Classic Links

The enduring appeal of Laurel and Hardy—
The Guardian

Philip French’s screen legends: Leslie Howard—
The Guardian

Going for a dip in Marion Davies’ pool—
New York Times

Fantastic pics of Joan Blondell: in celebration of her birthday yesterday—
Lolita's Classics

Sinatra and Monroe rumors—

Great Dominick Dunne obituary—
The Sydney Morning Herald

New book: Paris Movie Walks—

When good cowboys go bad—

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Monday Serenade: Harpo and Chico Tickle the Ivories

While the The Big Store (1941) is one of the least-admired Marx Brothers movies, it does have its moments. For instance, this charmingly goofy Chico and Harpo duet.

Quote of the Week

I don't want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.

-Samuel Goldwyn (also known in Hollywood as "Mister Malaprop")

Happy Birthday Ingrid Bergman

Today would have been Ingrid Bergman's birthday. I think watching her outdance Goldie Hawn in Cactus Flower (1969) is a fine way to celebrate:

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Room Runners (1932)

Flip the Frog tries to escape paying his overdue rent in this racy pre-code 'toon.

Classic Links

New book—Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne—

The ever-changing landscape of movies on television—

A Valentine’s Day cruise for Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald fans?—
Jeanette MacDonald and Nelso Eddy Homepage

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Classic Hollywood Screen Tests, Part I

This great clip from a James Dean and Paul Newman screen test that Nicole posted on Classic Hollywood Nerd last week inspired me to search for more interesting tests from classic Hollywood. Here are some of my favorites:

I’ve seen this Audrey Hepburn test for Roman Holiday (1953) dozens of times and I never get tired of it. Her tone is sober, but she is utterly charming:

Vivien Leigh proved that she was not fit for the role of the second Mrs. DeWinter in this test for Rebecca (1939). She lacked the necessary shyness and insecurity and you can’t help but laugh when she says the line about being “dull and quiet”; it simply isn’t in Leigh’s make-up to be less than fascinating. Her dark beauty would have made her a shoo-in for the role of Rebecca. Too bad the first Mrs. DeWinter is gone before the story begins:

This is one of three silent tests that Greta Garbo shot with James Wong Howe in 1949 in anticipation of her return to the screen. It is bittersweet to see how mesmerizing she still was, in simple make-up and costume and with no script. The failure of this production is one of the big “what ifs” of classic Hollywood:

Many times in this screen test for the original German version of The Blue Angel (1930), Marlene Dietrich looks like she could care less if she won the role. According to director Josef von Sternberg, that is precisely why she was cast:

Though Olivia de Havilland was still in her teens when she made this test, she was already a confident performer, with evident star power:

I found more great clips, but to avoid screen test overload, I’ll save those for a future post. Have you run across a great test from classic Hollywood? Let me know if you have; I’d love to see it.

Classic Links

Chicago sets Guinness record for Groucho glasses—
Chicago CBS

The last few days of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars--

Well, Nosferatu is certainly different from Twilight Ms. Bacall (Update: I'm not sure if she said this. It seems to come from an unverified Lauren Bacall Twitter account)—

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Four with Merle Oberon

It was great to see Merle Oberon get some attention yesterday as a part of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars series. I thought I’d extend the Oberon love with a few more great movies starring this elegant actress:

These Three (1936)
This is one of Oberon’s best performances, mostly because of director William Wyler’s firm guidance. Stripped of glamour and her typically regal bearing, she brings a delicate balance of intelligence and vulnerability to her role as a school teacher subjected to scandal and false rumors.

Dark Waters (1944)
Oberon brings neurotic tension to her portrayal of a rich woman who has survived a shipwreck, only to find herself in another dangerous situation. The plot of this thriller is standard, but the Louisiana bayou setting and Oberon’s dark beauty add an extra charge.

Lydia (1941)
This period weeper features Oberon in her element: beautifully dressed, in glamorous surroundings and unhappy in love. She plays an elderly philanthropist who has never married, though she pines for a lost lover. She tells her story to the three men whose proposals she once rejected, over the course of a bittersweet one night reunion. It can be difficult to find a copy of this movie, but if you like the lushly romantic side of Merle Oberon, it is well worth the effort.

The Cowboy and the Lady (1938)
Oberon plays a socialite masquerading as a maid and Gary Cooper is the cowboy who falls for her in this comedy romance. They make such an odd match that, despite being saddled with a boatload of clichés and uneven pacing, they are sort of fascinating to watch together.

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Classic Links

70 years later we still feel the echoes of Oz

And Some Like it Hot is still hot—
Yorkshire Post

Burial plot above Monroe sold for over 4 million (I still think this is terrible!)—
The Guardian

Foul-mouthed Tony Curtis—

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TV Tuesday: Marilyn Monroe on Person to Person

This clip of Marilyn Monroe’s appearance on Edward R. Murrow’s Person to Person is a mesmerizing performance, full of complexities. In it, she sits with photographer Milton Greene and his wife Amy in their Connecticut home, discussing their friendship and her career. She adopts her dazed sexpot persona for most of the interview, flirting with the camera, stroking her legs and speaking in a girlish, breathy voice, but her intelligent observations on her career, and a sharp sense of humor, add depth to her glossy flirtation. Monroe explains these contradictions quite plainly when she tells Murrow that while she likes being in musicals and comedies, she yearns to be in dramas. Or, in essence: I can be light, but please take me seriously. No wonder we continue to be fascinated by this woman.

Classic Links

Bacall: Hollywood is a zoo (isn’t it nice that we still have her around?)—

The top ten Gregory Peck westerns—

Joan Blondell’s characters still ‘aces’—
Washington Times

This made me want to drop everything and watch Charade again—
Happy Thoughts Darling

King Vidor’s Hallelujah--
Mythical Monkey

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Monday Serenade: Hazel Scott

Though glamorous piano player Hazel Scott wasn’t a headliner, she never failed to steal her movies. Her jazzy, boogie woogie take on classics and standards, and her showy, but elegant performance style were unique and inimitable. Her numbers are the most exciting part of otherwise unremarkable movies like Rhapsody in Blue (1945) and The Heat’s On (1943). She’s a real stand-out playing Taking a Chance on Love in this scene from I Dood It (1943). Despite her specialty act billing, Scott is a true star in this scene: cool, charismatic and confident in her remarkable talents.

Quote of the Week

Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone.
-Mary Astor

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Saturday Morning Cartoon: She Was an Acrobat's Daughter (1937)

A barnyard's worth of animals enjoy a typical 1930's evening at the movies: a newsreel, novelty short subject and a sing-along. And of course there's the main feature, The Petrified Florist, with slightly off, but still pretty funny caricatures of Bette Davis and Leslie Howard.

Classic Links

Who’s still alive? (the comments are more enlightening than the post)—
Village Voice

Don’t forget to buy your Wizard of Oz tickets!—

Tallulah Bankhead in Victoria—
Unknown Victoria

Book Review: Frankly My Dear--Gone with the Wind Revisited

I have never been a particular fan of the film version of Gone with the Wind (1939) and I haven’t read Margaret Mitchell’s novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed Frankly My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited, Molly Haskell’s in-depth study of the enduring novel and film. Haskell explores GWTW from the conception of the book, through the film production, to the way both works are perceived today. Her intelligent, accessible investigation strikes a happy balance between thorough analysis and personal reflection. Though Haskell makes careful consideration of the effects of racism, sexual roles and changing society on GWTW, her most interesting observations come from her fascination with the trio of author Mitchell, producer David Selznick and actress Vivien Leigh. She makes a strong argument that these three, with their shared passionate natures, but wildly different personalities, were the driving force that made GWTW legendary. With its well-researched prose and a fair helping of Hollywood gossip, Frankly My Dear is bound to please history and classic Hollywood buffs as much as devoted fans of GWTW.

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Virginia Davis, 1918-2009

Goodbye to Virginia Davis, Walt Disney’s first child star. She was the focus of his silent Alice comedies, which combined live action and animation. From 1923-25 Davis made 15 Alice comedy shorts for pre-Mickey Mouse Disney. Young Disney filmed the comedies in his uncle’s garage, recruiting curious neighborhood children whenever extras were needed. She played the precocious youngster with perfectly-formed ringlets before Shirley Temple was even born. After her Disney days, Davis continued to work in Hollywood, first as a child actress and later in a series of supporting roles, primarily in musicals. She retired from the screen in the forties. After decades as a wife, mother and real estate agent, Davis was pleased to finally receive recognition from fans and the press as Disney’s first star. In interviews she spoke highly of Disney and was happy to have played a part in the birth of his entertainment empire.

Here’s a clip from the 1924 silent Alice’s Wild West Show (which includes shots of Davis blowing smoke from a cartoon cigar and tackling a boy at least twice her size!):

To see the full-length version of Alice’s Wonderland (1923), check out this clip on YouTube.

Here’s a great interview with Davis in which she talks about Disney and her experiences playing Alice.

Classic Links

Deadline USA voted best newspaper film (interesting choice, but I prefer His Girl Friday and Ace in the Hole)--

Remixing Mother India for a new generation—
The Guardian

Child star Virginia Davis dies at 90—

TV Tuesday: Ricardo Montalban on I've Got a Secret

Ricardo Montalban not only manages to keep his dignity despite having to do all manner of silly things on this 1957 appearance on I've Got a Secret, but he is utterly charming. His elegant, cheerful personality was a perfect fit for the lively game shows of the day.

Classic Links

All About Bette—
Metro Classics

Fight Pictures: A History of Boxing and Cinema—

Book review: Alistair Cooke at the Movies—
The Guardian

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Monday Serenade: Mae West and Rock Hudson

In celebration of Mae West's birthday, here's her famous performance of Baby It's Cold Outside with Rock Hudson at the 1958 Academy Awards ceremony. They make a great pair: West is still getting mileage out of her decades-old sex schtick and Hudson plays along with that trademark sly demeanor that always seemed to tell audiences that yes, he was in on the joke.

Quote of the Week

An actress must never lose her ego -- without it she has no talent.
-Norma Shearer

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Classic Links

Would Gary Cooper be a star today?—
Hollywood Dreamland

The Bootleg Files: Two Women (1960)—
Film Threat

Crypt above Marilyn Monroe is up for auction—

Kate Winslet as Mildred Pierce? Most remakes of classics make me cringe, but this seems okay. (1)It isn’t really a remake because the source material is a book. (2) It will be a different treatment of the story. (3) I like Kate; she’s got class.—

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Saturday Morning Cartoon: Stratos Fear (1933)

An overdose of laughing gas shoots Willie Whopper into space (what is it with gas an these early thirties cartoons?), where he is chased by a mad scientist. A very Harpo Marx-like character makes an appearance.

Hitchcock’s Famous Cameos

I can’t think of many directors who could get away with the number of cameos that Alfred Hitchcock made. Instead of being seen as an egotist for planting himself in front of the camera, audiences loved his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances, and would come to search for them. The cameos became so famous that Hitchcock began to put them in the early moments of his movies so that his audience wouldn’t be distracted from the plot. In celebration of Hitch’s birthday today, I thought I’d explore those cameos in more detail:

• Hitchcock appeared in 37 of his 52 available films (some sources claim 39)

• In most of his British films, Hitchcock was actually filling out the cast as an extra. He only started appearing in every film with the express purpose of making a director’s cameo when he began his American career with Rebecca in 1940.

• That appearance in Rebecca was the only cameo that came after the two hour mark.

• If you want to catch a Hitchcock cameo, pay attention in the first half hour—that’s when he made twenty-six of his appearances.

• Hitchcock broke tradition with The Wrong Man (1956) and addressed the audience directly in a prologue. He did this to emphasize that the movie was based on a true story. It would be the only time Hitchcock spoke in one of his movies.

• On rare occasions, Hitchcock would make two appearances in one movie. He is confirmed to have done this in Rope (1948), Under Capricorn (1949) and The Lodger (1926). It has also been rumored that Hitch made a second appearance in drag in North by Northwest about forty-four minutes into the movie, but this has never been confirmed.

For more information about Hitchcock’s cameos, check out Tim Dirk’s detailed list at Filmsite. There’s also a great gallery of the cameos at Empire magazine.

Classic Links

The new Leslie Caron memoir looks interesting—

I love this picture of Joan Blondell and Bette Davis at a nightclub—
Movements and Hippies of the Eighties

Sidney Poitier honored by Obama—

Centarian’s birthday film treat (this is nice)--

Great Dana Andrews pics--
Classic Hollywood Nerd

The day I interviewed Budd Schulberg—
Political Cortex

Hating the artist, loving the art—
New York Times Blog

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Four Places to Watch Classic Movies for Free Online

I always seem to have too many movie options, from mail rental and DVDs from the library to whatever happens to be on TV. Still, it can be great to jump online and spontaneously pick a movie to watch. There are lots of sites where you can legally view great classic movies for free. I thought I’d share some of my favorites:

1. Hulu
Though the selection of classic movies on Hulu is fairly small, I like to use this site, because I love the player. The picture quality is always sharp and clear, and there’s a handy feature where you can dim the lights around the player screen while you’re watching the movie. There are a few commercial breaks in each presentation, but they are short and not too intrusive. There’s also an interestingly diverse selection of titles, from early Hitchcock such as The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes to glossy musicals like Moon Over Miami with Betty Grable.

2. The Internet Archive
This is the place to go for a larger library of titles. The Internet Archive has hundreds of feature film titles, all well-organized by category. There are several strong film noir titles, including The File on Thelma Jordan and Kansas City Confidential, lots of Charlie Chaplin shorts, a full Flash Gordon Serial and loads of other great movies. The picture quality tends to be fairly grainy and the sound tinny (of course, we are talking about old movies), but the screen is a nice size and the overall viewing experience is pleasant.

3. Classic Cinema Online
My favorite thing about this site is the ease of navigation. There are several well-organized categories with a good-sized selection of titles. This is a great place to watch serials, 50’s sci-fi movies and classic dramas. The Google player is easy to use and the picture and sound quality are decent.

4. Retrovision
At first, the navigation on this site can be a bit confusing, but once you find the categories on the right sidebar, it’s easier to find your way around. The large number of categories help you to narrow down your choices quickly and the brief descriptions by each title are also extremely helpful. The player is easy to use and about the same quality as at The Internet Archive.

Classic Links

Hedy Lamarr: thirties film diva, mobile phone tech pioneer, anti-Nazi gadget inventor--
Boing Boing

As films leave, behind the scenes Hollywood fades—

See The Wizard of Oz on the big screen and in HD—

Bill and Coo: the only all-Avian movie ever made—
Movie Fanfare

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TV Tuesday: Ava Gardner on What's My Line?

Has there ever been anyone as effortlessly alluring as Ava Gardner? In her appearance on What’s My Line? she plays a guessing game like a seduction scene, but she always exudes dignity and class. She is also nearly as good at flirting with her hair as Rita Hayworth!

Classic Links

Phil French’s screen legends: Shelley Winters--
The Guardian

Hospital for Hollywood’s elderly to close (this is incredibly sad)—

Book review: Hollywood Dreams Made Real--
San Francisco Sentinel

Katharine Hepburn’s Oscars on display—

Scenes We Love: The Awful Truth (am I missing something, or do they really not discuss a specific scene in this post?)--

More on Budd Schulberg—

All Quiet on the Western Front: silent version restored—
The Epoch Times

Monday Serenade: Young Bing Crosby

Here’s a very young, but polished Bing Crosby making his film debut in Reaching for the Moon (1930). He sings When the Folks High-up Do the Mean Low-down with Bebe Daniels and June MacCloy in the midst of a wild party scene. Despite this clip, the movie isn’t a musical, but a romantic comedy starring Douglas Fairbanks in one of his few talkies. The movie creaks a bit, but it’s got gorgeous art deco sets and some amusing acrobatic outbursts from Fairbanks.

Quote of the Week

He wore baldness like an expensive hat, as if it were out of the question for him to have hair like other men.

-Gloria Swanson (in reference to Cecil B. DeMille)

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Saturday Morning Cartoon: Ha! Ha! Ha! (1934)

In this super-surreal 'toon, Betty Boop plays dentist to Koko the Clown and ends up flooding the entire neighborhood with laughing gas.

Four with Esther Williams

Tomorrow Esther Williams, MGM’s Technicolor mermaid of the studio age, will turn 88. What a fine opportunity to celebrate some of her best movies:

Bathing Beauty (1944)
This is the movie that truly made Esther Williams a star. Though the original title of this musical comedy had been Mr. Co-ed, sometime during production, studio executives realized that it was Williams, not her costar Red Skelton, who was grabbing attention. In addition to the name change, she was now featured in the advertising, wearing her swimsuit of course. She actually spends most of her time on dry land, but her two swimming scenes are each memorable in their own way. The first scene is rather low-key; Williams frolics happily in an outdoor pool, wearing a bright pink swimsuit and a glamorous smile. It’s a pleasant, but simple scene, totally unlike the grandeur of the finale, which included a jawdroppingly huge pool, dancing girls both dry and wet, shooting fountains of water. This amazing number would create the template for not only a new kind of dancing, but an Olympic sport. It was also the source of endless parodies, a true sign of success.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)
There is a quote attributed to comedian Fanny Brice in which she says of Williams, “wet she’s a star, dry she ain’t.” I beg to differ. While she was not a legend on the level of Judy Garland, she had star power, and effective training from MGM helped her to build upon her natural presence. Unlike many actresses who were not primarily singers, she was able to record her own songs, and she had both dramatic and comedic skills that at least equaled many of the other musical ingénues and actresses on the lot. I think this movie is an excellent example of a successfully “dry” Esther Williams (there is only one brief scene in a pool and it isn’t a production number). She can’t dance, and she certainly isn’t going to steal the movie from Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, but she has great comic flair and definitely holds her own against her more seasoned costars.

Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)
The amazing Busby Berkeley-choreographed swim ballets are reason enough to see this sometimes slow-moving biopic of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman. Williams is beautifully matched with Victor Mature as her irresponsible, but charismatic love interest. Walter Pidgeon is warm and dignified as her father. But back to the swimming: these are the most glamorous, inventive and surreally beautiful routines Williams ever performed on the screen. They were also often very dangerous; Williams broke three vertebrae when she dove over fifty feet into the water from a tiny platform. She was in a body cast for months.

Dangerous When Wet (1953)
Co-starring with her future husband Lorenzo Lamas, Williams is at her most playful in this musical comedy with a touch of drama. Lamas had been a swimming champion in his native Argentina and Williams was pleased to be well-matched in the pool (on occasion, she had had to hold up other male costars while they swam). She also has another strong supporting cast, with William Frawley as her father and long-legged Charlotte Greenwood as her mother.

Check out the official Esther Williams site. Among other interesting tidbits and several pictures of the Esther Williams swimsuit line, there's a great clip from Diane Sawyer’s 2007 Today show interview with a gorgeous 86-year-old Williams.

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Joan Crawford for Mountain Dew

I love how Joan Crawford pops up for a couple of moments in this 1969 Mountain Dew commercial. It's so funny to have this grand and so often serious Hollywood star suddenly appear in the midst of all those perky unknowns.

Budd Schulberg, 1914-2009

Goodbye to Budd Schulberg, the writer best known as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of On the Waterfront (1954). He was also a novelist, most famously of the notorious Hollywood tale See Sammy Run, and a journalist, primarily covering his favorite sport, boxing, which brought him an induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003. He also co-founded the Watts Writers Workshop in the wake of the 1965 riots and won an Emmy for the resulting television special, The Angry Voices of Watts (1966).

Schulberg grew up a pampered son of Hollywood. His father, B.P. Schulberg, was head of Paramount Pictures in the 1920s and early 30s and his mother Adeline was a literary agent. He described his childhood, and Hollywood as it moved into the age of talkies, in his vivid 1981 autobiography Moving Pictures: Memoirs of a Hollywood Prince.

As a teenage publicist at Paramount, Schulberg fabricated biographies for contract players. He also started young as a screenwriter, starting with uncredited contributions to A Star is Born (1937). He would also write the script for the initially ignored, but now classic, A Face in the Crowd (1957). His other notable novels include The Harder They Fall (which was the basis for the 1956 Humphrey Bogart movie) and The Disenchanted. During World War II, he worked for John Ford’s documentary unit while he served in the navy.

In 1951 Schulberg angered many in Hollywood when, after admitting to the House Un-American Activities Committee that he had once been a communist, he informed on several of his peers, causing their blacklisting. Though many assumed that his script for Waterfront was an apologia for his testimony, Schulberg always firmly denied any regret for his testimonial.

Schulberg was working on projects to the end of his 95 years, including a follow up to his last memoir. He died of natural causes in Long Island and is survived by his wife and five children from three of his four marriages.

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Classic Links

Femmes Fatale (Theda Bara's legacy)—
The Guardian

Falling DVD sales hinder the release of classics--

On the Waterfront writer Budd Schulberg dies--
LA Times

Makeup artist Howard Smit dies at 98—

Brando’s daughter-in-law loses estate appeal—

Curtis opens up about Monroe's pregnancy (hasn’t this poor woman already been exploited enough?)--

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TV Tuesday: Joan Fontaine on the Tonight Show

In this clip from The Tonight Show, gorgeous Joan Fontaine tries, and fails, to teach Johnny Carson how to squeeze an egg without breaking it. It's great fun to see Fontaine and Ed MacMahon getting the giggles over poor hapless Carson.

Classic Links

Harold Lloyd gets the star treatment on TCM--
The Kitty Packard Pictorial

A fabulous gallery of classic actresses in sunglasses—
Classic Hollywood Nerd

John Barrymore: sweet prince of irony—
Bright Lights Film Journal

1960: another great movie year—
David Bordwell

A Captain Blood remake. . . in outer space—

Steven Spielberg is remaking Harvey? Oh Hollywood, please stop!—
The Guardian

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Quote of the Week

Knowing what you can not do is more important than knowing what you can do. In fact, that's good taste.
-Lucille Ball

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Saturday Morning Cartoon: Balloon Land (1935)

The air-filled inhabitants of balloon land battle the pin cushion man in this delightfully bizarre Ub Iwerks cartoon.
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