Saturday, December 29, 2007

For Auld Lang Syne

New Year's means two things to me (movie-wise). The Marx Bros. and Ginger Rogers in Bachelor Mother (1939).

The ritual of watching The Marx Bros. movies around New Years started a couple of years ago with a Marx Bros. marathon on TCM (I'm convinced TCM is less a channel and more a lifestyle). I had so much fun, counting down the hours to a brand New Year, by watching the hilarious antics of Groucho, Harpo and Chico (sometimes Zeppo). Duck Soup (1933), A Day at the Races (1937), Horse Feathers (1932), just to name a few. All of the films made during Thalberg's lifetime of course. Irving Thalberg was a big supporter of the Marx Bros, and films made after Thalberg's death in 1936, lack the luster of the great originals.

I have yet to see the Holy Grail of the Marx Bros. movies, A Night at the Opera (1935), and saved that for this New Years. Fingers-crossed, I'll get to watch that in a real-life theatre, on a big screen on New Year's day. What better way to ring in the New Year with the hilarious romps of those silly brothers!

Bachelor Mother (1939) is a personal pleasure of mine. Ginger Rogers plays a young, independent women who loses her job at the toy deparment of a major department store. She stumbles upon an old lady leaving a baby on the steps of a foundling home, only to be confused later as the mother of the baby. She cannot convince anyone that the baby is not hers, especially David Niven, who plays one of the head of the department store, who gives her, her job back and consquently falls for her and the baby.

Its a wonderful movie. There is one particular scene when Niven asks Rogers out for New Years (as a last minute option) and she hasn't a thing to wear. He gets a brand new dress, scarf, shoes, stockings and even a mink coat from the store for her. They go out to a fancy dinner and she pretends to be Swedish so she won't have to talk to his society friends. He can't get a moment with her because all of his friends whisk her away to the dance floor. He finally wrangles her out of the restaurant they go out to Times Square to ring in the New Year. They get lost in the chaotic arms only to find each other at the moment the clock strucks midnight and they kiss. It's just a wonderful wonderful part of a spectacular movie. It epitomizes New Years. Going out, living it up and having a ball so that you can start a new year afresh!

Happy New Years to you and yours!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Ultimate Story: The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1928)

Imagine a young prince, very young, still fresh with youthful ideals and not yet tainted by the burden of royal duty. Then comes a long a beautiful young girl, a commoner only in status, but marvellous in all other respects. The young prince meets the young girl and they fall in love. All seems right until the royal burden puts a damper on their romance. They have arrived at a crossroads in their romance and their fate depends upon the prince making a major decision about his future.

This story has appeared in the history of mythology, literature and film in many forms and variations (Cinderella anyone?). Personally, I have very little information about its history, but I feel that I've come across it so many times that I have a somewhat good understanding of it. I didn't make much of this story until I read about The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1928) and after much waiting, got the chance to watch it when TCM aired it a couple of months ago. Norma Shearer plays Kathi, a maid at a beergarten who falls for the young prince Karl Heinrich, played by the very handsome Ramon Novarro, who happens to be lodging at the beergarten as a temporary escape from the palace. When the king dies, and young prince Karl takes over the throne, he has a very important decision to make. Whether to follow his heart and marry young Kathi or to honor his father's memory by fulfilling his royal obligations and marrying Princess Raquel (yes, Raquel, I did a double-take when I saw her name written on the marriage contract!).

So I thought about all the other places this story has appeared in film. With its name "The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg" it was released in 1919, 1928 and 1954. The most recent incarnation of this story is Prince & Me (2004) with Julia Stiles. In that variation, the girl doesn't know that the guy she is falling for is in fact a prince. There have been subsequent sequels of that film, sans-Julia Stiles. If you are a Marilyn Monroe fan like I am, you may also recognize the story in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). Its also appeared as a sub-story with minor characters in other films, such as Black Narcissus (1947). Since monarchy is an ever-dying establishment, today we seek this same story in other types of authority figures. Like the unrealistic romantic scenarios involving single presidents or prime ministers. Take for example, Michael Douglas in The American President (1995) or Hugh Grant as prime minister in Love, Actually (2003).

So why is this story so important? I don't really know. Is it a way for us to sympathize with royalty? Or does its sole purpose serve to give little girls the hope that they one day may become a princess, regardless of their current status? I'm interested enough to keep exploring the mythology of this story in film and in literature, to see how its become our ultimate story.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On the Waterfront (1954): Mother and Daughter Reaction

My mother and I watched Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront (1954) recently and I think our reaction to the film, as spoken to each other when the film ended, pretty much sums up our experience.

Mom: "Wow!"

Me: "Wow! Eso fue una buena pelicula!!!" (Wow! That was a great movie!)

Mom: "Raquel! Yo ni me dormi!!!" (Raquel! I didn't even fall asleep!)

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