Summer Stock (1950)

Summer Stock film poster

Jaz: Summer Stock makes a great case for saving the newspaper industry. And recycling. Because not only does Gene Kelly make glorious music with newsprint, he also reads the articles AFTER dancing all over them. After which I’m sure he lined the canary cage … and then composted it. If that’s not love for paper-based media, I don’t know what is.

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I’d like to see YOU tap dance on your Kindle!

I love musicals, Gene Kelly, and Judy Garland (excepting a brief period when my sister played Garland’s music nonstop — for months I couldn’t listen to “The Trolley Song” without wincing). To see all three of them joined in technicolorful harmony was bliss. It makes me want to watch Meet Me in St. Louis and For Me and My Gal again.

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Judy Garland singing “Friendly Star”

Perhaps nostalgia has something to do with it: a part of my childhood is punctuated by the sound of the Summer Stock soundtrack on scratchy vinyl. My personal favorite? The Gospel-inspired song, “Dig for Your Dinner.”

As for plot, if it’s depth you’re going for, brush off that copy of Moby Dick. But if you want to see whether or not the theater group pulls off their barn-staged musical, Gene Kelly tap dance on the dining room table, and Judy Garland get happy — in a strange, albeit wonderfully artsy choreographed act — leave the dust bunnies undisturbed.

summer-stock-judy-garland-1950_i-G-67-6719-ELVA100ZBeaver and I give it four carrots (out of five).

Note: This post is in no way meant to discourage the reading of Moby Dick. In fact, I fully intend to finish it myself. Right after I watch Meet Me in St. Louis.

Liz: I was unsure about the movie for the first few minutes, but then Gene Kelly showed up and it got a whole lot better.
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I liked the overall story–hard-working girl trying to save her farm gets shackled with her irresponsible sister’s boyfriend’s acting troupe. Trouble of the heart then arises when her paternally dominated fiancé (and his father) objects to the show being put on in her barn and when she falls for her sister’s boyfriend as he begins to learn where on the family tree the leading lady characteristics really are.
The cast includes numerous familiar faces beyond the main stars, which always makes me happy. The musical numbers were okay. Nothing spectacular, but not bad, though I wasn’t sure what to make of the semi-religious ones, such as the one where Judy Garland dances around in a suit jacket and stockings.
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I usually don’t like romances between two people already involved in relationships, but I liked this story. It was a bit cliché with the oft used circumstance of one character being in a lackluster engagement with a likable-but-not-romantic-hero-type and the other being in a relationship with a beautiful but spoilt and selfish woman. Predictable, but was cute nonetheless.

Overall conclusion: Enjoyable and worth the watch.

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Austenland: Leave the tea and biscuits at home

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Jane Hayes has a problem. She suffers from a severe case of Austenmania, and I mean mania. Her bedroom, littered with porcelain teacups, stuffed dolls, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Colin Firth in Darcy regalia, looks like a 5th-grader’s shrine to Pride and Prejudice. That this woman managed to go on dates boggles the mind. So it comes as no surprise that when Jane sees a commercial for Austenland, a themed British estate with period actors that promises romance with an Austen-type hero, she cashes in her life savings and flies her sad, sad self off to England.

Hayes gets a rude awakening on her arrival. The “bronze” package she bought — the cheapest available — seems reserved for Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price. The management snubs her, gives her drab gowns, a tiny bedroom on the top floor, and excludes her from fun activities. To make matters worse, the Darcy-type period actor, Mr. Henry Nobley, is in the extreme pre-Elizabeth Bennet stage. still-of-jj-feild-in-austenland

Mr. Henry Nobley (J.J. Feild) looking haughty.

Luckily, Jane can vent her frustrations with Martin, the handsome stable hand. Their relationship develops quickly — a little too quickly. One minute he’s pitching hay in the barn and the next they’re making out to the strains of a cheesy 80’s pop song.

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Jane (Keri Russell) and Martin (Bret McKenzie)

None of the other relationships evolve smoothly, either. Character development in this film sacrificed itself on the altar of time in favor of farcical scenarios. I found myself thinking, “When did that happen? And why?” I assume Jerusha Hess’s book, on which the film is based, elaborates more on this and Jane’s troubled romantic past, which is mentioned but never explained.

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Austenland tries too hard, but isn’t completely lacking in charm. That’s largely due to the cast, who strove to make this a watchable film. In the end, the plot good-naturedly pokes fun at “Janeites,” only to fall short of its potential and succumb to Hollywood rom-com predictability. If you enjoyed the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries, though, you may find the film’s occasional nods amusing, as I did. Also if you’re a fan of Nelly. And that’s all I’m saying.

Beaver couldn’t make it to the showing, sadly, so I’m rating it by myself: 2 carrot sticks (out of five).

On the Waterfront

After weeks of procrastination (and a few legitimate excuses), here is the Mafia-related movie post. Sorry, Liz!

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 I love this poster — it’s so over the top. 

Liz: Waterfront workers line up every morning to unload cargo on the docks, but only those favored by union controller and mob boss Johnny Friendly get work. Those who stand against the mob end up dead. After the murder of a teen, a priest and the boy’s sister seeking justice find help in an unlikely source: Terry Malloy, kid brother of Friendly’s right hand man.

So, did Karl Malden ever play anything other than a priest? On the Waterfront, Poseidon Adventure, Pollyanna…

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Seriously though, he did a great job. And he was no quiet spoken priest with a tender touch. I loved his tough, not-too-polite, cigarette smoking, hit-you-when-necessary character as much as Marlon Brando’s simple, but charming in a diamond-in-the-rough way, Terry Malloy.

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Brando’s reaction when realizing he’d set up a kid for his death seemed underplayed to me. There wasn’t much reaction at all at first. Otherwise, I thought he did a great job, as did the other actors.

On the Waterfront is not my typical movie choice, but I enjoyed it. People standing up for what’s right is always encouraging, though the thought that people were actually living in such poverty and fear is rather shocking.

Conclusion: Definitely deserves all the awards it got.

Jaz: I have a confession to make: I didn’t know that the quote “I coulda been a contender” originated from On the Waterfront.

Go ahead, judge me. All those years of hearing my father quote it (along with “I thought you was hungry so I brought you a stick of gum” – no idea where that’s from), and me a self-proclaimed classic film fan!

Another confession … You know those movies you enjoy watching, then forget about? On the Waterfront was one of those for me. It’s poignant, well done, based on true events, and Brando and Eva Marie Saint delivered superb performances, blended with perfect chemistry.

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In spite of all this, it didn’t resonate with me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate this or different genres – I watch everything from martial arts films to sappy chic-flicks to mystery/suspense to Westerns to gangster films. Most everything except horror. If I want horror, I’ll just eat a MacBacon-CheeseLovinWhopper right before bed, no monthly Netflix fee required.

But back to the film. Beaver disagrees with me. He feels I’m not reading deeply enough into the film to appreciate its characters and nuances – it’s so much more than black and white. He’s right, I know. Later I’ll re-watch On the Waterfront … in addition to making that felt fedora hat the Beav’s been clamoring for since we watched it.

We give this 4 carrot sticks (out of five).

We visit historic Mafia towns …

If you’ve wondered why the blog’s been kinda silent for a while, Jaz and I have both been doing a good bit of traveling. To places connected to the mafia, no less. Destinations: Chicago and Hot Springs, Arkansas.

We’ve all heard of the mafia in Chicago and New York, but Hot Springs? That little tourist town? Yep.

When the mob bosses, like Al Capone, needed to get away from the cops, they’d skip on down to the secluded, picturesque, but far from Hallmark-movie-little-town of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Full of illegal gambling, prostitution, and corrupt government, Hot Springs was just like a home away from home for them. It even had its own local competing gaming bosses, the Flynns and the Dorans (they had a famous shootout in 1899, so I’m not sure if they were still around during the peak of the big city mafia visits in the 30s). Al Capone, Frank Costello, Bugs Moran, and Lucky Luciana were among its notorious guests. (http://www.hotsprings.org/pages/history/)

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Don’t be deceived by its adorable cutesy-ness. 

Hot Springs is now known for its natural hot springs and old bath houses, but it still has a relics of its past, including The Gangster Museum of America (Jaz: sadly, we didn’t visit). http://www.hotsprings.org/pages/history/

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Unexciting photo of a historic Hot Springs bathhouse.

Chicago. The Windy City was amazing. (The Calamity Jane song reference doesn’t really go with our theme, but I couldn’t help it.) The food, the architecture, the tour of Al Capone’s house and all the mafia-related spots (just kidding) (Jaz: You should have!). I did go to Union Station, however, location of the mafia shootout on which the Kevin Costner movie The Untouchables was based.

I may have even seen one of the bullet holes . . .

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Bullet hole at Union Station! How cool is that?

Since this is a classic book and movie blog, not a vacation blog, our next post will be on a mafia-related movie. Care to guess which one? And no, it’s not The Godfather.

Summer Films: South Pacific

LIZ: First off, when I say South Pacific, I am referring to the 1958 movie, not the 2001 TV movie or the play, neither of which I’ve seen. Now that I’ve made that disclaimer, on to the movie.

I love the music (how could you not like a Rogers and Hammerstein collaboration?). “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” are a lot of fun and have catchy tunes.

I must admit to having sung the former with a good bit of feeling at times. “Some Enchanted Evening” is, of course, a romantic favorite.

I like the cast too. Bright, cheerful Mitzi Gaynor is perfect for the nurse in love. The sailors are a great comic relief, about a 101 pounds of fun worth actually.

Pretty much the only thing I didn’t like about the movie was the storyline … It just felt preachy. The lieutenant lost my sympathy leading Liat on when he had a girl back in the States, and I just didn’t see why Nellie had such a problem with Emile having had a Polynesian wife. Side note: The play actually won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1950. I know Carousel, Singing in the Rain, and The Sound of Music are just a few of the musicals that aren’t all laughs and giggles, but I still have a hard time putting musical and drama together in a movie description.

LIZ GOES INTO SHOCK: I did a little snooping on IMDB and discovered that most the voices in the movie were dubbed! The lip-syncing was excellent, but WHY? The scene where Emile sings (you think anyway) “Some Enchanted Evening” to Nellie loses something knowing that it’s faked. Don’t get me wrong, I like the actors, but surely there were enough singer/actors to cast people who could actually perform the role in its entirety. Mitzi Gaynor actually does her own singing, by the way.

Conclusion: It’s not my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein musical, but it has great music.

JAZ: Nellie Forbush is terribly, passionately, ditzily, hopelessly in love with Emile De Becque.

But something’s keeping her from marrying the handsome, millionaire, golden-voiced, charming French-accented man of her dreams.

Handsome, millionaire, golden-voiced, charming French-accented De Becque (The one on the left). Not crazy about the pleated khaki pants, though. 

Is it that they’ve known each other a mere two weeks? Or that he’s twenty-ish years older? Or that he killed a man in France? Or that he has two “mixed” children, which would bother most women in the WWII era?

No, it’s the fact that his long dead and gone wife was Polynesian (“I lived as I could,” he explains apologetically).

Why? Beats me.

In other racist news, Lt. Cable can’t seem to wrap his mind around marrying Liat, the beautiful Vietnamese woman he loves.

Basically South Pacific revolves around their getting over their prejudices. But for a film all about intercultural tolerance, there’s amazingly little of it going on.

Apparently De Becque’s true name is “Frenchman,” because that’s what he gets called 99% of the time. Forbush condescendingly asks the children several times if they understand her, despite the fact that they’re trilingual and she knows only one measly language. And (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) only the suitably lighter-skinned couple ends up together. Cable dies tragically in battle, thus dooming the one possible interethnic marriage. What does that say about the film’s true stance on racial prejudice?

Oh, and what’s up with all the color filters?

Yellow!

Orange!

Yellowy orange! Yeah!

Beaver liked the grass skirts. He said they made him hungry.

We give this film 3 carrot sticks out of five. For the awesome song and dance numbers.

Happy Birthday, Errol Flynn!

Liz, ever informed, told me that today is Errol Flynn’s 104th birthday. If this talented Aussie has never crossed your path before now, let me remedy that at once:

You’re welcome.

Who needs Russell Crowe when you’ve got Errol Flynn?

 In The Seahawk.

Anyway, Beaver and I couldn’t let this day pass without a post (and dessert) in his honor. He suggested cake. We settled for a cupcake instead.

beavererrol Happy Birthday, Errol Flynn!

Summer films: Some Like it Hot

Liz: It’s summer, so we’ve chosen two movies with beach settings—two very different movies.

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Speaking of settings, one of the interesting things about this week’s movie, Some Like It Hot, is the shift from prohibition era/gangster-filled Chicago to a peaceful Florida beach. It felt like a shift in time as well as place. But as Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon were being hunted by the mob, a shift in place was an absolute necessity for them, and since they couldn’t really shift in time as well, they disguised themselves as women—in a female band headed to Florida.

Trouble of a less violent nature, but worse than those high heels they had to wear, finds them in Florida as Tony Curtis falls for fellow band member Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon is pursued by a millionaire.

But, at least, no mobster would ever look for them in an all women band, right? No, they wouldn’t look, but gangsters take holidays too.

Jaz: For this post I would like to introduce you to my classic film companion: Beaver the guinea pig.

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He’s a little shy with strangers.

What with the general viewing public’s short attention span, it gets harder and harder to find willing victims. Beaver will watch anything, provided he has something to munch on.

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Beaver thinks Tony Curtis makes a convincing female.

Technically Some Like it Hot isn’t a summer film, since everything happens around Valentine’s Day. Most of it happens on a sunny Florida beach, though, so that works for me. The film is a comedic masterpiece, largely due to Jack Lemmon’s performance: tango dancing with Joe E. Brown, a flower between his teeth, Lemmon in the midst of the girl band’s midnight bunk party, Lemmon likening Monroe’s movement to “jello on springs.”

 Tony Curtis’ millionaire act made me laugh too, especially since his stuffy accent sounds almost exactly like Cary Grant’s.

This was my first introduction to Marilyn Monroe – or perhaps I should say her character role.  Ditzy, unbelievably naïve, with a weakness for tenor sax players and wearing a dress that reminds me of ancient Minoan fashion. You know, the ones that highlighted the women’s … er … curves.

No, this isn’t the dress.

If you cut through the comedy, you can glean some nice social commentary on society’s objectification of women (which is interesting, considering how Monroe’s image is Hollywood’s epitome of objectification). In one scene, Lemmon storms into the room after getting pinched in the elevator. “Look at that! I’m not even pretty!” he gripes to the mirror. Curtis: “They don’t care, just so long as you’re wearing a skirt.”

Beaver gives this movie 5 carrot sticks (out of 5). I concur.