2019: Year In Review + Top 10 Movies Watched

OK, so originally, this was going to just be a “Top Movies Watched In 2019” list, like what I had done for last year, and that was going to be that. However, after thinking everything through, I thought I’d throw in a quick bit of “Year In Review” as well, just for the fun of it (and I’ve also gone back and altered last year’s as well to reflect that change). Starting off 2019, for my regular reviews, I continued on with some of the remaining Bing Crosby film reviews, as well as including various movies I had been given for both Christmas and my birthday (working in the handful of Errol Flynn movies that I have). In finishing off the year, I also started working my through Ginger Roger’s filmography (at least, those I own on disc), with more to come in 2020. And of course, I threw in a few film noirs for “Noir-vember,” along with some more Christmas oriented movies for most of December. Considering I was making up for a few newer releases from 2018 that I had gotten (but hadn’t reviewed yet), since doing this blog has certainly been a process of figuring out what I wanted to do and making those changes, I probably continued longer with those 2018 releases on Wednesdays than I normally would be doing. Plus, with 2019 being the 80th anniversary of 1939, that classic year considered by some to be one of Hollywood’s best years, I threw in one 1939 movie per month. While I am obviously not done yet with films from that great year, going forward they will be back to being amongst the regular Sunday reviews (or Wednesdays, when there are any new releases). Of course, among some of my special posts this year were my celebratory 100th post with my list of the Top 10 Dance Routines, a delayed post on the Crosby/Hope Road series, the screen teams of Frank Sinatra &Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire & Cyd Charisse, and a few comparisons of classic comedies and their musical remakes. About the only other thing I can think of is the switch for my video reviews (on FB) to my new YouTube channel (although those videos are me pretty much using my posts as a script, so there is little need for them unless you want to hear the sultry sound of my voice 😉 ). Of course, to truly keep up with what I am watching, I would definitely suggest keeping up with my FB fan page.

And with all that said, here’s my list, for what I think are some of the best movies I watched in the year 2019, culled from the list of 2019 Reviews, plus 2018 releases reviewed after January 1, 2019 and 2019 releases reviewed before December 30, 2019.  While I was able to enjoy watching a great many movies, some new and some I’ve seen before, the movies on this list are those I enjoyed the most, and would recommend to anybody that is interested!  And if any of these appeal to you, be sure to click on the movie titles to go to Amazon and support this site!

  1. Easter Parade (1948) (Warner Home Video, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In the only film that teamed up Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, Fred plays a dancer who tries to take on a new partner when his old partner decides to break up the act and go solo. A wonderful musical that’s fun to watch any time of the year, whether for Easter, spring, or just any time, with music by the incomparable Irving Berlin! Full review here.
  2. My Fair Lady (1964) (CBS Home Entertainment, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison star in this classic musical based on the Broadway show!With many wonderful songs, including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “On The Street Where You Live,” you can’t go wrong with this movie! Full review here.
  3. Swing Time (1936) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • The sixth Astaire-Rogers film, and one of their best-known! With music by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields including the classic Oscar-winning tune “The Way You Look Tonight,’ plus others, it’s hard to go wrong with this one, now that it looks better yet on Blu-ray! Full review here.
  4. The Story Of Vernon & Irene Castle (1939) (Warner Archive Collection, DVD, My Rating: 10/10)
    • The ninth Astaire-Rogers film, and the final one for RKO Studios, finds them playing the real-life husband-and-wife dance team of Vernon & Irene Castle. A lot of fun seeing how that couple influenced a lot of things in the world of dance, with equally fun period music to go along with it! Full review here.
  5. Lovely To Look At (1952) (Warner Archive Collection, DVD, My Rating: 10/10)
    • The second filmed version of the Broadway show Roberta, this film again deals with a man (played by Red Skelton) inheriting a French dress shop from his aunt. With the wonderful music of Jerome Kern, some fantastic dancing provided by husband-and-wife dance team Marge and Gower Champion, some great singing from Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, plus Red Skelton’s comedy, it’s hard to go wrong with this wonderful movie! Full review here.
  6. Silk Stockings (1957) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Fred Astaire’s final musical for nearly a decade, and his second team-up with Cyd Charisse. She plays a Russian commissar sent to bring back a Russian composer who is working on an American film by producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire). With many wonderful Cole Porter tunes, including “All Of You,” Ritz, Roll And Rock” and many others, this is an absolutely wonderful movie! Full review here.
  7. Rose-Marie (1936) (Warner Archive Collection, DVD, My Rating: 10/10)
    • The second film featuring America’s “singing sweethearts,” Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, finds her going after her convict brother (played by James Stewart, no less) in the Canadian wilderness, with a Canadian mountie (Nelson Eddy) close behind. With some classic music, including what is probably the BEST version of “Indian Love Call,” this class is a winner, and one of the best MacDonald-Eddy films! Full review here.
  8. Maytime (1937) (Warner Archive Collection, DVD, My Rating: 10/10)
    • For their third outing together, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson returned in a Viennese operetta first done on stage nearly twenty years before. With the one song returning from that show, “Will You Remember,” that alone makes the movie worth watching (but the rest of the movie is pretty good, too)! Full review here.
  9. Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • The classic Judy Garland musical, all about the Smith family in 1903 St. Louis, with the then-upcoming World’s Fair! With classic music such as “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “The Trolley Song” and more, it’s hard to go wrong with this movie! Full review here.
  10. Footlight Parade (1933) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In this Busby Berkeley musical, James Cagney is a showman trying to put on short prologues to be shown on stage between movies. With several classic musical numbers, including “By A Waterfall” and “Shanghai Lil,” and a new restoration from Warner Archive, this movie is a lot of fun! Full review here.

Honorable mentions: Hello, Dolly! (1969) (20th Century Fox/Disney, Blu-ray), Vivacious Lady (1938) (Warner Archive Collection, DVD), The Thin Man (1934) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray)

So thank you all for sticking with me in 2019, and I wish you a Happy New Year as we head into 2020! And please let me know what movies you’ve enjoyed this year as well (whether those you’ve seen or whatever movies I’ve reviewed, whatever works for you)!

Previous Years:

2018

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

Screen Team Edition: Fred Astaire & Cyd Charisse

And we’re back to talk about another screen team! This time, it’s Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse! Going into The Band Wagon, Cyd Charisse was coming off her successful partnered dance with Gene Kelly for the “Broadway Melody” ballet in Singin’ In The Rain resulting in her being promoted to leading lady for The Band Wagon. On the other hand, Fred was coming off The Belle Of New York, which had flopped. This put him in a similar situation as his character in The Band Wagon, where he was considering retirement or trying to figure out how to keep going.

In The Band Wagon, washed-up movie actor Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) decides to leave Hollywood and go to New York City to do a Broadway show written by his friends Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily (Nanette Fabray) Marton. Lester and Lily have convinced actor/ director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) to do their show, and he quickly signs ballet dancer Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) as the leading lady, along with her boyfriend/ manager Paul Byrd (James Mitchell) as the show’s choreographer. However, Tony and Gabrielle don’t hit it off well at first, and Jeff quickly gets out of control making the show quite different than what Lester and Lily had written. When the show opens out-of-town, they find just how badly out-of-control Jeff had gotten, and they all regroup to figure out how to salvage the show. (Length: one hour, fifty-two minutes)

While they had worked alongside each other a little in the 1946 Ziegfeld Follies, The Band Wagon was the first opportunity that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse would have to actually work together. As such, Fred did have some concerns about working with her (which ended up being written into his character for the movie). He did worry about her being a little tall for him, which would be fixed either by him wearing a hat or by her wearing flats. And of course, her ballet background made thing different, as Fred had had some ballet when he was much younger, but hadn’t done much for years, and was generally not fond of doing it. We see that in the movie, and it helps drive the early portion of the film, as we only see them “rehearsing” together (but it’s not exactly going well). It’s only when they go to the park, with the intention of seeing whether they can dance together, that we get their iconic “Dancing In The Dark” duet. From there, we see them “rehearse” (admittedly, running into trouble with all the out-of-control smoke, which in some respects was the movie’s director Vincente Minelli making fun of some of the bubble trouble he had with one segment of the aforementioned Ziegfeld Follies). Then we get the “Girl Hunt Ballet,” which was spoofing a lot of the various private eye/detective stories of recent years, with Michael Kidd being brought in due to his work on the Broadway show of Guys And Dolls to choreograph another iconic dance (with Cyd pulling double-duty as a femme-fatale and a “damsel in distress”).

In 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)

Going into filming Silk Stockings, producer Arthur Freed had it pegged as another film for Fred and Cyd. Having established their chemistry in the previous film, they were able to work with another story. The song “All Of You” in effect replaced the attempt by Melvyn Douglas’s Count d’Algout in Ninotchka to make Greta Garbo’s Nina laugh in an attempt to loosen her up with Fred’s Steve Canfield trying to get Cyd’s Nina to loosen up through dance. While she resisted at first, he was able to get through, and she danced with him. While she still resisted a little, by the time they got to the song “Fated To Be Mated” (a new song written specifically for the movie), she has loosened up, and the dance is a more joyous one (and even borrows some of the music from “All Of You” for part of the dance)!

In commenting on Silk Stockings, New York Times writer once said that “There should be legislation requiring that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse appear together in a musical picture at least once every two years.” While I agree with that statement, sadly, it was not to be. Upon completing the movie, Fred announced he would be retiring (mainly from dancing, although he made a few dance specials for television and would return again for the 1968 Finian’s Rainbow and dance again in That’s Entertainment Part 2). It would also mark the last musical for Cyd as well, although she would continue to do dramatic parts, as well as some dancing here and there, both on the big and small screens. According to some, Silk Stockings underperformed at the box office, resulting in a loss. Personally, I enjoy both of their movies, with a greater preference for Silk Stockings as the better of the two (again, that’s my opinion), so I would very heartily recommend seeing these two work (and dance!) together in either of these movies!

The Band Wagon

My Rating: 10/10

Silk Stockings

My Rating: 10/10

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Silk Stockings (1957)

Now we have a movie that proves that Paris loves lovers, the 1957 MGM musical Silk Stockings starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse!

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 her and Steve develops, even she manages to loosen up, 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.

This movie was based on a then-recent Broadway musical with music by Cole Porter (which was based on the 1939 comedy Ninotchka). A lot of the score from the Broadway show was kept for the movie, with a couple of new songs written specifically for the movie. These include the songs “Fated To Be Mated” and “Ritz, Roll And Rock” (and a few altered lyrics on some others in order to comply with the censors). Personally, “Ritz, Roll And Rock” is probably my favorite song from this movie (although most of the music is a lot of fun). It’s a song Fred Astaire apparently asked composer Cole Porter to write for the movie, due to the recent popularity of rock and roll. For me, it’s just a fun song to remember, and it’s one that almost always seems to be at least partly stuck in my head!  The song “All Of You” also manages to be quite memorable (although it’s one of those songs that I’m surprised made it past the censors, considering the suggestive nature of some of the lyrics)!

Just in general, this movie is one that I very, very much enjoy! For me, the cast just makes it work! Fred and Cyd dazzle, alone and together, in their dances. Janis Paige is hilarious, with a character essentially spoofing the famous swimming actress Esther Williams. All three of the Russian commissars are fun to watch (including Peter Lorre, who certainly seems like an odd choice in a musical, especially considering his dancing seems to be very limited, but still manages to make the comedy work). Again, a movie I have so much fun watching (and getting the music stuck in my head), and one I definitely would recommend highly!

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

Film Length: 1 hour, 58 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #6 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2019

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Funny Face (1957)Fred AstaireThe Notorious Landlady (1962)

Deep In My Heart (1954) – Cyd Charisse – Two Weeks In Another Town (1962)

Romance On The High Seas (1948) – Janis Paige

My Favorite Brunette (1947) – Peter Lorre

On The Town (1949) – Jules Munshin

The Glenn Miller Story (1954) – George Tobias – Marjorie Morningstar (1958)

The Band Wagon (1953) – Fred Astaire/Cyd Charisse (screen team)

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!