It’s A Wonderful Life: Still Important at 75 (and beyond!)

Lately, there is so much turmoil. You see the news and it’s easy to become depressed by recent events: pandemic, politics, sorrowful events. In the midst of all of the sadness and negativity, its easy to lose sight of culture that has sustained the American spirit. One that rises above the rest in terms of relevant films is Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece, It’s a Wonderful Life. Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, and Lionel Barrymore (just to name a few!), the movie was not a major hit when first released, but thanks to TV airings and a re-examination by both critics and the general public, the film has worked its way into the American culture as a Christmas staple.

This year in 2021, the film is celebrating its 75th anniversary and The Classic Movie Muse is hosting the 75th Birthday Blogathon! Be sure to check out the other entries here!

Now more than ever, I feel this film still matters to audiences. It contains timeless characters, universal life lessons, and a raw and real look at a society emerging from the shadows of a World War. All that being said, I present to you without further delay, 5 reasons why, It’s a Wonderful Life, still matters to audiences everywhere:

My Copy!

1- Reminds us to count your blessings! George Bailey is a man with many blessings: A beautiful wife, kids, a place to call home, friends, and a steady job. Even though he loses sight of what he has, he eventually comes around to realize: he has it all and then some. We all at one point or another forget that we are blessed, (myself included), but this film, (with a little help from Clarence!), has the power to make you stand back and be grateful about what you have in life. In particular, when watching this film just earlier this month, I realized I’m blessed with my family, my health, good friends, food on the table, and of course the films and music that enrich my life!

2- Real Life vs Reel Life: Every single character in It’s a Wonderful Life is probably similar to someone you know. We all know someone like George Bailey and unfortunately, we all know someone like Mr. Potter. With such distinction in each of the characters in his films, Mr. Frank Capra himself once stated they represent, “the freedom of each individual and the equal importance of each individual.

3- The Grass is Not Greener: With everything George set out to do, and then ended up not doing, it’s easy to see why he’s a tad jealous of his peer’s accomplishments. Brother Harry fought in WWII and classmate Sam Wainwright went to work in Europe, but George still had big accomplishments of his own: he saved the town during a bank run, set up Bailey Park, and kept the family business going. This film reminds us it’s incredibly easy to be jealous of others due to their flashy resumes, but everyday common actions are also something to be proud of. I certainly count running this little blog as one of my accomplishments!

4– Positive thoughts in negative times: 1946 was a new era for America and the world. The Second World War plays a part in the film’s narrative, and it was one of the first films to explore the emotions of PTSD, despite the main character not experiencing war, (on-screen, as remember Mr. Stewart DID go to war in real life). One of the main themes of the whole film is to never give up hope that things can and will one day be better, and no character embodies this trait more than Mary Bailey. Throughout everything, Mary is the anchor in George’s life and the reminder to the audience to always maintain a positive outlook on life (something we all should remember, especially in our world now!).

Recently got this fun magazine!

5- We all have a place: In the world, we all have a part to play. Even if we don’t recognize it, our life has impacted on others. We may not get the chance from Clarence to realize it like George does, but every now and again when someone says, “If it wasn’t for you”, or ,”Thanks to you”, it shouldn’t be ignored. Sometimes the littlest gestures have the biggest impact!

Overall, I believe It’s a Wonderful Life will remain in the public conscious no matter what. It has out shined its haters, even though there will always be a certain faction who hate it, it always manages to come out on top. It’s been a Christmas constant for 75 years, and I am so excited to see what will happen in the next 75 years of its life! Three cheers and ring the bell, here’s to, It’s a Wonderful Life, the richest film in town! 

21 Reasons "It's A Wonderful Life" Is The Best Christmas Movie Of All Time  | Wonderful life movie, It's a wonderful life, Its a wonderful life

PS: I recently found that magazine at my local Wal-Mart! A fun anniversary magazine filled with great pictures, fun facts and great info all about our favorite Christmas film! Certainly a ,”collector’s item” for many years to come!

Garden Of Evil 1954

This entry was written for the Bernard Herrman Blogathon hosted Classic Movie Muse! Be sure to check out the other entries!

Warning: Minor Spoilers!

For being a Henry Hathaway and Gary Cooper Garden of Evil (1954) wasn’t as great as I was anticipating; although the film is notable for being Bernard Herrman’s only score of a western film.

Ex-Sheriff Hooker (Gary Cooper) and gambler Fiske (Richard Widmark) are trapped in a fishing town when their steamship breaks down. They head for the local bar and soon are enlisted by Leah Fuller (Susan Hayward) to help track down her husband, John (Hugh Marlowe), who is trapped in a mine.

Coop, Western vet and Widmark (pintrest)

Tagging along is bounty hunter, Luke (Cameron Mitchell),  and random saloon customer Vincente. For the journey to the mine, it’s fairly physically easy, with arguements, and Apache threats being the difficult part. Then, of course there is the love square with all the guys hitting on Leah at some point or another. Leah, admits while traveling the mine her husband is trapped in used to be a boom town, until a volcano eruption wiped out everything but the church steeple and mine. She explains the priest calls the remaining area The Garden of Evil, while Natives consider the volcano sacred.

Cooper was solid in this role, and was the sturdy hero with strong morals. His character Hooker likes Leah, but knows she’s got a husband to rescue. There’s a bit of jealously for sure, but he pushes it aside when he helps John out of the cave and tends to his leg. Richard Widmark for being the Male co lead, somewhat took a back seat. He was almost a supporting player, but when you’re alongside Cooper, a second male lead won’t be anything else. I actually understand why John Wayne did not star in this film, as he was slated to appear instead of Widmark. As for Susuan Hayward, her character is rough and tough in this picture. Maybe too much so, yet she still gave a good performance. (Personally, for me Hayward films are hit or miss.)

The surprise for me in the film came when Leah’s husband, John,  made it out alive from the mine. I was thinking he’d for sure be found dead.  It was also a refreshing change of pace he was also found in the middle of the film, rather than towards the end, as the return journey to the town factored into the plot.

Overall, the plot isn’t bad, but the script and execution is. The film has sluggish pacing and it gets to the point where you really can’t care about the characters anymore. However, this film has its merits: the beautiful on location scenery, the actors, and Herrman’s marvelous score. The scenery is just gorgeous, as it was shot on location in Mexico, even the interiors were shot in a Mexican studio. Add in the Cinemascope lens and you’ve got a beautiful canvas. As for the score, it never disappoints. I’ve actually heard this score be compared to Herrman’s 1958 work on Vertigo- but that’s not a bad thing!

(wikipedia)

Overall, this film was interesting but nothing spectacular. I’m glad INSP network aired it, as it had been in my watchlist for a while! The stars are great in their parts, and the scenery is amazing. Furthermore, hearing Herrman’s only western score is definitely an essential!

LISTEN to Herrman’s score!

Author Interview: Killing John Wayne: The Making of The Conqueror by Ryan Uytdewilligen

In the world of showbiz, it’s impossible for a performer to have completely perfect films on their resume. You think of any one of your favorites and there is bound to be an embarrassment of a flop.


Some definitely had more than others, and not even a cinema legend like John Wayne got away with not having a flop. In 1956, not only did a flop land on his filmography, but it would turn out to be one of the worst films of all time: The Conqueror.
Directed by Dick Powell for RKO Studios and starring Susan Hayward, Pedro Armendáriz, and John Wayne as Genghis Khan, the film was notorious for being awful at the time of release. In the years to come it gained a reputation for being both a disaster to watch and literally deadly to make; for it was filmed at nuclear test sites in Utah, resulting in a majority of the cast a crew dying from cancer.

65 years after the film’s release Canadian author Ryan Uytdewilligen has written a book: Killing John Wayne: The Making of The Conqueror. Mr Uytdewilligen has spent the last three years researching the subject, and was generous to let me ask him some questions! The book is available now from Rowman and Littlefield publishing, and can be purchased at places such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble.

Killing John Wayne: The Making of the Conqueror by Ryan Uytdewilligen

Below you find the email interview, which Ryan was so cool to take part in!

1-What personally interested you into writing a book about one of the worst films ever made?
The film’s history and place in the pantheon of worst films was told to me a few years back. It always stuck with me, particularly the crazy miscasting aspect I dug deeper and deeper over the years and found out that this movie had so many layers of destruction to it that It became so wild and unbelievable, I simply had to know more.

2-John Wayne usually lobbied hard for roles he truly wanted. How did John Wayne come to land the lead originally meant for Marlon Brando?
From what I could find, John Wayne wanted to try and shake up his image. He also signed a contract with Howard Hughes, promising he would do three films with RKO. He did the first two right away, but the third film took years to set up. He was desperate to take anything. The rumor is that after Brando turned down the script, it was thrown in the trash. Wayne apparently pulled it out of the trash bin, flipped through it, and said that should be the next film.

3- I have read on IMDB The Conqueror wiped out RKO Pictures; In a world of crumbling studio systems, was The Conqueror viewed as a warning to other studios that they could be one bad film away from financial ruin?
It’s kind of a misnomer because RKO was in financial decline for years. Howard Hughes took it over in 1948 and ran it into the ground with terrible, expensive choices. When he sold it in 1955, all the studio had left was The Conqueror. They released it but failed to break even.


4-1956 also saw the release of one of the best movies ever made, The Searchers, which also starred John Wayne. How did The Conqueror not hurt John Wayne’s overall popularity?

Wayne said later on that he regretted taking the role and that he wasn’t suited for it. Critics were hard on it, but he followed it up with The Searchers, Rio Bravo, and a couple other hits, so it really fell by the wayside. In those days, most actors did two or three movies each year.

5- I personally have read in other books, John Wayne himself wasn’t happy during production. Was anyone on set glad to be making the film, or was it a pretty miserable shoot for all?
It was a miserable shoot all around. Susan Hayward was drinking and trying to allegedly have an affair with John Wayne. Second-time director Dick Powell was so in over his head, he wasn’t sleeping. Harsh weather conditions in Utah were harming the cast and crew. It was rough all around.

6-The Conqueror was a flop at the time of release and is still considered a flop today, for even someone like myself who hasn’t seen anything but trailer can agree on this. What would you cite as the reasons why the film has maintained it’s awful reputation?
It’s awful in many ways, but the miscast of John Wayne as Ghengis Khan is so startling, it’s hard to comprehend. But the performances are all very hammy, the story is lacklustre, and one-quarter of the movie is very sexist dance numbers that have nothing to do with the story. I will say, the production value is better than most things made today.

7-Branching off the previous question, The Conqueror has rarely aired on tv and is difficult to find on dvd and streaming platforms, why should movie fans still watch this flop of a film, even if it’s only to say, “I’ve seen it once”!
If you are a John Wayne fan, you can’t claim fandom unless you’ve seen this one. It also has so much lore around it, that it’s simply one of those bucket list watches that will not disappoint. 

8-The Conqueror is not only known for its content, but also for its filming location at nuclear test sites in Utah; was anyone aware at the time of filming how dangerous the location was?
The location scouts did bring this to attention to the producers who deemed it safe. The cast and crew got worried when they arrived and heard this from the locals, but ultimately, Howard Hughes called up the Atomic Energy Commission and was assured there would be no problems. Any link or danger from radiation was not known for at least a decade after. 

9-Unfortunately for most of the cast and crew, many people, including John Wayne himself (and his son Michael, a producer on the film), died from cancer due to the radiation present at the filming site; When did this link of cancer and location become apparent?
Dick Powell, the director, died from cancer in 1961, while co-star Pedro Armendariz died shortly after that from suicide after learning his cancer diagnosis. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that cast and crewmembers began dropping like flies. Wayne beat cancer in the mid-1960s, but ultimately succumbed to it in 1979. It was in that moment downwinders who were fighting for government aid finally brought their case to the US Senate. A journalist happened to see a connection between the filming location, the downwinder plight, and John Wayne’s death that year. He published an article that inspired many similar stories ever since. 

10- Last question: What overall lessons can be learned from The Conqueror and how can biopics today strive not to make the same mistakes?
This movie was made with no intent to get facts rights. The screenwriter even said he did no research and didn’t know who Ghengis Khan was before he took a meeting with Hughes. It was made for money and entertainment with no regard for authenticity. The production was very rushed too. So it was made with no care. I think a few Khan biopics have been made since. They were more cautious and careful, however, this film, The Conqueror, lives on because of how bad it is.

Bonus question: What are your favourite John Wayne films? 

I tend to gravitate to his stuff in the later 1950s and early 1960s, particularly Rio Bravo (his best and most entertaining western) and the riveting The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Again, Killing John Wayne: The Making of the Conqueror by Ryan Uytdewilligen is available online: Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thanks so much to Ryan for answering the Questions and I’m very excited to read the book!!!You can learn more about Ryan by visiting his website HERE

The Wings of Eagles (1957)

When a well known movie couple is put together in many films, they usually end up in a biopic together. Take Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, they played Vernon and Irene Castle; Myrna Loy and William Powell played the Florenz Ziegfeld and Billie Burke, and it even happened for John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara who portrayed Frank “Spig” Wead USN Ret. and his wife Min in the 1957 John Ford picture: The Wings of Eagles.

Wings of Eagles 1957.jpg
(wikipedia)

The real Frank Wead was born in Peoria IL in 1895. He was a Navy man who served on both land and sea before serving in World War I. In 1926, Spig was forced to retire early due to an accidental fall at home, as he fell down the stairs running to his daughter after hearing her crying. Spig was temporarily paralyzed and learned how to walk again, before going to Hollywood in the early 1930s, working as a screenwriter.
He worked on films such as Hell Divers, Test Pilot, both with Clark Gable, and They Were Expendable with Ford and Wayne.  The amazing part is after Spig recovered from his injury, he then enlisted in World War II- first in a non active position of planning, but then moved to an active duty at sea. Unfortunately after formally retiring from service his life was cut short at the age of 52 in 1947, due to complications from surgery .

Frank Wead | Military Wiki | Fandom
The real life Frank “Spig” Wead

The Wings of Eagles was Maureen O’Hara’s fifth and final film with Ford, as she would never professionally cross paths with him again (they of course they stayed in each other’s lives until his death, while Duke Wayne would work with him professionally until 1963’s Donovan’s Reef). In Duke’s first post Searchers film, it’s easy to dismiss this film as silly 1950s biopic fluff, but look beneath the surface to realize it’s actually got more credit than what it initially presents.

Although "Wings of... - Maureen O'Hara Magazine Website | Facebook
Tender moment!

According to Ford, everything in this movie is true, including the plane flying in the pool, and the cake fight too (Ford swears he personally dodged the cake!!! The film even gets really meta when Ford veteran Ward Bond plays a spoof of Mr. Ford himself: John Dodge. The scene in which Frank goes into Dodge’s office, if you look closely you can see Ford’s real life Oscars, cane, pipe, and Bond even sports an eye patch in true homage.

Unfortunately for Maureen, her “character” Min received cut screen time. In her autobiography, she talks about more scenes that were shot, but due to the objections of the Wead’s real life daughters, the scenes were cut. Maureen also mentions the daughter’s and the studios efforts to omit from the picture the fact the real life Mrs. Wead was an alcoholic.

The Wings Of Eagles (1957) - The 1950's - John Wayne Message Board (JWMB)
(JWMB) Spig is gonna move that toe!

In my personal view, this film proves John Wayne is an actor. The scenes in which Spig learns to walk again, and the agony over being separated from his wife, it’s all raw and real.I’d like to point out, there’s something natural about the way John Wayne plays this “character”, the tenderness of his scenes with his family and the camaraderie he has with the men in the Navy scenes. It proves you don’t need ‘action scenes’ for a John Wayne picture to be good, because what really counts is the actor himself. 

Overall, to me this film is marvelous, because it brings a real life Naval hero to the attention of the movie public. If you’re a John Wayne fan- which if you’re reading this you probably are-, and if you love Duke with Maureen (which again, you probably do love them together if you are reading this!) you are going to end up watching this movie and learning about a hero whose story is not always told. Not everyone’s story is as big as JFK’s or Abraham Lincoln’s, yet their contributions to society are just as important. Added in the fact its the dream team of Ford, Wayne and O’Hara- you’ve got one solid Hollywood biopic!

this was written for the Sept/Oct 2021 Biopic Blogathon hosted by Hometowns to Hollywood . Make sure to check out other entries!

Sunday in New York (1963)

When it comes to 60’s comedies, it’s either really hard or really easy to love them. You view one comedy from 1960 and its 100% different than comedy in 1969; partly due to the demolition of the production code. One 60’s comedy that for me personally (emphasis on personally) is a ‘hit” is 1963’s Sunday in New York, starring Jane Fonda, Rod Taylor and Cliff Robertson and directed by Peter Tewksbury.

Sunday in New York (1963) - IMDb
(imdb)

The film is based on the play by Norman Krasna (Bachelor Mother, White Christmas) with Jane playing Eileen Tyler, a 22 year old music critic who, even though she has a long term boyfriend Russ Wilson (Robert Culp), is a, “beginner” in relationships. Needing a break from Russ, she goes to New York to stay with her brother, Adam, (Cliff) and she confides her status to him. He swears on his sacred honor he also is a, “beginner“.

Eileen Tyler: “Beginner”

Due to Adam being a pilot with flight call- she has to track him down when he leaves with his girlfriend Mona (Jo Morrow) for ‘ice skating‘ (nice cover, Adam! NOT!). Getting on a bus, she literally gets stuck on Mike Mitchell (Rod) with her pin on his suit. From there the pair eventually hit it off- and Eileen has a potential idea of going to the next level with Mike. But when Mike doesn’t want to be with a beginner, Russ shows up unexpected wanting to win back Eileen, and Adam finds out about Mike’s almost actions, things get thrown into a tizzy!

Now some people will read over this and think, “That’s absolutely hokey!”

But is it really? I declare this film still resonates with people because the whole story does not focus on society expectations, it focuses on personal development. Mike and Eileen have choices to make; and it’s always centered on them, not society, not tradition, not a new normal but their choices.

I also want to point out this film has the right amount of comedy gags reminiscent of the 50’s – like the pin stuck on the suit- but it also leans towards the more 60’s expression of love and relationships- such as Adam and Mona having a no strings attached relationship. It’s a careful balance of these two worlds that come together for the right amount of laughs, edginess, cuteness, and romance.

If this film was made maybe three years later, I don’t believe the film could be as nuanced as it is, nor would it have as much Kennedy era style. The apartment itself is to die for: the loft, the decor; plus the ensembles Jane gets to wear! Not to forget Rod Taylor’s suit: very Mad Men-esque, so stylish! Top it all off with Peter Nero’s swanky jazz score and it all just fits together so pleasantly.

Overall, Sunday in New York is breezy, fun, and just a darn cute movie. It may have its harsh critics  (everything from Jane and Cliff seem too incestuous, Rod is mis-cast,  and also: there’s too much talking not enough action!!) which includes Ms. Fonda herself, saying in 2018 she doesn’t understand why people love this movie, but I think the charm is possesses is extremely overlooked. A product of a bygone era, it reminds us today, the flip side of society that still was occurring at that time. It’s a fun watch, and even if you don’t end up digging it, its worth a look for its social themes and style. 

This article was written for Movie Rob’s September 2021 Genre Grandeur: 1960s comedy theme!

The Rare Breed

This post is written for The No True Scotsman blogathon hosted by RealweegieMidget Reviews! Check out the other posts!!

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Bonnie Scotland! Portrayed on screen a number of times but almost never in the correct context! There’s a handful of Scottish actors, musicians, TV personalities and royals I have come to really admire from Scotland- Mary, Queen of Scots, Sir Sean Connery, Robert Carlyle OBE, Angus and Malcolm Young, Chef Gordon Ramsay OBE just to name to a few! But the thing that blows my mind every time is just how many people throughout the screen’s history have acted the part of a Scot. And its certainly way more than you even thought!

Rarebreed.jpg
(Credit: Wikipedia)

In 1966, American born actor Brian Keith got his turn at playing a Scot in the western The Rare Breed. Despite mixed reactions to the film, the memorable part, according to co-star Maureen O’Hara was Brian’s ability to be a scene- stealer (although he doesn’t show up until around halfway through the film).

Directed by longtime John Ford/ John Wayne associate Andrew V McLaglen, and also starring James Stewart and Juliet Mills, The Rare Breed is one of those westerns that is cute, sweet, but not exactly top notch, “essential” material. You have to be a fan of the actors to recognize the there’s truly a good story to be told.  I’ve actually heard this movie be called a cross between John Ford (well his stock company, anyways) and Disney- a fair assessment, that in my opinion works.


Irish beauty Maureen O’Hara plays Englishwoman Martha, and her daughter Hilary (played by Juliet) who are on their way to sell their cattle at the fair. But their most prized cattle just isn’t any old cattle, his is name Vindicator, who is a rare breed (and is a very sweet bull, who is trained to follow Hilary when she whistles or sings God Save The Queen!).
When a wealthy rancher purchases Vindicator for his business partner,  wild Scotsman Alexander Bowen (Brian Keith) Martha hires Sam ‘Bulldog’ Burnett (Stewart) to help her transport him. Romance, danger, and comedy soon ensures on their journey!

The Rare Breed (1966)
Hilary and Vindicator! AWW! (credit IMBD)

What I adore about this film is really the cast.  Even though, Maureen O’Hara said in her autobiography she was distracted during the shoot and her heart wasn’t completely in it. Behind the scenes, she was dealing with personal matters of the heart with her then boyfriend Enrique Parra. To see Juliet work with Maureen is just awesome! Hayley Mills already worked with Maureen five years earlier in The Parent Trap– and it’s cool to observe that Maureen has a great rapport with both Mills sisters! Jimmy Stewart as always gives a solid performance, and if you enjoy JS westerns, I really do believe this film should be one worth watching.

The Rare Breed (1966)
(THAT’S BRIAN KEITH??!!! credit: IMBD)

Brian Keith, the first time I saw him, I didn’t recognize him! While his accent is not absolutely perfect, it’s a pretty dang great attempt. Its precisely the manner in which he immerses himself in the role and you can tell he’s having a blast. I’d say in this case its spirit over technicality of the accent. I admit, I wasn’t totally hooked on the character the first time I watched it, but over the course of re-watching, Bowen is just a goofy, fun character you don’t have to take seriously. If he was played by another actor, then you would totally hate the character! ! Brain Keith brings warmth and silly humor to the role, it grows on you, and its glorious! ! I mean he even plays bagpipes in this movie- Yeah!!!!

The Rare Breed - Rotten Tomatoes
Sam “Bulldog” with a baby Bull! (credit: rotten tomatoes)

A few fun things to look out for in this film is brief appearances by Harry Carey Jr, Jimmy O’Hara (also sometimes known as James Lilburn; Maureen’s brother) and Ben Johnson.  And I have to give a mention to Vindicator the bull! Vindicator was such a cute sweet bull, that was just adorable to look at. Whenever Hilary would pet him or whisper the words of God Save The Queen to him, it was just sweet. It’s pretty cool Vindicator has a plot all his own within the film, his breed is sought after and we even see his kin towards the end of the film, it was so cute!!

In the end, The Rare Breed may be digging into the western genre, and not super well known, but I’d beg to say its certainly one worth watching. It’s not a gritty western, but rather a cute one, maybe even a western for people who don’t like westerns! And when all said and done- Its even got a Scottish character performance! Aye!! 

The Rare Breed (1966) is available to own on DVD (from Universal) and Blu-ray (from Kino Lorber) !

10 Favorite Childhood Movies

Hi all and happy August 2021. I admit, August is always a fun and fast month for the year, its my birthday month after all! This year I turned 25 and I thought I could do some fun birthday celebrations on my blog! Even though on the 28, my birthday has already passed, I believe there’s no better way to keep the party going than by doing some fun posts about some of my favorite movies!

Beginning the fun series of 25th birthday posts, is a video I did on YouTube: A vlog of 10 of my favorite childhood movies… that I still love as an adult! I recently got on YouTube during the pandemic as a way to connect with fellow music fans (after all music and film are what makes life fun and exiting, right!?) but then I also started doing film videos! The curve ball to the video is, I had to choose 10 favorite childhood movies that I still adore as an adult. There are many movies I watched as a kid/ teen that today you could not pay me to watch again! (Quick brainstorm idea: perhaps in a future video- or blog post, I will share some of those titles! 🙂 )

Hope ya enjoy! Here’s, “Cheers” to our enduring childhood faves!

River of No Return (1954)

The great outdoors are really personally not for me. I’ve always been an, “indoors girl”, as I semi-quote Jack Dawson in Titanic (1997). That’s why I love movies- they can bring the tough outdoors to the comfort of the indoors! So of course I had to do Movie Rob‘s Genre Grandeur of The Great Outdoors! A great outdoors movie with breathtaking landscapes and scenery is 1954’s River of no Return.

River of No Return - Wikipedia
Poor Poster Promotion! (Wikipedia)

Directed by Otto Preminger, starring Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe at first glance you’d think, well that doesn’t work. Even Marilyn didn’t believe in it, but I say she was too harsh on herself as she got to play a different type of role. Robert Mitchum plays Matt, a father with a young son Mark, and with Marilyn as his love interest, dance hall singer Kay, it gives her a chance to play a mother-figure.

The film starts off when Mark is abandoned by his caretaker and Kay looks after him until he reunites with his father. Mark and Matt are strangers, as Matt was in jail for killing a man in self defense. Kay reunites Mark with Matt and they part ways until Kay runs into them again while traveling on the river with her fiance, Harry. Kay and Harry’s raft gets ruined, and Harry steals Matt’s horse and rifle to continue on to the City Council to retrieve a deed on a gold mine. Kay is left behind with Matt and Mark in the wilderness.

River of No Return (1954) - Rotten Tomatoes
Mitchum and Marilyn! (Rotten Tomatoes)

The trio then embark down what the Indians call ‘the river of no return‘. Battling the elements and Indians, Matt and Kay bond with each other. Mark learns about his dad’s prison stay but starts to see him differently when he protects/ cares for both himself and Kay.

Its sort odd, I never seek out Robert Mitchum films, they come to me; by interest of either another actor, director or premise- but watching this film made me see him in a different light. I’d previously seen Out of the Past (1947) and El Dorado (1967), but this was my first Mitchum film in which I saw him play a true romantic lead, and it was cool!  

Going deeper with the romance,  I really liked that element between Marilyn and Robert Mitchum. They just click with each other. Marilyn got to be serious, and not just the blonde, while Mitch got to be the romantic tough guy. He still has to have that element about him, as he plays an outdoors man, but he has his tender moments.

Marilyn: Behind the Icon – River of No Return | Classic Movie Hub Blog
Real Scenery! (Classic Movie Hub)

The cinematography is what always keeps me coming back to this film. Its gorgeous and not a studio back lot, instead being filmed on location in Calgary and in Idaho for the use of the Salmon River for the long shots. Production on location was not without its faults, however, as Marilyn almost drowned with Mr. Mitchum diving into save her. On another occasion, when insisting they both do their own stunts, Bob and Marilyn’s raft flipped over, and Marilyn twisted her ankle! She was on crutches for the rest of the shoot, but nonetheless, it didn’t slow down shooting!

Of course, I must mention the spectacular songs Marilyn gets to sing, including a version of the title song! She worked very hard to get her finger positions correct to play the guitar, and even though its NOT her doing the playing, she certainly put in her best effort!

Overall, River of No Return is a fun and quick film to watch. Sometimes you need to see actors in different types of settings and this is a perfect example for both of the leads. Bringing the wilderness indoors, it makes for a great viewing experience from the coziness of your great indoors!

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

My first ever encounter with A Streetcar Named Desire came in August of 2012. It was schedule pickup day a few weeks ahead of my first day of Junior year of high school and a chance to pickup class material. Junior year, English class was subtitled as, “American literature“, and along with Streetcar, the other required reading that year was The Crucible. With my specific teacher, I also ended up reading: Catcher in the Rye and Death of a Salesman.

StreetcarNamedDesire.JPG

For those who may be unfamiliar with A Streetcar Named Desire, it tells the tragic tale of Blanche DuBois, a fallen southern woman whose disillusionment over her struggles in life sends her into madness. The 1951 film version stars many of the same actors who appeared in the original Broadway stage version, including Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, Karl Malden as Mitch, and Kim Hunter as Stella. Vivien Leigh as Blanche DoBois is the notable change for the film, as Jessica Tandy played the role on Broadway.  Leigh did, however, play Blanche in the London production.

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Reading Streetcar in class didn’t come until just before spring break of that year, and my first impressions of the play weren’t very prestigious at all. I recall thinking it was going to be some sort of romance or drama, not expecting a tragedy, with despicable characters. I found Stanley to be a monster and Stella to be a complete pushover. Blanche, however weird of a character she was, did attract my attention because there seemed to be a mystery about who she was.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951 film) - Wikipedia

At this time, I had no idea there was a movie adaptation, and after we finished the book, the teacher announced we would watch it. I was interested because I wanted to see how these characters would visually interact with each other, I thought it would help me better understand the play as a whole. The moment the teacher put on the DVD and it started playing, a majority of my classmates were uninterested because, “it’s an old black and white movie”. I personally didn’t mind if it was black and white, and while I didn’t know much about Vivien Leigh’s work other than Gone with the Wind, I was glued to watch something with her in it.

My personal highlight of the film was the introduction to the marvelous actor that is Karl Malden. There I was, at age 16, watching this movie for the first time ever, and I see Karl Malden come on screen: I was immediately transfixed on his powerful voice, and automatically had high respect for his acting ability. Due to the fact I knew the outcome of his and Blanche’s relationship, I was really upset! I didn’t want to watch Mitch reject Blanche and snub her after learning her story. I really hoped it to turn out better than the play, but overall, I knew the rejection was the right decision. Mitch and Blanche’s dissolution of their friendship and any level of romantic relationship ending is the catalyst for Blanche’s final descent into her downward spiral, and it needs to happen for the story to conclude.

This movie was my real first exposure to Marlon Brando’s acting as well, and I took an instant dislike him. Of course now looking back, what I really meant was I can’t stand the character of Stanley. Stanley is a horrible husband to Stella, and is disgusting to Blanche- plus his famous “Stella” yell can absolutely get on one’s nerves. When looked at from an acting perspective, I admit it was spectacular. Brando could become any character, and you believed he was this nasty person. I’m sure I can’t picture anyone else yelling “Stellaaaaa” on a balcony.

Blanche was perfectly portrayed, and because I wasn’t alive during the original role on Broadway, I can’t see anyone else but Vivien- Sorry Ms. Tandy!! She was so immersed in this role, which certainly shows shades of her real life struggles. I’m sure it was a combination of Vivien’s stage training in the role, her professionalism, and her real life experience with mental health struggles that made her become Blanche. Its an occasion that only comes once in a lifetime- or perhaps in Vivien’s case, twice, where an actress is so perfectly married to the screen role. I think this was the best paring of actor and role since Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story!

Over the years since my junior year of high school, I sort of put this film out of my mind, really dismissing it, until I took a deeper look at it as an adult. I really was able to connect it to its source material, and it’s as faithful to the play as it could be for the screen.

The ending of the film, is what I wished would have happened in the play, upon comparing the two endings for the first time back in high school. Yet today, when watching the film’s ending, it cheapens the play’s ending. By having Stella stay with Stanley it makes it raw and real, and adds to the tragedy of the whole situation. Seeing Stella run off with the baby while leaving the house in the movie, it kind of almost makes you less emotional about what just Blanche minutes earlier. It was all due to the production code- and I’m not sure a better ending could have been conceived, but it makes the film less emotionally reactive.

Overall, its been a long winding road for me to appreciate this film. Seeing it in high school was just that, a high schooler watching, doing as they are asked. I did watch it as an adult for the first time at age 20- and I didn’t care for it, finding it even more bizarre than I did in high school. Finally fast forward now to my current age of 24 where it just clicks- and I defend the Oscars for Vivien Leigh and Karl Malden. I look at the film and I see something so tragic, but deeply layered with psychological depth and connection. I view it, and I really do see a masterpiece!

Be sure to check out other posts for The 4th Broadway Bound Blogathon 2021, HERE!

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The Queen (2006)

I took this month’s Genre Grandeur of Biographies , hosted by Movie Rob, to tap into my Royal Family Obsession!
In a time before Peter Morgan was the writer, showrunner and ‘creator’ of the Netflix drama, The Crown, he was the ‘creator’ and writer of another Queen Elizabeth II centric screen presentation. My Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen, I present to you: The Queen (2006). My Aunt was the person who initially told me about this movie when it first came out. I remember being very interested in the content, as I learned about the Royal Family from reading magazines at the dentist office. Hey, I didn’t have any royal family books back then, and I certainly was not using the internet for anything else other than school, so People magazine was the best source I had! I always, however, had a big fan of Princess Diana, and I was hoping she “appeared” in the movie.

The Queen (2006) - IMDb

The Queen is a prestigious biopic covering the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and the aftermath that occurred both in the Royal Family’s public and private life. While a blonde actress is used for a stand in for Diana getting into a car outside the Ritz, Princess Diana is not a physical character in this narrative. She is, however, the film’s driving force, and the source behind every decision made by the characters in the film (really, I feel disdainful referring to actors as ‘characters’, as they are depictions of real people, but there’s really no other term to use!).

Portraying The Queen is Helen Mirren, with James Cromwell as Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, and Alex Jennings as The Prince of Wales (This time he’s playing Charles, not ‘David’ or should I say Edward, who abdicated, as he played on The Crown).  Also featured in a prominent role is Michael Sheen as the then newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Due to the PG-13 rating, I wasn’t allowed to see the film in 2006 (I was 10), and then it just kind of took a backseat in my mind until 2015, at which I was 18 or 19. Honestly, the delay was in part due to the lack of accessibility. My family and I don’t get the extra movie channels on the satellite package, but during those free channel promotions I had the opportunity to watch. Even though looking back at the content, I possibly could have watched this film when I was 10, but I honestly think I would have found it boring back then. I believe I would have been waiting for Princess Diana to show up in a flashback, or William and Harry to come on screen. I would not have believed in the actors playing their parts, rather waiting for the real people to appear. I certianly wouldn’t have grasped the biopic concept, instead thinking it was a documentary. In that regard, I’m very glad I watched the film when I did, as I could take it in and really absorb it.

Helen Mirren gives quite possibly the best performance of her entire career. She even impressed Her Majesty herself and was invited to Buckingham Palace for a private dinner. Ms. Mirren had to decline, due to work conflicts, but she was extremely honored nonetheless.  I remember hearing news Helen Mirren got the Oscar when it first happened, and I was happy, but reflecting on it now in 2021, I’m super obsessed with the fact she won! Very rarely do you get a performer in a role they completely embody and Helen did that for the Queen.

I even wanted her in the early stages of The Crown to play the elderly Queen Elizabeth down the line in the later seasons. I know this won’t be the case but I, in my dream world of a mind, was really pulling for it to happen. I will however, bring up in a totally nerd way, the connection between these two productions: the stag scene. In the film, one of the most powerful scenes is the stag scene in which Queen Elizabeth realizes the pain and loss caused by Diana’s death. It’s artistic licence but done brilliantly well and everything about it is perfection. In The Crown’s season 4 episode “The Balmoral Test” a subplot involves Diana and Philip hunting a stag, with many references pointing out the comparisons of Diana and said stag they are hunting. It’s just one of those details one may not think about on the onset, but then you go back and realize, “Wow! That’s a powerful connection!”.

The magical thing about Peter Morgan and his writing is he knows how to fill in the gaps between reality and fiction. A perfect example is the Queen’s weekly meetings with the Prime Minister. We know these meetings are happening, but no one but those two actually know what is being discussed. It’s amazing how the scenes are written to be fictional, yet the results from those meetings turn out to be the reality of actual events.

(credit: filmcomment.com)

In this particular production, more so than The Crown, real life footage is used. We see real life footage of the outside of Buckingham Palace in 1997, with the mountains of flowers; we see Princess Dina herself in archival footage before the car crash is depicted; and even real scenes from the funeral are used. It’s really cool and it almost blurs the lines between biopic and documentary. 

Overall, I give all the credit to The Queen because it was the first major production in which Queen Elizabeth II was portrayed as a character in a narrative. It set the tone for The Crown, and I think in the film world (so not including television) it is still the cream of the crop for how the Royal Family should look, and for how they should be portrayed. I don’t believe any film has come even close to the look and feel of The Queen, and future film makers have a very tall order if they want to create a similar result.

In short, even if you are not a fan of the Royal Family, I recommend the film to anyone looking for a biography done right. It’s not a documentary but it’s as close as it can be for being a drama.  Plus you get to see real life Hollywood Queen play the real Queen, and it really doesn’t get cooler than that! 

Queen meets Movie Queen! (credit: thecheatsheet.com)