Tag Archives: Matinee Mondays

Monday Matinee: Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

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Alternate title for this post would be The Christmas Movie That Wasn’t.

One of my favorite holiday movies is Frank Capra’s last film, Pocketful of Miracles. Starring Glenn Ford and Betty Davis, this film is a wonderfully corny, heart-warming film, and measures up to the Capra-Corn that for which Capra films are known. It is a worthy companion to his It’s A Wonderful Life.

Why is this film so great? First off, it’s a Damon Runyon mashup of the Cinderella story, with the twist that the Cinderalla of the film is an old street woman, played to perfection by Bette Davis. Throw in a twist where the hero of the piece is a bootlegger and club owner, played with marvelous desperation by Glenn Ford. Runyon, Davis, Ford, holidays; a guaranteed winner.

Throw in the fact that it seems like MGM emptied its lot to provide the cast for this film. I’ve written a few posts about those character actors that make you jump and shout, “Oh! I recognize him/her from ……..!” This film is loaded with those actors. Here’s a list of who’s who in the movie:

Jack Elam – wall-eyed actor known for Support Your Local Sherrif/Gunfighter
Arthur O’Connell – Anatomy of a Murder; Bus Stop
Peter Falk – Columbo
Thomas Mitchell – Uncle Billy, in It’s A Wonderful Life
Edward Everett Horton – too numerous to try to pull up, but my favorites are his supporing roles in Astaire/Rogers pics.
Mickey Shaughnessy – Elvis’s mentor in Jailhouse Rock
Sheldon Leonard – Nick the bartender, It’s A Wonderful Life
Jerome Cowan – the prosecuting attorney in Miracle on 34th St.
Ellen Corby – Shane, Sabrina, The Waltons
Grace Lee Whitney – Yeoman Rand in the original Star Trek

And then, to top it off, just as Pocketful of Miracles was Capra’s last film, it was the first film for a young ingenue, looking to break into the movies, and making her first appearance on the silver screen: Ann-Margaret.

Often when so many big names are included in a project, something goes wrong. But in Pocketful of Miracles, that doesn’t happen. With so many great names associated with the film (Runyon, Capra, Davis, Ford, Ann-Margaret), it is fitting capstone to Capra’s career.

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Matinee Monday: Laurel and Hardy

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There are many great comics and comedians from the Classic Era of cinema, and many great comedy teams, but the best team of all, the creme´ de la creme´, was Laurel and Hardy. While both worked separately in films, in the silent era and early talkies, it was movie magic when Hal Roach paired the two together, creating the most beloved movie team ever.

In their movies, they were never anything other than themselves, two harmless naifs bumbling the world at their own pace. Oliver Hardy, big and pompous, was the self-anointed brains of the outfit, and Stanley Laurel was his best friend, a semi-conscious, bewildered tag-along who needed superintending, and often, simple needed tending. Saying that Oliver was the brains of the outfit is not saying that either had a brain; just that Oliver was satisfied in his smug self-assurance that he knew best.

Most of their films were about the two just trying to live normal lives, but somehow, life overtook them and even over-powered them. Whether it was trying to fool their wives about going to a lodge convention, trying to install a radio antenna, trying to sleep in an upper berth, trying to refurbish a boat, or deliver a piano, life always proved too much for them.

In 1932, they made the 28-minute short, The Music Box, in which they attempt to deliver a spinet piano up this flight of steps:

That little gray box at the top of the photo? That's the top of the steps!

That little gray box at the top of the photo? That’s the top of the steps!

The Music Box received an Oscar for Best American Short Film that year, and selected by the Library of Congress for preservation as culturally and aesthetically significant. I don’t know who got ambitious, but whoever it was, they uploaded the entire short. When you have a free half hour, click on this link and enjoy one of the finest comedy films every made.

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Matinee Monday: You’ve Got Mail

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been talking about remakes. I first presented Gary Cooper’s Ball Of Fire, which was transformed into Danny Kaye’s A Song Is Born. Then I discussed Jimmy Stewart’s Shop Around The Corner, which was made into Judy Garland’s In The Good Old Summertime. Now, I’m going to be stepping forward in time to almost modern films, and present a third version of this classic story.

Nora Ephron took that 1930’s play, Parfumerie, that was the basis for Shop Around The Corner and In The Good Old Summertime and reworked it to create another sparkling iteration of the sweet story, giving us You’ve Got Mail. In the play and in the first two movies, the antagonists/lovers were coworkers in a shop. Ephron took a real life situation that actually happened in the upper West side of Manhattan and told the story with the antagonists being business competitors.

Casting Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as the leads was genius, seeking to re-capture the chemistry and magic that they had in Sleepless In Seattle. Jimmy Stewart, in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, had an Everyman quality about him. He just seemed to be a normal, down-to-earth guy that everyone could relate to. In the 90s, Tom Hanks was our Everyman.

Ephron’s twist in having Hanks and Ryan be competitors in business gave the story a new energy, opened it up to interesting possibilities and newer characters. In the first two tellings of the story, you had the same characters surrounding the two leads, the co-workers in the shop. In You’ve Got Mail, you have Ryan’s fiancé and other business partners, plus Hanks’ dysfunctional family. As well, Ephron pitches that out-dated penpal concept, and instead incorporates that new phenomenon, the Internet chat room. Hanks and Ryan meet online and become anonymous email correspondents.

In this delightful scene, the two email correspondents are supposed to meet; however, when Hanks has a coworker look into the restaurant to see if his date is ugly, he learns that his email friend is actually his business enemy. He decides to meet her anyway, not as the date she is expecting, but rather as her hated business rival. Enjoy.

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Matinee Monday: The Shop Around The Corner

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Last week, I wrote about a Danny Kaye movie that was a remake of an earlier Gary Cooper film. Remakes are nothing unusual; after all, there seems to be a finite number of workable plots. Today, I want to feature a plot that has had three successful iterations.

In 1937, Miklos Laszlo, wrote a play in his native Hungary, Parfumerie, about two people who work in a shop. These employees do not like each other in real life, but as fate would have it, they are unknowing penpals. Of course, love blossoms. In 1940, this little story was brought to America by Hungarian director Ernst Lubisch and made as The Shop Around the Corner.

Featuring the great Jimmy Stewart as the male lead, it’s a fun movie to watch. Eventually, of course, the two decide to meet at a local restaurant, with flowers as a signal to their identity. And as you might guess, Stewart is shocked to learn that his correspondent is the woman that he dislikes. So shocked,in fact, that he stands her up, and she sits in the restaurant for hours waiting for a date that never shows. I’m not going to go any further, but I’m sure that there’s a good chance you are already connecting The Shop Around the Corner to a newer film.

In this scene, Stewart is talking with a co-worker, prior to meeting his penpal, about his misgivings. The actor he is talking to is Felix Bressart, a veteran character actor who came to America from Germany. He is one of those “Oh, Him!” actors that you try to remember where you’ve seen before. In this case, he was one of the professors in last week’s movie, A Song Is Born.

CSL

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Matinee Monday: Ball of Fire

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Ball of Fire (1942) is one film I dearly love. “How do I love thee; let me count the ways…”

1 – Believe it or not, it is a retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, only with Snow White being a gangster’s moll needing a place to hide out, and the Seven Dwarves being eight professors living cloistered lives writing an encyclopedia. Continue reading

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Matinee Monday – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

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For at least three decades, one of my favorites movies has been Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936). Directed by the great Frank Capra, it’s a perfect example of the heart-warming Capra-corn that he was so famous for. It tells the story of a small-town poet who inherits a fortune during the depression, and how cynical big-city smoothies and sharpies try to mock and take advantage of him.

What is a wonder to me is that Gary Cooper, the star of Mr. Deeds, was a huge heart-throb. I’ve seen many of his pictures, and in almost every one, he is as slow and awkward as he was in real life. Cooper lacked co-ordination, and one behind-the-scenes story from Pride of the Yankees tells how the director had to film Cooper in a Yankee uniform with backwards lettering. It turned out he was so awkward that when they tried to get him to mimic Lou Gehrig’s left-handed batting, it was painful to watch. Instead, they reversed the lettering, filmed him batting right-handed, and then reversed the film

And yet, he was included in Irving Berlin’s great song about being smooth and suave, “Putting on the Ritz”:

Dressed up like a million dollar trooper
Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper
Super-Duper

Despite all this, Cooper could act, and make you care. In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, when he’d rather be railroaded into a mental asylum rather than give the city any more fodder to mock him, you feel his pain.

Here’s the trailer for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town – While I enjoy Adam Sandler’s remake, Mr. Deeds, it’s a pale comparison. Find it and rent it if you can.

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Matinee Monday – Somewhere Over the Rainbow

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In 1938, MGM decided to do a remake of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. They originally wanted to get Shirley Temple from another studio to be Dorothy, but ended up casting their own Judy Garland in the role. Garland has always been a tragic figure for me. Basically, MGM rode her and wore her down. As an example, the studio and her mother had her have a quickie abortion when she was a new bride. Her career in movies was basically over after she had a breakdown while filming Annie Get Your Gun.

In special materials that come with the 40th anniversary DVD of Wizard of Oz, the story is told that Harold Arlen saw a rush of Judy singing. He was struck by the wistful, plaintive quality of her voice, and realized that he needed to create a song for her. The result was “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. That special plaintive quality in her voice is what makes the song so haunting.

This song has been rated the number one song in American film for the 20th century in two different lists. It has been covered by many artists, but the best cover of “Somewhere” is by Brudda Iz, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Also a haunting song, Brudda Iz does a beautiful version with a Hawaiian motif. It’s hard for me to choose between the two songs, as both appeal to me for different reasons.

Garland’s version is iconic, as you can’t separate Garland’s voice from her presence on the screen. Her face, her demeanor, as she ponders a reality other than her current life is touching. Brudda Iz’s version comes without any visuals, but is carried by his gentle falsetto that also conveys the wistful desire for a better place. As much Brudda Iz’s cover speaks to me, it has to be Judy’s version that I put up.

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Matinee Monday: On The Town

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At the end of WWII, a Gene Kelly – Frank Sinatra movie was released, Anchors Aweigh, about two sailors on leave in Hollywood. The musical was a big hit, and so a sequel was made four years later, that disproved the axiom “the sequel is never the equal.” On The Town was blessed with three great dancers (Gene Kelly, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen), two great comic actors (Betty Garrett and Jules Munshin) and Ol’ Blue Eyes (before he was Ol’ Blue Eyes). Continue reading

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Matinee Monday: Stagecoach

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What can one say about Hollywood’s 1939 except to cast about for all the superlatives you can find? Most film critics and aficionados accept without equivocation that 1939 was the nonpareil, that no crop of film of any year comes close to what was produced just before WWII. What film year can come close to it, when it has such films as Dark Victory, Gone With the Wind, Ninotchka, and The Wizard of Oz?

But the film I want to address today is a film from 1939 that is an equal to these, and more: Stagecoach. This was the first pairing of director John Ford and actor John Wayne. While Ford and Wayne would go on to make many other movies together, Stagecoach established Wayne as an actor and Ford as a director. In fact, Wayne’s portrayal of The Ringo Kid was his breakout role, establishing him as a major motion picture star.

But for me, the real “star” of the movie was John Ford and his innovative direction. According to Wikipedia, “Orson Wells argued that it was a perfect textbook of film making and claimed to have watched it more than 40 times in preparation for the making of Citizen Kane.” His decision to move the production from the studio backlot and film in Monument Valley created a lush visual panorama that would come to define the Western film genre. As well, he created new camera angles that added to the storytelling of the film. In one short sequence, the stagecoach crosses a swollen river. A simple scene done many times, right? In Stagecoach, the viewer watches the team of horses pulling the coach from above, from  the vantage point of the driver. It was a beautiful sequence, and one I’ve never seen repeated.

As a fan of old movies, one of my joys is seeing character actors that I enjoy, and Ford stocked Stagecoach with several familiar faces: Donald Meek, Andy Devine, Thomas Mitchell (Uncle Billy, in “It’s A Wonderful Life”, and John Carradine. See if these old photos don’t make you go, “Oh, him!”

Donald Meek

Donald Meek

Andy Devine

Andy Devine

Thomas Mitchell

Thomas Mitchell

John Carradine

John Carradine

And, of course, there is the iconic shot of The Duke, the one that served to announce a major star had arisen:

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Matinee Monday: Harvey

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In 1950, Universal brought the popular Broadway play “Harvey” to the screen, with America’s favorite Everyman, Jimmy Stewart in the starring role. The movie tells of a day in the life of Elwood P. Dowd, a slow, mild man who imagines he has a 6’3″ rabbit for a friend.

Stewart delightfully plays the amiable Dowd with a charm and warmth that only he possesses. The absolute gem of the film is the dowager Josephine Hull, brought from Broadway for the role of Elwood’s sister Vida. Poor Vida is so exasperated at being socially shunned because of her brother’s eccentricities, that she finally conspires with a local judge to have her brother committed to the local sanitarium, Chumley’s Rest.

The plot centers on the mix-up on who is being committed, and Elwood’s gentle delight in introducing his friend Harvey to others. If you have never watched Harvey, you are so much the poorer for not having had a pookah in your life; rent it. In the clip below, there is a wonderful nugget of truth.

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