Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… The Kid (1921)

Next up, we have the classic 1921 Charlie Chaplin comedy The Kid!

After leaving a charity hospital, the Woman (Edna Purviance) tries to leave her baby in the car of someone well-to-do, in the hope that they can take better care of her baby than she could. She soon reconsiders that decision, but she is too late, as the car was stolen right after she put the baby in. The baby is abandoned in an alley by the car thieves, where he is found by the tramp (Charlie Chaplin). At first, he is reluctant to take care of the baby, but, upon reading the note the mother had left with him, decides to take the baby in. Five years later, the Kid (Jackie Coogan) and the tramp are still together. For work, the Kid goes around breaking windows, which the tramp repairs. Meanwhile, the Woman has become a big star, and very charitable, going around giving gifts to kids and helping other mothers, including in the neighborhood that the tramp and the Kid live in. When the Kid falls ill, the tramp calls for a doctor. When the doctor comes, the tramp is forced to tell him about the Kid and shows him the original note from the mother. The doctor then decides to tell the proper authorities and have the Kid sent to an orphanage. When the authorities come for the Kid, the tramp fights back, and they go on the run, and the Woman finds out too late from the doctor when he shows her the note that the Kid is her son. The question remains: will the Woman and the Kid be reunited?

After several years of doing shorts, which were gradually getting longer, Charlie Chaplin went with a full length feature. The movie apparently came about partly as a result of him losing his own newborn, combined with seeing a vaudeville performance with Jack Coogan and his son, Jackie. Jackie’s performance had impressed Chaplin so much, that he wrote The Kid as a vehicle to feature young Jackie’s talent. Jack Coogan helped coach his son’s performance for the movie (and was paid well for doing it), and Chaplin apparently got along pretty well with Jackie just as much offscreen as on.

Now, I know George Lucas tends to receive a lot of flack for his alterations to the original Star Wars trilogy, but he was hardly the first person to mess around with his movies. Particularly once he finally made the switch to sound, Charlie Chaplin made some alterations to a number of his films, making some cuts, adding stuff (usually just the score for some of his silents). Originally, The Kid ran one hour, eight minutes in length. In 1972, Chaplin released a newly edited version that shortened the movie to fifty-three minutes. The new, edited version reduced the part of The Man, as played by Carl Miller, to a quick appearance near the beginning of the movie to show him essentially rejecting The Woman, instead of allowing him a chance to reconcile with her, as in the original version. The Woman’s part is also reduced, although not by as much. The change allows for more emphasis on the relationship between Chaplin’s tramp and the Kid, and almost makes it seem like the tramp and the Woman become the Kid’s family, instead of allowing for the Man to be involved.

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. Their version is the shortened fifty-three minute 1972 re-release, which is Chaplin’s official version of the movie. I have seen both versions (although it’s been long enough I couldn’t tell you exactly what was cut), but whichever version, the movie still works great to me! An intertitle that starts the movie by saying that it is “A picture with a smile — and perhaps, a tear.” I can say that it does live up to that promise, as there are certainly laughs to be found here, and Chaplin and Jackie Coogan’s performances will definitely make you cry, when they are being pulled part! Certainly a great movie, and one I would easily recommend trying, whichever version you can see!

My Rating: 9/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… Having Wonderful Time (1938)

Now, for the first regular post of 2020, we’ll dig into the 1938 comedy Having Wonderful Time, starring Ginger Rogers and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Ginger Rogers plays Teddy Shaw, a typist who has been looking forward to a two week vacation at Camp Kare-Free. She is very much looking forward to the peace and quiet, away from her family, most of whom are trying to push her back together with her ex-boyfriend, Emil Beatty (Jack Carson). As she is taken to the camp, she meets one of the camp’s employees, Chick Kirkland (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), who angers her when he drops her luggage, and the two are both angry with each other. However, she defends him when he gets in trouble with his employer for something else. Soon, they start spending a lot of time together. However, Chick is worried about his job prospects as a lawyer, and doesn’t want to propose marriage. He does suggest having sex, which sends Teddy running. She ends up going with Maxwell “Buzzy” Pangwell (Lee Bowman), and spends the night at his cabin playing backgammon, first with Buzzy, then on her own when Buzzy has had enough and goes to sleep.

Honestly, some of the best fun with this movie isn’t the leads, it’s some of the secondary characters! Lucille Ball as Teddy’s cabin roommate Miriam is a hoot, as she shows elements of the “Lucy” persona that she would become well known for! She spends a good part of the movie chasing after Buzzy, who has affectionately nicknamed the character “Screwball,” which should give you something of a hint as to what her character is like! And then there’s the other famous redhead, Red Skelton (or, as he is billed in the credits here, Richard “Red” Skelton), making his film debut as Itchy, the camp’s social director. Apparently, he had filmed a lot more, but supposedly some of the studio bosses didn’t like his type of comedy and cut a lot of it. He still gets two main moments, where he demonstrates how some people dunk their donuts in their coffee, and later, in a bit involving more physical comedy, shows how some people go up or down a set of stairs at the camp. Those bits and some other moments are still enough to show his brand of comedy, and how he would become a big star in his own right. There are some other familiar faces here, like Eve Arden, but they don’t really get the chance to show off what they could do.

This movie is based on a 1937 play (of the same name) written by Arthur Kober (who also did the screenplay for the movie). Apparently, the play differed in that the characters were more Jewish in nature, but the film censors wanted that aspect toned down and made more relatable for audiences. Personally, I do think this movie does have a charm of its own. I’ll admit, the relationship between the two leads is one of the weaker aspects of the movie. On their own, both actors work well in this movie, but the chemistry just doesn’t quite seem to be there. Still, as I said before, some of the secondary characters are enough fun to make it worthwhile. And, of course, the movie made use of RKO’s connection to Disney at the time (since I think they distributed the movies), as the song “Heigh Ho” from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs is sung by party guests later in the film (maybe a little overused, but it is fun). I do enjoy this movie, and I would definitely still recommend giving it a try!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, ten minutes in length.

My Rating: 8/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Vivacious Lady (1938)

And now, for my last review of 2019, we have the classic 1938 comedy Vivacious Lady starring Ginger Rogers and James Stewart!

Professor of botany Peter Morgan (James Stewart) comes to New York City in search of his cousin Keith Morgan (James Ellison), in an attempt to bring him back to the university at Old Sharon. He finds him at a nightclub waiting for a girl he likes, but before Peter can get him out of there, he meets and is instantly smitten with Francey (Ginger Rogers), the lady Keith was waiting for. After one date, Peter and Francey are married, and she comes back with him to Old Sharon. However, Peter hasn’t told his parents yet, nor his fiancee, which leaves him apprehensive of how everybody will react. Before he can tell his father (Charles Coburn), he assumes her to be there with Keith, and disapproves. Peter hopes to tell them at the university’s prom, but things go wrong when his now former-but-doesn’t-know-it-yet fiancee Helen (Frances Mercer) starts a fight with Francey, which Peter and his father come upon at a poor time. When he gets frustrated from his failed attempts at being alone with Francey, Peter manages to tell his father, who disapproves and doesn’t want Peter to tell his mother. However, his mother (Beulah Bondi) soon finds out accidentally, and she approves. However, Mr. Morgan comes to tell Francey that either she will divorce Peter, or he will have to demand Peter’s resignation, which angers Mrs. Morgan and results in her leaving her husband. Francey doesn’t want to cause trouble for Peter, so she decides to leave.

This wonderful comedy was directed by George Stevens, who was working with Ginger again after previously directing her in the Astaire/Rogers film Swing Time. His comedy pedigree came from working with comedy team Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy on some of their classic short comedies. James Stewart was chosen for this movie by Ginger herself, since they had dated previously, and she had gained enough starpower to make that choice. And of course, this was one of several times that actress Beulah Bondi would portray James Stewart’s mother, including in the previously reviewed Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

Overall, this is a wonderful comedy, with at least two particularly wonderful comic bits. The first one would be when Ginger’s Francey and Frances Mercer’s Helen butt heads at the prom. They start out calmly discussing things before they start slapping each other, then kicking, then brawling (and Jimmy bringing his father out to meet Francey only to see them still going at each other just makes it that much funnier)! Then of course, there would be the moment where Francey and James Ellison’s Keith teach Mrs. Morgan the Big Apple dance. It’s so much fun to watch all three of them really getting into it, and then in comes Mr. Morgan, who is incensed at seeing what was happening! While these are two of the more memorable moments for me, the whole movie is a lot of fun, and one I would very much recommend for a good laugh!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection and is one hour, thirty minutes in length.

Seeing as how this is my last review for 2019, I want to wish you all a happy New Year (and of course, I hope you’ll tune in again tomorrow to see my 2019: Year In Review + Top 10 Movies Watched)!

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Now we have one last Christmas movie before the holiday itself, the classic musical Meet Me In St. Louis, starring Judy Garland!

The story of the movie centers on the Smith family. Youngest daughters “Tootie” (Margaret O’Brien) and Agnes (Joan Carroll) are generally up to some mischief, especially on Halloween. Older daughters Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer) are both eagerly looking forward to the upcoming St. Louis World’s Fair, while also trying to gain the attention of the men they are attracted to. Their father, Alonzo “Lon” Smith (Leon Ames), is offered a promotion with his law office that would require the family to move to New York, which he takes them up on, with plans to leave after Christmas.

The film’s origins come from a series of short stories written by Sally Benson. There were eight stories originally published in the New Yorker magazine from June 1941 through May 1942, all based on Sally Benson’s childhood memories of the Smith family’s adventures. They proved so popular that they were compiled into the book Meet Me In St. Louis with four new stories in 1942. MGM producer Arthur Freed liked them, and wanted to do a film musical based on them. Vincente Minelli was brought in to direct (after George Cukor had to turn it down when he was called in to serve in World War II). The film was planned all along for Judy Garland, even though she was reluctant to go back to doing a juvenile role after having finally done a few adult roles. It took a bit of work, but she finally came around, and the movie would become one of her best-known roles.

And this is just such a wonderful movie, fun to watch at Christmas or any other time of the year! The music is a mixture of old and new, with the new tunes provided by songwriters Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin. Judy obviously gets some of the film’s best songs, such as “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “The Trolley Song” and “The Boy Next Door” (and the latter would be used again ten years later with altered lyrics to reflect a change in gender of the singer in the MGM musical Athena). But the rest of the cast is equally wonderful, with Marjorie Main a little dialed back (well, more than she usually seems to be) as the maid Katie, Lucille Bremer does well as older sister Rose in her film debut (before her career would go downhill very quickly with a few box office bombs), and Harry Davenport as the grandfather just feels like the grandfather you’d always want to have, he’s so wonderful! And I could easily get into more about the cast, but the story is so much fun! Yes, it is a bit episodic in nature, but it works, as it takes place over most of a year. It was already a period film at the time it was made, and boy, do some things seem different (especially like how they celebrated Halloween, which is so different now it’s not even funny)! This movie definitely rates high with me, and I have no trouble whatsoever in recommending it!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, fifty-three minutes in length.

So, to everybody, I hope you “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (and for those that don’t celebrate it, I wish you happy holidays)! I wish you all peace on earth, and goodwill to ALL!

My Rating: 10/10

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*ranked #9 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2019

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Holiday Inn (1942)

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

Bing Crosby plays Jim Hardy and Fred Astaire plays Ted Hanover, two men working together onstage with Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), with whom they are both in love. Jim decides to leave the act and live on a farm, believing it to be an easier life (and oh, how wrong he was). After a year, he decides to turn the farm into an inn that is “open holidays only.” Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), who wants to break into show business, is sent there to audition, and she gets the job. When the inn opens New Year’s Eve, Ted comes in, drunk, after Lila left him for a millionaire. He ends up dancing with Linda, but then passes out. In the morning, he remembers dancing with a new partner, but can’t remember what she looked like (although he believes he is in love with her). He figures she will be back at the inn, and on Valentine’s Day, is proven right. She wants to be his partner, but doesn’t want to leave the inn. She ends up leaving the inn when Jim tries to prevent her having the choice to go to Hollywood. The question remains: where will she stay? Hollywood or Holiday Inn?

Yep, I would definitely say that this movie classifies as a Christmas movie. And New Year’s. And Valentine’s, Easter, 4th of July and Thanksgiving (even making a reference to the then-recently changing time of November when the holiday was actually supposed to be celebrated). Composer Irving Berlin originally had been trying to put together a Broadway revue with music inspired by various holidays, but it was after meeting with director Mark Sandrich that the decision was made to do it as a movie instead (utilizing Irving Berlin’s music, of course). And with this movie, the world was introduced to the classic song “White Christmas,” which would go on to win the “Best Song” Oscar (Irving Berlin’s only Oscar win).

Besides “White Christmas,” I can definitely say that there are a few songs and dances that I enjoy in this movie. One of them is the song “You’re Easy To Dance With,” sung and danced by Fred Astaire and Virginia Dale. Amongst Fred’s early Irving Berlin film musicals, it continues the trend of him doing a dancing-related song. He reprised it with Marjorie Reynolds at the New Year’s Eve party, except this time he was drunk (and I do mean drunk, as Fred had two drinks of bourbon before the first take, and one more between each take, with the seventh and final take being what we see in the movie).

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

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

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Studios and is one hour, forty minutes in length.

My Rating: 8/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Susan Slept Here (1954)

As fond as I am of Christmas movies, I couldn’t help but want to be a part of the Happy Holidays Blogathon, hosted by Pure Entertainment Preservation Society (and I thank them for letting me join in on the festivities)! And with that, it’s time for the 1954 comedy Susan Slept Here with Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds!

Screenwriter Mark Christopher (Dick Powell) has been in a rut ever since he won an Oscar. On Christmas Eve, one cop (who had consulted on one of Mark’s movies) and his partner bring 17-year-old juvenile delinquent Susan Landis (Debbie Reynolds) to his apartment, since Mark had previously mentioned to the cop that he had wanted to talk to a juvenile delinquent to help come up with a story. They leave her there, with plans to come back the day after Christmas so she doesn’t have to spend the holiday in jail. Susan doesn’t trust Mark (and he’s not thrilled with the idea, either), but after spending part of the night gaining each other’s trust (especially after Susan accidentally causes a fight between Mark and his girlfriend), they start to open up to each other. Mark learns about Susan making her mother go on a honeymoon with her new husband (which she only agrees to after Susan claimed she wanted to marry a guy she knew and her mother gave her written consent). When the police come back quicker than expected, he decides to take Susan to Las Vegas to get married (so that she would have a means of support and not go back to jail). After dancing all night at the clubs, they returned to Mark’s apartment, where he left a sleeping Susan and immediately left to go work on a story at a cabin in the mountains. While he’s away, he tries to have his lawyer get Susan to sign some annulment papers, but she is convinced that she has married the man she loves. The question remaining is whether he will come to the same conclusion?

Personally, I’m of the opinion that this movie qualifies as a Christmas movie. I’ll admit, there is some room for debate, but close to half the movie does take place around that time. And after all, the cops are trying to offer Susan a delay in being arrested to begin with due to the holiday spirit! But it’s still a fun movie to watch any time of the year.

And what a cast! We have Dick Powell as one of the leads (who, at 50, admittedly looks older than the 35-year-old character he’s supposed to be playing), who plays the character as sympathetic, without him ever making any advances. Alvy Moore is fun as Mark’s buddy Virgil, who works for Mark (but doing what, who knows, as Susan calls it when she says it is a “phony job”), and Virgil is certainly a much more lucid character than I’m used to with Alvy Moore, considering he is best known as the ever confused (and confusing) county agent Hank Kimball on classic sitcom Green Acres. Anne Francis is Mark’s fiance Isabella Alexander, who is generally a hoot as the spoiled daughter of a senator, and she spends most of her screen time furious with Susan, either when she answers Mark’s phone or when they meet in person. Comedian Red Skelton gets a quick, silent cameo near the end of the movie.

But Debbie Reynolds is the heart of this movie as Susan Landis, and makes it work so well! From the moment we meet her, when she is screaming and fighting with the cop as he tries to drag her in (and she does it in a way only Debbie Reynolds could do), we see just how she got into trouble (but at the same time, can easily understand why she would be putting up such a fuss). As we get to know her along with Mark, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her by the time the cops come back early. And I know I’m cheering for her when she has the police escort Isabella from the apartment (especially since the cop carrying Isabella out had just had a picture frame purposely dropped on his feet by Isabella only a few moments before). The dream sequence is a little odd, but Debbie makes up for it (even though it has some dancing, I can’t quite call it a dream ballet, as it utilizes Dick Powell, Alvy Moore and Anne Francis besides Debbie, but she is the only one really doing much dancing). As a whole, just a wonderful movie to watch around Christmastime (or any other time of the year)! It may be the type that wouldn’t get made today (and for good reason), but it’s still a lot of fun!

While the Warner Archive Collection had previously made this movie available on DVD, their Blu-ray release a few years back was a wonderful improvement, really bringing out some of the vivid colors! So that would certainly be the way I would recommend seeing this almost-forgotten gem! This movie is one hour, thirty-eight minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Bachelor Mother (1939)

Now, to finish out our celebration of the 80th anniversary of 1939 is the classic comedy Bachelor Mother, starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven!

Ginger Rogers stars as Polly Parrish, a seasonal worker in the toy department at the John B. Merlin & Son department store, who has just been fired the day before Christmas. While on her lunch break trying to find another job, she comes across a baby being left on the doorstep of a foundling home. Running to pick it up, she is discovered and mistaken for the mother. She denies being the mother, and leaves the baby there. However, they come to see her boss, David Merlin (David Niven), who gives Polly her job back. Later, back in her apartment, the baby is delivered to her. In her frustration at being stuck with the baby, she tries to leave the baby with David to be put back in a home, while she goes to try and make some money in a dance contest with her co-worker, stock clerk Freddie Miller (Frank Albertson). David is waiting for her at her apartment, and threatens to fire her if she doesn’t keep the baby. She decides to keep the baby, and she and David start to develop feelings for each other. However, unknown to them, Freddie, who believes David to be the father (due to some of Polly’s comments that he overheard), has tried to tell David’s father, John Merlin (Charles Coburn), that he is a grandfather. Mr. Merlin decides to try and take the baby away when David refuses to be pushed into marrying Polly, which forces her to find a way out of this problem.

Bachelor Mother was Ginger Rogers’ first solo outing after doing The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle with Fred Astaire, which was planned to be their last movie together (and was until they were reunited one final time for The Barkleys Of Broadway a decade later). David Niven was starting to rise after being in many supporting roles, with this movie giving him his first chance as a romantic comedy lead. The story had already been done before in the movies, and the fifties would see a remake, Bundle Of Joy starring Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. But Bachelor Mother has become the best-known version of the tale, helped by the presence of the leads, along with Charles Coburn as the “grandfather.”

This is a movie I have enjoyed ever since the first time I saw it! So many fun moments! Even though her partnership with Fred Astaire had ended, we still get to see her dancing with co-star Frank Albertson (and, if only because of her, it’s no surprise when they win the dance contest)! And, before I go any further, I should also mention one of her “co-stars” in this movie: Donald Duck! No, it’s not him in animated form, it is instead a group of toy Donald Ducks. Ginger’s character works in the toy department selling these things. It’s definitely fun to see RKO studios connection to Disney at work here (since they were distributing Walt’s films at this time), and see what some of those toys must have been like. Of course, it’s a lot of fun watching David Niven’s character trying to exchange a broken duck at his store incognito (in order to prove to Polly that the store does do exchanges). And there are certainly many more wonderful comedic moments in this movie that make it worth watching, so I definitely have very high recommendations for this movie!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection and is one hour, twenty-two minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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