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October 22, 2014

This or That: Classic Movie Edition


This post was inspired by the lovely Lindsey over at The Motion Pictures (TMP) - link here!

Right! Here we go - this is where I go slightly insane trying to answer questions that are extremely hard for me to answer (considering how in love I've been with classic film for most of my life). If you'd like to answer these questions on your blog, please go ahead - I'd love to read others' opinions!

Would you rather ...

  • watch only horror or only thrillers? Well, to be honest, I'm not the world's biggest horror fan but I do love a good early horror film (i.e. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy). That being said, I'm not a huge thriller fan either. Okay okay ... if I was forced to answer this question - which I am - I would have to pick horror because I just couldn't do without Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff in my life (not to mention the very yummy Colin Clive).

  • watch only comedy or only romances? Oooh this is a toughie. Right off the bat, I'm afraid I'm going to have to go with romances only because most of my favourite classic Hollywood stars never excelled at comedy. People like Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, and Spencer Tracy never really made many comedies and if I was forced to give them up, I don't think life would be worth living.

  • watch only male or only female leading roles? I'm going to have to let the male population down on this one and answer with female leading roles. I know I'm going to regret saying that in, like, two minutes because the majority of my favourite films have mostly men starring in them. The thing I like most about female stars is their glamour and their uncanny ability to emote better than most of the males did onscreen (and in real life too, I imagine).

  • shop online or in-store? Online baby! The discounts you can find online are unreal compared to the sales that you come across in-store. Nowadays, shipping is free on most sites and packages arrive within days, so why wouldn't you want to take advantage of those pros? Yes, sometimes I miss wandering physical shelves of movies and books, but if I can find stuff cheaper online, Imma click and buy.

  • watch one movie per day or fifteen movies per week? Fifteen movies per week?! Ain't nobody got time for that. Easy there Hercules -- one a day is plenty.

  • be a director or a professional movie reviewer? This is how I would direct: Okay everyone. Stand in front of the camera. And act. Go! I think I better choose movie reviewer for this one. I'm just no good at telling people what to do because I always think they're secretly complaining about me behind my back. Plus, I love to write so reviewing movies would be a real treat for someone like me.

  • watch only your favourite genres or every genre but your favourite? Well, this one's a no-brainer! I would definitely choose to watch only my favourite genres of film. At the risk of sounding incredibly boring and unaccommodating, I would hate to spend the rest of my life watching Westerns (though I have come to appreciate them a little over the past year). Westerns and '70s horror. No thanks.

  • only watch films from physical media or only watch films on a tablet? See, I'm kinda torn on this one because when I travel or when I'm just feeling lazy, I love to watch films on my iPad. Either on a plane or cuddled up in bed, I love the convenience of a tablet. However, there's nothing quite like the feeling of opening up a new DVD or bluray and popping it into the player. Can I cheat with this one? I'm gonna have to say tablet for when I'm traveling and physical media for when I'm at home.

  • watch only films or only TV shows? This one's kinda easy for me to answer because I've always secretly preferred films over TV shows. Actually, it's only recently that I started watching loads of television; a couple of years ago I hardly watched any at all! So, films for this one. Easy-peasy.

October 20, 2014

Things I've learned being a classic movie fan!

A picture of me reading Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner

  • You will spend a lot of time on your own in darkened movie theaters and in front of the TV
  • People will start referring to you as 'eccentric'
  • Acquiring film-related coffee table books will become a sport (and second-nature)
  • Special pop-up classic film screenings will make a summer's day seem like Christmas
  • You will lament the fact that no one dresses like Cary Grant or Joan Crawford anymore
  • Men who wear trench coats and fedoras are not your friend (and they are not Humphrey Bogart)
  • It will be extremely hard for you to attract members of the opposite (or same) sex - trust me
  • TCM will become your idea of heaven on Earth and Robert Osborne will be your god
  • You will pluck your eyebrows to within an inch of their life in the hopes of looking like Greta Garbo
  • Whilst burying your nose in a biography you will begin living your very uneventful life vicariously through someone who is now (probably) dead and who had way more fun than you ever will
  • The very idea of no longer having people like Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable in the world makes you spontaneously burst into tears (even whilst waiting for your urine test results at the doctor's office)
  • Classic movie villains are way more badass than modern movie villains - with the possible exception of Khan from Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
  • Watching an hour of Astaire & Rogers dancing is way more entertaining than watching reality contest shows like Dancing With the Stars and American Idol no matter how many times the networks tell us it's going to be the greatest season ever
  • You will remain single all your life because if you cannot marry Gary Cooper or Barbara Stanwyck, you will marry no one at all
  • Each time you watch a modern movie, you will imagine your favourite classic film stars playing the roles inhabited by George Clooney and Gwenyth Paltrow (and doing a much better job of it)

October 17, 2014

The Stage To Screen Blogathon! The Odd Couple (1968)

Watching The Odd Couple whilst on holiday and eating a sandwich that Felix would be proud of.

Right off the bat, before I get started, I want to know why this film is so fucking perfect. I'm pretty sure I've never laughed as hard as I did when I watched this film for the first time back in my university days (early 2000s). I was taking a theater course at York University in Toronto and one of our group assignments was to pick one scene in a stage play to reenact in front of the class. I was a huge theatre rat back then and I excelled at being on stage, showing off to a room full of discerning audience members so the very thought of presenting a scene from Neil Simon's THE ODD COUPLE filled me with something akin to heavenly glee.

As soon as my group members and I had chosen the dinner party scene to reenact, I rushed to the library and borrowed the film because I only ever was familiar with Simon's original stage version of the script. The stage play debuted on Broadway (naturally) in 1965 and the film version was released only three years later in May 1968; following the huge success of the stage play, Hollywood producers quickly adapted the script in order to have it produced for the screen. Can you blame them for wanting to cash in on Simon's zippy, snappy masterpiece?

I never laughed so hard as I did the first time I watched THE ODD COUPLE (1968). And, you know what, it wasn't even laugh-out-loud, hilariously, stupendously funny. It was more quietly funny (if that's possible). It was a mature type of funny. Like, when rich people snigger at sarcasm at a posh cocktail event. It was that kind of funny. The script is literally perfect and must have come straight from a higher power; the comebacks and insults are dangerously witty and the one-liners never fail to crack me up. I have to be really careful of when I eat or drink during this movie because if I put something in my mouth at the wrong time, chances are someone's getting dirty (from airborne food particles, that is).

Here's what happens in the film: Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon) is about to commit suicide because his wife has left him and wants a divorce. He walks into the seedier part of Manhattan, rents a hotel room, bids the front desk clerk adieu, goes up to his room and attempts to jump out of the window. One problem, though ... the window is sealed shut and he cannot open it. Aw shucks! Next he swallows an entire bottle of pills but before he can let them overtake him and send him into an endless slumber, he heaves and throws every last one of them up. Dammit, foiled again!

Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) hosts poker night for him and his buds every week (or is it every month?), but on this night Felix is a no-show (he's too busy trying to kill himself, you see). The guys are worried about Felix, especially when his wife phones the apartment and reveals that she's asked her husband for a divorce. Now the guys are panicking because they know how devoted Felix is to his wife and children. They're wondering where on earth he is and if he's thrown himself off a bridge or out of a window yet (the answer is no). In just a few minutes, once the guys have had their fill of gossiping and harried, panicked thoughts, Felix shows up at Oscar's filthy (and smelly) eight-room apartment.

Oscar asks Felix to move in with him for a couple of very good reasons: 1) Oscar will be able to keep an eye on Felix and make sure he doesn't try to bump himself off in the night, and 2) Felix, being the 1950s housewife that he is, can whip the desolate-looking apartment into shape and become Oscar's personal chef. This would have been a good idea had it not been for Oscar and Felix being polar opposites. One likes a mess, one sprays everything with Lysol. One drops crumbs all over the floor and the other one is brought to hysterics if even one crumb is found on the kitchen counter. One flings pasta at the wall and one flings a vacuum over each and every surface of the apartment. One says "a spoon" and the other says "a ladle."

You catch my drift.

THE ODD COUPLE works for those very reasons. It is a marvelous look at two people who can't stand each other yet love each other more than life itself. The film is a fantastic depiction of the battle of the sexes - well, just the male sex. It also examines the roll of the man and the woman in the home with Oscar representing the typical "man" and Felix repping the "woman." Never before have so many themes and life variants been explored in a stage play or in a film and I think this is one of the big reasons why THE ODD COUPLE is still well regarded today. It's a riotous, unbelievably funny look at friendship and life, yet it is also a realistic glimpse into the way humans interact with each other day in and day out.

This post was written for The Stage To Screen Blogathon hosted by The Rosebud Cinema and Rachel's Theatre Reviews.


October 15, 2014

My Top 10 Favourite Classic Film Tweeters!


Tweet tweet!

I've met a lot of great people online within the past couple of years and the majority of these people are classic film fans! Turns out, the classic film online community is one of the nicest ones I've ever come across; everyone has positive things to say about one another and no one ever throws shade at anyone else. We're a mature lot - most of the time - who really seem to respect one another despite the fact that we don't always agree with each other's opinions.

I love Twitter. It's quickly become my most-used social media platform and I try to catch up on my feed at least a few times every day. If you'd like to, you can follow me at @callmeveebee but I'm warning you, I post a lot of classic film-related stuff on there (not to mention many useless, random tidbits that are probably best left unsaid - or un-tweeted).

Without further ado, here's a list of my top ten favourite classic film tweeters:

  • Aurora @CitizenScreen // Aurora posts the loveliest screen shots and portraits.
  • Cliff @IEphemera // Cliff is a veritable fount of information and specializes in pre-Codes and 1930s-era cinema.
  • Warner Archive @WarnerArchive // If you're looking for obscure movie and TV titles from the classic era, look no further than this mega-stupendous online e-tailer.
  • Karen @TheDarkPages // Specializes in film noir tweets and posts awesomely atmospheric movie stills.
  • Pre-Code.com @PreCodeDotCom // Sex, drugs, and rock n' roll in tweet-form.
  • J.P. @HollywoodComet // This lady loves vintage fashion and watches musicals every Monday. What's not to love?
  • Will @willmckinley // The master. His tweets are always the most interesting reads.
  • Joel @joelrwilliams1 // My brother from another mother! Joel tweets great links to classic film blogs on a daily basis.
  • TCM Party @TCM_Party // The ultimate hang-out spot! Come join us for TCM live tweet sessions.
  • TCM @tcm // This one doesn't need explaining. Just follow them.

Please let me know who your favourite classic film tweeters are in the comments section down below! Let's share the Twitter love x

October 10, 2014

The 1930s: My Favourite Movie Decade

Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers star in The Gay Divorcee (1934).

Whenever someone is brave enough to ask me what my favourite decade of movie-making is, my brain automatically conjures up images of black and white fairytale lands in which Fred pursues Ginger and Hepburn seduces Grant with the aid of a charming leopard called Baby. Can't guess which decade I'm referring to? Well, you definitely shouldn't be here then (shame on you!).

The films of the 1930s have always been my favourites. No question. No contest. No what-ifs. It all started when my Aunt Grace introduced me to DRACULA (1931) and THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) when I was barely ten years old (I was six or seven, actually). Since then I've always had a big, fluffy soft spot for movies produced in the '30s. I prefer them over films from any other decade - although, the stuff produced in the 1940s was almost just as good - and if it came right down to it, they'd be the ones I'd rescue from a fire (please God don't let it come to that).

Here are the things I admire most about films from the 1930s:

Nineteen thirty-nine // I mean, do I even need to explain myself here? Nineteen thirty-nine is considered Hollywood's Golden Year. A year in which a veritable shitload of amazingly outstanding films was released and literally had the movie-going public lining the streets at all hours of the day and night, clamoring to get into cinemas nationwide just so that they could get their fill of what has now become legendary Hollywood product.

My favourite Hollywood stars came into their own in the 1930s // The majority of my favourite actors and actresses graced the screen in the '30s, making names for themselves and climbing the ladder to stardom one film at a time. People like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor, William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Cagney, Spencer Tracey, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, and Katharine Hepburn all achieved enormous success in the '30s and it was thanks to them that I got turned on to classic film in the first place. I might get beat up for saying this, but can today's actors really compare to the ones I just mentioned here? I fucking think not.

The violence // We have the Warner Bros collection of gangster films to thank for the majority of the violence that graced the screen in the 1930s; films like THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), LITTLE CAESAR (1931), and ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938) lit up the screen with the rat-a-tat-tat of spitting machine guns and wailing sirens of police cars, not giving a damn about Hollywood censorship or the frail sensibilities of movie viewers. Films from the '30s were raw and gritty and ultimately paved the way for the film noir genre that clawed its way to the forefront during the 1940s and '50s.

The sensuality // This is where pre-Codes come in, I think. I went to a Catholic elementary school (and high school, for that matter) when I was younger so the very idea of discussing sex during class was unthinkable. Our teachers preached abstinence until they were blue in the face and we all just accepted it, thinking sex was immoral, tasteless, and basically the work of Satan. I had nothing to go by and until I started watching pre-Codes, I had no idea what actually happened before, during, and after sex. Loretta Young, Warren William, Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, and Barbara Stanwyck taught me the ins and outs (heh) of sex and what it meant to want somebody until your blood boiled. Films from the early '30s served as my sexual education and I'm sure the same is true for many other younger classic film fans.

Every film of the early 1930s seemed like an experiment // From the early talkies to the machinations of Busby Berkley, virtually every film produced in the early 1930s was an experiment in what could be accomplished with a set, some paint, and a camera. As time progressed, films got glossier and more fairytale-like, differing in style and tone from their early '30s predecessors. This was the decade in which Hollywood really developed and matured creatively, coming into its own and surpassing everyone's wildest dreams. It's no wonder, then, that the Golden Year of 1939 happened, is it?

So, tell me, what's your favourite film decade?

October 8, 2014

A wee little me with a wee little obsession!


Can you spot a wee little me in the picture above?

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my Mother taking me out for a day of shopping at our local mall and me making a beeline for the tiny, independently-owned cinema shop on the second floor. Sadly, that shop no longer exists (although the actual mall itself is still standing) and with it has gone so many great memories of a tiny little me getting lost amongst the shelves of 'old movies.'

Not typical childlike behaviour, I can assure you. Everyone else my age was either too busy stuffing their faces with McDonald's in the food court or wandering around the isles of The It Store downstairs, on the lower level (The It Store sold joke/comedy items like whoopie cushions and pornographic card games and greetings cards). My Mom knew she had a 'unique' child on her hands very early on and once she accepted my love of vintage Hollywood, she eventually encouraged me to pick out whatever I wanted inside the cinema store. I mean, there were far worse things she could have bought me back then (smelly plastic jelly shoes immediately come to mind).

That shop was where I first picked up VHS copies of BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963), THE THIN MAN (1934), and the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! trilogy (separately, of course, because we couldn't afford to splash out on the box set). I also remember being gifted countless MGM musicals from that store - titles like EASTER PARADE (1948), SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), SUMMER STOCK (1950), and MEET ME IN ST LOUIS (1944) were all bought by my parents and either given to me as birthday and/or Christmas gifts or bestowed upon me whenever I did well on a math or spelling test in grade school.

Those VHS copies are long gone (thanks to ebay) but the memory of acquiring them, owning them, and loving them till the tape wore out still linger in my mind. I swear, when I'm a cranky 90 year old living in splendor in the English countryside, I will still remember all those trips my Mom and I took to that pokey little shop in the mall. I know this is a rather frivolous and somewhat pointless post, but it's something I started thinking about recently. I have two young nephews and now, when I take them shopping - for Lego, not old movies - I can't help but wonder if they'll look back on our own shopping excursions with as much fondness and sentiment. They'd better, or else no more Lego Ninja Turtles sets for them! Auntie Nessa is putting her foot down! Heh.

October 6, 2014

Mashed lips and no tongues!


"You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how."

There is one thing about classic movies that genuinely makes me cringe. Like, every time. It's the way people kiss in them. Or, more specifically, the way people smush their faces together in lieu of a real, passionate, hot and steamy french kiss (with tongues). So basically, these people aren't even kissing at all - they're just mashing their faces together and praying for a good take.

I understand why, though. I get it that the censors didn't allow film actors to exhibit any real signs of passion and that, really, films stars didn't have much choice in the matter. No tongues. No open mouths. No kisses lasting longer than a couple of seconds, and certainly no saliva-induced kissing sounds (i.e. slurps). I think even head movement was restricted, come to think of it. Ugh! Can you imagine if real-life-kissing was like that? We'd all need copious amounts of ChapStick and Blistex to curb the constant lip chaffing and dryness associated with classic film make-out sessions.

I think the only consolation prize here is that the movie starlets didn't get their lipstick smudged! I've lost track of all the times I've paused a film, seconds after 'the kiss,' to see if makeup had either been transferred from face to face or smudged outside of the women's carefully lined lips. And nope, nary a spec of pancake powder had budged (that's either down to amazing makeup staying power or the stars themselves who took careful measures not to muss up their artfully crafted facades).

I'd love to know your thoughts on the whole 'no tongues' kissing trend of classic film. Do you hate it as much as I do and crave some realism? Or do you think it's cute and/or charming? I can't tell you how many times someone has asked "But did people really kiss like that back then?!" when they've sat alongside, watching a classic movie with me. What kind of an answer am I supposed to give them? Remember, I want to make old movies sound cool, so I could hardly utter a lame, non-intelligible "Yes," could I?

*sigh* I tell you, being a classic film fan is a harder job than I thought!

October 3, 2014

The 'O Canada' Blogathon! My thoughts on Norma Shearer

Norma Shearer with frequent co-star Robert Montgomery in THEIR OWN DESIRE (1929).

I hadn't discovered Norma Shearer until I was in my twenties, but when I did, my discovery was akin to a patriotic awakening. She was Canadian! And I'm Canadian!

We are both Canadian.

Edith Norma Shearer was born on August 10, 1902 in the French-speaking city of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. That's nowhere near my city of birth - Toronto, Ontario - but still, I like to think that had we been a little closer in age we would definitely have hung out with each other. Spending our Friday and Saturday nights loitering at the local mall, knocking back 7-Eleven slushies like nobody's business. Somehow the thought of getting brain freeze with Norma Shearer excites me beyond belief.

The woman was beautiful, had a magnificent figure, spoke in a sort of clipped, saucy manner, and had men falling all over themselves to snag a private moment with her. To say that I immediately idolized her is a gross understatement. I wanted to be her and I wanted immediate results.

The first of Shearer's films that I watched were THE WOMEN (1939), A FREE SOUL (1931), and THE DIVORCEE (1930) - in that order. Afterwards, since I clearly couldn't get enough of this woman, I dived head-first into more pre-Code classics like PRIVATE LIVES (1931) and THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929 (1929). Finally, came MGM prestige pictures MARIE ANTOINETTE (1938) and IDIOT'S DELIGHT (1939).

I'm going to come right out and admit something (brace yourselves): Norma Shearer may not have been the world's greatest actress but she was endlessly charming in all of the roles she played. In her earlier pictures she had a tendency to 'over-act,' using her eyebrows and arms and hands a little too much for my liking to get her character's point across. But, so what? Didn't everyone in the late '20s and early '30s? Despite her puckered brow and hyper limbs, Shearer was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1930 for THE DIVORCEE.

Anyone who can come from Canada and make it big in Hollywood earns my immediate respect. It's a huge gamble you're taking, leaving your life and family behind to see what successes await you south of the border (if any). If there is one thing Shearer had in spades it was gumption. She acquired stardom and fame as easily as picking a star straight out of the sky with her dainty little fingers. The world would see Norma Shearer's name in lights soon enough and she would be celebrated as one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's brightest stars alongside legendary figures Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Clark Gable.

Shearer married MGM boy wonder producer Irving Thalberg on September 29, 1927 and had two children by him; a boy and a girl. Thalberg was never a man with a strong constitution and after his premature death in 1937, Shearer began to distance herself from the studio and Hollywood. She officially retired from the screen in 1942 and married former ski instructor Martin Arrouge. Despite having become somewhat of a recluse, Shearer still attended some Hollywood public events after her second marriage. However she adamantly refused to appear on television, the new entertainment medium that was taking the world by storm post-WWII. In 1960 Shearer's private secretary made the following statement:

"Miss Shearer does not want any publicity. She doesn't talk to anyone. But I can tell you that she has refused many requests to appear in motion pictures and TV shows."

In like a bolt of lightning and out like a snuffed candle. Quit while you're ahead and always leave your audience wanting more, that's what my mother always taught me. I suppose, having just finished researching the bulk of this post, that is also something that Norma Shearer picked up on too. It's better to go out like a lion (Leo the lion?) as opposed to stumbling around in the dark, clutching for a shred of fame that now seems to elude you. In my mind - and in the minds of many others - Norma Shearer will always represent one of the brightest eras in filmmaking history: Hollywood's Golden Age.

This post was written for the O Canada Blogathon, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings.


October 1, 2014

My sick day survival guide!

Billy Idol
Two words, one person: Billy Idol. He's a classic, right? Bah! Either way, I can't get enough of his new autobiography called DANCING WITH MYSELF (Simon & Schuster, 2014). I pre-ordered it a couple of weeks ago and since it's arrived in the post I haven't been able to put it down! I honestly wasn't expecting much in the way of writing style or descriptiveness (sorry Billy) but the man has totally won me over - as if he didn't already possess my soul - with his literary prowess! I recently learned that when he was in college/university, he studied English Literature and you know what? It totally shows. One of the reasons why I chose to mention him here is because in his memoir he pays homage to classic film more than once; a couple of his all-time favourite classic films include THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) and WHITE HEAT (1949).

I had a sick day on Monday due to a horrible migraine that introduced itself on Sunday and refused to go away until Monday evening. Like a horrible, boisterous, unwelcome guest that refuses to leave your home this migraine totally put me out of commission for an entire day and I was forced to call in sick to work at 4:30 AM on Monday morning (have I mentioned that I didn't sleep a wink that night either? No? Well, I didn't).

Sick days are blessings in disguise and are a wonderful way for us to escape the cut-throat world of the workforce for a while and really take the time to relax, lounge about the house, and get better. Plus, they're the perfect opportunity for us to cuddle up on the couch - or in bed, whichever you choose - and spend an entire morning/afternoon in front of the telly, let's be honest here! I'm not ashamed to say that this was precisely what I got up to on Monday; I plopped my bottom down on a comfy armchair and switched on TCM once I mustered the strength to leave my lovely bed. Here's what I watched:

Lana Turner and Lee Bowman in Dancing Co-Ed (1939).

DANCING CO-ED (1939)* // A copy of this DVD was sent to me a couple of weeks ago by the kind folks over at Warner Archive and I've only just got 'round to watching it now (sorry 'bout that). If you'd like to see a very young, but perfectly coiffed, Lana Turner tapping her way through college, then this is your movie! DANCING CO-ED is one of those typical happy-go-lucky MGM musicals that were churned out between the 1930s and the early 1950s. If you're feeling down or ill this is the perfect movie to watch because it will literally make you feel like a bright young thing again (ahhh those were the days!). You can purchase the movie here.

DOWNSTAIRS (1932) // I can't get enough of John Gilbert. Really. And a talking John Gilbert is even more dishy than a silent one (if that's even possible). My DVR was kept extremely busy during the month of September thanks to TCM's terrific pre-Code spotlight every Friday and DOWNSTAIRS was one of the very last movies I had programmed on my cable box. I remember reading about the making of this film in Eve Golden's fantastic biography of Gilbert and this was the first chance I've had of actually watching the film since then. I still don't understand what the big deal was concerning Gilbert's supposedly 'effeminate' voice. Dude spoke (and sounded) like a DUDE. So there, Louis B. Mayer! Ha!

THE MERRY WIDOW (1925) // Speaking of John Gilbert ... this was another film I buckled down and watched on Monday afternoon and by this time, I was kinda getting bleary-eyed from watching so much television. Perhaps watching THE MERRY WIDOW wasn't the best decision I could have made that day seeing as how it's two-and-a-half hours long! Plus, it's a silent. That means I was reading film titles for more than 120 minutes. Not even the delicious sight of a young John Gilbert could save my eyeballs but, nevertheless, it was a film that I enjoyed. Good story. Good performances. Great moustaches (on the men, of course).

So, there you have it: my rundown of how to survive a sick day! Read a good book (or two or three), watch a few great films, cuddle up on the sofa, have a cup of tea and you're all set! Unplug the phone and shut off your computer because God knows we need a break from them every so often. When you return to work the next day looking one hundred times better and your boss accuses you of 'faking being ill,' give him/her the middle finger salute and utter these immortal words: Billy Idol and black and white celluloid saved my life! (Now may not be the best time to ask for a raise, so take it easy and ask for one another day).

September 29, 2014

Book Look! 11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories by Cliff Aliperti


I must mention pre-Codes at least three times a week on this blog (and that makes perfect sense considering I post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). So basically I pretty much mention pre-Codes in every single post. If you don't like pre-Codes, I'm terribly sorry (no, I'm not) and if you love pre-Codes, welcome back to your little slice of Internet heaven!

This week I'm here to talk about my friend Cliff Aliperti's new book entitled 11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories - and don't let the fact that we're Internet buddies cloud your judgement on this post. I went into reading this digital book with an open mind and forced myself to approach it as if it had been written by a complete stranger. I always think that method works best because I don't want to psych myself up and then be disappointed half-way through or once I've finished reading the piece.

This book serves as a handy little guide to some of the lesser known pre-Code films Hollywood produced in the early '30s. In it you will find chapters dedicated solely to the following eleven films: SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD (1930), FOR THE DEFENSE (1930), GENTLEMAN'S FATE (1931), CITY STREETS (1931), HELL'S HIGHWAY (1932), WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND (1932), CALL HER SAVAGE (1932), EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933), ONLY YESTERDAY (1933), THE SIN OF NORA MORAN (1933), and JIMMY THE GENT (1934).

Cliff's book starts off with a bang; a really engrossing introduction that had me nodding along in agreement at practically every sentence. My favourite bit was when he drew comparisons to the production values of early talkie horror films DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931), revealing that even though the films were released just ten months apart from each other, FRANKENSTEIN's production values seem far removed from and vastly superior to the more primitive DRACULA.

Cliff also includes a succinct and easily referenced chronology for those readers who are a little unsure of what-happened-when regarding not only Hollywood events, but world-wide events too (namely the two World Wars, the bills that were passed or amended by the US government, and other instances that directly affected the film industry).

Going into this book, I was only really familiar with a couple of the pre-Codes Cliff chose to profile. I've seen both EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE and JIMMY THE GENT before and only just recently watched CALL HER SAVAGE on TCM, so I was eager (and uber-curious) to read about the other films I'd never even heard of! Each film's chapter gives a brief synopsis of the movie, facts about the production and casting, a history behind the plot, characters, and studio happenings during the time of production, and little known tidbits that every classic movie fan can appreciate. Every chapter is wonderfully insightful and I really enjoyed making my way through each one. I now have a pre-Code To Watch list as long as my arm (or even one of my legs!).

I think the only thing I would change about this book would be to make it longer. I polished the entire thing off in one sitting and before I knew it, I had reached the final page. No! I thought, I want more pre-Codes! I want my pre-Codes! I swear I've calmed down since then. I would have liked to have seen more chapters dedicated to the more popular films of the genre (i.e. SCARFACE (1932), RED DUST (1932), and THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). If Cliff is reading this, here's hoping he writes another volume to go along with this one!

11 Pre-Code Hollywood Movie Histories is available on Amazon [click here] and you can also find Cliff Aliperti on his blog, Twitter, and on Goodreads!

September 26, 2014

Making classic movies sound 'cool'

"Hi, my name is Vanessa. It's a pleasure to finally meet you!"

"Hi Vanessa, I'm so-and-so and it's lovely to meet you too! So, what do you do?"

"I'm a writer."

"Wonderful! How interesting! What do you write about?"

"Mostly current event stuff and lifestyle articles, but mainly classic film pieces."

"Classic film?? How ... different. Aren't most old movies boring?"

*crickets chirping*

Steve McQueen

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to my life! I can't tell you how many times I've had that exact same conversation whilst meeting new people and, quite frankly, whilst discussing my job and hobbies with family members, friends, and work colleagues. There is a stigma attached to classic film fans like you and me, and that stigma is not a particularly complimentary one. People think we're losers. Losers who spend our leisure hours watching black and white films that are terribly passe and lifeless, surrounded by dirty, mucky pillows and blankets and, like, thirty cats (if this is you, I'm terribly sorry).

How can we inject life back into old films? How do we go about changing people's minds about classic movies? Do we concuss them, drug them, tie them up and make them watch endless repeats of THE THIN MAN series until they succumb and declare themselves classic movie converts just like us? Or, if you wanted to take the much simpler route - without possibly risking an arrest - do we sit them down in a quiet, comfortable corner and explain to them why we love TCM so much? Yes. That method sounds much more effective (and humane).

Here's how I go about convincing people that classic movies are, indeed, cool:

  • I show them a picture of Gary Cooper in his prime // This always knocks the women flat out on their faces. If it's a man I'm talking to, I'll show him a picture of Norma Shearer wearing that dress in A FREE SOUL (1931). You know the one I'm talkin' about *wink wink*
  • I casually mention how many times modern films and celebrities reference the classics // Madonna, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Lady Gaga - you name them, they've name-dropped 'em, from movies to classic film stars, modern celebs are obsessed with our classic favourites.
  • I start talking about pre-Codes // Without a doubt pre-Code movies are at the top of the classic film Cool-O-Meter. Where else could you find so much sex, so much frivolity, so many drugs, and prostitution? Well, aside from Church and Jarvis in downtown Toronto ... only in a pre-Code!
  • I whip out my iPad and show them any five-minute snippet of METROPOLIS (1927) // Enough said. Once they see how advanced silent film was, they're pretty much converted.
  • I mention Paul Newman and Steve McQueen // You can't get any cooler than these two, am I right? Side note: A lot of people are surprised when I name drop stars from the '50s, '60s, and '70s because I guess they automatically assume that the term "classic film" only applies to movies made throughout the 1920s to the 1940s (i.e. mostly black and white features). Once they realize how broad the term classic film is, they're more apt to check out a few of the titles I recommend - THE STING (1973) is always a very popular recommendation.

Classic films are like classic literature: they wouldn't be around if people didn't still devour them. There is a reason why all classics are still revered and consumed as voraciously as they are; they stand the test of time and are still relevant in 2014. Pop open a Dickens or a Hardy novel and tell me whether you think their ideals and morals still apply to this hectic, frenzied modern age. Of course they do! Same goes for old movies; the lessons learned at the end of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) still ring just as true today as they did in the post-war era.

Where else could you see the King of Hollywood, Clark Gable, strip down to his skivvies? Where else could you see James Cagney fall flat on his face, dead, on his Mother's welcome mat? Where else could you see an entire city burst into flames and burn to the ground during the American Civil War? And where else could you see Mae West saunter into a room and utter those unbelievably filthy statements of hers to a roomful of horny men? Only in classic film my friends and that's why they're so fucking cool.

September 24, 2014

Do I need classic film?


The simple answer? YES.

Now, here's the long-winded answer: I don't think my life truly depends on whether or not I watch/buy/consume/obsess-over classic movies but it does feel nice and it does make me smile on a regular basis (which is the best medicine, really).

So, how would I function in a world without classic film? If someone invaded my bedroom right now and cleaned out my entire collection of DVDs and blurays and special editions and limited edition collector series would I throw my hands in the air and proceed to have a major meltdown? Or would I be okay with it? Let's be real here, I would probably cry like a baby who's just had his/her best Paddington Bear confiscated but I'd like to imagine myself remaining cool, calm and collected just like private dick Philip Marlowe would in a jam (wishful thinking).

Warning: this post turns into a teeny tiny rant in 3 - 2 - 1 ...

Okay so I've obviously established the fact that yes, I do need classic film in my life but let me ask you something else: do we really need to buy every single classic film DVD or bluray that's released to the market? This one's easy. For me, the answer is a resounding no. Recently I've gotten really fed up with the amount of times one single movie is re-released onto either DVD or bluray and companies claiming that this latest reincarnation is the flippin' holy grail of "special collectors' editions." Wasn't it just last year that you had me spend $60+ CAD on a supposed limited ultimate collectors' edition numbered box containing the film, some random bits n' bobs, and a piece of Jesus's hair?! I mean, come on, let's be real here!

How many special edition copies of Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Casablanca do I really need? Enough to fill an Ikea shelf? Enough to pave my driveway with? Enough to construct a full sized replica of Toronto's CN Tower? I ask you! Don't you think it's getting to be a little much? For the past few months - or years even - I've tried paring down my belongings and limiting my spending habits but with so much temptation being thrown at me, it's been hard. Yes, I'd love to own that brand new coffee table book by Mark A. Vieira but what makes me think that I actually need it?

This is obviously a part of my life that I need to work on. I need to understand that even though I may need classic movies in my life, that doesn't automatically mean that I need to buy all of the things that land on my radar. HERE, TAKE MY MONEY! will no longer be a phrase I shout every single day of the working week (and on weekends, let's be honest here) - just no. I refuse. This is me being adamant. I'm stomping my foot on the ground and clenching my fists. Watch out because I mean business!

I wanna know your thoughts on this topic. First, I'd like to know whether you feel you need classic film in your life. Second, I want to know how you feel about the constant re-issues of classic movies on DVD and bluray. Are you just as sick of them as I am? How many editions of Meet Me In St. Louis do you really need before you think: right, that's enough? Tell me in the comments section down below.

I was inspired to write this post after having read this awesome article by Jen over at A Little Opulent (if you haven't checked out this amazing online lifestyle magazine yet on Bloglovin' you're seriously missing out!).

September 22, 2014

A Modern Silent: London Symphony


If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know that just last year I completely fell in love with silent films. Give me an ancient black and white film with a beautiful orchestral soundtrack, plenty of emotive faces, an intriguing storyline and no sound whatsoever and I'm a very happy camper! Also, have you ever noticed how beautiful each silent movie's cinematography was? Unfortunately, that's something I think has gone the way of the do-do bird (and VHS tapes) in lieu of more grandiose and digitally processed film images. There is something so basic, yet intrinsically diverse about silent film photography and it's definitely something I will never tire of.

That's why I was mega excited to be asked to be apart of a special UK-based film project from director Alex Barrett entitled LONDON SYMPHONY. According to the project's official press release, the film can best be described as a "poetic journey through the city of London, exploring its vast diversity of culture, religion and design via its various modes of transportation." The point of the film is to sort of immortalize the 'big smoke' and celebrate its vast complexities and overall uniqueness. I don't know about you, but London, England is my favourite place on earth and there is really no place I'd rather be (except maybe in front of the television watching endless reels of classic films on TCM, but you already know this about me).

"In the early days of cinema, there were several great City Symphonies - for Berlin, Paris, Rotterdam, but never for London. Alex Barrtt is going to put that right, and his plans suggest a remarkable picture." -Kevin Brownlow, Film Historian and Author


Not only will Barrett and his team create a new silent film, composer James McWilliam will also compose a completely original film score for the picture. A full orchestra will be used to record the film's soundtrack and will be engaged for special screenings of LONDON SYMPHONY just like silent films were presented to movie audiences back in the 1900s through to the 1920s. I've been to a film screening once before in which there was a live orchestra present and I can tell you whole-heartedly that it was a truly wondrous experience. It was akin to attending a ballet or an opera; there's something about the mix of film and live music that just gets to you. The music captures the mood of the film - and the audience - beautifully and the film seems to coast along at just the right pace when it's accompanied by a group of talented musicians playing their little (big) hearts out.

"As a life-long fan of silent cinema, I've always liked the idea of making a modern day silent film. The key, for us, is to be true to the spirit of the silent era; to look at that spirit through the lens of today, thereby creating something that stays away from pastiche and parody, and becomes instead a modern interpretation of silent cinema." -Alex Barrett, Director/Editor of London Symphony

Now that LONDON SYMPHONY is past the stages of planning and development, the film is ready to go into production. It's worth pointing out that leading independent distributor Soda Pictures has expressed interest in picking up this special silent film property and all that's left to do right now is to raise funds to support the project's production. As of today's date, the film's crowdfunding campaign has gone live - you can check it out here. There is also some really neat, interesting information about the film and it's background listed on the page so it's definitely something worth looking at! If you're able to make a donation and back the project you should know that there are different reward packages available - for example, if you pledge 15 GBP or more, you will receive a copy of the finished film! Wicked, huh?

If you'd like to contact Director and Editor Alex Barrett directly, you can send him an email at alex@alexbarrett.net Additionally, you can check out the film's official Twitter page here as well as its Facebook page here.

September 19, 2014

Pre-Code Perversion: Private Lives (1931)*


Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself: What if this were to happen in real life?

If you're at all familiar with the premise of Noel Coward's PRIVATE LIVES you'll know that something like this could very well happen to anyone, really, in this day and age (especially with so many married couples filing for divorce). Let me explain: our film opens with two weddings. Amanda (Norma Shearer) is marrying the ultra stiff Victor (Reginald Denny) and the simpering Sibyl (Una Merkel) is marrying abusive cad Elyot (Robert Montgomery). Each couple books into a hotel in France for their honeymoon and are assigned adjoining rooms with adjoining terraces.

So, what's the big deal? I hear you muttering into your morning cup of coffee. It just so happens that Amanda and Elyot have been married before and they only recently divorced because the two of them couldn't keep their claws off of each other (and not the way you're thinking either!). They fought like cats and dogs constantly while they were married, eventually seeking a welcome respite from one another in the form of a divorce.

A delicate situation like this is entirely plausible in 2014 and I'm sure it's happened to at least a handful of newly married couples in the past - you re-marry, settle down, and run into your ex-spouse on either your honeymoon or a trip to the local grocer. What then? How do you react? What do you do? Do you run away as quickly as possible in the opposite direction? Do you confront your ex in the cheese and dairy aisle? Do you hope he or she doesn't spot you while you're lying flat on your back in the sand, soaking up the Spanish sun? Well, if you're Amanda and Elyot you confront each other on your adjoining balconies, have a cocktail, smoke a cigarette, reminisce about all of the fights you've had in the past, and run away together leaving your new spouses in the dust without even a warning.

L - R: Norma Shearer, Robert Montgomery, & Una Merkel.
Amanda and Elyot travel to a remote, snowy location in which they frolic in the snow, sleep in a cabin with a handful of other married couples, breakfast together on a picturesque mountaintop and proceed to tear each other's hair out (I totally saw this coming, I'll be honest). The exes are at it again; they claim to love each other in one breath and then hurl abusive statements at each other the next. And, because PRIVATE LIVES is a pre-Code (God bless it), the audience gets to see the couple living in sin, soaking in alcohol and slapping each other out occasionally. Oh, and Amanda breaks a record over Elyot's head in a particularly heated moment.

Meanwhile, what's become of our jilted bride and groom? Victor and Sibyl reappear in the last quarter of the film, discovering the illicit lovers in their snow-capped cabin retreat. Strangely enough, and befitting the reputation of any good pre-Code, the foursome sit down at the dining room table, have breakfast together, and iron out their differences and issues as adults. I swear, this whole set-up is odd but the scene is played perfectly by all four actors!

So, who's leaving whom and who's staying together? Will Amanda and Elyot bid their tryst (and each other) goodbye for good and go back to their beleaguered spouses? Or will the two of them escape into the sunset together paying absolutely no heed to the new marital vows they pledged to Victor and Sibyl? If you've seen PRIVATE LIVES before you know what happens (stop giggling!) but if you haven't and are curious to know how the story ended, I suggest you order a copy of this DVD from Warner Archive and find out for yourself - I highly recommend this film! It's one of the best pre-Codes I've seen and Norma Shearer and Una Merkel are absolutely charming in it. The script is fast and loose, the hijinks are hilarious and the set-ups are ridiculously entertaining.

PRIVATE LIVES is available to order through the Warner Archive shop.

September 17, 2014

A friendship to write home about!


Let me ask you something: if you could pick any classic film star (male or female) to be your best friend in 2014, who would you choose? BUT HANG ON! Before you answer that question, you might want to think long and hard about whether or not this person would be able to cope with living in the present year. I mean, would they faint at the sight of a KitchenAid Stand Mixer? Would the  mere sight of a flatscreen 3D television make their palms sweaty and send them into fits of hysteria? Would they threaten to cut you off forever if they discovered your secret stash of multi-coloured vibrators you have hidden underneath your bed?

Okay - so bearing all that in mind, who would you choose?

Wanna know who I'd pick to be my best pal? None other than Katharine Hepburn (if she'd have me, that is). Something tells me that she'd size me up first before she made a final decision to befriend me or not (she seemed like an awfully discerning person). I've always admired Hepburn for her independence, her strength, her unique beauty - check out those killer cheekbones - and for all the times she never gave a fuck. When a team of prissy men told her she couldn't use the golf course on a Sunday she basically said "to hell with you" and played a round of golf anyway.

Having Katharine Hepburn as my bestest pal would be beneficial for the following reasons:
  • she'd force me to get my ass in shape (I lead a pretty sedentary life),
  • she'd defend me in a fight,
  • she'd introduce me to playwrights, millionaire aviators, and influential world leaders,
  • she'd probably be the one to finally convince me to become a feminist,
  • she'd teach me how to speak 'posh' in that funny New England accent of hers (I've always wanted to talk like her, but every time I try, I sound like an inbred idiot),
  • and, most importantly, she'd teach me what it means to work really really hard because God knows she worked her tiny butt off for the majority of her life.

Katharine Hepburn always struck me as the type of person who didn't suffer fools gladly. She had a fiery personality that came across beautifully onscreen (when it could have easily come across as pushy or unattractive). I don't think she had many close friends, but those that she did hold in her inner circle she cherished until the end. That's the kind of pal we'd all love to have, right? Someone to stick by us and flatten anyone who dared threaten our person, sensibilities, or viewpoints.

Tell me in the comments section down below who your choice would be. I ultimately chose Hepburn not only for the reasons I listed above but because she was a truly modern woman. Who better to bring back in 2014 and have her live her life all over again beside me? Man ... I don't think I'd ever stop smiling or look beyond the silver lining unless, of course, the two of us got into a row or she discovered what I was hiding underneath my bed. Whoopsee! Better dispose of those items before resurrecting her. Excuse me a moment - I'll be right back ...


September 15, 2014

Cineplex Classic Film Series: Dial M For Murder (1954)


Classic movie screenings don't happen all that often in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), but when they do you know I'll be there with bells and whistles (and popcorn). Canada's chain of Cineplex movie theatres devises killer screening schedules devoted to classic film twice a year and for most of us, this is the only opportunity we'll have of watching our favourite "old movies" on the big screen in digital format.

This Sunday's screening was of Alfred Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) starring the dashing - yet lethal - Ray Milland and the regal-looking Grace Kelly. Though I had never seen this film before, it had always been on my classically honed movie radar. I love a good Hitchcock thriller - especially if it's a murder mystery which takes place in London, England - but I've avoided Grace Kelly my entire life (don't ask - all you need to know is that I don't have the highest regard for her). Having said that, though, I'm super-duper glad I decided to drag myself out of bed, into my car, onto the highway, and into a cinema seat this afternoon for the special 3D screening! Side note: Hitchcock in 3D? Yes please!

Here's what you need to know about the film: Tony Wendice (Milland) hires an old college mate to murder his cheating wife Margot Wendice (Kelly). Tony devises an intricate plan that goes horribly wrong that leaves his mate, not his wife, dead. In order to avoid suspicion, Tony tries to divert police attention away from himself and onto his wife, essentially framing her for the murder of Charles Alexander Swann (played expertly by Anthony Dawson). The man that Margot is having an affair with, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), is a popular mystery writer who is committed to solving the riddle of the murder himself and, thus, clearing Margot of the crime and re-establishing her innocence.

I really enjoyed the film and had an incredible time keeping up with the story's twists and turns, swishing this way and that, toying with the movie audience's emotions and brain processing capabilities. Do you have any idea how many times I changed my mind about Ray Milland's bastard-of-a-husband? So he plotted to have his wife murdered, so what? She was cheating on him! But then I'd go back to sympathizing with Grace Kelly's foxy-and-impeccably-well-dressed wife; did I really want her to hang for a crime her husband initiated and essentially framed her for? I don't think so. In fact, I'm pretty certain that I want Milland's character to choke on his tongue and burn in hell. Extreme, I know. (Well done Hitchcock).

DIAL M FOR MURDER is the kind of film that leaves the audience pretty much breathless by the time its end credits roll. For me, this is the feeling I live for, especially when watching a movie classic that's earned a reputation over the years for being a prestige piece that will most likely endure for many more decades to come. Classic films like these never fail to impress me and when I leave the cinema I find myself walking taller with an inevitable spring in my step, proud of my taste in film.

One thing I like to do before leaving the theatre is listen in on other people's hushed (and sometimes very enthusiastic) conversations regarding the movie, the story, the characters, and their overall movie-watching experience. Sometimes I join in (more like butt in) and sometimes I leave in a hurry if I see that people are displeased and incensed by the picture's quality, the cinema's blasting A/C, or the stale popcorn that we were all forced to fork over $6 CAD for (Cineplex, you need to work on that).

So, what's next? Cineplex is hosting a special Halloween-flavoured screening of THE MUMMY (1932) and THE WOLF MAN (1941) together on a double bill on Wednesday October 29th and Thursday October 30th. And, before anyone asks, yes I will most likely be there despite the fact I've never liked Halloween. If there is a chance to see Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. on the big screen, I wouldn't miss it for the world! If you'd like to check out the full Cineplex Classic Film Series schedule yourself, visit the Cineplex Events page [click here].

September 12, 2014

Falling out of love with classic film


Have you ever found yourself falling out of love with classic movies?

I know we're all devoted classic film fans at heart, but I'm sure we've all found ourselves in this predicament before at some point in our lives: the bloom is gone and the mere thought of sitting down to watch another classic movie sends us running for the hills with a tub of Ben & Jerry's ice cream clutched under our arms (forget the spoon! we can eat with our hands!). No? Just me?

It's as if I overdose on TCM, special cinema screenings, and film-related coffee table books all at the same time and I can't bear to watch one more movie. Not even Gary Cooper or a rollicking good pre-Code can bring me back from the brink. Instead I have to take a step back from my DVDs, blurays, and TCM and will myself to undergo a classic movie detox. This involves staying at least fifty yards away from my movie collection and laptop, bookcases, and memorabilia collection and either reading Fiction until my eyes bleed or watching endless TV marathons of idiotic reality shows.

Once the worst has passed and I feel ready to delve back into the world of black and white cinema again, I approach TCM cautiously (I don't want to overdo it again, do I?) and watch whatever is airing in short ten-minute intervals; for ten minutes I'll pay attention to what's on the screen and for the next ten minutes I'll look away and do something else, etc, etc. It's like going back to the gym and exercising when you've been away for a while - baby steps people, baby steps.

I can't say that this madness has happened to me recently - because it certainly hasn't, not with TCM's pre-Code Fridays in the mix - but I would estimate that it's happened to me maybe twice or three times so far this year. That's pretty good considering we're nine months into 2014 and the new year is only a hair's breadth away (this reminds me: I need to get started on my Christmas shopping). I'm currently loving classic movies at the moment, perhaps more than ever, and I'm totally in the mood for discovering and re-discovering great gems from the 1920s and onwards!

I want to know what it is you do to combat classic movie fatigue. Do you have to force yourself to step away from films the way that I do? How long does it take you to get your groove back? What steps do you take to cleanse yourself of the influence of places like TCM, Warner Archive, and the Criterion Collection shop? Tell me your story in the comments section down below!

Maybe we should start brainstorming and come up with a twelve-step program!

September 10, 2014

The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929)*


I have been waiting YEARS to see this film!

Thanks to the kind folks at Warner Archive who sent me a copy of the DVD to review, I have finally been able to strike this film off of my To Watch list. The first I had heard of this film was during a viewing of the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT documentary series that I owned on VHS back in the '90s. I don't remember if HOLLYWOOD REVUE was available on home video back then, but if it was, I certainly couldn't find it anywhere (bummer, I know).

THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929 is a musical extravaganza produced and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in November 1929, billed as one of the studio's first all talking, all singing, all dancing motion pictures. It stars a cavalcade of popular film stars from the MGM stable and is hosted by the very able, bendy-wristed Jack Benny and silent film star Conrad Nagel (who says "old boy" and "old man" a lot).

There is no plot or storyline to this film. It's purely meant to showcase the studio's talent and to provide just over two hours of solid, family-friendly musical entertainment to its film audience. I almost felt as though I was seated in an old vaudeville theatre, watching a stage show circa the early 1930s. It's quite the experience! Having said that, though, would I watch it again? Maybe, maybe not.

'Galaxy of Stars' indeed! There is enough orgasmic material in this opening title to keep me satisfied for months! #TMI

The film is never boring, it just becomes tedious after approximately an hour of viewing. I often found myself checking the status bar to see how far along I was in the film and how much longer I had on the DVD to get through. The film's stars and special effects are pretty much what got me through my first viewing.

It became evident to me about ten minutes into the movie that MGM had pulled out all the stops for this, their second musical picture. In the early talkie era many films were made purely as an experiment and THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929 is one of them. Many of the scenes were poorly cut and spliced together and there were some visual effects that actually made me cringe with embarrassment. But, you know what? For a film that was made in 1929 it's pretty darn good!

Some of my favourite bits included numbers from Marie Dressler (my fellow Canadian), Laurel & Hardy, a surprise appearance from Buster Keaton for which I squealed with delight at when I saw him appear, an 'impromptu' song and dance number featuring the beautiful Joan Crawford, the appearance of a somewhat stiff-looking Norma Shearer and John Gilbert reenacting the famous balcony scene from Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet (in colour!), and the quirky Singin' In the Rain musical number.

Ukulele Ike and the massively talented MGM chorus (a 17-year-old Ann Dvorak is in there somewhere).

Oh, and have I mentioned Warner Bros. star Ann Dvorak? Well, before she was signed to Warner Bros. she was part of the MGM chorus and you can make her out in quite a few scenes in HOLLYWOOD REVUE. She even scored a solo bit in this film slapping out host Jack Benny! If I had to be slapped by anyone it'd be Ann Dvorak (Joan Crawford's famous wallops would hurt too much, I think). See if you can spot Dvorak the next time you sit down to watch this film! Thanks to Dvorak biographer Christina Rice for giving us all the heads-up in her book Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel.

So, bottom line, would I recommend this film to other classic film fans (and anybody else, really): YES. This is a piece of Hollywood, cinematic, and MGM history. It packs a killer punch in terms of star power alone and it was one of the studio's first forays into a genre it would become famous for perfecting: the Hollywood musical. Yes, things are a little bumpy and dated in THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929 but it's a stand out picture that deserves a bigger audience. It's entertaining, it's unique, and it serves as a lovely look back at some of the stars that would become legendary later on in their careers (I'm looking at you Joan Crawford). It also serves as a somewhat fitting farewell to those silent film stars who were on their way out (John Gilbert, sob!).

THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929 is available to order through the Warner Archive shop.

September 8, 2014

What it feels like to strike gold at the library



I like to visit my local library at least once or twice every week.

My Mother is the one who introduced me to the library back when I was a little runt just out of diapers. Books on tape were what I started off with until I was old enough to wander the endless aisles of Children, Teen, and Adult Fiction.

Once I started getting into old movies that's when I really started frequenting my local library even more! There I could find rare, out-of-print volumes concerning film, film genres, biographies and documentary-type coffee table books dedicated to the wonderful (mostly) black and white film masterpieces I had just recently discovered.

Yesterday I literally struck gold in my library's Film section and discovered a book I had never seen before (at the library, advertised on TCM, or on Amazon): Designs On Film: A Century Of Hollywood Art Direction by Cathy Whitlock and the Art Directors Guild (2010, it books). It's a mighty hefty volume that explores all of the great and iconic film sets used in both classic cinema and modern films.

Having quickly flipped through it in the library aisle, I decided that this was one coffee table book I couldn't pass up and added it to my Borrow pile - it's also being added to my Amazon wishlist as we speak. I waste hardly any time at all when it comes to buying coffee table books, you know this.

Maybe when I go back to the library next week I'll find something as equally appealing as this item was! Let me know in the comments section down below if you've made some similar discoveries at your local library recently. It doesn't have to be classic film related - it can literally be anything! I'm always looking for great book recommendations!

September 5, 2014

Snog, screw, marry, dump!

I get my best blogging ideas in bed. 

Oftentimes when I'm drifting off to sleep or just lying under my sheets and duvet in the dark I'll start thinking about blog post ideas and editorial content that I can delve into for some of my freelancing gigs. My mind and body is at their most restful stages when I'm in bed and I think that's a huge reason why my creativity suddenly bursts into life there.

Just the other night I was thinking to myself who I would date if I had the chance to romance someone from the classic film period. Would I want to eventually marry this person or would I have some fun with them and then dump their ass by the side of the road? Don't worry, I wouldn't be that mean -- I would probably buy them dinner first.

I thought long and hard about who I'd pick to snog (make-out with), screw (self explanatory), marry, and dump and here are the choices I came up with:

Dana Andrews

Snog = Dana Andrews // The man is delicious and I'd love to make-out with him for at least an hour or two. Then, afterwards, we'd both put on our trench coats and fedoras, light a cigarette and go solve a noir-ish crime together on the mean streets of Los Angeles.

Gene Kelly

Screw = Gene Kelly // Okay, seriously, who wouldn't want to romp between the sheets with this guy? He seemed super-committed to his art, though, so chances are he'd only spend half an hour with you tops in order to get back to the studio, so I wouldn't actually want to be in a long-term relationship with him. Those thighs and clenched buttocks would keep me coming back for more, though.

Paul Newman

Marry = Paul Newman // If he was as committed to me as he was to wife of fifty years Joanne Woodward, then this dude is a keeper! Yes, I would want to snog him, screw him, marry him, but never ever dump him. His talent was immense, he kept his private life private, his beliefs were strong and steadfast, and his generosity was unparalleled. Newman is perfect husband material!

Spencer Tracy

Dump = Spencer Tracy // Sorry dude, I'd much prefer to see you with Katharine Hepburn than have you waste your time with little ol' me. Plus, you refused to divorce your wife, so our future together looks pretty damn bleak from where I'm standing. I just couldn't deal with the stress of such an emotionally-fraught relationship (not at my time of life, anyway). Besides, Katharine Hepburn is way hotter than I am! It pains me to have to say this, Spence, but I'd totally dump you.

Montgomery Clift

...and one more for good measure: I would totally want to snog Montgomery Clift if he was willing and available (possibly at the same time as snogging Dana Andrews). I've always been drawn to tortured souls and Clift certainly does qualify for that distinction. I'd like to think that making out with him would bring him some much needed joy - enough to at least make him step away from the liquor cabinet for approximately a week or so.

Tell me, who would you like to snog, screw, marry, and dump?

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