Ginger Rogers

Celebrating National Classic Movie Day with the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon

Monday, May 16 is National Classic Movie Day. As part of its festivities, I’ve joined other classic film bloggers in promoting the holiday with the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon. I’ve selected five classic movies that would entertain and sustain me on this miraculous deserted island having screening capabilities. I explain my choices below!

Les Vampires Irma Vep Poster in Le Cryptogramme Rouge

Les Vampires (1915-1916)

My first choice is Louis Feuillade‘s silent crime serial Les Vampires. I had been grabbed by its imagery when seeing stills in write-ups of Water Bearer Films‘ VHS release. It looked like Edward Gorey’s drawings come to life, but really the film was an influence on him as I previously wrote. When I finally saw it, the beginning episodes offered a lot of eye candy in costuming and sets, which feature multiple prints and textures. Artists, designers, and other creatives could be endlessly influenced by the movie. Then Musidora playing Irma Vep appeared in its third episode. I like to say she’s one of my two spirit actresses. She’s a modern, charismatic, and feminist presence. While her Irma is number two to the Grand Vampire, the head of her criminal organization, she survives a sequence of Grand Vampires to become the main, almost everlasting villain of the serial. She’s a contrast to the rather dull hero, reporter Philipe Guérande (Édouard Mathé). Les Vampires isn’t supernatural in the slightest. There’s nothing paranormal about the movie, but its action scenes offer plenty of the unusual like secret passageways, a poison ring, and a decapitated head. In its best moments, the film serves up memorable, surreal imagery. Whenever someone asks me if I like action movies, I have to say yes because of Les Vampires. It runs for about 7 hours, and I’ve watched it multiple times in multiple releases. It’s a movie that would continuously entertain me on an island.

Bell Book and Candle Gillian Holroyd Kim Novak and Pyewacket Spell Casting

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

This movie has been a favorite of mine since my girlhood. When I first saw it, I wanted Gillian Holroyd’s (Kim Novak) pre-pastel life. She had a fabulous wardrobe, a devoted and talkative cat, and an unusual life far from the middle class suburbia I was growing up in. I was fascinated by superstition and the supernatural, too. It’s very easy to be influenced the innate gothicism of New England. I’ve worn a lot of black and velvet in my life; I’ve had cats since I was four or five, and they’ve been loving and talkative companions; and I’ve lived in multiple places sometimes participating in and other times promoting the arts that fascinate me. Not a bad early influence then! As an adult, I can’t ignore the unintended warning message for women in the movie. There’s nothing wrong with being a less self-absorbed, selfish person, but a woman needs to know the difference between being matured by love and losing her sight of her core self. Also, Jimmy Stewart‘s love interest portrayal too often slips into doddering instead of simply square making Kim Novak have to simmer overtime to distract from that fact. I would have loved for Cary Grant to have landed the male lead role like he wanted. Moving beyond my casting quibble, Bell, Book and Candle has become a Christmas movie for me. I’m sure the association started because the film’s action starts on Christmas Eve. Gillian’s celebrating the holiday with her odd, sometimes infuriating, but in the end loving family. That actually sounds like a normal holiday for a lot of us! I watch the film at least annually, and with it on for background sound, I’ve trimmed my tree. I’d take this movie to the island to remind me of the girl I was and to help me celebrate Christmas.

Ginger Rogers We're in the Money Gold Diggers of 1933 Number

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

I knew one of my desert island movies had to be a Busby Berkeley! I looked through all my discs, and I picked Gold Diggers of 1933. Mervyn LeRoy is credited with directing the film, and Busby directed, staged, and choreographed its musical numbers. As an overall movie, from plot to musical scenes to performances, it’s one of the strongest in his filmography, and it’s one hell of a fun pre-code. It features some of my favorite performers like Warren WilliamJoan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, and Guy Kibbee. It has saucy and snappy dialogue as expected in a backstage movie focusing on four struggling showgirls in the 1930s. Take this line Aline MacMahon‘s character Trixie says,  “Excuse me while I fix up the old sex appeal. The way I feel this morning I’ll need a steam shovel.” It’s funny, yet acknowledges what work it is to be a woman and have to be appealing to men. The movie straddles the same line. It’s entertaining and offers amazing musical sequences like The Shadow Waltz with its neon-tubed violins, and at the same time the reality of the Depression is allowed moments of expression, like the literal show-stopping number starring Blondell, Remember My Forgotten Man. Gold Diggers of 1933 entertains, provides momentary distraction, and then addresses its contemporary audience’s troubles. It’s a paean to the scrappy American spirit. Despite our troubles, we can take the time to be flippant and clever and sing a song’s verse in Pig Latin. A great movie to help me endure my island time!

My Man Godfrey Carole Lombard William Powell Dishwashing Scene

My Man Godfrey (1936)

My other spirit actress is Carole Lombard, and she helped tip My Man Godfrey making my list over The Thin Man. When I used to have a LiveJournal, its slogan was “When things get tough, she envisions herself as Carole Lombard.” That’s because no matter what pratfall she took or what tricky moment she found herself in, her modernism, verve for life, and zaniness showed her character would overcome her troubles, at least in the comedies. Take a look at My Man Godfrey. She and her co-star William Powell had once been married, but their marriage didn’t work out, yet they remained adult about things and stayed friends. So much so that he insisted Carole be cast instead of Constance Bennett in this film. Their comfortability with each other lets them tap into their natural chemistry for their parts. She’s ditzy, good-hearted, nouveau riche heiress Irene Bullock, and he’s a blue blood living like a tramp while recovering from a broken heart. Of course, these two fall in love, while her nutty family (complete with parasitic gigolo) and her off-kilter approach to romance complicate matters. I can guarantee this screwball comedy will make me laugh, so into the deserted island kit it goes!
Regain Harvest Marcel Pagnol 1937 The Couple Surrounded by the Land

Regain / Harvest (1937)

There are so many romances depicted in Regain–the love of a place, the love of honest labor, the love of family, the love of friendship, and the love of a husband and wife. It’s the last of those loves that provides the catalyst for a dying village to be reborn. Gabriel Gabrio plays Panturle, whose village has only three inhabitants left, and not for long because the others are aged. All the younger people have left for the city seeking work divorced from their agricultural roots. Panturle needs to find a wife. He knows his home can be renewed by having a new founding family, and he is lonely. One night Orane Demazis‘ Arsule camps on his grounds with Fernandel‘s Urbain Gédémus. Arsule is the sort of woman who has given up hope, and she lets men use her in order to physically survive. Urbain, while better than some of the men she meets in the film, isn’t really much better. This is the rare film where comedian Fernandel plays an unlikable creep. Arsule wanders off from a sleeping Urbain and meets Panturle. The raggedy man cannot believe his good fortune at meeting this beautiful angel and begins to woo her. He sees her as everything he has ever wanted in life, and together they will become the best people they could be. The past doesn’t matter. What matters is who they are and what they do now. Regain is a film in which love and goodness transform and triumph. It’s a film that would sustain me spiritually if stranded on an island.

Five Movies on an Island Blogathon

To read more blogathon entries, click on its banner. Be surprised and entertained by other bloggers’ choices. Perhaps you’ll even find flicks to add to your to watch list!

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Happy New Year!

Wishing you a wonderful New Year’s Eve and New Year! May both be filled with everyone and everything you love–like movies! As a special holiday treat for you, here is a scene from one of my favorite screwball comedies, Bachelor Mother (1939).

Its plot seems inspired by Clara Bow‘s It (1927). A salesgirl named Polly Parrish (Ginger Rogers) falls for a department store heir, David Merlin (David Niven), and he for her. There’s even a baby he mistakes as hers. All those elements are in the Bow vehicle, but where the infant temporarily complicates her film’s plot, he’s the focus of Rogers’s. Polly finds an abandoned baby on a stoop, and everyone mistakes her as the mother. She can’t give the baby up. No one will let her! No one will believe the baby isn’t hers. Due to her being his employee, David makes her his project. He’s going to make sure she’s a good mother. His task isn’t hard because she soon loves the baby.

In the clip, he’s giving Polly a Cinderella night out. Decked out in finery from his store, she’s his stand-in New Year’s Eve date after getting the dust off from his girlfriend. Since this is a screwball comedy, he overcomplicates Polly’s presence by saying she’s Swedish and doesn’t speak English! Despite this impediment, she charms most of his friends. The scene starts with their departure and ends with a well-deserved zinger.

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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

For Valentine’s Day, here is one of my favorite romantic scenes from a musical. The film Lovely to Look At, a remake of Roberta, may not be memorable as a whole, but it showcases some imaginative dance sequences featuring Marge and Gower Champion. While they had the unenviable task of replacing Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, the Champions were gifted with not recreating the earlier pair’s routines. The Champions’ dances were mostly freed from the show within a picture’s stagings. In Lovely to Look at, the big performance to save the fashion house remains, but their other dance scenes show their characters’ flirtations that lead to romance and to them falling in love.

In the above scene, their characters have spent the night accompanying their friends from boîte to boîte. Left alone, they have no distractions. He wants to dance with her one more time, that’s the only way he can hold a girl in his arms in a crowded room and have her all to himself, and she agrees after initially resisting. They have fun, and dance well together, and then the camera moves in for a close-up when they pause in front of a window. When it pulls back, we see the nightclub set has vanished, and only the starry night remains. In multiple long takes, they dance on and among the stars. They’re the only two people in their universe at that moment, and they both hear, feel, and move to the same song. They’re a perfect pairing. Long before they walk off together into the night, we know they have fallen in love. We’ve watched it happen.

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Er’way in-hay the oney-may.

I’ve been reading Ginger: My Story by Ginger Rogers. My favorite parts of the book are the behind-the-scenes scoop. Rogers doesn’t offer too much gossip. She focuses more on the making of her films and stage shows. Driven, she sought comfort in work even when her personal life went on the fritz. Sometimes she skimps on the personal details, and I can’t decide if she’s witholding some material to protect her privacy or if the details simply weren’t important to her. Even though she wrote a memoir, self-reflection doesn’t seem as key to her as telling her story and witnessing her faith. Occasionally she sets the record straight about an infamous incident or her celluloid contributions.

For instance, she reveals the pig latin sequence in Gold Diggers of 1933 was her idea:

One day on set, I was handed the opening song and told to learn it by that evening. The scene was to be shot the next day and we had to be up on the number. I pleaded with Malcolm Beelby, the pianist, to forsake his lunch hour to help me learn my lyrics. Malcom kindly obliged. We went into a corner of the sound stage and started to rehearse. After about three hours, I started getting a little slap-happy, so instead of singing the lyrics as they were written, I translated them into pig latin.

Darryl F. Zanuck observes her, likes it, and has the improv put into the final film.

The pig latin bit makes that production number. In close-up, Rogers the beautiful girl has enough American chutzpah to make light of all the money her depression era audiences didn’t have enough of. She’s verbally winking at them, saying I am one of you, that things will be okay as long as we can have fun. We may not be in the money, but we are in on the joke. For a moment we are her conspirators, the wall has broken down, and we are taken away from our troubles.
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