Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Les Girls (1957)

Les Girls
The year is 1957. Major movie studios are feeling pressure to get people back into the theaters and away from their television sets. Cinemas were losing business and subsequently closing locations. International moviemakers, who had fewer restrictions in showing sex and other themes in the films that were not friendly to the still active Hays-Code, were luring American viewers away from domestic films. So what we see during the late 1950s are American studios making desperate attempts to produce films that will capture the public's eye and make movie goers reach for their wallets.

What we get during are a lot of films that push boundaries and test the waters. Films like Baby Doll (1956), The Night of the Hunter (1955), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Studios were using the shock value of their new films to keep themselves in business. So where does a tame little movie like Les Girls (1957) come in?

Let's take a look at what was on television in 1957:

Perry Mason
Leave it to Beaver
Have Gun - Will Travel
Wagon Train

What did 1957 American television not have?:

A Metrocolor musical directed by George Cukor starring Gene Kelly with Cole Porter songs and wardrobe designed by Orry-Kelly.

Who cares if Les Girls (1957) comes out like Les Blech?! As long as it's pretty, has song and dance numbers, has a lot of big names attached to it all while Gene Kelly's ego can be fed, then why the heck not. It's pure money.

For the moviegoer who can't go to Broadway to watch a big theatrical production, a film like Les Girls is the next best thing. It's a reason to get out of the house. It's a reason to abandon the TV. It's a reason to spend some of your money.

And yes. I feel a bit strange having seen this film on my own home television.

I didn't much care for this movie. It seems like the sort of film that was made just so Gene Kelly could be pleased (and hey, it was his last musical so why not!). As Millie from ClassicForever describes it, the film is Gene Kelly's love letter to himself. However, this film still managed to fascinate me. I think it's mainly because it's so different from the other 1950s films that I'm normally drawn to.

I like how it's a sign of the times. I like how it's so bad that you can't help but watch the whole thing. I like how pretty all the women look and how I want each and every single outfit they wear. I like the fact that the title is "Les Girls" but it's really about "L'homme".

And on a final and somewhat related note, I'm oddly curious about Kay Kendall, and have been ever since I saw The Reluctant Debutante (1958) . She passed away of Leukemia in 1959 at the tender age of 33, only a couple of years after Les Girls (1957) hit theaters and after she had been diagnosed. At the time of her diagnosis, she was having an affair to then-married Rex Harrison. He learned of her diagnosis, knew she only had two years to live, didn't tell her about it, divorced his wife and immediately married her to take care of her. But Harrison and his original wife planned to remarry after Kendall died. Huh?! She went on working in films, theater and television until the day she died. All the while she thought she had an iron deficiency. Harrison never remarried his original wife because she fell in love with someone else. How did Harrison get the diagnosis? Why didn't the doctor tell Kendall? Doesn't this strike you as odd?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Charles Emmett Mack ~ America (1924)

AmericaIn my quest to be the world renown expert on all things Charles Emmett Mack (McNerney), I have been trying to get my hands on as many films of his as I can. I had waited not-so patiently, for well over a month, for ClassicFlix to send me America (1924) (only to discover that Netflix had it as available immediately, darn!). The film overall was a bit of a disappointment. It's directed by D.W. Griffith, known far and wide as the man who created such epic and controversial films as The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Griffith was a jerk to say the least and a racist one at that. I don't like him nor do I care to learn anything about him. However, he is an important figure in Charles Emmett Mack's life. Griffith discovered Mack when Mack was a prop boy and took him under his wing, placing Mack in several of his films. These included Dream Street (1921), One Exciting Night (1922) and The White Rose (1923). Their last collaboration was America (1924).

America would prove to be Griffith's biggest failure and it marked the beginning of the end of his career.

America tells the story of the American Revolution. Like many directors in the Silent film era, Griffith took on a big subject and focused it by telling a larger story through the lives of a few characters. The problem is Griffith got carried away with the larger story and lost focus of the smaller one and the film turned out to be a complete mess. Nathan Holden (Neil Hamilton) is a farmer and a Rebel. He's in love with Nancy Montague (Carol Dempster), a delicate British belle who sympathizes with the king. Though they are at odds politically, they fall in love. Charles Emmett Mack plays Charles Montague, Nancy's brother. He's got a dual personality. On the outside he's the epitome of British pomp and frill and privilege. On the inside, he deeply admires General George Washington and wants to fight with Nathan and the rebels, even though doing so would shame his father. Oh yeah and Lionel Barrymore is in there too as Captain Walter Butler.

It's a good concept but the story gets muddled. As a collection of American Revolutionary War reenactments, this film is superb. I was very impressed by the scenes of Paul Revere's midnight ride and the fact that they shot on location in places such Lexington, MA and Concord, MA (nearby towns for me). However, the main story gets lost in all these reenactments and the confused audience loses track of the characters and what they are doing. The title cards are horribly written, the characters hardly get any dialogue and we, as viewers, are left puzzled. Griffith threw tons of money at this movie and sincerely hoped it would be his next epic but it was cursed from the very beginning. Even his favorite actress, Lillian Gish, didn't want to be associated with the film (she was originally singled out to play Nancy Montague).

Charles Emmett Mack is only a minor character in this film and I wished his character would have been more substantial because I thought his storyline had potential. I managed to get some screen shots of him and I thought I'd share. Also, my new discovery, Neil Hamilton who was quite the looker.

Neil Hamilton

Charles Emmett Mack

Here Mack's Character Montague meets and embraces General George Washington.

Angry Face!

Fighting with the rebels!

Monday, March 1, 2010

TCM comes to a city near you. Whether you like it or not.

TCM is doing a 5-City Tour called Road to Hollywood that will lead up to their first Classic Film Festival. I think TCM might have a vendetta against me (I don't know why that is because I love them). First of all, I haven't been able to afford the channel (that will change later in the year though, I hope). Then, they hold an awesome Classic Film Festival on the other side of the continent and make it so prohibitively expensive that I can't afford to go. Then they give me the ultimate tease. They tell me they are coming to Boston for a day. Really? Yay! Their visit will comprise of Ben Mankiewicz and a movie from 1982? Boo. That really sucks TCM. Couldn't you send me Robert Osborne and a pre 1970 movie instead? The only good thing I can see in all of this is that it will bring people to the Brattle, my favorite repertory theatre. If you are in Boston and you like the 1980s and you like things that are free, this one is for you!

Here is the press release if you want to read it.
For Release: March 1, 2010

Turner Classic Movies Heads to Five Cities for Road to Hollywood Tour,

Leading Up to Launch of First-Ever TCM Classic Film Festival

All Screenings Free to Public;

Tickets Available Beginning March 1 at

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is taking its love of great movies to five cities nationwide with the Road to Hollywood tour, a slate of special free screenings building up to the launch of the first-ever TCM Classic Film Festival. In the weeks before the festival, which will take place in Hollywood April 22-25, TCM will travel to Boston (March 18); New York (March 23); Chicago (March 30); Washington, D.C. (April 8); and San Francisco (April 21) for presentations of five outstanding films, each set in the city in which it will be screened.

Most of the films will be introduced by TCM host Robert Osborne or weekend daytime host Ben Mankiewicz. In addition, TCM is planning celebrity appearances for each screening. OscarÒ and EmmyÒ-winning actress Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront) is scheduled to appear in Chicago for the presentation of the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest (1959). Broadway legend Elaine Stritch (Company) will be on-hand for the screening of All About Eve (1950) in New York. Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) and popular San Francisco film critic and show business reporter Jan Wahl of KRON, will introduce the Orson Welles thriller The Lady from Shanghai (1948) in San Francisco. Producer George Stevens Jr., founding director of the American Film Institute, will take part in the screening of his father’s film The More the Merrier (1943) in Washington, D.C. And Boston Herald film critic James Verniere will take part in the Boston screening of The Verdict (1982).

“We couldn’t be more thrilled that we’ll be able to bring the excitement of our first TCM Classic Film Festival to folks in these five great cities,” said Osborne. “This is a great opportunity for us to connect directly with the TCM community across America. We look forward to meeting our fellow movie lovers and sharing our passion for great films.”

Below is a complete schedule of TCM’s Road to Hollywood screenings. Although the screenings are free to the public, tickets are required for entry. Tickets will be available beginning March 1 at

The Brattle Theatre in Boston – Thursday, March 18, at 8 p.m. – The Verdict (1982)

Ben Mankiewicz and Boston Herald film critic Jim Verniere will introduce this emotionally powerful legal drama directed by Sidney Lumet and written by David Mamet. Paul Newman earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as an alcoholic lawyer who is having difficulty keeping clients. He lands a dream case, however, when he is hired to sue a hospital for negligence.
 The Music Box Theater in Chicago – Tuesday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m. – North by Northwest (1959)

Robert Osborne will by joined by Oscar and Emmy winner Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront) in Chicago for this presentation of one of Alfred Hitchcock’s biggest and most enduring hits. Cary Grant plays an everyman mistaken as a double agent and chased across the country by people on both sides of the law. Saint plays the woman unwittingly roped into helping him. James Mason, Leo G. Carroll and Martin Landau co-star.

The Avalon Theatre in Washington, D.C. – Thursday, April 8, at 8 p.m. – The More the Merrier (1943)

Ben Mankiewicz and producer George Stevens Jr., founding director of the American Film Institute, will introduce this highly entertaining film directed by Stevens’ father. Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea star as a pair forced to share a D.C. apartment during a wartime housing shortage. Charles Coburn won an Oscar for his deliciously comic performance.

The Castro in San Francisco – Wednesday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. – The Lady from Shanghai (1948)

Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), who is an expert on the films of Orson Welles and was a close friend of the director, will be joined by popular San Francisco film critic and show business reporter Jan Wahl of KRON as they introduce this memorable thriller. The story involves a fake murder plot that turns out to be all too real. Welles stars along with Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane and Glenn Anders. The film’s extraordinary imagery includes an exciting hall-of-mirrors sequence that remains a cinematic masterpiece.

About the TCM Classic Film Festival

The first-ever TCM Classic Film Festival will take place April 22-25, 2010, in the heart of Hollywood. The network is inviting fans from around the country to join this new festival and share their passion for great movies. This landmark celebration of the history of Hollywood and its movies will be presented in a way that only TCM can, with major events, celebrity appearances, panel discussions and more. The four-day festival will also provide movie fans a rare opportunity to experience some of cinema’s greatest works as they were meant to be seen – on the big screen.

The festival will involve several venues in a central area of Hollywood, including screenings at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Egyptian Theatre. The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, which has a longstanding role in movie history and was the site of the first Oscar ceremony, will be the official hotel for the festival as well as a key venue for festival passholders.

The central gathering point for the TCM Classic Film Festival community will be Club TCM. This area, which is open exclusively to festival passholders, will be abuzz with activity during the entire festival, providing fans with unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Among the events slated for Club TCM are a book signing and display of original art by Tony Curtis; a special screening of Joan Crawford’s home movies, hosted by her grandson, Casey LaLonde; a presentation by special effects artist Douglas Trumbull; and numerous scheduled conversations with festival guests. Club TCM will also feature several panel discussions, including Casting Secrets: The Knack of Finding the Right Actor; A Remake to Remember: Hollywood’s Love Affair with Updating Movie Classics; The Greatest Movies Ever Sold: Classic Movie Marketing Campaigns; Location Location Location; Film Continuity: When Details Count; and TCM: Meet the People Behind the Network.

Club TCM will be headquartered in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. This lavish room is steeped in Hollywood history as the site of the original Academy Awards banquet.

The TCM Classic Film Festival is being produced by TCM. Serving as festival consultants are Bill and Stella Pence, who are well-known in industry circles as co-founders of the Telluride Film Festival.

The TCM Classic Film Festival is sponsored by Vanity Fair, the official festival partner and host of the opening night gala; Buick®, the official automotive sponsor; Delta Air Lines, the official travel partner; and Fekkai, official luxury hair care sponsor of the Vanity Fair’s Tales of Hollywood program.
Festival passes and additional information are available at

Turner Classic Movies is a Peabody Award-winning network celebrating 15 years of presenting great films, uncut and commercial-free, from the largest film libraries in the world. Currently seen in more than 80 million homes, TCM features the insights of veteran primetime host Robert Osborne and weekend daytime host Ben Mankiewicz, plus interviews with a wide range of special guests. As the foremost authority in classic films, TCM offers critically acclaimed original documentaries and specials, along with regular programming events that include The Essentials, 31 Days of Oscar and Summer Under the Stars. TCM also stages special events and screenings, such as the upcoming TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood; produces a wide range of media about classic film, including books and DVDs; and hosts a wealth of materials at its Web site, TCM is part of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner company.
Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner company, creates and programs branded news, entertainment, animation and young adult media environments on television and other platforms for consumers around the world.

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