“Good Americans usually die young on the battlefield, don’t they? Well the Davids of the world merely occupy space, which is why he was the perfect victim for the perfect murder. ‘Course, he was a Harvard under-graduate. That might make it justifiable homicide.”
Hitchcock shows us a murder and that no more spoils things than watching an episode of Columbo. Thing is, Hitchcock makes us co-conspirators. How? Well if you’re not screaming: “David’s in the trunk,” or you hold your breath when the housekeeper clears the table setting off the trunk…you’re an unindicted co-conspirator.
Hitchcock sets up a challenge for himself by doing the movie in ten-minute takes where he hides his edits and the changing of camera film. I understand walls were moved out of the camera’s way to make following the action smoother, and one little mistake would cause everything to start over from scratch. Interesting. Something you can watch for. I’d also say this is the ultimate ‘drawing room play’ whose restrictions Hitch puts himself under. But don’t let any of this distract you from the movie.
It’s all so in our face. See, that’s the sick, sweet, tantalizing, twisted, unholy glory of it all. It happens in plain sight. John Dall and Farley Granger are the murderous lovers in Rope. Now their relationship is not blatant in the context of the movie. This is 1948, after all. I’m just speedily 21st-century-ing things up by stripping away all the layers of coded language and behavior.
The boys’ entire conversation is coded for ‘après-sex.’ You know, smoking cigarettes, fiddling with opening a champagne bottle…“how did you feel during the murder” substitutes for “was-it-as-good-for-you-as-it-was-for-me?” Why murder? To prove their intellect? To show they’re the smartest crayons in the cookie jar? To challenge themselves or keep themselves amused. Dall explains it pretty succinctly:
“We’ve killed for the sake of danger. For the sake of killing.”
That plain enough for ya?
And the murderers keep upping the ante. Well, to be more accurate Dall keeps upping the ante. He’s the alpha and brains of the duo. Granger looks squirrelly, has a conscience, feels the danger more. He’s scared…a follower. No, Dall is running the f ~ uhmmm, show, calling the shots. He’s the type of guy who would stick a pin in a fly and twist. He taunts his guest in ways we, the audience, knows but they do not (though two have an inkling). He ups the ante when he:
* puts the body in the chest * has dinner served on the trunk
* invites the dead boy’s father, fiancee and rival to the party
* …and wraps the first edition books for the dead boy’s father with
the rope that has strangled his son
The cat and mouse game REALLY begins to get real when Dall tests
his mettle against their old school master who’s been invited to the
dinner party as well.
Interesting dynamic in the triangle of Brandon (Dall) ~ the egomaniacal sociopath; Phillip (Granger) ~ the heart, conscience and weakest link…and Rupert (James Stewart) ~ the Teacher, who talks in witty abstractions until he sees how much his words matter.
At first I thought this role might have been better suited to someone like George Sanders with his built-in air of erudite insouciance, who casually tosses bon mots espousing murder committed by superior human beings. I didn’t 100% buy Jimmy. He IS cagey though, and senses something’s afoot. When he finds his theories have actually been put into practice by these two murderers…I see he IS the right choice. Who am I to question Hitchcock who has used Stewart in four of his films.
When you start at the top WITH murder, where is there left to go? Champagne, anyone?
Theresa Brown is a native New Yorker, a Capricorn and a biker chick (rider as well as passenger). When she’s not on her motorcycle, you can find her on her couch blogging about classic films for CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch. Classic films are her passion. You can find her on Twitter at @CineMava.
Marilyn Monroe Launches Cinemascope in How to Marry A Millionaire (1953)
“People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night,” 20th Century-Fox Studio mogul Darryl Zanuck predicted of television. He could not have been more wrong. By 1953, cinema attendance dropped nearly fifty percent from its peak of ninety million per week in the late 1940s. Communism was not Hollywood’s greatest growing menace; it was the exponentially growing television industry. To entice the public from the small monochromatic screens in their homes, the motion picture industry introduced spectacular novelties only available in theaters: simulated three-dimensional effects, stereophonic sound, and — the pièce de résistance — wide screen projection.
Fox purchased the anamorphic lenses developed by Henri Chretien in France and expanded the audience’s peripheral vision by creating a panoramic, curved screen triple the size of a conventional screen. The studio announced all films would be made in this new process called CinemaScope. Fox now owned two weapons to combat the threat of television: CinemaScope and Marilyn Monroe. Zanuck wasted no time in employing both.
Beneath the 12-Mile Reefand How to Marry a Millionaire were concurrently in production in the new widescreen process. The latter would be completed first but would not earn the distinction of the first CinemaScope film. Fox delayed its release to flaunt the new process with the exotic on-location scenery and cast of thousands in the “sand and sandals” epic, The Robe.
Producer Nunnally Johnson wrote the screenplay and later slanted the characters to match the leading actresses’ screen personas. Johnson’s gold-diggers are Manhattan haute couture fashion models and friends who pool resources to rent a Sutton Place penthouse from its tax-dodging owner to bait millionaires for marriage. After a cold and unproductive winter, they begin pawning the owner’s furniture for the cash needed to live extravagantly and mingle with wealthy bachelors. Schatze Page, the brains of the operation, takes interest in an older cattle baron, J.D. Hanley, while fighting her attraction to a younger man, Tom Brookman, whom she believes is poor. Loco Dempsey accompanies a married man, Waldo Brewster, to a private lodge in Maine which she thinks is an Elks Lodge filled with eligible men. After catching measles, she falls in love with a forest ranger, Eben, whom she mistakenly believes owns the acreage he protects. Myopic Pola Debevoise avoids wearing her glasses in fear that they will make her unattractive to men. Stewart Merrill, a phony oil tycoon, pursues her and invites her to meet his mother in Kansas. Without her glasses, Pola accidently boards a plane to Atlantic City, meets and falls in love with the owner of the penthouse, Freddie Denmark, evading the IRS.
Fox cast Lauren Bacall as Schatze and considered Monroe as Loco. Although the role resonated with Monroe (she liked the role’s snappy lines and lengthy screen time), Fox instead cast Betty Grable. Monroe was finally given the role of Pola, the beautiful, near-sighted model who is insecure about her appearance and avoids wearing her eyeglasses — horn-rimmed, cat-eye shaped spectacles of the 1950s. Pola’s screen time was less than the other roles, but the character offered a splendid challenge in physical comedy and pantomime. She regularly walks into walls, boards the wrong plane, bumps into people, holds a book upside-down, and trips on the modeling runway. Lacking confidence in her comedic skills, Initially, Monroe protested the role, but Negulesco convinced her that Pola offered an opportunity to showcase her skills at deadpan comedy. The only motivation you need for this part,” he advised, “is the fact that in the movie you are blind as a bat without glasses.”
Serendipitously, Monroe had already
enrolled in warm-hearted Lotte Goslar’s pantomime class at the Turnabout
Theatre to hone her skills for physical comedy. “She didn’t mind being observed
and criticized,” Goslar remembered. “I set up a project for them to become
infants and work out a character and behavior for that baby, then progress to childhood,
youth, maturity and finally old age with the same character in mind. Marilyn
was terribly good at it and everyone was much impressed.”
With sultry looks, a husky voice, and acting chops, Lauren Bacall was a sudden hit with the public and critics alike, and Warner Brothers Studio paired her with Humphrey Bogart in a string of film noir classics: The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948). In To Have and Have Not (1944), Bacall delivers the iconic speech to Bogart: “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.” In 1945, she married Bogart, twenty-five years her senior, and the couple settled in a large house in the exclusive Holmby Hills and and had two children. Johnson’s script offered Bacall an opportunity to play comedy for the first time.
Rising to fame in the musical Down Argentine Way (1940), Betty Grable acted, sang, and danced in Coney Island(1943), and Mother Wore Tights (1947). On Fox’s set of the latter film, a young Norma Jeane Dougherty performed her first screen test and signed a contract as Marilyn Monroe. Grable’s reign as the industry’s box office queen of Technicolor musicals and comedies peaked in 1947-48. In 1943, Grable posed in a bathing suit for Fox studio photographer Frank Powolny and made history. With her back toward the camera, head turned over her shoulder, and hands on her hips, Grable inspired tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers who tacked copies of the photo on the walls of their barracks. Grable was widely known to have the most beautiful legs in Hollywood, and Fox insured them for one million dollars with Lloyd’s of London.
Playing for laughs, Johnson’s script mentioned the men in the lives of Grable and Bacall. Loco wrongly argues that music on the radio is played by trumpeter-bandleader Harry James, Grable’s husband. Schatze persuades Hanley that she is attracted to older men by saying: “Look at Roosevelt, look at Churchill, look at that old fellow, what’s-his-name, in The African Queen” (Bogart and Katharine Hepburn had starred in John Huston’s 1951 Academy Award winning classic. Johnson made no reference, however, to Monroe’s beau, DiMaggio. Instead, he scripted Pola reading a book titled Murder by Strangulation, alluding to Marilyn’s role in Niagara. In the fashion show sequence, Pola models a red bathing suit and jacket adorned with rhinestones as an announcer says, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. And this is our proof of it.”
The role of Schatze’s beau, J.D. Hanley, required an older actor with an established image of sophistication. Fox appropriately cast William Powell. At age sixty-three, Powell had been a major star at MGM Studios and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times; for The Thin Man (1934), My Man Godfrey (1936), and Life with Father (1947). Powell partnered with Jean Harlow, Monroe’s idol as a child. When Harlow suddenly died at twenty-six, Powell sent roses to her crypt; Monroe asked DiMaggio to someday do the same for her.
Cast as Tom Brookman, the man Schatze truly loves, Cameron Mitchell was one of the founding members of Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio in New York City.
Alex D’Arcy, an Egyptian actor in international films whose roles were mostly suave gentlemen or rogues, played the swarthy Stewart Merrill, Pola’s millionaire suitor. Monroe earned seven hundred dollars per week, equal to Darcy’s pay for a supporting role.
Rory Calhoun had Lana Turner to thank for launching his career, not his agent. When Calhoun escorted Turner to the premiere of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, he caught the attention of paparazzi. He was no stranger to Monroe, who had worked with him in A Ticket to Tomahawk. Now Calhoun was paired with Betty Grable as Eben, a forest ranger in Maine.
The film marked David Wayne’s last of four appearances opposite Monroe. He played Freddie Denmark, the owner of the penthouse, who loves Pola even with eyeglasses firmly perched on the bridge of her nose. Wayne befriended Monroe on the set of As Young As You Feeland soon after challenged her on refusing a role. “I’ve been in this business a long time and I know what’s good for you,” he snarled. “I’ve been in this business a very short time,” Marilyn retorted, “and I know what’s good for me better than you do.” Wayne later said, “I adore her.”
When the three female stars
assembled on the soundstage for the first time, the press awaited a mushroom
cloud of conflict and cattiness or, at least, Grable’s bitter resentment of Monroe.
However, Grable immediately embraced Monroe and ceremoniously told her, “Honey,
I’ve had mine. Go get yours. It’s your turn now.” In response to Bacall
grumbling about Monroe’s tardiness, Grable said, “Honey, give it to her. Let’s
listen to records until she gets here. It’s her time now. Let her have fun.”
Before long, Bacall found herself also feeling protective of Monroe.
As the production progressed, Monroe
showed Grable a special kindness that the latter would remember. “[We] were
very close,” Grable recounted. “Once…I got a call on the set. My younger
daughter had had a fall. I ran home. And the one person to call was Marilyn.”
Bacall invited Monroe to her home for dinner and conversation. She discussed
her own battles at Warner Brothers Studio and told her guest, “Don’t let them
push you around…I’m a little rebel too. And I know that when you stand up to
them, the bastards back off.” Monroe longed for a domestic life with a husband and
children and talked about, in Bacall’s words, “want[ing] to be in San Francisco
with Joe DiMaggio in some spaghetti joint.”
The film’s director, Romanian-born Jean Negulesco prepared to film an early scene on the penthouse terrace, with his leading ladies chatting and having a lunch of hot dogs and champagne and sitting in chaise lounges. Grable called a time-out. “You can’t appear in front of the cameras looking like that,” she told Monroe. Grable had noticed that her co-star’s toenails would be visible in the shot. Negulesco and the crew waited as a nurturing Grable took Monroe into the dressing room and gave her a complete pedicure.
Monroe’s work ethic and stamina in toiling for long hours impressed Negulesco. She labored nonstop for twelve hours each day and focused only on her work. When greeted in the morning and asked how she was feeling, Monroe would reply with a related line from Johnson’s script. “She had a right sense of knowing the character she was playing,” Negulesco later said. “The way to enter a scene, to hold singular attention as the scene developed, the way to end a scene — so that no other actor existed around her.”
The new widescreen process
presented a challenge to the motion picture industry long before perplexing
television editors who later had to broadcast these films within the
proportions of a square television screen. Directors filmed longer scenes and
several pages of dialogue without a cut or close-up, giving the appearance of a
filmed play. Actors, accustomed to memorizing a few lines for brief shots that
would be spliced with others to create a sequence, were now required to
memorize entire scenes.
When formatted to fit
television screens, nearly half the CinemaScope film is cropped. For example,
the final shot in Millionaire contained all six of the main characters
seated at a diner counter and conversing. The camera remains stationary, as all
the speaking characters are visible on the wide screen. When modified for
television or videotape cassette, only three characters are visible. This is
corrected by the “pan and scan” technique, whereby an editor pans and scans
across the widescreen to keep the action in the middle of the screen, capturing
the actor or actors who are speaking. The effect suggests that the original
CinemaScope camera panned, although it remained stationary. In later DVD and
Blu-Ray versions of the film, the wide screen ratio is preserved with black
bars visible on the top and bottom, a technique called letterboxing.
David Wayne found filming in
the new process unyieldingly tedious. When shooting the scene inside the plane,
the width of the CinemaScope camera lens required the crew to remove the entire
side of the plane. This forced all of the extras to remain seated inside of the
plane, take after take. Monroe and Wayne went thirty-eight takes, and everyone
in the scene was drenched in sweat from the bright lights. It was a tormenting workday,
but the resultant flawless scene was delightful.
Despite the cumbersome set and
blazing lights, Monroe’s performance was impeccable. “Monroe plays Pola’s
reactions perfectly,” wrote Carl Rollyson. “Waves of panic move across Pola’s
face as she tentatively puts her glasses on. Denmark’s response is immediate,
positive, and decisive. He tells her the glasses give her a ‘certain difference
of distinction,’ and Pola glows with a happy idea of importance she has never
felt before. She is directed to a sense of self-worth, just as Monroe sometimes
depended on the sensitive guidance of others to achieve a belief in her own strength.”
Monroe’s comedic talent inspired Negulesco to remark: “In the end I adored her, because she was a pure child who had this ‘something’ that God had given her, [which] we still can’t define or understand. It’s the things that made her a star. When we put the picture together, there was one person on the screen who was a great actress — Marilyn.”
The film’s trailer announced, “The
grand and glorious adventures of three fascinating females, who pool their
beauty in the greatest plot against mankind since Helen of Troy, Marie
Antoinette, and Venus de Milo!” Posters exclaimed: “The Most Glamorous
Entertainment of your lifetime in CinemaScope. You see it without glasses, Big-Time,
Grand-Time, Great-Time Show of All Time!”
How to Marry a Millionaire opened
in New York on October 29, 1953, but its Hollywood premiere took place on
November 4 at the Fox Wilshire Theater on Wilshire Boulevard and La Cienega
Avenue. Monroe n arrived on the arm of Nunnally Johnson and accompanied by
Bacall and Bogart. She donned a strapless gown with a heart-shaped bodice made
of white lace over flesh-colored crepe de Chine and embroidered with sequins.
“The big question, ‘How does
Marilyn Monroe look stretched across a broad screen?’ is easily answered,”
announced the New York Herald Tribune. “If you insisted on sitting in
the front row, you would probably feel as though you were being smothered in
Baked Alaska. From any normal vantage point, though, her magnificent
proportions are as appealing as ever, and her stint as a deadpan comedienne is
as nifty as her looks. Playing a near-sighted charmer who won’t wear glasses when
men are around, she bumps into the furniture and reads books upside down with a
limpid guile that nearly melts the screen.”
Monroe’s proficiency in
pantomime created a standout performance. “Miss Monroe has developed more than
a small amount of comedy polish of the foot-in-the-mouth type,” opined the New
York Post. The ordinarily stringent Bosley Crowther of the New York
Times also approved: “The baby-faced mugging of the famously shaped Miss
Monroe does compensate in some measure for the truculence of Miss Bacall. Her
natural reluctance to wear glasses when she is spreading the glamour accounts
for some funny farce business of missing signals and walking into walls.”
In its first release, the film earned over nine million dollars, becoming the second highest-grossing film of 1953 behind Oscar-winner From Here to Eternity. Monroe endeared herself to the public with self-depreciating humor. She successfully played comedy while remaining sexy. “It was the first time that Marilyn was not self-consciously the sex symbol,” Nunnally Johnson remarked. “The character had a measure of modesty.”
“Marilyn’s the biggest thing that’s happened to Hollywood in years,” Grable told columnist Aline Mosby. “The movies were just sort of going along, and all of a sudden — zowie! — there was Marilyn. She’s a shot in the arm for Hollywood!”
Silents are Golden: The “Sheik” Phenomenon of the 1920s
Everyone knows about 1920s flappers–the youthful, fun-loving ladies of the Jazz Age. Their style of bobbed hair, tight-fitting hats, and short (as in knee-length) skirts, has become iconic. There’s no doubt that their impact on early 20th-century pop culture was tremendous.
But what about the flapper’s male counterpart, the sheik? With his baggy trousers and shiny, slicked-back hair, he left a big mark on pop culture too. And who were some of these famous screen “sheiks” that were such a phenomenon in Hollywood?
We can trace the label’s origin to Rudolph Valentino’s huge hit The Sheik(1921). At the time, the young Italian-born Valentino was an up-and-coming actor whose role as Julio in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse(1921) had made him a household name. His first role as a main star would be Ahmed Ben Hassan in the film version of E.M. Hull’s popular romance novel, The Sheik. Hull’s lurid story, about an independent English beauty who decides to travel through the desert and winds up getting kidnapped by Ahmed, was a sensation when it was published in 1919. Women were apparently intoxicated by the idea of a handsome, “exotic” lover going wild with desire for them. It’s not surprising that a movie producer would jump at the chance to commit the story to film, anchored by an attractive star like Valentino.
The film was a hit and turned Valentino into a phenomenon – and the very concept of a screen “sheik” became a phenomenon as well. Prior to 1921, most Hollywood leading men were staid, dependable types like Thomas Meighan or boyish types like Charles Ray. Sessue Hayakawa was probably the most “exotic” lover the screen had to date, the closest match to the 1920s sheik. But once the undeniably virile Valentino hit the scene, the way romance was depicted onscreen would never quite be the same. It sparked a lot of talk about the pros and cons of “caveman” wooing–cavemen being men who “wouldn’t be bossed around” – and a general new awareness of female tastes and desires.
The “sheik” phenomenon also coincided with the
public’s interest in “Orientalism,” as it was called, which had been strong
since the 1910s. The Far East, particularly the desert, was considered a place
of mystery and beauty where passions could still run wild. Trend-setters
enjoyed decorating with lacquered tables and dressing in Eastern-inspired
clothing, perhaps seeking some escapism. Certainly, the romantic “sheik” was
one of the prime escapist figures of the 1920s, showing up in artwork, comic
strips, ads, and songs like the popular The
Sheik of Araby.
Studios were eager to pounce on the new craze, attempting to produce sheiks of their own (no matter what). 1921-1924 was probably the high point of this trend, with stars like the stalwart Milton Sills put in pictures like Burning Sands (1922), and the youthful Ramon Novarro decked out in robes for The Arab(1924). Despite these studios’ best efforts, none held quite the fascination that Valentino did (although some actors like Novarro did transcend the sheik genre and became popular in their own right).
With so much public fascination with sheiks, it wasn’t long before trendy young men–particularly those who loved jazz, girls, and fast cars–were being jokingly referred to as “sheiks.” (And flappers their “shebas.”) The label stuck – some even seemed to wear it with pride. And while some young men predictably rolled their eyes at the Valentino fellow so many women were gaga over, they would soon start copying his glossy, slicked-back hairstyle. It would be one of the most popular trends of the decade, likely a way for these youths to signal that they were part of a more dashing, modern breed.
If the flapper had an iconic style, so did these teenaged and college-aged sheiks. Oxford bags (wide-legged trousers) became very popular, especially on college campuses, and many young men also favored loud-patterned sweater vests and sporty straw hats. Carrying a ukelele was a bonus, and spending time at a college game wasn’t complete without wearing a raccoon coat. Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd would take notice of the new trends, lampooning them in Steamboat Bill Jr.(1928) and The Freshman(1925).
Valentino would pass away suddenly in 1926 from an infection caused by a gastric ulcer to the shock of his countless fans. He had just completedSon of the Sheik (1926), the sequel to his former blockbuster, and arguably a more smoldering film than the first. By the late 1920s, “sheik” began to be a catch-all term for a matinee idol, with stars as diverse as Ronald Colman, Buddy Rogers, Nils Asther, and Gary Cooper all being pegged as sheiks. But the term finally began to fall out of favor, especially once talkies became the norm.
By the 1930s, both the sheik and his sheba were going out of style. The optimism, partying, and innocent flirtations of Jazz Age films would start to seem dated next to the sarcastic dames and hard-boiled gangsters of the ’30s and beyond. The mirror-shiny hair gloss and baggy trousers were also starting to look very “of its time.” But while the sheik’s vogue was relatively brief, he certainly had a big impact on the 1920s, right alongside that much-admired, impetuous flapper.
This post was partly based on my article “Homme Fatales and Hair Grease: The Phenomenon of the 1920s ‘Sheik’” which can be accessed here.
Lea Stans is a born-and-raised Minnesotan with a degree in English and an obsessive interest in the silent film era (which she largely blames on Buster Keaton). In addition to blogging about her passion at her site Silent-ology, she is a columnist for the Silent Film Quarterlyand has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.
There are classic comedies that capture the perfect blend of superior direction, cast, writing, and appealing aesthetics. You can tell that it works well when we find ourselves forming nostalgic bonds to such films. Even if the content seems outdated to our modern lens, we happily re-watch them. Again and again. One such film that fits that bill for me is Blake Edwards’ Operation Petticoat (1959).
On September 2, 1945, the Japanese delegation officially signed their unconditional surrender aboard the USS Missouri, thereby ending World War II. Many war films followed into the 1950s. By the second half of that decade, America was more than ready to tackle the subject with a lighter touch – with humor and even some sexual innuendo.
On the heels of the success of Pillow Talk (1959), writing team Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, along with Paul King and Joseph B. Stone, created the perfect comedic tone for a battle of the sexes in the midst of battling the Japanese at sea. Enormously successful Pillow Talk (1959) was released just 2 months prior to Operation Petticoat (1959), for which the seasoned writers Shapiro and Richlin earned Academy Awards for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. This popular formula for sex comedy trended from the late 1950s into the 1960s. Why not take that gender battle to war… on a pink submarine?
Blake Edwards was a rising star in directing who evolved from a bit actor during WWII to writing screenplays and scripts for radio, television, and film. Edwards grew up with an inherent understanding of Hollywood and the film world. By the age of 3, his family moved to LA, where his stepfather worked as a film production manager. His mother had remarried when Blake was a baby – to Jack McEdwards, son of silent film director J. Gordon Edwards. According to a 1971 interview in “The Village Voice,” Blake said of those early days: “I worked with the best directors – Ford, Wyler, Preminger – and learned a lot from them. But I wasn’t a very cooperative actor. I was a spunky, smart-assed kid. Maybe even then I was indicating that I wanted to give, not take, direction.”
Blake Edwards had just finished directing The Perfect Furlough (1958), starring Hollywood power couple Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, which was also written by Shapiro, when he began production for Operation Petticoat (1959). Blake Edwards’ The Perfect Furlough, a CinemaScope Eastmancolor rom-com that focused on sex-starved servicemen, was released a week after Curtis and Leigh’s 2nd daughter Jamie Lee was born. Wasting no time, Edwards, Curtis, and Shapiro and writing team got cracking to make another comedy that centered on sex-starved servicemen with Operation Petticoat.
The basic premise takes us through the waters of Japan in the middle of World War II in a badly damaged submarine. The crew is resourceful and always on the look-out for repair and supplies. And like all farce comedies, the obstacles of immense ridiculousness must ensue. In this case, it presents challenges such as a Pepto-Bismol shade of pink painted sub, bringing aboard unexpected guests such as a crew of servicewomen, and even a pig disguised as a sick sailor.
The new coat of unmistakable pink paint makes them a looming
target in those dangerous waters, from both the enemy and allied crews alike. The
tight quarters with the women officers in snug-fitted uniforms bring an array
of distractions and a slew of battle-of-the-genders jokes and innuendos.
We see a large cast of familiar faces. This includes the comic chemistry of our two main stars, Cary Grant as Lt. Commander Matt Sherman and Tony Curtis as Lt. Nick Holden. Curtis had admired Grant from his youth and in seeing him in films like Destination Tokyo (1943), another submarine war film. It was fated that their paths would cross again. In 1959, the same year as Operation Petticoat, Grant starred in one of his most popular Hitchcock roles as Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest and Curtis impersonated Grant in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot.
The naval uniform was a familiar fit for Tony. Curtis served
in the U.S. Navy, aboard a submarine tender, USS Proteus. He enlisted following
the attack on Pearl Harbor at age seventeen. By the time of the signing of the
Japanese official surrender aboard the USS Missouri, Curtis was on deck of his ship’s
signal bridge looking across the Tokyo Bay to witness this historic event.
After a decades-long and successful acting career of more than a hundred films,
Tony received full military honors at his funeral on October 4, 2010, at the
age of 85 years-old.
By the late 1950s, Cary Grant was more than just a household name. He was still churning out hits for more than a quarter-century. Grant was 55 years-old for the release of Operation Petticoat and worried that he may have been too old for the part. The role of Commander Sherman was originally offered to Jeff Chandler. Bob Hope was also offered a role, which he later regretted turning down. Tina Louise of “Gilligan’s Island” fame was offered Joan O’Brien’s role as nurse Crandall, but she refused because she didn’t want to be simply an on-screen “boob joke.”
The supporting cast rolls out like a who’s who of familiar faces and classic television, such as Dick Sargent from “Bewitched,” Marion Ross from “Happy Days,” and Gavin MacLeod of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Love Boat”:
Cary Grant as Lieutenant Commander (later Rear Admiral) Matthew T. “Matt” Sherman, USN
Tony Curtis as Lieutenant, Junior Grade (later Commander) Nicholas “Nick” Holden, USNR (later USN)
Joan O’Brien as Second Lieutenant Dolores Crandall, NC, USAR
Dina Merrill as Second Lieutenant Barbara Duran, NC, USAR
Gene Evans as Chief Torpedoman “Mo” Molumphry, USN, Chief of the Boat of the Sea Tiger
Dick Sargent as Ensign Stovall, USN (billed as Richard Sargent)
This film centers on the screwball antics of their
adventures, with a special focus on the ‘odd coupling’ of cool and collected Commander
Matt Sherman (Grant) in contrast to playboy rule-breaker and chaotic cad Nick
Holden (Curtis). These personality differences make for a priceless recipe for
classic comedy, but it is the women who bring a surprising icing on this cake.
Dina Merrill as 2nd Lt. Barbara Duran, is Nick’s love interest and connected to co-star Cary Grant in her personal life. Heiress/philanthropist/actress Merrill’s cousin was Barbara Hutton, once married to Grant. Merrill was married three times, including actor Cliff Robertson. But the stand-outs in the female cast are Joan O’Brien’s 2nd Lt. Dolores Crandall and Virginia Gregg’s Major Heywood.
2nd Lt. Crandall is a wonderful slapstick highlight. On the surface, it’s easy to think of Crandall as a stereotype of a ditzy Monroe type with every opportunity to target her character as an ongoing busty joke. But she is much more. Dolores is portrayed as a caring, nurturing, and sympathetic character who is more embarrassed by her curvy attributes than flamboyant. The real humor here isn’t in her anatomy, but rather in her ability to pull off physical comedy. Female slapstick comediennes are rare in the studio era so it’s terrifically refreshing to see Crandall be included in this limited group, not unlike an understated Judy Holiday.
Additionally, Major Heywood is another classic Hollywood rarity- the mature female role of competence. Not nearly as openly sarcastic as a Thelma Ritter character, but this lady outwits her male peer with ingenuity, creativity, and intelligence- in a man’s game. I can think of few on-screen examples of female characters of a mature age who could convincingly out best men in such a masculine occupation as the ship’s mechanic while also possessing a soft, romantic side.
Blake Edwards’ Operation Petticoat (1959) is a fun comedy medley of wartime action (like sinking a truck with a torpedo), a large cast of comforting faces, and all the delightful tension as expected from a co-ed pink sub in the middle of a war zone. If you’re in need to sink below from life’s chaos, this is the perfect escapism respite.
When not performing marketing as her day gig, Kellee Pratt teaches classic film courses in her college town in Kansas (Film Noir, Screwball Comedy, Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and more). She’s worked for Turner Classic Movies as a Social Producer and TCM Ambassador (2019). An unapologetic social butterfly, she’s an active tweetaholic/original alum for #TCMParty, member of the CMBA, and busy mom of four kids and 3 fur babies. You can follow Kellee on twitter at @IrishJayhawk66 or her own blog, Outspoken & Freckled (kelleepratt.com).
The Handsome Face of Horror in ‘I Married a Monster from Outer Space’
When classic movie fans think of the
faces of horror, we rightly go to some of the most iconic creatures in film
history: the Universal monsters and the images that have defined the look of
vampires, Frankenstein’s monster and other creatures for nearly 90 years;
grotesque aliens and horrific mythological creatures.
But let’s look at it in another way – a disturbing way – and consider when the face of horror is attractive, familiar and even loving. Like … what if you married a monster from outer space?
It happened – at least in the effective 1958 sci-fi horror film I Married a Monster from Outer Space. Seeing this movie again recently was a reminder of this subtle and insidious type of monster.
It was one of many films in the 1950s that fed off growing Cold War fears and anxieties about communism invading America with stories about alien invasions. Often these films had aliens taking over human bodies so we couldn’t see the horror right in front of us.
The best example of this film paranoia would be Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Don Siegel’s terrifying and masterful story of a small California town taken over by pod people. I find this film so unnerving that it’s difficult to watch.
Instead, I wimp out and watch movies
that are easy to shake off.
LikeIt Came from Outer Space (1953) with aliens who crash in the desert and temporarily take over human bodies, but don’t mean any harm – for now.
Or Invaders from Mars (1953) with little David who sees a spaceship land near his house and then convinces a town – and the military – that evil aliens have taken over the bodies of his loving parents and respected townsfolk.
And especially the underrated I
Married a Monster from Outer Space about a newlywed who realizes something is
not right with her husband.
* * * *
The film opens with Bill (the tall, dark and handsome Tom Tryon) enjoying drinks with the boys the night before his wedding.
On his way home, he pulls over thinking he has hit someone and is grabbed by a grotesque glowing limb, enveloped in a billowing cloud of smoke and disappears all to a creepy musical cue.
The next morning, Marge (Gloria Talbott and her super short bangs) is nervously awaiting Bill who is late for their wedding. When he arrives, he’s out of sorts but everyone brushes it off. It’s downhill from there.
The honeymoon night is a disaster with Bill inexplicably cold toward his confused new bride. Things don’t improve. On their first anniversary, Marge is writing to her mother about her “horrible” marriage that has left her frightened and bewildered. “Bill isn’t the same man I fell in love with – he’s almost a stranger.”
Oh Marge, you have no idea how right you are.
She does more than wonder as inexplicable things pile on like Bill’s furious reaction to the anniversary gift of a sweet little dog and the dog’s quick demise. (Clearly the movie rule that you don’t hurt animals didn’t exist in the 1950s.) Marge seems to buy his excuse about what happened, but smartly doesn’t let it drop.
“If it weren’t so silly, I would say
you’re Bill’s twin brother from some other place,” she tells him.
She’s getting closer.
Growing more troubled, Marge follows Bill
out of the house, boldly running after him through the woods in a night gown and
coat where she watches in horror as her husband is shrouded in that familiar smoke
from which a creature emerges in front of a spaceship. The alien and its human hybrid
face each other and it’s eerie even if the superimposed alien form isn’t too
Marge seeks help but is stymied as
male friends and the police all act in the same odd way and tell her to just go
home. We can feel her growing paranoia as she realizes how far things have
gone: she can’t make a long-distance phone call, can’t send a telegram and is
stopped from leaving town.
Is there anyone she can trust? There is and his idea for finding help is genius and even ironic from the aliens’ viewpoint. But is it enough and how will other complications play into things? No spoilers here.
* * * * *
A low-budget film with big-budget aspirations
I Married a Monster Space was made for only $125,000 and
released with low expectations. It’s never gotten the fair shake it deserves
most likely because of the campy title and matching publicity material. (Sorry,
but an alien never carries the bride in her wedding gown.)
Yet it gives us more than we expect with a strong heroine, solid acting, two-dimensional aliens, surprisingly good filmmaking and a sci-fi yarn that delivers on suspense. (Moments where the alien’s face flickers briefly on its human’s is chilling.)
The trio of director Gene Fowler Jr., writer Louis Vittes and cinematographer Haskell Boggs gives the film higher production values than we are used to in sci-fi B-movies.
Framing of scenes is wonderfully tense with architectural arches often closing in on Marge, mirroring what is happening in her life. Physical distance is exaggerated between the young couple in their home.
The fact aliens can see in the dark is used for dramatic effect with shadows and entire scenes in darkness. Light is used as a jump scare as when Bill turns on a light to show his wife he’s been watching her in the dark.
The way Marge is written is refreshing.
We expect the young housewife to be meek and spend the film screaming as similar
characters have been portrayed in movies of the time. But she is smarter and
tougher than she seems, as she looks for explanations into her husband’s strange
behavior. She’s not afraid to ask questions and to confront him.
In one effective scene, Bill finds
Marge in the dark and wants to turn the lights on to which she responds “you
don’t need any.”
When he asks what she knows, Marge
doesn’t hold back.
“I know you’re not Bill. You’re some thing
that has crept into Bill’s body. Something that can’t even breathe the same air
we do,” she answers
When Bill asks, “Aren’t you afraid to
be telling me all this?” we’re thinking the same thing.
Yes, she is afraid but is resilient. Love,
it seems, can make you fearless and Talbott plays the scene to great effect.
Presenting Marge that way elevates the
film as well as actress Talbott who has been labeled a Scream Queen in sci-fi
and horror films. She shows she’s better than that.
I like that the story makes the aliens
multidimensional. They are desperate creatures who face extinction from an
unstable sun that has killed all the women on their planet. The yuck factor is
that they’ve come to Earth so human women can breed their children. Since it’s
a 1950s film, it is only talked about in theory as Bill shares it’s not
They also aren’t immune to human
emotions and that comes through in the one honest conversation between Bill the
alien and Marge.
Bill: “Something happened that we
hadn’t foreseen. Along with these bodies, we inherited other things as well …. human
Marge: “Are you telling me you’re
learning how to love.?”
Bill: “I’m telling you I’m learning
what love is.”
Well that was unexpected.
And that’s the appeal of I Married a Monster from Outer Space. You may think you know what you’re getting in a film with such a sensational and direct title, but it has its surprises making it a marriage worth watching.
How you know them
Gloria Talbott. Gloria started as a child actress in
films like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but was given the title of Scream
Queen after starring in such films as The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957),
The Cyclops (1957) and The Leech Woman (1960). One of her most
notable performances was as Jane Wyman’s daughter in All that Heaven Allows (1955).
Tom Tryon. The handsome actor starred in a variety of films including The Longest Day and The Cardinal as well as television work in Western shows and as the title character in Texas John Slaughter movies for The Wonderful World of Disney. But you may know his name more as an author. He left acting in 1969 to write horror and mystery stories and was a success with such novels as “The Other” (1971), which he adapted for film, and “Harvest Home” (1973).
Gene Fowler Jr. The producer and director had a long career as a film editor for the likes of Fritz Lang and Samuel Fuller and those skills are evident in I Married a Monster from Outer Space. Although he won a Golden Globe and four Emmy awards, he remains best known as director of I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957).
– 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.
Noir Nook: 10 Things About The Asphalt Jungle (1950) That You May Not Know
Of all of the noirs I’ve seen in my lifetime, one of the absolute best, in my estimation, is The Asphalt Jungle (1950). It has so much going for it – a stellar ensemble cast, hard-hitting dialogue, a simple but riveting story, and a perfect noir ending.
Helmed by John Huston, the film focuses on an intricately planned jewelry heist involving a motley crew of criminals. The mastermind is Erwin “Doc” Reidenschneider (Sam Jaffe), who has recently been released from prison and is determined to carry out one last job. With the help of a skittish bookie named Cobby (Marc Lawrence), Doc assembles a team comprised of Gus Minissi, the getaway driver (James Whitmore), safecracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso), and Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), a “hooligan” to serve as the muscle of the group. Also on hand is Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern), an attorney who’s responsible for fencing the stolen jewels. On the distaff side, we have Doll Conovan (Jean Hagen), who is hopelessly devoted to Dix, and Angela Phinlay (Marilyn Monroe), Emmerich’s mistress (who creepily calls him “Uncle Lon”).
This month’s Noir Nook celebrates this first-rate offering from the film noir era by serving up 10 things you may not have known about this famous film.
1. The film received nearly universally rave reviews upon its release. However, notoriously acerbic New York Times critic Bosley Crowther still managed to throw some shade on the production. While acknowledging that director John Huston had “filmed a straight crime story about as cleverly and graphically as it could be filmed,” he maintained that the picture was “corrupt” because it encouraged the audience to “hobnob with a bunch of crooks . . . and actually sympathize with their personal griefs.”
2. Asphalt Jungle marked the big-screen debut of Strother Martin. He would later appear in such films as True Grit (1969) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), along with a slew of TV shows, but he may be best known for telling Paul Newman that “what we have here is failure to communicate” in Cool Hand Luke (1969). An excellent swimmer and diver, Martin won the National Junior Springboard Division Championship at the age of 17, attended the University of Michigan as a member of the diving team, and served in the U.S. Navy as a swimming instructor during World War II. After he moved to California to become an actor, he worked for a time as a swimming instructor to Marion Davies and the children of Charlie Chaplin.
3. John Huston’s first choice to play the part of Angela was Lola Albright, who was not available. In looking at her filmography, she appeared in five films in 1950, the year The Asphalt Jungle was released; perhaps this is why she wasn’t available. She is perhaps best known for playing singer Edie Hart, the girlfriend of TV private eye Peter Gunn.
4. The wife of Louis Ciavelli was played by Teresa Celli. She was born Teresa Levis in Dysart, Pennsylvania, but her family moved to Italy after her father inherited an estate there. Teresa took her professional name from her great-grandmother, Duval Celli, an opera singer. While in Italy, Teresa was seen in both opera and dramatic productions. After her return to the United States, she made her radio debut on NBC’s Star Theater with Frank Sinatra, and her first appearance on the big screen was in the 1949 noir Border Incident. Celli was married from 1951 to 1965 to actor Barry Nelson; after The Asphalt Jungle, she appeared in only three more films.
5. The film earned four Academy Award nominations, for Best Supporting Actor (Sam Jaffe), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay for John Huston and Ben Maddow, and Best Black and White Cinematography for Harold Rosson. (Harold Rosson, incidentally, was the third husband of actress Jean Harlow.) The film was bested in every category – by George Sanders in All About Eve for Best Supporting Actor; Joseph Mankiewicz in All About Eve for both Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay; and Robert Krasker in The Third Man for Best Black and White Cinematography.
7. The score for the film was written by Miklos Rozsa, who also wrote the scores for such features as Spellbound (1945), A Double Life (1947), and Ben-Hur (1959). In Asphalt Jungle, however, his melodic composition was used sparingly and was only heard for about six minutes in the entire film.
8. Helene Stanley portrayed the young lady whose mesmerizing jive dancing leads to Doc Reidenschneider’s downfall. Born Dolores Diane Freymouth, Stanley’s screen debut came at the age of 14 when she appeared in Girls Town (1942). She served as the live-action reference for Disney’s Cinderella (1950), Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty (1959), and Anita, the young wife in 101 Dalmatians. In a bit part in All the King’s Men (1949), she played John Derek’s girlfriend, who is killed in a car crash with the drunken Derek at the wheel. She has only two lines (“Come on, Tommy, let’s go faster! Come on!”), and then she’s seen lying on the side of the road after the accident. Stanley was also married to low-level mobster Johnny Stompanato from 1953 to 1955. Three years after their divorce, Stompanato was stabbed to death in the home of screen star Lana Turner. Stanley later married a Beverly Hills physician and retired from show business after the birth of her son in 1961.
10. Several internet sources, including the Internet Movie Database, state that Asphalt Jungle marked the big-screen debut of Jack Warden. I beg to differ, however. Try as I might, on numerous occasions, I have never spotted him. Warden was, however, the star of the 1961 TV series by the same name. Also, there is an actor in the film – James Seay – who bears more than a passing resemblance to Warden. I suspect that the resources have either confused Warden with his association with the television series or mistaken him for Seay. Or possibly both.
And that’s it! I hope this list contained at least a few tidbits that you didn’t already know. Stay tuned for future Noir Nooks for trivia on your favorite noirs!
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
Silver Screen Standards: The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The Night of the Hunter (1955) is such a haunting and unusual film that I often wonder what else Charles Laughton might have produced had he directed any more movies, but if he was only going to direct once at least we got this picture to show for it. Laughton’s grim fairy tale of murder and madness in the Depression-era plays like a dark picture book, full of images that linger in the mind of the viewer long after the movie ends. Adapted from the 1953 Southern Gothic thriller by Davis Grubb, the film explores evil, loneliness, and courage in its story of two children pursued by a maniacal serial killer who wants the stolen money their father died to obtain for them. Striking performances from Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, and Lillian Gish provide the most memorable scenes, but young Billy Chapin holds the story together as John Harper, whose realistic responses to trauma contrast with the dreamlike scenery around him. The result is a movie that creeps into your psyche and stays there, just like those old stories about lost little children and the monsters who want to swallow them whole.
Classic movie fans don’t need an introduction to Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish, or Charles Laughton, but the contributions of all three are surely enough to lure almost any film fanatic to The Night of the Hunter. Mitchum’s performance is deeply unnerving, a combination of real menace, delusion, and buffoonery that might seem unbelievable if it weren’t so horribly common in real life. Harry Powell has killed so many women he can’t keep count, and we understand from his twitchy knife hand that the killing is a compulsion that exists entirely outside his need for funds. He would kill women for nothing, but killing the ones who are lonely enough to marry him gives him the money to keep going.
His God is a monstrous version of the blood-soaked destroyer of the Old Testament, meting out hellfire and punishment on widows and children while vindicating the wrath of a tyrannical patriarch (the poet William Blake imagined this image of God as “Nobodaddy,” which makes a provocative comparison with “Daddy Powell,” too). Lillian Gish brings balance to this dark vision of God with her role as the stalwart Rachel Cooper, whose God is the protector of children like Moses, Jesus, and John Harper. Rachel is the nurturer whose love is unconditional, even to the hopelessly lovestruck Ruby. Kindness, comfort, and courage shine through her wise face in every scene; she is more than a match for the false prophet Harry Powell, which ought to give us all hope for the world.
Between them, we have Shelley Winters’ portrayal of the martyred Willa, a victim of Harry’s violence and greed but also of her community’s foolish devotion to patriarchal norms and gullibility. She loves her children in a helpless, paralyzed sort of way, but she’s incapable of fighting for them and lies down to await the knife like a sacrificial lamb, leaving John and Pearl to face Daddy Powell alone. Her good intentions, like those of the kindly but drunken Uncle Birdie (James Gleason), are useless in the struggle against real evil. Winters, however, invests her with a sense of quiet tragedy that attracts our sympathy, especially when contrasted with the despicable busybody Icey Spoon (Evelyn Varden).
When I watched this movie with my husband recently, he commented on the ending and how long it was, going on well beyond the downfall of Harry Powell, but the extended denouement of The Night of the Hunter makes more sense when we consider that John Harper is really the protagonist of this story, although the adult stars get top billing, and this is not a noir film even if many of the classic noir elements are in play.
For most of the picture, John is being threatened, damaged, and traumatized while his innate courage and intelligence, as well as his devotion to Pearl, keep him in motion. He barely has time to sleep, much less process the horror of his situation or the scope of his losses. He’s too busy trying to keep himself and his sister alive. The arrest of Harry Powell doesn’t repair the damage done to John’s psyche; in fact, it reinforces that damage by making John repeat the horror of seeing his real father arrested at the beginning of the film. A noir story might have ended there, with fatal justice for Harry but a bleak endpoint for John. Instead, we get several more scenes in which John is slowly put back together as a person by Rachel Cooper’s love and protection. He is integrated into a functional, loving family, albeit one made of other displaced children taken into Rachel’s care. When Rachel faces the camera and tells us that little children abide, she is assuring us that John will be alright, and we need to hear that because otherwise, the story would be too dark to bear. It might not, in the real world, always be true, but we need to hear it in order to have hope, that saving grace that always lights our darkest times, and the sweet, beatific face of Lillian Gish compels us to believe her. The story ends there to tell us that good outlasts evil and that bad times don’t last forever, which is also how fairy tales tend to end, not just with the punishment of the wicked but the salvation and uplifting of the innocent.
If you’re interested in the inner workings of fairy tales, use The Night of the Hunter as a leaping off point for further studies with books like Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment (1976) or even the poetry of Ann Sexton in her 1971 collection, Transformations. For more classic movies with fairy tale roots, try The Blue Bird (1940), Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version of Beauty and the Beast, or The Red Shoes (1948), to name just a few. For a darker double feature with Robert Mitchum, follow up with Cape Fear (1962). The Night of the Hunter is available on a very handsome Blu-ray edition from Criterion Collection with a number of special features, including extensive outtakes and behind the scenes footage from Charles Laughton.
Last Completed Musical-Comedy: Let’s Make Love (1960)
“Marilyn Monroe is the greatest farceuse in the business,” Fox film producer Jerry Wald asserted. “A female Chaplin.” In the summer of 1959, Wald approached Monroe with The Billionaire, a musical comedy by Norman Krasna who had scripted the sophisticated Indiscreet (1958) for Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. Professionally, Monroe was hot, and Fox wanted to capitalize on the success of its own star who’s last two films were made for rival studios. In fact, Monroe hadn’t worked on the Fox lot since Bus Stop (1956).
“[Marilyn] had this absolutely unerring touch with comedy,” Cukor would later say. “In real life she didn’t seem funny, but she had this touch. She acted as if she didn’t quite understand why it was funny, which is what made it so funny.”
Retitled Let’s Make Love, the film is a backstage story about a French billionaire, Jean-Marc Clement (Yves Montand), who learns his Casanova reputation is being satirized in an off-Broadway musical. Dismissing his attorney’s (Wilfrid Hyde-White) urge to shut down the production, the billionaire instead heeds the advice of his public relations agent (Tony Randall) and visits the theater during rehearsals to show good humor. At the theater, he is mistaken for an inexperienced actor auditioning for his part. Dazzled by the production’s leading female performer, Amanda Dell (Monroe), the billionaire accepts the part of the playboy to court her and pretends to be “Alex Dumas.”
Amanda, who attends night school, is serious about self-improvement and voices a strong prejudice against wealthy playboys. She is more interested in the art of acting, men who are awkward with women, and the show’s male singer (Frankie Vaughan). Amanda begins to coach this would-be impersonator whose disguise prevents him from relying upon money and power to impress her. The billionaire hires famous virtuosos in comedy, singing and dancing (Milton Berle, Bing Crosby, and Gene Kelly) to assist him in stirring Amanda, but discovers he is utterly untalented.
The plot’s premise borrows from the previous year’s hit Pillow Talk in which a man pursues a woman disinterested in his playboy reputation by disguising himself as more sensitive and approachable. Even Some Like It Hot was a more skewed variation on the formula.
Contenders for the role of Clement included Gregory Peck, Yul Brynner, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson. As casting finalized, Monroe’s husband, playwright Arthur Miller, arranged her introduction to the French actor and vocalist Yves Montand performing in a concert tour in New York, who would become her co-star. Monroe campaigned for Montand’s casting and won. Although he was born near Florence, Italy, the film’s trailer promoted Montand as “the greatest gift France has sent to us since the Statue of Liberty.” With his prominent nose, Montand bore a slight resemblance to Joe DiMaggio.
“Next to my husband and along with Marlon Brando,” Monroe told the press at a reception she hosted at the studio’s Café de Paris commissary, “I think Yves Montand is the most attractive man I’ve ever met.”
Frankie Vaughan, “the singing idol of England,” plays Tony Danton, a cabaret singer in Amanda’s production. Vaughan released more than eighty recordings over the course of his career, mostly covers of American songs.
As Clement’s protective attorney Mr. Wales, Wilfrid Hyde-White, was a British actor best remembered for his role in My Fair Lady (1964). He amused Monroe with a story he heard of a man visiting the wilds of Africa who told a savage tribesman that he was from America, and the head-hunter responded, “America—Marilyn Monroe.”
Screen legends Milton Berle, Bing Crosby, and Gene Kelly portray themselves in cameos as the comedian, singer and dancer who coach Clement.
Cukor, accompanied by
songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen and musical director, Lionel
Newman, traveled to the Monroe’s Manhattan apartment to audition the musical score.
Using her white baby grand piano, the team sang four original songs created for
the film: “Specialization,” “Incurably Romantic,” “Hey You with the Crazy
Eyes,” and “Let’s Make Love.” The four men had a rare glimpse of Monroe as a
stepmother when, in middle of a song, she jumped up and attended to her young
stepson and his best friend.
Monroe’s opening number, a Beatnik version of Cole Porter’s standard “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” The six-minute sequence was on the scale of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “Heat Wave”. Immortalized by Mary Martin, the song was updated to include jazzy “ba-da-da” back-up male vocals. The melody of the chorus is in a minor key while the bridge is in major. Monroe delivered staccato phrasing with precise pitch.
As the number begins, the
camera focuses on a series of firehouse poles as Monroe’s legs appear from
above, opening and closing as she shimmies down a pole and into frame before
whispering, “Boys!” Ten male dancers in casual beige outfits join her. Wearing a
bulky blue Aran sweater over a black leotard body suit and black pumps, Monroe
announces, “My name is…Lolita, and I’m not supposed to play…with boys.” This
phrase calls to mind Nabokov’s controversial novel. Furthering the literary
allusion, Monroe plays with jacks and crawls across the floor between the
spread legs of a row of male dancers.
As in “Diamonds,” the male dancers chase, lift, and carry her around the stage. It is a vigorously acrobatic number, probably the most difficult of her career. Cukor shot the sequence slowly in fifteen second takes while Monroe mimicked the dance moves modeled off-set by Jack Cole. When Cole accidentally caught his foot in a camera dolly, Monroe grimaced and clutched her chest in exact imitation of her choreographer. The number took eleven days to complete
Monroe appreciated Cole’s
patience. She sent him a greeting card and enclosed a check for $1500 and a
note that read, “I really was awful, it must have been a difficult experience,
please go someplace nice for a couple of weeks and act like it all never
happened.” A few days later, Cole received another card with a check for $500 and
an inscription that said, “Stay three more days.” Cole responded with a
telegram: “The universe sparkles with miracles but none among them shines like
you. Remember that when you go to sleep.”
The blue sweater, ordered from Ireland for $75 by costume designer Dorothy Jeakins, created more delays on the set than Monroe than the Hollywood writer’s strike that stalled production. Monroe was slender, having lost the weight gained during her pregnancy in late 1958; however, Fox executive Buddy Adler complained that she looked pregnant in the blue sweater. The sweater gave the illusion of middle fullness as it was sewn into Monroe’s black leotard to prevent it from riding up during the highly physical dance moves.
Fox promised “The Best Entertainment Offer You’ve Had in Years!” and organized a premiere in Reno, where Marilyn was scheduled to film The Misfits. Rather ominously, the city experienced an electrical blackout on the evening of the event. The premiere was canceled and never rescheduled.
With all its deficits, the film
is average; but the public expected a Marilyn Monroe film to produce above
average results. Regardless, Monroe is delightful and approachable in the role.
She speaks in her natural voice, her manner is natural and unaffected, she
portrays Amanda as an approximation to the real Monroe.
New York World-Telegram and Sun
noticed the public’s positive response to her musical performance during a
screening: “Marilyn Monroe is geared for some of the loudest laughter of her
life…It is a gay, preposterously and completely delightful romp…Marilyn
actually dares comparison with Mary Martin by singing ‘My Heart Belongs to
Daddy’ in the first scene. The night I saw it, the audience broke into the
picture with applause.” Conversely, crusty Bosley Crowther commented in the New
York Times, “Who (aside from his mother) would ever have expected to see
Milton Berle steal a show, without much effort, from Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand?”
Let’s Make Love
received an Oscar nomination for best scoring of a musical. However, it
received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical Motion Picture and a
nomination for Best Written American Musical by the Writers Guild of America.
What’s the story behind Monroe’s costume that
got much mileage? Monroe wore two of her own dresses in the
production. One is the designer Jean-Louis’s sheath with bolero jacket which
she frequently wore to events from 1958-1962.
Does Monroe wear the silver
gown from the premiere of Some Like It Hot? In the Specialization
number that highlights the careers of Elvis Presley, Maria Callas and Van
Cliburn, Monroe dons a spangled silver gown adorned with bugle beads that she had
worn to the premiere of Some Like It Hot in March 1959.
Did Monroe have a birthday
party on set? Monroe celebrated her 34th birthday on set and
receive a string of pearls from George Cukor. She was photographed with the
children of cast and crew invited to the event.
Arthur Miller polish the script? The writer’s strike of 1960
delayed production, so Monroe’s husband rewrote key scenes.
A pivotal scene—obviously
scripted by Miller—establishes the emotional connection between Amanda and
Clement. The scrapped dialogue could likely have been a conversation in the
Miller living room on East Fifty-Seventh Street. When Amanda explains that she
wants to be “wonderful” and entertain people, Clement cynically suggests only
one in a hundred audience members really cares about her acting—the rest are
“foolish, perspiring strangers” for whom she is working “like a slave.” Amanda
describes the exhilaration she feels during a good performance and her
connection to the audience: “You’re home. Like in a family.” “How well I know,”
Marilyn printed next to this last line on her working copy of the script, which
describes how an audience’s feedback makes her feel lifted off the ground and
in a home. She changed the words “ground” to “earth” and “home” to “sheltered.”
In the margin, she scribbled, “how true.”
Why all the publicity photos of
the film’s stars drinking coffee? That was Monroe’s media
campaign to save the small business of a coffee and concession vendor. She
inscribed this photo of herself and the vendor, “There’s nothing like your
coffee.” During production, Fox studio was terminating the contract of its
coffee vendor, one man’s livelihood. Monroe wielded her power and protested the
termination, demanding that he remain; there are a series of photos of her and
her co-stars drinking coffee at the vendor’s portable stand which traveled to
the sound stages. Monroe won, and the coffee vendor stayed.
“Maureen O’Hara: The Biography” We have FOUR Books to Give Away this month!
“Aubrey Malone turns back the veil on O’Hara’s closely guarded private life to reveal a truly fascinating, spirited, and down-to-earth woman behind the glamorous movie star.”—News OK
It’s time for our next book giveaway contest! And we’re super excited about this one! That said, CMH is very happy to say that we will be giving away FOUR COPIES of Maureen O’Hara: The Biography by Aubrey Malone, courtesy of University Press of Kentucky, from now through Oct 3.
In order to qualify to win one of these prizes via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, Oct 3 at 6PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick a winner on four different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below. So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over.
Sept 12: One Winner
Sept 19: One Winner
Sept 26: One Winner
Oct 3: One Winner
We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub, the day after each winner is picked around 9PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winner on Sunday Sept 13 at 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.
And now on to the contest!
ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, Oct 3, 2020 at 6PM EST — BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…
1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post
2)ThenTWEET (not DM) the following message*: Just entered to win the “Maureen O’Hara: The Biography” #BookGiveaway courtesy of @KentuckyPress & @ClassicMovieHub You can #EnterToWin here: http://www.classicmoviehub.com/blog/maureen-ohara-the-biography-book-giveaway-sept/
THE QUESTION: What is one of your favorite Maureen O’Hara movies and why? And if you’re not too familiar with her work, why do you want to win this book?
*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…
About the Book: From her first appearances on the stage and screen, Maureen O’Hara commanded attention with her striking beauty, radiant red hair, and impassioned portrayals of spirited heroines. Maureen O’Hara is the first book-length biography of the screen legend hailed as the “Queen of Technicolor.” Following the star from her childhood in Dublin to the height of fame in Hollywood, film critic Aubrey Malone draws on new information from the Irish Film Institute, production notes from films, and details from historical film journals, newspapers, and fan magazines. Malone also examines the actress’s friendship with frequent costar John Wayne and her relationship with director John Ford, and he addresses the hotly debated question of whether the screen siren was a feminist or antifeminist figure. This breakthrough biography offers the first look at the woman behind the larger-than-life persona, sorting through the myths to present a balanced assessment of one of the greatest stars of the silver screen.
That said, here are just some of our Sept picks (over 40 titles in all) available for free streaming 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.
And for some Friday Fright Night,we’re featuring horror classics starring Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, plus the silent classics Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari:
And more !
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 was to make lots of classic titles accessible and affordable for all. That said, there are hundreds of titles available for freestreaming on the BCE homepage and the Classic Movie Hub Channel — plus, thousands of titles on the individual channels (Best Stars Ever, Best Westerns Ever, Best Mysteries Ever, Best TV Ever) via subscription ($1.99/mo. per channel or $4.99/mo. for everything).
You can read more about Best Classics Ever and our partnership here.