Sunday, December 24, 2017

With a Nod to TCM, a Glance at 6 Favorite Holiday Classics


In my pre-TCM life, before 2005, I ritually watched a small handful of classics during the holiday season every year, films like A Christmas Carol (1951), The Bishop's Wife (1947), Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and Scrooge (1970) that had been airing on network TV and local channels for years. Then I discovered Turner Classic Movies and the titles on my list of annual favorites multiplied.  These are some of the holiday must-sees I watch in December as the 25th draws near, each of them introduced to me on TCM.

1. Holiday Inn (1945) has just about everything going for it: Bing Crosby singing and Fred Astaire dancing in a Mark Sandrich musical featuring songs by Irving Berlin, including his "White Christmas" (introduced by Crosby in this film), along with "Happy Holiday" and other original tunes. Though a mischievous plot about a pair of competitive song-and-dance men wends its way through the seasons, Holiday Inn begins and ends at Christmastime. Click here for a link to my blog post on Holiday Inn.

2. Christmas in Connecticut (1945) stars Barbara Stanwyck who works her onscreen magic as a women's magazine columnist with a closely held professional secret. She's accompanied by the likes of S.Z. Sakall, Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner and Joyce Compton in supporting roles and co-star Dennis Morgan as a returning war hero. Set as World War II came to a close, the film reflects the special significance of home and Christmas at the end of a hard-won war. Click here for a link to my blog post on Christmas in Connecticut.

3. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) is a year-round gem for, like Holiday Inn, it makes its way through all four seasons and comes to a climax at Christmas. Director Vincente Minnelli has a long list of classics to his name (Father of the Bride, An American in Paris, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Band Wagon, Gigi, Some Came Running) as does the film's show-stopping star, Judy Garland, but neither made a better film than this gorgeous musical ode to family life in America at the beginning of the 20th century. Click here for my blog post on Meet Me in St. Louis.

4. The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Like Vincente Minnelli, director Ernst Lubitsch possesses a formidable filmography: Trouble in Paradise, Easy Living, The Merry Widow, Ninotchka, To Be or Not to Be. Set in a snowy Old World Budapest, this romantic comedy has lost not the slightest fizz of its effervescence in the nearly 80 years since its release. James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as a pair of gift shop sales clerks whose ships nearly pass in the night were never better cast or in better form. Frank Morgan as the gift shop owner and Felix Bressart and Joseph Schildkraut as two sales clerks stand out in an impeccably cast ensemble. The Shop Around the Corner is simply flawless, Ernst Lubitsch's masterpiece. It comes as no surprise that his protege Billy Wilder had a sign over his desk that read, "What would Lubitsch have done?" Click here for my blog post on The Shop Around the Corner.

5. Remember the Night (1940) features the last screenplay Preston Sturges wrote before he began to direct as well as write. Of the film, under Mitchell Leisen's direction, Sturges wrote, "...the picture had quite a lot of schmaltz, a good dose of schmerz and just enough schmutz to make it box office." It's not a Sturges screwball, but it is an offbeat romance about an ambitious assistant DA (Fred MacMurray) who ends up taking a soon-to-be-convicted shoplifter (Barbara Stanwyck) to his family home for Christmas. The film boasts well-balanced elements of drama and comedy and delivers an affecting meditation on the quirks of love. As Sturges put it, "love reformed her and corrupted him." Enduring performances by Stanwyck, MacMurray and Beulah Bondi are highlights, with nice turns, too, from Sterling Holloway and "Bossy" the cow.
  
6. Bell, Book and Candle (1958) isn't your typical Christmas tale, though, like Holiday Inn and Meet Me in St. Louis, it travels through the seasons and returns to Christmastime. Set in New York during its late '50s heyday, the film's depiction of that city at that time is worth the price of admission alone. But there's more. Lots more: clever/wacky glimpses into the world of publishing, the beatnik scene and the occult underground. Scurrying everywhere are myriad oddballs portrayed by talents like Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold, Elsa Lanchester...and Pyewacket, a Siamese cat. James Stewart is a book publisher, Kim Novak is the sorceress who, in a fit of vengeance, bewitches him. Bell, Book and Candle isn't, technically, a Christmas movie, but it does spice up and light up the holidays.

Judy's legendary rendering of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Friday, November 24, 2017

HITCHCOCK & HERRMANN: "NORTH BY NORTHWEST" COMES TO THE SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY


On Friday, December 1 and Saturday, December 2, The San Francisco Symphony will present the Alfred Hitchcock blockbuster, North by Northwest (1959), featuring Bernard Herrmann's iconic score, in evening performances at Davies Symphony Hall. As with all SFS film series presentations, North by Northwest will be screened with its score scrubbed from the soundtrack and instead performed live by the symphony orchestra.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

FASCISM, NATIONALISM and the BANNED FILMS of MARLENE DIETRICH


This is my entry for the Classic Movie Blog Association's Fall 2017 blogathon, Banned and Blacklisted, for links to all contributions, click here.

Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel
In 1930, 29-year-old Marlene Dietrich created a sensation with her breakout performance as cabaret temptress Lola-Lola in Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel), the tale of a straitlaced professor bewitched by a low-rent vamp.  It was Germany’s first sound picture, produced in both German and English versions, and made for Ufa, the country’s once great and celebrated film company. Brand spanking new toast-of-Berlin Dietrich departed that city for Hollywood the morning after the film’s premiere. She was signed by Paramount with the hope she would be its answer to MGM’s Garbo, and she quickly rocketed to worldwide fame, earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her next performance, in Morocco (1930). Dietrich would stay in Hollywood, go on to apply for U.S. citizenship, and eventually achieve international stardom that would last until the end of her life.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

"Mademoiselle" (1966) starring Jeanne Moreau, directed by Tony Richardson

MADEMOISELLE NOT TO BE MISSED AT SAN FRANCISCO'S 4TH FRENCH FILM NOIR FESTIVAL


In Francois Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (1968), Jeanne Moreau portrayed a woman driven to kill by the reckless accidental shooting of her new husband. In that film, one of Truffaut’s Hitchcockian exercises, her character relentlessly pursues revenge, methodically seeking out and taking out the men responsible for her groom’s death. Two years earlier, in Tony Richardson’s Mademoiselle (1966), Moreau took on a similar but different sort of angel-of-death role. In this film the character is more sinister, her motives less clear and far more ominous.

Friday, October 13, 2017

FRENCH NOIR RETURNS TO SAN FRANCISCO NOVEMBER 3

Jean Gabin and Jeanne Moreau in Gas-Oil, screening on "Rare Gabin Saturday," Nov. 4 

 

4 DAYS/13 FILMS: "THE FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT 4"


San Francisco's venerable Roxie Theater will host the 4th installment of THE FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT, a leading-edge festival of French film noir pioneered and presented by Mid-Century Productions and its executive director/programmer, Don Malcolm. Thirteen French noirs will light up the screen over four days, from Friday, November 3 through Monday, November 6. Here's a quick look at an exciting schedule...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

One-of-a-Kind Celebrity Dolls, Pt. 3: More Creations from Amazing Artists

Lauren Bacall by Cyguy
In this better-late-than-never third and final installment in our series on "OOAK" (One-of-a-Kind) celebrity dolls, we'll peruse the work of some highly accomplished and well-respected artists; Pt. 2 featured the work of prolific "repaint" artist Noel Cruz and Pt. 1 focused on the history of celebrity dolls.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

CASABLANCA at 75, Let the Celebrations Continue



Casablanca - winner of Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz) and Best Screenplay (Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch) Oscars and possibly the film from Hollywood’s golden era that has aged better than any other “as time goes by” - turns 75 this year. Casablanca was honored at the 8th annual TCM Classic Film Festival in April with a screening on the final night of the event at the TCL Chinese Theatre, that opulent icon of glamorous days gone by that is just now celebrating its 90th year.