swept the country.

As to which movie I prefer? Silk Stockings. It’s been the version of the story that I’ve seen the most (and for many more years). While I do think Greta Garbo was the better actress (both overall and in this role), I still can’t deny that, for me, Fred Astaire brings a magic of his own, that I have enjoyed for a number of years. Not to mention my opinion that I much prefer watching Cyd’s Ninotchka transformation between Fred dancing with her to “All Of You” and Cyd’s solo dance to the title tune as she changes from her drab outfit into a dress. The music by Cole Porter is catchy, the dancing is fun to watch, and it’s just overall easier to sit down and watch Silk Stockings. I can’t deny there are some things that require either seeing Ninotchka or at least some knowledge of what the Soviet Union was like, such as the one guy who passes through Ninotchka’s living area (in Ninotchka, we are given the explanation that he is the type that you can never tell whether he is just going to the washroom or to the secret police, and that explanation is absent when he walks through during the “Red Blues” number in Silk Stockings). But, while I do prefer Silk Stockings, Ninotchka is no slouch, either, and I would definitely recommend both movies highly!

Ninotchka

My Rating: 9/10

Silk Stockings

My Rating: 10/10

The Winner (in my opinion): Silk Stockings

Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 on… Ninotchka (1939)

As the old movie posters said for the movie, “Greta Garbo laughs!” in the classic 1939 comedy Ninotchka, also starring Melvyn Douglas.

Three Russian commissars (Sig Rumann, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach) come to Paris with the intention of selling jewelry that had once belonged to the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire). However, Swana is living in Paris, and she learns about the jewels through a former Russian nobleman working at the hotel the commissars are staying at. She sends her lover, Count Leon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas), to delay the sale of the jewelry in the hope that she can reclaim it. Leon helps introduce the commissars to some of the pleasures of Paris and capitalism, but special envoy Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, or Ninotchka (Greta Garbo) is sent to take over the case. Leon accidentally meets her on the street, and is instantly smitten (although at first neither realizes who the other is). Once she overhears his telephone call with one of the commissars, they realize who they are with. Leon still likes her, and keeps trying to go out with her, which becomes easier after he is able to make her laugh and loosen up. Swana sees all this going on, and jealously takes advantage of Ninotchka when Ninotchka comes back to her hotel room drunk and leaves the safe containing the jewels open. Swana agrees to relinquish her rights to the jewelry if Ninotchka would immediately return to Russia, which she reluctantly agrees to do.

Going into production for Ninotchka, Greta Garbo was trying to shift gears in her career, as she was mainly known for doing a lot of tragic romantic dramas (and was coming off a rare box-office failure with the 1937 film Conquest). The tagline “Garbo laughs!” was apparently the big idea going into the movie, even before the screenplay itself was written! While she was unsure about trying to do a comedy, it resonated with audiences and with critics, resulting in her fourth Oscar nomination and allowing her a new potential career path. Sadly, it was short-lived, as her next film, Two-Faced Woman from 1941, failed. For a variety of reasons, that film’s failure was enough to convince her to retire from the movies.

For me, this movie is the only Greta Garbo movie I have seen at this time. I enjoyed it very much! The comedy worked very well for her and the rest of the cast as well! It’s fun seeing Sig Rumann again (since I mainly know him from some of the Marx Brothers films), along with George Tobias (best known as Abner Kravitz from Bewitched). It’s slightly disappointing to see how little Bela Lugosi is in the movie, considering he was billed fourth, but only really makes a relatively short appearance near the end of the movie. Still, it’s a nice, fun movie, and one I would quite heartily recommend!

The movie is available from Warner Home Video on Blu-ray, both individually and as part of the 5-film Golden Year Collection, and on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 51 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

That Certain Age (1938) – Melvyn Douglas – Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939) – George Tobias – Balalaika (1939)

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!