Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Fun in the Sun: Excitement on the French Riviera in Alfred Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief" (1955)

 

Romance, adventure and intrigue, plus dashing Cary Grant and delectable Grace Kelly. All of this along with a tour of the French Riviera courtesy of Alfred Hitchcock. Who could resist such high style fun in the sun - and moonlight?

What rapidly turns into an adventure begins with a mundane shot of a sedate travel agency where a colorful poster in its window proclaims, "If you love life, you'll love France." The scenario shifts quickly, plunging into the poster image of the Riviera and then, suddenly, to the face of a middle-aged woman who is screaming frantically as she discovers her jewels have been stolen. Running to the sea-view balcony of her hotel suite she cries out over the Promenade des Anglais, "Help, help, police!"  It soon comes out that the Riviera has lately been plagued by a rash of robberies all having the earmarks of a legendary jewel thief, now retired, by the name of John Robie (Cary Grant), once known as "the Cat."

A lighthearted thriller, To Catch a Thief blends mystery and romance with a breathless romp through the South of France and the Principality of Monaco. It's a wonderful ride that takes off when the local police speed to John Robie's home in the hills of the Cote d'Azur to question him. The one-time jewel thief has been living a quiet, simple-but-elegant life at his villa, the Villa des Bijoux, in the village of Saint-Jeannet, but his tranquility is about to be shattered...


During his years as a "cat burglar," Robie mastered the art of the stealthy entrance and exit, and so when the police arrive he creates a diversion and slips out his bedroom window to avoid further grilling and possible arrest. Now he is intent on discovering who is copycatting his well known modus operandi.

Making his way to the Riviera, Robie first seeks out a gang of cronies who work at Bertani's restaurant on the Quai Antoine ter. Bertani (Charles Vanel) and staff are, like Robie, former thieves and crooks who fought together in the resistance during World War II. Robie is hoping to get some support and possible guidance, but gets nothing but grief from this surly crew. A clever fellow, John Robie is not one to run out of ideas. He checks in with the daughter (Brigitte Auber) of one of Bertani's men - to no avail - and then solicits help from H.H. Hughson (John Williams), an insurance man from Lloyds of London desperate to see the jewel robberies come to an end. Through Hughson, Robie meets the wealthy Stevens women, sleek blonde Francie (Grace Kelly) and her lovely, no-nonsense mother (Jessie Royce Landis), a woman with a collection of very fine jewelry.

From the Monte Carlo Harbour to Nice's Cours Saleya flower market, to the Hotel Carlton International and its beaches, the cliffs of the village of Beausoleil and the ballroom of the Chateau de la Croix-des-Gardes, every vista in every direction is spectacular. And as this fabulous travelogue unfolds, a mystery is gradually solved and a romance blooms.


Some have called To Catch a Thief  'Hitchcock light.' Perhaps, but I would liken its lightness to the sensations of buoyancy and effervescence one experiences with a glass or two of good champagne. In fact, To Catch a Thief and champagne make splendid companions on a balmy afternoon or evening when fun-and-a-movie is on the menu.

  ~

This is my contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Assn.'s Fun in the Sun Spring Blogathon, Click here for links to all participating blogs

Thursday, May 5, 2022

THE CAFTAN WOMAN BLOGATHON

Today we celebrate our friend and fellow classic film (and more) blogger, Patricia Nolan-Hall aka/Paddy, Paddy Lee - and Caftan Woman, the name of her award-winning blog. When Paddy left us on March 7th, we lost one of classic film's most passionate champions and finest, most devoted bloggers. She was also conscientiously supportive of other bloggers and an avid participant in just about any/all classic film/TV/culture blogathons that came along.  And so, we have chosen to join together and honor Paddy with a blogathon of her own, The Caftan Woman Blogathon - Honoring Patricia Nolan-Hall.

Below are listed participating blogs and their subjects. Please visit them all! And please make sure to visit Paddy's blog here. 

Blog/Title of Post

18 Cinema Lane: Take 3:The Song of Bernadette Review

Another Old Movie Blog: The Case of Charlie Chan and The Caftan Woman

By Rich Watson: "Saturday Night at the Movies" Connected Canadian Viewers to Classic Cinema

CineMaven's Essays from the Couch: The Caftan Woman Blogathon: Marked Woman (1937)

Classic Film Observations & Obsessions: Part II of The Carey Family in the John Ford Western Universe

The Classic Movie Muse: Remembering Patricia Nolan-Hall, Our Classic Movie Friend

Critica Retro: Fitzwilly (1967)

Dubsism: Story Time with J-Dub: Episoce 7 - "The Sports Education of Caftan Woman"

Hometowns to Hollywood: Portrait of Jennie (1948)

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood: The Great Dispute: Bette Davis Versus Warner Bros.

Lady Eve's Reel Life: For the Caftan Woman Blogathon: Champagne for Caesar (1950)

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952)

Let Yourself Go...To Old Hollywood: A Period in the Life of Ida Lupino as Television Director: 1963 - 1964

Make Mine Film Noir: In Honor of Patricia Nolan-Hall: The Film Noir Union Station (1950)

Moon in Gemini: Ride the High Country (1962)

Movies Silently: William S. Hart, A Knight of the Trail (1915)

The Old Hollywood Garden: Caftan Woman Blogathon: A Paddy Nolan-Hall Tribute

Once Upon a Screen: Remembering Caftan Woman and Her Words

Outspoken & Freckled: A Sunny Tribute...The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) 

A Person in the Dark: The Binding Ties Made of Film: Remembering the Caftan Woman

Realweegiemidget Reviews: Still Adoring an Always Entertaining Blogging Friend Patricia Nolan-Hall, the Caftan Woman

Rick's Real/Reel Life: Joan Crawford Wows as One of 'The Women'

Shadows and Satin: The Caftan Woman Blogathon: Man of the West (1958)

A Shroud of Thoughts: Perry Mason: "The Case of the Final Fade-Out"

Silent-ology: A Salute to Silent Film Actors with Crazy Long Filmographies

Silver Screen Modes: Treasure Island: From Page to Screen to Cable 

Silver Screenings: The Secret Garden (1949)

Speakeasy: The Caftan Woman Blogathon - Honoring Patricia Nolan-Hall

Spellbound with Beth Ann: Sisters: A Remembrance of Patricia Nolan-Hall

The Stop Button: Ball of Fire (1941, Howard Hawks)

Taking Up Room: Paddy Lee and 'The Patsy'

Vienna's Classic Hollywood: Paul Lukas

 Many thanks to all who joined in this tribute, a labor of love, for Paddy.


For the Caftan Woman Blogathon: Champagne for Caesar (1950)


In memory of our friend and world class classic film lover and blogger, Paddy, we gather to celebrate her with this, our Caftan Woman Blogathon: Honoring Patricia Nolan-Hall. Click here for links to all participating blogs.

~

I don't know exactly when Paddy and I first virtually met, but it must've been about ten years ago through the Classic Movie Blog Association. What I remember more clearly is my reaction to her blog name, Caftan Woman, and the tagline under the pink-cheeked caricature of Paddy on her blog header, "Faster than a speeding scooter! Able to leap tall dust bunnies in a single bound! Cozily clad film fan with a blog." Disarmed and charmed by her gentle whimsy was I, and  that was before I'd read a word she'd written on classic film.

As for her blog posts, I quickly learned that Paddy's interests were vast and varied, and it wasn't uncommon for my comments on her reviews to run along the lines of, "I haven't seen this in years, you remind me it's time to revisit" or "I haven't seen this, now I'll search it out." But there was the time she posted on a film I not only hadn't seen but that was also completely unknown to me. And it was a film I felt I should've known about, the 1950 comedy Champagne for Caesar. Not long ago, as I once commented on Paddy's blog that I would, I found the film - on the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/ChampagneforCaesar_201512) - and watched it for the first time.

Originally, I was surprised I hadn't heard of Champagne for Caesar mostly because of its players; it seemed to me that I should know of any film with these folks in the cast. Caesar stars Ronald Colman, a favorite of mine since a first childhood viewing of A Tale of Two Cities, and whom Paddy described in his Caesar role, "As always...perfect." Co-starring are Vincent Price (delivering, in Paddy's words, a "mad and hysterical performance") and Celeste Holm as femme fatale Flame O'Neill (Paddy: "What a name! What a woman!"). Equally interesting, the film's spoofing of soap-sponsored quiz shows and their hosts, classic character types (tycoon, intellectual, man-trap) and new-fangled, mid-century time-saving gadgets and gizmos.

Beauregard Bottomley (Colman) is an unemployed intellectual living with his piano teacher sister (Barbara Britton) in one of those vintage bungalow court apartments that were at one time scattered throughout Los Angeles (also seen in In a Lonely Place, The Grifters, etc.). As ever, Colman's character is urbane and and quietly dashing. Bottomley is also quite arrogant about his intellect and knowledge, though he admittedly hasn't managed to master "how to make a buck" yet.

The story takes off when Beauregard and sister Gwenn go for a walk and happen upon a TV set in the window of a nearby store. A large crowd has gathered outside to watch the quiz show "Masquerade for Money," a game for which contestants dress in costumes (i.e., Cleopatra) and compete for money by answering questions about the person/thing their costume represents. Beauregard is appalled at this tacky spectacle, foreseeing the decline of civilization in such lowbrow fare, but Gwenn appreciates the fun in it and finds the game show host, Art Linkletter as Happy Hogan, appealing.

Shortly, job-poor Beauregard is sent by the state employment agency on an interview for a research position with Milady Soap, coincidentally the sponsor of "Masquerade for Money."  While waiting to interview with the CEO, Beauregard prowls the waiting area, a room that seems a slightly less manic black-and-white precursor to PeeWee's Playhouse for, as Paddy remarked in her review, the place "looks as if Dr. Seuss was hired as interior designer." As it turns out, the decor reflects the head of the company, Burnbridge Waters (Price), an eccentric oddball who imagines himself a genius and doesn't hesitate to say so - often. Genteel Beauregard and overbearing Burnbridge, who is dismissive of intellectuals and "dreamers," naturally do not hit it off and this sets Mr. Bottomley on a path to take his revenge on the man and his company via "Masquerade for Money."

And so, Beauregard Bottomley appears as a guest on the quiz show costumed as an encyclopedia and, when not trading barbs with the program's smarmy host, correctly answers question after question after question - and refuses to leave the program when he has hit the prize money limit ($160). Beauregard's scheme is to win every cent of Milady Soap's money and thereby kill two birds with one stone: make a vault full of money for himself and bankrupt Burnbridge Waters' company. When the soap company's attempts to toss Beauregard off the show fail, Burnbridge resorts to what he believes is a fail-safe solution, sending in irresistible and brainy Flame O'Neill (Holm) to seduce and utterly befuddle Mr. Bottomley once and for all. 

While the send up of quiz shows, character types and mid-century geegaws is prescient and amusing, it is the performances that shine in Champagne for Caesar. Ronald Colman is indeed perfect as scholarly Beauregard Bottomley. In what could have been an insufferable role, Colman is a winning protagonist, with much credit going to his low-key dapper grace and that famously rich "velvet" voice of his. Vincent Price has a field day as an out-of-touch, over-the-top CEO, and it isn't much of a leap from Burnbridge Waters to what became Price's later specialty, a series of wildly camp turns for Roger Corman and others. And then there's Celeste Holm, best known for the calm, cool, collected ladies in supporting roles she usually portrayed. As "Flame," Holm has a chance to have some fun and plays the vampy part of a whip-smart seductress to the hilt. One wishes she'd broken type more often.

It's not Lubitsch and it's not Sturges, but Champagne for Caesar, directed by Richard Whorf, is a well-cast, amiable light satire from a moment of relative innocence - the time before scandal. For those who don't remember or aren't aware of the scandals, Robert Redford's Quiz Show (1994) revisits the most memorable of them, the late '50s revelation that the popular primetime TV quiz program, Twenty-One, was rigged and that its celebrated winner, handsome Columbia University professor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) - very much a Beauregard Bottomley type, had cheated. This was something Champagne for Caesar did not foresee and perhaps could not, for Beauregard, who knew everything, would never resort to cheating.

Oops...I nearly forgot about the Caesar of the title. Caesar is a parrot Beauregard found in the street and brought home. The bird's previous owner taught him foul language and a liking for liquor. Voice wizard Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, et al) provided Caesar's blasphemous outbursts. It may not have been a big part for the parrot, but, still, it was the title role...

~

Thanks to all who are participating in this blogathon tribute to Paddy. As all who knew her will agree, she was - and is - much beloved and is terribly missed. Please visit her blog here, delight guaranteed.