Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Christmas in Connecticut (1945). 102 minutes. Directed by Peter Godfrey. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (as Elizabeth Lane), Sydney Greenstreet (as Alexander Yardley), Dennis Morgan (as Jefferson Jones), Reginald Gardiner (as John Sloane), S. Z. Sakall (as Felix Bassenak), Robert Shayne (as Dudley Beecham), Una O’Connor (as Nora), and Dick Elliott (as Judge Crothers).

Christmas in Connecticut reflects on a certain widespread fantasy about life in Connecticut, a fantasy that seems particularly to belong to New Yorkers but that many others from outside of the region are similarly fond of. Snowy, sleigh-laden, and full of the sights and smells of elegant home cooking, the Connecticut that lifestyle columnist Elizabeth Lane (played by Barbara Stanwyck) creates in this movie is certainly a repository of rural and domestic dreams, both in 1945 and, I think it is fair to say, even today. While the movie may easily be categorized as light holiday fare, it also has something relevant to say about the role of … Read the rest

Gold Diggers in Paris (1938)

Gold Diggers in Paris (1938)

Gold Diggers in Paris (1938). 97 minutes. Directed by Ray Enright. Starring Rudy Vallee (as Terry Moore), Rosemary Lane (as Kay Morrow), Hugh Herbert (as Maurice Giraud), Allen Jenkins (as Duke Dennis), Gloria Dickson (as Mona), Fritz Feld (as Luis Leoni), Curt Bois (as Padrinsky), Edward Brophy (as Mike Coogan), Melville Cooper (as Pierre Le Brec), and the Schnickelfritz Band (as themselves). Musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley. Music by Harry Warren, Al Dubin, Johnny Mercer, and Freddie Fisher.

For a movie whose title so blatantly alludes to financial schemers, Gold Diggers in Paris is surprisingly free of gold-digging characters. In fact, as I was watching, it occurred to me that the primary gold diggers involved in this production were probably the producers, directors, and cast, who must have seen this sixth installment in the series as easy money, given how popular its predecessors were. In addition to lacking actual characters who are gold diggers, Gold Diggers in Paris is … Read the rest

Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936)

Gold Diggers of 1937

Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936). 101 minutes. Directed by Lloyd Bacon. Starring Dick Powell (as Rosmer Peck), Joan Blondell (as Norma Perry), Glenda Farrell (as Genevieve Larkin), Victor Moore (as J. J. Hobart), Lee Dixon (as Boop Oglethorpe), Osgood Perkins (as Morty Wethered), and Charles D. Brown (as Tom Hugo). Musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley. Music and lyrics by Harry Warren, Al Dubin, Harold Arlen, and E. Y. Harburg.

Generally speaking, it is hard not to like a Gold Diggers movie. Even though this is the fifth iteration of the franchise, stars Dick Powell and Joan Blondell remain cute and perky throughout, and the music, in particular the songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, is first rate. Much like the other Gold Diggers movies, Gold Diggers of 1937 (released in 1936) makes a special appeal to Depression-weary cinema-goers by explicitly referring to the economic circumstances of the times and to the individual characters’ financial predicaments; but its … Read the rest

The Marx Brothers’ “Everyone Says ‘I Love You’” and Popular Music

Synopsis: Erin Elisavet Kozak, “The Marx Brothers’ ‘Everyone Says “I Love You’” in Film and Popular Music.” Published in The Discographer Magazine, vol. 3, no. 5 (April 2016): pp. 3-12.

When Peter Bogdanovich spoke with director Leo McCarey in the late 1960s about McCarey’s film Duck Soup (1933), Bogdanovich remarked: “A lot of people think it’s [the Marx Brothers’] best picture: there’s no harp or piano playing, no interludes, no love interest—those things slowed up their other comedies terribly…” The earlier Marx Brothers picture Horse Feathers (1932) contains all of the elements that Bogdanovich singles out as weaknesses, in particular musical interludes; but while many people might consider Duck Soup to be the Marx Brothers’ greatest cinematic achievement, the musical sequences in Horse Feathers, featuring Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby’s “Everyone Says ‘I Love You,’” boast some of their most memorable material.

In the first half of this article, I argue that the musical interludes of Horse FeathersRead the rest

Early Technicolor

I recently had the opportunity to view the 1930 Eddie Cantor musical comedy Whoopee!, and while I cannot recommend watching it in its entirety (due to its not being a fine example of the genre and its extensive racism), I must say that there is something very interesting about the way it was filmed. I am talking about the two-strip Technicolor process that it and more than 35 other full-length feature films employed between the years of 1929 and 1931, when Hollywood was aggressively experimenting with techniques to maintain and bolster movie attendance in the early days of sound film.

During this period, musicals were the novelty of the moment, and Hollywood produced them in abundance, although audiences quickly overdosed on them.  Whoopee! boasts a number of still-recognizable songs, such as Eddie Cantor’s performances of the suggestive “Makin’ Whoopee” and the tamer “My Baby Just Cares for Me.”  There is also dancing, with a chorus of cowboys and cowgirls … Read the rest

Holiday Inn (1942)

"Holiday Inn" featured image

Holiday Inn (1942). 102 minutes. Directed by Mark Sandrich. Starring Bing Crosby (as Jim Hardy), Fred Astaire (as Ted Hanover), Marjorie Reynolds (as Linda Mason), Virginia Dale (as Lila Dixon), and Walter Abel (as Danny Reed). Story and songs by Irving Berlin. Choreography by Danny Dare.

Holiday Inn is a clever, Christmas-oriented spin on the “let’s put on a show” variety of Golden Age musical. It features Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as New York stage entertainers. Along with Virginia Dale, they form a song-and-dance trio that at the beginning of the film is slated for its farewell performance. Lila Dixon (played by Dale) plans to marry Jim Hardy (played by Crosby) and retire with him to a farm in Connecticut, but on the evening of their last show she reveals that she is in love with Ted Hanover (played by Astaire) and keen to keep on singing and dancing with him.  Crosby recovers quickly and in stride in a … Read the rest

Dames (1934)

"Dames" (1934) featured image

Dames (1934). 91 minutes. Directed by Ray Enright. Musical direction by Busby Berkeley. Starring Dick Powell (as Jimmy Higgins), Ruby Keeler (as Barbara Hemingway), Joan Blondell (as Mabel Anderson), ZaSu Pitts (as Matilda Ounce Hemingway), Guy Kibbee (as Horace Peter Hemingway), and Hugh Herbert (as Ezra Ounce). Music and lyrics by Harry Warren and Al Dubin.

Warner Bros. could have called this movie Gold Diggers of 1934 and its title would have made at least as much sense as the one they settled on.  Much like the Gold Diggers movies, which I have reviewed previously (here and here), Dames focuses on characters who scheme to get their hands on an impressive sum of money and the way their lives intertwine with characters who are plotting to raise funds to put on a spectacular musical — all played by the usual Busby Berkeley suspects.  The first set of schemers is Matilda and Horace Hemingway, who stand to inherit millions … Read the rest

Gold Diggers of 1933

"Gold Diggers of 1933." Detail from original movie poster.

Gold Diggers of 1933. 96 minutes.  Directed by Mervyn LeRoy; musical numbers directed by Busby Berkeley.  Starring Warren William (as Lawrence Bradford), Joan Blondell (as Carol King), Aline MacMahon (as Trixie Lorraine), Ruby Keeler (as Polly Parker), Dick Powell (as Brad Roberts), Guy Kibbee (as Fanuel H. Peabody), and Ginger Rogers (as Fay Fortune).  Music and lyrics by Harry Warren and Al Dubin.

In the depths of the American Depression, movie attendance sank considerably and movie theaters, mostly owned by the studios, were going out of business.  Theaters struggled to persuade people to part with the little money they had for the sake of entertainment.  Studios were forced to adopt new strategies to ensure their survival.  Many strove to offer theater-goers an experience that could not be reproduced outside of a movie theater—something unique and outlandish that made the price of admission worth it.  Gold Diggers of 1933 is a great example of this strategy as it was put … Read the rest

Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

"Gold Diggers of 1935." Detail from movie poster.

Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935).  98 minutes.  Directed by Busby Berkeley.  Starring Dick Powell (as Dick Curtis), Adolphe Menjou (as Nicolai Nicoleff), Gloria Stuart (as Ann Prentiss), Alice Brady (as Mathilda Prentiss), and Hugh Herbert (as T. Mosely Thorpe III).  Music and lyrics by Harry Warren and Al Dubin.

One might be tempted to say that the plot of this film exists mainly to support the lavish, geometrically obsessed Busby Berkeley musical numbers presented at the film’s conclusion.  Such a reading, however, would marginalize all of the lampooning of class and extravagance that takes place over the course of the majority of the film.  What happens before the musical numbers is truly wonderful, a great showcase of scheming and greed that is delivered from an entirely playful perspective. 

Nearly everyone in Gold Diggers of 1935 is after someone else’s money.  Almost all of the characters scheme to enrich their wallets and widen their pockets—some maliciously (for example, Mosely’s stenographer blackmails … Read the rest

Easter Parade (1948)

Detail from "Easter Parade" movie poster

Easter Parade (1948). 103 minutes.  Directed by Charles Walters.  Starring Judy Garland (as Hannah Brown), Fred Astaire (as Don Hewes), Ann Miller (as Nadine Hale), and Peter Lawford (as Jonathan Harrow III).  Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.

Easter Parade contains some of stars Fred Astaire’s and Judy Garland’s most beloved routines, including the title song (sung at the film’s conclusion), “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” and “We’re a Couple of Swells,” the latter of which became an important part of Garland’s concert repertoire.  The film takes place over the course of a year in New York, from the Easter of 1912 to the Easter of 1913.  Singer and dancer Don Hewes (played by Astaire) has been abandoned by his accomplished partner, Nadine Hale (played by Ann Miller), and stumbling into a cabaret at night, Hewes tells his friend Jonathan Harrow (played by Peter Lawford) that he can make any of the girls performing in that venue into a world-class … Read the rest