Happy New Year!

Here is a look back at the highlights of Out of the Past ~ A Classic Film Blog through the months of 2009.

January
My first ever recipe post with a meal straight out of The Fortune Cookie (1966)
I try to make sense out of all those "Heaven" movies
I declared my adoration for Ernest Borgnine

February
My very first giveaway. TCM 31 Days of Oscars Notebooks
I take some friends to see Pillow Talk (1959) on the big screen.
My most controversial post ever: I declare never to participate in blog awards

March
I get people thinking about Susan Peters
I show off my own entertainment center and ask fellow bloggers to do the same.
Norma Shearer Week!

April
Norma Shearer Week continues into April
I turn a Ball of Fire (1942) review into a recipe
I become smitten with Pamela Tiffin

May
An Ode to My Father
Latino Images in Film series and giveaway in conjunction with TCM's festival

June
Guest Blogger month with lots of great contributions from: Mercurie, Jonas, Alex, Tommy, Nicole, Donna, Kate Gabrielle, Paulie, Steve-O and Sarah.

July 
Karl Malden breaks my heart
Then I fall in love with Carlos and watch The Hustler (1961) for him.

August
I watch Rebel Without a Cause (1955) outside in a park
I drag Kevin's butt to see The Arrangement (1969) at the HFA

September
I take a bit of a break this month. Lots going on but managed to post a few things.

October
I get to see director Stanley Donen in person twice! For Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Two for the Road (1967)
Carlos and I see Phantom of the Opera (1925) in an armory with live musical accompaniment. Just in time for Halloween.

November
Casablanca Squared happens!
I become fascinated with Charles Emmett Mack (McNerney) who shares my birthday

December
I finally FINALLY watch It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and I liked it.
I make a menu out of Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
I bite my thumb at that mean blogger and at last put up my Anita Page - The Easiest Way (1931) post.

Happy New Year to you all!



Get Your Read On ~ George Sanders, Zsa Zsa and Me


George Sanders, Zsa Zsa, and Me
by David R. Slavitt
9780810126244
Northwestern University Press
2009

Slavitt has a lot to say. In this book, he gets an opportunity to get those thoughts on paper and into the public's hands. Slavitt is a film critic (local to me since he lives in my area) who has shmoozed with and panned lots of greats from the classic film world. You may think from the title that this book is just about George Sanders his wife Zsa Zsa Gabor and Slavitt. Well, you are completely wrong. While George Sanders' life is the foundation of this book, it is really a free platform for Slavitt to talk about his days as a critic and his interactions with various people in the film world.

While reading this book, to me it seemed like Slavitt was a pretty angry guy. What saves the book for me is that he's a no-nonsense, straight-talking critic who isn't afraid to tell you what he thinks. For that reason, and that reason alone ,I kind of admire the man. George Sanders is a figure of both admiration and curiousity for Slavitt. Sanders was a charming, intelligent man who didn't realize his talent and settled for making lots of not-so-great films and as the final words of the book read: "Sanders' performance [in Viaggio] and All About Eve earned him a crumb of immortality. It's more than most of us get." Slavitt touches upon a lot of aspects of Sanders' life including his odd relationship with Zsa Zsa Gabor who he claims is a sort of angel of death in the lives of her husband Sanders and his brother Tom Conway.

There is a laundry list of other stars mentioned throughout the book and I can guarantee you none of them are put on a pedestal and adored. Slavitt sees them as real people who may or may not have done extraordinary things, but not as untouchable ethereal stars. People mentioned in the book include Alfred Hitchcock, Kim Novak, Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Suzanne Pleshette, Jennifer Jones, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Otto Preminger, etc. Slavitt gives us insights that you won't find anywhere else. He tells us about how he disliked Suzanne Pleshette for snubbing his wife in an elevator and he tried to get out of a breakfast with Alfred Hitchcock because he couldn't stand The Birds and didn't want to face him. He also comments on a rumor started by Ava Gardner about her ex-husband Frank Sinatra's lack of sexual prowess. This book is not for the faint of heart. Pretty much everyone is a target for some disdain on Slavitt's part, except for George Sanders. If anyone is on a pedestal in this book, it's him.

I highly encourage you to read this if you have an interest in the life of George Sanders or if you want a different look at classic Hollywood. The book has no real structure and it moves strictly through wandering thoughts with everything coming back to Sanders.

I also want to take a moment to mention The Siren's series on George Sanders. She, like Slavitt, is fascinated by Sanders and has written some excellent pieces on him. Here are a few to check out:

Life with Zsa Zsa, or the Importance of Closet Space
Surreal Sanders: The Private Affairs of Bel-Ami (1947)
George and Bernard: Notes on a Scandal
George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportions"
George Sanders on the Kind of Thing to Give the Public   

Special thank you to Northwestern University Press for sending me a copy to review. And a special thanks to Slavitt for mentioning Northeastern University Press (Boston)! I used to work there as an undergrad, a couple of years before it closed it's doors and it was nice to see it mentioned.

He Made Me Watch It ~ It's a Wonderful Life (1946)


On a cold Saturday evening, Carlos and I snuggled on the sofa had some mint Hot Cocoa (with some peppermint Schnapps for some added warmth) and watched It's a Wonderful Life (1946). After my 29 year + semi-voluntary boycott, I now join a legion of people who have watched and enjoyed this film. I am now one of many, rather than one of few.

I was very impressed by Jimmy Stewart's multi-dimensional performance as reluctant townie George Bailey. He certainly had his regular aw-shucks demeanor and it suited the character really well, but you see Bailey go through a wide range of emotions, from hopefulness, disappointment, love, anger, frustration, hopelessness, etc. And I have a tremendous soft spot for Jimmy Stewart. He is one of a serious of male actors who I look up to as fatherly figures. If Jimmy Stewart is crying on screen, I am crying off screen. George Bailey's desire to travel the world gets eclipsed by his responsibilities to his father's business and to his hometown of Bedford Falls. If Bailey leaves the town, the evil Potter (played by the completely unrecognizable Lionel Barrymore), will take over. We can't take the good out of the town and leave it to the evil. Oh no siree. And while Bailey's accomplishments probably eclipse that failure in his life, I still feel sad for him. Part of me really wants to see Bailey escape Bedford Falls and travel the world because people should allowed to live out their dreams. This film, and Capra's message, certainly is about the merit of the individual but in the end, Bailey had to sacrifice himself for his community. Bailey is a 1940's Jude Fawley if you ask me.

With really important films, especially ones that have an impact on myself and/or on others, I always go back to my inner Derrida. I want to deconstruct the film just the way he would. So I asked myself, "what makes It's a Wonderful Life so effective?". And my answer: opposites. Throughout the film, we see George Bailey and all the good he does for everyone in Bedford Falls. It isn't just enough to see it. We need to feel it too. So let's throw in a villain. Mr. Potter, the evil, greedy business magnate who is trying to take over Bedford Falls with his iron fist and cold heart. You put Mr. Potter side-by-side with George Bailey and Bailey looks a positive saint, even more so than he already did. Now you could have the film continue with just Mr. Potter battling George Bailey and you would have your standard run-of-the-mill good guy versus bad guy story. The clincher is the addition of the angel. And it's not just the angel himself. It's what the angel shows Bailey, but more important what is shown to us as the audience. We see Bedford Falls as it would exist WITHOUT George Bailey. Deconstructionism teaches us that the presence of something is intrinsically linked to it's absence. We really appreciate something when we understand it's absence as well as it's presence. It's a difficult concept to explain but once you comprehend it, it sticks with you for life and you can never shake it. We get the important of George Bailey in Bedford Falls because not only we see it but we see what life in the town would be like without him.

So what was my personal reaction to the film? I enjoyed it immensely and was very moved by it but I am okay with only watching it once in a great while. Maybe that's why this is such a Christmas classic. Once a year is probably enough for some folks. I hurt a lot for Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey and winced, cringed and hid my face in my hands/blanket at every moment of dramatic tension. It was a difficult film to watch. Carlos kept reassuring me that everything was going to be okay but it didn't help when I saw him get emotional. By the end of the film I had tears streaming down my face. Maybe it was for the best that I hadn't watched this film at the Brattle theatre.  It's always embarassing to have one's tear-soaked face exposed by the bright lights that turn on when the end credits roll.

What touched me (or bothered me) the most about this film is the kindness factor. The kindness that Bailey showed the town and the kindness the town showed back to him. Kindness is rare these days. I find that many kindnesses go unrewarded. While you shouldn't be kind to get a reward, the joy should be enough, the quality of one's life is immensely improved by acts of kindness. On some days, when I'm down and out and really need a hug or a kind word said to me, I come up empty. All I really get in return is people wanting sympathy for their own problems and not seeing that I have many of my own. Maybe people are too self-centered these days. Or maybe, just maybe I'll have my George Bailey moment one day. We'll see.

Now that I've thoroughly depressed you (or angered you, whichever), I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

P.S. Why did no one tell me Gloria Grahame was in this film?!

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) Menus

Every December I cling to one Christmas film which I proceed to watch over-and-over again. Last year it was Holiday Affair (1949) and the year before it was Love Actually (2004). This year it's Christmas in Connecticut (1945). My particular fascination with this film is all the food that is mentioned in the movie. I took an opportunity to sit down and right every food item that was mentioned and I created some fun menus. If you are familiar with the film, you'll spot some favorites. I included links to some recipes wherever available.

I hope you and your families have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

------

Hallucinating on a Life Raft
Steak with Bordelaise Sauce - Wine

Ideal post-life raft post-starvation Dinner
Big, thick juicy steak - baked potatoes - asparagus with hollandaise sauce - chocolate cake with ice cream

Elizabeth Lane's Ultimate Christmas Dinner
Fresh Fruit Cup - Olives - Boullion
Roast Goose Bernaise - Walnut Dressing - Giblet Gravy
Cranberry Orange Relish - Buttered Green Beans - Candied Sweet Potatoes
Tomatoes - Celery Souffle - Hot Rolls - Lettuce with Russian Dressing
Mince Pie - Pumpkin Pie - Ice Cream - Old Fashioned Plum Pudding
Fresh Fruit - Mixed Nuts - Mints - Coffee

Sinky's Magoo Meal
Chicken Maryland

Elizabeth Lane's Fake Husband's Favorite Meal
Lettuce & Endive salad with a creamy blue cheese dressing
Roast Duck

The Meal that didn't happen
Toasted Veal Cutlets that haven't been toasted

Apartment Breakfast
A plate of sardines thrown away - Mushroom omelet - Toast with butter and jam - Coffee

Next Month's Mink Coat Installment Meal
Breat of grave, sauteed with peaches grenadine (no bones) - chicken soup with Mosel Wine (no bones)

Yardley's Reminiscing Through the Months Meal
October's Breast of Guinea - June's Strawberries Chantilly with rum and egg white

Felix's Cheer-You-Up-Out-of-a-Catastrophe Meal
Chicken Budapest - Brussel Sprouts a la Felix - Potatoes Au Gratin - Artichoke Hearts - Marinated Herring a la Creme

Ridiculous Buffet
Bologna - Horseradish - Nuts

The Ireland Meets Hungary Stew
Irish Stew + Paprika = Goulash

Post-Marathon Christmas Food Fest - Late Night Snack,
Chicken Drumsticks - Cold Chablis

Attractive Woman's Breakfast*
Flipped pancakes, good coffee and sizzling bacon

The Christmas Tease
Potage Mongol - Roast Goose Bernoise with walnut stuffing

Publisher's Temptation Breakfast
Kidney and onions


*served in a sunny kitchen

Old San Francisco (1927) and the Vengeful god

Fire of San Fransisco 1906

In continuation of yesterday's post... (some spoilers)

This movie isn't kidding around. A lot of folks even today consider San Fransisco a sinful city and it is portrayed that way in this film. There is a unique juxtaposition of various Biblical references peppered throughout the film alongside shots of sinful activities in the various seedy places of Old San Fransisco. You cannot watch this film and truly appreciate it without taking into account it's religious overtones. At one point in the film, Buckwell (Warner Oland) and his entourage are drinking and carousing in a dive in the Mile of Hell. A man barges in and boldly proclaims to all who will listen to him: "In the midst of thy inquities, God will punish thee! His wrath will fall from Heaven - ". This is a warning for sure.

The movie mostly takes place in 1906 and the biggest natural disaster that San Francisco (or California for that matter) has ever seen is imminent. The earthquake of 1906 was catastrophic and it's estimated that 3,000 people perished in the quake and the ensuing fires that engulfed the city. Most people were left homeless. We have the man's proclamation as well as other references to a vengeful God that lead us to this natural disaster at the epicenter of the film.

Dolores as Angel

In my opinion, Dolores (Dolores Costello) is the epitome of Christian innocence. She is a vertiable angel. She lives on the outskirts of the city and when she steps into the seedy parts of San Fransisco sticks out like a sore thumb. Buckwell's attempt to rape her just serves to show us how truly evil he is and how the city has got out of hand. After Buckwell gets caught and her grandfather dies trying to duel with Buckwell for her honor, Buckwell's true self is exposed to Dolores in a sort of godly revelation. Through the power of her Christianity, her god (and the ghosts of her ancestors!, she is given a moment of clairvoyance and is able to see that Buckwell isn't white as all the Chinamen in Chinatown thought. He's actually a Mongol. The titlecard reads "In the awful light of an outraged, wrathful, Christian God, the heathen soul of the Mongol stood revealed". Let's not get into the racist parts of this film, but this is useful information for Dolores. If she is able to reveal this to the Chinamen who are oppressed by this man who they thought was a white superior, she can stop Buckwell's reign of terror. He tries at all costs to stop her from revealing this. With the help of his sidekick Anna May Wong, he seeks his revenge by sneaking her into one of his brothels and having the madam dress her for services. This is not right and we know it. An angel cannot be sullied this way and just around the time she gets her first customer, she begins to pray the Our Father, while O'Shaugnessy is trying to save her with the help of Buckwell's now freed, but previously trapped midget brother, the earthquake starts. The walls collapse, rubble falls down on all the sinners and the whole city disassembles itself into chaos.

You Mongol!

To me this smacks of Samson and Delilah. So I pulled out my Oxford Annotated Bible and went to the Book of Judges Chapter 16 to refresh myself on the tale. The two stories are definitely parallel. Samson was born of barren parents who were blessed with the pregnancy by an angel of God if they promised not to cut his hair. Samson was born with incredible strength which he could keep unless his hair was cut. Delilah, a prositute and a spy for the Philistines, tries to find the secret of Samson's strength. In a moment of weakness, he tells her. She cuts his hair in his sleep and the Philistines capture Samson and gouge his eyes out. He is placed in between two pillars, in front of 3,000 Philistines for their amusement. He prays to God to give him one last bought of strength and he proceeds to bring down the pillars, and the building and he and all the Philistines perish in the rubble.

Dolores as Prostitute

Now back to the movie. Dolores has long hair, but her strength is really her innocence and beauty. Buckwell knows her strength is in her reputation as part of Spanish aristocracy and people believe and trust her because of her purity. Her weakness is Terrence O'Shaugnessy (Charles Emmett Mack), whom she loves. Buckwell traps O'Shaugnessy and uses him as ransom. He puts Dolores in a brothel (Delilah was in a brothel!) and the moment her innocence is at stake the walls fall down among everybody. It's not a perfect correlation but it's pretty darn close.

It's interesting that this story chose to equate the San Francisco earthquake as an act of God against the sinfulness of San Fransisco. I don't really have an opinion other than an objective one. In terms of storytelling, it's an interesting plot device to lead up to the earthquake. The event becomes part of the driving force of the storyline rather than something unfortunate that just happens.

I haven't seen any other films about the San Francisco earthquake and fires of 1906 so I'm not sure how other movies have treated the subject. Old San Francisco (1927) is a film I highly recommend to anyone with a particular interest in this important moment in US history.

Charles Emmett Mack (McNerney) ~ Old San Francisco (1927)

OldSanFran

Actor Charles Emmett Mack (McNerney) must not have been scared to tackle heavy topics in his movies. In The First Auto (1927), the audience follows Mack's character and through him and others we see the effects that the invention of the automobile, and it's replacement of the horse-drawn carriage, has on American society and how new technology often times distances different generations. In Old San Francisco (1927), we learn about the history of the city of San Francisco through the stories of different characters.

CEMack1

Old San Francisco (1927) tackles the history of San Fransisco, California from the time when the Spanish established a colony there in 1776, to the Gold Rush of 1848 and on to the great earthquake and fires of 1906. The story lingers on 1906 but the city's past is just as important to the story as the city's present.

Like in The First Auto (1927), Old San Francisco tells a big story through the lives of a few people, thus giving us insight on a meaty topic through a microcosm. We follow the story of the Vasquez family, aristrocratic Spaniards who reside in a mansion in San Francisco. They hold very strongly to the ideals that they inherited from their Spanish ancestors and the family's downfall starts as they resist the overwhelming influence the Gold Rush of 1848 has on the town. At the point the story really starts, 1906, we are introduced to Dolores (Dolores Costello - how fitting!) an amazingly beautiful young Spanish-American woman who lives with her grandfather and strives to maintain the old Spanish customs. Their dilapidated mansion and the land it sits on, is lusted after by various potential buyers. One day, two irishmen show up at the mansion offering to buy it from the proud grandfather who obviously refuses. One of those irishmen is Terrence O'Shaugnessy (Charles Emmett Mack) who falls head over heels with Dolores. But he's got competition. There is another old-fashioned Spaniard in the neighborhood, nipping at Dolores' heels. There is greedy Czar Chris Buckwell (Warner Oland - the Swede of Charlie Chan fmae) who corruptly rules all the chinamen in Chinatown with his iron fist. Dolores' beauty is like a dazzling jewel that he must possess and Buckwell will do so by any means possible. O'Shaugnessy has a chance because Dolores is smitten with the senor, but he gets sidetracked with the prostitutes and booze on Cocktail Route. Will he be able to save Dolores from Buckwell's attempts to rape her and to coerce her grandfather out of his home?

CEMack2

Dolores


Charles Emmett Mack is again his charming loveable self in this film. The moment his character lays eyes on the beautiful Dolores, he stops, stares and drops his briefcase with important documents into the carriage. You just know that at that moment he leaves his business behind to concentrate on falling in love and pursuing Dolores. My heart just melted when he says (through title cards since this is a silent picture) "Sinful ye are - hiding your beauty from a starvin' world." His character gets sidetracked a lot. Even when he is living it up with the prostitutes on Cocktail Route, you still have the feeling that he is a genuinely good guy, just misguided by all the sinfulness that San Fransisco has to offer him. He plays the most real and mult-dimensional character in the movie. Everyone else seems to be one-dimensional. Dolores is pure and good, the grandfather is proud, Buckwell is greedy and evil, etc. Yet Terrence O'Shaugnessy waivers between good and bad and grows as a person as the story develops. He comes through at the end and you find yourself rooting for him all along the way. Don't let the other big stars Anna May Wong, Warner Oland, Dolores Costello, et.al dazzle you away from the genuine charms of Charles Emmett Mack.

WOland

I hope you'll take an opportunity to watch this film. It's available to buy in the Warner Archive collection or to rent on Classicflix. Next up is an examination of the religious overtones of the film. I thought it would be too much to put it in my general review so I separated it into another post.

Update: It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Unfortunately, my plans to see this movie for the first time were foiled. The Brattle completely sold out the show with online reservations and because I had free passes for my group of 4, I didn't do the online reservation and thus could not get in. Oh well. I still plan to watch this film this month but it won't be on the big screen. It'll be in the comfort of my own home, which on a rainy day like this, felt like a better option. Stay tuned for my actual review whenever I get around to watching this.

Special thanks to everyone for their encouragement!

But I don't want to see it! ~ It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

As of this very moment, I'm 29 years, 18 days and a few hours old. In that span of time I have never, not ever, not even once, seen the classic film It's a Wonderful Life (1946). I have had no even an iota of interest in watching it. Why? Who knows. I just never wanted to and still really don't. Do any of you have a film like that? A film that everyone praises to the skies but you react to the idea of watching it with an unenthusiastic "meh"?

Here are a few things you should know about me.

1) I didn't grow up celebrating Christmas but adopted the tradition as an adult.
2) I tend to shirk those movies that are uber-popular. Gone with the Wind, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.
3) I believe life is too short to watch films that don't interest you when there are so many other films that do.
4) I will however take a film recommendation of a friend or someone I care about because sharing films is a great way to experience them.

Unfortunately, It's a Wonderful Life happens to be a really popular Christmas movie that my family never watched when aired during the holidays, that never piqued my interest and one in which no one has realy taken the initiative of forcing me to watch it. Until now.

Tonight, I will break my lifelong boycott of It's a Wonderful Life (1946). I have absolutely no idea what my reaction will be! Will I hate it and wonder why I even bothered? Will I love it so much that I wondered how I lived so long without this marvelous film? Or will I simply say "meh"?

Next up: My reaction

Anita Page in Speedway (1929)

Another post, just for fun and Anita Page related. I recently watched Speedway (1929) because I'm on a 1920s/1930s sports movie kick and that particular film is about auto-racing. Anita Page co-stars as a girl who reluctantly falls in love with a goofy auto-racing heir played by William Haines. Anita's outfits were wonderful so I did a series of screen caps. Here are a few. If you want to see the whole lot, check out my photo set on Flickr.





















Aren't cloche hats wonderful?!

Quel Interprétation ~ Anita Page in The Easiest Way (1931)

Months and months ago I had planned a dual post with another blogger. We would both dress up as a particular classic film star. I would be sweet and she would be naughty. I chose to do Anita Page in The Easiest Way (1931) because for some reason I was really captivated by her wholesomeness in that film. I did my little photo shoot and waited. The other blogger forgot about me and posted her photo shoot on her blog anyways. I was a bit hurt, tucked my pictures away and forgot about them.

Then when I saw that Warner Bros. release The Easiest Way (1931) as part of their Warner Archive collection, I decided to blow the dust off my pictures and post them here.

Now this is a very loose interpretation. I saw a dress at H&M that looked very '20s style and had a nice color and polka-dots (I love polka-dots). It reminded me very much of this dress that Anita Page wears in the picture:




My outfit is sort a modern interpretation. I wore my purple-polka dotted H-M dress, my cloche hat, geometric tights, red high heels and I painted my nails with gold-colored nail polish (because a true Gold Digger would wear gold-colored nail polish right?).

So here is the result. This is purely just for fun! I hope you take the opportunity to watch The Easiest Way (1931) now that it's out on DVD. It's a nice little pre-code starring Constance Bennett, Robert Montgomery, Adolph Menjou, Anita Page and Clark Gable (in one of his early roles). If you are interested in Depression-era movies, that's quite a gem.



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