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Three on a Bed - Click for larger image

To get into the spirit for tonight’s pre-code marathon on TCM, I thought I would discuss one of my favorite movie from that era, Ernst Lubitsch’s Design For Living (1933). I admit that I don’t know much about pre-code films or their history, but I do know a great film when I see one. And not only is Design For Living great, but it’s incredibly sexy and fun as well. It’s risque plot begs the question: is it possible for two men to share a woman and live happily ever after? While the idea of a menage a trois is common knowledge by today’s standards, it had to be a shocking topic for 1933!

Cooper, March, Hopkins - Click for larger imageThe plot centers around two friends, playwright Tom (Fredric March) and painter George (Gary Cooper) who meet a free-spirited commercial artist, Gilda (Miriam Hopkins) on a train. Naturally, both men fall in love with Gilda and unbeknownst to each other, are having a physical relationship with her. Instead of choosing one, Gilda decides that the best solution is to forget about sex. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. Instead, Gilda has separate dalliances with both George and Tom and when she sees that she’s tearing their friendship apart, she runs off and marries her humorless boss, Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton). Soon, Gilda finds herself in an unhappy situation, surrounded by Plunkett’s boring, snooty friends while forced to play silly dinner games and sing even siller songs. It’s then up to Tom and George to rescue her from the boredom of Plunkett’s home.

While the “Lubitsch Touch” may not be for everyone, it’s precisely what makes Design For Living so fantastic. It’s a light, sophisticated sex farce that never crosses the line into smut. And while there are serious turns in the plot, they mostly revolve around the emotions of Tom, George and Gilda–never are they made to feel guilty for enjoying sex. It’s who they’re enjoying it with that’s the problem. But what makes Design For Living truly beautiful is that the main characters are friends first, and romantically involved second (a very close second, I might add). It’s clear from their banter on the train that they enjoy each other’s company. And when Gilda tells the boys to forget about sex, she turns it into something positive by critiquing their work instead and turning them into successes. Of course, none of the parties involved can go without physical comforts for long, but isn’t that what makes the movie so much fun?

Gary Cooper and Fredric March - Click for larger image

Both Fredric March and Gary Cooper are perfect in their roles. Not only do they have amazing chemistry with Hopkins, but they play off each other beautifully as well. The comic banter between them is easy and light and Design For Living playbill - Click for larger imageyou understand why their friendship has endured for eleven years. It’s also interesting to note that in the original Noel Coward scripted play, it was hinted that Tom and George were bisexual. Even though the Hays Code was lax, the powers that be insisted that Design For Living be cleaned up for the screen version. Hollywood wasn’t that liberated. Enter screenwriter Ben Hecht, who wound up rewriting all the dialogue except for one line (“For the good of our immortal souls!”), while keeping the plot the same. All traces of bisexuality between Tom and George were written out–or was it? In the scene where George finds out that Tom and Gilda have spent the night together, he angrily tells them, “It’s hard to believe I loved you both!” While the line was meant to express a platonic love between Tom and George, I’m sure some people were thinking along the lines of the original Broadway version. I know I was (but that’s mostly because I have a filthy mind). After all, Tom and George lived together before Gilda came along and after Gilda leaves them, they go off to China together. March and Cooper are not affectionate towards each other, but it’s hard not to think that there was something more to their characters, especially in such a sexually charged movie. I’m sure if Design For Living was re-made today (Heaven forbid), the writers would throw in some sexual tension and jealousy between Tom and George based on their previous, pre-Gilda relationship.

Cooper, March, Horton - Click for larger imageThe character of Max Plunkett is Design For Living‘s authority figure and the exact kind of attitude that the saucier pre-code movies thumbed their nose at. He’s awfully fond of the phrase, “Immorality may be fun, but it isn’t fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day!” which describes the kind of guy he is. Yawn. Played by Edward Everett Horton (one of my favorite character actors from the 30’s), Plunkett is the kind of guy who thinks after dinner games of 20 Questions and “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?” are a good time. He’s the symbol of stodgy monotony, while Tom, George and Gilda represent a more carefree attitude. Plunkett is obsessed with work and while the three want to be successful in life, it shouldn’t come at the loss of their happiness.

Married? Noooooo! - Click for larger imageI know it’s said that Horton was gay in real life, but I never got that kind of over-the-top flamboyancy from him, like I did with Franklin Pangborn. In so many movies, Horton was constantly married to women, who like him, had a sense of asexuality. You could never imagine them having sex–maybe the most you’d see is a chaste kiss, but that’s about it. Horton’s asexuality is what makes Plunkett so great–despite his love for Gilda, you could never, ever imagine him satisfying her like Tom or George could, nor could you imagine Gilda getting all worked up over him. Even his attempts at shopping for a bed are dull–Plunkett pulls out a tape measure to see the width of the bed, before measuring each of their shoulders! Horton puts in a fine dramatic performance here, especially in the post-marriage bedroom scene where he kicks the tulips after having a passionless wedding night.

But what really makes the movie is the character of Gilda (pronounced Jil-da). Miriam Hopkins shines in the role, bringing to life a complex woman who is not only comfortable with her sexuality, but places Tom and George’s friendship above her own happiness. The last thing she wants is for them to hate each other. Throughout the film, Gilda tries many different things in order to restore peace between Tom and George: she becomes “den mother” to their pursuits and then marries Plunkett so that neither man can have her. But in the end, Gilda cannot deny her true happiness anymore and neither can Tom or George. They need her as much as she needs them, jealousy be damned.

Hopkins runs a gamut of emotions throughout the film: she’s flirty and coy, but serious and passionate when she needs to be. It would be hard to like Gilda if Hopkins played her as a stupid, shallow and coarse girl, but she doesn’t. If anything, Gilda is a revelation–she’s a sexually liberated woman in the 1930’s, an idea that wouldn’t be popular until almost 40 years later. Gilda only wants to bring out the best in both of her men. She’s not desperately seeking approval from Tom or George and isn’t afraid tear down their egos and criticize their work (“Rotten!”). But she’s willing to succumb to passion when the time is right. Gilda wears her emotions on her sleeve. In one scene, she tells Tom that he haunted her “like a nasty ghost” and that “on rainy nights, I could hear you moanin’ down the chimney.” She’s open and honest. There’s no false pretenses with her and not only is it refreshing to see, but it’s fun to watch. It makes you root for Gilda and hope that she gets both her men at the end of the story. These characters are too nice and too much fun to be left broken hearted at the end.

A Gentleman’s Agreement - Click for larger imageGary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins - Click for larger imageI’m no Gentleman - Click for larger image
The end of the “Gentleman’s Agreement”

Design For Living also has it’s share of extremely sensual moments, which are sprinkled through the film. The innuendo is hard to miss. For example, take the scene where George and Gilda are alone together in their apartment. After pacing back and forth a few times, George grabs Gilda, proclaims his love and kisses her. In return, Gilda walks over to the dusty couch, lazily stretches the length of her body across it and purrs, “It’s true we had a gentleman’s agreement–but unfortunately, I am no gentleman.” The scene fades to black. It leaves the power of one’s imagination to figure out what happened next, which is so much sexier than showing the physical act of lovemaking itself.

It still rings! - Click for larger imageIn another scene, Tom visits the apartment of George and Gilda, only to find that Gilda still has his old typewriter. Despite promising to take good care of itwhen he left for London, Tom finds that’s it’s now rusted out. When Gilda enters the room, the sexual tension between them becomes unbearable. They can’t take their eyes off each other and the typewriter becomes a metaphor for their relationship. As Gilda starts fiddling with the machine, she and Tom have the following conversation:

Tom (accusingly): You didn’t keep it oiled.
GIlda: I did for awhile.
Tom: The keys are rusty. The shift is broken
Gilda seductively slides the carriage back and forth, causing the typewriter to ‘ding’. Tom and Gilda look at each other wide-eyed with excitement.
Gilda (excitedly): But it still rings!
March walks over to Gilda, where they meet face-to-face.
Gilda (softly): “It still rings.”
Tom: “Does it?”
Fade to black.

It’s one of the best moments in the entire film and that’s saying a lot, because there are so many high points to begin with. And speaking of which, the closing scene is also fantastic. After Tom, Gilda and George escape Plunkett’s mansion in a taxi, Gilda then declares that she wants to go back to Paris and have some fun–but not before giving each guy a big kiss on the lips. And we know exactly what kind of fun she wants. After all, she’s nestled in between Fredric March and Gary Cooper–who could blame her for wanting to have “fun”?

When I first got into classics, I could never understand what the fuss about pre-codes was all about, but after seeing a few, I do understand. Not only are they fun, but it’s nice to see endings where the main character isn’t severely punished for their actions. You know, if Design For Living had somehow been made after 1934, not only would a good chunk of the snappy dialogue have been eradicated, but one of the main characters would have had to die in order for moral sanity to rule the day. I’m guessing that Gilda would have received the brunt of the Code’s moral abuse. After all, she enjoyed sex and everyone knows that in post-1934 films, any woman who enjoys sex is a harlot. And don’t even get me started on separate beds!

I’ve always wondered what the movies would have been like if the Hays Code hadn’t been enforced in 1934. Would movies have gotten sexier and more violent? Hollywood is not a place where they know how to draw the line. For every good movie that’s released today, there’s another film that’s filled with tons and tons of gore and sex. I know I sound like a prude saying this, but my idea of a good time isn’t watching someone slice off their own arm or kill their beloved puppy for the sake of shock value. You don’t need shock value to enjoy a movie. I like sensical plots and good character development and that’s why classics, pre or post code, had those qualities in spades. Once the hammer of the Hays code came down, Hollywood had to clean up their act. But it’s not as though the quality of the movies went down–if anything, they went up.

Still, I’m thankful that so many pre-code movies still exist and I’m happy whenever I find a really good one, such as Design For Living (which is available in the 5-disc Gary Cooper Collection). I’m looking forward to the pre-codes and new documentary that TCM is offering up tonight because with every new film I watch, I gain new insights into the past and become more appreciative of the present. And in my opinion, that’s what loving Classic Hollywood is all about.

Links:

• A review and more background info on Design For Living via the Lubitsch site.

• The outlines of the Hays Code from Wikipedia

• A very good pre-code article at GreenCine

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I’ve been on a big Gregory Peck kick as of late, which after four years or so, I’d say I’ve waited long enough. I’ve always read a lot of reviews where people complain that he’s somewhat of a “wooden” actor. I’ve never thought that about him, but I can understand where people are coming from. He has that stoic, clipped manner of speaking and what other people take as wooden, I take as calm and collected. To each his own though.

Gregory Peck shirtless
Gratuitous shirtless shot of Gregory Peck–because I can.

But for those people who do find him “wooden”, I’d highly recommend William A. Wellman’s 1948 western, Yellow Sky, where he’s anything but. He’s dangerous and sexy, while Anne Baxter matches him moment for moment. Its plot revolves around a gang of bank robbers that make their way through the desert, only to wind up in a deserted town called Yellow Sky. Soon after, they meet its only inhabitants, a woman nicknamed Mike and her Grandpa. However, when the gang realizes the two are hiding gold, they decide to make quick fortune by robbing them.

For all the William A. Wellman movies I’ve seen, this quickly became one of my favorites. Not only is it a solid western, but the relationship between “Mike” (Anne Baxter) and “Stretch” (Gregory Peck) is fascinating. Yellow Sky isn’t just a western–it’s a psychological one. Hands down Anne Baxter’s characterization of Mike steals the show here. Yes, she’s mainly known as the backstabbing bitch in All About Eve, but in Yellow Sky, she shows a great range of emotion. It’s sounds a bit trite, but Mike wants to prove that she’s just as tough as one of the guys, even favoring a men’s nickname instead of using her real name, Constance Mae. She lives by her own strict moral code. And while Mike is a tomboy, she’s a Hollywood tomboy. Petite in size, her hair is neatly coiffed and even though she spends the entire film in a non-nonsense blouse and black jeans, they show off her best assets. It’s no wonder that she elicits lust in most of the gang.

Since they’re the focus of the story, the main relationship is between Mike and Stretch. While Mike hates all the men, it’s Stretch that she seems to hate the most. Gregory Peck is fantastic in this role (but then I love when he plays bad boys). He constantly pursues Mike despite warning all the other men in his gang to stay away from her and Grandpa (John Russell). It’s almost as though he feels he has first dibs on her because he’s their leader. In their first meeting, Stretch asks her what she’s so afraid of, to which Mike defiantly answers, “Nothing.” It’s a lie of course, but there’s no way Mike can show any other emotion besides “tough.” She feels that even the slightest hint of femininity would be a sign of weakness and with the six men who just intruded their lives, Mike intends to be just as tough as them.

baxter_rifle.jpgIn addition to giving Stretch a mean right hook when he attempts to steal her rifle, she’s ready to shoot anyone at a moment’s notice. But what’s nice about the character of Mike is that she’s not a caricature of a tomboy. For example, she isn’t anything like Doris Day in Calamity Jane. Wellman was smarter than that. In less assured hands, the character of Mike could have easily been one to laugh at. You take Mike seriously because she is serious and Anne Baxter manages to bring her to life in a wonderful way. There’s nothing humorous about her. You don’t doubt for a second that Mike’s first instinct would be to shoot a man right below the belt. The only person she cares about is her Grandpa and she’d fight to the death to keep him safe. Her loyalty towards him isn’t just because he’s her Grandpa, but because he treats her with respect. In a conversation, he proudly tells Stretch that not only is Mike as “tough as a nut”, but that she was raised by Apaches. In so many westerns, anyone who is raised by Indians is immediately treated as though they have the plague. Not only do Grandpa and Mike have a good relationship with the Apaches, but Mike has turned out to be a real fighter. Her Apache upbringing is a source of pride, not shame, for him.

There are plenty of interesting scenes and one of them occurs at the watering hole, which is to be a source of trouble for Mike. After being accosted by the men, Stretch steps in and tells them to stay away from her and Grandpa. Immediately, Mike rewards him with a look of tenderness. It’s the first real emotion (besides anger) that we see from her. Is it because she sees Stretch respects not only her, but her Grandpa as well?

However, Stretch refuses to take his own advice and treks over to the house to see Mike. After tackling her to the ground and kissing her, Mike repeatedly headbutts(!) him and tells him “You stink!”, but not before wiping her mouth as though his kisses were poison. It’s interesting to see that Mike’s first reaction after physical violence is to verbally assault him. It’s a one-two punch of hitting him below the belt. She then ends their “rendezvous” by shooting at his head–although she aims to miss. Later, when she and Grandpa are Illustration of a Womanwalking back to the house, Mike tells him, “He made me feel..I don’t know.” But she does know. Mike has made her feel like a woman for the first time in her life. Wellman then cuts to Mike’s room, in which a picture of an elegantly dressed lady is pinned onto her wall. Seeing it fills her with disgust and causes Mike to angrily tear it into pieces. It’s a great moment of self-loathing–she hates herself for feeling something that she’s been trying so hard to suppress. Although having such a picture on her wall in the first place clues us into the fact that Mike longs to be as pretty as any other woman out there. In that one short scene, we sense Mike’s vulnerability for the first time. It’s easily one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie.

A famous Wellman shadow shot
Wellman was known for odd angles and shots. Here, Grandpa and Mike stand in near darkness.

What makes Yellow Sky so interesting is how the relationship between Mike and Stretch progresses. It’s not a full blown love affair–there are things that Stretch does and says that are questionable–yet it’s enough to gain Mike’s trust. Stretch is the first man besides her Grandpa to treat her with a respect. He doesn’t look down at her. It’s clear that even after their first kiss (albeit a forced one), Stretch is bothered enough by Mike’s disgust, that he appears the next day wearing a fresh shirt while his face is clean shaven. Upon seeing his efforts to impress her, Mike’s facade begins to crumble.

Bull Run saves the dayWhile the relationship between Mike and Stretch grows, the one between her and the rest of the gang is precarious. When she goes down to the watering hole a second time, she’s physically attacked by Lengthy (John Russell) while Half Pint (Henry Morgan) and Walrus (Charles Kemper) cheer him on, with the latter yelling, “Ride her cowboy, ride her!” It’s a particularly disturbing scene, especially for 1948. Since the code was in effect, the most you see is Lengthy pushing Mike against a tree while she tries to beat him away. But it’s clearly a prelude to rape. It’s even more disturbing when Walrus tells Stretch afterwards that she was asking for it. This scene also lets you know that Lengthy sees right through Mike’s tough act. He doesn’t see her as an equal. For Lengthy, she’s just another woman to take advantage of.

However, it has to be noted that the youngest member of the gang, Bull Run, (Robert Arthur) does respect Mike. When he sees Lengthy attacking her, he’s the only one to step in and pull him off, only to need saving by Stretch in the end. In some respects, both Bull Run and Stretch are somewhat alike. While they try to keep up their tough facades, their basic sense of decency hasn’t been corrupted yet and after such a particularly brutal scene, it’s refreshing to see. The only difference is that Bull Run is naive to the ways of the world, while Stretch has seen it all and is wise to the ulterior motives of his gang. This certainly affects the fates of their characters at the end of the movie.

Widmark, always the villianThe relationship between Stretch and Dude (Richard Widmark) is probably second to that of Mike and Stretch. When Dude sees that Stretch is falling for Mike, he knows that he’s of no use to the gang anymore. Women mean absolutely nothing to Dude. He was burned by an old girlfriend in the past and he’s nothing but bitter towards them now. Not only does he make numerous attempts to overthrow Stretch as their leader, but he’s also a silent witness to many moments where both Mike and Stretch let their guards down. He revels in their downfalls, knowing that the more Stretch becomes emotionally attached to Mike, the sooner he can make off with the gold. Greed is Dude’s only motivation in life. He and Lengthy are both soulless in their pursuit for the gold and when Stretch finally backs out of a deal that would wipe out Mike and Grandpa for good, the gang finally turns on him. It’s interesting to see that Mike is the only one who immediately tries to protect him. As the gang attempts to shoot him down, Mike covers him, therefore risking her own life so they can make their way back to the house together. It’s a nice twist, especially seeing the malevolence she had towards him when they first met.

Peck and Baxter

It’s another facet that makes Yellow Sky so interesting to watch–the gender lines become blurred when it comes to Mike and Stretch. In two separate, but pivotal scenes (the rape scene and the aforementioned shootout), they both save each other from possible death. Unlike most westerns, Mike’s character doesn’t suddenly turn into that of “damsel in distress.” If anything, it’s Stretch who becomes the damsel! Once he falls in love with Mike, therefore respecting her, his gang loses respect for him. Without Mike’s protection, he would be a dead man since it’s hard to fight when there are five against one. The roles have reversed and it’s an interesting path for Wellman to go down, but it’s certainly one that he treaded down before. Although the genres and situations are different, his 1937 film, A Star is Born is another movie that has similar gender relations. The up-and-coming actress (Janet Gaynor) becomes a star, while the once-famous husband (Fredric March) is reduced to the role of Mr. Vicki Lester. In order to save him, she must give up her own career and she doesn’t do it because she has to–she does it because she loves him. Yet, the literal death of her career becomes a figurative one for him. It’s heartbreaking to watch and for a director that was nicknamed, “Wild Bill”, he certainly had a sensitivity for relationships and how they work.

While Yellow Sky is a rough western with a love story thrown in, it’s not too sappy. In fact, it’s presented in such a way that you think Stretch is saving Mike from herself. Audiences back then may have thought that all Mike needed was the love of a good man to change her mind, but there’s so much more to it than that. It’s the proof in the final scene (which I hate to spoil, since it’s so good) that Mike saved Stretch from himself as well. The building of their whole relationship was based on seeing each other as equals and in the end, that’s exactly what they are. Love saves the day and all that sappy stuff notwithstanding. They saved each other from themselves by letting their facades down and admitting that they needed love. What’s that old saying–No man is an island? I think it applies here perfectly.

It’s a shame to see that despite a dvd release, Yellow Sky isn’t that well-known today. Especially when you compare it to Gregory Peck’s other bad boy western, 1946’s campy Duel in the Sun. While the basis of that was a soap opera-type love story, Yellow Sky is so much more than just a love story between Mike and Stretch. It’s about the survival and relationships between people, no matter what the odds are against them. And that’s always a timeless topic.

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For some reason, Hollywood keeps remaking classic movies. This summer they’re releasing a new version of the 1939 MGM classic, The Women. And back in 2004, Hollywood saw fit to remake Robert Aldrich’s 1965 masterpiece, The Flight of the Phoenix.

phoenixtitlecard.jpg

The premise is simple: A plane filled with passengers from different walks of life, crashes in the Sahara. After a few deaths and no rescue attempts, the remaining survivors attempt to rebuild the plane from the wreckage and fly themselves to safety.

I saw the original version last year on the Fox Movie Channel and I expected a good movie–what I got instead was a great movie, filled with interesting characters and a plot twist near the end that will either make you laugh or gasp in horror. For weeks after my initial viewing, I became obsessed with this movie. I must have watched it six times in two weeks. I just couldn’t stop. I loved the characters, their problems and the way they banded together despite some serious personality clashes. The story unfolds beautifully, leading to an ending that you won’t forget. Some people say The Flight of the Phoenix is a bit too long, but I don’t know what you could cut out to make it shorter. All the parts are important.

The majority of the film is mostly dialogue-based and while you might expect a movie of that nature that to be boring, it’s not. It’s exciting because of the top notch performances put in by Jimmy Stewart, Hardy Kruger, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine and Ian Bannen. My personal favorite of the bunch is Dan Duryea, who portrays a meek, religious businessman (a far cry from his villainous days opposite Stewart in many Anthony Mann westerns). This film was also my introduction to Richard Attenborough, an actor I’ve really come to enjoy over the past year of my ravenous movie consumption. And as always, Aldrich keeps the energy of the film afloat with many different subplots that focus on the personalities of each character. I love Robert Aldrich. Very rarely am I ever disappointed with one of his movies.

Director Robert Aldrich felt that rehearsals were an important process for his movies. In this behind-the-scenes picture, Aldrich stands in the center while the entire cast takes their spots in an outline of the doomed plane. His son, Bill, is seated at the top left.*

Sadly, stunt pilot Paul Mantz lost his life during the filming of this movie and if that weren’t disheartening enough, The Flight of the Phoenix bombed at the box office when it was released in December of 1965. In a 1974 interview, Aldrich lamented about it’s misfortune: “There are failures you never think are right or justifiable or understandable. For example I put Too Late the Hero, Flight of the Phoenix, and The Grissom Gang in a category that says these are all fine movies, very well made. People understood what they were about, what they aimed to say. They were entertaining and exciting and should have been a success. That they weren’t means that something else was wrong besides the way the picture was made. Maybe in another five years Phoenix will break even. I think it deserved to do infinitely better than it did.”**

I saw the 2004 remake a few weeks ago and was disheartened by how it lacked in comparison. There are (of course) CGI effects for the plane crash and the PC casting adds a woman to the crew. There’s a “music video” sequence to Outkast’s “Hey Ya” and somehow, the crew has working power tools in the middle of a desert. But mainly Dennis Quaid is no Jimmy Stewart. The one reason why I loved the original Phoenix so much was because Stewart wasn’t a very likable guy. In fact, his Captain Frank Towns is a stubborn jerk whose old methods are being replaced by modern ones and I liked that, mainly because Stewart is always the hero. I love when actors are cast against type because they’re fun to watch. Aldrich had plans to use him and John Wayne in a comedy called …All The Way to the Bank***, but that fell through when Phoenix bombed and Aldrich went on to making The Dirty Dozen instead. A good twist of fate!

One of the highlights (in a film of many highlights) is during the scene where everyone is stuck inside the plane during a sandstorm and Trucker Cobb (Ernest Borgnine) is playing around with his radio. And as he fiddles with the knobs, a faint love song comes across the airwaves. The injured Gabriel (Gabriele Tinti) hears it and perks up; he’s desperately missing his sick wife. With a bit of prodding from Towns, Cobb begrudgingly hands the radio over to Gabriel, but smiles as soon as he sees how much happiness it brings to him. See the You Tube Clip here.

Connie Francis

The ballad in question is called “Senza Fine.” It’s sung by perky 60’s singer and actress Connie Francis and it has an absolutely gorgeous and haunting melody. The snippet used in the movie doesn’t do the song justice. While she’s best known for songs like “Who’s Sorry Now” and “Where the Boys Are”, “Senza Fine” is one of those lost treasures that seem to be forgotten by record companies today. A search on Amazon brings up only one item, an out-of-print cd that includes the soundtrack to both Phoenix and Patton (one copy is selling for almost $160!).

This site discusses it a bit:

“The English version of the LP “Movie Greats” has the song Senza Fine (means Without End) from the movie Flight of the Phoenix. Senza Fine was only done in two versions that is known. There is a single version which is a beautiful release from England on a single and also released on CD there a few years ago. The other is on the LP “Movie Greats of the 60s.” Connie did one whole version in English and one in Italian and they spliced in and out different versions.”

I found my copy through a file sharing service. This is the version that combines both the Italian and English verses and it has a running time of 3:12 (the version on the Patton soundtrack runs at 2:14 seconds). It took me a long time to find, but when I did, I was beyond thrilled. It’s a gorgeous song, one of my favorites and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first heard it:

Download MP3: “Senza Fine (Love Song From The Flight of the Phoenix)” – Connie Francis

Do not direct-link download. Page will open in another window and follow the link from there.

* The picture is scanned in from the book, What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich: His Life and His Films by Alan Silver and James Ursini. Much of this information comes from this book as well. It’s a great read.

** From the book, Robert Aldrich Interviews edited by Eugene L. Miller Jr. and Edwin T. Arnold.

*** …All The Way to the Bank centered around “two retired safecrackers who steal money from a mob boss’s safe deposit box to benefit an old folks home.” Aldrich attempted to sell this project to 20th Century Fox, but fell through when he decided to make The Dirty Dozen instead.

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Last night (this morning?), I wound up falling asleep in front of the tv while Equus was showing on TCM–not because I was bored, but because I was just flat out tired. I woke up in time to record Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams and since Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943) immediately followed it, I figured I’d watch it.

Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a DoubtShadow of a Doubt is my favorite Hitchcock movie, mainly because of the strong performances by Joseph Cotten (who was my first, big classic movie star obsession) and Teresa Wright*. If you’re a movie fan, classic or modern, you probably know the story: Uncle Charlie (Cotten) comes back to his old hometown of Santa Rosa to visit his sister and her family. There’s also “Little” Charlie (Wright), who loves and adores her Uncle. As the movie progresses, Charlie discovers that her beloved Uncle might not be what he seems to be–is he the notorious Merry Widow strangler that preys on old, rich women? Or is he an innocent man, wronged by the law?

I’ve seen this movie countless times and one scene in particular always catches my eye: it occurs in the garage, when Charlie is alone with Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey), a detective who was sent to Santa Rosa in search of Uncle Charlie.

Teresa Wright and Macdonald Carey in Shadow of a Doubt

In the scene, Graham asks Charlie if she’d be interested in pursing a relationship after the whole Merry Widow mess has passed over. Charlie doesn’t jump at the chance. If anything, she rejects him–she tells him she’d like to be friends though (a modern response in 1943!). While it’s not a flat out rejection, there’s certainly a sense of hesitation and even trepidation at the idea. Every time I talk about this scene, I like to imagine that Charlie is thinking, “Are you nuts? You’re thinking about romance at a time like THIS? My psychopathic uncle is on the loose and you’re thinking about ways of getting into my dress!” And how in the world would Charlie tell her kids about how they met? “I met your father when he was trying to arrest Uncle Charlie for strangling widows.” Yeah, that will go over really well.

What I always find odd about this scene is that, yes, Charlie does reject him. In most classic movies, the heroine immediately falls in love with the man who becomes her savior and right before “The End” pops up on the screen, you’re usually treated to a scene where the new couple get married or passionately embrace. Shadow of a Doubt is one movie that goes against the standard idea of Hollywood romance.

I’ve always felt that Teresa Wright was an odd leading lady for a Hitchcock film. She’s not sexy or dangerous like Ingrid Bergman in Notorious or a cool, detached blonde in the Grace Kelly vein. But that’s what makes Wright essential to the plot. She’s cute and all-American–the kind of girl you could bring home to meet your parents. Santa Rosa is the kind of town where you can imagine a girl like Charlie and her family living. Innocent, sweet suburbia where the biggest scandal might be a controversy at a pie-eating contest. By all means, Charlie is the type who should immediately fall in love at the drop of a hat. After all, that’s what happens to those girl-next-door types. They fall in love, get married and pop out some kids.

Teresa Wright in Shadow of a DoubtBut unlike other hometown girls, Charlie is now suddenly faced with the idea that her favorite Uncle (and one that she’s named after!) may be a murderous psychopath. She’s agitated–she asks her mother not to hum the “Merry Widow Waltz” because it bothers her so much. How can Charlie fall in love when a family member thinks that strangling rich, fat women is a good idea? Love pales in comparison to murder. Her whole world is shaken and nothing will ever be the same, even if Uncle Charlie is innocent. As he tells her, “I brought you nightmares…How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you rip off the fronts of houses, you’d find swine? The world’s a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up, Charlie. Use your wits. Learn something.”

Thanks to Uncle Charlie, her brush with the darker side of life will always lurk in the back of her mind. Every time she thinks about her Uncle, Graham, the Merry Widow Waltz or even some of the various situations that are sprinkled throughout the film, Charlie will always be reminded of how much pain this whole situation brought into her life. In the garage scene, Graham is fully aware of this scenario but he can’t help himself: he tells Charlie that he loves her. And yet, she can’t reciprocate. She knows she likes him as a friend, but it’s just too soon to move forward romantically. There’s just too much going on in her mind.

Or is Charlie beginning to distrust the men in her life? Her father and next door neighbor, Herbie (played by Hume Cronyn) constantly play games of imaginary murder with one another. While this was humorous in the past, her sudden discovery of Uncle Charlie’s secret life now brings those innocent games into a sinister light. Who wants to joke about murderers and their evil ways when you have the real thing sitting right there in your living room?

And how does she know that Detective Graham can be trusted? After all, she trusted her Uncle and now her world is upside down. By posing as someone he’s not, Uncle Charlie has betrayed her and the family. He’s an impostor. How does she know that Graham isn’t an impostor as well? She’s only known him for a few days and his business revolves around murderers and criminals. He’s associated with the seedier side of life and while he doesn’t seem to be affected by it, can Charlie be assured of a good future with him? Thanks to her Uncle, she’s learned that you can know someone your entire life and not really know them at all.

the staircase scene

It’s ironic that it’s emerald ring that Uncle Charlie presents to Charlie at the beginning of the film, is what severs the final ties between them. As she comes down that staircase, ring on her finger and defiantly staring Uncle Charlie in the eye, he knows that his niece has had it with him (what else do you want after two murder attempts?). Charlie doesn’t want his help or his friendship–she just wants him out of her life forever. He has brought her nightmares, terrible ones at that, as well a permanent scarring for life. His secret will never be safe as long as Charlie is alive. She’s taken his advice, used her wits and learned something: that her once beloved Uncle is nothing to her anymore. The only reason Charlie is keeping quiet is because she doesn’t want to break her mother’s heart. Why should her life be ruined as well?

What I love about Shadow of a Doubt is the atmosphere of the entire film. The shattering of innocent suburbia as well as Charlie’s womanly awakening. She knows that everything is in life isn’t going to be wonderful and perfect like your parents or the movies want you to believe. Life is hell. There will be rough patches and everyone goes through tragedy at some point in their lives. But you have to adapt and find ways to survive because if you don’t, you’ll wind up at the lesser end of it all.

For most filmgoers, movies are a sense of escapism from real life. You want to see that happy ending, the girl getting her man or the innocent criminal being saved from the electric chair at the last second. Hitchcock brought the idea of small town tragedy and scandal to the screen in a beautifully sophisticated way. It’s a movie that delivers time after time not only in part to the writing and direction, but because of the characterizations brought forth by Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright.

Speaking of which, I like to think that Teresa Wright’s portrayal of Charlie is one of the first modern feminist heroines to ever grace celluloid. She didn’t need Graham or anyone else to save her. No, thanks to Uncle Charlie and his dark view on life, all she needed was herself.

*Sadly, Wright never appeared in another Hitchcock production, but Cotten** appeared in one more–the 1949 period drama, Under Capricorn. According to his biography, Vanity Will Get You Somewhere, Cotten mentioned that he accidently called this film “Under Cornycrap” right to Hitchcock’s face and therefore, never worked in another of his films again. Oops.

**Also, it’s CottEn. Cotten. Not Cotton, like the fabric. There’s an E in his last name. It drives me nuts whenever I see it misspelled.

Note: Over on archive.org there are numerous pages for the old time radio show, Lux Radio Theater. Here is the page for the 1944 episode of Shadow of a Doubt, which features William Powell (who was rumored to be the original choice for Uncle Charlie!) and Teresa Wright.

Also, I should be getting my links sidebar up this weekend, but I wanted to post a link to this “Blog Carnival” that I’m participating in. It gathers up a bunch of different blog posts and lists them in one place. This week, I chose my “Dirty Dozen” post to be featured and the host of the blog also chose a great You Tube clip from the movie to go with it. Thanks!

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I’ve come to realize that part of the problem of updating this blog is, well, me. For the past few entries, I’ve been trying to write substantial entries and it’s slightly hard because I’ve been trying to supress my somewhat rough-around-the edges nature. Combine that with the fact that like, two people, visit this on a daily basis (not counting the person who found this site by looking up the phrase “Trog stories + spanking”. Seriously, are there people looking for that kind of stuff? If you’re still hanging around–who are you? And are there really stories like that? Really? Joan Crawford delivering a good ol’ fashioned wallop on Trog’s furry behind? Let me know who you are and where the goods are to be found. Not that I’m interested in that kind of stuff. Really.)

Anyway, I found that I can’t be that kind of blogger anymore. It’s like a “nightclub hostess” (wink wink) trying to reinvent herself as a grand lady. You can take the girl out of the nightclubs, but you can’t take the nightclub out of the girl. So if there’s a shift in narrative, you now know why. Congrats, give yourself a cookie.

Original movie poster for The Dirty DozenWhich leads me to something that both Paris Hilton and I have in common (it’s not a sex tape, appearing in movies that leave theaters empty or performing in burlesque shows with the Pussycat Dolls–although the latter kind of sounds like it would be fun, as long as I don’t have to take it all off): making lists. I know a lot of people say lists are for lazy people and I know that others out and out despise them, but I love them. And with that, I give you 5 Good Reasons on Why The Dirty Dozen Isn’t Just a Movie For Guys. It’s on TCM tomorrow night–Thursday, February 21st at 8 pm–and if you’re a girl who has ever skipped over this because you’re thinking about that scene in Sleepless in Seattle where Tom Hanks and some other guy are crying over this movie, while Rosie O’Donnell and Tom Hanks’ real life wife (her name escapes me now. I’m not even sure if it’s those two. I saw that movie when I was a teenager. I can barely remember what happened yesterday) are bawling over An Affair to Remember, it’s time to clear your memory and start fresh.

(For the record, I would watch The Dirty Dozen over An Affair to Remember any day. I’m not that big on chick flicks, mainly because I wind up crying and I HATE crying in front of other people. You should have seen me after The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. You would have thought my dog just died. I usually have to lie that I’m getting something to drink and then run into the kitchen so I can bawl silently into a dishtowel and dishtowels aren’t tissues. They really leave your skin raw. Towel burn. It’s a really unattractive look.)

Anyway, 5 Good Reasons Why The Dirty Dozen Isn’t Just a Movie For Guys:

Kicking ass and taking names!1. Lee Marvin. Not only is he an awesome actor, but he’s probably the granddaddy of men with prematurely grey hair (Oh please, everyone swoons over Anderson Cooper and his grey hair. Lee Marvin totally beat him by what? 30 years? Take that, Anderson). Director Robert Aldrich originally wanted John Wayne to take on the Major Reisman role, but The Duke turned him down and went on to make The Green Berets instead. And since Aldrich has a knack for using the same actors in his films, Lee Marvin took the role instead. To which I say, Thank God! I have nothing against John Wayne, but Lee Marvin has that quiet intensity. He doesn’t come out and say he’s going to kick your ass, he just does it. And that’s hot.

2. The credits. I know you’re thinking, “The Credits?” But Robert Aldrich has a knack for making the credits into a work of art (also see: The Flight of the Phoenix and Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte). As Reisman walks past “The Dirty Dozen”, the names of the cast roll past the screen. Okay, they’re not in order of how he announces them, but it’s still visually pleasing. It really grabs your attention and as someone with undiagnosed ADD, this is important. Of course, credits alone aren’t going to make the movie. It helps that…

3. The Dirty Dozen a really funny movie. Originally, it was supposed to be a flat-out adventure movie. Aldrich and Lukas Heller (who co-collaborated on many of Aldrich’s scripts) remade the movie into a comedy/action picture. And it works! Would The Dirty Dozen be legendary without Donald Sutherland impersonating a General or without the Dozen taking on Col. Everett Dasher Breed’s (played by one of my favorites, Robert Ryan) squad in a war game? Oh, hell no. When I first watched it, this exchange between Reisman and the psychopath Maggot (Telly Savalas) completely won me over:

Reisman: Any questions?
Maggot: Sir? Do we have to eat with N******?

(Maggot is then jumped by Jefferson (Jim Brown) while Reisman leaves the room. He closes the door and you can hear a huge fight beginning to break out.)

Sergeant Clyde Bowren (Richard Jaeckel): What’s going on, sir?
Reisman: Oh, the gentleman from the South had a question about the dining arrangements. He and his comrades are discussing place settings now.

Now, that’s original screenwriting. It was also my first clue to how The Dirty Dozen wasn’t just an ordinary war movie. Good dialogue wins me over and if you can make me laugh within the first half hour of a war movie, then you’ve probably earned a spot on my all-time favorites movie list. Good job.

4. It boasts great performances by the other cast members: Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Ralph Meeker and Richard Jaeckel (all favorites of Aldrich) give good, solid performance as higher-ups in charge and as members of the Dozen, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker (who really doesn’t like to be pushed and he’ll be happy to tell you that–repeatedly) and in a bit of WTF? casting, Trini Lopez (according to the trailer, his character Jiminez is “filled with hate”, which he’s totally not. He’s the only member of the Dozen who cracks a smile. Give the man his guitar strings!), Of course, there’s also John Cassavetes as the somewhat insane, crazy eyed Franko. He was the only cast member to receive an Oscar nomination (Supporting Actor, lost to fellow Dozen cast member George Kennedy for Cool Hand Luke), which is a shame. The Academy could have certainly started giving out group nominations, which is exactly what this cast deserves.

5. The climatic scene where The Dozen finally infiltrate the Nazi castle. It’s the whole point of the story, but it’s sure fun to get there. This is where the majority of the action lays and while it’s exciting, it’s also heartbreaking to see the members of The Dozen go down one by one. I’m not going to say which ones live or die. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself going “NO!” as each member gets killed. You can thank that reaction to good character development. borgnineryan.jpgIf Aldrich and Heller had just left the script as it was, you probably would have a had a bunch of cardboard cutouts and you wouldn’t have cared if they lived or died. But by the end of this movie, you feel for each of the guys. You cheer them on. During the war games section, you’re rooting for them to show up the tyrannical rule of Col. Breed. Once unified by their hatred for Reisman, they’re banded together by the end using the “mess with one of us, and you mess with ALL of us” philosophy (this theme would be further explored to a much more violent extent in Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 western classic The Wild Bunch. Oddly enough, Borgnine and Ryan could thank The Dirty Dozen for their roles in that movie–they were both cast on the strength of their performances in this film).

And of course, I failed to mention that the final moments of this movie have a really, really awesome explosion scene. I know how odd it is for me, as a woman, to cheer on this type of movie making–but I can’t help it. I love a really good explosion scene. Other ones of note are in Castle Keep (1969) and Catch-22 (1970). The dynamite factories must have been working overtime in the late 60’s/early 70’s.

It’s also interesting to mention that Aldrich was repeatedly told “Save the women, get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and Director” and he refused. His answer was “War is Hell”. It’s a pretty fair conclusion. The Nazis didn’t discriminate gender when they were throwing Jews into the concentration camps, did they? There’s a reason Robert Aldrich is my favorite director and his decision to keep the final scene intact is one of them.

So there you have it. A somewhat short list (I actually could have gone on forever, but I didn’t want to give all the good stuff away) of why I love The Dirty Dozen. You don’t have to be a guy to enjoy this movie. No, you just have to be someone who enjoys good moviemaking, great character development, witty dialogue and have a sense of humor while your at it. Movies shouldn’t be gender-specific. True movie lovers ignore genres and look for a substantial plot instead. And if you limit your genre watching, you’ll grow stagnant! And who wants to do that?

And come on, what woman doesn’t like to sit around and watch a bunch of guys kicking ass? The guys that make up The Dirty Dozen are MEN–give me that over the modern, sensitive pretty boys any day*.

*Okay, I wouldn’t go for any of the nutjobs like Maggot or the rapists. But Bronson’s Wladislaw wasn’t that bad. He shouldn’t have gotten caught doing what he did, that’s all. And I’m sure Jiminez would sing you love songs. Maybe. Unless he got really ticked off and decided to strangle you with a guitar string.

Tomorrow, Why I Love Clifton Webb.

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