Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chance At Heaven (1933)

 Chance At Heaven (1933) is a dramatic comedy about appreciating the possibilities of romance that are right under one’s nose. Due to its casting, however, the movie inadvertently subverts its own message and creates lots of empathy for the "other woman."  "Marje" Harris (Ginger Rogers) and local gas station owner, “Blacky” Gorman (Joel McCrea), are platonic friends but Marje wants more. Another woman, debutante Glory Franklyn (Marian Nixon), interrupts the girl-next-door’s plans, but you're totally fine with the new arrangement.

In these cases, the interloper is usually drawn as a very broad, one-dimensional villain with a superiority complex. An audience wishes the smitten lover would regain common sense and value the down-to-earth, best friend who is obviously the better match from the beginning. However, in its casting of Ms. Nixon, Chance at Heaven brings great compassion to an antagonist. The pixie-faced young lady bemoans a stuffy life filled with rules and expectations that she cannot abide.

Ms. Nixon plays Glory as a good-natured, fun-loving trooper with more than a dash of sincerity, making her a very empathetic character. Hers is one of the few roles in this tale that is allowed to be honest about what she wants. What does she want? Gorman’s liberated lifestyle. [Also, he’s a hunk.] Unlike Glory, the entrepreneur answers to no one. He is his own boss which attracts the caged canary.

This is one time in which “meetcute” is the apropos word  for a couple’s first encounter with each other. The adorable and perky lady accidentally drives over the gas station's one and only wooden bench and makes flirty remarks about Gorman needing to remove buildings in her path. Gorman just grins in that “aww shucks” kind of way. That's movie code for "they're getting hitched, folks."

They marry, much to the chagrin of two people - Glory's mother (Virginia Hammond) is one. Mrs. Franklyn will not forfeit control of her daughter's life without a fight. However, as manipulative movie mothers go she's anemic. Mrs. Franklyn is the one-dimensional snob in our story, but she seems to have little power, which makes her presence pointless. We rarely see her; she's not often discussed; after the wedding, little suggests that this mother will have any sway over the daughter.


In one pivotal scene, where Mrs. Franklyn tries to persuade her daughter to abandon her new lifestyle, the mother is seated with her back to the camera in such a way that further reduces the strength to her words. Look at the newlyweds. They seem to be ignoring her.

One recalls the commanding presence of Gladys Cooper in  Now, Voyager (1942), Separate Tables (1958) and  My Fair Lady (1964) as she orders her adult children about - every crisply-enunciated syllable biting at their self-esteem. How delicious! One grows perversely contemptuous of Mrs. Franklyn for not being more of a fire-eater to maintain the illusion that this dysfunctional mother-daughter dynamic exists.

The other person who is not thrilled with the nuptials is, of course, Marje.  She has pursued her best bud for two years and gets her heart handed back to her in a rather callous scene that only McCrea's charm can soften for audience consumption. It's enough to make a strong woman crumble and become despondent. But this is Ginger Rogers. (Ah, that casting again.) She's not weak; any pity on the audience's part is unnecessary. You know she can tough out any situation. You expect that she'll go on with life and she does.  Maybe she's too self-sufficient, because, unfortunately for the movie's plot, that means you're ok with her not getting the guy (which is clearly not what the writers had in mind, as you'll see at the end).


As Glory eagerly dons the mantle of cheerful, devoted wife living sans inheritance (and making a mess of everything in her new house), an unexpected dynamic is born - Marje becomes the debutante's surrogate mother. Yes, the woman scorned is won over by the infantile foibles of her ex-lover's new bride. Marje even sweetly calls her "baby" without a hint of sarcasm and indulges Glory's homemaking questions. I didn't see that coming.

While the camera unfairly laughs at Glory's domestic deficiencies, it exalts Marje. Who knows that Gorman's favorite dish is chicken pie? Marje knows and she teaches Glory the recipe. Who comes to the rescue when painting the house is overwhelming? Marje does without irritation.

Just when you think the girl-next-door will live out the rest of her days as a patient, forgiving  mother-figure to her arch rival, something upsets the happiness. In one of the most implausible plot twists ever, the new wife returns to her mother's bosom. Marje sticks around to take Glory's leftovers - in meals and in men. 

I could not have been more shocked and disheartened. Everything was going so well. Too well. Why did they end it in that way? This is one of the few times when you do not mind that the girl-next-door doesn't get her man. Plus, it throws her "friendship" with Gorman's wife under suspicion. I wonder if Marje made a pact with Mrs. Franklyn at a crossroads one dark and stormy night.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Marge Champion Interview

Marge Champion - choreographer, classic film star, Broadway legend - gives a brief interview with Guideposts TV from July 2011 (see below).





Now in her 90s, the dancer notes, " I've learned that I could celebrate every decade for what it gave me, not for what it takes away.... [When] one door closes - if you don't get upset about it- you'll find that a better one opens."

If there's one thing that's depressing about  film is that it reminds you of the past, often of what no longer exists, including the ability to make high leaps and pirouettes.  It's wonderful to know that one of my favorite classic stars has such a positive attitude.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Natalie Wood (and other celebrities) at the beach

Play "Spot The Celebrity" with Roddy McDowell's home videos. It's a cornucopia of famous faces in beachwear! A documentary company claims that McDowell himself gave them his 1960s home movies of stars at leisure. That production company, Soap Box, has uploaded a few of these silent homemade films to Youtube.

Here Natalie Wood and companion [I know that face. Who is it?] have a chuckle after Natalie gives the international sign for "you're number one" to the camera.

Did I mention that Ruth Gordon, Jane Fonda and James Fox are there? And is that Christopher Plummer under Lauren Bacall?



I'm not sure who is the lovely young lady in the terry cloth coverall, but she's given me an idea for pool wear this year.

Suzanne Pleshette looks fetching as ever in white striped Capri pants and sandals. Glamorous..
...and then playful as she sticks out her tongue.
Away from the crowded beach house, Julie Andrews catches waves with her daughter.
I'm also taken by McDowell's simple demarcation of the date. He writes on or in whatever is handy - the sand or what not.  My favorite so far is the "May 9, 1965" date stamp because it's on what would now be considered a cute and kitschy box of Kleenex.



I've embedded one video to tantalize you.  Now, go! Explore these rare films on Youtube! Summer cannot come soon enough.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

10 Classic Valentines Day Movies

Marital Bliss
The Thin Man Series -  William Powell and Myrna Loy play a husband and wife sleuthing team whose rapier-sharp wit and playful banter will have you smiling the entire time.


Too Many Husbands (1940) - Remarried Jean Arthur plays an unintentional bigamist when her long-dead husband, Fred MacMurray, returns home. [See also My Favorite Wife (1940) and Move Over, Darling (1963)]


 Puppy Love


That Certain Age (1938) - Jackie Cooper may lose the girl next door (Deanna Durbin) to an older man (Melvyn Douglas).

Rich, Young and Pretty (1951) - Wendell Corey worries that his teenaged daughter (Jane Powell) is making a mistake romancing Vic Damone.


Love During War

The Clock (1945) -  He has a 24 hour leave, she has a lot of love to give. Robert Walker and Judy Garland give stirring performances in this WWII drama.


The More The Merrier (1943) - Charles Coburn plays cupid between his landlady, Jean Arthur, and  Army draftee Joel MacRae.


Quirky Romances
  
How To Steal A Million (1966) -  Audrey Hepburn falls for an intruder in her house - Peter O'Toole.

Tom, Dick and  Harry (1941)  - Ginger Rogers is engaged to three fellows played by Burgess Meredith,George Murphy and Alan Marshal. Which one should she choose?

Bringing Up Baby (1938) - An irritating heiress (Katharine Hepburn) pursues a befuddled paleontologist (Cary Grant).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Secret Beyond the Door (1948)


It's a blend of Jane Eyre, Rebecca and the story of Bluebeard. Secret Beyond the Door (1948) follows Celia Barrett Lamphere (Joan Bennett), a clueless young bride whose husband (Michael Redgrave) keeps secret rooms in his secluded mansion. There's more than a hint of murder, mystery, mayhem and, of course, an unnecessarily creepy housekeeper - your usual psychological thriller.


What's fascinating, however, is that Celia is treated as a somewhat intelligent character. She performs the requisite damsel-in-distress screaming, running and tripping around in the fog while some menace chases her, but she's also willful and determined to help her husband overcome his homicidal tendencies. In one scene she even appears to act as his therapist, encouraging him to remember horrors from his past. It's a small point [and, in real life, a very foolish way to behave around a murderer], but she's taking control of her world instead of allowing it to ruin her. What spunk!

And she does it all while rocking that Hedy Lamar-ish middle part in her hair. I adore Celia.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

On Gower Champion

"The speed at which the musical travels is Gower Champion. Otherwise, ... we’d still be waiting for scenes to change..." --- author John Anthony Gilvey in an interview with Harold Channer



The "brown-out," as Champion would sometimes call it, is the name for changing a scene in full view of the audience. Instead of stage lights being turned off completely during an act break - a black out - the lights might be dimmed and changing scenery and props would become a part of the choreography.


Gilvey is the author of the well-researched, detailed, and Marge Champion-endorsed biography Before the Parade Passes By: Gower Champion and the Great American Musical.

Watch the Gilvey interview on Gower Champion here. You can skip to the quote here; it is at 44:48.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Steve McQueen: The Unseen Photos

Life Mag
Prepare to drool, McQueen fans! Life Magazine has released 20 never-before-published photos of the shaggy-haired maverick himself. They were all taken by John Dominis during a three-week stint with the film star and his family just as his career was on the ascent.

Yours truly is not a car buff, but thanks to a little English car show I can appreciate the vehicle the movie star is driving in photo number two. It is to die! Gotta get one of those Jags! Having Steve McQueen in the driver's seat makes it all the more cool.

My favorite of the photos is that of the actor and his wife, Neile, casually shooting things in the desert. What an awesome couple!

See the photos at Life Mag website.

By the way, either Brad Pitt or Jeremy Renner will play the racing car rebel in an upcoming biopic. And, if you didn't already know it, Steve McQueen is cooler than you.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Life After Kovacs: Edie Adams Speaks with People Magazine

Found this 1982 interview with movie star Edie Adams.

The article discusses how Ernie Kovacs' widow has coped with his death and legacy for about two decades. It also celebrates Ms.Adams' determination to extricate herself from her husband's debts, all of which led to a second career as a businesswoman. At the time of the interview, the comedienne was heavily invested in an almond farm. [Let the nut jokes begin.]

My favorite line is the last one. On how she handles romance, Edie remarks, "Every time I get lonesome these days, I start another business."

Read the article here.
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