Monsters and Matinees: Nature Strikes Back in Eco-horror Films

Nature Strikes Back in Eco-horror Films

Is there anything scarier in horror movies than the truth factor?

It doesn’t matter how far-fetched the plot or how loosely it may be based in reality, just a touch of “this did happen” or “this could happen” sets me on edge. (I haven’t watched The Blob the same way since my young niece shared that a teen blogger said it was based on a true story.)

Some films are set up to put the truth factor in your mind from the start. Take Day of the Animals (1974) a film with a somber opening crawl that detailed the real work of doctors F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina of the University of California who startled the scientific community in 1974 with their findings on how chlorofluorocarbons – found in everyday objects like hairspray and spray deodorants – were contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer. (They later co-shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry.)

One way to unnerve a movie viewer is to tell them the film could really happen, as does the opening crawl of Day of the Animals.

The crawl continued: “dangerous amounts of ultraviolet rays are reaching the surface of our planet and adversely affecting all living things. This motion picture dramatizes what could happen in the near future if we continue to do nothing.”

That’s one way to get the viewer’s attention – I was unsettled before the first character was on screen.

Day of the Animals was one of the eco-horror films of the 1970s that came from growing ecological and environmental concerns. The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 was held to acknowledge these worries about pollution, pesticides and other contaminants and how it’s up to humans to protect the world’s natural resources.

If we didn’t? Well, these films were cautionary tales on what could happen.

Day of the Animals (1974) depicted the disastrous effects of holes in the ozone layer. Food of the Gods (1976) serves a version of what happens when chemicals we’re putting into the ground rise again. In Prophecy (1979), environmental waste from a paper mill causes a bear to mutate into a giant killer.

* * * *

In the eco-horror film Frogs, the amphibious title creatures gather to watch humans.

The first of these eco-horror films was Frogs (1972), which addressed the effects of pollution.

But don’t be fooled by the title. There are more than frogs in this cult classic. Snakes, spiders, alligators, leeches, insects, amphibians and whatever else might be found around a Florida island take revenge against humans for destroying the planet. The frogs mostly sit – or hop – around, eerily watching the humans and seemingly instructing the other creatures to attack. As in Day of the Animals, this animal voyeurism is effectively creepy.

The wealthy Crockett family is spending their annual two-week birthday celebration on their private Florida island. Patriarch Jason Crockett (Ray Milland) is a cranky, wheelchair-bound man who doesn’t show much regard for anything or anyone other than himself. The already unhappy group is even more miserable because of the incessant croaking of the frogs that continues around the clock.

They should have listened closer. The frogs aren’t happy about the family’s use of poisons at their plantation and paper mill, plus their general indifference to nature. Uncle Stuart suggests pouring oil in the water to choke off the frogs, no matter what else it kills. Mr. Crockett’s solution is to dispatch the gardener to spray pesticide around the island to quiet both the frogs and his family.

Joan Van Ark and Sam Elliott try to survive an attack by nature in Frogs.

Enter freelance photographer Pickett Smith (played by Sam Elliott in a rare clean-shaven role) who is on assignment for an ecology magazine’s pollution spread. He’s seen the water pollution around the island before his canoe is upended by two family members in a motorboat. Mr. Crockett isn’t happy about the unwelcome visitor until he realizes that Pickett’s knowledge of ecology could come in handy with the family’s “frog problem.”

Again, pay attention people. You’ve got more than a frog problem as that giant snake wrapped around the dining room chandelier proves.

An uninvited guest shows up for dinner in Frogs.

“Frogs attacking windows, snakes on chandeliers. Those aren’t exactly normal things Mr. Crockett,” Pickett says in the understatement of the film.

But Crockett counters with his belief that “man is master of the world.”

As bodies pile up, the stubborn Crockett refuses to see the deaths as anything other than accidents. The soft-spoken Pickett knows better. “You’ve overdone it with the pesticides and poisons here. I’m afraid to think of what’s happened,” Pickett says in a sentence that sums up the film.

A grisly death in Frogs.

Most of the attacking animals in Frogs are small, but what they lack in size they make up for in quantity. The image of a person covered in spiders and entombed in their webs makes its point.

Frogs wants us to remember that all the contaminates we put into the Earth and air will find their way back to us.

* * * *

A group of hikers are stalked by animals that have turned aggressive because
of holes in the ozone layer in Day of the Animals.

There aren’t any frogs in Day of the Animals, but there’s a deadly array of birds, bears, snakes, buzzards, mountain lions, rats and dogs for starters. They’re among the animals that have turned dangerously aggressive at high altitudes around a Northern California mountainside town (and the world), a phenomenon blamed on problems with the ozone layer.

There’s more, too. Sweaty locals are complaining about the heat while news reports advise against going outside because of ozone depletion.

That won’t stop tour guide Steve Buckner (Christopher George) who ignores a ranger discouraging him from taking city folk up the mountains for a two-week hike. The area is so remote they’re dropped off by helicopter (never a good thing in a horror movie). The group includes a boy and his mean mother (classic film actress Ruth Roman), a dying pro football player, an anthropology professor (Richard Jaeckel), a squabbling husband and wife, a desperately-in-love young couple, a TV reporter (Lynda Day George, real-life wife of Christophe George), a Native American guide named Santee (Michael Ansara) and an ad exec (Leslie Nielsen).

Real-life husband and wife Christopher George and Lynda Day George
star in Day of the Animals.

In the mountains, the beauty of nature can’t hide that something isn’t right. Santee feels it. “There’s something strange in the woods and I don’t know what it is.” Things go bad fast. Birds get aggressive, a wolf attacks the sleeping group the first night. Just like in Frogs, there’s resistance to the idea that those are anything other than isolated incidents. That changes the next day at the food drop where it’s been destroyed by animals who have eaten everything. Night 2 brings an even larger attack.

It’s not much better in the town below which is being evacuated by the Army with more blame put on ozone depletion. (This film has a very focused view of the problem.)

By now, we’re well into that familiar movie guessing game of “who will survive” (and, let’s admit it, “who we want to survive”). Tempers flare, people fight people.

Problems with the ozone layer start to affect people as Leslie Nielsen takes off his shirt
and attacks his fellow hikers – and a grizzly – in Day of the Animals.

Most shocking is the usually funny Leslie Nielsen’s performance as a racist and violent man who becomes as much a danger to the group as the animals. It’s difficult to listen to him rant and threaten others in the last third of the film. It culminates in a notably strange scene of a shirtless Nielsen provoking a hand-to-hand battle with a grizzly.

In perhaps the film’s boldest statement, Nielsen’s growing rage mirrors that of the animals and presents the idea that the “ozone thing,” as it’s called, has the same dangerous effect on humans as it does on animals.

Repeated images of a mountain lion and other animals stalking hikers
elevate the tension in Day of the Animals.

Day of the Animals is a surprisingly tense film. I never relaxed and jumped several times even on my second viewing (and I’m not a film jumper). The horror builds on the repeated images and sounds of animals in their natural habitat. As in Frogs, the animals are voyeurs who stalk their victims. Birds circle overhead; a mountain lion crouches on a rock like he’s ready to pounce; a bear is always walking nearby just out of sight. It’s unnerving.

Yet all those disturbing images, the multiple animal attacks and Leslie Nielsen thinking he’s more powerful than a grizzly aren’t as scary as the one feature that sets eco-horror apart from other films: it could happen.

Ground pollution eaten by chickens has some big results in Food of the Gods.

* * * *

More eco-horror

Here are three other films that could fall under the eco-horror banner.

Food of the Gods (1976), a very loose adaptation of H.G. Wells novel. Contaminants that rise from the ground are mistaken for food and given to animals who grow large and deadly. This comes from American International Pictures and is directed by Bert I. Gordon.

The Swarm (1978) is more of a disaster film than eco-horror since the all-star cast faces an invasion of deadly African killer bees. But the much-maligned Irwin Allen movie is worth mentioning if only for the cast of Michael Caine, Olivia De Havilland, Katharine Ross, Patty Duke, Bradford Dillman and Fred MacMurray.

Long Weekend (1978) is a well-regarded Australian film in which a miserable couple goes away for a few days and their reckless disregard for nature – tossing cigarette ashes into the brush, killing animals – causes nature to fight back.

 Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Toni’s Monsters and Matinees articles here.

Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love for classic movies in her blog, Watching Forever. Toni was the president of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now leads the offshoot group, Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown contest. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.

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Cinemallennials: Some Like It Hot (1959)

Cinemallennials: Some Like It Hot (1959)

Cinemallennials Some Like It Hot

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Cinemallennials, it is a bi-weekly podcast in which I, and another millennial, watch a classic film that we’ve never seen before, and discuss its significance and relevance in today’s world.

In today’s episode, I talked with Mary Jo Hernandez about the 1959 comedy, Some Like it Hot, directed by Hollywood legend Billy Wilder. Some Like It Hot is a hilarious romp that is both meaningful and surprisingly appropriate for our own time.

Billy Wilder is considered one of the most inventive and adaptable filmmakers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. From his first success in turning Greta Garbo from a tragic heroine into a comedy star in Ninotchka, to casting William Holden against type and bringing silent star Gloria Swanson back into the limelight for Sunset Boulevard, Wilder was truly one of a kind. While he was able to adapt actors to roles or film genres that audiences weren’t used to, Wilder’s ‘daring’ is his most significant contribution to Hollywood, and some believe that Some Like It Hot was the death knell of the strict production code that censored films during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Billy Wilder and Marilyn Monroe on the set of Some Like It Hot
Billy Wilder with Marilyn Monroe on the set, and Tony Curtis in the background

Some Like It Hot, follows the story of two musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), who witness a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre-like crime and are on the run from gangster Spats Columbo. In order to escape the gangster’s clutches, they disguise themselves as women (Josephine and Daphne) and join an all-girl band that’s on its way to Florida. Both Joe and Jerry go crazy lusting over the band’s singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), who also changes her identity to get what she wants when she meets the heir to the Shell Oil empire, Junior (who is really Joe in disguise).

During this episode, Mary Jo and I will be discussing identity change and acceptance, how men can see and understand women’s reactions to inappropriate behavior, and how sometimes ‘faking it’ is the ultimate path to making it.

Some Like It Hot band featureing Tony Curtis Jack Lemmon Marilyn Monroe
The ‘all girl’ band on the way to Florida

Some Like It Hot was not approved by the Motion Picture Production Code, otherwise known as the Hays Code, which prohibited the use of both visual and written representations of vulgarity, crime, and sexuality. The film’s depictions and references to homosexuality, cross-dressing, and promiscuity were deemed major offenses at the time, but Wilder was able to drive his themes home without directly addressing them.  Here are a few examples:

As Joe and Jerry begin their cross-dressing survival journey, Jerry (now Daphne) slips and falls when boarding the train to Florida. Band manager Bienstock pats Daphne on the butt, encouraging her to get back up. As a result of this unwarranted touching, Daphne exclaims “Fresh!”

Daphne is constantly harassed by millionaire Osgood (Joe E. Brown) who continually follows her around their hotel despite being rejected. Although Osgood does have a redemption arc by the film’s closing, this example (as well as the example above), is an eye-opener to men, showing a woman’s point of view about being pressured or sexualized.

Some Like It Hot Marilyn Monroe Jack Lemmon Tony Curtis handing flowers to Monroe
Sugar, Daphne and Josephine

The third example is where Osgood’s redemption comes in, and shows how Some Like It Hot bridges the gap between being relevant in its own time as well as today. This involves a spoiler alert, so if you haven’t seen the film, you can skip the next paragraph.

Osgood proposes to Daphne, who accepts, knowing that he’ll get millions in an anticipated divorce settlement once Osgood learns his true identity. As the film resolves to its end, Joe and Sugar unite in love, despite the ruse Joe tried to pull on Sugar, and Daphne tries to distance himself and confess to Osgood about who he really is and why he can’t marry him. Every excuse that Daphne gives, Osgood accepts, much to Daphne’s chagrin, and exhausted by everything, Daphne (now Jerry again) takes off his wig and exclaims, “I’m a man!” to which Osgood replies with a grin, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” This scene, showing Osgood’s acceptance of Jerry’s true identity, presents a forward-thinking perspective of homosexuality and gender identity, connecting our world today with the film world of the past.

Some Like It Hot Joe E Brown Jack Lemmon last scene Nobody's Perfect
Osgood and Jerry

Through the use of comedy and a stellar cast, Billy Wilder was able to address topics that he wouldn’t have been able to, if the film was written as a drama. His use of double entendre and coded references enabled him, and his actors, to push the boundaries of filmmaking. Some Like It Hot was able to toe the line of being appropriate for its time as well as being ahead of its time, setting a precedent for years to follow. And, despite not being approved by the Motion Picture Production Code, the film was an overwhelming success.

I hope you enjoy this episode of Cinemallennials, which you can find here on apple podcasts or on spotify. Please reach out to me as I would love to hear your thoughts on Some Like It Hot, especially if you’re a first-time viewer too!

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— Dave Lewis for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Dave’s CMH Cinemallennials articles here.

Dave Lewis is the producer, writer, and host of Cinemallennials, a podcast where he and another millennial watch a classic film that they haven’t seen before ranging from the early 1900s to the late 1960s and discuss its significance and relevance in our world today. Before writing for Classic Movie Hub, Dave wrote about Irish and Irish-American history, the Gaelic Athletic Association in the United States, and Irish innovators for Irish America magazine. You can find more episodes of Cinemallennials, film reviews and historical analyses, on Dave’s website dlewmoviereview.com or his YouTube channel.

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Screen Classics Discussion Video Series: “Growing Up Hollywood” with Victoria Riskin, William Wellman Jr. and Alan Rode

“Growing Up Hollywood” Screen Classics Discussion Debut
Victoria Riskin & William Wellman Jr, moderated by Alan Rode

We’re so happy to share the Very First Event in our Exclusive Classic Movie Hub Screen Classics Discussion Video Series with University Press of Kentucky and co-host Aurora from Once Upon a Screen! It’s called Growing Up Hollywood, and it premiered on Facebook and YouTube earlier tonight.

Film scholar and author Alan Rode (Michael Curtiz: A Life In Film) moderated the event, which, IMHO, was an absolutely delightful chat with two children of Hollywood legends — Victoria Riskin and William Wellman Jr. A Big Thank You to Victoria and William for sharing such wonderful and very personal stories about what it was like growing up with such famous parents during the Golden Age of Hollywood!

And — since both Victoria and William are also successful biographers of their parents — CMH will be kicking off this inaugural event by giving away a prize package that includes Alan’s Michael Curtiz biography, as well as Victoria’s book Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir and William Wellman, Jr.’s Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel. You can enter to win the books here.

Here is the entire discussion in all its glory for you to enjoy 🙂

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Stay tuned for more in this Discussion Series — which will include conversations about Jane Russell, Jayne Mansfield, Charles Boyer and more!

And please keep checking back here because CMH will be giving away lots of University Press of Kentucky classic movie books throughout the year. There are too many titles to list here, but just to give you a hint, we’ll be including books about Joan Crawford, Patricia Neal, Jayne Mansfield, Charles Boyer, Hitchcock, Vitagraph, the Studios and more!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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“Growing Up Hollywood” Book Giveaway: Victoria Riskin, William Wellman Jr. and Alan Rode

“Growing Up Hollywood” Book Giveaway
A Prize Package to Kick Off our Screen Classics Discussion Series

CMH is happy to announce the very first of our year-long monthly book giveaways as part of our partnership with University Press of Kentucky!

Our first book giveaway is in celebration of Growing Up Hollywood, the premiere event in our exclusive Classic Movie Hub Screen Classics Discussion Video Series with University Press of Kentucky, and co-host Aurora from Once Upon a Screen!

The event premiered earlier tonight on Facebook, and featured author Alan Rode leading a discussion with two children of Hollywood legends – Victoria Riskin and William Wellman Jr – who shared some wonderful and very personal stories about growing up in Hollywood with their very famous parents.

That said, to celebrate, we will be giving away one prize package of three classic movie biographies, courtesy of University Press of Kentucky:

In order to qualify to win this Prize Package via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, April 17 at 6PM EST.

  • April 17: One Winner (wins all three books)

We will announce one lucky winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub, the day after the winner is picked around 9PM EST — in other words, we will announce the winner on Sunday April 18 around 9PM EST on Twitter. And, please note that you don’t have to have a Twitter account to enter; just see below for the details.

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And now on to the contest!

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, April 17, 2021 at 6PM EST —

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

2) Then TWEET (not DM) the following message*:
Just entered to win the “Growing Up Hollywood” THREE-Book #Giveaway courtesy of @KentuckyPress & @ClassicMovieHub – biographies from Alan Rode @alancinephile Victoria Riskin @vriskin & William Wellman Jr — #EnterToWin here: http://ow.ly/Eoro50Ei9fL

THE QUESTION:
In your opinion, what would be the most exciting or coolest thing about growing up with famous parents during the Golden Age of Hollywood?

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to clas@gmail.com and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

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If you missed the premiere event, you can catch it here on YouTube:

“Growing Up Hollywood” Screen Classics Discussion with Alan Rode, Victoria Riskin and William Wellman Jr.

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About the Books: 

Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film: In the first biography of this colorful, instinctual artist, Alan K. Rode illuminates the life and work of one of the film industry’s most complex figures. He explores the director’s little-known early life and career in his native Hungary, revealing how Curtiz shaped the earliest days of silent cinema in Europe before immigrating to the United States in 1926. In Hollywood, Curtiz earned a reputation for explosive tantrums, his difficulty with English, and disregard for the well-being of others. However, few directors elicited more memorable portrayals from their casts, and ten different actors delivered Oscar-nominated performances under his direction.

Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir: A love story, memoir, and dual biography of two of Hollywood’s most famous figures, Fay Wray and Robert Riskin explores the fascinating lives of two exceptionally talented people at the center of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In this moving and masterful work, Wray and Riskin’s daughter, Victoria, interweaves the story of their lives and connects them to one of the most interesting periods in Hollywood history. At the heart of Fay Wray and Robert Riskin is a great love story, backed by a cast of characters that includes the greatest stars, filmmakers, screenwriters, and moguls of the era.

Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel: Drawing on his father’s unpublished letters, diaries, and unfinished memoir, William Wellman, Jr. presents a boisterous portrait of the handsome, tough-talking, hard-drinking, uncompromising maverick. Wellman emerges as a juvenile delinquent, a professional ice-hockey player, and a World War I flying ace in the Lafayette Escadrille. As a highly decorated pilot, he fought the enemy. As an in-demand director, he fought producers and the great studio moguls — some with his fists — for the right to make his films his way. His passionate and roguish personality comes vividly to life in his son’s hands. Wild Bill Wellman offers an unprecedented look at a man who directed “like a general trying to break out of a beachhead” and explores his years working with stars including Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, and Clint Eastwood. Full of humorous anecdotes and behind-the-scenes insights from the Golden Age, this riveting biography sheds new light on the life and legacy of a true Hollywood legend.

Click here for the full contest rules. 

Please note that only United States (excluding the territory of Puerto Rico) and Canada entrants are eligible.

Good Luck!

And if you can’t wait to win the books, you can purchase them on amazon by clicking below:

          

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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Silver Screen Standards: Stagecoach (1939)

Silver Screen Standards: Stagecoach (1939)

I took a short ride in a stagecoach once, at the Old Tucson Western theme park in Arizona, and it permanently altered my impression of films like Stagecoach (1939), where travelers make long journeys in those noisy, dusty, bumpy conveyances. Anybody who spends days riding in a stagecoach must really be desperate or determined to reach their destination. Luckily for us, John Ford’s classic Western features just those types of passengers, each making the perilous trip for his or her own reasons, and in spite of all the dangers that accompany the uncomfortable ride. Ford’s film, while a star-making moment for John Wayne and a hugely influential picture far beyond its own genre, suffers most of the usual problems of the Western as American mythology, but its powerful narrative about people thrust together in dire circumstances is its heart and soul, and the cast assembled to tell that story is simply brilliant. As a study in complex characters, Stagecoach achieves true greatness, which makes it well worth revisiting if you haven’t seen it lately.

Stagecoach (1939) John Wayne
John Wayne became a star thanks to his role as the Ringo Kid, seen here in an iconic image with Ford’s beloved Monument Valley in the background. Wayne continued to wear this same hat in later films until it was falling apart.

Most of the players are beloved character actors with several regulars in Ford’s casts, and every one of them delivers a memorable performance here, from Claire Trevor in her top-billed role as the disreputable Dallas to Donald Meek as the milquetoast whiskey drummer Mr. Peacock. Classic oater fans instantly recognize the distinctive voice of Andy Devine as stagecoach driver Buck (as well as the breathtaking stunts being performed by Yakima Canutt), while John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, and George Bancroft are familiar faces to almost anyone who loves movies from the 30s and 40s. Less familiar are Berton Churchill, who nails his role as the obnoxious banker Gatewood, and Louise Platt as the prim but very pregnant Mrs. Mallory. Wayne, the most iconic of Western stars, makes his first appearance after all of the other characters are underway, which gives his Ringo Kid a particularly memorable introduction that helps to set the stage for Wayne’s emergence as a true leading man after years in lower-profile pictures and roles.


John Wayne, John Carradine, George Bancroft, Berton Churchill, Andy Devine, Francis Ford, Tim Holt, Donald Meek, Thomas Mitchell, Louise Platt, and Claire Trevor in Stagecoach (1939)
The travelers gather around a table at the first stop of the journey, where their behavior toward Dallas reveals their own prejudices or humanity.

The audience might come for any one or all of these actors, but they stay for the characters being depicted. With the exception of Gatewood, who is utterly without scruples, each traveler is a complex mix of strengths and weaknesses, each capable of unexpected greatness when the moment demands. The film opens by introducing us to its pariahs, as Dallas and the alcoholic Doc Boone (Mitchell) are being run out of town by a thin-lipped flock of harpies who consider themselves the local arbiters of morality. Their failures are obvious, and their departure on the stage forced. Barely more reputable is the gambler Hatfield (Carradine), an ex-Confederate officer with a genteel manner who impulsively decides to board the stage when he recognizes Mrs. Mallory as the daughter of his former commander. Nobody makes him go, but the old flame of chivalry reignites his heart as he declares himself the lady’s protector. Mrs. Mallory – despite the most delicate of delicate conditions – is going to meet her husband, but her cold rejection of Dallas dampens our sympathy for her until she learns to appreciate the other woman. Poor Mr. Peacock is the most blameless of the lot and just wants to get home to his family, but he’s a nervous greenhorn out of place in this rough and dangerous territory, and he lets Doc Boone gulp down his entire stock of whiskey. Buck and Marshal Curley (Bancroft) are in their element and the most at home on the journey, but they also have personalities to explore. Their shared fondness for Ringo provides insight into the Kid’s nature and their own, especially since the Marshal intends to throw Ringo back in jail, and their competence keeps the stage going in spite of every obstacle.

Stagecoach (1939) Andy Devine, George Bancroft
Andy Devine got the role of Buck thanks to his ability to drive a team of horses, while George Bancroft rides shotgun as Marshal Curley. Both characters have a fondness for the Ringo Kid and take an interest in his welfare.

We learn more about each character as their journey presses forward and the dangers mount. Gatewood rants and asserts his privilege, even manspreading egregiously in the crowded coach as he hogs the seat between the two women. When Mrs. Mallory gives birth at a wayside station, Gatewood actually proposes leaving her behind, to the utter abhorrence of every other traveler. Doc Boone and even Hatfield have their moments of redemption, Mr. Peacock’s gentle humanity becomes a needed antidote to Gatewood’s selfishness, and Ringo wins the love of both Dallas and the viewer by insistently treating her as a lady deserving of respect and kindness. It’s worth noting that this group of characters is far more sympathetic than those found in the original Guy de Maupassant story, “Boule de Suif,” which inspired Ernest Haycox to write the 1937 short story, “The Stage to Lordsburg,” that Dudley Nichols then adapted for the screenplay. Still, the idea of a microcosm of a culture’s characters exists in each; we recognize the Western types each character represents but are surprised to find out how complex and human they are. That combination of recognition and surprise is what makes Stagecoach such a powerful story. We think we know these people until we realize that we don’t. By the last scene, we know a lot more, and hopefully, we know that our real lives are one big stagecoach journey, fraught with peril, and we ought not to make assumptions about our fellow passengers.

John Wayne, John Carradine, George Bancroft, Berton Churchill, Andy Devine, Chris-Pin Martin, Donald Meek, Louise Platt, and Claire Trevor in Stagecoach (1939)
Stagecoach features a fantastic ensemble cast of favorite stars, each creating a memorable character. Notice the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) holding the coach door open for Dallas (Claire Trevor) while every other man’s attention is fixed on the more respectable Mrs. Mallory (Louise Platt).

I don’t want to spoil the third act too much for those who might not have seen the picture, but I will say that Stagecoach is a solid pick if you normally don’t go in for Westerns but want to give them a try. The film earned seven Oscar nominations, and Thomas Mitchell, who also appeared in Gone with the Wind in 1939, won his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Doc Boone. Young John Wayne is sweeter and leaner than the grizzled version we usually imagine, and the ensemble cast provides someone for every viewer to appreciate. If you’re concerned about the depiction and treatment of Native Americans in Westerns (as you certainly should be), couple Stagecoach and other John Ford Westerns with a viewing of the 2009 documentary, Reel Injun, directed by Cree-Canadian filmmaker Neil Diamond.

— Jennifer Garlen for Classic Movie Hub

Jennifer Garlen pens our monthly Silver Screen Standards column. You can read all of Jennifer’s Silver Screen Standards articles here.

Jennifer is a former college professor with a PhD in English Literature and a lifelong obsession with film. She writes about classic movies at her blog, Virtual Virago, and presents classic film programs for lifetime learning groups and retirement communities. She’s the author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching and its sequel, Beyond Casablanca II: 101 Classic Movies Worth Watching, and she is also the co-editor of two books about the works of Jim Henson.

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Classic Movie Stars Born in Nebraska

Happy National Nebraska Day!

In celebration of National Nebraska Day today, April 5th, I just thought I’d share some Classic Movie Nebraska birthdays with you! Many thanks to my friend and fellow film fan @Nebraskanellie who ‘educated’ me on all the iconic stars born in Nebraska! Can’t wait to visit their birthplaces one day… Oh, and by the way, the most surprising of all for me, was Marlon Brando!

Here we go:

Born in Omaha:

fred astaire
Fred Astaire, born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, May 10, 1899
brando streetcar
Marlon Brando, born Marlon Brando Jr. in Omaha, April 3, 1924
Montgomery Clift
Montgomery Clift, born Edward Montgomery Clift in Omaha, October 17, 1920
dorothy mcguire old yeller
Dorothy McGuire born Dorothy Hackett McGuire in Omaha, June 14, 1916

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Born in Grand Island:

henry fonda 12 angry men
Henry Fonda, born Henry Jaynes Fonda in Omaha, May 16, 1905

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Born in Filley:

Robert Taylor, born Spangler Arlington Brugh in Filley, August 5, 1911

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Born in Burchard:

harold lloyd safety last
Harold Lloyd, born Harold Clayton Lloyd in Omaha, April 20, 1893

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Born in Laurel:

james coburn charade
James Coburn, born James Harrison Coburn III in Laurel, August 31, 1928

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Born in Hastings:

sandy dennis the out of towners
Sandy Dennis, born Sandra Dale Dennis in Hastings, April 27, 1937[1]

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Born in Benkelman:

ward bond
Ward Bond, born Wardell Edwin Bond in Benkelman, April 9, 1903

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And, a bunch more 🙂

  • Ruth Etting – David City
  • Dick Cavett – Gibbon
  • David Janssen – Naponee
  • Leland Hayward – Nebraska City
  • Thurl Ravenscroft – Norfolk
  • Swoosie Kurt – Omaha
  • Louis D. Lighton – Omaha
  • Nick Nolte – Omaha
  • Coleen Gray – Staplehurst
  • Hoot Gibson – Tekamah
  • Darryl F. Zanuck – Wahoo
  • Fred Niblo – York

Am I missing anyone?

…..

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Birthday DATABASE, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | 1 Comment

What’s Streaming in April on the CMH Channel at Best Classics Ever? Royal Wedding, Oliver Twist, The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Our April Picks on the Classic Movie Hub Channel
April Birthdays and Springtime Fun!

Here we go… This month’s free streaming picks for our Classic Movie Hub Channel at Best Classics Ever (BCE) – the mega streaming channel for classic movies and TV shows!

That said, here are some of our April classic movie picks available for FREE STREAMING all month long on the CMH Channel. All you need to do is click on the movie/show of your choice, then click ‘play’ — you do not have to opt for a 7-day trial.

In celebration of April Birthdays, we’re featuring two comic geniuses – Charlie Chaplin (born Apr 16, 1889) with his silent classic, The Kid, from 1921, and Harold Lloyd (April 20, 1893) with his screwball talkie, The Milky Way, from 1936. We’re also celebrating Spencer Tracy’s birthday (Apr 5, 1900) with Father’s Little Dividend, also starring Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Bennett — as well as Gregory Peck’s birthday (April 5, 1916) with The Snows of Kilimanjaro. We’ll also be showing Of Human Bondage starring Bette Davis (born April 5, 1908), Oliver Twist starring Sir Alec Guinness (born April 2, 1914), and Royal Wedding starring Jane Powell (April 1, 1929) co-starring Fred Astaire and directed by Stanley Donen (April 13, 1924).

the kid 1921 poster
The Kid, 1921 silent film by Charlie Chaplin, starring Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, and Edna Purviance
fathers little dividend poster
Father’s Little Dividend from 1951, directed by Vincente Minnelli, and starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Bennet. This was the follow-up to 1950’s Father of the Bride.
snows of kilimanjaro poster
From 1952, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, and Ava Gardner

…..

We’re also getting ready for some Springtime Fun with some rapid-fire dialog, mistaken identities, and some fun tunes.

his girl friday poster
His Girl Friday, the 1940 Howard Hawks screwball comedy classic starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy
happy go lovely poster
From 1951, Happy Go Lovely, the musical comedy starring David Niven, Vera-Ellen and Cesar Romero

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the service, Best Classics Ever is a new mega streaming channel built especially for classic movie and TV lovers. The idea of the channel is to make lots of classic titles accessible and affordable for all. That said, Classic Movie Hub is curating titles each month that our fans can stream for free on the Classic Movie Hub Channelat Best Classics Ever. If you’d like access to the entire selection of Best Classics Ever titles, you can subscribe to everything for a low monthly fee of $4.99/month (Best Stars Ever, Best Westerns Ever, Best Mysteries Ever, Best TV Ever) or for an individual channel for only $1.99/month.

You can read more about Best Classics Ever and our partnership here.

Hope you enjoy!

…..

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Classic Movie Hub Channel, Posts by Annmarie Gatti, Streaming Movies & TV Shows | 1 Comment

Classic Movie Travels: Jean Porter

Classic Movie Travels: Jean Porter
Illinois, Texas and California

Jean Porter
Jean Porter

Jean Porter was one of Hollywood’s many ingénues, appearing in roles both on television and in films. Though her film career was short-lived in comparison to some of her peers, she remains a cheery and energetic presence in several classic films.

Bennie Jean Porter was born on December 8, 1922, in Cisco, Texas. Her father, H.C. Porter, worked for the Pacific Railway while her mother, Oma Thelma Simper, taught piano. Even at an early age, Porter was already particularly photogenic, dubbed the “Most Beautiful Baby” of Eastland County.

As she grew, so did her engaging personality, entertaining the residence of Dallas by hosting a Saturday morning radio show for the local WRR station by the age of 10. Later, she would secure a summer position touring with performer Ted Lewis and his band.

After spending her childhood in entertainment, Porter and her family moved to Hollywood, where Porter would begin training and work to find a role in the film industry. She won an all-expense-paid trip there and developed her craft as a performer. By age 12, she was taking dance lessons and the Fanchon and Marco dance school, leading to her being discovered by director Allan Dwan. Her first film appearance would be in an uncredited role as part of Song and Dance Man (1936). Porter would continue on in a succession of several uncredited roles before eventually moving on to appearances in B-movies as a bit player or supporting ingénue. Her early roles also included The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) and One Million B.C. (1940) until she moved on to be cast in MGM films routinely.

Jean Porter Young
A young Jean Porter

Though Porter never achieved superstardom from her films, she appeared in some fairly popular endeavors. Among her screen successes were The Youngest Profession (1943), Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble (1944), Bathing Beauty (1944), Thrill of a Romance (1945), Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood (1945), Till the End of Time (1946), and Easy to Wed (1946).

While working on Till the End of Time, Porter met director Edward Dmytryk, who would become her husband. Porter had replaced Shirley Temple in the role. They married in 1948 in Ellicott City, Maryland, and had three children: Richard, Victoria, and Rebecca. Unfortunately, Dmytryk was blacklisted due to his refusal to respond to allegations of communism. He would become one of the Hollywood Ten most prominently blacklisted individuals of the film industry. As a result, the couple fled to England. Though they would return to the U.S. in 1951, it was not without challenges. Dmytryk was imprisoned for six months due to contempt of congress. He gave testimony and was eventually given a reprieve, leading him to be allowed to return to directing.

Porter’s career in films, however, would soon end. Dick Powell gave her a small part in Cry Danger (1951), which helped her to keep working while Dmytryk was in jail. During this period, Porter predominantly worked in television, appearing in shows like The Red Skelton Show, Sea Hunt, and 77 Sunset Strip. Her last film was The Left Hand of God (1955), directed by her husband. She retired from acting altogether in 1961.

Richard Erdman and Jean Porter in Cry Danger (1951)
Richard Erdman and Jean Porter in Cry Danger (1951)

Despite the many challenges they faced, Porter and Dmytryk remained married until Dmytryk’s death in 1999. The couple authored On Screen Actingtogether in 1984. Porter herself wrote frequently as a byline contributor for Classic Images as well as an unpublished book about Dmytryk and herself called The Cost of Living. Well into her 80s, Porter also published Hollywood’s Golden Age: As Told By One Who Lived It Alland Chicago Jazz and The Some: As Told by One of the Original Chicagoans, Jess Stacy. She would also regularly attend various film-related events.

Porter passed away on January 13, 2018, in Canoga Park, California, at age 95.

Over the years, Porter maintained many properties and moved fairly frequently. She and Dmytryk traveled often but many residences where she lived remain.

In 1947, she had a residence at 1220 N. State Parkway in Chicago, Illinois. The original structure remains.

Jean Porter 1220 N. State Parkway, Chicago, Illinois
1220 N. State Parkway, Chicago, Illinois

She also owned a property at 1400 Lorrain St. in Austin, Texas. This is the property today:

Jean Porter 1400 Lorrain St., Austin, Texas
1400 Lorrain St., Austin, Texas

From 1956 to 1962, Porter and Dmytryk resided at 609 Saint Cloud Rd in Westwood, California. The home also stands today.

Jean Porter 609 Saint Cloud Road, Westwood, California
609 Saint Cloud Road, Westwood, California

1n 1983, Porter lived at 8729 Lookout Mountain Ave. in Los Angeles, California. Here is the home today:

Jean Porter 8729 Lookout Mountain Ave., Los Angeles, California
8729 Lookout Mountain Ave., Los Angeles, California

By 1988, she relocated to 588 Cold Canyon Rd in Calabasas, California. This is the home today:

Jean Porter 588 Cold Canyon Road, Calabasas, California
588 Cold Canyon Road, Calabasas, California

In 1996, Porter resided at 3945 Westfall Dr. in Encino, California. This is the home at present:

Jean Porter 3945 Westfall Dr., Encino, California
3945 Westfall Dr., Encino, California

Today, Porter can still be remembered through her films as well as her intriguing written output both with her husband and independently.

–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.

Posted in Classic Movie Travels, Posts by Annette Bochenek | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Western RoundUp: Will Penny (1967)

Western RoundUp: Will Penny (1967)

In my February Western RoundUp column, I wrote about Rio Bravo (1959), an old favorite I’ve seen countless times over most of my life.

This month I chose to write about a film I’ve never seen before, which is also possibly the “newest” Western I’ve ever written about here: Will Penny (1967), starring Charlton Heston in the title role.

Will Penny (1967) movie poster
Will Penny (1967) movie poster

Will Penny has been highly recommended to me by several people over the years, including my dad, a fellow Western fan who praised its authenticity and called it a “classic loner Western.” This month it was finally time for me to pull it out of my mile-high viewing stack!  Sometimes when one finally sees a film it doesn’t live up to recommendations, but I’m happy to say that Will Penny did not disappoint.

The movie was captivating from its opening cattle drive scenes, filmed somewhere around Bishop or Lone Pine, California, and scored by David Raksin (Laura). This sequence captures the rough, dirty life of a cowboy with gritty realism, including what it was like working in near-freezing weather.

Will Penny (1967) Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston

The movie filmed in February, and one could tell the bundled-up actors were genuinely cold; in his book, The Actor’s Life: Journals 1956-1976 Heston wrote “it was the wind that washed fatigue through all of us, all day.”

It was worth it, though, as Heston recorded that the dailies looked “marvelous.” And indeed, the final film is absolutely beautiful.

As laid out in the opening sequence, Will is a cowboy, teased about his age by the younger men on the drive. He’s not educated — he can only make his “mark” in the receipt book instead of signing when he’s paid — but he has the kind of knowledge, of men and nature, that isn’t learned in books.

With the cattle drive ended, Will tags along with fellow cowboys Blue (Lee Majors) and Dutchy (Anthony Zerbe) on their way to look for new work. An unfortunate encounter with the mean Quint family, including the father “Preacher” Quint (Donald Pleasence) and his sons (Bruce Dern, Matt Clark, and Gene Rutherford) leaves one of the Quint boys dead and Dutchy “gut shot,” seemingly likely to die.

Will Penny (1967) Charlton Heston and Lee Majors
Heston & Lee Majors

Will and Blue manage to get Dutchy to a doctor (William Schallert), after which Will leaves; he’s eventually hired by Alex (Ben Johnson), the no-nonsense foreman of the Flat Iron Ranch. Will is given a job manning a remote line cabin for the winter and told under no circumstances can any trespasser he encounters remain on Flat Iron land.

This rule causes quite a problem when Will arrives at the cabin and finds Catherine Allen (Joan Hackett) and her son Horace (Jon Francis), who had been abandoned by the guide hired to deliver them to her husband’s new farm in Oregon.

Will Penny (1967) Jon Francis and Joan Hackett
Jon Francis and Joan Hackett

Will doesn’t have the heart to turn the Allens out before they can move on in the spring, and as time goes on the trio become close. Long-time loner Will loves teaching the little boy about the outdoors and comes to love Catherine. But Catherine’s far-off husband, the nearby Quints, and Will’s own fear of commitment all may stand in the way of Will and the Allens being able to remain a permanent family unit.

As with many Western films, part of the pleasure in watching is noticing the echoes of Westerns past. The Quints called to mind Uncle Shiloh Clegg (Charles Kemper) and his “boys” (including James Arness and Hank Worden) from John Ford‘s Wagon Master (1950), with a touch of the Clantons from Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946) on the side.

Without intending to be too spoiler-y, the ending made me think a bit of Shane (1953). Tying all these points in Western film history together is Ben Johnson, who appeared in both Wagon Master and Shane and is seen here as Will’s ranch boss.  

Will Penny (1967) Lobby Card
Charlton Heston often said that of all the films he made, this was his favorite.

Heston is superb in the title role, playing a man who struggles to articulate his newly discovered strong feelings. With a history in Westerns going back to the early ’50s, including William Wyler‘s classic The Big Country (1958), Heston seems completely at home both in the saddle and in the part of an aging cowboy.

Heston would write in his 1995 memoir In the Arena: An Autobiography that Will Penny was “one of the best [films] I’ve made, certainly among my best performances…the film itself remains my best satisfaction.”

I was surprised to notice Heston’s wife, Lydia Clarke, in a bit role as the doctor’s wife. This was her first film in 14 years since she had a role in her husband’s film Bad For Each Other (1953). Heston noted in his journal that she did the part as “a convenience” for the production, saying, “I don’t think she enjoyed it, really, though she’s obviously far better than anyone they could’ve gotten.”

Heston also writes in his memoirs that Lee Remick, Jean Simmons, and Eva Marie Saint either turned down the role of Catherine Allen or weren’t available, but he was extremely happy with the lesser-known Hackett’s performance, saying she “couldn’t have been bettered.”

Charlton Heston, Joan Hackett and Jon Francis Will Penny (1967)
Charlton Heston, Joan Hackett and Jon Francis

Hackett has a nicely rounded role, as a “proper” woman traveling with a silver teakettle and books to educate her son; at the same time, she demonstrates nerve from the first time Will meets her at a road outpost, traveling west with no one but an unreliable guide and her little boy.

When Catherine discovers Will and Blue have a grievously wounded man in their wagon, she does her best to comfort him and advocate on his behalf; it’s an interesting scene as Will and Blue, unsure of what to do for their friend, almost try to avoid dealing with it — and their emotions — by going inside the station to drink.

Catherine might have more nerve than sense, letting Will know she’s a lone woman at the line cabin when they unexpectedly meet again in that isolated setting, but she’s a hard worker and when the chips are down she can be counted on to do her part in a life-threatening situation. It’s a wonderful role, and Hackett was fortunate the other fine actresses cleared the way for her to get the part.

It’s fun to note that just a couple of years later Hackett and Dern, who plays a despicable villain here, reunited in a far different kind of Western, the comedy Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969).

Jon Francis, who is very appealing as Catherine’s son, was born Jonathan Francis Gries and was the son of screenwriter-director Tom Gries. The senior Gries had mostly directed in television up to that point, and this was his son’s first acting role. The younger Gries has continued to act up to the current day, as Jonathan or Jon Gries.

I was intrigued that Lee Majors received an “introducing” credit in this film, although he’d been starring on TV’s The Big Valley for the previous two years. Heston noted that Majors had hoped to do a wagon-driving stunt near the end of the film but was turned down by stunt coordinator Joe Canutt in favor of legendary stuntman Joe Yrigoyen, which turned out to be a good thing when the camera car filming the scene crashed.

Ben Johnson is a pure pleasure to watch as the commanding ranch foreman, and the rest of the cast, including Slim Pickens and G.D. Spradlin, is strong as well.

Lobby card for Will Penny (1967)
Lobby card for Will Penny (1967)

Beyond the story and performances, my favorite aspect of the film was the location shooting. A significant percentage of the film takes place in the great outdoors, with Mount Whitney hovering in the background. The Inyo County locations look wonderfully familiar, and as mentioned, the film evocatively portrays the area’s winter weather.

One of my favorite scenes, when Will shows up at the Flat Iron Ranch, was filmed in the rain, and it looks absolutely wonderful. Heston wrote that as filming continued into March and snow on the ground started to melt, bare spots were filled in with detergent foam “snow.”

My only quibble with the film is I might have preferred a different ending, though at the same time it would raise some moral questions, but I’ll say no more about that here.

Given my own enjoyment of the movie, it was nice to read the memories of Heston’s daughter Holly; in a 2016 interview, she named Will Penny as her favorite of her father’s films, saying “It was one of my dad’s favorite movies. I love the movie, too. Because it’s just so full of emotion. I remember being on that set a lot and having really happy times. It was a happy time for us.”

Will Penny is a happy time for viewers, as well.   It’s an excellent film which I recommend.

– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

Posted in Posts by Laura Grieve, Western RoundUp | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Announcing our Long-Term Partnership with University Press of Kentucky for Exclusive Screen Classics Interviews and Book Giveaways

CMH partners with University Press of Kentucky for 2021!
With Exclusive Screen Classics Discussion Video Series
and Lots of Classic Movie Book Giveaways

Classic Movie Hub is thrilled to announce our partnership with University Press of Kentucky to bring you exclusive classic movie video interviews throughout the year, plus lots and lots of exciting book giveaways — all in celebration of UPK’s 2021 Screen Classic book releases!

For the Screen Classics Discussion Video Series, Classic Movie Hub, University Press of Kentucky, and co-host Aurora from Once Upon a Screen, will be presenting a series of exclusive video interviews with and by classic movie biographers. Our first event, Growing Up Hollywood, will premiere on Monday, April 5 at 9pm ET on the Classic Movie Hub Facebook page. Author Alan Rode (Michael Curtiz: A Life In Film) will be speaking with the children of Hollywood legends who are also successful biographers of their parents: Victoria Riskin (Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir) and William Wellman, Jr. (Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel).

Growing Up Hollywood FB Event

And to make things even more exciting, CMH will be giving away lots of UPK classic movie books throughout the year! There are too many titles to list here, but just to give you a hint, we’ll be including books about Joan Crawford, Patricia Neal, Jayne Mansfield, Charles Boyer, Hitchcock, Vitagraph, the Studios and more!

Hope to see you on Facebook for our first event! Would LOVE to know what you think!

…..

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways, Interviews, Posts by Annmarie Gatti, Video Clips | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments