Showing posts with label Good Heavens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Good Heavens. Show all posts

Friday, March 6, 2009

Good Heavens: Pennies from Heaven (1936) Bonus Round!

When I started the Good Heavens series and came up with my 5 films, my good friend Mark made sure to let me know that there was a film I was over-looking: Pennies from Heaven (1936). At first I thought I'd watch the film, but not write about it. Then I thought, why not cap off the series with a final bonus round? So here it is!

Pennies from Heaven is a feel good movie that tugs at the heart strings. It's good ole Great Depression fare. Bing Crosby stars as Larry, a free-spirited wanderer who travels across the country with his 13th-Century lute. He finds himself in jail (a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time of course) and serenades a fellow jailer with his lute and beautiful singing voice. The jailer, on his final walk to the execution, thanks Larry and asks that he do him the one favor of delivering a letter to a family in New Jersey. Once Larry is released from prison, being the kind soul he is, he sets out to find the family.

This is where he gets in trouble of the very best kind. He befriends an orphan girl Patsy (Edith Fellow) and her Gramp, both of whom are destitute and being hounded by social worker Susan (Madge Evans). They go on an adventure, trying to find a situation that will make Susan leave the family alone. They even go as far as taking an abandoned, haunted home and turning it into a Haunted House Cafe complete with special Halloween effects, chicken dinners and live music.

There are several reasons to watch this film. It's a heart-warming story, Bing Crosby is downright charming and his songs are beautiful. However, the biggest reason to watch this film is Louis Armstrong! Crosby and Armstrong were sort of a musical duo and this is one of their many acts together. Armstrong has a wonderful musical number called "Skeletons in the Closet" which is worth the rental of this film alone.

This film is available on Netflix but the DVD has gone out-of-print since it's release in 2003.

Now I leave you with my favorite Crosby-Armstrong duet for your listening pleasure...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Good Heavens: Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

John Huston's Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) stars Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr. And that's it. It's just Mitchum and Kerr through the whole movie, with the exception of some "Japanese" and American extras. Mitchum plays Mr. Allison, a marine who finds himself on a deserted island. He's spent days at sea and is exhausted but happy to be on land. He comes across Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr), a nun left behind by others and the sole inhabitant of the island. They stick together and battle to survive. So much time alone together leads to romantic feelings which Sister Angela must supress as she is about to take her vows. They contemplate whether they will be saved by the Americans, killed by the Japanese who keep returning to and abandoning the island, or if they will live for years and years, alone on the island.

The movie is filmed on location and not in a studio. Both actors are really in the elements and had to be very physical in their roles, especially Robert Mitchum. It doesn't surprise me that Mitchum and Kerr were chosen for this movie. I have always had the impression that neither of them were scared to get their hands dirty; no matter how elegant they might have appeared otherwise.

Lee Server's biography Robert Mitchum: "Baby, I Don't Care" has some really interesting behind-the-scenes information on this movie. Mitchum had been filming in Tobago for four months on the set of Fire Down Below (1957). He was relieved to be back home in America when his agent told him he had that he had to go back to Tobago to film Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison with John Huston. Initially he was thrilled to get such a good part, until he found out he was second pick after Marlon Brando, who had turned it down. Things weren't off to a good start.

The opening scene of the movie shows Mitchum in a raft. He's dirty, exhausted and sunburnt. The morning they shot that scene Mitchum had gotten drunk and din't want to come out of his tent. Director John Huston was not having it and to get back at Mitchum he put him on that raft for nearly 2 hours in the harsh sun. So any delirium you see on Mitchum's part in that scene, is authentic. Despite the initial feud, Huston and Mitchum got along very well after that.

Mitchum and Kerr hit it off too, although not romantically. Mitchum had much respect for Kerr, who could hold her own on set. Both had gotten sick with dengue and Mitchum had gotten hurt numerous times, putting his life in danger. Kerr was put in horrid conditions but never complained. Nothing like mutual suffering to bring two people closer together.

Also, because there was a Catholic nun in the story, the Legion of Decency had sent an inspector to Tobago to monitor shooting and to approve or disapprove of anything that went on with the storyline. At one point, Huston, Kerr and Mitchum had gotten so fed up with the inspector that they decided to pull a prank on him. They set up a fake scene in which Kerr and Mitchum grope each other and kiss passionately, all the while Kerr dressed in a nun's habit. Of course the inspector had a fit, much to everyone's amusement.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Good Heavens: Leave Her to Heaven (1946)

John M. Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven (1946) is a brilliant film with an amazing capacity to disturb. That's mostly due to Gene Tierney's wonderful performance as Ellen, an obsessive woman who will destroy just about anyone in her path. Ellen meets author Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) on a train and is captivated by him. He resembles her recently deceased father in appearance. Her stare is so wildly intense, we get our very first glimpse of her mania. We get numerous hints along the way, but poor Richard is oblivious to them. He falls victim to her snare and she traps him. I'm sure the thought never crossed his mind that this delicate beauty could be... the spawn of SATAN!

There are a few scenes in this film that I believe are just superb in their power to unnerve. They all involve Gene Tierney, because really this is her movie. Even Cornel Wilde just seems like an accessory. Tierney is really the star.

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!

Ellen's Father's Funeral

Ellen and her family have traveled to Jacinto to bring her father's ashes to the family estate. Ellen and her father had made a pact to have their ashes scattered on a nearby mountain. Richard looks on as Ellen scatters the ashes as she rides a horse on the mountain side. This scene has the incredible ability to send shivers down my spine. Tierney's face is so regal, frozen, almost triumphant. Now that she has thoroughly destroyed her victim (her father), she's got a fresh new one to play with (Richard). The shot of her recklessly throwing around the ashes is forever burned into my brain.

Danny's Drowning

Many fans of this movie will agree that this is by far the most disturbing scene in this film. Obsessive types like Ellen are not dangerous when they are in complete control of their situation. If everything is as they desire it to be, they are happy, almost normal. But when change comes and they lose their control, their evil emerges and they will do anything to get back to that happy place. For Ellen, it's to destroy Richard's crippled brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) who is threatening to steal away some of Richard's affection and attention. She encounters the perfect situation for Danny to drown, and as he flails in the water, she stays completely still. It's unlikely you'll ever forget the shot of Gene Tierney's frozen face, her eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, as her character Ellen waits for this poor boy to die.

Ellen's Miscarriage

Ellen can't get over Richard's growing attachment to her cousin/sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) and his increasing detachment to her, so she decides having a baby is the solution! Right. The thing is, that unborn baby is already causing inevitable change that Ellen can't handle. So she stands above a staircase, digs one of her shoes underneath a bit of carpet and throws herself forward. I don't think I need to elaborate anymore. We already know the women is pure evil.

Ellen's Death

Ellen is the 1940's Classic Film equivalent of a suicide-bomber. She's perfectly content to die as long as she can leave complete and utter chaos in her wake. So when Richard finally gives up on Ellen, she goes back to the one person left whom she knows she still has control over. That person is ex-fiancee Quinton, played by Vincent Price, who is a true delight in this film. Ellen orchestrates her death and plots out an elaborate scheme that makes Richard and her cousin Ruth pawns in her game. You think her death would be a resolution, but oh no! Even from the grave she still holds control over people.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good Heavens: Heaven Can Wait (1943)

It's funny how over time elements of a movie fade from memory. So much so that most of the particulars are forgotten. When the movie is seen again years later, the film feels brand new and fresh rather than familiar. It's as though those elements were pulled out of the memory vault and not only dusted off put thoroughly cleaned and shined until sparkly.

Watching Ernst Lubitsch' Heaven Can Wait (1943) recently, after a few years hiatus from my last viewing, felt like I had watched the film for the first time. Out of all the 5 heaven movies I'm reviewing (see original list here), this is the only one that actually involves the concept of heaven (and hell) as a place one goes after death. Henry Van Cleeve (Don Ameche) is at the gates of hell, where he expects to be, and his life is being reviewed by Satan, who is reluctant to let him in. What proceeds is a visual journey through the life and times of bad boy Cleeve, from infancy to death. The most moving part of his story is his relationship with his wife Martha (Gene Tierney). He steals her away from his cousin and they elope on his 26th birthday. They continue on to have a passionate and tumultuous marriage that is based on their intense love for one another.

I have to say, this was probably the worst film for me to watch at this stage of my life, as opposed to when I first saw it a few years back. Mortality has been ever-present on my mind lately and the thought of what happens when I die looms around me like a pesky mosquito that won't leave me be. Basically, I'm not in the right place right now to enjoy this film without being depressed by it. Maybe a few years from now, I can watch this film again with a different outlook. I'll put back the elements of this film in my memory vault and leave them there for now.

While most people will look forward to seeing Gene Tierney and Don Ameche in this film, I most enjoyed most of the other actors in the cast. They delighted me immensely when their presence graced the screen for a few or for numerous scenes. Those include Louis Calhern as the doting and befuddled father of Henry, Charles Coburn as the mischevious grandfather of Henry, Dickie Moore as the teenage Henry, Marjorie Main as Martha's stubborn mother and Eugene Pallette as Martha's equally stubborn father. Such a great ensemble of superb actors!

I really hope the title sequence panels for this movie were sewn by hand. Because that would be so cool!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Good Heavens: All This, and Heaven Too (1940)

All This, and Heaven Too (1940) is a Warner Bros. period epic starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer. It was directed by Anatole Litvak, whom Bette Davis was both rumored to have clashed with professionally and had a romantic affair with. And according to Robert Osborne, studio execs felt that in this stage of Bette Davis' career, she had enough star power to carry a movie as the sole major star. This film is a departure fromt that with that as Charles Boyer, at the height of his fame, sharing top billing with the great Bette Davis.

The story is based on the Rachel Field novel. It's a fictionalized account of the true story of Henriette Deluzy Deportes (Davis), an English governess who finds work in the home of the French Duc de Praslin (Boyer). Deportes falls in love with the children she cares for as well as their father, provoking the ire of the Praslin's insanely jealous and demented wife, the Duchess de Praslin (Barbara O'Neil). Fans of Virginia Weidler will be happy to see her in this film playing one of the Praslin children.

The film was expensive and lavish with lots of period costumes and grand sets. All that money couldn't ensure a hit, and this film went on to have lukewarm reviews and did poorly at the box office. I can't say I'm surprised as I did not enjoy this film that much. For one, I have a tendency to shy away from classic period films. Studios back in the day took period dramatics too seriously. What we end up with is a lot of grandiose films that have the potential to overwhelm and bore instead of awe. For me personally, it was far too long (140 minutes) and every scene was dripping with seriousness. There needed to be some lighter elements, such as happy scenes with the children, to let the pace of the movie move forward more smoothly rather than dragging on which it did. I also wished they had tempered the characters a bit. More subtlety and less dramatics. Barbara O'Neil's performance, although nominated for an Oscar, felt over-the-top in the worst way possible. I found myself laughing at some of her scenes, which was definitely not what the filmmakers intended as a suitable audience response.

Writing about this film was quite painful. I delayed it as long as I could. I do not like to write about films I don't enjoy because I try to find merit in everything I view. But I can't be pleased with everything can I?!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Good Heavens: All That Heaven Allows (1955)

All That Heaven Allows (1955) is a classic Douglas Sirk melodrama. It was the second time Sirk paired stars Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson together, the first time being in Magnificent Obsession (1954). The story is about a wealthy widow (Jane Wyman) whose two children are college-bound and she finds herself falling in love with her much younger gardener (Rock Hudson) to the dismay of the uppity society she exists in. It's a shame that I had to sum up such a fantastic movie with such a pathetic boiled down sentence such as that one, but there it is.

This film does what a social drama should do; expose the injustices of a society, whether it be society at large or a particular type of society. In this case, it's the suburban, upper-crust, country club society of the 1950's. The main character, the widow Cary, is oblivious to such injustices until she gets to know and falls in love with her gardener Ron. Sometimes it takes someone from a different world for one to understand one's own world; it allows for a sort of eye-opening introspection. This film was cast off as simple weepy melodrama for many years until people began to understand the film's underlying social commentary.

Some who watch the film may think it's over-the-top, but I think it's quite an effective movie. We are first introduced into Cary's world, then we fall in love with Ron and learn to appreciate his rebellion and then we hate everyone who is trying to keep Cary and Ron apart. And c'mon, who wouldn't fall in love with Rock Hudson? What's more romantic than seeing him feeding a lone deer on a snowy morning? If that isn't enough to make a gal weak in the knees, I don't know what is.

I read the featured article on this film on TCM's website and found out something about the film I hadn't been aware of before. To demonstrate Cary's entrapment in her world, Jane Wyman is often shown "framed" whether it be a mirror, window, doorway, etc. My favorite is the shot of her framed in the television which is presented to her as a future "companion".

And watch for a older Conrad Nagel in the film, playing the role of Harvey, Cary's would-be suitor.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Good Heavens!

I've decided to do a short series in tribute to all those classic films that contain "Heaven" in the title. Why? Because they always get mangled in my brain and I confuse one title with the other. Watching each and writing about them will help me sort them in my mind. Plus it will be a fun project.

It often feels like there are hundreds of "Heaven" movies. Perhaps because there are also so many contemporary ones. However, there are really only 5 main ones (and various lesser-known ones). And they are...

  1. All This, and Heaven Too (1940) - Bette Davis & Charles Boyer
  2. All That Heaven Allows (1956) - Rock Hudson & Jane Wyman
  3. Heaven Can Wait (1943) - Gene Tierney & Don Ameche
  4. Heaven Knows, Mrs. Allison (1957) - Robert Mitchum & Deborah Kerr
  5. Leave Her to Heaven (1946) - Gene Tierney & Cornel Wilde
How many of the "Heaven" movies have you seen? Which one is your favorite?

I'm going to guess that Ginger's favorite is #5? Seeing as it has her favorite actress plus her current crush.

Stay tuned for more!

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