Even as I scan TCM’s schedule for flicks of note now, I know I’m only looking for the days when I’m too exhausted to move or rainy days when I’m unable to do any garden work. Most of my readers are probably in the same boat, and no doubt happily so! My back, shoulders, and neck seem to be on the mend, thank Heaven, so I won’t be making Hubby dig trenches and holes in the garden for me anymore. Not that I’ll stop him if he helps…
I did want to tip my fellow gardeners off to something, though I’m likely to regret it. If you need to fill in your garden beds inexpensively, Lowe’s has what I like to call “The Sad Plant Rack”. On it you’ll find scraggly plants with slightly yellowed leaves, denuded of their blooms in many cases—but don’t despair. Most of them are perennials headed into an early period of gawkiness thanks to their being forced in greenhouses for early spring sales. Study up on local natives before you head over to Lowe’s, because you’ll often find plenty and fire-sale prices! No, they usually don’t look so hot now, but often they’ll perk up quickly, and if nothing else, you’ll have beautiful, well-established plants for your garden next year. It’s the price that’s crazy—Lowe’s needs to unload them for new plants coming in, so you’ll be grabbing gallon plants for $3 and $1 apiece. Now you know my secret…! The Sad Plant Rack must be looked for, because usually it’s in the back of the nursery or in a corner, but it’s worth looking for. Just be sure to have a place for your bargains before buying!
Well, on to TCM for the coming week. As I was out semi-sick all last week, I’ll have to hit the archives for some photos to share with you.
Kitty Foyle 1940
10PM Friday, April 26
Yes, this is a soaper, but a good one—if for no other reason than star Ginger Rogers’ performance as the title character. About to marry kind and good Doctor Mark Eisen (James Craig), Kitty’s old flame Wyn (Dennis Morgan)—to whom she had, in fact, been married before his parents and her self-doubt chased her away—turns back up, asking her to run away with him to South America…sans marriage. Torn between two choices at the worst moment, Kitty reviews her past in flashback (told you it was a soap).
This is the basic skeleton for many a sentimental romantic “woman’s picture” in the 40s, but Kitty Foyle does throw us a twist. Between marrying Wyn and being rejected by his truly obnoxious, nasty parents, Kitty becomes pregnant; she simply doesn’t realize this before her marriage to Wyn is annulled, and never tells him about the child. Apparently she’s offended and hurt enough by Wyn’s parents—and, frankly, his pathetic refusal to stand up for the woman he supposedly loves and marries—that she thinks he doesn’t want or need to know.
This is an unblinking, un-fancified tale. There’s sentimentality just to make sure we feel, but I don’t really think it is necessary; the straight-on look at Kitty’s life and the men in it is more than enough. That said, Ginger’s performance is very good (she won an Oscar for it), and at many moments the viewer absolutely does feel for Kitty’s predicament—though more than once I felt like shaking Kitty by the shoulders, as it
becomes clear rather quickly that Wyn is selfish and spineless (let me tell you how I really feel). There’s a lot about the class conflict, too, as Kitty comes from Philadelphia’s poorer folk, while Wyn’s family is what we’d today call the ruling-class elite; despite her longing and striving to be part of the upper crust, though, when faced with it, Kitty seems offended and torn.
Despite his wealth and socioeconomic status, Wyn is not just a jellyspine, but frankly, a form of bad boy—slightly predatory, stringing poor Kitty along for years, disappearing then returning, expecting her to be there and be thrilled upon his reappearance, and she is, which makes me want to shake her shoulders (ladies, we’ve all dated jerks like this, yes?). Of course, that does mean a lot of drama, which women can find appealing—all those highs and lows! It’s no wonder that despite this form of mistreatment Kitty longs for Wyn despite how wonderfully Mark treats her. I think the ending is understood before we get well under way, but this is one of the finer of its genre, one that dealt with things other scripts wouldn’t—and even though you’re pretty sure you know which life Kitty will choose, she’s crazy enough about Wyn and comfortable enough with Mark that you just want to be sure.
I don’t know, is this a bonus? It seems like Friday has all of the good flicks! These are both favourites of mine. The former is one of the best all-female movies you’ll ever see, immeasurably superior to the recent remake—and what a cast! Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Roz Russell, Joan Fontaine, Marjorie Main, Paulette Goddard, Butterfly McQueen, Ruth Hussey….And the sets! The most amazing (ridiculously amazing) bathtub you’ll ever see appears in this film. The costumes can be a kick—some of them are not so subtly indicative of the character wearing them—and the dialogue? Oh, it’s killer. Don’t read, don’t play a game, don’t become distracted because the script for The Women hugs the curves quickly and with ease.
Ball Of Fire, too, has been remade (under other names) but never equalled—in part due to the chemistry between stars Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. The chanteuse and the professor strike quite a light, much to the consternation of the stuffy housekeeper and endearingly bookwormish professor coworkers, all of whom live in the same house. Having a showgirl (by the name of Sugarpuss, no less) thrown into the mix so she can hide from the police throws everything into disarray, but nothing and no one so delightfully as Cooper, who is somehow adorable in this film (“Gary Cooper” and “adorable” are not words one hears together often, but it fits here). Howard Hawks’ comedy—itself based loosely on the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves—never loses its charm or its lustre! Don’t miss Friday’s three—the latter two are definitely superior to Kitty Foyle script-wise, but all are fine entertainment indeed.
Two fine westerns on a weekend night? That’s wonderfully old-school (just watched High Noon Sunday night, come to think of it). I’ve not seen either in ages, but I remember Rock Hudson’s performance in Giant just because it’s so darned good. Based on Edna Ferber’s novel, Giant also stars Liz Taylor, James Dean (in his last film), Dennis Hopper, and Sal Mineo, Giant is 201 minutes long. But in one viewing, it’s perfect—and appropriate, since it takes place in Texas, and as we know, Texas is big on, well, big. We live life alongside two generations of Texans for nearly three decades beginning in the 1920s, when Hudson’s Texan rancher meets & weds Maryland beauty Leslie (Taylor). In addition to the expected generational and marital conflicts as well as the changing of traditions and the economic shifts themselves; there are ethnic and business clashes as well. Yup, Texas seems like the perfect place to set a film with such broad concerns. Hudson was, in Giant, given a real chance to show his talent. Taylor, too, turns in one of her best performances. Dean I’ve always had a hard time with, to be honest—Method acting seems so self-absorbed and head-in-the-sky to me.
At 11:45PM TCM screens Rio Bravo, directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, and Ward Bond—the old gang and then some, I guess. An accused prisoner’s brother is doing his best to spring his sibling from jail before the arrival of a US Marshal, and Sheriff Wayne finds himself being helped by former deputy Martin (a demoralized alcoholic), Dickinson (a comely dance-hall girl), Brennan (gimpy leg) and Nelson (…babyface, plus lockjaw) to track him down. In addition to having what many consider the Duke’s best performance, you even get to hear Dean-o and Ricky sing together (though Dean really is more my style; whose music has stood the test of time? There ya go).
I have to say that Dean Martin’s “Dude”, torn and tormented by inner demons, steals the show from the Duke, which is saying something since this was filmed when Wayne’s popularity was at its peak. That’s not to say Wayne’s performance is bad, because it’s not, it’s very good, but Dude is so compelling. Really, they play against each other beautifully—powerful, confident, brusque Wayne versus deeply troubled, crushed, almost pitiable Martin. For that alone, Rio Bravo is worth seeing. Of course, we have Walter Brennan, too, that terrific character actor with the unmistakable voice and marvellous cackle—he has an answer for everything and lifts this film.
Bravo is a bit overlong, but still worth seeing.
The Undercover Man 1949
Tuesday, April 30, 12AM
Tuesday night brings us a lineup of Glenn Ford’s 1940s films, which is just peachy so far as I’m concerned (apparently TCM has run out of Olivier movies?), having become a big fan of Ford’s work. I’ve not seen Undercover Man, but previews for it have popped up of late, intriguing me; it looks Noir-ish, and Ford was fantastic in Noirs. Ford plays a Treasury agent trying to nail a powerful mobster, one much like Al Capone, with tax evasion to the tune of $3 million. As you would expect with a mobster tale, we have men with valuable information being killed, witnesses cowed into keeping their mouths shut, wives being threatened to keep their husbands off the trail, and so forth.
Filmed in a semi-documentary style, director Joseph Lewis apparently got some great performances from Ford and co-star Nina Foch. James Whitmore makes his film debut.
This IS your bonus film, and it’s so worth seeing it if you haven’t already. Glenn Ford almost—almost—steals this one, but femme fatale Rita Hayworth is at the height of her appeal in this film (much to her chagrin, for she once explained her romantic woes by suggesting “men think they’re marrying Gilda, then wake up with Rita Hayworth”—that must have been frustrating indeed, because what idiot of a man thinks Rita Hayworth isn’t good enough?). Gilda had previously been involved with Ford’s gambler Johnny Farrell, but the pair split up—only to have Ford rediscover her in Argentina, married to his wealthy new boss, a German casino owner played by George Macready. What ensues in Charles Vidor’s suspenser is one of the tensest, most emotionally charged love-hate triangles you’ll ever see.
The casino boss realizes his alluring new bride and his new employee were once lovers, and rather cruelly uses this information to pit the pair against each other (loving marriage, yes?), which they do by one-upping, attacking, and verbally abusing each other. Gilda’s forward flirtatiousness
with multiple men frustrates both men, with Johnny trying to stop her from stepping out and her husband reacting as you’d expect. Everything is poisoned in this film—it’s astounding, and if you’ve never seen it, buckle in.
This really is Rita Hayworth’s film, the one for which she’ll be remembered. Despite her gorgeousness, she seems attainable—attainable as a love for men, and displaying a beauty attainable by all women, which is saying something in our present era of plastic-plumped, extension-tressed “stars”. Men want Gilda and women not only want to be her, but like her! As written in Joe Morella’s and Edward Z. Epstein’s bio Rita, Gilda was successful and remains so today because
…by presenting a woman who typified the ideal: the girl every man wanted to possess and every woman wanted to look like. Women, in fact, liked, responded to, empathized with Rita Hayworth – they have always made up a huge portion of her audience. Even in her femme fatale roles Rita’s vulnerability came through. Her likeability and vulnerability are essential factors in her appeal.
Still, Ford’s performance is really marvellous—in fact, it makes me think of Bogey’s in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, though Johnny Farrell does not descend to the levels of pure insanity and sociopathy as Bogey does. Still, the character seems to twist suddenly, turning from an affable fella to a contentious wounded animal of a man, teeth bared in attitude if not reality—and this is made worse by Gilda’s intentionally flirting with other men in front of him, cruelly flaunting for others what he once had and can have no longer. Is she decent? Hardly, but that’s not going to stop anyone from loving her—or hating when they can’t admit to desire. Funny how that works.
The two very strong performances by the film’s stars (who were in fact very good friends in real life) makes it all the more electric. Fury, loathing, and passion are just barely concealed beneath the surface all around, all so intensely that viewers can truly sense it while merely watching. The mood on the set must have been thick and tense—indeed, in a scene where Gilda slaps Johnny, Hayworth hit Ford with such force that he lost a few teeth (about which I’m sure she felt quite badly).
By the way—despite its amazing performances and delectable cinematography, Gilda is not a movie for kids. Fair warning!