‘Clang clang clang went the trolley…’

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I’ve always said that if I could have witnessed the shooting of any scene from any classic movie, it would be ‘The Trolley Song’ scene from Meet me in St Louis (1944). It is without a doubt my favorite musical number of all time. This, to me, is the pinnacle of a musical number. And the really impressive thing about it is that, it just seems so natural. So ‘in the moment’. It’s not as visually stunning as a Busby Berkeley number, and there’s no dance routine at all. It’s just a wonderful piece of musical joy. And it doesn’t hurt that the whole scene is led by possibly the most talented woman of the 20th Century, the amazing Judy Garland. She has never looked so happy and beautiful, and in this movie, she proves yet again that there was nothing she couldn’t do. And this scene was all done in one take. One take! I just find that incredible. The whole movie is fantastic (it also gave us the endlessly covered ‘Have yourself a Merry little Christmas’) but ‘The Trolley Song’ will always take the cake for me.

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Hollywood’s Second Greatest Year: 1944?

We all know 1939 is widely considered to be Hollywood’s greatest ever year. You’ve got Gone with the Wind and all that business about ‘finding Scarlett’, you’ve got The Wizard of Oz, Ninotchka, Dark Victory, Wuthering Heights, Stagecoach, Mr Smith goes to Washington, The Women, etc… And then there’s the outstanding Oscar nominees that year, from Jimmy in Mr Smith, to Garbo in Ninotchka, as well as the powerhouse that is Ben Hecht and his screenplay for Wuthering Heights, and the fantastic Hattie McDaniel and her historic win for Gone with the Wind. A triumphant year in every way possible. However, has anybody thought about what could be the second greatest year in Hollywood history? It’s completely pointless, it’s never going to come up in a pub quiz, but have you thought about it? Just for fun, if we were to come up with the second greatest year, I think 1944 would be a very strong candidate. 1944 was on fire, noir-wise: Double Indemnity, Laura, Murder my Sweet and The Woman in the Window being the four big ones. It was also the year that started Bogie and Bacall’s on and off screen partnership, with To Have and Have Not. Then there’s the musicals. Pin-up Girl, Cover Girl and Meet me in St Louis. A marathon with those three wouldn’t be half-bad, would it? And then, of course, there’s the spooky mysteries The Uninvited and Gaslight (and Ingrid’s spectacular Oscar-winning performance). Then, we’ve got Going my Way, the year’s Best Picture, Arsenic and Old Lace, Lifeboat, National Velvet, not to mention the star-studded Hollywood Canteen, set in, you guessed it, the Hollywood Canteen, the famous club founded by Bette Davis and John Garfield, that offered food and entertainment to servicemen during the war, before they went overseas. Overall, not a bad year at all, was it? Look, anybody could make a case for almost any year (1950, 1967 and 1976 particularly), and I am certainly no authority in this, but 1944 just seems too good to overlook.

 

The Sweater Girl and ‘that’ scandal…

Lana TurnerThe story about Lana Turner being discovered by a producer while she was drinking a soda in downtown Los Angeles is one of the most famous Hollywood stories of all time. On that day in 1937, at the Top Hat Cafe in Sunset Blvd, The Sweater Girl was born and a Hollywood legacy was in the making. It only stands to reason that a stunningly beautiful girl who had had such a notorious start and career would end up embroiled in one of the most talked-about Hollywood scandals of all time. It all started in 1957, when she met mobster Johnny Stompanato. She became enamored with him, but his possessive behavior quickly began to show. Their relationship consisted mainly of arguments, abuse and reconciliations. Then, on the night April 4th, 1958, he went to her house in Beverly Hills and the two began arguing in her room. Lana’s 14-year-old daughter Cheryl became nervous and decided to do something, as she feared for her mother’s safety. She went downstairs and into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and ran upstairs. She banged on her mother’s bedroom door but got no response. When she finally opened the door, Cheryl walked in and as Johnny was charging towards Lana, she stabbed him. Before he fell on the floor, he reportedly said ‘My God, Cheryl, what have you done?’. He was dead by the time the ambulance arrived. This was a massive scandal in Hollywood and the trial went on forever. Eventually, no criminal charges were filed against Cheryl Crane, since she was only 14. She now lives in Palm Springs and has written several books about her mother and ‘the happening’, as it became known. As for Lana, she is now regarded as a Hollywood legend. She died in 1995 and has a star on the Holllywood Walk of Fame.

 

Fasten your seatbelts… you know the rest

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All About Eve (1950) has routinely appeared on ‘Best Movies of All Time’ lists, ever since these lists began. It’s right up there with Citizen Kane (1941), The Godfather (1972), Casablanca (1942), Shawshank Redemption (1994) and the likes. And rightfully so. 65 years later, it’s still as fresh and poignant as it’s always been. The wonderful Anne Baxter plays the title character, an aspiring actress and devoted fan who befriends Broadway legend Margo Channing, played the always fantastic Bette Davis, and works her way to the top by imposing herself in Margo’s life. Told in flashback by Margo’s best friend Karen (Celeste Holm), All about Eve takes us on a journey filled with obsession, backstabbing, champagne and a whole lot of one-liners!

Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve is certainly one of the best movies about show-business ever made. In fact, it went up against another great movie about showbiz, Sunset Blvd (1950), at the Oscars. Eve eventually won Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Director, Sound, Costume Design and Supporting Actor for George Sanders, who plays the deliciously mean Addison DeWitt. Bette Davis and Anne Baxter were nominated for Best Actress, but they, along with Blvd’s Gloria Swanson and Eleanor Parker (in Caged), all lost to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday. To this day, the 1950/51 Academy Awards are still controversial, since most people think either Bette Davis or Gloria Swanson should have won the Oscar, but regardless of this, All About Eve’s reputation as a classic remains intact. So, if you haven’t seen it, get your hands on it. Oh, and look out for a very early appearance by would-be legend Marilyn Monroe !

Grace Kelly, strike a pose…

rear-window-1954-wallpaper-5My good friend Virginie asked me if I’d like to participate in The Grace Kelly Blogathon for her birthday (Nov. 12), where Classic Hollywood Bloggers come together and do a collective blogathon about a certain subject regarding Classic Hollywood. So of course I said yes. I had no trouble choosing the subject: Rear Window (1954). But I thought I’d do something a little different. I thought, instead of just talking about the movie, which for the record I could do for hours, I’d like to talk about her outfits and how well her fashion icon status blends with this movie. Her outfits, designed by the very fantastic Edith Head, are just to die for and every one of them has a particular significance to the movie. When we are first introduced to her character, she is wearing a beautiful, extremely stylish black and white dress. Through this, we are being told that she is a wealthy, worldly high society girl, who knows how to dress to impress. Then there’s the beautiful eau de nil suit. Green and white, and with a lovely set of accesories, including a hangbag in which a pink nightgown rests. She’s a sophisticated girl, with a keen sense of adventure and excitement. We move on to the black dress. Hitchcock knew how to use darker colors to enhance the pivotal moment in his films (Dial M for Murder (1954) comes to mind). In this one, this is the dress she wears when she finally realizes what Jeff’s fascinating with his neighbors is all about: one of them is a murderer. And then there’s the print dress: a lovely, lively, colorful dress that can only mean that she is at heart a down-to-earth woman, and she wants Jeff to know it. Finally, in the last scene of the film, she’s wearing jeans and a red top. Casual, suitable for any kind of adventure that Jeff has his sights on. She wants to be a part of his life and this is her way of showing it. All of these wonderful outfits, combined with Lisa Freemont’s strong personality, make one heck of a character and take her fashion icon status to the next level.

Katharine Hepburn

Katharine_hepburn_woman_of_the_year_croppedThere’s really nothing I can say about Katharine Hepburn that hasn’t been said a million times. There’s nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know. Her four Oscar wins, her iconic status, her incredibly long career, her relationship with Spencer Tracy… it has all been written about countless times. All I can tell you is that, she is my idol. The way she lived her life and the way she carried herself will always be an inspiration to anyone who knows about it. One can only hope to be remotely like her. Of course, that’s absolutely impossible. She, as I’m sure you know, was one of a kind. ‘Ahead of her time’, people say. I detest that expression, but if there’s ever been anyone to whom it applies perfectly, it’s Katharine Hepburn. Some people say she’s overrated, some look down on her off-screen relationship with Spencer Tracy and some can’t stand her Connecticut high-pitched voice. In my eyes, she can do no wrong. Whenever I watch one of her movies, there’s always that sense of comfort. Her personality shines through (which is why some people think she always played herself) and you know that, no matter what happens, you can always rely on Kate to ‘bring it’. Needless to say, I would strongly recommend you read her autobiography ‘Me: stories of my life’. It’s probably the most inspirational book you’ll ever read. And as you can expect, she is always fascinating, as she blatantly said on her interview with Dick Cavett in 1973, which is one of the greatest things you’ll ever see. At some point, she tries to rearrange the furniture. Why, you ask? Because she can, she’s Katharine Hepburn.

The murder of William Desmond Taylor

29b80f0f21c9a48e497261a62d265e99You can walk down any street in Los Angeles and be sure that at some point in Hollywood history, something happened there that still gets people talking after all these years. Take, for instance, South Alvardo Street. There is a parking lot where the Alvarado Court Apartments once were. Years before they were demolished, there was a murder in one of those lavish bungalows. 1922 was the year. William Desmond Taylor was the victim. You’ll have read his name on countless Top 10 Countdowns about Hollywood’s most infamous scandals of The Golden Age, I’m sure, and undoubtedly at the very top of the list, more often than not. His murder shocked Los Angeles and indeed all of America. He was a film director, producer, and actor, and like all of them, he didn’t really lead a quiet life. On February 1, 1922, he and Mabel Normand were having a private party at his house. At 7.45pm he walked her to her car and at 8pm he was dead. Shot in the back. What happened in those 15 minutes remains a mystery to this day. There have been many, many theories, but nothing has come of any of them. As you can imagine, the suspect list is pretty big: Mary Miles Minter, a young actress who was supposedly going to be the next Mary Pickford and with whom Desmond Taylor was involved. She was apparently quite smitten with him and might have killed him out of jealousy; Edward Sands, his houseman, who, by all accounts, was a sociopath. Before being hired by William Desmond Taylor, he had prior convictions for forgery, embezzlement and fraud; Charlotte Shelby, who is often thought to have indeed been the killer of William Desmond Taylor. She was the mother of Mary Miles Minter and had the well-known habit of threatening any man who came near her daughter; Mabel Normand herself, who was never a serious suspect, but who was very keen on getting her love letters back from his house. This raised some suspicion at the time, and she was a suspect, but it is safe to say that she most definitely did not kill him. In fact, before she died in 1930, she reportedly said ‘I wonder who killed poor Bill Taylor?’; Margaret Gibson, a silent movie actress, who confessed on her deathbed that she was the one who killed him. However, this type of confession was made by many, many people over the years and no one could ever be sure who was teling the truth. And since they and all the witnesses have passed away, his murder will continue to baffle readers and Hollywood enthusiasts for years to come.

Spellbound (1945)

215px-Spellbound_originalI first saw this film with one of my favorite people in the world, my very good friend Denise, who, like me, loves classic movies. We live in different countries and, because of that, we sometimes watch movies on YouTube together and talk about them on Facebook as we’re watching them. It’s really cool. This was one of those. It’s not one of Hitch’s most famous movies, but it’s a great one nonetheless. Ingrid Bergman plays Dr Constance Petersen, a psychoanalyst who is often thought to be cold and emotionless. That is, until she meets Dr Anthony Edwardes, played by Gregory Peck. She notices that there is something strange about him and, as she tries to figure out what it is, she falls in love with him. And surprise surprise, he falls in love with her. She then realizes that he is a fraud and he confesses to having killed the real Anthony Edwardes and stolen his identity. I’m not going to spoil it for you, because there’s a hell of a twist, but I’ll just say that this is one of the most intense love stories ever put on film and if you don’t fall in love with both of them, check your pulse. Great, great film.

Cary Grant

Cary Grant 46Could he be possibly the greatest male movie star of all time? I think so. He was born for Hollywood and Hollywood was more than lucky to have him. His understated yet enormous talent for drama and comedy, his blinding good looks, his charisma and personality and his impeccable fashion sense all add up to make one fantastic and ever-lasting career in the movies. Weirdly enough, for a career that includes gems like The Philadelphia Story (1940), Notorious (1946) and North by Northwest (1959), to name a few, he never won an Academy Award and was only nominated twice (Penny Serenade in 1941, and None but the Lonely Heart in 1944). He did however get an Honorary Oscar in 1970 which, in some ways, might actually be better than a competitive Oscar. Not that any of that means anything, when you’re Cary bloody Grant. He actually famously once said ‘Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.’ Class.