Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Body Under the Bridge (A Father Gilbert Mystery) by Paul McCusker (2016)

This is one of those times when I didn't realize how much I missed something until it was given back to me.

I love Father Gilbert. And like most fans of the Focus on the Family radio series, Dead Air is my favorite episode, in all of its spine-tingling glory. So I'm thrilled to find that The Body Under the Bridge bears a strong connection to that episode, in fact, happening before it if we're going in a chronological order. Or after it if you don't care that at this point Father Gilbert has yet to solve the case of the girl who went missing in the Soho district and was the tipping point to him leaving the force and joining the church. Either way, doesn't matter, it's a great tie-in.

The regular cast of characters is ready and in place for this first in, I hope, a series of Father Gilbert Mysteries. From Mrs. Mayhew to Mr. Urquhart, this book is like visiting old friends that I haven't seen in a very long time. And of course, a small section of my heart has always been in love with Father Gilbert, enough to not care that he's on the written page and not spinning around in my ears wearing the voice of Adrian Plass. Although if Adrian were to ever agree to narrate this book series, I wouldn't argue. Hmm, Adrian?

There are some complaints that this is a very Catholic novel, that it's very dark, that it has evil supernatural elements, etc. Yes, all of that is true. However, never is evil greater than good, and at the grand climax where I could hardly breathe or put the book down for fear of Father Gilbert's life, God was there, and He worked miracles, the same as always. The tradition of the Anglican church is insightful and intrigues me immensely, and I find it's far wiser to be aware of supernatural evil than live in a fantasy world where it doesn't exist. So long as we remember Who's ultimately in control then we're all right.

Great job, Paul McCusker, and thank you, from the bottom of my heart for resurrecting a character that I have loved since the series first burst upon the airwaves when I was a teenager.

Monday, August 1, 2016

When a tough exterior hides a heart of gold in . . .

Written (sort of) for the Legends of Western Cinema week, hosted by A Lantern in Her Hand and Meanwhile, in Rivendell. I say sort of because I had planned to write a post on Wanted: Dead or Alive anyway, but this gave me motivation to actually buckle down and do it.

The era of the television western was something to behold. Its recognized beginning was 1949 and the official ending was 1969, so a mere 20 year span of time. Oh, some shows made it past the 1969 cut-off, like The Young Riders in the 1980s and of course, Alias Smith and Jones from the 1970s, but the official best years of the genre was always in the 1950s and the early 1960s.

Shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Have Gun Will Travel, Big Valley, and one of my favorites, The Wild Wild West all ran during that span of time. And while I'd like to focus on each and every one of them, I've chosen instead a western series that only ran for 3 years, from 1958 to 1961, and birthed the beginnings of a radiant career on the big screen.

That's right, I'm talking about Wanted: Dead or Alive starring none other than Steve McQueen.

Would you believe that I've only been a fan of this show, and McQueen, for less than a year? I guess I needed to fall in love with McQueen at the right time in my life, and that time happens to be now. But I especially, ESPECIALLY, love him as Josh Randall, the tough bounty hunter with a heart of gold from Wanted: Dead or Alive.

I think if this show were just another western series than I might not have latched onto it quite so voraciously. The creators took an original approach with the idea, allowing for the idea that not all heroes are good all the time and that bad things happen to good people. Perhaps it's not that original, but I'd never before encountered a western series that permitted, even encouraged, the characters to make mistakes. All with a brilliant, tight humor that never, ever failed to make an appearance in each episode. Sure, be serious, but make sure you give the viewer a break with snatches of hilarity too. These writers understood the need for humor in an otherwise dramatic series.

Josh Randall is terrific, but he's far from perfect. In fact, this is one of his normal looks, that half bewildered, half how-the-heck-did-I-get-myself-into-this-mess look. McQueen perfected that look. Anyway, Randall's a bounty hunter and money is a really strong motivator for what he does and why. I've read reviews that try to soften Randall, that he always gives his money away to people who need it, and it makes me wonder what show they're watching.

Yes, there were a couple of times, random times, when Josh would give money to someone, usually a victim or sometimes a relative of the criminal he hunted (the latter may have happened once), but overall, he kept the money. And his favorite pastimes when he's not chasing a bounty are lounging in saloons and gambling. So I'm pretty sure I know that the money ends up in the hands of gamblers who are slightly more skilled than he at the game.

However, I also said that Josh Randall has a heart of gold. He does. It just doesn't come in the form of giving away his bounty money. Instead, Josh is very wary of the bounties that he hunts. If someone doesn't seem on the up and up, he won't take the job. Plus, whenever possible, he attempts to take the prisoner alive because he believes in the system. It's not his job to kill people and he doesn't have a murderous heart like some bounty hunters.

But he's still spurned and scorned by many a western town because of his occupation. Oh, Josh will make a friend or two out of a sheriff, but when it comes down to your ordinary, everyday citizen, nope, it's not going to happen. The women in the show are especially devious, even cleverer than he is, and there's been many a time that he's had the wool pulled over his eyes by a fainting violet with nerves of steel and an ulterior motive. I guess you could say where women are concerned he's very naive.

This predilection most western towns had for hating bounty hunters crops up quite frequently, in fact. I'll always remember the episode where Josh brings in a bounty, but the criminal gets loose and takes the sheriff hostage. The sheriff's daughter is a town favorite and she cannot stand the idea of her father being left in the hands of a criminal, so the town decides to give the criminal Josh instead. At gunpoint. Sure, that's a nice, friendly little town they've got there. The sheriff's life is of more value to these upstanding citizens than a bounty hunter.

Josh encounters that mentality time and again throughout the series, but he's never vengeful, always resigned to their hatred of him, and he never raises a hand against innocent bystanders. He rolls with the punches most of the time, and there are plenty of punches. It wouldn't be an episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive if Josh didn't get knocked unconscious at least once. McQueen just did it so gracefully!

You know, it's entertaining to see where Steve McQueen got his start in westerns. Of course, westerns aren't all he did, but the roles of western archetype heroes seemed to suit him. As television western series go, there are scads more than would ever have time to watch, and the lesser known ones are lesser known for a reason. But Wanted: Dead or Alive takes its storytelling seriously and acknowledges that not every encounter in the west had a happy ending. In fact, some endings are downright sad, but that's real life.

You can also tell the quality by the types of guest stars who made appearances with such names as Michael Landon, Warren Oates, James Coburn, and even Martin Landau. Do I care that the bullets on Josh's belt could never, in a million years, fit that gun? Nope, I do not, because McQueen sells the character to the audience from the very 1st episode and we don't care that the bullets don't fit. Wanted: Dead or Alive is a brilliant western series with a brilliant lead actor who just captures the heart and the imagination with his glittering eyes, lean body (yes I have a crush, so sue me), and that crazy Mare's Laig of a rifle that he has strapped to his leg. ❤

Friday, July 29, 2016

Danny Kaye's cinematic debut in Up in Arms (1944)

Up in Arms (1944)
introducing Danny Kaye
and co-starring Dinah Shore, Dana Andrews, and Constance Dowling

I had a fairly decent sum saved up from my credit card rewards, and I couldn't think of a better way to spend it than on a Danny Kaye movie collection!

Apart from Bob Hope, Danny is my favorite funny man. But unlike Bob Hope who is sometimes too ridiculous, Danny always played lovable nut jobs with the right touch of realism to counteract the humor. I can't think of a single Danny Kaye role that I haven't loved so far. But the best thing about this collection is that I hadn't seen any of the 4 movies in it, one of which happens to be Danny's cinematic debut Up in Arms from 1944.

Danny Weems (Danny Kaye) is a lovable hypochondriac who took a job as an elevator man in a suite of doctor's offices just so he could be near medical care whenever he needed it. Patients get on his elevator and get off in worse shape than they were before. But Danny's lucky; he's got his best friend and roommate Joe (Dana Andrews) who supports him in all things. Except one. Joe falls in love with Mary (Constance Dowling), a lovely nurse from the building where Danny works. There's only one problem, Danny's convinced that he and Mary are in love and so he's blind to the growing attraction between Joe and Mary and blind to the romantic inclinations that Virginia (Dinah Shore), another nurse in the building, has towards him.

Everything might have continued in the same vein of awkwardness except that this is 1944 and so Danny and Joe get drafted into the military. And the girls, being the patriotic females that they are, also join up as nurses, the funny thing being that they're also higher ranked than Joe and Danny. Watching Danny, with his cases of medication, try to survive military life is hilarious, and it's a darn good thing that Joe is there to keep some of the thugs off his back. Resplendent with hilarious comedic gags, Up in Arms is a real winner up until the last 20 minutes and a terrific debut for Danny Kaye as a classic American funny man.

Despite it's winning qualities, though, I admit that there are some aspects that may offend modern viewers. Such as the Japanese soldiers at the end of the film that are just so dense I'm shocked they didn't walk off a cliff into the ocean. Danny manages to round all of them up with little trouble. They're caricatures of the Japanese and I caught myself wincing several times.

I'm also not sure about that bizarre dream sequence, also near the end, that merely seemed an excuse to roll out the Goldwyn Girls with their sparkling smiles and gorgeous figures. It felt like that absurd sequence out of Singin' in the Rain which makes sense since the movies were made in the same decade. One of those Goldwyn Girls happened to be Virginia Mayo, the girl who played opposite Danny in 4 pictures including The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (review upcoming at some point), so that bit was fun. But I'm still glad they cast Constance Dowling as Mary since I feel she had the right mixture of loveliness and compassion.

If you don't mind the little oddities, you'll love Up in Arms. It's nowhere near as offensive as the Bing Crosby black face number in Holiday Inn, a movie I LOVE all except for that one musical number. ❤

This poor man's first encounter with Danny leaves him far sicker than he ever was before he stepped into that elevator, much to the fury of the man's doctor.

The lovely Dinah Shore as Virginia, the girl who secretly loves Danny and who was just his practice model for a marriage proposal to Mary. No wonder she's mad.

Danny's first musical number in the film, while waiting for a motion picture to start. He effectively mocked going to the movies in a healthy dose of irony.

And here you have buddy Joe (Dana Andrews) and Danny's flame Mary (Constance Dowling) making eyes after a double-date. Poor Danny, so clueless, especially since Mary never actually led him on. He can't tell when a girl's just being nice.

Danny getting the infamous news that he's been DRAFTED!

While out with the boys and Mary, Virginia sings into a record recorder while a horde of soldiers gather. It's Now I Know and one of those typical songs during the World War II era that just gets you.

In a fit of insanity, Danny smuggles Mary onto the boat by accident just as it ships out, leaving Joe to help Danny figure out how to hide her.

And one last screen cap just for fun. Chaos is about to ensue in this one, in case you couldn't tell. Oh, and Mary's hiding under the bunk.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Movie Review: The Harvey Girls (1946) starring Judy Garland and John Hodiak

The Harvey Girls (1946)
starring Judy Garland, John Hodiak, and Angela Lansbury
co-starring Ray Bolger, Marjorie Main, Chill Wills, Kenny Baker, and Cyd Charisse

I remember LOVING The Harvey Girls the first time I saw it, so naturally I was curious to see if that emotion had staying power since I hadn't seen the movie in over a decade. As it happens, yes, I still love it, and with good reason.

I've never minded mail-order bride stories, and that's how this one begins, with young Susan Bradley (Judy Garland) headed west to marry a man who she's only corresponded with, but never met. Full of hope and light, a tad bit hungry, she encounters a group of young women also headed west, known as the Harvey Girls. They are employed by Fred Harvey to open a Harvey House restaurant that brings culture and refinement to western towns. Enthralled with the young ladies in this group, Susan immediately befriends them, especially since her stop and theirs is the same one.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Five Magic Spindles Book Announcement + Giveaway!!

This is sort of a post in two parts.

One, my friend Rachel of Hamlette's Soliloquy is now a published author!

She was 1 of 5 winners to a contest for Sleeping Beauty retellings called Five Magic Spindles, and it's no wonder she won because she wrote a western! Who would ever think to do that other than her?! Which, naturally, I am uber excited to read because I love westerns and I cannot even fathom how a western Sleeping Beauty would be told. So, yay, and congratulations to Rachel. I'm so happy for her!

Support her by buying Five Magic Spindles on Amazon Kindle HERE or a physical paperback HERE!

You can also like her author's Facebook page HERE and don't forget to mark Five Magic Spindles as to-read on your Goodreads account HERE!

Two, she is hosting a giveaway for the book's release! Go HERE for the giveaway!

She's giving away 5 handmade bookmarks that she created for each of the 5 stories. I encourage you to head on over to her blog to participate, but also to give the novella collection a try, especially if you love fairy tales.

And because I'm most excited over her story release, here's a picture of the bookmark she made. Isn't it gorgeous!?

It's always exciting to know someone when they're experiencing something so life-altering. You might not think it life-altering, but to be published is a dream for all writers. Very few attain it via the mainstream method, but here Rachel is, with her story in black and white, having won a writer's contest. That's pretty incredible.

I can guarantee everyone a review of the Five Magic Spindles as soon as I get a chance to read it!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Movie Review: Forever Darling (1956)

Forever Darling (1956)
starring Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, and James Mason
co-starring Natalie Schafer

Forever Darling is described by many viewers as a romantic fantasy, and I guess that hits the nail pretty much on the head. It also happens to be the 60th anniversary of this film this year (OH MY GOSH) and so I couldn't go without reviewing it!

Newlyweds Susan and Lorenzo Vega are very much in love after 2 months of marriage. 2 years of marriage find them still in love, but she's not all dolled up in her negligee and makeup when he leaves for work anymore. After 5 years of marriage, Lorenzo has to see himself out the door in the morning while Susan snores away upstairs.

Yah, they're heading downhill fast. Especially after an argument at dinner when Susan's cousin Millie, and her husband Henry Opdyke belittle Lorenzo's desire to test run his mosquito killer himself in an experiment that would take him and Susan out of the country for 2 years. All the years of compressed frustration against Millie's interference in his and Susan's marriage comes spewing out in glorious style. The only problem is that Susan is furious and after the dinner is over, the two of them have a righteous row that ends in him bunking downstairs in the office and her sobbing in the bedroom.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Book Review: The Wood's Edge (The Path Finders #1, 2015) by Lori Benton

Fort William Henry, Lake George, New York, 1757

When Reginald Aubrey holds the cooling body of his hour old infant son in his arms he is left with a choice. He can either tell his unconscious wife that their son has died or he can kidnap a boy from a set of newborn twins born within minutes of his own son. The twins' mother is a white woman who had been captured as a small child by a tribe of American Indians and raised Oneida. Her children are half white/half Indian, except that one boy has pale eyes, pale skin, and blonde hair, just like his mother. What Reginald Aubrey decided that day set in motion a chain of events that he could never have anticipated. A stolen son who can hardly look at without feeling shame, a rescued baby girl a few months older than that son who he grows to love more fiercely than the boy who is supposed to be of his own blood, and the desperate vengeance felt by the Oneida family who is missing one of their own, who they call He-is-Taken.

Given enough time, a person's perception of something can change. I started reading The Wood's Edge sometime in the fall last year, but the timing wasn't right. I couldn't focus on the book with any level of credible enjoyment so I did the wisest thing I could do under the circumstances; I sent it back to the library unread and figured I would try again later. Today is later, and fortunately for me, I loved every moment of The Wood's Edge. Having already read Ms. Benton's debut novel, Burning Sky, and her subsequent novel The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn I knew to expect high quality. However, I really didn't think anything could come close to my love for Burning Sky, but The Wood's Edge sneaked in there and stole my heart, not quite topping her debut novel, but coming close.

What is it about Lori Benton's books? Maybe it's that she reads 5 gazillion history books to get the setting right. Or it could just be that she knows all the right thing to do in all the right ways to squeeze her characters just right. She develops her characters, forces the reader to love them, and then puts through the rigorous pain that is daily life. Lies and deceit have consequences. Not everything ends up rosily perfect. And because I, as the reader, fear for these characters that I love by chapter 4, I can't put the book down, even when terror takes hold that something TERRIBLE is going to happen.

Or it could be something as basic as I love American Indian literary characters. When they're done right. Which they are when Lori Benton gets her hands on them. The Oneida Indian family won me over: Good Voice the grieving mother, Stone Thrower the vengeful father, and Two Hawks the lonely twin of William, the stolen son who they named He-is-Taken. I was invested in Good Voice's pain from the very beginning and since Two Hawks is a major player in the story, he won my heart from the time he was a small child. He is both courageous and merciful and learns to put forgiveness ahead of vengeance.

Then of course, there's the cameo appearance of Joseph Tames-His-Horse who I LOVED in Burning Sky. Seriously, I loved him, and so meeting a teenage Tames-His-Horse and seeing his conversion to Christianity and finding out how he came by his Christian name, Joseph, is amazing. I love that she included him in The Wood's Edge, love, love, love it.

Then you have the Aubrey family with poor Reginald denying himself joy because the guilt of what he's done and the fear of retribution eats away at him every day. Lydia, the girl who was 14-years-old when the reader met her and whose teenage crush on Reginald is endearing, as well as her loyalty to the little infant girl he saved from the massacre at Fort William Henry. One child come by honestly and the other stolen. And dear Anna, who loves her Papa Reginald so very much, but finds her heart tripping over the Indian boy who looks so very like William, who she calls brother. As Anna and Two Hawks grow up together, him visiting her for news of William (because the Oneida family does discover his whereabouts), Two Hawks and Anna find affection that blossoms into love. Now THAT is what I call romantic.

One interesting part of the story is that we don't know William all that well. He's in England for school through much of this book, and when he returns he's a man fully grown with his own ideas about colonial uprisings and rebellions. It's tempting to dislike him because he seems brainwashed by the British, but at the same time his relationship with his father was never solid because of Reginald's guilt over how he obtained William. Being the 1st book in a series, The Wood's Edge does not tie up William's story neatly; that will have to wait for A Flight of Arrows, book 2.

I've been trying to find a good word for my feelings regarding Lori Benton's work, and it isn't easy. Her work is spiritually fulfilling in a way that a lot of Christian fiction lacks. She manages to share the gospel without really quoting the Bible verbatim or being too preachy, yet her conversion scenes are some of the most poignant I've ever read. These are real people coming to know a Savior who is also my Savior. I understand their feelings, their concerns, and the overwhelming joy in their Creator. It's beautiful imagery, and the way Ms. Benton describes it, those conversion scenes are straight out of reality.

Anyway, I think I've rambled on long enough. All of the characters in this book felt realistic; even the ones I didn't fully like, I still understood their perspective. Ms. Benton's prose is still top of the line, flowing with beautiful imagery that just sucks the reader so far into the story it's like you're there. If you haven't read any of Lori Benton's books before, The Wood's Edge is a terrific place to start. Enjoy! ❤

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Movie Review: Unfaithfully Yours (1948)

Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
starring Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell
supporting cast: Rudy Vallee, Barbara Lawrence, and Lionel Stander

Have you ever had a single performance color every other movie an actor makes? Welcome to my experience with Rex Harrison. Every movie he made is colored for me by Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady. For some people this might not be such a bad thing, but for me . . . well, I don't like Henry Higgins all that much so I struggle with liking Rex Harrison by default.

HOWEVER, that said, it's almost impossible to dislike a Preston Sturges film since the man was brilliant and Unfaithfully Yours didn't make it into the Criterion Collection without a good reason. Black comedies have their place and this is one of the best, easily ranked up there with Arsenic and Old Lace and The Ladykillers.

Welcome to the story of a man who learns the hard way that lack of sleep and self-imposed starvation result in PARANOIA. Get your 8 hours and eat a healthy diet of calories and you'll likely NOT jump to the same wacky conclusions as our hero, Sir Alfred de Carter (Rex Harrison).

Alfred and his youthful bride Daphne (Linda Darnell) are absolutely drippy with romantic affection for one another. It's almost sickening. But all that changes when Alfred returns from a trip to find that his brother-in-law August Henshler (Rudy Vallee) has had a private detective follow Daphne, completely misconstruing Alfred's request for August to keep an eye on her while he was gone. Being the temperamental artist that he is (he's a maestro for an orchestra), Alfred throws August out on his rear, but the seeds have been planted. It takes only a little sprinkling of water here and there for him to think that Daphne and his young, handsome secretary Anthony Windborn (Kurt Kreuger) are having a riotous love affair. After all, Anthony is much nearer to Daphne's own age than Alfred.

Short on sleep and those calories we talked about, during one of his concerts, his mind wanders down the rabbit hole, imagining all sorts of crazy scenarios that include an elaborate scheme involving a voice recorder and a scene like something out of a slasher flick sans blood, then a scene where he's all forgiving and writes her a check and gives her permission to leave him, and finally a scene where he challenges Anthony to a game of Russian roulette . . . and loses.

Of course, those scenarios are all merely figments of his imagination. Real life is much more fun with its insanity and quirks as he makes foolish attempts at all three before finally realizing his wife is INNOCENT of all wrongdoing and he's been an idiot. Happy ending!

And the only reason why I'm telling everyone a few details about what happens is so you'll actually watch it. Here's where Unfaithfully Yours differs from other black comedies. Nobody actually dies, unlike Arsenic and Old Lace and The Ladykillers. So it's a much more lighthearted experience despite its blackness. Sadly, that very blackness kept this film from being a rousing success upon its debut, but critical response was favorable. I guess it was just slightly too dark for 1940s audiences, a would-be murderer as the main character and all. Never mind that he's a goof and a bungler.

Kudos, once again, to Preston Sturges, this time for the deliciously witty dialogue that is so redolent throughout the film. That man knew how to write dialogue. I drool with envy. And here's where I must also congratulate Rex Harrison. Now that I've seen Unfaithfully Yours at least twice, I can honestly praise him and freely admit that I don't believe anyone else could have played the role with quite so much sarcastic humor and wit. Possibly the only other fit might have been Laurence Olivier, but I believe Olivier was doing Hamlet in 1948 so he was just a tad busy.

As for Linda Darnell, she's such a lovely woman, and while I do feel she overdid it a little bit with her "I'm insanely in love with my husband" routine, she matched Rex Harrison beautifully. Although I do wish she'd pouted less while whispering sweet nothings in his ear. Reminded me far too much of Marilyn Monroe's propensity to do that pooch thing with her lips, which I never found attractive. It was fun watching her play opposite Rex Harrison in his imaginary scenes, and her character in real life is genuinely in love with her husband and has never, would never, cheat on him, so that made her instantly likeable.

Welcome Rudy Vallee and Barbara Lawrence, both stars in their own right. It's always fun when Rudy Vallee pops up in film. I know him mostly as a singer and as a poor, hapless guest star on I Love Lucy. Poor, poor man. And here he gets his jacket torn practically to ribbons by Rex Harrison. Gotta love it! Barbara Lawrence plays Rudy's unhappily married wife, and no wonder since they are so very poorly matched. But I know I've seen her in other films and she always spices things up a bit.

Some days you just need a good black comedy. Those are the days when I'll pluck The Ladykillers off my shelf and indulge in countless belly laughs, and now I have another film to add to my collection.

Particularly Funny Bits

"Well, August, what happy updraft wafts you hither?" - Alfred

"I give you my solemn word, August: if I don't regain control of myself in a few minutes, concert or no concert, I'll take this candelabrum and beat that walnut you use for a head into a nutburger, I believe they're called!"- Alfred

"People said "What do you wanna hear that Limey for? What does he know about music? It takes an Eye-talian, a Russian or a Dutchman to bring it out good," but something inside of me said "Give the Limey a chance!" And I did! And am I glad I did!" - Detective Sweeney

"There's nothing wrong with me that a couple of magnums of Champagne won't cure!" - Alfred

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Movie Review: The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)

The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)
starring Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck
supporting cast: Alexis Smith and Nigel Bruce

Why in the world are movies like Gaslight, Dial M for Murder, and Midnight Lace so insanely popular? I guess audiences just love to see men plotting to kill their wives, either out of some crazed need for control or simply because they are crazy.

In that vein, the plot for The Two Mrs. Carrolls is really nothing new.

Humphrey Bogart plays a starving artist type of character named Geoffrey Carroll whose wife always serves as his muse. At least until he tires of her, bumps her off kindly with poison, and marries the next in line. Talk about a vicious cycle, and who should get caught up in it but Barbara Stanwyck as the next wife in line, one Sally Morton Carroll. A charming, naive young woman, Sally adores her new husband and his little 10-year-old daughter. She supports Geoffrey in all he does, and things go along cheerfully for awhile in what is known as the honeymoon stage. That is until his inspiration starts to fade, his irritation peaks, and the gal down the street, Cecily Latham (played by Alexis Smith) insists he paint her portrait. Now Geoffrey has his eye on the next Mrs. Carroll and its time to bring out that old bottle of poison again. The bumbling town doctor played by none other than Nigel Bruce (wow, did he lose some weight!) thinks Sally's illness is just an attack of nerves, but pieces start to fall into place and Sally begins to see her beloved husband in a new, and far more suspicious, light. The question is, can she gain back her strength and energy before it's too late? Perhaps not ever her ex-fiance Charles Pennington (Patrick O'Moore), who she calls Penny, can get to her in time.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Movie Review: In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

In the Good Old Summertime (1947)
starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson

And here is the 1st remake of The Shop Around the Corner (my review here)!

Once, many, many moons ago when I was quite young, I did watch In the Good Old Summertime and I remember not liking it, but also, I remember not having the intellectual development to discern my exact reasoning.

To be fair, it's a tough act to follow Jimmy Stewart. I wouldn't want to do it, ever, and I don't envy Van Johnson for having to make the attempt. So, I'll try to be kind about what didn't work and be honest about what did work for me.

First, I'm a little shocked at how very close of a remake this is to the original; it has a lot of the same dialogue. I'm not sure what was wrong with the idea of placing the remake in 1949 when it was made, but they chose to plop it into the turn of the century instead, which almost worked, but not quite. More on that later.

The basics of the plot are these: still a little shop, still handwritten letters signed "Dear Friend," still a guy and a gal who can't stand each other in real life, but are writing those letters in private. The differences are that the shop is not in Budapest but Chicago, it's not 1940 but 1900, and the shop owner's wife is not having an affair because he isn't even married yet.

Van Johnson plays Andrew Larkin and Judy Garland plays Veronica Fisher.

Next, I love Judy Garland, and I love Van Johnson. But not together. Judy possessed such an intense film presence that she required a leading man who could stand up to her vivacity. Van Johnson is NOT that man, I'm sorry to say. MGM would have been better served to have either used Judy and a different leading man or Van and a different leading lady. Because a different pairing either way would have worked. The two just don't mesh well, and I was never convinced that they could possibly fall in love.

It's hard to love a guy who brings Judy to tears. Jimmy Stewart managed to be gruff, but still lovable. Van just ended up off-putting in his scenes with Judy, poor guy. Again, with the not envying him having to remake a Jimmy Stewart classic.

Now for costuming. This is the turn of the century, as in 1900, as in still mostly Victorian. What happened with the costuming for In the Good Old Summertime?! Judy wears skirts that are mid-calf and flowing a lot of the time whereas the women around her have skirts to their ankles. The best and most accurate gown she ever wore was at the very beginning in what was probably the best scene where Van Johnson trips her and proceeds to accidentally destroy her hat, parasol, and ends taking her skirt with him . . . caught in the wheel of his bicycle. It's a hilarious scene and the outfit was Victorian.

Then you have this gown. It's a 1949 red special, honestly, with a full, flowing skirt that only goes mid-calf and would have been absolutely SCANDALOUS at a party in 1900. My goodness, how she would have been shunned for wearing that get-up. It's lovely, don't get me wrong, but in completely the wrong setting.

One of the things that did really work was the casting of Spring Byington and S. Z. Sakall as Nellie and Otto Oberkugen (the owner of the music shop where Veronica and Andy are employed). They added a charmed element to the film that I hadn't anticipated and I ended up investing more in their romantic relationship that had developed over 20 years than I was in the biting, cross give-and-take between Andy and Veronica.

Also, who should show up but Buster Keaton. My only experience with the man is Benny and Joon where Johnny Depp's character styles himself after Buster. So I didn't even know Buster was in this film until the credits came on the screen. He's goofy, crazy, and he planned out the slapstick bits in the film. I guess you could say that he added a bit of levity.

Now comes my question of why a musical?

I don't mind musicals, but I honestly felt that the singing detracted from the plot with this one. On the plus side the singing mostly had to do with Veronica's job, working in a music store and all that, but I do believe that more could have been done without all that singing. And why have Judy sing 2 songs at Otto and Nellie's engagement party? Still, that's my personal preference and nothing more.

I really think In the Good Old Summertime would have been adorable . . . had it been set in 1949. In fact, I would have LOVED seeing it set in the era in which it was filmed. There's even a good chance that Judy and Van might have worked up better romantic synergy had the era been different. As it was, you have him, a traditional fuddy duddy of 1900, and her, a woman who sings "I Don't Care" at the top of her lungs at an engagement party. I realllllly don't see that ever working.

Still, this film was considered a massive box office success by MGM. Fans loved it. This was the era of the nonsensical musical like Singin' in the Rain and others of its ilk, so I can't expect In the Good Old Summertime to be anything different. But it was a bizarre reminder to me why I prefer movies made between 1930 and 1945.

In the end, In the Good Old Summertime doesn't live up to its predecessor, The Shop Around the Corner. But I can still see why people love it.

Although, can anyone tell me why they spend 70% of the film in winter and the movie is called In the Good Old Summertime? I'm pretty sure they could have chosen a different song for the title of the movie!

If you do give it a look-see, isn't little Liza Minnelli ADORABLE at the end (not that the scene advances the plot in any way, but still)? ❤

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Jane Eyre Read-Along: Thoughts on Chapters 1-10

I'm a little slow on the uptake with my friend's Jane Eyre read-along, but what else is new! *winks*

Anyway, prepare to be shocked, but this is the first time that I've read Jane Eyre. Not the first time that I've tried to read it, mind, but the first time that I'm actually determined to get all the way through, front to back, without yielding to irritation and tossing it back on the bookshelf.

Irritation, you ask?

Why, yes, because I've never actually liked Mr. Rochester in the novel. I love him (Timothy Dalton and Toby Stephens) in film adaptations, but for some reason he always manages to irk me when he's in print. However, I haven't gotten that far in the novel yet this time around so I'm still hopeful that I'll appreciate and/or understand him better now that I'm older. Maybe my age and the timing just wasn't right before, who knows.

It's sort of funny attempting to read it yet again because I can't tell you how many times I've gotten this far in the novel. It's at least 3 or 4 times, so I know Jane's experience at Gateshead and her time at Lowood rather intimately. Enough to be familiar with the character design of young Jane and her dear little friend, Helen Burns, and enough to intensely dislike, and yet also pity, her aunt Mrs. Reed.

When I say pity, what do I mean?

Individuals like Mrs. Reed lack so much self-awareness. They've intensely deceived themselves into believing a certain thing about themselves and others until it becomes true in their own minds. Her dislike of Jane is born out of a comparison between Jane's introspective nature and the self-absorbed natures of her own children. Instead of facing the deficiencies in her parenting of her little brood, Mrs. Reed instead focuses on Jane, making statements like, "Jane, I don't like cavillers or questioners; besides, there is something truly forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that manner. Be seated somewhere; and until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent." (ch 1)

Mrs. Reed tricked her own mind into thinking Jane was questioning authority, when in fact, all Jane wanted to know was what she had done. The mind is truly a funny thing and when given too much free reign and kept so little in check, terrible circumstances like the raising of little Jane Eyre can occur. I'm sure in her own way, Mrs. Reed even imagined that she had done as her husband requested, taking Jane into her home and making her a part of the family when in fact, Jane was considered even less than a servant for she served no purpose and was of no help.

Such is the sad case of poor, mistreated, passionate Jane Eyre while she resides at Gateshead under the iron fist of her aunt.

At least until Mrs. Reed cannot stand the child's present any longer and sends the indignant and infuriated Jane Eyre away to school, but what a school.

Lowood is a terrible place during Jane's first year.

The children are given little nourishment, thin garments in bitter cold, and forced exercise outdoors in the dead of winter. It is not the fault of Miss Temple, the headmistress, who does what she can with the little she is given, but rather the fault of the pious Mr. Brocklehurst who, while being a deadly curmudgeon, is also the unfortunate parish's minister and the benefactor of Lowood school.

Can anyone tell me why so many ministers are portrayed in such an unflattering light?

Surely, in all of England, there was one kindly, compassionate, and Godly minister of the gospel while the great classics were being penned. I must give Miss Charlotte Bronte her due; she is able to pen a most despicable man who, either through design or carelessness, single-handedly permits disease to rampage through Lowood, wiping out a goodly portion of its students in a single season.

And so, alas for poor Helen Burns, the little girl who was a few years older than Jane and who served as a spiritual guide for Jane's bitterly passionate nature. Helen succumbs to consumption (tuberculosis) during this same season, but not before imparting so many jewels of wisdom to young Jane that the nuggets remain make an everlasting impact on Jane's young psyche.

It is with Helen that I must pause, for it is Helen's paragraphs and chapters that have struck me as profoundly important during this particular "re-read" of Jane Eyre's first 10 chapters.

Of Helen, Jane says, "I never tired of Helen Burns; nor ever ceased to cherish for her a sentiment of attachment, as strong, tender, and respectful as any that ever animated my heart." (ch 9) For Helen "was qualified to give those who enjoyed the privilege of her converse a taste of far higher things." (ch 9)

To hear Helen tell of herself, she was a terribly flawed person who could rarely please her teachers and deserved every recrimination and correction that she received, particularly at the hand of Miss Scatcherd, one of the teachers. Helen never held an act of cruelty against the person who performed it. Still a child, Helen's spiritual development is so far advanced as to be that of a 90-year-old woman.

However, Helen still admits to Jane, "I am, as Miss Scatcherd said, slatternly; I seldom put, and never keep, things in order; I am careless; I forget rules; I read when I should learn my lessons; I have no method; and sometimes I say, like you, I cannot bear to be subjected to systematic arrangements."(ch 6)

Today we would simply say that Helen's personality type prevented her from being quite as her teachers would like, but Helen would never allow for such an excuse. She confesses and owns her flaws instead of passing them off as an element of something as obscure as a "personality type." Helen is, in her small way, a reminder that personality type should never be an excuse to not embark upon self-improvement.

When Jane rails and rants against the injustices committed against her person by Mrs. Reed, Helen firmly chastises her, saying, "What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart! No ill usage so brands its record on my feelings . . . Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs." (ch 6)

I won't go into detail, but let me just say the reading of chapter 6 was timely to a situation in my own life. Helen Burns's words impacted my thoughts and actions in a way that nothing else seemed capable of doing. Authenticity glitters in her severity, her gentleness, and her faults.

After Helen's death and the deaths of so many of the other children due to disease from malnutrition and improper clothing, Lowood Institution improves, and Jane settles into her life as a student with renewed vigor. Now that she has comfortable clothing and a full stomach, her studies delight her, which inevitably leads to a mature Jane in chapter 10 who is read and determined to take on the world.

Why the sudden change when she had been a contented teacher for 2 years?

Jane, like many introverts, found comfort in the familiar, particularly the familiar of working side by side with Miss Temple. Only when Miss Temple married a gentleman of her acquaintance and left did Jane begin to chafe at the idea of remaining at Lowood for the rest of her days.

She advertises herself in the local paper as a governess/tutor, and is contacted by a Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield. One thing lead to another as it usually does, and Jane turns in her notice. The end of chapter sees her reunited with a servant from Gateshead named Bessie who was kind and cruel to her by varying degrees. And now Jane is heading off to parts unknown, ready for a new adventure.

So passes the first 10 chapters of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

Should you wish to join in the read-along, please visit Hamlette's blog by clicking on the picture below. At this point, she is 13 chapters into the novel. ❤

Jane Eyre Read-Along

Monday, July 4, 2016

Movie Review: The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan
supporting cast: Frank Morgan

In a fit of boredom, I've begun watching classic films again. I was just fortunate enough to find a James Stewart collection of movies during one of my last trips to the store and it just happened to include The Shop Around the Corner. I vaguely remembered this little title from several years ago,but nothing really stood out to me. So I decided to pay $2.50 for it so I could watch it again, without suffering through the bother of a scratched library disc. Talk about a great purchase!

For fans of classic cinema, The Shop Around the Corner is also known as being the 1st in a line of remakes: In the Good Old Summertime (1949) starring Van Johnson and Judy Garland and, of course, You've Got Mail (1998) starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Based on a Hungarian theatrical play from 1937, The Shop Around the Corner takes place in Budapest and, remarkably, has nothing to do with World War II. Instead, it follows the love lives of two shop employees, Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan). Each of them has been a letter correspondent to an individual who placed an advertisement in the newspaper desiring to correspond about social, literary, and intellectual interests. Naturally, the two are corresponding with one another! A fact made more amusing because in real life they're coworkers and can't stand each other!

The supporting cast includes: Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz), Felix Bressart, Joseph Schildkraut, William Tracy, and Sara Haden. A fine collection of actors offering both additional comic relief and serious drama and the reality of pain involved with infidelity.

There's something so utterly romantic about true love developing through letters. There is so much power in the written word. So much potential to share an intimate part of oneself so completely that the other person knows you fully. That is the love story in The Shop Around the Corner. Alfred and Klara dislike one another, sort of, in the real world, but that's only because the intimacy they've shared on the written page is not the same sort of intimacy one shares in the everyday, with coworkers and acquaintances. It's no wonder that neither of them suspected the other was their letter correspondent. In the day-to-day encounters, all they saw was the external while the letters allowed a glimpse of the internal. Two entirely different things.

Every once in awhile, classic Hollywood really delivered a winner . . . like The Shop Around the Corner. If you're at all familiar with James Stewart than you know he thrives on sharp, snappy dialogue. After all, he was my favorite part of The Philadelphia Story. So if there's one thing Samson Raphaelson is able to deliver it's that snappy dialogue associated with sophisticated romantic comedies of the eras. The pairing of Raphaelson' script and Stewart's acting is supremely brilliant. Frank Morgan remains a long-time favorite of mine, every since I saw him as the wizard in The Wizard of Oz. As for Margaret Sullavan, I've never seen her in any other role, but I liked her performance well enough that I want to test some of her other roles.

I honestly couldn't tell you why I didn't care for The Shop Around the Corner the first time I saw it, but I can say that I love it now. It's one of the most vibrant and delightful films of that transitional period between the 1930s and 1940s, a gem delivered by director Ernst Lubitsch.

While I already know this version is my favorite of the 3 films made from this story, I'll be watching In the Good Old Summertime and You've Got Mail sometime in the next couple of months, so stay tuned.

And if you've never seen The Shop Around the Corner, there's no time like the present! ❤ 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Robert Downey Jr. - The Futurist

The world can be so unkind to dreamers.

Five years ago I was about as anti Robert Downey Jr. as you could get. Iron Man? Get outta town! Sherlock Holmes? Over my dead body!

Now, knowing what I do of his life, of his struggle with drug abuse, of his remarkable comeback, he's starting to speak to my soul. This is a man whose father started giving him illegal drugs when he was EIGHT YEARS OLD. Who does that? What kind of normal life can someone have when drugs have always been a part of their identity, from the time they were a small child? There's a quote from RDJ when he was arrested in 1999 for drug possession, where he tells a judge, "It's like I've got a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal." Proof that he doesn't need a scriptwriter for his words to make an impact.

What changed?

It takes a survivor to admit they need help . . . to reach out for that help. Which is what RDJ did. He told Oprah Winfrey in 2004, "when someone says, 'I really wonder if maybe I should go to rehab?' Well, uh, you're a wreck, you just lost your job, and your wife left you. Uh, you might want to give it a shot." He realized he couldn't keep doing it anymore. The drugs were destroying his career, his personal life, and his individuality as a performer. Manic individuals on drugs burn bright for a second and then die. RDJ didn't want that person to be him.

2003 saw the beginnings of a comeback for him, mostly due to a lot of support by Mel Gibson. Does that surprise anyone other than me? Because I was shocked. Sorry Mel. Semi-Indie films were RDJ's career for awhile followed by a supporting role in Zodiak which is pretty phenomenal and then, of course, 2008 saw the birth of the Iron Man franchise. The rest, as they say, is movie-making history.

But between 2003 and the rest of his life, RDJ released something I only just now discovered . . . an album called The Futurist published in 2004. Did you even know he could sing? I sure didn't. Did you know he could play the piano? Again with the nada. As if the singing and the piano playing wasn't enough of a shocker, he was also the lyricist for 8 out of the 10 songs on the album. Crazy, I know!

The Futurist is like nothing I've ever heard. My vision of RDJ includes Black Sabbath t-shirts courtesy of Tony Stark. So I wasn't expecting the Folk/Blues/Indie/Country sound that he dished out in The Futurist. My first time through the album had me mildly enthralled. Those of you who know me know that I tend to watch favorite things repetitively and the same goes for my music. My third time through The Futurist, I was head over heels in love with it. Some songs have more meaning than others and some are almost country ballads, but Broken and The Futurist and Details are pretty astounding.