This year for the Grace Kelly Blogathon Day 2 I made the daunting decision to write up on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954)– which is arguably not only The Master’s best film, but also Grace’s best role.
But before I get into some of the technicalities, I will say that instead of giving a boring bloated analysis of it- Id like to focus on some of the stand out pieces that I feel make the picture brilliant
Grace plays Lisa Carol Fremont in this role- a model and independent woman. Her boyfriend is a photographer LB “Jeff” Jefferies (maybe that’s how they met!) played by Jimmy Stewart. Jeff breaks his leg and is holed up in his apartment with nothing to do but stare out and “spy” on his neighbors. Its all people watching until one night he suspects his neighbor Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) murders his wife. Jeff, Lisa, along with Jeff’s nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), then investigate the truth.
One element that I feel goes overlooked is the scene in which Lisa turns on the lights and introduces herself to the audience. Everyone focuses on her kiss entrance scene- but the scene that follows is just as brilliant.
Lisa goes over and turns on three lights- and with each light says a part of her name. But note the framing- the first light, Lisa- the camera is a close up; the second light, Carol- its a medium shot- and finally the third light, Fremont, the camera zooms out to a long shot in which we get to see her gorgeous black and white frock.
Its pieces like this in which I feel Hitchcock’s tiniest details of framing and dialogue go great with each other. And Grace- she’s the only actress who could make an entrance as simple as this super sophisticated and elegant.
Another element in this movie that I feel may be under rated is Hitchcock’s use of sound. Except for the opening credits, all sound in this film is diegetic sound. Its an interesting choice for Hitch, as usually his soundtrack scores are a key focus of his films. Take a look at the intro to the film (don’t worry no spoilers)
I’m not a fan of Jazz- but there is something so infectious about this piece of music that sets the scene for the film. You automatically thing New York, the 50s, glamour, but business of the city. Also note how in the title sequence there are shades opening almost as if the audience is the voyeur for this picture.
Next- lets talk about the under rated and often taken for granted set of this movie- its a whole neighborhood in a sound stage- and that’s something you rarely see anymore (as its too expensive!). This is a set with no green screen, or digital apartments- they are really there and they are built. From what I know- they used two sound stages and the apartments were the street level while places like the courtyard were actually the basement.
All apartments were made livable, and Hitchcock would give direction through an earpiece that all the actors had. Watch the video for the opening scene of the neighborhood and courtyard- just mind blowing on how that was all created!!
Finally- Lets discuss Grace Kelly in this movie!! This is her ultimate glamour role, her ultimate Hitchcock role and her most well known role. I feel only she could be Lisa Carol Fremont and if someone else like Vera Miles or Kim Novak would have played the role- this picture would not have been as believable or memorable. Lisa Fremont is so proactive, more than just the “girlfriend”and sidekick- as she’s the one doing the action scenes that Jeff can’t. I believe Hitch spent the rest of his career trying to find another actress to create a role such as this- but naturally and utterly failed, finding good, but somewhat sub-parr actresses for big roles in his pictures. Its so easy to take for granted how phenomenal Grace is in this role!!!
In Sept 2017 (the day of Grace’s death) I had the pleasure of viewing Rear Window on the big screen and I can say that it absolutely changes your experience. Seeing every moment play out on the big screen makes it all more thrilling and dazzling.
Click here to read a post I did concerning the fashions of Rear Window.
To Grace I will say that on this happiest day her birthday-I hope we can all pay her a great tribute, and I hope she is thrilled and perhaps touched that there are so many young people who still adore her and her movies!
It’s here everyone! Today begins the 4th Wonderful Grace Kelly blogathon! And I can’t wait to read all of our wonderful reviews! Remember I’m doing today’s posts and Ginnie at The Wonderful World of Cinemais doing tomorrow’s posts (which is Grace’s 89th Birthday!) Let’s so some love to our favorite actress and Princess, Grace Kelly!!!
Happy Noirvember everyone! I’m back for the first entry of 3 this month kicking November off with Phyllis Loves Classic Movies’s remake of the THEY REMADE WHAT? blogathon.
When it comes to His Girl Friday (1940) and The Front Page (1931), its easy to dismiss Lewis Milestone’s The Front Page as just simply, “the original His Girl Friday”. And of course His Girl Friday is so famous in its own right many may forget that it is a remake- it was one of the first movies ever to have overlapping dialogue, is a favorite amongst Cary Grant fans, and contains the now iconic performance of Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson (as Howard Hawks switched this character from a man to a woman during audition read-throughs, when his secretary read the part of Hildy).
However, upon viewing The Front Page for the first time ever, The Front Page is significant in its own right. Up until His Girl Friday, it was the fastest talking picture ever produced and even though yes- it can sometimes struggle with that pre-code dialogue delivery by some of its actors- its very forward in its production and it paves the way in what was to come in the style of which movies were made (see a video link at the end).
Ben Hecht- co writer of the original play
The plot of both these films is the same, and both are adaptions of the 1928 Ben Hecht- Charles MacArthur Broadway play of the same name. Editor Walter Burns and reporter Hildy Johnson are perfect work partners (and in His Girl Friday– ex man and wife), that is until Hildy announces s/he is getting married and will therefore be leaving the newspaper’s employment. Walter wanting to keep his star reporter on board then entices Hildy with the assignment of covering the story on escaped accused murderer Earl Williams. Hilarity then follows when Walter sets up stunts to delay Hildy’s departure- from kidnapping his/her future Mother in law to hiding Williams in a roll top desk!! (And of course there’s the additon of the throw -away fiancee for even more laughs!)
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell
Comparing the two- I have seen His Girl Friday many more times- and I will say it does have the edge in terms of a picture overall but, sometimes the Walter-Hildy romance sidelines the main focus of the newspaper and the dialogue goes so fast you have to go back and play certain lines again to make sure you are hearing it right. The delivery of the dialogue in The Front Page may be weaker, and that’s not the actors fault’s, as this is still an early talkie picture, when speech was still being perfected, but it’s better than a lot of others made around the same time. Adolph Menjou especially gives a great performance as Walter- and hits the dialogue marks nicely- but I’m saying it- he can’t top Cary Grant’s manner of speaking- Cary owns this role.
Adolph Menjou, Pat O’Brien, Mary Brian
In terms of Hildy- its not really applicable to compare the two- as they are basically different characters in these movies. I think its fair to say that while His Girl Friday is a comedy of remarriage The Front Page is more a buddy- buddy comedy and is actually (probably) more comparable to the 1974 Billy Wilder remake (I have not seen this version), in which Hildy is once again a male character. I will say Rosalind Russell is superb in her role. She won the part at the last minute- and after basically everyone else (Jean Arthur, Ginger Rogers, Carole Lombard to name a few!) in Hollywood turned it down.
Overall, I do declare these two films do tell a story of Hollywood evolving in its ability to tell the same story in different production eras. The Front Page came out in 1931- the early talkie, pre code era that was on the verge of change, and His Girl Friday is from 1940, at the height of screwball comedy- and I can see now they both influenced the later works that followed.
Remade again! in 1974.. and again in 1988 as Switching Channels
If I had to give a key difference to describe both of these movies, I conclude that while The Front Page is a more faithful adaption to the play, His Girl Friday is what happens when filmmakers give their own spin on an established story- and in this case it paid of wonderfully for both Howard Hawks and the screwball legacy.
Both of these movies are also in the public domain and are available to watch on youtube.
Check out this video from filmstuck discussing some of the changes made to His Girl Friday- they talk about character framing/ placement and the side by side comparison of the dialogue- it really gets at the distinguishable changes!!
PS- Check out this cool new musical for Buttons!!! with an all star cast- the film comes out Dec 8 in select theaters only! Check Fathom events links for details!!
Hi All! I hope October is treating you well! Before the Blogathon rush of November (seriously think I’m doing at least 3??!!) I thought I would do something a little bit different. Obviously, I love classic films, but not even those who blog about them can say we love every single film we watch. I’ve seen a dud or two (or many) and I wanted to share 5 films that I personally can’t get into. This isn’t to say they are, “bad”, or, “poorly made”, or that others don’t enjoy them- they are just some I don’t care for. Disclaimer: I am not bashing these in any way- and if you happen to love them, that’s truly fine- and cool you see something I don’t!! 😉
I present to you Five Films The Flapper Dame doesn’t love:
1- Blood and Sand (1941)- Let me start off by saying this film has great cinematography and costumes. But I can’t get into the plot- as it’s so sloowww- nor do I really “love” Tyrone Power (NOTE: Witness for the Prosecution (1957) is an amazing film though!!!).
2- McQ (1974)- I LOVE JOHN WAYNE- I do- I even visited his childhood home! But- I do not like this film. It’s got a cast who don’t really gel together on top of a role that doesn’t suit John Wayne too well. I buy he can be a cop, but somehow to me it doesn’t work on this movie.
3- Jamaica Inn (1939)- A Hitchcock film from the Golden Year with the cast members of Maureen O’Hara and Charles Laughton seems like it couldn’t fail- but its really bad. The plot set up seems excellent when you read the synopsis, but then you watch and it is awful. Even Mr. Hitchcock claimed the picture was horrible.
4- My Fair Lady (1964)- Audrey is in my top 5 favorite leading ladies, yet this is not a film I like. I know it won best picture but for some reason, I don’t enjoy it. Maybe its the dubbing of Audrey’s voice or perhaps the length of the movie- I can’t pinpoint why!
5-The Man in the Flannel Gray Suit (1956)- I like the whole Mad Men vibe and honestly think yes- how is Mad Men not ripped off of this??- but there’s something that’s very dis-connective about the whole film- as in- yes, the flashbacks are important but they don’t seem to resonate with the present narrative. Maybe the story being told doesn’t sit well in a movie run time, and that’s why Mad Men worked as a TV show for the overall narrative.
And there you have it! Again-I mean no harm if you like these movies! I may love a film you don’t like, but that’s the beauty of films- it is what it is, yet we all see something different!
Last week a list compiled by Feedspot was made up of the 30 most popular classic film blogs on the internet and I’m proud and honored to say that my little blog, The Flapper Dame ranks 30 on that list!
It’s a humbling experience and I must say- writing for classic film is a real joy in my life. When your job gets you down and irritated, and you’ve got few other hobbies, writing (and watching!) about classic films and the men/women who made them is the best escape from that.
Its also awesome a lot of my fellow writers I’ve come to know and admire made the list- The Wonderful World of Cinema, In the Good Old days of Classic Hollywood, Silver Screenings, Once upon a Screen, etc- they all have become my inspirations and encourage me to become a better writer!
Number one is of course The Classic Movie Hub- and rightfully so, as it’s seriously is the best of the best of the best from contests, to film screenings, to an encyclopedia of knowledge on every classic actor and film, Ann Marie runs the coolest website on the web!
But last but not least- I want to thank the readers- casual, devout, a one time reader passing by- you all are the reason for my ranking and for that- I”m truly in your in debt- I would have no blog if It wasn’t for you all!!!
I also wanna give a major shout out to my Mom, Sandra, who is always telling people about my blog and telling me to email my address to her friends- I really credit her for the success of the blog!
Further shout outs go to my Dad, Thomas and sister, Eliza as well as two teachers: my college speech teacher Mike Shannon and my high school AP US government teacher Mr. James Wool- for always being supportive.
And, of course my Grandfather Joseph Kasper, for introducing me to my first “movie star” John Wayne.
Without any of them this blog would not have ever happened!
Here’s to classic film bloggers and lovers everywhere!
So everyone, it’s that time of year again- The time where we all get together and celebrate the extraordinary human being: Grace Patricia Kelly. This year is extra exciting because Ginnie of the Wonderful World of Cinema has invited me to be her co-host!!!
The rules and guidelines are as follows:
– You can write about any topic relating to Grace- her movies, hollywood relations/ friendships, collaborations with Hitchcock and Edith Head, her time as Princess of Monaco, her family- possibilities are endless- just make sure Grace is the center of the topic (naturally!)
-The blogathon will run November 11-12, 2018
-Duplicates are allowed, since her filmography isn’t very big!
-Blog posts must be new material
-Maximum of 2 entries per person
-you CAN participate if you don’t have a blog- a guest post is acceptable!
and TWO NEW RULES THIS YEAR
– Don’t participate if you don’t like Grace Kelly- in the past, Ginnie had participants who BASHED Grace- that’s not acceptable! AND
2- If you want to participate, YOU MUST subscribe first.
You can subscribe to to the Blogathon with me, Ginnie, on Twitter, or by email- just let us know and we will mark you down!
Can’t wait to hear your choices so we can celebrate this amazing Actress, Princess, Mother, Wife, Friend, Colleague, Fashion Icon (need I go on!? 😉 )
PS-Thank you ALL (my readers, my casual reader, my occasional visitors, and anyone who has read even 1 of my posts) for making The Flapper Dame Number 30 on the list of Top 30 Classic Film Blogs on the Net! I am absolutely humbled by this and feel it’s an honor to be named. I started film blogging in Dec 2015 just to find a place where I belong and talk about topics I love- classic Hollywood films and the men and woman who made them. I feel I do belong in this community of Classic Film bloggers- I’ve “met” some of the coolest bloggers and people. You all (my readers and fellow bloggers) inspire me everyday to continue to blog. I want to thank all of you and let you know I read every single comment and appreciate all of the kindness. It truly is a great part of my life. and one day I hope to make film writing my whole life.
Lastly and especially- I also want to Thank my Mom, Sandra who reads every post on here and spreads the words to her friends; and my late Grandfather Joseph Kapser for introducing me to the world of Classic Movies by showing me who John Wayne is.
I’m always happy to do blogathons especially for friends and when Phyllis Loves Classic movies announced she was doing a Blogathon for the one and only Mr. Fred MacMurray I had to say yes because Fred is super awesome and vastly underrated.
I chose to write up on the 1936 flick Princess Comes Across, which showcases Fred at the start of his career and one that, according to his daughter in her 2014 TCM tribute video, pairs him with one of his favorite leading ladies, Carole Lombard.
Princess is one of the many 1930s films that combine genres. It combines comedy and mystery and Carole, as always, brings her special zaniness to the comedy element of the picture. She proves she can give as good as Greta Garbo, as she puts on a wonderful Swedish accent. Fred on the other hand may have been a “new” leading man, as he was billed under Lombard, but he just proves that he has the star quality that we all love him for and this picture paved the way for the comedic leading man he became.
The plot is kind of predictable but because Fred and Carole are the leads its worth watching. Carole is Wanda Nash, an actress pretending to be Swedish Princess Olga to land a movie contract and Fred plays King Mantell, a concertina player. They meet on the ship and begin falling for each other but when Robert Darcy finds out Princes Olga is not who she says she is, things get messy. The comedy then turns to mystery when Darcy dies and the death is pinned on Wanda and King Mantell- and it’s a race against the police to find the real killer.
Personally, when watching this movie, the one thing that could have made it a well-remembered great classic is that it was too much mystery not enough comedy. It has the perfect setup for a screwball plot, as both Wanda Nash and King Mantell do a great job at fooling each other and falling in love. Carole and Fred have great chemistry, so everything was perfect for a screwball success. It also has another great element of screwball, as Fred does an amazing job of providing authentic music segments on the concertina, as he played and sang in real life as well (Don’t all great screwball films have great little musical segments?)
Furthermore, I also find the behind the scenes story to be much more interesting than the actual plot. Fred was not the first choice to be in the movie- as the studio wanted George Raft, who, (shocker), didn’t want the role after starring with Carole in Rumba (he felt the movie was made to favor her). Fred was then brought in after the success of their pairing in 1935’s Hands Across the Table.
All in all, I do say the film was good- but it could have been great. Still- its 100% worth watching to see Carole and Fred together and watch Carole be a fabulous as “Princess Olga”. And let’s not forget- it’s got our Blogathon Star Fred MacMurray!!!
I am very excited to write this article, as it’s been something I’ve always wanted to write about- a visit to John Wayne’s hometown of Winterset, Iowa. I’d like to dedicate this article to the owners of The Heavenly Habitat Bed and Breakfast we stayed at, Steve and Nancy, as well as my Mom, Sandra, and (as always when it comes to The Duke) my late Grandfather Joseph Kasper, the man who introduced me to John Wayne in the first place.
My mom and I took the trip specifically to see the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, as we are both major fans (thanks to Joseph Kasper!!!) but we soon discovered the small town of Winterset to be absolutely delightful. The drive was 5 ½ hours from our hometown of Tinley Park IL (outside Chicago) but the drive seemed to fly by, as the open road was calming (well that, and we had good music to listen to- KISS, Def Leppard, Ozzy Osbourne, the RENT soundtrack, The Beach Boys- my request!).
We got into Winterset and the first thing I noticed that got me really excited was the John Wayne Drive sign- it’s not every day you cruise down a street named after an American Icon! We drove down to the Heavenly Habitat Bed and Breakfast (Maureen O’Hara stayed here in 2013 for the ground breaking ceremony for the building of the JW museum; we stayed in the same room she did) but because we were early for check in, we decided to walk down to the John Wayne Museum and look into the gift shop (the first of many trips!!). We also had the opportunity to take some great pics outside the museum.
Maureen O’Hara (rightfully) donated this diamond on the Duke’s Movie Diamond Walk outside the museum
Taken moments after we got there
Cut out Duke
In the Gift Shop!!
While inside the gift shop, I was really ecstatic about just being in Iowa and being in the town Duke was born in!!! My Mom and I took some pictures and I can positively absolutely say I’ve never been more excited just to look around a gift shop.
This is the entrance to the little vignette that plays
After the gift shop and photo taking session, we went back to The Heavenly Habitat Bed and Breakfast and met the owners Steve and Nancy (please please click the link at the end for their website and to learn more about them) The Heavenly Habitat name sounds exactly as the name suggests, heavenly; it was an old church converted to a B&B. My Mom chose this place because of its amazing reviews- and the fact Maureen O’Hara stayed there in 2013 made it even more of a reason to stay there (my Mom made sure to reserve the room that she stayed in). At first, that was what made me really excited to stay, but as we got more acquainted with both the place and Steve and Nancy, I felt extremely comfortable there, and I’m the type of person who has a hard time opening up to new people and places. Towards the end of the visit I felt as comfortable at the B&B as I do in my own room at home- I didn’t want to leave!!
Heavenly Habitat- aka The Perfect B&B
With Nancy & Steve- Two Lovely People
Maureen O’Hara stayed in this room in 2013- and I got to stay there too!!!!!!
Steve and Nancy are the nicest couple and they are the most wonderful people. Like I mentioned earlier, I have a hard time opening up to people, but they were so friendly and easy to talk to they had me talking with them in no time. They told me stories of when Maureen O’Hara stayed with them- how the paparazzi created a frenzy, Maureen’s memories making McLintock, how she had to put on make -up and do her hair before she went out on the town- and every one was priceless! But the most touching thing Steve told me was how much Ms. O’Hara enjoyed her stay in Winterset. He told me of how she said the rolling hills in Iowa reminded her of Ireland and that she wanted so very badly to come back to Winterset one day.
Maureen O’Hara’s signature in the guestbook- above her’s is her caretaker and below is her great-granddaughter (she didn’t stay but signed anyway!)
But it was really the second day in Winterset that the real fun began. It all started with breakfast, when Steve and Nancy made us Maureen O’Hara’s favorite eggs: Emeril Lagasse’s Shirred Eggs and they were absolutely delicious. We stayed and chatted with them for a while until the JW Museum opened up at 10- and I was literally jumping out of my skin when we got there.
The JW museum is small in space, but packed to the max with artifacts, props, costumes, pictures and other memorabilia from his life and movies.
I’ll let the pictures and comments do the talking, as this is just a small sample of what we saw. I was so busy reading and fawning I didn’t get as many pics as I wanted to and I thank my Mom for taking the pics I slacked off on (even though I thought she was taking too many at the time, I now thank her!!!).
Panels from The Shootist (1976). Amazing to be with these pieces that were in the final scene ever of John Wayne on film.
With the actual Jaunting Car used in The Quiet Man (1952). It came all the way from Ireland and placed in the JW Museum at Maureen O’Hara’s request. I was beaming
It was truly amazing and I can’t really say much in words about it other than the fact it was just the coolest thing ever.
After doing the Museum part we then went over to the little theater area where a 15 minute clip reel/ vignette plays. There were so many posters of Duke’s movies, but there’s not really time to take pics inside because there’s always people waiting for the next running of the clip reel. I was lucky enough to be standing next to The Horse Soldiers (1959) poster and asked my mom to snap a pic of me with it (my inner Bill Holden fan was also really excited for that!)
Me and The Horse Soldiers poster– Duke and Bill Holden!!!
After the museum part we then walked down to Duke’s childhood home and birthplace. Going down to and being inside his home was extremely humbling. It was a four room house with just a front room, little parlor, bedroom and kitchen. John Wayne came from the most humble of roots and it was in that moment when I was in his house where I realized how much of Winterset, Iowa was present in his overall personality. He didn’t spend too much of his life here, but the spirit of his hometown was forever embedded in him. Looking back at it all, I really feel like I was able to capture John Wayne’s spirit by making a visit there and a part of it is now a part of me. I don’t have too many pictures of the inside part of the house, I was too busy being amazed, but I will say I’m OK with that, it’s just something that should be seen with your actual eyes.
After we visited the home, we went back to the gift shop where we got more stuff- (seriously it’s as if I saw something new to get every time we walked in; I think we went back 5-6 more times and every time got stuff- hahaha!)
My mom and I just spent the rest of the day walking around the little town of the Winterset area- it’s so cute and quaint. Everything was in walking distance of each other and in every shop people were friendly and polite. We ate at Montross Pharmacy & Drug store where we sat at the counter (my request!) and had ice cream floats. It was something I don’t have the opportunity to do at home, so I loved it! I felt like I was back in time doing something people of my grandparents’ generation would do- it was the most awesome memory!
In the late afternoon we just went back to the B&B- and we watched The Quiet Man– what else!
The next morning it was time to leave, and both my Mom and I were so, so sad to leave the B&B! We truly want to go back and are considering making Winterset a yearly Mother-Daughter trip for us. I left this message in the guest journal for Steve and Nancy and wanted to share it with you all here:
Overall, I feel extremely lucky to have been able to make it to John Wayne’s hometown and see his birthplace/childhood home and museum; I want to thank my Mom for taking me there, wanting to do a special trip with me- It means a lot and I know your father is looking down at us so happy we made it there; I know he was alongside us the whole time!!!
And again I thank Steve and Nancy for being wonderful people and running the most perfect Bed and Breakfast- it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when I will come back!! Steve, I truly do believe you when you say the spirit of Maureen O’Hara looks after the B&B and I say, “Yes”, I truly felt her spirit within its walls.
And lastly to Mr. John Wayne himself, all I can say is your little hometown is so proud of you, and your legacy continues to be felt there to this day. I felt completely honored and humbled to tour your hometown and I will be back again.
1939 is of course known to all of us as The Golden Year because of all of the now true classic films released during the year. One of those movies that came out during The Golden Year was the final RKO pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle– a portrayal of the real life husband and wife dance team that rose to fame in the pre WWI era- and since its debut it has fallen from public’s attention.
Vernon & Irene VS Fred & Ginger
When one views Vernon and Irene Castle, I don’t believe it’s fair to say it’s a musical- more so, I think of it as a biopic with a few straight dance numbers (and one original song, Only when You’re in my Arms, sung by Fred)- none of those typical showy numbers and every dance is a careful recreation of a real dance style. In other words, there is nothing “original” about the choreography present in this film.
Vernon and Irene- their first meeting
However, just because this isn’t a Fred & Ginger sing and dance show, I do believe this film is important because it is based off real people– and is a rare movie from its time to have an unhappy ending. The picture on a whole is not bad- and if you want to see Fred and Ginger play straight romance and more dramatic acting- this is the opportunity to see that. For Fred especially, this was a turn into a more serious part and it reminded the public Ginger had a true range of ability and foreshadows a lot of her later work.
How accurate it actually is to the real Vernon and Irene Castle- well, changes were made. For one, Vernon was British; secondly their loyal servant Walter (who was played by Walter Brennan) was black; and thirdly, Irene was dark haired. While Ginger recalls in her autobiography she clashed with Irene Castle on the making of the picture (Irene was a consultant and the movie itself was based on her memoirs), it was noted that according to Irene, Fred did a wonderful job of capturing the real spirit and emotional embodiment of Vernon.
The famous “Last Dance” For Vernon and Irene….
…but not quite for Fred and Ginger
Today, this film does rank as an odd one in the Fred -Ginger bunch- and if you’re not into biopics- especially old fashioned ones where the stories were given glamour treatment- then you’re not going to like this film. For me to watch it, I view it differently than I would a musical and I tend to focus on the love story and also the historical aspect. Even if you don’t feel the spirit of the Castles, you definitely feel the chemistry of Fred and Ginger- and that alone makes it watchable. (And if you really can’t latch onto anything- there is a cute little dog involved in the early half of the film)
Needless to say, I do declare, that despite its flaws, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle is a biopic product of its time, a memorable tribute to the real Castles, a notable 1939 production, and of course, a different, yet interesting final RKO sendoff for the most famous dance partnership of all time.
When it comes to Natalie Wood, I really believe she’s the Six Degrees actress of her day. She worked with so many famous names, that sometimes we as fans even forget the extent. I naturally adore Natalie as much as any other classic movie fan, but will admit it took me a couple years to fully appreciate her as an actress and performer- and I’m still discovering her range. I think the reason being is her films are not as instantly likable compared to others- but the good thing about that is it challenges you to view her films differently and really dig deep for those elements that hook you.
One of her films that I instantly took liking to, however, was Love with the Proper Stranger (1963). I honestly didn’t even know this film existed; I saw it on her filmography and sort of passed it off as not anything special. I didn’t think much of it at all until I read about the film in depth in the TCM/Manoah Bowman/Natasha Gregson Wagner collaborated coffee table book Natalie Wood: Reflections of a Legendary Life (a birthday gift from my parents in 2017) .
Co-starring with Natalie is Mr. King of Cool, Steve McQueen, in his early career and in one of his first leading man roles. McQueen plays musician Rocky Papasano and Natalie plays Macy’s shop girl Angie Rossini. The film starts off by Angie tracking down Rocky by telling him she’s pregnant but all she wants is a name of a doctor- no strings attached. They don’t think they will see much of each other, but due to the expense of abortion, they end up having raise money get it. The pair bond and soon develops a mutual admiration for each other- and of course, neither admits it.
Natalie in this role is just perfect, and as mentioned in the Natalie: Reflectionsbook, this was the first time in her career she played a real adult woman who is free to make her own choices. If Rebel Without a Cause was her transition to teen/ young adult roles, this film was her move to full on adult woman roles. The character of Angie is making decisions about family, moving away from home, and whether or not to pursue romantic relationships. She is dealing with a dysfunctional family, being made fun of by her brothers (Herschel Bernardi and Harvey Lembeck) and pressured to marry a cook (Tom Bosely); and even has a bit of a romantic rival for McQueen’s affections played by Edie Adams. Her problems are all contemporary and relatable- and Natalie does a splendid job playing the role.
The most ground breaking scene of the film has to be the abortion scene, or should I say SPOILERalmost abortion sceneSPOILER. According to Natalie, this scene was entirely improvised by her and Steve, as all it said in the script was, “Get hysterical”. It’s absolutely emotional, and I would even argue it’s better than her Splendor in the Grassbathtub scene- I really can’t find words to describe it, all I can say is its one of those, “watch it to feel it scenes.” It truly rides the line of pro-choice or pro-life- without much being said at all and is immensely ahead of its time.
The other part I really admire about this movie is the chemistry between Natalie and Steve McQueen. Throughout the entire film, McQueen is his coy but alluring self- and you can slowly see Natalie falling for him against her will; she even tries to be aloof and standoffish to put him off, but that only attracts him more! The scene when they have dinner together towards the end is so charming and the dialogue makes you smile. If Steve McQueen showed up at your door and said “Man you look wild…. You look like a woman”, wouldn’t that make you swoon? (and note- I’m saying this as a casual fan of McQueen!)
Overall, I declare this film should make us all want the “bells and the banjos” in a romance; and say this film should be viewed when it is on, as TCM rarely airs it. It is available to own on DVD or Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics, and I’m really thankful as they are the studio who rescued this movie and put it on disc format for the first time. Don’t miss out on this little hidden gem of a picture- click here to buy it from Kino Lorber, here to buy it from Amazon or HERE to buy from TCM. For Natalie Wood: Reflections of A Legendary Life (Great book!! It’s one of the best out there!) AMAZON Barnes and Noble or TCMshop
And to Miss Natalie Wood- Happiest of Birthdays in Heaven! The world still misses you, and generations of new fans have come to admire you-myself included! XOXO