11/22/12: Father’s Little Dividend

“I’d like to say a few words about what’s happened to Stanley Banks over the past year. You women may not sympathize, but you know how it is, men: He worked hard for years & right when he was on top of the world, they let him have it!”

Father’s Little Dividend is Vincente Minnelli’s sequel to his 1950 movie Father of the Bride. That movie was about a middle-aged man reflecting on his emotions as his daughter was about to get married. One year later, he released Father’s Little Dividend. In the sequel, the same man is looking back as his daughter is pregnant & then has her baby. The principles are all the same: Spencer Tracy is Stanley Banks; his daughter, Kay, is played by Elizabeth Taylor; Joan Bennett plays his wife Ellie; and his son-in-law, Buckley, is Don Taylor. Stanley loves his daughter dearly but is just not ready to be someone’s “Grandpa”! The paternal grandparents-to-be, Herbert & Doris Dunstan (Moroni Olsen & Billie Burke), round out the main characters in this fun, family friendly comedy about aging gracefully. 12 years earlier, Burke was Glinda the Good Witch of the North, the role that made her a star even though earlier in 1939 she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress as Emily Kilbourne in Merrily We Live.

  

Ms. Burke is not the only connection that Father’s Little Dividend has to The Wizard of Oz, however. It starred the immortal Judy Garland. Does anyone know who her second husband was? That’s correct, the Director of Father’s Little Dividend and Liza Minnelli’s father, Vincente. The couple divorced exactly one week before Dividend’s L.A. release. Vincente, by the way, won the Best Director Academy Award for Gigi in ‘59 and was nominated in ’52 for An American in Paris. Quite a talented family, wouldn’t you say? The cinematography is today’s feature is excellent, especially considering it was shot in just 22 days. Minnelli was renowned for framing his cast in poignant scenes & close-ups. Watch closely: He uses this technique with Spencer & Liz or Bennett on several occasions in Dividend. As usual, we’ll have a brief discussion following the movie.

Father’s Little Dividend’s screenplay was written by Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich. They were nominated for 4 Writing Oscars – all for films on which they collaborated, including Father of the Bride. Spencer Tracy was nominated for an amazing 9 Oscars, all for Best Actor, winning twice: In 1938 for Captains Courageous at the 10th Academy Awards; and the following year for his memorable performance as Father Flanagan in Boys Town. He was that rare breed of actor that continued to get leading roles well past his prime. He received a Best Actor nomination posthumously in ’68 for his final role as Matt Drayton in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Liz was nominated for 5 Oscars, all Best Actress, and she also won twice: In 1961 at the 33rd Academy Awards for BUtterfield 8; and 6 years later as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. She was also the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Academy Award in 1993 at the 65th Oscars.

As you can tell, today’s feature has pedigree. I’ve linked it below, so give it a watch. I promise you won’t be disappointed! 3 Stars.

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11/14/12: Honeydripper

“Possum got the second oldest electric guitar ever made. The Devil got the first!”

The 2007 musical drama Honeydripper, written & directed by John Sayles, takes place in 1950 in Harmony AL. It’s the story of Tyrone “Pine Top” Purvis, played wonderfully by Danny Glover, and his Honeydripper Lounge – a live blues club in big financial trouble. Many of Harmony’s younger residents work as cotton pickers and hang out at the club next to Honeydripper, Toussaint’s Ace of Spades. It has a new juke box & a craps table, but no live music. In the film’s opening sequence, local blues legend Bertha Mae is performing for just a few people at Honeydripper while Toussaint’s is jumping. Bertha Mae is played by Mable John who, in 1959, became the first woman signed by Barry Gordy. Gordy, whose mother’s name was perhaps not coincidentally Bertha, founded Motown Records a year later.

    

Pine Top is willing to try anything to save the club. He tells his best friend Maceo (Charles S. Dutton) that he plans to hire Guitar Sam, the biggest act in New Orleans, for the upcoming weekend. Meanwhile, a young guitarist named Sonny (Gary Clark. Jr.) arrives in Harmony. The next morning he meets the ubiquitous blind guitarist, Possum, characterized fantastically by 3 time GRAMMY winner Keb’ Mo’. A couple other noteworthy performances in Honeydripper: Stacy Keach plays racist Sheriff Pugh; and YaYa DaCosta is China Doll, Pine Top’s stepdaughter & Sonny’s love interest.

The music in Honeydripper is excellent! There’s a great vamp of the folk song Stagger Lee by Keb’ Mo’ – the song was first recorded by Herb Wiedoeft’s Cinderella Roof Orchestra in 1924, made famous by Lloyd Price in ’59, and became an underground legend in 1978 when the Grateful Dead muddied the waters with their rewrite of it. Gary Clark, Jr. leads an a cappella version of the folk song Midnight Special, the most popular versions of which are by Lead Belly in ‘34 & Creedence Clearwater Revival in ’69. And when a liquor delivery truck pulls up to Honeydripper, you can hear Hank Williams’ Move It On Over playing on its radio. That site is less than 50 yards from Hank Williams’s home in Greenville AL when he was 11.

Honeydripper is an enjoyable motion picture with good acting & great music. While it is a bit predictable, it’s worth a watch for the music alone. 3 Stars!

11/8/12: Happy Go Lovely

“I’m B.G. Marino. The B.G. stands for Paul.” Bruce Humberstone’s 1951 romantic musical comedy Happy Go Lovely, while not a musical per se, does include quite a few excellent song & dance numbers.

Happy Go Lovely takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland of the time, and stars the one of Britain’s most versatile actors of the era, David Niven: He won the Best Actor Oscar in 1959 at the 31st Academy Awards for his portrayal of Major Pollack in Delbert Mann’s romance, Separate Tables; he’s been James Bond (1967’s Casino Royale); co-starred in the World War II drama The Guns of Navarone; played the notorious jewel thief The Phantom in Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther & 2 of his sequels; spoofed The Thin Man in Murder by Death; and been in countless romantic comedies, including playing Godfrey in Henry Koster’s remake of Gregory La Cava’s classic, My Man Godfrey.

                

In Happy Go Lovely, Niven plays as B.G. Bruno, the richest man in all of Scotland. The city is preparing for its illustrious, annual Edinburgh Festival. A traveling repertoire company is in town, under the direction of John Frost, played wonderfully by Cesar Romero. You might remember him as The Joker from the 60’s TV show, Batman. Frost hopes to have his show, Frolics to You, ready for the Festival’s opening but he’s having trouble getting backers so the show has financial problems. He keeps losing his set because the set designer & owner, Mr. Jonskill (John Laurie), keeps taking it back – well almost taking it back, but Frost keeps smooth-talking him out of it at the last minute. The cast too is feeling the financial pinch, and its star quit. Frost replaces her with chorus dancer Janet Jones, played by female lead Vera-Ellen, while he connives to meet & get funding from Bruno. Vera is best known for her role as Judy in the great master Michael Curtiz’s White Christmas.

As I said, Happy Go Lovely has some great song & dance numbers. They’re incorporated as part of Frolics to You.  The songs were arranged by Angela Morley, a role for which she was not credited. She’d go on to be nominated for 2 Oscars for Song Scoring in the 70’s: In 1975 at the 47th Academy Awards for the title song to The Little Prince; and 3 years later for The Slipper & the Rose Waltz from The Slipper & the Rose – The Story of Cinderella. The Musical Director of Lovely was Louis Levy. He worked with Hitchcock on 9 different motion pictures, including the original The Man Who Knew Too Much, Sabotage, and The 39 Steps. Whether it’s mere coincidence (as if something as awesome as coincidence could possibly be described as ‘mere’) or intentional, there is a definite The 39 Steps connection to Happy Go Lovely. John Laurie was in 2 of Hitch’s movies, including The 39 Steps; and Wylie Watson, who plays the Stage Door Keeper in Lovely, was also in 2 Hitchcock films and he has the important role of Mr. Memory in The 39 Steps.

        

I recommend you watch David Niven in Bruce Humberstone’s Happy Go Lovely when you have an hour & a half or so to spare. It’s yet another very good golden age romantic comedy, but with a stage musical within a romantic comedy “play within a play” bonus. I’ve included it below in its entirety but, unfortunately, I couldn’t find a streamable version of it that was both complete & commercial free. So this one includes ads. 3 Stars!

10/31/12: My Dear Secretary

“Is this an informal romantic comedy? Or shall I bathe?”

Charles Martin’s My Dear Secretary was the incredible Kirk Douglas’ sixth motion picture, and the first in which he was the male lead & received top billing. Nine years later he would play one of his most memorable roles, World War I French Colonel Dax, under the direction of Stanley Kubrick in Paths of Glory – considered to be one of the greatest anti-war films of all time. The collaboration was repeated three years later in Spartacus when Douglas, as Executive Producer, replaced the originally selected Anthony Mann as Director with Kubrick.

In My Dear Secretary, Kirk Douglas plays Owen Waterbury, a noted author whose most recent novel, Last Year’s Love, made the best-sellers list. He’s a playboy & a sexist with a gambling problem who goes through secretaries almost as fast as he does his book advances at the track. One evening, while giving a lecture to writing students at the Kilbride School, he announces his plan to hire one of the students as his personal secretary. His best friend & Personnel Manager, Ronnie (played by journeyman Keenan Wynn), accompanied Waterbury to the lecture. When Waterbury announces the opening, Ronnie offers it to the cute blond he’s been flirting with via a comment on her notebook. Owen couldn’t ask for a better friend than Ronnie. But as a Personal Assistant, he’s horrible: He encourages Owen’s philandering; he scorches more shirts than he presses; and his culinary creations are a better formula for weight loss than the Mayo Clinic Diet.  The blond, of course, is the film’s leading lady & love interest. Stephanie ‘Steve’ Gaylord is Laraine Day, best known for her starring role as Carol in Hitchcock’s 6 Oscar nominated classic, Foreign Correspondent. Steve’s great ambition is to be a great writer like her hero, Owen Waterbury. But her idea of a writer’s secretary involves shorthand, typing & scheduling; not laundry, cleaning, dancing & kissing. Two other performances of note: Florence Bates is Waterbury’s landlady, Horrible Hannah; and his maid, Mary, is Irene Ryan. You’ll recognize her as a still middle-aged Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies.

    

Although Kirk Douglas was nominated for 3 Academy Awards, he never won a performance Oscar. However, in 1996, at the 68th Oscars, he was given an Honorary Academy Award ‘for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community’. The lovely soundtrack behind My Dear Secretary was composed by two-time Oscar nominee Heinz Roemheld. He composed or co-composed the music for over 200 films. In 1943, at the 15th Academy Awards, he shared the Best Score Oscar with the great Ray Heindorf for Michael Curtiz’s Yankee Doodle Dandy which starred James Cagney as George M. Cohan. Heindorf & Roemheld were awarded the Oscar even though neither was included in Yankee Doodle’s credits.

So if you want a little glimpse into an era when romantic comedies were consistently good, Charles Martin’s My Dear Secretary starring Kirk Douglas is included below in its entirety. I give it 3 Stars. But if you’d rather see it on the big screen, I’ll be hosting it at Rave Cinemas Buckland Hills, Manchester CT on Monday November 5, 2012 at 1:00. The film is just $3 and includes a small popcorn & soft drink. “And now, as I promised you, our guest speaker today will be none other than Owen Waterbury.”