Christmas with Ginger Rogers

gingeropeningFor my last article on not-your-usual Christmas movies, I offer a double feature starring Ginger Rogers. Unfortunately, one of the films, I’ll Be Seeing You, aired on TCM yesterday, December 21, before I had a chance to post this recommendation. Hopefully, some of you caught it or have watched it previously. The second film, Bachelor Mother, is scheduled for Christmas Day at 9:30 am. Though different in genre and tone, the films make a good double feature because they are both set at Christmas, and they are both thought-provoking.

Released in 1944,  I’ll Be Seeing You is a lesser-known romantic melodrama that must have been heart-wrenching for war-weary viewers of the day. Rogers plays convict Mary Marshall on leave from prison for the holidays. On the train home to Pine Hill, she meets soldier Zachary Morgan, played by Joseph Cotten. Because they are attracted to each other, they are reluctant to reveal their true circumstances. Mary claims to be a traveling saleslady, while Zachary hides the fact that he has just been released from the hospital after suffering from shell-shock. Mary invites Zachary to dinner at her aunt and uncle’s house, marking the beginning of a hesitant romance.

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The Other Side of Disney

Later tonight, The Vanishing Prairie airs on TCM and I highly recommend it.  I wrote the movie up for TCM’s main site and I’m a fan, not just of the documentary itself but of most of Disney’s documentary filmmaking.   Years ago, I purchased the special edition DVD set of Disney’s Tomorrow Land television series and can say with confidence that, even though it was made back in the fifties, it is still some of the best science that television ever produced.   It presented ideas in logical, consistent, and understandable ways while making the whole venture both entertaining and exciting.  And like The Vanishing Prairie, it presents the viewer with a wealth of information in a format that revolutionized educational documentaries.

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December 20, 2014
David Kalat
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If we took a holiday / Took some time to celebrate

There’s nothing on the books that says that a “classic” has to have been liked much when it first came out. In fact, enormous swaths of what we now revere as America’s film heritage are comprised of what were flops on their first outing.

Take, for example, the Cary Grant- Katharine Hepburn romantic comedy Holiday by George Cukor (TCM is running it in the middle of the night this coming Monday–set your DVRs!). Right there, in that one sentence, I’ve probably already sold you on the merits of this picture.

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KEYWORDS: Cary Grant, George Cukor, Holiday, Katharine Hepburn
COMMENTS: 4
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The Better Half

The Apartment airs today on TCM and in it are two of the great stars of the silver screen, Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.  Like any great stars, they have two careers comprised of a first half and a second half.  A few years back, Movie Morlock Jeff Stafford covered similar ground with stars he liked better older than younger, a corollary to this post but not quite the same thing.   I’d like to make the case here that stars have a more successful half and a less successful half and that half depends entirely on the star and what works for them.   It comes down to what kind of roles suit the actor better and for those whose early roles suit their talent better, their later career can be a mess.  For those who grow into something more than their early work allowed, their later career flourishes.  For me, Lemmon went one way and MacLaine went the other and both ways were written into their movie star DNA from the start.

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The Wonderful World of Disney Comes to TCM

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As a kid growing up in 1970s my Sunday nights revolved around The Wonderful World of Disney. It was my cherished respite before the much dreaded school week began and I savored every last minute spent in front of the family television set. At the time, residents in the San Francisco Bay Area where I was born and mostly raised, only had access to 10 or 12 available channels to choose from and many of those were locally run and operated. There were no video stores renting movies in those days and the idea of streaming films directly into your own home was merely a faraway fantasy. In these limited environs, The Wonderful World of Disney offered kids and adults of all ages a surprisingly diverse and family friendly smorgasbord of programming that included animated and live action films, nature documentaries, educational shorts and special broadcasts made especially for television. Much to my delight, Turner Classic Movies has recently teamed-up with The Walt Disney Studios for a new on-going program called Treasures from the Disney Vault hosted by Ben Mankiewicz and film critic Leonard Maltin that’s making its debut this coming Sunday night on December 21st. TCM’s impressive 8-hour block of television is a throwback to The Wonderful World of Disney of my childhood and I hope it will introduce a new generation to the wonderful treasures hidden deep within the vaults of the Disney Studios.

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This week on TCM Underground: SANTA CLAUS (1959). You know, the one with the Devil.

Santa Claus

Mexico becomes ground zero for an all-out turf war between the intergalactic forces of Christmas and the Devil himself. No, seriously, that’s what happens.

SANTA CLAUS (1959)

Cast: Jose Elias Moreno (Santa Claus), Jose Luis Aguirre (Pitch), Armando Arriola (Merlin), Cesareo Quezadas (Pedro), Lupita Quezadas (Lupita), Nora Veryan (Lupita’s Mother), K. Gordon Murray (English Language Narrator). Director: Rene Cardona. Story/Screenplay: Rene Cardona, Adolfo Torres Portillo. Cinematography: Raul Martinez Solares. Music: Antonio Diaz Conde.

94 minutes. Color

Showtime: Saturday, December 20th, 11:00pm PST/2:00am EST

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Final Repose: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

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Albert Lewin is an elusive figure in the history of Hollywood. He was an educated aesthete with a B.A. from NYU and a M.A. from Harvard who took a job as a script reader at Samuel Goldwyn studios. He swiftly rose through the ranks after Goldwyn was absorbed by MGM, and he was one of the five “Thalberg Men” who facilitated the studios success,  overseeing hits like Spawn of the North and Mutiny on the Bounty. When not overseeing super productions, Lewin  directed six unusual features, almost all about artistically inclined loners enmeshed in a debilitating obsession. His most famous film is his 1945 adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. It is a startlingly controlled production, from Hurd Hatfield’s evocatively blank lead performance to the deep focus photography of DP Harry Stradling, which gives ample space for Gray’s emptiness to expand.

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Christmas on Celluloid: “Donovan’s Reef”

Donovan's Reef 1963 posterI confess a fondness for Christmas movies that stray from the typical snow-covered farmhouses, nostalgic small-towns, holiday-decorated department stores, and parties overrun with good cheer. While non-traditional Christmas movies rarely achieve classic status, they are interesting for unusual or personal reasons.

I have always had an affection for Donovan’s Reef, partly because I watched it on Saturday Night at the Movies with my father when I was a little girl, and he enjoyed it so much. But, I was also taken with the film’s tropical setting, which made for an exotic backdrop for Christmas. I can’t help but wonder if my obsession with the romance of the tropics began with Donovan’s Reef.

Directed by John Ford in the twilight of his career, Donovan’s Reef takes place on the (fictional) Polynesian island of Haleakaloa, which was saved from the Japanese by three Navy buddies—Dr. William “Doc” Dedham, Michael Patrick “Guns” Donovan, and Thomas Aloysius “Boats” Gilhooley. Based on the names alone, it is easy to tell that this knockabout comedy is going to be all about the boys. Thinking Haleakaloa a paradise, the three sailors can’t get the island out of their minds after the war. Doc returns to found a hospital for the islanders, while Guns establishes a couple of businesses, including a saloon called Donovan’s Reef. Gilhooley jumps ship from time to time to swim ashore to Haleakaloa for the sole purpose of starting a fistfight with Guns on their mutual birthday—apparently something of a tradition. The actual narrative begins when Doc’s adult daughter, Amelia, arrives from Boston to find her long-lost father. Doc attempts to hide his island family from her, because he fears she would not accept that he had married a native woman and fathered three children. Guns steps up and pretends the half-breed children are his. In typical Ford fashion, Amelia and Guns are attracted to each other but can’t get along.

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Words for Wilder

Lemmon & Wilder
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Last night I was visiting the local Alamo Drafthouse and saw that they will be screening The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960). Featured cocktails include Between the Sheets (rum, cointreau, brandy, lemon) and The Maiden’s Prayer (gin, rum, cointreau, and of course, lemon, gotta have the lemon). TCM also screens The Apartment this Friday and it’s an apt choice for December given the pivotal scenes in the movie that hinge on the holidays. Wilder and his long-standing screenwriting partner I.A.L. Diamond won an Oscar for The Apartment, and casual conversation amidst my group touched on other favorites by the duo, such as the obvious choice, released the year before The Apartment, Some Like It Hot (1959), then jumping out a decade later to The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970).

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December 13, 2014
David Kalat
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Slapstick While Black

Apologies: this week’s post is about racially insensitive jokes in silent comedy (Yes, Ben Martin, this one’s for you), and so I’ve got some unpleasant screen grabs, illustrating some gags most of us probably wish hadn’t been filmed, and then to make matters worse I’m going to speak clumsily and awkwardly about these things while analyzing jokes. None of which is really all that great an idea.

As recent history has tragically shown, we’ve got a lot of work do to repair race relations in America. But that’s not to say it’s on no one’s short list of priorities to pick at the scabs of ninety-year-old silent comedies.

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COMMENTS: 18
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