Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

Welcome, Classic Film Lovers!

Welcome to Sister Celluloid: Where Old Movies Go To Live! I’m so happy we found each other! Here, it’s all about classic films—and you! It’s a dialogue, not a monologue. Please take a look around, and jump in on every story that interests you. Stop by often, as I’ll be adding lots of great history, news, interviews, photos etc. And I’ll be running contests for fabulous prizes like vintage jewelry, great books and terrific DVDs and CDs! Please scroll through, dig in and pipe up! I’d love to hear from you!

TINTYPE TUESDAY: The Classic Film Ladies of Autumn

Don’t look now, but what’s that coming around the corner?

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It’s… it’s… autumn! (At least in this hemisphere.) So let’s kick it off with a few of our favorite actresses decked out in their best reds, oranges, yellows and golds.

There’s something about these pix that’s kind of anti-cheesecake: No frozen smiles to match their chilly limbs. Some of these ladies are wearing their own clothes (including Missy, getting cozy in front of her gun rack), and none seem desperate to wriggle free of them as soon as the camera stops clicking. (Teresa Wright, below in a modest plaid, was especially pin-up averse, and had it written into her contract that she “shall not be required to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in the water. ” Much more on that wry and fabulous actress—and her hilarious contract riders—here.)

Happy Autumn to my classic film family of friends! I hope these images (fittingly concluding with Queen Olivia) help you over the end-of-summer blues and inspire you to pull on your favorite fall colors. And remember: there’s a pumpkin out there with your name on it…

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TINTYPE TUESDAY is a semi-regular feature on Sister Celluloid, with fabulous classic movie pix (and often a bit of backstory!) to help you make it to Hump Day! For previous editions, just click here—and why not bookmark the page, to make sure you never miss one?

Welcome to My Classic Movie Block Party!

Warning: This post contains a lot of foul language. I usually try to steer clear of that, but in this case I honestly don’t give a f*ck. And that’s the last asterisk I’m gonna use.

If a year can be an asshole, 2020 is one. So you know what? Let’s try not to add to the assholism.

I’m talking about the stupid, silly bullshit I see on classic social media.

First of course there’s the clickbait: Why This Show Produced 70 Years Ago Offends My Narcissistic Millennial Ass, or Why Directors Who’ve Forgotten More About Movies Than I’ll Ever Know Need To Love My Comic Book Epic or Shut Up Like Forever. But there’s also the petty bad behavior.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten to the point where my fuck bag is pretty much empty; there’s just a couple of sticky grandma candies at the bottom and the fluff from some old tissue. If I feel so much as a molecule of irritation, I slap the block button like it’s a mosquito buzzing around my neck. At this point if my Twitter blocked list were a state, it would have, like, 11 electoral votes.

A few examples of my block triggers?

Gratuitious criticism. If someone posts a pic or clip of someone or something they love, you know what they don’t need? Hearing how that actor was overrated, or that actress gives you a stiff pain, or the remake was better, or that song sucks. There’s plenty of room for discussion when you’re livetweeting or just shooting the breeze back and forth. And God knows if someone says they can’t stand something I also loathe, I’m on it like a cat on tuna. (June Allyson makes me want to hang myself with a drapery cord. If you feel the same, come sit here by me!) But if somebody just innocently puts up a pic of a favorite of theirs and you hate it, just back the fuck off.

Being “corrected” when you’re right. Whoo boy, don’t get me started. I research my stories and even my social media posts pretty carefully, including through ancient sources like—gasp!—libraries. So when the “Actually” people pounce, I block them pretty fast. Oh and if I see a real mistake in someone else’s post and they follow me (which means I can message them), I always let them know privately. Doing so publicly is the social media equivalent of screaming across the room, “Hey, hon, your bra strap is hanging out!”

People who feel compelled to talk you out of your opinions. Has this worked, ever, in the history of time? I’m not talking about gamely trying to present facts to your uncle in the Fox bubble (and yeah, good luck with that). I mean when you say you love or hate an actor or film, and someone tries to “educate” you out of it. I can’t stand The Women, even though lots of my friends love it. But only one person ever tried to convince me I was “wrong” by “explaining” to me that, for instance, Rosalind Russell’s character is supposed to be broad. You don’t say so, really?!? Then I’ll just tell my migraine it’s utterly mistaken!

Cattiness. I had kind of a weird example of this recently: The glass came loose on the mirror of my old guilloche vanity set, revealing bits of old newspaper underneath, with stories about what was playing on the long-wave radio and how an 82-year-old grandmother had bobbed her hair. I posted the pix on Twitter, only to have someone comment that “sadly,” this meant the mirror was not original. (Yes because telling me this gave her a huge fucking sad.) But the newspapers were contemporaneous with the age of the set, and honestly I didn’t give a rat’s ass since I was simply sharing a fun story and not auditioning for Antiques Roadshow.

Stealing people’s stuff. Most of us, if we see something we like, will just share or retweet it. But then there are those who download the pic and repost it with a tweak, as if it were their own work. I caught someone doing this by putting a tiny black dot in a copy of a candid pic that I have the original of. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I thought maybe she wasn’t using my photo. But nope, when she posted it, there was the black dot. I’ve since learned that despite having a large following, she does this all the time. Jesus, are there people so insecure and insanely self-promoting that they can’t just retweet or share? Yes. Yes there are.

General rudeness and nastiness. In this Godzilla year, who the fuck needs more monstrousness? I not only block people who are nasty to me, but anyone who’s rude to anyone who comments on one of my posts. I’ve even blocked people who were mean to friends, on posts I wasn’t even a part of. I’m from Brooklyn; you mess with my social media family, you mess with me.

There are a zillion other examples floating around my curmudgeonly head, but thank you, my dears, for letting me vent this far. Heaven knows I’m no Pollyanna, but damn, especially these days, a little kindness goes a long way.

STREAMING SATURDAYS! Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea Find It’s TOO LATE FOR TEARS

Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed a free, fabulous movie for you to watch right here! This week it’s Byron Haskin’s noir thriller Too Late for Tears.

The film opens with a startling sight: an almost timid Lizabeth Scott.

When first we meet Jane Palmer (Scott), she and her husband Alan (Arthur Kennedy) are on their way to a party, but she’s begging him to turn the car around—fearing she’ll be the brunt of condescending comments from the hostess, “looking down her nose at me like a big, ugly house up there looks down its nose on Hollywood.”

When Alan finally relents and pulls over, a driver heading in the other direction mistakes him for a blackmailer he was due to meet, and tosses a bag of hot money into the back seat of their car. Alan is troubled, but Jane is practically vibrating with excitement—grabbing the wheel and going from zero to moll in 1.5 seconds, screeching and careening down the highway like Bonnie Parker’s blonder sister. When a cop stops them for speeding, she’s already going for the gun in the glove box until she realizes he’s not a threat. (And God help anyone who is.)

But if she’s a little fast, hubby’s a little slow. She wants to keep the cash, he wants to turn it over to the cops.

“What is it, Jane? I just don’t understand you,” he understates wildly. “I’ve tried to give you everything… everything I could.”

“You’ve given me a dozen down payments and installments for the rest of our lives,” she spits back.

Ouch.

But he still tries to pull her over to the side of the angels: “The only thing worth having is peace of mind, and money can’t buy that.” Hey buddy, have you actually met your wife?

The next day, while Alan’s at work, the actual blackmailer, Danny Fuller, drops by in the person of—who else?—Dan Duryea. He sizes her up as a schemer right away, but knows he needs her help to get the money. What he doesn’t know is how far she’ll go to keep it.

Danny threatens Jane (“I hope for your sake, beautiful, you’re not trying to soft-soap me—I wouldn’t take kindly to it.”) and even roughs her up a little, but it’s clear she’s calling the shots—and not just because she’s got the cash. She’s also got the stomach for just about anything, and he hasn’t. (You know you’re wicked when Dan Duryea is the voice of moderation.)

Danny’s shocked at just how venal Jane is—and just how much he wants her. (“Don’t ever change, tiger. I don’t think I’d like you with a heart.”) When she drags him down into her moral sewer, his self-loathing and self-awareness meet somewhere in the middle. And it’s actually pretty heartbreaking.

Even Jane is a bit taken aback by the dirty deeds she has to pull off—Why do people keep making me kill them?—but she gets over it in a hurry.

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When Alan disappears, though, she has some explaining to do. Hot, or maybe lukewarm, on her trail are Alan’s doting sister Kathy (Kristine Miller)—a mother-in-law wannabe who lives across the hall—and Don Blake (Don Defore), who claims to be Alan’s old war buddy. When these human speed bumps sidled onto the screen during the film’s original run, I’m guessing they caused a stampede to the concession stands, much as when Alan Jones started warbling arias in A Night at the Opera.

Soon we discover that Don may or may not be all he seemzzzzzzz… Oops sorry, I’m back now. Kathy and Don are just about the worst argument ever for staying on the straight and narrow. Crime may not pay, but at least it keeps you awake. And when these two bundle into their little love scene, it’s just… sad. Especially after we’ve seen Dan Duryea pretty much swallow the lower half of Lizabeth Scott’s face. (That thudding sound you hear is a woozy Breen Office censor hitting the floor.)

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I won’t give anything else away; enjoy it for yourself!

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a semi-regular feature on Sister Celluloid, bringing you free fun film! You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?

STREAMING SATURDAYS! The Fabulous Ann Sheridan Is a WOMAN ON THE RUN

Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed a free, fabulous movie for you to watch right here!

This week, Ann Sheridan and Dennis O’Keefe star in the noir thriller Woman on the Run, with star-worthy support from Robert Keith and an adorable mutt named Rembrandt.sis-womanontherun-4
Sheridan co-produced the film not long after buying out her contract from Warner Bros., where they strapped her into a series of ever-tighter sweaters and dubbed her the Oomph Girl—a nickname she detested. (“‘Oomph’ is what a fat man says when he leans over to tie his shoelace in a phone booth.”) She stars as Eleanor Johnson, a bitter, jaded wife whose husband Frank (Ross Elliott) goes on the lam after witnessing a gangland slaying. Which turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to their miserable marriage.

When an inspector (Keith) arrives at the murder scene, he asks Frank if he’s married. “In a way,” he mutters half-heartedly. And that’s actually more enthusiastic than his wife is when the cops show up at their dingy flat, where the only sign of domesticity is a cupboard full of Ken-L Ration. (Like a lot of depressives, they may have given up on their marriage, their lives and themselves, but dammit, they take care of their dog.)

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When Frank calls, Eleanor warns him that the police are tapping the line, so he hangs up and hits the road. But she soon learns from the cops—everyone seems to know more about her husband than she does—that he needs heart medicine he may not be able to survive without.

As Eleanor scours San Francisco in search of Frank, she discovers facets of his life she’d never known about: He went to the mat with his boss to save a friend’s job. He inspired a massive crush in a young secretary. He lived like Gaugin in Tahiti and Hemingway in Mexico. And he still loves his wife. That last bit of news comes as a something of a welcome shock to Eleanor. When the inspector tells her that a letter Frank wrote “sounds like a man in love,” she’s knocked a bit backwards with relief—almost allowing herself to feel hopeful. Then she leans in for a closer listen, as if she needs to hear it again.

Helping her on her quest to find her husband is noir regular O’Keefe as an obnoxious-but-charming reporter eager to snag an exclusive (and maybe Eleanor in the bargain). Sheridan has a crackly chemistry with him and with Keith, who seems to have been born craggy.

The whip-smart, cynically romantic script was written by Alan Campbell with an assist from director Norman Foster, who soaked up everything he could about mood, light and shadow from his mentor, Orson Welles. (Foster’s Journey Into Fear, featuring Welles, was so effective that Welles had to reassure skeptics he didn’t direct it himself.)

Campbell knew a thing or two about brittle, wearily witty women, having recently divorced Dorothy Parker. (They remarried afterward; film as couples therapy?) And for his part, Foster endured a rather… complicated marriage to Claudette Colbert (she lived with her mother; he didn’t).

Anyone else notice more than a passing resemblance between Foster and the guy he chose to play the husband?

Woman on the Run is lovingly shot all over San Francisco, which becomes a character in the film. And this isn’t Hitchcock’s glistening city by the bay: it’s docks and dives and dime stores, with the occasional edifying bit of architecture thrown in for good measure. (City Hall doubles as an art gallery.) The film climaxes with a harrowing chase through a spooky seaside amusement park (its one faithless locale: logistics dictated that they shoot at Ocean Park Pier in Santa Monica).

Even The New York Times‘ Bosley Crowther liked the film, kinda: “Since it never pretends to be more than it is, Woman on the Run… is melodrama of solid if not spectacular proportions. Working on what obviously was a modest budget, its independent producers may not have achieved a superior chase in this yarn about the search by the police and the fugitive’s wife for a missing witness to a gangland killing. But as a combination of sincere characterizations, plausible dialogue, suspense and the added documentary attribute of a scenic tour through San Francisco, Woman on the Run may be set several notches above the usual cops-and-corpses contributions from the Coast… will not win prizes but does make crime enjoyable.”

As usual with Crowther’s work, you’re tempted to write “he sniffed” at the end. As best I can figure, there was once some kind of annual prize for who could drip the most condescension, and he was determined to snag it every year running. But I think you’ll like Woman on the Run much more than he did.

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a semi-regular feature on Sister Celluloid, bringing you free fun film! You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?

STREAMING SATURDAYS! Donat and Dietrich Sizzle in KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR, Plus Marlene’s Home Movies!

Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed a free, fabulous movie for you to watch right here!

Today’s entry, Jacques Feyder’s Knight Without Armor, is part of the Robert Donat Blogathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. It’s a sweeping historical romance with a lot more romance than history—but not nearly as much as the leading lady would’ve liked.

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Adapted for the screen by the legendary Frances Marion from James Hilton’s 1934 novel, the film stars Robert Donat as a British journalist working undercover in the waning days of Czarist Russia, who’s tasked with escorting a princess (Marlene Dietrich) on the treacherous journey from Moscow to Petrograd so she can stand trial for crimes against the new order. But soon he’s trying to spirit his new love to safety…

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In 1937, Donat was at the height of his powers—and so stunning that Dietrich wryly joked that “the audience won’t know who to look at—him or me.” She preferred to look at him, and according to her daughter, Maria Riva, was disappointed to discover he was quite contentedly married, loving nothing more than his home and garden and waxing poetic about flowers and fertilizers. I imagine her reaction to all that talk of hollyhocks was something like this:

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But with Feyder at the helm, she needn’t have worried, even jokingly, about capturing the viewer’s gaze. Earlier, the director had wrapped his lens lovingly around Greta Garbo in her last silent movie, The Kiss, as well as her first sound film, Anna Christie, and here, Dietrich looked just as luminous. (Though making Marlene look great seems a bit like making meringue taste good.)

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To secure her services for the role of the princess, producer Alexander Korda paid Dietrich a quarter of a million dollars plus 10 percent of the gross, an especially whopping sum considering the average cost of his previous films had been around $300,000 all in. The money wasn’t an issue until Donat—already plagued by the crippling asthma that would ultimately shorten his life—was ill for long stretches, at one point causing production to be shut down for an entire month.

Korda was all set to fire him but Dietrich chivalrously fought for her knight, offering to forego her salary during any downtime. She also taught Donat a few breathing techniques that helped him get through his longer scenes. (Far from the diva she’s often portrayed as, Marlene was a total brick who risked her life to entertain the Allied troops in WWII—washing her lingerie in a helmet filled with melted snow. She was also a homebody who made a mean chocolate cake.)

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The chemistry between the co-stars absolutely crackles. And because this was a British film, unfettered by the pesky Production Code, you may need a cigarette after their scenes in the woods, including one with Dietrich curled up in Donat’s arms as he recites Browning.

“They’ll call off the search now,” he later assures her. “In a few days we can leave the forest.”

To which she purrs in soft, low tones,  “Don’t you like my forest?”

“I adore it,” he growls, followed by a long, slow kiss and a fade-out. The next morning, Dietrich is seen skinny dipping and looking quite… happy.

And on that note, here we go!

And a bonus short this week: Marlene’s 1937 home movies!! Where she’s—ahem—”accompanied by her Hollywood colleague, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.” Who was more than happy not to talk about gardening.

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a semi-regular feature on Sister Celluloid, bringing you free fun film! You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?

THE GARDEN OF ALLAH: It’s Delightful, It’s Delicious, It’s Delirious

The Garden of Allah. Oh my God this movie could not be more ridiculous. I’ve seen it four times.

The first time, I was home with the flu. And while I’m not suggesting you goose your temperature a few degrees before you watch, it couldn’t hurt. The whole thing feels like a long, languid, luscious fever-dream: Charles Boyer, Marlene Dietrich and Basil Rathbone at the height of their fabulousness, lovingly shot in color (in 1936!) by the brilliant Harold Rosson, who, along with W. Howard Greene, won an honorary Oscar for his work on the film—only the third ever shot in three-strip Technicolor.

Rosson used the skills and techniques he’d mastered in black and white to soften the tones of the Technicolor process, which required intense lighting that could render a palette harsh and even downright garish. The results are nothing short of hypnotic: you don’t so much watch this film as let it wash over you. It may be the only time in your life you ever cry out, “Good God, look at that beige!” 

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Rosson unspools such magic it almost distracts you from the storyline. For that, he should have gotten another award.

When we first meet Domini Enfilden (Dietrich), she’s moping around the convent she grew up in, where she’s now returned. As Sister Mary Backstory helpfully explains, Domini gave up many years of her life caring for her father and now that he’s gone, she’s alone and unhappy. Meanwhile in the background, the other nuns are chanting what sounds suspiciously like a Max Steiner  score…

“Why not leave the cities you have found so lonely, why not try something different?” suggests Mother Superior (Lucille Watson, shedding her usual battleaxe gear for a wimple). “Perhaps the desert…”

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And so off she goes.  On her lonely quest for spiritual renewal, Domini swans around North Africa, with no one but David O. Selznick’s entire wardrobe department to keep her company. There she meets Boris Androvsky (Boyer), an escaped Trappist monk—hey, there’s a phrase you don’t hear a lot!—who falls in love with her, and who can blame him: Dietrich plus Rosson equals some sort of exponential gorgeousness you can’t even quantify. I’d marry her just for that blue dress.

Meanwhile, Rathbone, who’s Italian for no apparent reason, lurks off in the corner, having little to do but spout profundities. (He had also been considered for Boyer’s role, but that would have denied us the chance to see him look insanely dashing in a keffiyeh.) “A man who refuses to acknowledge his god is unwise to set foot in the desert!” his Count Anteoni warns Boris, before skulking off.

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But do Boris and Domini listen? No, because “the desert calls and its voice is always heard.” (Apparently the only things that grow there are aphorisms.) They marry and set up housekeeping in a little tent or three, where they’re happy for a good ten minutes or so. But then they take in a band of soldiers seeking food and shelter, and, well, no good deed goes unpunished. Boris’s cover is blown when, at dinner one night, someone recognizes the special liqueur he used to make back at the monastery, which he’s now taken to whipping up around the house.

Spoiler alert (in case you didn’t see this one galloping toward you on a camel): Boris then realizes he must go back to the monastery (even though he’s happy as all get-out with Domini and was miserable as a monk). When last we gaze upon them (and thanks to Rosson, after an hour and a half, we are still gazing), Boris is heading inside as Domini wanly waves her silk hanky at him from the front gate. (And as silly as the whole business sounds, be sure to have a hanky or two handy yourself.)

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To stand in for the North African desert, director Richard Boleslawski scouted out Buttercup Valley, California and Yuma, Arizona, which were easier to reach but no less stifling. According to Dietrich’s daughter Maria Riva (who makes an early cameo as a convent student), during the outdoor love scenes, the heat sometimes melted the glue on Boyer’s toupee and sent it sliding down his face, taking Marlene’s make-up with it. Eventually, before each take, the ever-practical diva would pat her co-star’s head to make sure his requisite hairpiece—which he loathed and never wore off-camera—was still fixed firmly on his head.

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Under the lens of Harold Rosson, I’ll bet even the glue would have looked gorgeous. He never won a competitive Oscar, but earned nominations for five films. Ironically, only one was in color, though that was a doozy: The Wizard of Oz. He was also tapped for Boom TownThirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Bad Seed as well as The Asphalt Jungle, where his stark and gritty tone proved pivotal to John Huston’s story, which was downbeat even by noir standards. And Oscar completely overlooked his stunning work on Singin’ in the RainGentlemen Prefer Blondes and the beautiful but deeply absurd Duel in the Sun.

So thank heavens he was recognized for his work on The Garden of Allahwhich may have spelled the end of his Oscar run, but was just the beginning of an amazing career.

This article is included in The Suave Swordsman: Basil Rathbone Blogathon, hosted by Pale Writer. To see the rest of the stories, click here!

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STREAMING SATURDAYS! Claire Trevor and Fred MacMurray Drive Each Other BORDERLINE Insane

Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed free, fun movies for you! Today’s offering is part of the 110 Years of Claire Trevor Blogathon. Daylight Saving Time may render March 8 the shortest day of the year, but it still leaves you plenty of time to raise a glass to Claire on her birthday.

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From 1950, we present William Seiter’s Borderline, starring Trevor and Fred MacMurray as an undercover cop and her criminal prey, cavorting all over Mexico and falling in love along the way. It’s kind of a romance/screwball comedy/gangster flick/road movie, with a just dash of noir. (I know—that old chestnut!)

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We open in the den of underworld kingpin Pete Ritchie (Raymond Burr, in a summer suit—who knew there was that much white linen?—and matching fedora), who’s scheming to dig his greedy mitts even deeper into the drug trade. Cut to the police, who’ve been at a loss to stop him and are desperate for a break. But they’ve got a plan: send a sexy female operative out to ensnare him.

After they bat a few names around the precinct, one cop points to Madeleine Haley (Trevor), a former OSS officer now with the LAPD.

“How about her?” he asks the captain.

“Ritchie goes for tawdry, cheap-looking dames,” the boss replies.

“Well she could pass!” he blurts enthusiastically.

So nice when your colleagues have faith in you!

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And off she goes… but no sooner does she wiggle and waggle her way into Ritchie’s good graces than she’s kidnapped by Johnny (MacMurray), a hood who’s stolen a cache of drugs for a rival gang. Believing she’s Ritchie’s moll, he strongarms her off to Mexico, where he plans to sell his stash… or does he?

It’s always fun watching MacMurray, a deeply underappreciated hottie—even when he’s saddled with the world’s ugliest tie. (As well as the widest: It’s as if some public-spirited designer felt compelled to keep all that hideous fabric from escaping to other ties.) Here, he and Trevor have a light, lovely chemistry, merrily tossing quips back and forth and thrilled to find someone who can keep the rally going. They feel like actual grown-ups: You get the feeling this isn’t the first time at the rodeo for either of them, but you’re hoping it’s the last.

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The fabulous Trevor, who grew up one neighborhood over from me in Brooklyn, should’ve gotten to do more comedy. But then she should’ve gotten to do more everything. She made only 12 films in the 1950s, working mostly in television—she was as smart, edgy and gorgeous as ever, but she made the mistake of turning 40. What was she thinking? Taking matters into her own hands, Trevor co-produced Borderline with her husband, Milton Bren, along with Seiter and MacMurray; they all deferred their salaries to make the film. A year later, the stars reteamed for a one-hour Lux Radio Theater reprise.

This little movie has been kicking around in the public domain for decades, and some prints are borderline awful. But I managed to hunt down a good one. I hope you like it!

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a semi-regular feature on Sister Celluloid. You can catch up on movies you may have missed here! And why not bookmark that page to make sure you never miss another?

Oscar Snubs Again! Here’s Who Was Left Off the Memorial Reel This Year

At dinner one night years ago, a friend asked me if I’d be watching the Oscars that weekend. “She will if some old guy is getting something,” my husband replied, rolling his eyes somewhere north of the Bronx. Now, of course, they hive off my favorite part, the Lifetime Achievement awards to a smaller ceremony that’s not even televised; the statuette might as well be in the shape of the YouTube logo.

But that’s downright respectful compared to the annual middle finger known as the Oscar memorial reel.

Classic film always gets slammed especially hard—it’s not unusual for the Academy to snub actual Oscar winners (hello, Dorothy Malone!). Among the missing this year—my sixth covering this event—were Valentina Cortese, Carol Lynley, Susan Harrison, Peggy Stewart, Edith Scob, Virginia Leith, Julie Gibson, David Hedison, Robert Walker Jr., Sue Lyon, Robert Conrad, Orson Bean, Edd Byrnes, Phyllis Newman, Niall Toibin, Freddie Jones, Tadao Takashima, Richard Erdman, Allene Roberts, Dianne Foster, Fay McKenzie and Jan Merlin.

Also overlooked were Paul Koslo, Billy Drago, Jeremy Kemp, Paul Benjamin, Sid Haig, Bill Macy, Jan-Michael Vincent, Eddie Jones, Verna Bloom, Denise Nickerson, René Auberjonois, Katherine Helmond, Luke Perry, Valerie Harper, Barry Coe, Rip Taylor, Cameron Boyce, Paula Kelly, Tim Conway, Marie Laforêt, Michael J. Pollard, Susan Bernard, Tania Mallet, Nadja Regin, Joan Staley, Peggy Lipton, Ron Leibman, Georgia Engel, Caroll Spinney, Shelley Morrison, Russi Taylor, Peter Tork, Robert Axelrod, John Wesley, Arte Johnson, Max Wright, John Clarke and Chuy Bravo.

Never content to snub just one branch, they also dissed writers William Wittliff, Mardik Martin, Herman Wouk, Toni Morrison, Rocci Chatfield, Martin Charnin, Mark Medoff, Gordon Bressack, Sam Bobrick and Bernard Slade; directors Jonas Mekas, Ringo Lam, Larry Cohen, James Frawley, Dusan Makavejev and Harold Prince; composer Jerry Herman; producers Andrew Vanja, Edward Lewis, Lee Mendelson, David Weisman and Nik Powell; makeup artist Matt Rose; film executives Eric Pleskow, Gary Lemel and Nick Ludwin; editor Terry Rawlings; film historians Rudy Behlmer and Ron Hutchinson; and art director Lawrence Paull. And the fabulous Bob Dorian, host of American Movie Classics, pretty much the lone source of oxygen for old-movie fans for a full decade before TCM came on the scene (and in a typically classy move, TCM honored Dorian in its memorial reel).

And I know, there’s a longer video on the Academy website, but the whole A list/B list thing for dead people will never not be creepy. Why not devote some real time and talent to producing a lovely, inclusive tribute, the way TCM does every year? (This is the kind of thing you people do for a living, isn’t it?) And then either—gasp!—cut out a few commercials (this year they somehow had time for 69 of them running a full 40 minutes) and air it in full on the telecast, or simply post it on the website. But the hideously truncated list they slap up there during the show only infuriates everyone and disrespects those who spent their whole lives creating the kind of memories we love movies for.

Admittedly I’ve cut a wide swath here, including folks who worked less in film than in television or theater, but please comment with anyone I missed, and I’ll add them. (Keep in mind, the Oscar memorial reel doesn’t cover the calendar year; it runs from last year’s February 24 Oscar show until today.)

And if Oscar omitted someone you love, please take to Twitter to honor them, using the hashtag #MemorialSnubs.

Godspeed and oceans of gratitude to everyone we’ve lost. Especially for those of us who love classic film, this gets more heartbreaking every year.

 

STREAMING SATURDAYS! THE ASTONISHED HEART: The Flip Side of BRIEF ENCOUNTER

Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed free films for you to watch right here!

Ah, Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter! An achingly realistic portrait of the repressed, thwarted love of Laura and Alec, two grown-ups too fundamentally good and decent to act on feelings that are stronger and deeper than any they’ve ever known.

Now imagine that Alec had grown sick and tired of being so damn noble and dependable and had given in to his every urge, and to hell with the consequences. That’s pretty much what happens, with dreadful results, in The Astonished Heart, the 1950 film version of Coward’s play.

Even some of the cast of David Lean’s classic show up here three years later—though this time around, Celia Johnson is the betrayed wife rather than the woman who’s tempted to stray. And Joyce Carey is the sympathetic secretary rather than the fussy matron at the railroad lunch counter.

The Astonished Heart began life as part of Coward’s Tonight at 8:30, an anthology of 10 works performed over three nights. Coward starred with Gertrude Lawrence in the original stage production in 1935, and he took over the lead in the film after Michael Redgrave bowed out.

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On the rare occasions this movie is discussed at all, the talk usually turns to how miscast Coward was—too fusty and dusty and altogether improbable as Dr. Chris Faber, a renowned, respectable psychiatrist who becomes obsessed with the wild, impetuous Leonora Vail (Margaret Leighton), an old school friend of his wife Barbara (Celia Johnson). But Coward’s discomfort, his awkwardness, is part of what makes the whole thing work for me. This is a man who has lived entirely in his head, viewing passion as a disorder to be diagnosed and cured rather than an emotion to be felt and explored. He believes that to be swept away is to be lost. And for him, it turns out, that’s true.

As you’d expect from Coward, this is also a keen study—a warning, even—of how horribly things can go wrong when two people take each other for granted and no longer see each other, or even themselves, for all they are.

Early on in the film, Leonora asks Barbara about her husband: “Tell me seriously, do you adore him?” Amused at the very thought, Barbara replies, as if correcting a schoolchild, “I love him very much.” And that’s the end of that.

Later that evening, Chris teases Barbara that she’s welcome to skip a lecture he’s giving: “I can’t be pompous and important with you watching like a sharp, critcal lynx, waiting for me to split an infinitive.” Somewhat alarmed at the portrait he’s painted, she rears back, and then confides, “Chris… you’re very important to me whether I’m there or not. I just wanted to… suddenly mention it.”

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Soon after, Barbara is called away to her mother’s, and Chris steps in as a last-minute substitute to accompany Leonora to the theatre. While they don’t strike any romantic sparks, Leighton and Coward do have an odd chemistry. You can see how this guarded, buttoned-up man would be drawn to such a free spirit, and how she would take it as a personal challenge to loosen him up and win him over. If only it had stayed so playful.

When Barbara returns several weeks later, she discovers the initials “LV” peppered throughout the good doctor’s appointment book. Chris has become deeply involved—a bit moreso than Leonora—and his wife suggests that he take his lover away on a trip to work things through. (Thus defying the more traditional approach of reaching for the nearest, heaviest frying pan, thwacking the errant husband swiftly and repeatedly over the head with it, and digging a large hole in the backyard. But perhaps I’ve said too much.)

The trip ends about as well as you’d expect it to—actually worse. This is all foretold in the opening scene, as the movie unfolds in flashback.

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The Astonished Heart was co-directed by Anthony Darnborough and Terence Fisher; the latter went on to become one of Hammer Films’ most prolific horror directors, but little of that crisp pacing is present here. It’s a bit plodding at times: First we’re here. Then we’re here. Now we’re over here. But that’s a minor flaw in the hands of the luminous, doe-eyed Johnson and the brittle, vulnerable Leighton. When they made her, the mold simply broke on its own, as it was a bit fragile to begin with.

Actually, they have the best chemistry of anyone in the film. If the whole thing had focused on these altogether fabulous women getting caught up on their schooldays, I would’ve been perfectly content. Both are in their absolute prime, and Leighton’s sly edginess plays off perfectly against Johnson’s warm open-heartedness. (The two would team again two years later as sisters in the undersung Christmas classic, The Holly and the Ivy; here’s a link to that one.)

Also featured in the cast, as Chris’s assistant, is Graham Payn, Coward’s real-life companion. How differently he might have written The Astonished Heart today.

On that sad note, here’s the whole film. (The header says “clips,” but it’s the entire movie; also you may have to scroll back to the beginning as it has a weird tendency to start in the middle):

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a semi-regular feature on Sister Celluloid, bringing you free, fabulous films! You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another? 

All Aboard the Trolley! TCM Is Bringing MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS Back to Theaters!

Have yourself a merry little Christmas as TCM and Fathom Events bring Meet Me in St. Louis back to the big screen on Sunday, December 8 and Wednesday, December 11 (click here for tickets)!

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And who can forget that classic scene as the snow drifts softly past the window, and Esther (Judy Garland) comforts her little sister Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), who’s distraught over leaving their beloved home. Remember how Esther gently croons that she better damn well enjoy this holiday, because it may be her last happy Christmas ever?

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No? Not ringing a bell? You can thank Garland and her leading man for that. Here, roughly, were Hugh Martin’s original lyrics:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas…
It may be your last!
Next year we may all be living in the past!

Have yourself a merry little Christmas…
Pop that champagne cork!
Next year we may all be living in New York!

No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore!
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us no more!

But at least we all will be together
If the Lord allows!
From now on we’ll have to muddle through somehow!
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now!

Yikes.

Garland was the first to approach Martin, suggesting that—however appropriate those lyrics may have been for the mood of the scene—only a stone-cold sadist would sing them to a sobbing child. “Judy said—and she was right of course—that they were too depressing!” recalled O’Brien at the 2014 TCM Film Festival screening of the film. “She told Hugh, ‘I would never say things like that to her when she’s already so upset!’”

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You’d think Judy—who, even at 22, knew a thing or two about packing an emotional wallop—would’ve been able to sway Martin. But he staunchly stuck to his original lyrics, leaving the two at an impasse—and the production limping along for weeks with no Christmas song. Then Tom Drake, who played Judy’s love interest, happened upon the most foolproof solution in the world: appeal to the songwriter’s ego. “You know,” he told him, “this could be an immortal Christmas song if you weren’t so stubborn…”

That did it. So now we have this:

Oh and have you heard the popular story about how they got O’Brien to cry for that scene? At the TCM Festival, she thoroughly demolished it.

“That rumor, it’s out there everywhere—that to get me to cry, my mother told me my dog was hit by a car or something like that,” O’Brien said, rolling her wide brown eyes to the rafters of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. “Well she would never do anything like that. And anyway, what she did do was much more effective.”

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It seems O’Brien and June Allyson were known around MGM as “the sob sisters,” thanks to their uncanny knack for crying on cue. But O’Brien was having such a great time making the film—and working with Garland, who took her big-sister role to heart—that in take after take, she couldn’t shed a drop. “My mother took me aside and said, ‘Now honey, don’t worry, they can just use glycerin drops if you can’t cry,” O’Brien said. “But you know, June would be able to make real tears.’ And that made me burst out crying!”

If they really wanted to see waterworks, they could have had Judy sing her the original version of the song.

And on that note, to my classic-movie family of friends,

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Pop that champagne cork…
From a girl who spent her childhood in New York!

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