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The movie poster for “Viva Las Vegas” (1964)I’m not a big fan of Elvis’ movies–but my father is. In fact, he’s such a fan, he has dvd’s of almost every movie Elvis has made (with the exception of Loving You, since that one is out of print) so by proxy, I now know the complete Elvis filmography and the songs that open each movie. Perhaps one day, I’ll wind up on a game show and put this knowledge to good use but for now, I’ll just write about it here.

The only Elvis movie I’ve seen in it’s entirety is Viva Las Vegas (1964), which is probably the most popular of all his films. It co-stars Ann-Margret, who at the time was being labeled as “The Female Elvis” since she not only exuded sex appeal, but could sing as well. To be honest, watching her numbers during Viva Las Vegas is somewhat painful. Her contest performance reminds me of something out of an aerobics video, but then I’m not a guy who would probably enjoy watching Ann-Margret jump around in a skimpy leotard. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’d enjoy watching Elvis jump around in a skimpy leotard either.

The plot is pretty standard: Elvis is Lucky Jackson, a race car driver who heads to Las Vegas in order to compete in the city’s Grand Prix race. He meets swimming instructor, Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret), and falls in love with her. There’s also a rival for her affections named Count Elmo Mancini, but since it’s an Elvis movie, you know the Count isn’t going to get her, no matter how many twists and turns the movie takes. The ending kind of throws me off though–after the car race, what ever happened to the Count? I know his car crashed, but did he die? The wedding scene is kind of hastily thrown in as well, and the closing shot consists of the separate performances of Elvis and Ann-Margret’s numbers from the contest. It’s a very rushed ending. I would have liked to see them together, one more time–but you know, this is an Elvis movie and from what I know, this one had a pretty decent plot compared to the others (I’ve seen bits of Stay Away, Joe just for Joan Blondell and let me tell you, scrubbing the bathroom would have been preferable).

The highlight of the movie is, of course, the musical numbers. I never was a big fan of Elvis’ music, but since I wind up hearing so many of the songs from the movies now, I’ve come to really appreciate it. One of my favorite musicals numbers (and I should add here, one of my favorites ever) is the lively, “What’d I Say?”, which takes place on a huge roulette wheel. While Elvis’s rendition is fantastic, the choreography and energy of the other couples involved is top-notch. I particularly enjoy the part when the one couple keeps flipping each other over (at the 2:05 mark), as well as the closing section when everyone starts dancing around the wheel. It’s moments like this that makes you thankful for Cinemascope.

Throughout the film and during this number, the chemistry between Elvis and Ann-Margret is overwhelming. I can only imagine what it was like to be on the set at the time. It’s said that Elvis and Ann-Margret had a huge affair during the making of Viva Las Vegas, but in her autobiography, she stayed relatively quiet on the whole matter, only commenting that Elvis was her “soulmate.” I think that’s tremendously classy on her part.

The song “What’d I Say” was originally written by Ray Charles as was a result of an impromptu performance. Charles had to fill up extra time during one of his nightclub shows and working off a keyboard riff and drum beat, he began improvising on the spot. Despite objections from Atlantic Records, claiming that it was too risque (Charles said the call and response section of the song was about making love), “What’d I Say” was released in the summer of 1959 and became a huge hit.

In April of ’64, Elvis’s version of “What’d I Say” was released as the b-side to “Viva Las Vegas”, but wound up doing better on the charts. “Viva Las Vegas” peaked at Number 29, while “What’d I Say” did eight slots better, making its highest showing at Number 21. It’s funny to think that “Viva Las Vegas” wasn’t a top ten hit back then, since now it’s one of his best known songs. It’s even butchered in one of those klassy Viagra commercials, which makes me cringe every time I see it on tv.

Still, “What’d I Say?” a fun song to listen to and I can’t help but do that little shaking move that Elvis and Ann-Margret do throughout the number when it pops up on my iPod. I mean, how can you not? If this song doesn’t make you want to shake it, you might be dead.

Download: “What’d I Say?” by Elvis Presley (2.8 MB) – Do not direct-link download. A new page will open when you click on the link and then download it from there.

Another group of images for your enjoyment! This time, I’m posting Publicity Shots from the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Over the years, I’ve collected them from around the internet and I thought I would share them with you today.

However, I’ve always wondered what their source was. In the 1933 shots, there are numbers at the bottom of each page, so I’m assuming they’re from a book the studios sent out. Was this something available to the public? It doesn’t seem to be from a specific studio, but a grouping of them. You have Clark Gable (MGM) with Claudette Colbert (Paramount). I have to say though, a lot of the shots are gorgeous–especially the Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck ones (or maybe my love for Ball of Fire is showing!) If anyone has any information or knows what these are from, please let me know. They’re really gorgeous pictures though and the little biographical blurbs are fun to read as well. I’m also thinking that this is a book from the UK, since one of the Cagney stills says it’s from the movie Enemies of the Public, which was the UK title for The Public Enemy.

Also, I get a kick out of Greta Garbo’s little blurb: “Someday someone will find the real woman in her and she will cease to be Greta Garbo, film star. She will become, perhaps, Mrs. Somebody, housewife.” Yeah, right.

The 1930 shots of Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford are from their publicity packages. I doubt they wrote their own bios, although if I were alive at the time, I probably would have thought they did. I’m that naive.

Next week, part 2–but for now, Enjoy!

The 20’s – Norma Shearer (1925 & 1929)

1925 - Norma Shearer - Click for larger imagesmall_1929_norma.jpg

1930 – Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford

Gary Cooper - 1930 - Click for Larger ImageGary Cooper - 1930 - Click for Larger ImageJoan Crawford - 1930 - Click for Larger ImageJoan Crawford - 1930 - Click for Larger Image

1933: Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper 1 & 2, Joan Crawford

Claudette Colbert - 1933 - Click for Larger ImageGary Cooper - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionGary Cooper - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionJoan Crawford - 1933 - Click for Larger Image

1933: Jimmy Durante & Buster Keaton, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Leslie Howard & Mary Pickford

Jimmy Durante & Buster Keaton - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionClark Gable - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionGarbo - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionLeslie Howard and Mary Pickford - 1933 - Click For Larger Version

1933: Fredric March, Laurence Olivier, George Raft, Barbara Stanwyck

Fredric March - 1933 - Click for Larger VersionLaurence Olivier - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionGeorge Raft - 1933 - Click for Larger VersionBarbara Stanwyck - 1933 - Click for Larger Version

1933 Movie Stills:

Cagney, Cimmaron, Lee Tracy and Ann Harding - 1933 - Click for Larger VersionCagney & Blondell, McCrea & Fay Wray - 1933 - Click for Larger VersionJames Cagney - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionGary Cooper and Joel McCrea - 1933 - Click For Larger Version

From left to right:
Picture 1 – James Cagney, Cimmaron, Ann Harding, Lee Tracy
Picture 2 – Cagney & Blondell, Joel McCrea & Fay Wray
Picture 3 – Cagney in Enemies of the Public
Picture 4 – Gary Cooper and Joel McCrea

If you can believe it, there was once a time when I disliked musicals. I’m crazy about them now, but back when I first started watching classics, I just didn’t get the point. Yeah, dancing and singing, big whoop. I say this with a bit of shame now, but it’s the truth. I just didn’t like them–or I didn’t allow myself to like them. A closed-minded film addict is the worst thing ever.

The movie poster for “How to Succeed…”So it was always a bit odd that one of my favorite movies was How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967). It’s airing Saturday, March 8 at 10:15 pm on TCM as part of their “How to Climb the Corporate Ladder” nightly theme. I fell in love with it from the second I saw it. How to Succeed… (as it will be written throughout) is one of those films that doesn’t take itself too seriously and I’ve always recommended it to people as “a musical for people who don’t like musicals.” It has a very “modern” feel to it unlike the MGM spectaculars from the 40’s and 50’s or the Rodgers and Hammerstein epics. How to Succeed… is a satire of the business world, in which lowly window-washer J. Pierpont Finch amusingly schemes himself into a top level executive position, all thanks to a little paperback book he buys at the beginning of the film.

Finch reads the book for the first time

Since How to Succeed… started as an actual book, it’s transition to one of the most successful Broadway plays of all time is something of a miracle. Written by Shepherd Mead (an advertising executive at Benton and Bowels), How to Succeed… was a satire of the ups and downs of the 1950’s business world in the form of a self-help manual. The book proved to be so popular that the writing team of Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert bought the rights to it and adapted it for the theater. When it went unproduced for the next five years, they brought it to the attention of successful writer/director of many Broadway hits, Abe Burrows and composer Frank Loesser and the rest is history.

Robert Morse and Rudy ValleeFrom the start, Burrows and Loesser had Robert Morse in mind for the role of J. Pierpont Finch. Morse’s first notable role in both Broadway and Hollywood, was in The Matchmaker, where he played the role of Barnaby Tucker. It was on the opening night of another Broadway play, Take Me Along (1959, with Jackie Gleason and Walter Pidegon) that Burrows and Loesser sent Morse a telegram saying, “Have a good time. But in two years, when you get out of that show, we’re doing How to Succeed… and you’re playing Finch.” Morse was thrilled with the news. For the part of World Wide Wicket company president, J.B. Biggley, Burrows and Loesser originally sought the British comedian, Terry-Thomas, but when negotiations fell through, Rudy Vallee was cast instead. This was to be his first Broadway performance in 26 years, when he last appeared in George White’s Scandals of 1935. Charles Nelson Riley was to play Finch’s nemesis, Bud Frump, while Bonnie Scott was cast as Rosemary, the love interest.

A Playbill from the Broadway runThe cover of Newsweek from November 27, 1961Robert Morse with other Tony award winners
From left to right: the 1961 Playbill for How to Succeed…, Making the Cover of Newsweek and Robert Morse with other Tony award winners

Opening on October 14, 1961, the first Broadway performance of How to Succeed… was met with rave reviews. The cast was top-notch and critics were praising it’s smartly written script, catchy songs and exciting dance numbers choreographed by Bob Fosse. It became one of Broadway’s most successful shows, winning seven Tony awards — Best Musical, Best Author, Best Composer, Best Actor for Morse, Best Supporting Actor for Reilly, Best Direction, Best Conductor and Best Producer — and the prestigious 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It’s quite a feat for a show that went unnoticed for five years! When it finally closed, How to Succeed had racked up 1,417 performances and became the fifth longest running musical of all time.

The cast of “How to Succeed…”

As with all successful Broadway productions, a movie version was inevitable. Of course there were some major cast changes. Since Michele Lee had taken over the part of Rosemary on Broadway, she was cast in the film version instead of Bonnie Scott. Taking the place of Charles Nelson Riley was Anthony “Scooter” Teague as Bud Frump, while Maureen Arthur, who had played sexy secretary Hedy LaRue on the road, would also appear in the movie. Otherwise Morse, Vallee, Sammy Smith (as Wally Womper) and Ruth Kobart (as Biggley’s secretary who has a soft spot for Finch) all reprised their roles for the 1967 film version. And If you happen to be a die-hard Monkees fan like myself, keep an eye out for Carol Worthington as the gawky secretary, Lucille Krumholtz. Worthington had just appeared as a tough biker chick on one of my favorite episodes, “The Wild Monkees”, that same year.

From the “I Believe In You” numberNot only were there cast changes, but some of the songs were dropped as well. All of Rosemary’s songs–“Paris Original”, “Cinderella Darling” and “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm”– were cut from the film. Instead, Rosemary sings “I Believe In You” to Finch, while in the Broadway version, Finch sings this song to himself in a mirror. Also deleted from the print was the musical number, “Coffee Break”, since it’s footage was deemed unusable. Some stills do exist, but it explains why there’s an abrupt cut right after the arrival of the coffee cart was announced.

A still from the deleted “Coffee Break” numberA still from the deleted “Coffee Break” number
Two stills from the deleted “Coffee Break” number

I love that How to Succeed… is really a product of the late 60’s. The sets are brightly colored, almost garish in their use of bold, strong colors. While David Swift did a wonderful job in both directing and adapting the film for the big screen, what I really love about How to Succeed… are the musical numbers, particularly the hilariously saucy, “A Secretary is Not a Toy”. Although another choreographer was used for the movie, Bob Fosse’s original style resonates throughout.

From the musical number “A Secretary is Not a Toy”From the musical number “A Secretary is Not a Toy”From the musical number “A Secretary is Not a Toy”
From the musical number “A Secretary is Not a Toy”From the musical number “A Secretary is Not a Toy”
Scenes from number “A Secretary is Not a Toy”

In “A Secretary is Not a Toy”, the clicking keys of a typewriter are used as a form of percussion, while the shuffling sound of shoes and numerous finger-snaps also add to the mix. The dancers move in a decidedly modern style, shuffling back and forth, shaking their hips and wiggling their heads. More than anything else, it draws from the world of jazz. “A Secretary is Not a Toy” also boasts one of the best lyrics ever: “Her pad is to write in and not spend the night in!” How can you not love a song that says that?

The panned version - UGH!From the musical number “A Secretary is Not a Toy”
To pan or not to pan: the answer is “NO!”

The final moments of “A Secretary is Not a Toy” also has one of the most unique set-ups–the dancers come into the picture from opposite ends of the screen. Because of this, it’s essential to watch How to Succeed… in it’s original letterbox format. I once saw this movie on the Flix channel in the panned-and-scanned version and nearly had a coronary. During this number, you see nothing but a completely empty space for at least ten seconds while waiting for the dancers to enter the picture! It’s infuriating to see the movie butchered like that. I’m getting angry just thinking about it!

From the “Brotherhood of Man” finale numberAnother musical highlight is the rousing finale number, “The Brotherhood of Man”. This really shows my age, but I first came to know it from an episode of “The Drew Carey Show “(remember how they used to do musical numbers?). I had no idea that “The Brotherhood of Man” was from a Broadway production, so I was more than surprised to see it in How to Succeed… Anyway, it’s the first song that I ever really loved from a musical–so much, that I went and bought the soundtrack after seeing the movie. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve lip-synched Ruth Kobart’s part in the mirror while getting ready for the day. Really. Now stop laughing at me.

Download: “The Brotherhood of Man” sung by the Original Broadway Cast – 5.6 MB (link will open in new window and download from there)

1967 Smirnoff Vodka Tie-in Ad for the Movie ReleaseEven with all the fantastic musical numbers, the real the star of How to Succeed… is Robert Morse as J. Pierpont Finch. By 1967, Morse had already racked up numerous movie credits (the biggest one at that point was the 1965 black comedy, The Loved One), so he definitely had screen experience. I’m so glad the powers that be allowed him to recreate the role of Finch on the big screen. So many times you hear that the original Broadway actor was passed over, because they weren’t commercially viable enough for the film version. Thank goodness they had enough sense, because Morse is absolutely perfect as Finch. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. He’s mischievous and sly in his slightly underhanded dealings, but still possesses a lovable boyishness that makes you root for him–especially when it comes at the expense of Bud Frump. One of my favorite scenes is when Finch rushes to work on a Saturday morning, runs to his desk, begins dumping cigarette butts, empty styrofoam coffee cups and other pieces of assorted trash all over it, and then collapses as though he had just pulled an all-nighter. Just as he finishes this routine, J.B. Biggley walks in, sees the “exhausted” Finch at his desk and compliments him on what a hard worker he is. Not only is it hilarious, but it also leads to the “Groundhogs!” duet in which Finch pretends to have attended the same alma matter that Biggley did.

Groundhogs!

I love you.I also love the sweet relationship between Finch and Rosemary. In her first film appearance, Michele Lee is as cute as a button and she’s a perfect match for Robert Morse. Rosemary’s love for Finch is earnest. I love when she sings, “I Believe In You” to him. The look in her eyes and the expression on her face says everything that the lyrics don’t. She *does* believe in him. And despite a mishap between Finch and Rosemary in the middle of the film, one of the sweetest moments occurs when he realizes that he loves Rosemary just as much as she loves him–and of all things, after being kissed by Hedy LaRue!

As I’ve gotten deeper into the classics, I’ve found other musicals to love and oddly enough, they’re the ones that I detested so much at the beginning: The Band Wagon, An American In Paris, Ziegfeld Follies, Top Hat, The Barkleys of Broadway and the one that really started it all, On the Town. I’ve come to love the MGM musicals that I once found so corny and silly. Rodgers and Hammerstein, not so much. But I still adore How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Yes, it’s a little kitschy at times, but it’s got a great story, strong acting and songs that will stick in your head for days. It’s a very well-made film and even though the business world has certainly changed some forty years later, How to Succeed… still stands the test of time. It’s great entertainment. Even if you’re a person who doesn’t enjoy musicals, I suggest you give How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying a chance. It’s different than any other classic musical out there. And who knows–like myself, it may start you down the slippery, addictive slope of watching and enjoying more musicals. And you know what? That’s not such a bad thing after all.

Note: A lot of the information presented here is from the liner notes and interview tracks off the Deluxe Collector’s Edition CD of How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. It’s a great listen.

Gig Young in 1943
WB headshot of Gig Young in 1943

Time hasn’t been kind to Gig Young. For most casual movie fans, his place in film history will be “that guy who killed himself and his wife”. Some may remember him for his role in a Doris Day movie or even for his fantastic performance in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, but otherwise, every article I read about him always makes note of that fatal incident. It’s impossible not to. But very rarely do I ever read about what a fine actor he truly was. Sure, he’s always mentioned in reviews of movies he appeared in, but briefly, as though he were an afterthought.

For me, seeing Gig Young’s name in the cast list usually seals the deal on a movie for me. If he’s in it, I’ll watch it. It’s that simple. He’s one of my favorite supporting actors, usually starring in films of very good quality. The problem was that he was overshadowed by the films leads: Ida Lupino and Glenn Ford, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Doris Day, Cary Grant, Sinatra, Clark Gable–the list goes on and on. He was a popular supporting actor throughout the 50’s and was finally rewarded with an Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1969 for his work in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Cursed by the Oscar win, his personal demons took over, leading him to the murder/suicide that ended not only his life, but that of his fifth wife as well. I’ve seen posts where people say they can’t watch a movie of his without thinking of this and it depresses me. He’s a wonderful actor and to ignore his work because of that is a shame. It also lead me to write this and to shed a little light on a career that deserved more accolades than it received.

After receiving a scholarship to the prestigious Pasadena Community Playhouse in the early 40’s, Gig was spotted by a Warner Brothers talent scout and was signed to a contract with the studio. Using his real name of Byron Barr, most of his early work was in bit parts that usually went uncredited. As he gained more visibility, the powers that be decided he needed a name change since there was already another Byron Barr in the business. The solution was simple: use the distinctive name of the character he just played in The Gay Sisters (1942). And with that Byron Barr became Gig Young.

Front of WB postcardBack of Postcard
A promotional postcard of Gig sent to a fan during his years at WB.
The back reads like a form letter.

Bette and Gig (Old Acquaintance)1943 was a good year for Gig. He appeared in two major releases, the first being Howard Hawks’ excellent war film, Air Force, while the second was the Bette Davis/Miriam Hopkins woman’s picture, Old Acquaintance. His career was interrupted by WWII and like other actors, Gig served his country with a stint in the Coast Guard. When he returned to Hollywood, he began gaining momentum by appearing in all sorts of movies, some high profile (MGM’s The Three Musketeers – 1948) to the lackluster (Escape Me Never – 1947, Wake of the Red Witch – 1948). One of the best from that period was the western, Lust For Gold (1949) in which he plays Ida Lupino’s scheming husband. It’s a fantastic role for Gig, one where he gets to play a truly nasty guy, unlike the nice guy parts he was usually given. Gig displays an edge that I’ve never really seen in any of his other films and it’s refreshing to see. In 1951, Gig returned to home studio of Warner Bros. and appeared with James Cagney in the drama, Come Fill the Cup. The part landed him his first Oscar nomination in a role he’d come to know too well: that of an alcoholic.

Cagney and Gig in “Come Fill the Cup” (1951)
Cagney and Gig in Come Fill the Cup (1951)

Throughout the 50’s, Gig seemed to take over “The Ralph Bellamy Role”: that of the handsome, yet somewhat bland guy who always finds himself getting dumped for the film’s leading man. In 1954, Gig appeared for the first time with Doris Day in Young at Heart, where he gets ditched for the surly, yet talented pianist played by Frank Sinatra. Doris and Gig would go on to star in three more films together: Teacher’s Pet, The Tunnel of Love (both 1958) and That Touch of Mink (1962).

Cary Grant and Gig in “That Touch of Mink” (1962)

Oddly enough, That Touch of Mink has what I think is one of Doris Day’s most asinine roles, yet it’s my favorite movie of Gig’s. In it he plays Roger, Cary Grant’s neurotic financial analyst who holds a grudge against his boss for making him into a rich man. Roger was once a respected teacher of economics at Princeton, but gave it all up when Philip Shanye (Grant) offered him $50,000 and he’s never forgiven himself for selling out. He feels humiliated when Phillip raises his salary and gives him stock in the company for Christmas. “Like rubbing salt in the wounds,” Phillip deadpans after one of Roger’s diatribes.

When the playboy Phillip is rejected by the virginal Cathy Timberlake (Doris Day), Roger is elated at seeing his boss finally get shot down. In a scene where Cathy sends back all the clothes Phillip bought for her, Roger gives one of my most favorite movie speeches ever:

Roger: “When she sent this back she became a symbol of hope for all of us who sold out for that touch of mink.”
Phillip: “Roger!”
Roger: “You give us good salaries, paid vacations, medical insurance, old age pensions. You take away all our problems and you act like you’ve done us a favor. Well you haven’t! We enjoyed our problems and someday there’s going to be an uprising and the masses will regain the misery they’re entitled to!”
Philip: “Neurotics of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your psychiatrists.”

Gig in “That Touch of Mink” (1962)What I love so much about Gig in this role is that he plays Roger with a kind of quirky, wide-eyed enthusiasm and naivety. Despite being constantly cast in light comedies, Gig plays this unlike any other of his supporting roles. The scenes between him and Cary Grant are absolutely priceless and it gets even better when Roger is constantly mistaken as Phillip by Cathy’s roommate, Connie (a feisty Audrey Meadows). When he goes to visit Cathy, Roger gets slapped by Connie, beaten up with a broom, and then chased into a car by a gigantic dog. Elated, Roger shows Philip his battle wounds before heading to the hospital: “It’s the most satisfying day of my life!” Roger exclaims. “They thought I was you….and you deserved everything I got!” It’s hands down one of my favorite performances ever, by any actor and definitely in my top ten of all time.

Gig in Teacher’s Pet (1958)
Nobody likes a show-off: Gig as Dr. Hugo Pine in Teacher’s Pet (1958)

Gig also excelled in Teacher’s Pet (showing on TCM on Sunday, March 9 at 4:00 pm), the movie that garnered him his second Oscar nomination. As the attractive and knowledgeable Dr. Hugo Pine, Gig is once again the bright spot in the movie. I’ve always felt that Teacher’s Pet has a tendency to drag at times and I find the romance between Doris Day and Clark Gable a bit unbelievable (and I’m usually all for May-December romances). Gig doesn’t show up until halfway through the film, but when he does, the movie finally perks up. He turns in another great performance here. The nightclub scene where he proves what an expert he is at everything never fails to make me laugh. I love how Hugo Pine can do it all all, much to Gable’s chagrin: dance with Doris, play the bongo drums, speak Watusi and even hold his liquor–until the cool night air hits him, that is. Another funny scene occurs when Hugo is in his apartment, mixing up a homemade hangover remedy. When the doorbell rings, Hugo holds onto his head for dear life as though it’s about to fall off. I particularly enjoy how he moves the huge doorbell chimes apart, one by one, preventing them from clanging against each other. He’s hilarious. In that scene alone, Gig proves that he’s just as good at subtle physical comedy as he is verbal. It’s a really outstanding supporting performance (And on an unrelated note, you have to wonder why Doris never got her props either).

For the best all-around movies that Gig appeared in, I’d have to go with either the Tracy-Hepburn technological comedy, Desk Set (1957) or William Wyler’s tense hostage drama, The Desperate Hours (1955). In the former, he plays another victim of love, losing out to Spencer Tracy for Katharine Hepburn’s affections while in the latter, he plays a worried boyfriend who figures out that his girlfriend is being held hostage by escaped convicts. It’s a fine ensemble drama with excellent performances put in by every member of the cast, especially Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March. In one of my favorite books, Arthur Kennedy: Man of Characters, Kennedy remembers the hell director William Wyler put Gig through:

“I had a very difficult scene with Gig Young, a charming guy. It ran seven or eight pages. Gig initially had to act fresh. I tell him that the family written about in the newspaper is his girlfriend’s family. That has to register–and at the same time, he has to conceal his fear. We went through the whole scene and Wyler says, ‘The look on his face stinks! Do it again!’ We got up to 27 takes. I suggested we stop for a coke and then we did another 13! Wyler said “Print six, eight and 23. Then he said, ‘Move in for a close-up of Gig’s look.’ Gig was a damn good actor. After three or four takes, he was perfect–and Wyler printed it.”

Very rarely did Gig get to ever play a leading man part, and when he did, they came off with mixed results. One of my favorites is the 1963 MGM comedy, A Ticklish Affair, where Gig is a naval officer who falls hard for navy widow, Shirley Jones. Not only does he get her at the end, but he plays hero to her young son after a mishap with some giant weather balloons. It’s not going to be on any Top Ten lists in the future, but watching it is a good way to spend an afternoon.

Rita and Gig (The Story on Page One)Yet for all his talent, Gig could also be horribly miscast in roles that weren’t right for his style. Take the courtroom drama, The Story on Page One (1959) where Gig is a lonely divorcee who finds love with an abused and neglected housewife, played beautifully by Rita Hayworth. By this time, Rita was no longer the sexy, pin-up girl of the WWII era. She was, however, a fine dramatic actress that people failed to take seriously. Rita more than holds her own in this film, but Gig? Not so much. In so many scenes, such as where he tells Josephine (Hayworth) about the loss of his child, his acting rings false and throughout the whole movie, he’s merely adequate. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do serious work–because he definitely could. Maybe it’s the direction by Clifford Odets, but I just didn’t like him in this film. I feel that he was just completely wrong for the part, although he and Rita do compliment each other physically. And when Gig shares a scene with the great character actress, Mildred Dunnock (as his overbearing mother) she leaves him in the dust. Otherwise, it’s a good movie, with an exceptional performance by Tony Franciosa, as the lawyer who defends Gig and Rita. Another case of miscasting would occur a few years later in 1963’s Five Miles to Midnight--but then I think everyone–Gig, the stunningly gorgeous Sophia Loren, Anthony Perkins and especially the screenwriter–were miscast in that one. It’s not a good movie by any stretch.

Elizabeth Montgomery and GigWhile he turned in some of his best work during the late 50’s and early 60’s (The Story on Page One notwithstanding), his personal life was a mess. In 1956, Gig married Elizabeth Montgomery (daughter of actor Robert and of Bewitched fame). It was a stormy marriage, marred by Gig’s chronic drinking and Elizabeth trying to keep up with him. And since Gig had a vasectomy earlier in his life due to some health problems, children were also out of the picture. They wound up divorcing in 1963 and nine months later, Gig married his fourth wife, a real estate agent named Elaine Whitman. She bore him a child Jennifer, that he initially pronounced as a “miracle”, but later denounced her when he realized that he had to pay child support. Like Cary Grant, Gig also tried out LSD therapy to help him straighten out his life, but always found himself turning back to the bottle. In the book, Final Gig, it’s said that he had a habit of relying on women throughout his entire life. As a child, Gig was aware that he was the result of a “leak in the safe”. His father would constantly introduce him as “a little dumbbell” and both parents were emotionally unavailable, causing him to rely on his sister, Genevieve, for support. I’m not saying this is an excuse for any of his behavior, but it does give you a clue into what his mental state may have been like. You’d never guess that behind all those fantastic comedic perfomances was a man with a dark, turbulent, emotional state of mind.

Gig, Charles Boyer and David Niven on TV GuideBy the mid-60’s, the type of light comedy/sex farce movies that Gig usually nabbed supporting roles in were becoming out of fashion. He appeared in few movies during this time, mostly concentrating on work such as the sophisticated tv series, “The Rogues” (1964 – which also starred David Niven, Charles Boyer and Gladys Cooper). However, Gig’s luck would change in 1969. His former agent, Marty Baum, became the head of ABC Pictures, the company that was producing the depression-era drama, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Baum insisted that Gig take the role of Rocky, the emcee who presides over the dance marathon. Not many people were thrilled with this decision, since Gig was primarily known for comedies, not serious drama.

However, he proved them wrong. Gig’s acting ability is a revelation. You would never guess that this was the same man who starred in all those Doris Day movies. As Rocky, Gig manages to be both sleazy and boastful. To the public, he appears sympathetic while exploiting the participants’ troubles for the crowd’s entertainment. But behind the scenes he’s emotionless, caring more about the finances than the health and emotional well-being of the people involved. But there are glimpses into his character that contrast sharply with his slick, ruthless persona. Take the scene where one of the contestants begins to hallucinate from lack of sleep. As she screams that bugs are crawling all over her body, Rocky rushes forth and takes control of the situation. After the incident has died down, Gloria (Jane Fonda) sarcastically remarks, “I thought you would have put that on display.” To which Rocky soberly responds, “No. It’s too real.” Gig gives a layered, nuanced performance here, with an emotional depth that he never had the chance to display in any other movie before. Yes, Rocky is cold and callous, but he’s doing what he needs to do in order to survive during the Depression. While the rest of the cast is fantastic (Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, York and Red Buttons) and the direction by Sydney Pollack is excellent, it’s Gig’s performance that really stands out. He definitely deserved the Oscar that year.

Gig and Jane Fonda in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969)

Gig with his Oscar (1969)Gig always had apprehensions about winning or being nominated for an Oscar. As he once told Louella Parsons, “So many people who have been nominated for an Oscar have had bad luck afterwards.” And while being nominated certainly didn’t hurt his career, winning one most certainly did. His fourth wife, Elaine, says that what Gig wanted most “was a role in his own movie, one that they could finally call a ‘Gig Young movie.'” But that never happened and his seventies filmography proves it. No leading parts ever came his way after his win, and the movies he appeared in are of middling quality (some may argue about Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia though. I’ve never seen it, so I can’t comment). Gig’s alcoholism turned even more self-destructive than before. He was fired from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles after showing up on the set suffering from delirium tremens. And if that weren’t enough, Gig was also fired as the voice of “Charlie” on the 70’s crime drama/jigglefest, “Charlie’s Angels”, because he was too intoxicated to read his lines. It’s a pretty terrible way to end such a great career.

Which brings us to the final note in Gig’s life, the horrible murder-suicide that will dog his name whenever you read about him. It would be impossible not to mention it because it’s a culmination of a very sad and very tragic life. For all the wonderful performances Gig put in throughout his career, he suffered miserably due to his life-long battle with the bottle. It’s noted that at the time of the incident, Gig was under the psychiatric treatment of Dr. Eugene Landy, the same “doctor” who treated Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (and we all know how he turned out, the poor guy).

Despite all this, Gig is still one of my favorite actors. He was an excellent subtle comedian and in my opinion, I think that’s even harder than being an over-the-top one. It’s difficult to walk that fine line between making the audience believe in your character, while laughing at the same time and Gig always managed to pull it off. He not only had a flair for light comedic parts, but the charm to pull them off as well. And when the right script came around, he excelled in serious roles as well. I think it’s a shame that his tragic end overshadows his work and possibly keeps people from viewing his movies. I’ve seen a good majority of them and let me tell you, those people have no idea what they’re missing.

Links:

• An article on the marriage between Elizabeth Montgomery and Gig, plus a gallery of pictures.

• Gig Young’s Wikipedia entry

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

For the most part, my favorite guilty pleasure movies are those that MGM made in the 60’s: Where the Boys Are (1960), Joy in the Morning (1965) and my all time favorite, Come Fly With Me (1963). So it seemed natural that I would enjoy Made in Paris (1966), a movie that centers around Ann-Margret going to Paris as a fashion buyer and winds up falling in love with Louis Jourdan (see the trailer here).

I was wrong. I barely made it through the first 30 minutes and it’s my theory, that if you’re paying more attention to something trite, like filing your fingernails or staring at the ceiling and thinking about what you’re going to have for breakfast, then it’s time to switch dvd’s.

Movie poster from “Made in Paris” (1966) - Click for larger image


However, one good thing did come out of watching Made in Paris and that was hearing the theme song which ran over the opening credits. The second I heard it, I ran to my computer and tried to find an MP3 of the song. When I finally found it, I put it on repeat and fell in love. Penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, “Made in Paris” is two minutes of fantastic sixties mod pop, backed by a splendid orchestral arrangement. Trini Lopez handles the vocals and in a year, he’d go on to star in another MGM movie with a much better plot, The Dirty Dozen. Here, he’s urging us to “find your dream, find your love!” Like most Bacharach/David songs, the lyrics are sugary enough to give anyone diabetes. But it’s the song itself that’s fantastic. The best part of “Made in Paris” comes right in the middle, where the melody soars and kicks into high gear before moving back into the chorus. It’s an ecstatic musical moment, the kind that makes me want to don a pair of white go-go boots, pull on a sheath dress, tease up my hair and do the pony. I love sixties music!

When “Made in Paris” was released in January of 1966, it was somewhat out of step with the times: Simon and Garfunkel had just released “The Sound of Silence”, while The Beatles had back-to-back hits with “We Can Work It Out” and one of my favorites, “Day Tripper.  On the Billboard charts, “Made in Paris” came in at #113–it’s polished orchestral pop sound was pretty much out of vogue by then, unable to compete with the new folksy sound and electric rock. Today, it’s still a fairly obscure song, regulated to spots on Bacharach compilation cd’s and rare showings of Made in Paris which pop up on TCM every now and then. It’s a great song though and never fails to cheer me up whenever I’m feeling a bit down.

Download: “Made In Paris” by Trini Lopez (2.7 MB)

Do not direct-link download; page will open in new window and download it from there.

Okay, so this isn’t a traditional Free-For-All-Friday blog post (FYI: a FFAF blog post is when readers say whatever they like in the comments–I mean, you’re more than welcome to do that, if you please), but I thought it would be fun to take a day off from my usual wordy critiques (as well as giving my brain a rest) and do a weekly post that contains fun classic movie related items. So for this first FFAF post, I give you a sampling of classic movie stars shilling beer, booze and Chesterfield cigarettes.

Joseph Cotten for Smirnoff Vodka (1958)
Two Joseph Cotten’s are Better Than One: Smirnoff Vodka (1958)*

In the good old days of Classic Hollywood, famous actors and actresses lending their name to products wasn’t a big deal. If anything, it was the standard. Unlike today’s actors who go overseas to do commercials because they don’t want you to know they’re doing them, you could flip through any popular magazine from the 40’s and see Barbara Stanwyck recommending Chesterfield cigarettes to her friends and fans. Imagine her doing that in today’s PC age! She’d be hit with lawsuit after lawsuit by fans who claimed that she encouraged them to smoke and since they’re dying of cancer, she should foot their bills. Complete and total madness.

Stanwyck for Chesterfield
No Barbara, NO!: Stanwyck for Chesterfields (1950)

One more interesting thing I’ve noticed is that in the majority of the cigarette ads, there’s also a promotional line for whatever movie they’re appearing in at the time. So of course, it begs the question–were these stars really smoking Chesterfields, or were they just sold out to the company by their home studio or agent? Look at Claudette Colbert–she’s practically Chesterfield’s poster girl, appearing in no less than 4 ads during a span of 6 years! Either agent must have been getting good money from the Chesterfield people or Claudette really loved her smokes.

Colbert (1942) - Click for larger imageColbert, Lake, Goddard (1943) - Click for larger imageColbert (1946) - Click for larger imageColbert (1948) - Click for larger image
Claudette Colbert for Chesterfield: dressed as a nurse and giving our soldiers nicotine in 1942, with “So Proudly We Hail!” co-stars Veronica Lake and Paulette Goddard in 1943 and two solo ads in ’46 and ’48.

And of course, look how glamorous they look while smoking and drinking! Honestly, I haven’t smoked in about…ten years and I could kill someone from a cigarette right now. For some reason, I’m thinking if I lit up a Chesterfield, I’d somehow look like Rita Hayworth. Yeah, if I had a face lift maybe. And even that’s pretty suspect.

But on a personal note, my mother told me that my grandfather’s favorite brand of smokes were Chesterfields and he lived well into his 90’s, the miserable old coot.

Enjoy!

Chesterfield ads (click on thumbnail for larger version):

Russell (1942) - Click for larger imageMerman (1946) - Click for larger imagePower (1948) - Click for larger imageHayworth (1947) - Click for larger image
Rosalind Russell, Ethel Merman, Tyrone Power, Rita Hayworth

Mayo (1947) - Click for larger imageWyman (1950) - Click for larger image
Virgina Mayo, Jane Wyman

Beer (click on thumbnail for larger version):

EGR & wife - Click for larger imageKennedy (1953) - Click for larger imageDuryea (1953) - Duryea
Edward G. Robinson and wife, Arthur Kennedy, Dan Duryea

Smirnoff Vodka and Jim Beam (click on thumbnail for larger version):

Fontaine/Young - Click For Larger ImageRandall - Click for larger imageHarpo (1961) - Click for larger imageDavis/Wagner (1973) - Click for larger image
Joan Fontaine and Collier Young, Tony Randall, Harpo Marx, Robert Wagner and Bette Davis

For those of who abstain from vice – Cola and Gum! (click on thumbnail for larger version)

Stanwyck (1948) - Click for larger imageCrawford (1947) - Click for larger imageHeflin (1947) - Click for larger image
Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford for RC COLA (she’s rolling over in her grave), Van Heflin

Note: I collected all these ads over the years off ebay, where you can find many of them for sale. The only thing I did was straighten them out and color correct them

*According to this article, that advertisement of Joseph Cotten is supposed to be aimed at the 1950’s gay market. Uh, I really didn’t get that. I just thought there was two Joseph Cotten’s in one ad. I wonder if he would have posed if he knew that. Hmmmm.