Sullivan's Travels

April 18, 2015

The Film Forum in NYC is having a Preston Sturges festival at the moment, so me and Nicole made a trip into the city to see Sullivan's Travels on the big screen! We were originally planning on seeing Christmas in July, Easy Living and Remember the Night as well but some scheduling conflicts arose and we had to narrow it down to one movie. It ended up being a blessing in disguise though because after we shifted our schedules around we ended up being in the right place at the right time -- we ran into Jane Krakowski in a little stationery shop while we were in New York! Me and Nicole are both big fans of 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt so we were pretty excited! I'm sure I seemed crazy, raving about 30 Rock as if my life revolved around it (it does) but I feel like it's such a rare privilege to be able to tell someone you admire how much you love their work.

But, enough gushing about modern tv -- this is a classic movie blog, after all ;)

Sullivan's Travels is one of my all time favorite movies. I tend to use the phrase "favorite movie" liberally, but in this case it really is in my top 5, and it has been since I blogged about it way back when I first started Silents and Talkies in 2009. It was one of those rare posts where I actually wrote about the meaning behind the movie and its place in cinema history rather than just going on and on about how much I love it. Honestly everything I would want to say about the movie was already said in that post, so if you want you can check it out here.

The movie-going experience itself was absolutely perfect. The audience responded in the correct ways (laughing at funny scenes, dead silence during the sad scenes) which (as I've blogged about numerous times before) can sometimes be a problem at The Film Forum. It seems to me like the audiences have behaved better during afternoon or morning screenings, so I'm going to try to schedule my visits accordingly from now on and see if that helps.

I'm not sure what it is about seeing movies in theaters, but emotionally I seem to respond more than I would if I was watching at home. Sullivan's Travels is technically a comedy, but its depiction of human suffering is as heartbreaking as any of the dramas from the same era. While it has always moved me during the countless times I popped in the dvd at home, this time I was fighting back tears. By the same token, I think I laughed harder at the humorous scenes and I even appreciated Veronica Lake's performance more than I ever have before. There's something about her delivery, especially in her first scene in the film, that is just so perfect I can't even describe it.

Basically, I just felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for the movie, an actual desire to give the movie a big hug and say "Thank you, Thank you!" I almost wish I could run into the movie in a little stationery shop and pour my heart out to the movie, tell it how much I loved it and how important it was to me.

Gambit (1966) aka my one true love

March 18, 2015

Let's file this under "movies that I had on dvd but never watched because I am a stupid, stupid fool." Part of me is a little bummed that it took me so long to finally watch it, thus depriving myself of a really fun movie to rewatch over and over again -- probably costing myself at least a dozen viewings over the last few years. But part of me is really excited to have found Gambit this late in the game. It seems like very few new-to-me classic movies knock my socks off these days. I've already discovered most of my tried-and-true favorites by now and nothing new ever seems to impress me enough to share space on my All Time Favorites list with Sunday in New York and Doctor Zhivago.

As you can probably tell, Gambit has made The List. I have NO idea how it eluded me for so long but I finally watched it today and I am so ridiculously smitten. I want to write it love letters and send it flowers. I want to take it for long walks on the beach and buy it dinner. I really, really like it, you guys.

Our meet cute almost didn't happen -- I wanted to watch Cry Wolf (A spooky Barbara Stanwyck movie with Errol Flynn not being a pirate) but the DVD was missing. So I started flipping through my DVD binder and came across The Happy Thieves, an art heist movie starring Rex Harrison and Rita Hayworth. Which reminded me how much I really love movies about stealing art. Which led me to search for more movies of that sort on google. Which is how I found Gambit.

I won't give much away (even though the poster encourages you to go ahead and spill the ending) but suffice to say, it's about an art heist. Michael Caine plays the criminal mastermind, fluctuating between effortlessly suave and slightly peevish. Shirley MacLaine is his partner in crime. If you're watching this for the first time and think she's being wasted as merely arm candy in the beginning, just stick around and you'll be pleasantly surprised. I promise.

Gambit reminded me a lot of one of the veterans on my All Time Favorites list, How to Steal a Million. I don't throw that comparison around lightly, and it's not just because their plots are both centered around thefts of priceless works of art. They have a similar pace, their stars have great chemistry, the actual heists leave you biting your nails with suspense, and the twists are fun and unexpected. And much like How to Steal a Million, I can see myself watching Gambit dozens of times and enjoying it completely each and every time.

I'm not sure if this is as funny out of context, but I found this one exchange from the movie so funny. Michael Caine's delivery is just so perfect, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be one of those lines that I quote at random moments for the rest of my life -- "Always interested in seeing something extraordinary."

My Six Loves (1963)

March 16, 2015

One of the movies I watched for my Pi Day themed marathon was My Six Loves, a comedy-ish movie starring Debbie Reynolds, Cliff Robertson and David Janssen. Let's be real, the main only reason I picked this for my no. 6 film was Cliff Robertson. It's one of those "I'll watch anything -- and I mean ANYTHING -- just because so and so is in it" kind of things. Not to sound like a crotchety old hag, but movies about bands of children aren't usually my cup of tea. They need to be accompanied by a dashingly handsome Cliff Robertson or maybe a debonair Dirk Bogarde in order for me to buckle down and watch.

And buckle down I did. Cliff Robertson's gravely voice was absolutely the best part, as it always is (oh, and he wears one of Debbie Reynolds' floral robes at one point - and still looks ridiculously fetching, I might add) I'd give this movie 5 out of 5 stars if I was rating it on Cliff Robertson's voice alone. What can I say, I love a good gravel. However, this movie also had a plot and characters and once I factor those in my rating drops considerably.

There are some movies with elements of sexism that I can conveniently overlook for the purposes of entertainment. I wince a bit when Jane Fonda's character casually accepts the fact that she'll be giving up her job as soon as she's married to Robert Culp in Sunday in New York but it's still my favorite movie. My Six Loves came out the same year as SINY, 1963, but its sexism seems more dated and more prevalent. It's an obvious message to "career girls" that you'll never be happy, truly happy, until you have a husband and some young-ins' to look after. It isn't even remotely subtle about the message, either. [spoiler alert] Debbie Reynolds is struggling between returning to the stage where she’s had a successful career since she was 14 years old, or staying in the country to raise 6 orphans with the local preacher (who can totally date, no chastity to be found here) played by Cliff Robertson. For a few brief moments, she decides on Broadway — returning to the great white way to begin work on a new play. But then our gravely voiced preacher bursts into rehearsals to tell Debbie that one of the orphans has run away, and she needs to come back to look for him. When trying to explain why Debbie needs to return, he not-so-delicately states that “She’s a woman. It’s about time she acted like one.” Ok, now this is where any thinking, rational modern lady would be like “WHAT THE WHAT?!” Um, even in 1963 I’m pretty sure you were just as much a woman if you were working on a career, looking after a household, or doing both. But being a movie still firmly grounded in 1950’s morality, Debbie naturally agrees. “I MUST GO TO THE CHILDREN! AND RECLAIM MY WOMANHOOD!,” she doesn’t say, but definitely implies. [spoiler over]

Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s my frame of mind or the movie itself that dictates how sensitive I am to sexist overtones in film. Like I said, Sunday in New York isn’t the most progressive feminist movie but I still find it hilarious and watch it way more than any normal person should. Maybe I just didn’t find My Six Loves funny enough, so I picked up on the serious dialogue a little more than I would otherwise. Or maybe I just haven’t watched enough movies from 1963 and I have some serious misconceptions about how much movies were still shaming women who didn’t want to be housewives at the time.

Either way, this is one movie where the sexism seemed a little too heavy handed and prevented me from really enjoying the movie. I will add though that David Janssen’s character was pretty cool (when they’re tying to figure out where one of the children would have run away to, Janssen remarks “Miami if he’s got any sense.” He also sat on a picnic blanket in a suit-and-tie, drinking champagne and looking amused at the goings-on around him. I can see why Millie is smitten.) and also I’ll give some (not a lot) points for Debbie Reynolds seeming to genuinely want to be a career girl, even if biology and society and everything else in the world was conspiring against it.

All that being said, movies are always products of the time in which they were made. I don’t expect 2015 morals in a 1963 film. But sometimes it’s tough to throw all of your modern sensitivities out the window when you’re watching classic movies. And it’s difficult to hear the words “She’s a woman. It’s about time she acted like one.” even when those words are uttered by the most gloriously gravely voice there ever was.

Pi Day movie marathon

March 09, 2015

If you're a fan of Pi Day, then you already know that this year is pretty exciting. Usually Pi Day occurs on the date that represents the first three digits of pi -- 3/14. But THIS year, the date will be 3/14/15. And at 9:26:53 it will be the only time in our lives that the date and time will coincide with the first 10 digits of pi. Pretty exciting stuff!!

On 3/14/15 I'll be in Princeton celebrating -- my beloved hometown goes all-out for Pi Day since it's also the birthday or our most famous resident, Albert Einstein. But on Sunday, I'm going to extend the celebration with a pi-themed movie marathon! I thought I'd share my picks here in case you'd like to join me in my possibly-pathetic devotion to this mathematical holiday!

Here are some alternate picks in case you don't have access to these movies (also, you can use one of the other options for 5 and 3 if you want to do 10 digits of pi instead of 8, but that'll make for an even longer marathon)

1: One More Tomorrow, One Foot in Heaven, And One Was Beautiful, One Man's Journey, One Sunday Afternoon

2: The Two Mrs. Carrolls, Between Two Worlds, A Tale of Two Cities, Breakfast for Two, Trouble for Two, Two Women, Two for the Road

3: The Three Faces of Eve, A Letter to Three Wives, Sergeants 3, Three Godfathers, Three Comrades, These Three

4: Four Men & A Prayer, Four Wives, Four Mothers, Four's A Crowd

5: Five Star Final, Five Fingers, Five Miles to Midnight, Five Graves to Cairo, Five Came Back

6: My Six Convicts, With Six You Get Eggroll, The Deep Six, Six of a Kind

9: The Man With Nine Lives, Nine Girls

Happy Pi Day! :)

The Dark Mirror (1946)

February 08, 2015

Have you ever heard of seasonal affective disorder? If you get very down-in-the-dumps every February when winter seems like it'll just never end, that's SAD. I, however, seem to come down with SCD, seasonal cinema disorder. Okay, I invented the term but I'm pretty sure it's a real thing. Whenever fall rolls around I always feel a sudden urge to watch ALL THE HORROR MOVIES EVER. In the summer, on hot balmy days when everything seems to be moving slower than usual, I feel a strong compulsion to marathon frothy 60's comedies. And in the dead of winter when daylight lasts for two hours tops, and the chill in the air cuts straight to your bone, well, that my friends is film noir time.

Today I watched the psychological film noir, The Dark Mirror, starring Olivia de Havilland and Lew Ayres. I've had this on DVD for years and somehow never got around to watching it until now. Which is absolutely crazy -- how do you have this movie in your collection and not watch it immediately: Lew Ayres. Film Noir. Olivia de Havilland playing twins. LEW AYRES.

I really love when classic movies delve into twindom. It's so fun to watch one person playing two different roles in the same film and (for the most part) the scenes in which both girls are in the same frame are so seamless that it's absolutely remarkable considering the technology that was available at the time. It's not like they had computers in the 1940's to just cut+paste one Olivia de Havilland next to the other Olivia de Havilland.

I wouldn't say this movie was exceptional (as far as film noirs go, it's no Laura) but it was very enjoyable and I didn't predict the twists. Lew Ayres was his usual wonderful self playing a Dr. Kildare-esque psychiatrist who specializes in the study of twins. That comes in handy when twins Ruth and Terry are caught up in a murder investigation and the detective needs somebody to help figure out if one of them might be guilty.

The one thing that really set this movie apart was the way in which they differentiated between Olivia de Havilland's two characters, Ruth and Terry. In most twin movies, the girls will have completely different looks, or one will have a mole, or their hairstyles will be different, etc. In The Dark Mirror, Ruth and Terry look exactly the same. They dress the same in almost every scene in which they are together. They wear the same hairstyle. Even their nightgowns match! The one thing that helps you to tell them apart is their jewelry, and it's pretty awesome.

All of their belongings are monogrammed, even the compacts they carry in their handbags. And they have matching monogram brooches to wear when they aren't sporting their insanely wonderful name necklaces. If there was an award for "Best Use of Telling Twins Apart in a Motion Picture" this would win, hands down.

Laura (1944) and musings on movie-going

January 24, 2015

A few years ago someone asked me what my favorite movie-going experience had been, and I couldn't name even one that I had really enjoyed. Being a classic film fan with limited access to independent theaters meant that my experiences had been few, and unfortunately the disrespectful audiences meant that those few experiences had all been pretty bad. And then 2014 happened.

Last year I saw some of my favorite movies on the big screen (I still think I dreamed it -- pinch me?!) like Dr. Zhivago, Young and Innocent and Sunday in New York. I went to the TCM Film Festival and enjoyed every film surrounded by moviegoers with an equal (or possibly even more fervent) reverence for classic movies. My local theater, The Garden in Princeton, came under new management and started playing classic movies. (Seriously, am I dreaming?) All told, last year I managed to see 17 classics on the big screen. And with the exception of a mildly disrespectful crowd at the Film Forum (the original Japanese Godzilla isn't funny, what is the matter with people?) I enjoyed every one of those experiences immensely.

All that to say -- if I was asked the question again, if I had to choose my favorite movie-going experience now, with 16 great ones under my belt, my visit to The Garden this week to see Laura would definitely be it.*

Until last year, I always thought that the best way to watch a movie was at home, preferably in pajamas, surrounded by cats and junk food (or, more accurately, some form of potatoes.) But now I'm officially a big-screen convert. Why is it that a movie flickering on my 30" tv screen can impress me, but the same movie displayed in 52' Cinemascope can knock my socks off? Why is it that when I hear biting dialogue at home I giggle, but that same dialogue blasting through surround sound speakers gives me a full-on belly laugh?

Laura has been one of my favorite movies for a long time (thank you, intense Dana Andrews phase circa 2008) and I've seen it more times than I could count. I've always thought Clifton Webb's dialogue was absolutely hilarious, and I swoon (oh, how I swoon) when Dana Andrews is on screen. But seeing it at the movies was like seeing it for the first time. I knew all of the twists and turns, and yet they surprised me. The dialogue was as familiar to me as an old friend and yet it passed through my ears as if it were a new acquaintance. And.. let's just say swooning intensifies when the apple of your eye is 20' tall.

I can't say anything about Laura that hasn't already been said. It's a film noir masterpiece. It's beautiful, suspenseful, clever, witty, dark, slightly twisted and very addictive. Maybe I've been spending too much time binge watching things on Netflix (I have) but I felt myself wanting to play the next episode when the movie was over, desperately wishing that this wasn't the end. Of course the good thing about good movies is that, despite their lack of a second episode, they're ripe for re-watching over and over. And if this experience has taught me anything, it's that you're never so familiar with a movie that you can't enjoy it as much as you did the first time around. Especially if you're seeing it at the movies.

*That is, if I hadn't seen Sunday in New York on the big screen, introduced by Robert Osborne in person, accompanied by my very best friends in the whole world. Nothing else will ever top that. But saying Laura is my second-favorite would have been kind of anti-climactic, sooo...

Also, oops, I just realized my title has almost the same name as Laura's blog

Looking for classic film bloggers to review a book!

August 27, 2014

Hi! Long time no see!

Earlier this year I designed a book cover for Darkness Descends on Princeton, a 1930's murder mystery. It's a new book that takes place in 1939 Princeton, full of intrigue, suspense and (here's the kicker!) a bunch of classic Hollywood character actors. Among the "cast" is Charles Coburn, Peter Lorre, Edna May Oliver, Guy Kibbee, Donald Meek and more. It was written with the idea that reading it would be like watching a 1930's movie with all of your favorite actors in brand new roles.

I know the author and designed the cover but I don't think I'm biased -- it's seriously a great book. It's well written and I think the concept is brilliant & perfectly executed!

It's available on amazon here, but I'm looking for classic film bloggers who would be interested in receiving a free copy for review. If you'd like a free copy, just send me an email at slightlyterrific [at] with a link to your blog, letting me know if you'd like an e-book or a printed copy. If you'd like a printed copy please include your address as well.

A New Hope

June 29, 2014

Yesterday me and Kyle went to see Star Wars at The Film Forum in New York. He dressed up like Darth Vader and I did my best impression of a 1960's storm trooper.

I was originally trying to channel c3po with a gold glittery dress that's tucked away in my closet and hardly ever gets to see the light of day, but without any other accessories I just looked like I was going to a fancy party. After lots of last-minute closet rummaging I put this together and I was pretty happy with how it turned out! Once I stood next to Kyle... er.. Darth Vader.. I think it was more obvious that I was supposed to be a storm trooper.

It was really fun seeing Star Wars on the big screen. My experiences at the Film Forum tend to be really hit or miss. I'd say about half of the screenings I've attended have had wonderful, respectful audiences. When I went to see Dr. Zhivago two weeks ago you could have heard a pin drop in the theater. It was wonderful! When I saw the original Japanese Godzilla back in April, everyone was horribly disrespectful and kept laughing at things that weren't even remotely funny. If you've seen the Japanese version you know that it's a lot more serious and less B-movie than the American version. It didn't deserve that kind of reception.

Star Wars fell somewhere in between. Obviously a lot of Han Solo's lines deserve a little chuckle, but people seemed to be laughing AT the movie, not at the funny lines in the movie (if that makes sense?) I mean serious stuff, like when poor little r2d2 is damaged towards the end. I thought Star Wars would have been immune from this kind of thing?? It didn't ruin the screening for me like the Godzilla audience did, but it was still really annoying.

After the movie we decided to take advantage of Kyle's costume to get some photos around the city. We ended up walking to a lot of the major tourist attractions for a little series of Darth Vader going sight-seeing. My personal favorite was his selfie in Times Square, ha!

Torn Curtain (1966)

June 10, 2014

I consider myself a pretty big Alfred Hitchcock fan, and I think I've seen almost all of his movies, give or take a few silents... and Torn Curtain. I'm not entirely sure how it eluded me all these years but, until this week, I had never seen it. I've always heard that it wasn't too great, so I popped it into my DVD player with incredibly low expectations. And I was pleasantly surprised!

I thought it got off to a slow start and didn't really grab hold of me until we - the audience - were fully informed about what was going on. I've always thought that was one of the best trademarks of a Hitchcock movie, that you're aware of things that the main characters aren't. You know that there's a murderer about to whip back the shower curtain, but Janet Leigh has NO IDEA. Once I was in the know, though, I thought the movie was incredibly suspenseful and classically Hitchcockian.

The movie stars Paul Newman (the obsession continues) and Julie Andrews as an engaged pair of scientists about to attend a conference in Copenhagen. Paul Newman's character starts acting kind of fishy and before Julie Andrews can say "iron curtain" she's caught in an unexpectedly traitorous predicament. And that is when the movie starts to get really good.

Honestly there was a part of me that was just like "Oh my gosh, Paul Newman, just tell your finance what you're up to and end this charade! For the love of God just tell her already!" Secrecy as a plot device is always a major pet peeve for me. Of course, a lot of movies depend on misunderstandings or confusion to move the plot forward, so honesty might not always be the best policy when it comes to screenwriting. There were several moments in Torn Curtain where the suspense rested completely on the lack of communication between Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. It definitely added a layer of anxiety to the first hour or so of the movie, but it's still very annoying that Newman's character would hide such a ridiculously important secret from someone who was his intellectual equal, and his partner in life.

Unnecessary secrecy aside, Torn Curtain way exceeded my expectations. Maybe it's because my expectations were so low that I was able to enjoy it so much, or maybe it's just a really great, underrated movie that deserves a second look. Either way, I think it's definitely worth a watch. Oh, and (to ruin what could have been a perfectly serious review) Paul Newman is shirtless again, so there's that. ;)

It's available to rent on amazon here.

The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (1957)

June 07, 2014

This probably seems contrary to what everyone who knows me would think, but initially I was put off by the title of The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown. I thought it might be one of those comedies that was a little silly, a little fluffy, but not really funny. Boy, am I glad I decided to watch it anyway. For several reasons --

The movie is actually hilarious, heartwarming and really cute. Jane Russell plays an over-the-top movie star/sex symbol who gets kidnapped on the night of a big premiere. Her kidnappers don't seem to know what the heck they're doing, so Jane Russell helps them out. At the beginning it seems like an obvious spoof on the big-name blonde stars of the era, but her performance becomes much more down-to-earth as the movie wears on. Even 60 years ago people still needed reminding that film stars are humans, just like us.

Jane Russell's costar in the movie is Ralph Meeker. His name rang a bell because a couple years ago, Millie went through a crazy Ralph Meeker phase and I'd been meaning to (with obviously little determination) see one of his movies ever since. And now I get it. I absolutely, totally, 100% get why she went bananas over this guy. He's kind of like a rougher version of Frank Sinatra, without the singing. He was ridiculously perfect playing the slightly inept, but well-meaning kidnapper. After The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown I kind of binge-watched every Ralph Meeker movie I could get my hands on this week. Me and Millie watched Kiss Me Deadly on Wednesday and it's mind-blowingly awesome, kind of confusing, and absolutely riveting. I'd write a review of that one too (because, really, you need to watch it) but Millie already wrote the best one ever right here.

But back to the movie. In addition to Jane Russell and Ralph Meeker (sigh.) it had a fantastic supporting cast, snappy dialogue and (spoiler!) with the exception of one of the last lines in the movie, Jane Russell's character was a headstrong, iron-willed (and fisted!) gal. So watch it for the laughs, the romance, the story, or Ralph Meeker's smile (mostly that last one.) but just watch it.