Sunday, December 25, 2011

Favorite Audrey Movie Fashions: #1

The black dress – short or long – became a fashion staple after “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

The first scene of the 1961 film shows Audrey as Holly Golightly emerging from a taxi in the early morning and walking up to the window display at Tiffany’s. She’s wearing a gorgeous yet simple black dress and gloves, a singular figure on the sidewalk. She then nibbles on a Danish, making her more one of us – a dreamer who prefers a Danish to caviar.

Later she wears a simpler little black dress. While Coco Chanel may have invented the little black dress, Audrey immortalized it in this film with Givenchy’s help.

It seemed like everything she touched in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” became stylish, whether it’s wearing a men’s shirt (and nothing else) or the oversized sunglasses or the long cigarette holder.

But that’s Audrey. Forever stylish.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Favorite Audrey Movie Fashions: #2

I loved this dress the moment I saw it in 1954’s “Sabrina.”

It’s designed by Hubert de Givenchy, who I mentioned in earlier posts would form a lifelong fashion partnership with Audrey. They met when Billy Wilder, director of “Sabrina,” suggested that Audrey fly to Paris for some clothes that Sabrina would wear after her transformation. Audrey did so and made an appointment with Givenchy, who had established his business in 1952 with clothes featuring modern lines.

He later noted that when the time came to meet Hepburn, he actually thought he was doing so with Katharine Hepburn. He really didn’t have an idea who Audrey was, but from that first meeting they forged a partnership that created Audrey’s distinctive look.

Givenchy was uncredited in “Sabrina,” with famed designer Edith Head winning an Oscar for her work on the film. But Givenchy created some of Audrey’s most memorable clothes in the film – the traveling suit that Sabrina wears when she returns to the U.S., the black dress with what would become known as the “Sabrina neckline,” and this stunner of a gown.

But it’s more than just a dress. Wilder wisely uses the dress as Sabrina’s entry into the upper class. Up until then, she’s only watched the society gatherings of her father’s employer from a distance. That dress gets her noticed, and once she’s invited by William Holden onto the patio for a dance, she glides into place. She’s now the stunner, not just the dress.

I read recently that Hepburn was never overwhelmed by Givenchy’s fashions, and that is so true. This dress could be overwhelming, but she wears it with grace and beauty.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Favorite Audrey Movie Fashions: #3

It’s a perfect movie fashion moment from "Funny Face."

Audrey the fashion model is in the Louvre, hiding behind the Winged Victory statue. She yells down for photographer Fred Astaire to tell her when to start, and when he does so, she emerges in this magnificent red stunner, gliding down a staircase in a scene so perfectly composed that it’s a moment to always remember.

The 1957 musical is about fashion, so what better movie to showcase Audrey and Hubert de Givenchy, who was her designer and friend for 40 years? She’s lovely from beginning to end, but what works about this moment is that the merging of Audrey and fashion builds to this point, where Audrey’s character Jo finally owns the fact that she’s a model. Her emergence is symbolic of the character and the freedom she feels.

I’m not quite done with Givenchy, but you’ll have to wait just a little longer for more. Pretty much every outfit in this movie belongs on this list, but this is the one that I remember and love the most.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Favorite Audrey Movie Fashions: #4

I’m crazy about this Paco Rabanne dress.

It’s a “love it” or “hate it” creation. I’m in the former camp because it shows that Audrey could be ‘60s mod and still look fabulous. Even today the dress dazzles (OK, the “hate it” people would say it blinds, but so be it).

Hepburn wore this dress in the 1967 film “Two for the Road,” a movie that improves with age. Rabanne is one of several costume designers credited for the film, so I’m not sure which other creations are his.

Regardless, Audrey looks ‘60s chic in many of the clothes. This dress is a startling and welcome departure from her usual elegant gowns with classic lines. I’m curious to know what others think!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Favorite Audrey Movie Fashions: #5

Here are two similar looks yet each had its own impact.

In “Sabrina,” she wears black Capri pants, top and flats. It definitely makes her look like a dancer, which is her background, and she worked as a dancer in London after the war before she became a movie star. This look is so chic even today. It accentuates her long line so beautifully.

In “Funny Face,” she wears black again, except this time a high-neck sweater, tight trousers, loafers – and white socks. She dances a beatnik number, has plenty of fun doing so and starts yet another fashion trends.

It’s interesting that both movies showcase high fashion from Givenchy, yet these simple looks were just as fetching and memorable. That’s one secret of Audrey’s appeal, and I touched on it in my “Roman Holiday” fashion post: she looked fabulous in couture, but she also looked great in everyday wear and was down-to-earth in a way that people could identify with her.

Can you tell I’m swooning with each post? See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Favorite Audrey Movie Fashions: #6

The lovely Audrey, in her first starring role, spends most of the film in a simple blouse/skirt combination, compliments of famed designer Edith Head, who won an Oscar for her efforts.

Outside of nightgowns and pajamas, or the clothes in the opening newsreel footage, Audrey has three outfits in the movie – the opening gown at the embassy ball, the blouse/skirt and the finale travel dress. All are marvelous, but I love the skirt/blouse combo because Audrey’s character is supposed to be “in cognito” in Rome and yet she should still look as befitting an undercover princess.

The combo is versatile – with her long hair and gloves, sleeves down, it looks classy; with the short hair, no gloves, sandals and a scarf, with sleeves rolled up, she looks more relaxed and blends with the crowd, even though the blouse and skirt don’t change.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Favorite Audrey Movie Fashions: #7

“Charade” was released in 1963, and Audrey looks so chic in her early ‘60s couture, designed by her favorite Hubert de Givenchy, a perfect marriage of designer and model. (I’ll talk more about them later this week.)

What I love best from this movie are all of the fabulous coats and matching hats (especially pillbox, popularized by Jackie Kennedy). That wonderful leopard print hat with the deep red coat is a stunner even today.

No wonder Cary Grant couldn’t resist her as she raced through Paris. Even though her character’s belongings were stolen at the beginning of the film, she still manages to look stylish with her replacement togs. (I hope the thieves stole her wimpole-like ski headpiece that she wears at the beginning of the film. I’m not a fan of that!)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Favorite Audrey Movie Fashions: #8

Cecil Beaton won an Oscar for his fashion creations for “My Fair Lady,” but I must admit I’m not a huge fan of his work here.

Yes, the fashions are eye-popping, yet I feel like the over-the-top creations demand our attention at the expense of the story. Too often I feel like the movie is a fashion show, while the functionality of such costumes is ignored for their exaggerated effect.

Audrey could make a brown paper bag look loverly. However, she regarded her neck as too long, and here’s a movie where the fashions actually bring attention to her long neck, and not always in a flattering way.

In a latter scene when Eliza sings “Without You,” she’s wearing a lovely pink gown marred by an overly frilly high collar that seems to be pushing her head even further away from her body. It looks so uncomfortable that you wonder if Eliza just wants her dirty old clothes back.

For the climactic ball, she’s wearing a relatively simple one-tone dress that you don’t really notice because of the gigantic diamond choker that doubles as a neck brace, holding her head in place so her skyscraper hairpiece won’t tip and cause her to fall over. I hope she didn’t have to sneeze in this getup – she could have seriously injured herself doing so.

However, all is not lost. Her traveling outfit (above), worn when Eliza leaves Professor Higgins’ home and sings “Show Me” (one of my favorite songs from the musical), suits her just fine. Despite yet another high collar, its simplicity in comparison to the other costumes is refreshing, and Audrey carries it off with her usual grace.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Eight Days of Christmas Countdown: Audrey Fashion

Happy Holidays! I’ve been playing Santa all month, hosting a party, getting my shopping done and finishing my wrapping. Now I can actually focus on my blog.

And, for my third annual holiday countdown, I’m featuring my favorite, Audrey Hepburn, in my favorite movie fashions. Instead of 12 Days of Christmas, though, this one will be Eight Days of Christmas due to my late start. Plus I’m going to try and post eight days in a row.

So, starting tomorrow, I’ll my countdown begins. Can’t wait – and thanks to my fans for their patience as I took an unplanned break from the blog this fall. And double thanks to “Q” for providing suggestions from which I came up with the idea for this year’s countdown.

See you tomorrow!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Audrey of the Month and More

Hi all ... here's a combined post of my Audrey of the Month and my prolonged absence from the blogging scene.

Audrey in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" ... sleeping never looked so elegant, despite the hissing of the cat, which must be jealous of her glamorous slumber.

As for me, I wish I had more to report regarding my disappearance. I'm healthy, working hard and enjoying life, although not having movies in it right now is causing some frustration. I must admit that yesterday was the first Saturday since September that wasn't booked solid, which felt weird but was pretty nice, particularly with the holidays looming just around the corner.

I ask my fellow bloggers and writers: Where and when do you find the time to watch movies and write about them? I'd love to hear what your routine is so I can perhaps improve my own. Honestly, I've always considered myself pretty organized, and perhaps I just need to say "No" more often. Maybe I should unleash unedited stream-of-consciousness blog entries just to post something, although I pity those who must read them :) And I do not write well at 2 a.m. -- I need my beauty sleep, just like Audrey.

The other part is finding the time to read all of the great blogs out there. As a member of CMBA, I feel it's important that we support each other. So when do you find the time to peruse all of these wonderful posts and leave comments?

If anything, just leave me a comment and let me know how you are doing. It would be great to hear from my fellow blogger friends.

Also, as I head into the holidays, I'm trying to figure out what to do with my annual 12 Days of Christmas movie countdown ... any ideas? I'd hate to not do it this year, and perhaps this will motivate me to jump right into it.

But first up is Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. And we are the annual hosts ... I enjoy cooking so I've been planning the menu and now must head off to the store. Yes, I realize this is time I could be spending on watching an old movie. See my dilemma? :)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Audrey of the Month

Happy Halloween! You didn't think I'd forget my Audrey of the Month, did you? Here's one from the marvelous "Wait Until Dark." Captures the mood of the day, eh?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wonders in the Dark: 'Gigi'

Over at the blog Wonders in the Dark, which is conducting its ongoing countdown of film musicals, my third and final contribution is "Gigi," which comes in at #22.

You can read the article here. I will repost it on my blog this weekend.

But I have to share a funny story. If you haven't read my last post, please do so before finishing this one.

As expected, this past weekend was yet another busy one. So, last night, at 11 p.m., I'm lying in bed thinking about today and how I need to finish my "Gigi" review, because it was due on Oct. 16. Then it slowly began to dawn on me that yesterday was Oct. 16, not today. I jumped out of bed, turned on the computer, and there was a very nice email from Sam at Wonders in the Dark reminding me to get my review to him before midnight. I replied with an apology and began to furiously finish the piece. I emailed it to him at 11:50 p.m. my time, which, now that I think about it , was past midnight his time.

In any case. I made it. Hopefully Sam's blood pressure didn't rise while he was waiting on me.

Feel free to comment at Wonders in the Dark or wait until I post the article here this weekend.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm Still Here ...

Hello to everyone! I am still here, despite my lack of movie presence as of late. Life has been full ... but not of movies. Sometimes things gotta give :(

First off, my apologies to Vincent at Carole & Co. A long time ago I agreed to be part of his wonderful blogathon this past weekend, but I sadly ran out of time. Please read the wonderful entries at his blog!

Second, my apologies to anyone else (especially ClassicBecky), who I've prolonged for way too long our Take Two. Hang in there ... I promise it will be done by this time next year!

Third, my belated thank yous to the members of the Classic Movie Blog Association for nominating me for two CiMBAs: Best Movie Review Musical or Comedy for "Top Hat" and Best Blogathon for my Best Actress 1963 event. It's a real honor to be recognized.

Fourth, my apologies to all of the blogs I read and leave comments on. I simply have not had time to read anything, but rest assured I'll be back. Someday. (I'm sniffling at the moment because I miss all of you.)

Fifth, I won't apologize for spending this past Sunday at the Chicago Marathon. The day was gorgeous. No, I didn't run, but friends and family did. I discovered a new love for ringing a cowbell. Who knew that could be so much fun? Our good friends from Germany have been in town and we've thoroughly enjoyed our visit with them. One ran his third Chicago Marathon. Now it's our turn to visit them -- so be forewarned, because I won't apologize for not updating my blog during that time :)

Sixth, I do have a suggestion for everyone out there. This past spring, for a fundraiser at our church, I donated dinner and a movie (pre-1960s) at our home. Frankly, when I suggested it, I wasn't expecting much of a response. But to my surprise, there was a bidding war for the package! I ended up agreeing to do three of them and raised $1,000 (I'm still shocked when I think about it). Someone liked the idea so much they asked if we would do the same for another fundraiser, and we said yes. So, four dinners total -- one in June, one in July, and two in the last few weeks. I had each group select a movie, and in some cases I made recommendations. We ended up watching "Roman Holiday," "The Maltese Falcon," "Notorious" and "Shadow of a Doubt." Since I like to cook, that part was fine with me. I highly recommend that my fellow bloggers share their talent in this way for a good cause. The rewards are worth it, and people are so appreciative of having their own personal Robert Osborne for an evening!

Despite all of this activity, I will be back soon. I look forward to catching up with all of your blogs!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Audrey of the Month: 'Funny Face'

Editor's Note: In my frenzied world of the past two weeks, I barely posted my Guilty Pleasure, and the next day my post for "Funny Face" appeared as #45 in the movie musical countdown on the blog Wonders in the Dark. I feel horrible for not posting here to lead to that post. Below is the review; here is the link to Wonders for the conversation that took place there. Thank you to the gang at Wonders for allowing me to participate.


I love her funny face, to steal a line from the title track of “Funny Face,” because I adore Audrey Hepburn.

And this, her first musical, combines everything an Audrey fan would love: romance, comedy, a debonair leading man and Audrey’s stunning wardrobe, an array of late 1950s couture by her favorite designer, Hubert de Givenchy.

As for de Givenchy, Hepburn once said: “I depend on Givenchy in the same way that American women depend on their psychiatrists. There are few people I love more. He is the single person I know with the greatest integrity.”

And why talk about clothes? Because it’s a musical about a fashion photographer and the mousy bookstore clerk he turns into a beautiful model. It’s actually pretty amazing that this 1957 film turned out as s’wonderful as it did, considering how many changes it went through from start to finish.

The original musical “Funny Face,” with songs by the Gershwin brothers, was on Broadway in the late 1920s and starred Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele. The Arthur Freed unit actually began developing this musical as a film at MGM but ended up selling it to Paramount. Most of the songs and the plot from the original were dropped, Gershwin songs from some of their other shows were added, and new music was written by Roger Edens and Leonard Gershe.

Yet “Funny Face” comes across seamlessly, filled with great charm from start to finish.

In the film, Maggie Prescott (the glorious Kay Thompson) needs a new gimmick for the upcoming edition of her magazine, Quality. Maggie and Dick Avery determine they want something bold – models who have both beauty and brains. In reality, they just want that perception, not the real thing.

So they descend upon a tiny Greenwich Village bookstore, where bookish Jo Stockton (Hepburn) objects to the fashion team swooping in, dumping books on the floor, taking photos and leaving her with a mess. Later in the darkroom, Dick realizes that it’s Jo’s face in the background that captures a special combination of loveliness and thoughtfulness.

Much to Jo’s horror, Maggie and Dick offer to whisk her to Paris for a big photo shoot. Although it’s against her philosophical ideals, Jo agrees when she realizes the trip will bring her face-to-face to her idol, Prof. Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair), who lives in Paris.

Photographer Richard Averdon provided technical expertise on “Funny Face,” and one of the best sequences is that fashion shoot. The combination of Paris locales, Hepburn’s believability as a model and those gorgeous clothes combine for an eye-popping display. I also like Donen’s visual representation of photography by showing the final photo and its color separations.

But this is one of many memorable sequences. Each song in the film can stand on its own, with Donen giving each its own mood within the whole of the film. The zippy “Think Pink” that opens the movie places Thompson against a backdrop of desks, doors and look-alike secretaries and makes the color pink pop off the screen – you have to wonder what this could have looked like in 3-D! The energetic “Bonjour Paris” by Gershe and Edens becomes a marvelous travelogue of Paris as the three leads take viewers on a tour of the city. Conversely, Hepburn’s wistful “How Long Has This Been Going On?” set in the bookstore is marvelous in its simplicity.

It’s worth noting that Hepburn did her own singing in this film (unlike “My Fair Lady,” where, much to Hepburn’s chagrin, she was dubbed). Her voice may not be on par with a Julie Andrews, but it’s perfectly charming here, and it fits right into the film’s fizzy tone.

What Hepburn could do was dance, having taken lessons from the time she was a girl. She originally went to London to become a dancer, so it’s great fun to watch her in a marvelous 1950s beatnik number as she makes black pants, white socks and loafers look like a chic fashion choice. Plus she’s paired with Astaire, the suave dancer whose elegance is timeless. While some carp at the age difference between the stars, I never minded it because of their great chemistry, and together they move as if floating on a cloud.

Thompson, who only made a handful of films, steals her numbers and has a wickedly fun duo with Astaire called “Clap Yo’ Hands,” which is actually from the Gershwin musical “Oh Kay!”

“Funny Face” never ages in my book. It’s everything a musical should be – great stars, memorable musical numbers and a charming plot. Plus it has Hepburn looking absolutely stunning in Technicolor. How could anyone not love her face?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Guilty Pleasures: 'What's Up, Doc?'

I grew up in a small Central Illinois town with no movie theater. So, as a kid with five older siblings, going to the movies was a rare treat, as it was nearly impossible for my parents to logistically corral all of us and find a film that worked for everyone.

Prior to turning 8, I remember being taken to two movies, both involving Disney films at Peoria theaters that no longer exist: “The Love Bug” at the Peoria Drive-In (where I spent more time playing with siblings) and “Never a Dull Moment” at the Rialto (where I fell asleep).

Still, through all of my older brothers and sisters, I was aware of movies, even if I wasn’t old enough to see them. In 1972, one of my sisters saw “What’s Up, Doc?” with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal and reported back that it was appropriate for the family, which my parents verified by checking the ratings in the Catholic Post.

So, on one spring evening before turning 9, my family went to the Fox Theatre for “What’s Up, Doc?” and it holds the esteemed honor of being the first film for grown-ups that I ever saw.

For nearly 40 years, it has remained a guilty pleasure of mine, the film I want to watch when I’m in the mood for some well-crafted silliness. As a kid, I didn’t appreciate that Peter Bogdanovich was paying tribute to a bygone era, one of silent screen comedians and screwball comediennes. I just remember laughing out loud at the visual gags and verbal wordplay, and it was love at first sight with the comedic gifts of Madeleine Kahn.

Recently, I found a misplaced gift card from Borders (RIP, you wonderful store). Imagine my surprise when I went to the going-out-of-business sale at a local location and found “What’s Up, Doc?” on DVD for $7! I went home, put my VHS copy on the Goodwill pile and watched the film that very night. It was as delightful as I remembered, and as usual it brought back fond memories of being a kid.

For the uninitiated, the story is about a red plaid bag – actually, four of them, all identical. What I love about the story is that it takes mere minutes to be completely immersed into the plot. The first bag contains secret government documents in the hands of Mr. Smith (Michael Murphy), who is being pursued by Mr. Jones (Phil Roth). Howard Banister (O’Neal) also has bag containing his precious rocks. An absent-minded musicologist, he is traveling with his fiancé Eunice (Kahn) to a conference. Judy Maxwell (Streisand) owns the third bag, which contains her belongings. Finally, Mrs. Van Hoskins (Mabel Albertson) stores her jewels in bag #4, which hotel employees (Sorrell Brooke and Stefan Gierasch) are trying to steal.

All parties end up at the same hotel in San Francisco, staying on the same floor. Judy, who appears to be homeless, wanders into the hotel, sets her sights on Howard – who she calls Steve – and ends up in an empty hotel room without paying. That night, at the conference, Judy impersonates Eunice while a flustered Howard isn’t sure what to think. Meanwhile, the various parties involved with the secret documents and the jewel theft end up in a round of musical rooms like a French farce, and the bags exchange hands so often that even the audience doesn’t know which is which.

To say more would require much explanation and a flow chart, and that would detract from the fun. Suffice to say there’s a fire, a car chase, and an ending that brings everyone together in front of a confused judge (Liam Dunn).

Bogdanovich does a great job of layering in all sorts of sight gags and verbal volleys between characters. I remember Harold Lloyd discussed how he layered gag upon gag when he made a movie. Since Bogdanovich is paying tribute to these comedies, he applies the same principle to “What’s Up, Doc?” While some gags don’t work, most of them do (one of my favs is Eunice’s shoes making black squiggles on a ballroom floor as she’s carried away after fainting). Bogdanovich also keeps the pacing crisp, so even a stale visual like someone absent-mindedly walking into the street and the resulting car crash doesn’t feel forced.

That Bogdanovich chose to follow up his moody drama “The Last Picture Show” with this high-spirited screwball comedy was a bold movie, and he again demonstrates his gift for capturing the atmosphere of a script. “Doc” clearly revives a genre, along with its flair and panache, that was so prevalent during the 1930s.

The stars understand the pacing and rhythms of this bygone era and run with it. Streisand’s character comes on inexplicably strong, but the pairing of Judy with the bland yet appealing Howard (O’Neal at perhaps his likeable best) works. Their final exchange – which may be lost on younger movie fans – is a wonderful jab at O’Neal’s “Love Story” released two years earlier.

It’s the large supporting cast that really shines, led by the supreme Kahn, wearing a marvelous flip wig in her first film. Even the simple utterance of “Howard” comes off her lips in a multitude of hilarious ways. Dunn is also terrific in only one scene toward the end. His judge attempts to understand what’s going on, mixing confusion, frustration and contempt into one hilarious combination.

Someone recently expressed surprise that I would select “What’s Up, Doc?” as my guilty pleasure, as she viewed the film as a good rather than a bad one. Her comments made me think about the definition of a guilty pleasure.

After much deliberation, I decided that a guilty pleasure is a film that may not have won Oscars or is studied in film school but is one that brings joy to the viewer, whether it’s a universally liked film or one that’s universally panned. It also recalls fond memories.

And that sums up “What’s Up, Doc?” for me – a big barrel of fun mixed with the recollection of discovering the world of grown-up films. The Fox Theatre may be long gone, but after 40 years, I still laugh out loud at this zany comedy.

This post is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Guilty Pleasures blogathon. You can check the CMBA web site to find a list of all of the blogs participating. I encourage you to read as many as possible.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Get Ready for Guilty Pleasures!

The Classic Movie Blog Association will host its next blogathon this weekend, and it's devoted to Guilty Pleasures!

The fun begins on Sunday, and my post will occur on Monday. The list of blogs participating and the movie lineup can be found at the CMBA web site.

Looking forward to seeing you here on Monday and I encourage you to check out the other blogs. Should be fun!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Take Two: Irene Mayer Selznick

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Take Two, a new feature in which two bloggers have a conversation about a single topic.

I had the great pleasure of working with Patty, aka The Lady Eve, about Irene Mayer Selznick, daughter of MGM chief Louis B. Mayer and first wife of producer David O. Selznick. Both of us had recently read Irene's autobiography, "A Private View," and found her to be a fascinating woman.

You can find the post by clicking on the following link to The Lady Eve's REEL Life, where both Patty and I will be responding to comments. In a few weeks, for the people who miss it, I will repost the article on my blog.

I hope you enjoy this new feature, and I have another one already in the works!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bogart: 'Marked Woman'

“Marked Woman” provides Bette Davis with a meaty role, and in typical Davis fashion she goes for broke. What’s not typical is Humphrey Bogart playing the good guy.

In my continuing look at Bogart’s early career, “Marked Woman” is one of seven films released in 1937 that featured Bogart in lead or supporting roles. While this one is a great showcase for Davis, it’s intriguing that Bogart would not be cast as the mob boss but as the crusading district attorney. Warner Brothers must have wanted Bogart to stretch his range in an attempt to cast him in more leading roles. Or perhaps with the success of Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, Warners didn’t need another actor whose strength was playing gangsters.

Whatever the reason, his role is a nice contrast to his other films released during this busy year.

“Marked Woman” is pure 1930s Warner Brothers, a ripped-from-the-headlines story based upon the conviction of New York City gangster Lucky Luciano. His prostitution ring was exposed when several of the working women testified for Manhattan district attorney Thomas Dewey (the same Dewey who ran for president against Harry S. Truman and who the Chicago Tribune proclaimed the winner in its now infamous headline).

Due to censorship issues, the prostitutes were changed to “hostesses” working in a clip joint for gangster Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Ciannelli). During the first few minutes, Vanning is visiting the club he just bought and menacingly tells the girls, “Anybody that sticks with me gets taken care of. You’re gonna work the way I tell ya or you’re not gonna work at all.”

Mary Dwight (Davis) refuses his advances but assures him she can help his business. She tells the other girls who also room with her that she knows how the beat the racket and dreams of living on easy street.

Unfortunately, Mary’s wholesome kid sister Betty (Jane Bryan) shows up. Betty believes Mary and her friends to be models, but that charade is shattered when the police show up, questioning Mary about the murder of a man who was in the club the night before. D.A. David Graham (Bogart) believes Mary can help him take Vanning down, but Mary is thinking of saving herself, with Vanning’s help.

But in Betty’s eyes, Mary’s real job and association with the murder have ruined her life. Dropping out of college, Betty lingers with Mary, disgusted by her profession yet oddly drawn toward it.

You have to laugh about the “hostess” façade that the censorship board allowed. After all, if the cleaned-up profession of “hostess” was good enough for the conservative Production Code board to allow, why would Betty be so ashamed of what her sister does? The glamour of these women also has a high polish with few rough edges, which suggests something more wholesome than what’s going on. Also, if Mary ruined Betty’s life, why doesn’t Betty just return home? Her character is really more of a plot device that sets up the film’s final act.

Still, the story wisely makes it clear that these women need to work, and Depression-era audiences would have understood the difficulties of finding and keeping jobs, even if that meant compromising your morals. One of the script’s co-writers is Robert Rossen, a mildly successful Broadway playwright hired by Warners and making his Hollywood debut. He would later make the Oscar-winning “All The King’s Men.”

“Marked Woman” is buoyed by a terrific cast headed by its two stars. For Davis, this immediately followed her self-imposed exile from Warners, in which she wanted better scripts in the wake of her first Oscar win. Warners successfully sued her for breach of contract, but Davis was the real winner when Warners gave her this film on her first day back to work.

And she delivers. Davis arguably looks more glamorous than she ever did on film up to this point, and she uses this to her advantage in the second half of the film. When Mary is beaten up by Vanning’s henchmen, she actually shunned the studio makeup that made her battered body look like nothing more than a few cuts and scrapes. Instead, she visited her own doctor for lunch and had him treat her as if she had the injuries Mary suffered. When Davis arrived back on the set, everyone was shocked by her gruesome look, but she got her way. Her appearance onscreen is realistic and shocking for that realism. It is doubtful that most leading ladies would have stripped away all the glamour, especially during the 1930s when Hollywood’s leading women were creating dreamy escapes for Depression-era audiences.

It’s an all-around triumph for Davis. Some began referring to her as the female Cagney because of her quest for realism, and hopes were high for an upcoming project called “Jezebel.”

As for Bogart, his role can be somewhat two-dimensional, and his final appeal to the jury is a bit long-winded. But these are problems with the script, not the actor.

Bogart has one scene in particular that allows you to see just how good he is. When Graham breaks some bad news to Mary, Bogart plays it quietly, and his silent reaction – especially the look in his eyes – conveys his character’s deep compassion and regret. It’s a marvelous moment, and perhaps this moment more than any demonstrates that Bogart could play more than the routine gangster or villain. It’s the type of moment that he would employ more often as his roles contained more substance.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Ciannelli is a marvelously menacing villain. He’s evil, creepy and not someone you want to meet in a dark alley. Isabel Jewell, Mayo Methot, Rosalind Marquis and Lola Lane (above with Davis) are terrific as the other girls. In fact, Methot and Bogart met on this film, and she eventually became his third wife.

“Marked Woman” fits into the Warner Brothers mold perfectly. It’s a briskly told and well-acted drama that made a lot of money for Warners. For Davis, it welcomed her return to top form and foreshadowed her string of hits during the next seven years. For Bogart, the film provided a chance to do something different. Combined with his work in “Black Legion,” you get a glimpse of greater performances to come.

Check out my reviews of “Black Legion,” “Kid Galahad” and “San Quentin,” three 1937 releases featuring Bogart.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Musicals Repost: 'Snow White'

Note: This past weekend, I wrote a piece on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" for the blog Wonders in the Dark, which is counting down its favorite musicals. Due to several requests, I am reprinting the article here.

Casual Walt Disney fans may be aware that “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was his first feature-length animated film, but they are unsure how to place it within his career.

The enormous and ongoing success of Mickey Mouse can overshadow Disney’s tremendous output during the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, and some just think he came up with Mickey and followed it with “Snow White.”

In reality, you can chart Disney’s progress as an innovator during the decade before “Snow White.” That film wasn’t a happy accident – although detractors called the notion of a full-length animated film “Disney’s folly” – but a natural extension of what Disney was producing since the beginning of his career. To fully appreciate “Snow White’s” impact, it’s important to understand his career leading up to that achievement.

Before Mickey Mouse made his auspicious debut in 1928, there were Alice and Oswald. And between Mickey Mouse and Snow White, there were the Silly Symphonies. All told, Disney made hundreds of short animated films between 1924 and the release of “Snow White” in late 1937.

Did you know, for example, that Walt Disney was the first recipient of the animated short film Oscar in 1932? And, did you know he would go on to win that category for eight consecutive years, through 1939? Most of those winning shorts were Silly Symphonies, and it’s here that Walt honed his studio’s storytelling flair, animation techniques and use of music that led to “Snow White.”

But let’s start with the Alice comedies. Perhaps, in a very general sense, Alice is Disney’s first princess. In 1923, influenced by Max Fleischer and his “Out of the Inkwell” series, in which animation was inserted into live action, Walt began working on “Alice’s Wonderland” and reversed the situation by inserting a live action little girl into a world of animation. At the age of 21, Disney wrapped up his completed film, grabbed a train and headed to California.

A New York distributor looking for short films ordered six Alice comedies with an option for more. Although the animation was crude on the Alice comedies, you get a sense of Walt’s sense of humor and the beginning of a musical rhythm in his work, despite these being silent. The shorts were popular, but by 1926 the comedies featured less of Alice and more animation. In 1927, by the end of Alice’s run, 56 shorts had been made.

Jump ahead past Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (a successful yet heartbreaking chapter in Disney’s history) to the creation of Mickey Mouse. Walt decided he needed something to set himself apart from the competition. With the release of “The Jazz Singer” in 1927, sound put the movie business in a tizzy. As studios scrambled to adapt to the new technology, Walt realized he has an opportunity. He spent weeks in New York City before finding an inexpensive recording company to help him add sound to “Steamboat Willie.” Nearing bankruptcy, he found one theater to show “Steamboat Willie.”

And history was made. This first animated short with sound was a huge hit. All of the studios wanted Walt, but he remained independent and went with a distributor that allowed him to maintain ownership of Mickey. In less than one year, Mickey was a worldwide sensation.

However, in 1929, Walt recognized that he would be very bored just producing Mickey Mouse shorts for the rest of his life. Carl Stalling, his first musical director, suggested the idea of taking famous music and animating it. Thus, the Silly Symphonies were born.

The first, “The Spook Dance,” which was later changed to “The Skeleton Dance,” is a simple midnight dance by some skeletons in a graveyard. When Walt tried to sell it to the New York distributors, they balked and asked only for Mickey. Ever persistent, Walt found a theater in L.A. willing to show “The Skeleton Dance,” and it became a hit.

The Silly Symphonies allowed Walt to experiment. Initially, there would be no sequels or characters used from one short to another. Each was original and unique.

In the early 1930s, Walt again did something to set himself apart: He inked an exclusive two-year deal with Technicolor, and his first color cartoon was “Flowers and Trees,” a Silly Symphony. Sid Grauman, of Grauman’s Theater fame, saw a minute rough cut and loved it so much he booked it into his theater upon completion.

Much like sound made Walt and Mickey Mouse a sensation, color did the same thing, and Silly Symphonies gained in popularity. “Flowers and Trees” won the very first Animated Short Oscar.

In 1933, Walt won another Oscar for the “Three Little Pigs.” The success of the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” caught Walt off-guard, as he never dealt with a hit song before. And, breaking his own rule, Walt agreed to two sequels to “Pigs.”

But you can see how all of this built toward another innovation. Shorts like “The Tortoise and the Hare” continued Walt’s development of fairy tales and fables as subjects for his work. Much like Irving Thalberg at MGM and Sam Goldwyn, Disney had the gift of storytelling. Watch one of my favorite Silly Symphonies, “Music Land,” and see his take on a Romeo and Juliet story that brims with originality and storytelling flair.

Walt realized that he needed to push his craft yet again, and this time the path was clear: feature-length animation. He chose “Snow White” in 1934 and used the Silly Symphonies to testing various animation techniques. He developed the multi-plane camera to add depth and dimension to the animation and used it on “The Old Mill,” a simple tale filled with a style that’s detailed and sophisticated.

Finally, Walt knew that his animated shorts rarely contained humans, so he pushed his animators to learn how to draw people. As “Snow White” went into production, the perfectionist in Walt went into overdrive. The budget ballooned from $500,000 to $1.5 million, and the studio teetered on bankruptcy.

If “Snow White” looks old school when compared to Pixar’s computer wizardry of today, there’s a beauty to that old school look. It’s like storybook art come to life, with vibrant colors as well as deep, rich tones. Even today, the film spills over with charm, vivid characters and memorable songs.

Walt was adamant that this film not play like a live-action Hollywood musical. He wanted his songs to continue the storytelling. The songs were by Frank Churchill, Larry Morey, Paul J. Smith and Leigh Harline and are woven beautifully into the story – “I’m Wishing,” “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” “Heigh Ho” and “Whistle While You Work.”

His attention to detail also included the girl or woman who would supply the voice of Snow White. One talent man thought he had the perfect candidate in a 14-year-old soprano, but Walt thought the voice sounded like a woman between the ages of 20 and 30 and rejected her. That voice belonged to Deanna Durbin! Finally, when Walt heard 18-year-old Adriana Caselotti, he knew immediately that she was perfect.

The Dwarfs provide an engaging group of supporting players who provide a dose of comedy and friendly companionship for Snow White as she escapes the evil Queen, who is truly frightening. A terrifying climax with the dwarfs and the queen in a raging thunderstorm is still riveting.

What Walt may not have realized was how “Snow White” would be a blueprint for Disney films to come, with a sweet heroine, an evil female villain, and appealing supporting characters to provide comedy and help the heroine. The blandly handsome prince provided a happily ever after, but the joy was in the journey.

On Dec. 21, 1937, the film opened, and the impact was immediate. Disney wowed both the critics and the public. The film grossed $8 million in its initial run and was one of the highest grossing films of its time, running for an unprecedented five weeks at Radio City Music Hall. While the film was re-released over the years, which added to its box office take, the web site Box Office Mojo lists “Snow White” as the 10th highest grossing film of all time after adjustments for inflation, which puts its total take at $868 million.

The Academy awarded Walt a special Oscar for that achievement, which consisted of a regular Oscar and seven miniature ones.

Regardless of its box office clout and awards, “Snow White” was a labor of love for Walt Disney and a groundbreaking achievement. The abundance of animated feature films today can trace their lineage to “Snow White,” which remains an arresting, charming tale with superb music and memorable characters.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Musical Countdown #65: 'Snow White'

The movie blog Wonders in the Dark is counting down its 70 favorite musicals, with guest bloggers providing the articles.

Posted today is #65, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," by yours truly, Classicfilmboy. You can read the full article here. You can leave comments either on the article or on my blog, as I am replying in both places.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Coming Attractions

All work and no play ... means I'm writing a lot!

During the next few months, I've got some exciting stuff planned. Starting this weekend, I will be contributing three columns to the blog Wonders in the Dark, which is counting down its 70 top musicals. While I can't reveal what I'm writing, I'll be posting there on Sunday, Aug. 28; Tuesday, Sept. 20; and Monday, Oct. 17. I will post a link to the article on my blog, and I'll try to answer comments there. I'm looking forward to it!

The Classic Movie Blog Association will hold its Guilty Pleasures blogathon on Sept. 18 to 20. This one's no secret -- I'll be reviewing "What's Up, Doc?" So come by and check that out.

I am going to debut a new feature called "Take Two," in which two bloggers have a conversation about a single topic. I have been working with The Lady Eve, and we are putting the finishing touches on our entry. Look for this most likely in September.

Carole & Co. is sponsoring its first ever "Carole-tennial(+3)" blogathon on Oct. 6 to 9 to commemorate the 103rd anniversary of Carole Lombard's death. I really want to participate but have not chosen a subject yet. With luck I will do so soon.

I hope to continue my look at Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films as well as Humphrey Bogart's early career. I'll do my annual year-end countdown in December.

Plus I have film classes beginning on the Production Code at Waubonsee and the Silent Screen Comedians at College of DuPage.

All told, I'm busy! So stay tuned ... it should be a fun fall!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Audrey of the Month

Isn't this an awesome photo of Audrey Hepburn? A friend who understands my obsession -- er, I mean he understands I'm a fan ... a really big fan -- sent this to me. It was taken by Bob Willoughby, a photographer who took so many magnificent photos of Audrey.

I don't think of Audrey as being the cowboy type, but this one just blows me away. Sexy, cool, classic.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fred and Ginger: 'Top Hat'

“Top Hap” is the quintessential Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film.

It’s definitely my favorite, and it contains all the elements that people associate with this great duo: sophistication, stylization, elegance, tuxedos and glamorous gowns, art deco sets, Irving Berlin music, and above all glorious dancing.

In their fourth film together, Astaire and Rogers radiate Hollywood glamour. If their last film, “Roberta,” forced them into glorified supporting roles, “Top Hat” takes advantage of their star power and charisma. Each has a distinct personality, yet their undeniably chemistry together links them as one.

“Top Hat” also rounds up the best of the Astaire/Rogers supporting players: Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore, all of whom were in the “The Gay Divorcee,” and the wonderful Helen Broderick, making her first appearance in the series. Director Mark Sandrich returns for a second time and Hermes Pan again works with Astaire on choreography.

It all works, even the mistaken-identity, boy-meets-girl plot. Jerry Travers (Astaire) is in London to open a new show. Producer and friend Horace Hardwick (Horton) is staying with Travers at an elegant hotel, where one night he explains his exuberance at being single with “No Strings.”

A brilliant number, it also functions as a way to move the plot along by setting up the Astaire/Rogers romance. Jerry’s singing and dancing wakes up the occupant of the room below – Dale Tremont (Rogers, looking lovely as she awakes with full makeup and not a hair out of place). She files a complaint and storms up to confront the occupants, where a smitten Jerry agrees to keep it down. She leaves with a wry smile, and the audience knows that sparks are flying.

To help lull Dale back to sleep, Jerry appoints himself as her sandman and spreads sand from the hallway ashtray on the floor. His resulting soft shoe does the trick – and puts Horace to sleep at the same time. The next day, Jerry hi-jacks Dale’s carriage to the park, and the two find themselves in an empty bandshell as thunder and lightening lead to a torrential downpour.

This begins their duet “Isn’t This a Lovely Day?” The dance is reminiscent of “I’ll Be Hard to Handle” in “Roberta,” in that the two are more casual, and Astaire’s steps are then repeated by Rodgers. The bandstand provides an isolated stage for the number that develops the romance between these two. The claps of thunder send Dale into Jerry’s arms and provide a musical accompaniment of their own, and the pair are as lovely as the song they sing.

Later, Jerry uses Horace’s account to buy a boatful of flowers (from clerk Lucille Ball) for Dale, who mistakenly believes Jerry is Horace. What’s worse is that Dale’s good friend is Horace’s wife, Madge, who is waiting in Italy for Dale to arrive so she can introduce Dale to her husband and his single friend – who happens to be Jerry.

Meanwhile, Jerry and Horace believe that Dale is romantically involved with Alberto Beddini (Rhodes), who actually is a clothes designer paying Dale to wear his fashions.

When Dale slaps Jerry across the face in the hotel lobby and storms away, Horace frets about the publicity and its impact on his show. He sends his valet, Bates (Blore), to follow Dale, which he does all the way to Italy.

Meanwhile, Jerry needs to open his show, and Astaire gets a brilliant solo in “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.” Apparently this number was part of a Ziegfeld show called “Smiles,” which Astaire appeared in on Broadway. The show was a flop, but Astaire always liked the number and asked Sandrich to incorporate it into the movie. The result is a marvelous bit that features a male chorus and ends with Astaire using his cane to shoot down each member of the chorus as if in a shooting gallery. Only Astaire could make this look both elegant and thrilling.

After opening night, Jerry and Horace dash off to Italy for the weekend so Jerry can see Dale. Once there, Madge – unaware of the mix-up – keeps pushing Jerry at Dale, who believes Madge is giving her the OK to have an affair with her husband!

One night at dinner, Dale finally gives in to Jerry in what may be the perfect dance of seduction in the entire series, “Cheek to Cheek.” In “The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book,” Arlene Croce writes of the two singing this song, “Astaire’s face is peculiarly beautiful when he sings; the strain of his features when he hits the difficult notes gives him an intense look of romantic ardor. And Rogers is perhaps never more beautiful than when she’s just listening; she never takes her eyes off him and throughout the scene I don’t think she changes her expression once. The modesty of the effect makes her look like an angel.”

If Rogers looks like an angel, the dance is a dream as they float across the floor, combining elegance and drama. Rogers infamous ostrich-featured gown (which shed throughout the dance) moves as if defying gravity, and without ever kissing Jerry completes his seduction of Dale by the end. Compare “Cheek to Cheek” with “Night and Day” (itself an excellent number) in “The Gay Divorcee,” and you see just how far these two have come in such a short period of time. In particularly, Rodgers carries herself more elegantly, which adds an impeccable grace to her chemistry with Astaire.

As the plot comes to an end, the final number is “The Piccolino,” the large group dance in the same vein as “The Carioca” and “The Continental.” But here the dance is short, and while delightful, its placement in the film almost feels like filler. If anything, it would have been nice to see Astaire and Rogers participate more in the number like they did with “The Continental.”

But that’s quibbling. “Top Hat” is truly brilliant from top to bottom, the pacing expert, the actors delightful, the dancing sublime. I tend to hate movies that resort to mugging, and yet the broad playing of the supporting cast is so funny that I relished their every raised eyebrow, from Blore’s reactions to Rhodes’ mangled phrasings to Horton’s double-takes. Broderick delivers her retorts with straightforward zest (in contrast to Alice Brady’s fluttery mannerisms in “The Gay Divorcee”).

As for the stars, they truly are magnetic. Most satisfying is how Rogers blossoms as a leading lady. Known for being an expert comedienne as a supporting player, particularly showing her flair in “Roberta,” she takes it down a notch here and simply glows. As for Astaire, it would be nice to see him play someone who isn’t a musician or a dancer. That’s a minor point, because he does it so well. His persona may be set, but his dances allow him the expression to create unique characters.

Also working is the art deco set. No one will ever mistake the movie’s Venice for the real city, yet it’s a set that looks like a whole lot of fun and one that evokes early 1930s Hollywood glamour. RKO pulled out the stops by using two adjoining studios for the set.

If movies helped people forget about the Depression, “Top Hat’s” stylized elegance did the trick. If the series feels familiar with its similar elements, it’s a welcome kind of familiarity that is never stifling here.

The movie went through several changes before it was released in 1935, including the deletion of several scenes in Venice capitalizing on the large set, as well as a paring down of “The Piccolino.” “Top Hat” opened at Radio City Music Hall and became one of the biggest box office hits of the year. The film scored four Oscar nominations – for Best Picture, Best Song (“Cheek to Cheek”), Best Art Direction and Best Dance Direction – but unfortunately didn’t win any.

As I mentioned in my review of “Roberta,” Astaire and Rogers came of age with this film. You would think that they would no longer be treated as second bananas – which is why “Follow the Fleet,” their next film, is so surprising, as they are co-leads with Randolph Scott and Harriett Hilliard. But you’ll have to wait until that review to find out if it works. Just enjoy the clip from “Top Hat” below and you’ll be in heaven.


This is the fourth in my look at all of the Astaire/Rodgers films. Please read my reviews of “Flying Down to Rio,” “The Gay Divorcee” and “Roberta.”

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lucille Ball: A Cultural Phenomenon

My friend Frank teaches an “I Love Lucy” class at the local community college. I have not taken the course (shame on me), but when you can earn college credits while studying about Lucille Ball, you know she’s achieved a rare cultural status.

All these years after her success, people love her. I’m currently watching the first season of “I Love Lucy” while walking on the treadmill at night, and for all of the episodes I have seen, I’m discovering several that are unfamiliar to me.

In honor of Lucy’s 100th birthday today, True Classics is hosting a blogathon. Please check their site for the many entries saluting this great lady.

What I want to share are a few thoughts from several years ago when we were in Los Angeles. We were joined by several friends and took one of the star homes tours just for kicks. We even joked about climbing over Richard Widmark’s wall to get an orange – or was it a grapefruit? – which in itself reflects the enduring popularity of that particular “I Lucy Lucy” episode.

During the tour, we drove by Lucy’s former home (below), and the guide said her home is the most popular among his fans.

However, the most amusing stories came several days later when we took the Paramount Studios tour. Paramount now includes the RKO studio which was located on adjoining property and later was Desilu. As we walked through the complex, we passed Lucy’s office, and then the tour guide pointed out the below piece of land right outside of her office windows.

According to the guide, Lucy was under fire from people who felt that, as a mother, she should be spending more time with her children. So she had this area created to resemble her home’s backyard. Then she would stage publicity photos of her playing with her kids in this area, and a press release would talk about how much time she spent with her kids at home!

Off to the left, you can see a two-story brick building front with an overhang above the front door. That front apparently looks just like the front of her parents’ home in New York, and she would stage photos of her “visiting” her parents back home.

I have no idea if these stories are true, but they are intriguing on several levels. First, she was criticized as a working mom so she had to conform to the ideals of motherhood at the time to prove she was a good mother, which is a sad reflection on working women in the 1960s. Second, I find them very funny because it sounds like something that Lucy and Ethel would dream up.

People forget how much influence Lucy had after “I Love Lucy.” When she began to run Desilu and started “The Lucy Show,” she wielded power as both a top performer and a businesswoman. I’ve read unflattering portraits of her from this period, but she was doing something few women did and should be considered a trailblazer.

I’ll always be a Lucy fan, and on her 100th birthday, I raise a glass of Vitameatavegamin to toast her career, her success and her influence that we still feel today.

Please read some of the excellent blog posts at True Classics.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

'Tortilla Flat' an Odd Trip

“Tortilla Flat,” based upon the John Steinbeck novel, veers wildly between the annoying and satisfying.

Released in 1942 by MGM, it’s one of those studio films that casts well-known American Caucasian actors into non-Caucasian roles and expects audiences to believe it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and in “Tortilla Flat” you have to really suspend reality to believe Spencer Tracy and John Garfield as “paisanos” or in this case Mexican Americans.

It also doesn’t help that Tracy plays Pilon, who justifies his lazy, selfish tendencies at every turn. The movie begins with Danny (Garfield) in jail when he discovers that his recently deceased grandfather has left him two small houses. Pilon convinces a pliable Danny that he deserves to live in one of those houses. In a scheme involving rent and other friends, Pilon manages to live there rent-free.

All live to drink wine by day and scoff at those who work for a living, with Pilon finding ways to sustain their simple existences. When Danny takes a liking to the lovely Dolores (Hedy Lamarr, above with Garfield), Pilon sees danger – meaning if Danny takes a wife, he’ll need to support her and get a job. He may also cast out Pilon, who could no longer hold his friend under his thumb.

As Danny pines for Dolores, the gang determines that a lonely old man known as The Pirate (Frank Morgan) has been saving his nickels and must have them buried somewhere. They pretend to be his friend in order to discover the location of the man’s riches. However, they find out he’s saving to buy a gold candlestick for the St. Francis statue at the local church.

For the first 40 minutes, I simply could not believe these actors as Mexican Americans. Tracy may have pulled off being Portuguese in “Captains Courageous” (directed by Victor Fleming, who also helms “Tortilla Flat”), but he doesn’t quite do it here. Garfield doesn’t even try. When Danny says to Dolores “Hello sweets,” you expect him to be wearing a trenchcoat and fedora while holding gun.

I laughed out loud when the wonderful character actor John Qualen – yes, he with the Scandinavian accent born to Norwegian parents – shows up as a paisano!

In addition, the film presents Pilon as a lovable rogue, but I didn’t love him at all. In fact, I quit watching the movie at one point because the character irritated me so much. I have not read Steinbeck’s book, so perhaps someone could shed light on whether Pilon is just as annoying of a character in print as he is on the screen, or if his antics are tempered in the book that did not happen on screen.

In fact, just as I was thinking all was lost, Morgan (above center, with Tracy left) shows up nearly unrecognizable halfway through the film, and finally an actor convinced me that he belonged in this story. In fact, Morgan gives a heartfelt portrait of a lonely man and his dogs, so genuinely touched by the men who offer friendship, who in turn are touched by his quest for the candlestick. Morgan received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his work and it’s a shame he didn’t win.

Redemption does come for Pilon and Danny, and Tracy the actor shines in one particular scene in a church, using his eyes rather than dialogue to show the change occurring inside Pilon.

As for the breathtaking Lamarr, she is convincing as the fiery Dolores, although there’s not much for Lamarr to explore beyond the expected love interest trappings of the story.

The second half of “Tortilla Flat” nearly saves the film as a whole, although I’m guessing MGM had high hopes that were not realized. If anything, watch the film for Frank Morgan’s rich performance, which is worth seeing.