Category Archives: 1955

Top 15 William Powell Movies

 

One of my all-time favorite actors…even though he’s not as flashy as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable or Spencer Tracy…who are all in my top 5 as well. William Powell seems to sneak in there on the sheer strength of his whole film library. Arguably, he’s the most consistent. He put out some of the finest work ever seen on film, and most, if not all of his movies, stand up today as some of the greatest ever made. Judge for yourself, here are my 15 favorites:

15  The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)

This one is special because of the pairing of William Powell and Jean Arthur. Powell would make a career out of teaming with some of the strongest actresses of the time and then competing with them as equals. He manages to hold each of his female partners in such high esteem, while all along joyfully and playfully sparing with them with wonderful wordplay. This becomes his signature, and not only did the audience enjoy the sparks, but his on screen partners adored him in real life as well. So much so that he fell in love and married 2 of them. He would have married Jean Harlow as well, they were engaged, but she fell ill and died before they married. Back to this film, the script is a little light, but Powell and Arthur are fun. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Arthur look better than she does in this movie. She just shines.

14  One Way Passage (1932)

This one was the 6th pairing of William Powell with Kay Francis. The story is far fetched, as Powell plays a prisoner- a murderer being sent to prison for his hanging and Francis is on her last cruise as she has a terminal illness. They fall in love and spend their last trip together.  It has a mix of drama and comedy, which seems a bit weird due to the material.

13  The Philo Vance Mysteries (1929-1933)

William Powell starred in 4 of the Philo Vance mysteries, I’ll include them all together in one entry: The Canary Murder Case, The Greene Murder Case, The Benson Murder Case, and The Kennel Murder Case. Because of these movies and the Thin Man series, Powell becomes very well known as a Detective. It’s what puts him on the map initially, I would say, even though it’s his pairings with outstanding female partners that really makes him shine. William Powell is the first to star as Vance and arguably the most successful. These films are fun and I can see why Powell would become very popular as a detective over the next 20 years.

12  For The Defense (1930)

Another movie starring Powell and Kay Francis, this time Powell plays an attorney defending the man that Francis is two-timing him for murder. This was a surprise hit for Paramount. A quickie, it was shot in a mere 15 days and its success immeasurably helped director John Cromwell‘s career, who would go on to direct Tom Sawyer, Of Human Bondage, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Prisoner of Zenda, Algiers, Made For Each Other, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and Dead Reckoning after this one.

11  Jewel Robbery (1932)

The last one on the list that also stars Kay Francis, this one is my favorite of all the ones they did together. Powell plays a gentleman thief…which reminds me that he would have been the perfect Arsene Lupin over the years if he had ever decided to take that character on.  This began as a stage play, and then turned into a movie, and you can really tell with the great dialogue.

10  Double Wedding (1937)

The first one on the list that features Powell with his best collaborator, Myrna Loy! They are most famous together in the Thin Man movies but they performed so much together over the years that most people thought they were really married, which caused a lot of trouble for the couple whenever they went on location as often the hotels would book them accidentally in the same room! They would eventually star in 14 films together.  When I mentioned earlier that he was engaged to Jean Harlow, but she died…it was during the filming of this movie. They had to shut down production for a few weeks and I think you can tell in Powell’s performance that he was distraught. Also, can I just mention that I hate his artist costume in this movie.

9  Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948)

Fun little movie, seems like it would have been perfect for Don Knotts in the title role, but he was decades away from doing movies…Powell is still fun as always. Ann Blyth plays the mermaid in a very effective costume…at times she seems like a very real mermaid!  In an article in “Look” magazine that came out at the time the film was released Ann Blyth said that the hardest part of making the movie was trying to learn to swim while wearing the mermaid tail. She said that she practiced for more than a week before she felt comfortable with not being able to kick her legs to help her swim. During the film Ann Blyth has no dialogue. She laughs, sings (without words) and cries but does’t talk.

8  Libeled Lady (1936)

Great cast with Powell and Loy as usual, but with the additions of Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy!  Reportedly, while shooting the movie, the four stars had become close friends, and William Powell even gave up his old habit of hiding out in his dressing room between scenes so he could join in the fun with the rest of the cast. One of the biggest jokes was a running gag Spencer Tracy played on Myrna Loy, claiming that she had broken his heart with her recent marriage to producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. He even set up an “I Hate Hornblow” table in the studio commissary, reserved for men who claimed to have been jilted by Loy. Myrna Loy recalled in her 1987 autobiography that a good time was had by all during the shoot – “Libeled Lady was one of the best of the so-called screwball comedies, with a great cast, and Jack Conway directing us at breakneck speed.” She praised her co-stars and also expressed her love for working with Walter Connolly, whom she described as “darling.” Some of the cast and crew travelled to the California mountains during production in order to shoot exteriors of the bucolic scenes. They spent nearly a week living cosily in small cabins, according to Myrna Loy, and enjoying the rustic scenery far from the bright lights of Hollywood. This was where William Powell filmed his bit of slapstick in which he must pretend to be an expert angler in order to impress Connie’s father. “It’s a hysterical piece of work,” praised Loy, “but then Bill was a very gifted man, able to do great comedy and tragedy, everything.”

7  The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

William Powell plays the great showman Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. in this biography of his life. He would go on to play Ziegfeld again later for a showcase of some of Ziegfeld’s finest work in Ziegfeld Follies.  Billie Burke, the wife of the real Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., never really rated the film much despite taking a personal interest in the writing of the script. She went to great lengths to make sure that writer William Anthony McGuire never besmirched the good name of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., hence the playing down of his infidelities.  The Great Ziegfeld would become the first biopic to win an Academy Award for “Best Picture”. Powell himself would be nominated for My Man Godfrey, that same year.

6  I Love You Again (1940)

This one is quite fun, Powell plays a man who is a normal boring businessman that bumps his head a second time, which makes him recover from amnesia, only to remember his life as a con man before he had amnesia! In the process, he comes to learn that he’s deeply in love with the woman that is soon to be his ex-wife, Myrna Loy.  The fun part of this movie is the total change in Powell’s personality and then the wooing of his wife (coo-ing?). It does have a lengthy Boy Scout sequence, which is delightful, but to me, takes it away from the fun parts that are Powell-Loy laden.

5  Life With Father (1947)

I love Irene Dunne and she is really in fine form in this great family film.  In later years, Irene Dunne admitted that she hated playing the part of Vinnie, the wife, as she considered the part to be “rattle-brained”.  The original play, “Life With Father” is the longest-running Broadway non-musical play ever. It played on Broadway for nearly eight years (3224 performances), from 1939 to 1947 and held the record for 25 years until “Fiddler on the Roof” surpassed it. In the play, author Howard Lindsay played Father, Dorothy Stickney was Vinnie and Teresa Wright was Mary. The film version was released in 1947, the year that the Broadway run ended. William Powell had his 3rd Academy Award nomination for this role.

4  Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

Clark Gable adds to the fun in Manhattan Melodrama. Interesting thing about this is that both William Powell and Clark Gable were married to Carole Lombard, at different times, of course, neither during this movie.  This was also the first movie to feature Powell and Loy together. Interesting to note, this movie is probably most famous for being the movie that bank robber John Dillinger had just seen before he was gunned down in front of Chicago’s Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934. He had been set up by Anna Sage, the madam of a brothel, who knew Dillinger’s girlfriend, Polly Hamilton. Sage was facing deportation and thought the tip might get her off. She told FBI agent Melvin Purvis that she would be wearing orange which appeared red, leading her to be dubbed “The Woman in Red”. Dillinger was shot three times when he tried to escape, and Sage wound up being sent back to Romania.

3  Mister Roberts (1955)

William Powell’s last movie, based on the play which also starred Henry Fonda as Mister Roberts. The supporting cast in this film is incredible with great parts for James Cagney and Jack Lemmon, who won an Oscar for his role of Ensign Pulver. Initially directed by John Ford, one of the few non-westerns he did.  On this movie, he was apparently mean and abusive.  When John Ford met James Cagney at the airport, the director warned that they would “tangle asses,” which caught Cagney by surprise. Cagney later said: “I would have kicked his brains out. He was so goddamned mean to everybody. He was truly a nasty old man.” The next day, Cagney was slightly late on set, and Ford became incensed. Cagney cut short the imminent tirade, saying: “When I started this picture, you said that we would tangle asses before this was over. I’m ready now – are you?” Ford backed down and walked away and he and Cagney had no further conflicts on the set.  Later on, there was a disagreement between John Ford and Henry Fonda that led to Ford punching Fonda in the mouth, ending their 16-year personal friendship and eight-film professional relationship, even though Ford apologized to Fonda afterward. Fonda only appeared in one more Ford film after that. Ford was eventually dismissed from the film and Mervyn LeRoy took over.  John Ford’s dismissal from the film pushed him over the edge. He began drinking heavily, and was hospitalized in Hawaii for alcohol poisoning.

2  The Thin Man Mysteries (1934-1947)

To this day, these are the films that William Powell and Myrna Loy are most famous for, with good reason, they are awesome.  I don’t need to go into much detail, as I do that here in another blog post.  Now after you’ve read that go see the series, it’s great.

1  My Man Godfrey (1936)

My favorite movie featuring Powell is also the one that really features his ex-wife Carole Lombard most effectively.  It’s about a scatterbrained socialite, who hires a vagrant as a family butler…but there’s more to Godfrey than meets the eye.  William Powell suggested his ex-wife Carole Lombard for the leading role with the explanation that his real life romance with Lombard had been much the same as it was for the characters of Godfrey and Irene. Although stars William Powell and Carole Lombard had been divorced for three years by the time they made this, when offered the part Powell declared that the only actress right for the part of Irene was Lombard.  This is the only film to receive Oscar nominations for writing, directing and all four acting awards without being nominated for Best Picture. It was also the only film to receive those six nominations without winning in any of the categories until American Hustle (2013).

Top 15 Katharine Hepburn Movies

 

Finding just 15 movies to highlight from someone with a career like Katharine Hepburns is just literally insane…as she has well over 15 movies worth highlighting. She’s amazing, and quite possibly my favorite actress.  So I’ve narrowed the list down the only which way I could…I simply list my favorites. All of her films are worth watching, but if you’ve never seen any of them yet, here’s a good start:

15 – Summertime (1955)summertime

David Lean is famous for his grand epics, but it’s fun to highlight an intimate film like this for both Katharine Hepburn and David Lean. Katharine Hepburn was more than impressed with her experience working with David Lean. She even asked to sit in on the editing sessions with him to watch him at work. In her autobiography, she wrote, “[Summertime] was told with great simplicity in the streets, in the Piazza San Marco. We would shoot in tiny streets only a few feet wide. The sun would come and go in a matter of minutes. It was a very emotional part, and I tell you I had to be on my toes to give David enough of what he wanted practically on call. But it was thrilling… He seemed to me to simply absorb Venice. It was his. He had a real photographic gift. He thought in a descriptive way. His shots tell the story. He was capable of a sort of super concentration. It made a very deep and definite impression on me, and he was one of the most interesting directors I ever worked with. Wasn’t I lucky to work with him?”

This material is well within Hepburn’s wheelhouse but is very different for Lean. What I find to be of great interest with the material is that Hepburn had a great eye for stage plays and especially ones that would make fine transitions over to the big screen. Many of her success came from turning great plays into marvelous movies. The writer is Arthur Laurents who wrote the plays Home of the Brave, Gypsy and West Side Story.

14 – Stage Door (1937)stage-door

Another play (you’ll find that most of this list started out as plays), but this one is even more interesting, as it’s about the behind-the-scenes drama of actresses trying to make it big on Broadway. Originally, the writer of the stage play, George S. Kaufman, upset and bemused by the way the screenwriters had substantially changed the play, suggested that the title also be changed, to “Screen Door”. The screenplay was considerably altered from the hit stage play. Director Gregory La Cava was particularly gifted working with actresses. For two weeks prior to filming, he had his cast improvise in the boarding house set as if they were actually rooming together, and had a script girl take down all their interchanges. Most of the dialog you hear in the boarding house is extemporaneous ad-libs by the actresses during rehearsals. Just as an example of how much the play had been rewritten, Adolphe Menjou’s character was not in the original stage play at all.

Katharine Hepburn was in discussions to star in the original Broadway stage production of “Stage Door”, but Broadway producer Leland Hayward, reportedly jealous of her deepening friendship with noted film director John Ford, cast his then-girlfriend Margaret Sullavan in the leading role. Hayward and Sullavan married one month after the stage play opened. Margaret Sullavan was considered for the film version but became pregnant with their first child, and the part went to Katharine Hepburn.

13 – Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967)hepburn_tracy_guess_whos_coming_to_dinner

Worth mentioning in this film is one of three of the finest speeches I’ve ever seen written for Spencer Tracy at the end of a film. The others being in State of the Union and Judgment at Nuremberg. Now particularly, in this film during this scene, Katharine Hepburn doesn’t have a single line and yet she speaks VOLUMES. The brilliant decision to have Tracy stand up and then move back to where Hepburn is sitting so that the camera has her in view as he gives the speech about their love, is simply a work of genius. I get choked up every time I see it, as the emotion erupting from both of them is palpable. It’s also important to note that this is their last film together and Tracy’s final film before he died. He would die a few weeks later, and I can’t help but think he was expressing how he really felt about her for all of us to see.

Hepburn would win one of her four Academy Awards from her performance in this movie and it’s not hard to see why, from a single scene where she doesn’t even speak. She’s that good. Ironically, Tracy and Hepburn would do a total of nine movies together but this film was the only one where they were both nominated for Academy Awards, but Tracy would lose out to Rod Steiger, for Heat of the Night, a film also starring Sydney Poitier. Both Tracy and Poitier had won Oscars previously, for other films.

12 – The African Queen (1951)katharine-hepburn-african-queen

There are two movies on this list where Hepburn is stuck on a raft or a boat going downstream with a gruff character, this one with Humphrey Bogart and Rooster Cogburn with John Wayne. The movie was directed by Bogart favorite, Walter Huston. In both movies, she plays a christian, a missionary in one and the minister’s daughter in the other. She took her part quite seriously in African Queen, according to Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography, John Huston initially found her performance to be too serious-minded. One day, he visited her hut and suggested that she model her performance on Eleanor Roosevelt; putting on her “society smile” in the face of all adversity. After Huston left, Hepburn sat for a moment before deciding, “That is the best piece of direction I have ever heard.” Lauren Bacall famously ventured along for the filming in Africa to be with husband Humphrey Bogart. She played den mother during the trip, making camp and cooking. This also marked the beginning of her life-long friendship with Katharine Hepburn.

11 – State of the Union (1948)katherine-state-of-the-union

What I love about Katharine Hepburn’s performances most is that she plays some incredibly strong women characters but in vulnerable ways. She lets little cracks come through, we see her characters doubt at times, even as she tries to keep her chin up and fight through. This one is directed by my favorite director, Frank Capra. This was a political film, and pride runs strong with Capra and most of it’s cast, but the country was going through some turmoil over what would be known as the Hollywood Blacklist. There was tension on the set between the strongly conservative Adolphe Menjou and liberal thinking Katharine Hepburn, who had recently made a public speech against America’s anticommunist hysteria and was facing a backlash as a result. Adolphe Menjou was a hard-line political conservative who had willingly co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and named names. Katharine Hepburn was decidedly more liberal and had been an outspoken critic of the blacklist. When Hepburn learned Menjou had worked with HUAC, she refused to speak to or have anything to do with him unless they were filming a scene. Once the cameras were off, she kept her distance. They had previously worked together in two other films (Stage Door and Morning Glory) and had no problems those times. Perhaps the familiarity between the two had caused some deep disappointment in each other’s hard stand.

10 – Holiday (1938)hepburn-holiday

This is the first of three films on this list with her other frequent collaborator, Cary Grant. They are magic together. I love all the movies she does with Tracy, they seem like the perfect pair, but quite possibly what I love about Hepburn matched up with Grant is that they seemed like the perfect foes. They’re completely at odds with each other but Grant is not quite her equal, she’s a queen he keeps trying to knock off of her pedestal, whereas with Tracy they seem to be equals. This one was written by one of Katharine Hepburn’s favorite writers, Donald Ogden Stewart, who also wrote her other films, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, and uncredited work on Summertime. He was uncredited in many of his later screenplays as he was one of the writers that were eventually blacklisted by the (HUAC) House Un-American Activities Committee.

9 – Rooster Cogburn (1975)katherine-hepburn-and-rooster-cogburn

This is the latest movie on the list, and even though I liked her work in On Golden Pond in 1981, it didn’t quite make the list. This one was a follow-up to John Wayne’s Academy Award winning turn as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. She enjoyed working with the Duke very much because they were both spitfires! Katharine Hepburn was bemused by co-star John Wayne’s tendency to argue with everybody, especially the director, during filming. At the party to celebrate the last day of filming she told him, “I’m glad I didn’t know you when you had two lungs, you must have been a real bastard. Losing a hip has mellowed me, but you!” The film received terrible reviews on release. Many critics felt that it was too obviously derived from The African Queen, and that both John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were too old for their parts, but I really love seeing these two veteran actors going head-to-head. John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were born a mere two weeks apart (Wayne being the eldest), and their careers paralleled each other, yet this film marked the only time the Hollywood veterans appeared together onscreen.

8 – Bringing Up Baby (1938)Bringing Up baby Lobby Card

Holiday, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story all make my list as well for the Top 15 Cary Grant Movies, you can see the blog post here to see where they wind up on that list. I also talk about this movie in a blog post about What’s Up, Doc?, you can read that one here if you’re interested. Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant frequently socialized off the set, double-dating with their respective steadies at the time, Howard Hughes and Phyllis Brooks. They loved working on the film so much that they frequently arrived early. Since Howard Hawks was usually late, they spent their time working out new bits of comic business. Hawks and Hepburn started out a little rough at the beginning of shooting.  After the bad start, Hawks grew to respect Hepburn tremendously for her comic timing, ad-libbing skills and physical control. He would tell the press, “She has an amazing body – like a boxer. It’s hard for her to make a wrong turn. She’s always in perfect balance. She has that beautiful coordination that allows you to stop and make a turn and never fall off balance. This gives her an amazing sense of timing. I’ve never seen a girl that had that odd rhythm and control.” I talk a little more about this film in a blog post about the Top 15 Films Directed By Howard Hawks.

7 – Desk Set (1957)katharine-hepburn-desk-set

This one was written by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron, the mother and father of Nora Ephron! Great writing runs in the family! I love this movie as an older couple meet and fall in love.  It’s also got some very interesting research details and a fun computer bit. The computer dates the film however because it’s so big and blinky.

6 – Alice Adams (1935)

ALICE ADAMS, Fred MacMurray, Katharine Hepburn, 1935

George Stevens directed Hepburn in Alice Adams and Woman of the Year. Both films make my list but her character is so starkly different! The first one is about a young woman trying to break through certain social circles, very unsure of herself and naive and the second is a very strong reporter trying to make it in a man’s world, very secure and confident.  She enjoyed working with him but he really pushed her to be a better version of herself. She was having problems with her public persona, which was of a cold woman. She credits Stevens for her change in the public’s perception, by helping her, in “Alice Adams”, portray more warmth and vulnerability than she had ever shown previously. For example, there was a disagreement among Hepburn and Stevens about the post-party scene. The script called for Hepburn to fall onto the bed and break into sobs, but Stevens wanted her to walk to the window and cry, with the rain falling outside. Hepburn could not produce the tears required, so she asked Stevens if she could do the scene as scripted. Stevens yelled furiously at Hepburn, which did the trick and the scene was filmed Stevens’ way, and Hepburn’s tears are real. I think this scene is dead right the way Stevens has created and set the mood.

5 – Lion in Winter (1968)katharine-and-lion-in-winter

Katharine thought very highly of Peter O’Toole. She thought he could do anything, strong but kind, funny but dramatic…she really admired him. Although Hepburn was a great admirer of his work, she had no intention of putting up with the rather bad habits he often exhibited on his productions. “You’re known to be late,” she told him on the first day of work. “I intend for you to be on time. I hear you stay out at night. You’d better be rested in the morning if you’re going to work with me!” O’Toole meekly obliged when she told him “Peter, stop towering over me. Come and sit down and try to look respectable.” O’Toole readily admitted in her presence that she reduced him “to a shadow of my former gay-dog self.” “She is terrifying. It is sheer masochism working with her. She has been sent by some dark fate to nag and torment me.” Her reply: “Don’t be so silly. We are going to get on very well. You are Irish and you make me laugh. In any case, I am on to you and you to me.” In spite of her stern warnings, she enjoyed O’Toole tremendously. She said his vigour and energy helped restore her own vitality at a time when she really needed it.

This film is also the first film for Timothy Dalton and Anthony Hopkins. Timothy Dalton was hugely impressed by Katharine Hepburn, particularly when she came in to shoot reverse shots with him on her day off from filming.

4 – Little Women (1933)little-women-katharine-hepburn

She got the coveted iconic role in this one and runs away with the film. It helped to cement a long relationship with director George Cukor, who would go on to direct her in Sylvia Scarlett, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, Pat and Mike, and Adam’s Rib. Katharine Hepburn wrote in her autobiography, “This picture was heaven to do – George Cukor perfect. He really caught the atmosphere. It was to me my youth!”  The third screen adaptation of the novel, following silent versions in 1917 and 1918. Little Women would be filmed a total of 8 times for film and several more times as TV shows and a couple mini-series!

3 – Woman of the Year (1942)woman-of-the-year-katharine-hepburn

This is the first of nine films Hepburn and Tracy would do together. She was unaware of how they would do together onscreen for the first time and wondered if they had the right chemistry.  The first scene shot was the characters’ first date, in a bar. Hepburn was so nervous she spilled her drink, but Tracy just handed her a handkerchief and kept going. Hepburn proceeded to clean up the spill as they played the scene. When the drink dripped through to the floor, she tried to throw Tracy off by going under the table, but he stayed in character, with the cameras rolling the entire time. After this she knew the two of them would be golden as they became so comfortable together, she knew it was magic. As Hepburn’s close friend and frequent director, George Cukor was a natural choice to direct, but for her first film with Tracy, Hepburn wanted Tracy to be as comfortable as possible, so as a quasi-producer, she hired George Stevens, who had directed her in Alice Adams. As Hepburn said, “I just thought he (Tracy) should have a big, manly man on his team – someone who could talk about baseball.” Cukor (who was openly gay and known for his friendships with actresses) would later become a good friend of Tracy and would direct both actors in 3 more movies.

2 – The Philadelphia Story (1940)philadelphia-story

Grant trying to knock Queen Hepburn off her pedestal is never more evident than in this movie. He even calls her a Queen and mocks he high and mightiness, in a marvelous duel of words between exes that were never more in love than when they were fighting. To get back at him she falls off the pedestal for short time and lands in Jimmy Stewart’s arms. James Stewart never felt he deserved the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film, especially since he had initially felt miscast. He always maintained that Henry Fonda should have won instead for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and that the award was probably “deferred payment for my work on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)”, but I thought he was great in this one as well.

1 – Adam’s Rib (1949)adams-rib

I wrote about how gracious Hepburn was with co-star Judy Holliday in this film, in a blog post you can read here. What I didn’t talk about in that post was how great she is in the movie, on her own right. Written by husband and wife Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, they would become lifelong friends of Hepburn and Tracy and Kanin would also go on to write an intimate biography on Hepburn and Tracy.

Interesting bit of trivia, in the memorable Tracy-Hepburn massage scene, a radio plays Frank Sinatra singing Cole Porter’s “Farewell, Amanda,” a gift to Amanda Bonner (played by Hepburn) from her songwriter-neighbor, Kip Lurie (played by David Wayne) who, earlier in the picture, had crooned the ditty, accompanying himself on the Bonners’ piano. While Adam Bonner (played by Tracy) is massaging his wife, he abruptly shuts off the radio. Sinatra is again heard when a record is accidentally started in a later scene. This prerecording of “Farewell, Amanda” is lost.

Cary Grant’s Top 15 Movies

 

You’ll be surprised at what I rank as the top Cary Grant movie! Let’s get that out of the way, right up front. You should also know that he’s my favorite actor, so I love most of his movies. It’s really hard to come up with his best, so I’ll for-go that and only pick my favorites of all of his films. I also may have nostalgic reasons behind some of my picks, but as time goes by, those types of things really play into our favorites don’t they? Like who we watched it with, what was going on in our lives when we saw it, how did it make us feel, and so on and so on.

15.  Gunga Din

Grant, Cary (Gunga Din)

There are really two storylines here, the first one is based on Rudyard Kipling’s short stories of The Soldiers Three and is the reason why the movie made my list. The second  storyline is based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem Gunga Din and is the reason this movie almost didn’t make my list. The poem is about a boy and would have made for a great movie, if the role was not played by a 47-YEAR OLD WHITE MAN (Sam Jaffe). The two storylines mingle pretty well overall, it’s just really annoying to see this old man playing a boy.

14.  An Affair To RememberAn-Affair-To-Remember

Of course you can thank Sleepless in Seattle for an awareness to this movie to my generation in the 80’s…but it’s such a great movie, it was bound to have a resurgence. This is a remake of Love Affair, both directed by Leo McCarey, and is superior to the first film in a lot of ways, but in part due to the fact that Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr was given the freedom of improvisation during filming and many of the new lines made it into the final cut.  Cary Grant was a brilliant improviser.

13.  Holidayholiday

At about this time, I realized that Katherine Hepburn had actually several successful on-screen pairings with other actors, other than Spencer Tracy, and one of these was with Cary Grant. They are magnificent together and would go on to appear in four movies together. One of the things I remember about this movie is the flip that Cary Grant does at the end of the movie.  It was one of the only times that his background as an acrobat is ever seen on-screen in his movies. This list could also be a celebration of the writer Donald Ogden Stewart, as 3 of his movies make this list as he wrote Love Affair, Holiday and The Philadelphia Story.

12.  Houseboathouseboat-cary-grant-sophia-loren

I won’t talk a lot about this film, as I enjoyed it, when I first saw it. It’s tainted a bit over time when I learned about all the cheating that was going on behind the scenes. You can read up on that somewhere else. It’s ironic, really, when you think of all the fantastic family films that the director Melville Shavelson is famous for. Films like Yours, Mine and Ours, Room For One More (also starring Cary Grant and then wife, Betsy Drake, but doesn’t make my list), Trouble Along the Way (which I mention in a previous blog post), The Seven Little Foys, and The Five Pennies.

11.  Operation Petticoat

Operation_Petticoat_poster

Great movie directed by Blake Edwards and also starring Tony Curtis!  Some of the plot points of the movie are based on real incidents in WWII. The original actor chosen to play the role Cary Grant took was Bob Hope, but he turned it down and later really regretted it.

10.  My Favorite WifeDunne, Irene (My Favorite Wife)

This is just a really fun movie directed by Garson Kanin and co-starring Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. Randolph Scott and Cary Grant were roommates for 12 years when they first arrived in Hollywood. This is their first and only movie together. Irene Dunne acted in 3 movies with Cary. They are a great pair and I could have easily added their other two movies to this list but one movie is really sad and the subject matter of the other is just not one of my preferences, but both movies were very good. Penny Serenade and The Awful Truth. My Favorite Wife was remade in 1963 as Move Over, Darling with Doris Day and James Garner. I really like that version as well.

9.  Father GooseFatherGoose

This is Cary’s second to last film and by all accounts his character is supposedly the closest to his real personality. He later said that he enjoyed making this movie as he got to be the “Father” to a group of young girls and it made him realize that he missed out on fatherhood. He and wife Diane Cannon would have his own daughter just 2 years later, Jennifer Grant. he would stay in touch with many of the girls over the years as they grew up and had families of their own. He was an incredibly devoted father and retired soon after Jennifer was born so that he could spend his remaining years with her. He would go on to say that she was his “best” production.

8.  I Was a Male War Bridei-was-a-male-war-bride

My mother introduced this one to me one afternoon when I came to visit her and we spent the day just laughing all the way through it. Especially when Ann Sheridan makes Cary Grant climb a pole to read a sign at the top of it just to realize that the sign says, “Wet Paint”. Directed by Howard Hawks, this film was pretty popular when it came out, but virtually forgotten over time. The film grossed over $4.5 million, making it 20th Century Fox’s biggest earner of 1949. The film was also Howard Hawks’ 3rd highest grosser, behind only Sergeant York (1941) and Red River (1948).

7.  To Catch a ThiefCary-Grant-in-To-Catch-a-Thief

One of two directed by Alfred Hitchcock that made my list.  I love it when Cary’s improvisations make reference to his past, as one does in this film. Cary’s role of John Robie, mentions that as a youth he was in a trapeze group that traveled around Europe. In real life, Cary was in an acrobatic troupe that toured around Europe (and eventually came to America) when he was young.  This movie also features Grace Kelly in the on-screen’s only pairing, but they have incredible chemistry.

6.  The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxerbobbysox

This movie is so fun, in part to a just-about-grown-up Shirley Temple (who’s fabulous as usual) but more so because of the fantastic Myrna Loy, who has become a favorite actress of mine over the years.  Directed by Irving Reis and written by Sydney Sheldon (creator of TV’s The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie and Hart To Hart), it’s a great little film that has really gone unnoticed as of the last couple of decades.

5.  North By NorthwestNorth-by-Northwest

The top 5 will make sense to most except my number 1 choice is sure to be confusing to most.  But this one would make just about everyone’s top 5.  You’d be hard pressed to find a better thriller than this one. Great supporting cast with Eva Marie Saint, James Mason and Martin Landau. Cary Grant found the screenplay baffling, and midway through filming told Alfred Hitchcock, “It’s a terrible script. We’ve already done a third of the picture and I still can’t make head or tail of it!” Hitchcock knew this confusion would only help the film-after all, Grant’s character had no idea what was going on, either. Grant thought the film would be a flop right up until its premiere, where it was rapturously received. As a side note, a panel of fashion experts convened by GQ in 2006 said the gray suit worn by Cary Grant throughout almost the entire film was the best suit in film history, and the most influential on men’s style, stating that it has since been copied for Tom Cruise’s character in Collateral (2004) and Ben Affleck’s character in Paycheck (2003). This sentiment has been echoed by writer Todd McEwen, who called it “gorgeous,” and wrote a short story “Cary Grant’s Suit” which recounts the film’s plot from the viewpoint of the suit.

4.  CharadeCharade-1963

Now the placement of these final four was pretty hard for me as I really LOVE all of these films.  They are all perfect to me.  Perfect stories, perfectly cast, perfectly directed by Stanley Donen. Charade is a great movie and has some of the best actors around. Audrey Hepburn, George Kennedy, Walter Matthau and James Coburn.  The chemistry between Audrey and Cary is so great, they had a wonderful time on location and ad-libbed several classic exchanges.  My favorite being, “How do you shave in here…”, Audrey says while pointing to Cary’s chin. After finishing this film, Cary Grant was quoted as saying, “All I want for Christmas is to make another movie with Audrey Hepburn,” and this nearly happened twice when Cary and Audrey almost made My Fair Lady and Father Goose together. The character played by Cary even quotes a line from My Fair Lady (“On the street where you live”), the film version of which would star Audrey the following year.

3.  The Philadelphia StoryThe Philadelphia Story

I mentioned this one earlier as a screenplay written by Donald Ogden Stewart. It also stars Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart. My only wish is that they had given the role played by John Howard to Clark Gable instead, that would have been really fantastic. As it is, he’s largely forgettable in the role as Katherine Hepburn’s fiancee. In response to Cary Grant’s improvisational skills, James Stewart once said in an interview, “I play a writer who falls in love with Katharine Hepburn. The night before her wedding I have a little too much to drink. This gives me the courage to go and talk to Cary, who’s playing her ex-husband. So I go to Cary’s house and knock on the door. It’s obvious I’ve had too much to drink, but he lets me in.  It was time to do the scene, and Cary said, “George, why don’t we just go ahead? If you don’t like it, we’ll do it again.” So, without a rehearsal or anything, we started the scene. As I was talking, it hit me that I’d had too much to drink. So, as I explained things to Cary, I hiccuped. In answer to the hiccup, Cary said — out of the clear blue sky — “Excuse me.” Well, I sort of said, “Ummm?” It was very difficult for me to keep a straight face, because his ad-libbed response had been so beautifully done … Cary had an almost perfect humor.” Just watch it for yourself, it’s a perfect moment on film. Now Stewart was being modest, by the way, he’s great in the film and would go on to win the Academy Award for his role. Something Cary Grant never did, which to me is the biggest sham over the years, maybe not for this film, but for any number of his other performances. Donald Ogden Stewart won an Academy Award as well for his wonderful script. Cary Grant was given the choice of which of the two male lead roles he wanted to play. Surprisingly, he chose the less showy part.

2.  His Girl Fridayhis girl friday 1

I mention this film in detail in the blog post for The Front Page.  It’s was a film directed masterfully by Howard Hawks. He switched what was originally 2 males in the play to a male and female and divorced at that for the movie and called it, His Girl Friday. It was stroke of pure genius. 1940 was the ultimate year for Cary Grant as he made 4 movies released that year and 3 of them make my top 15 list. My Favorite Wife and The Philadelphia Story being the other 2 and the one not in the list being The Howards of Virginia. The dialogue in this film is extremely fast, with most characters talking over each other. It is estimated that the normal rate of verbal dialogue in most films is around 90 words a minute. In His Girl Friday, the delivery has been clocked at 240 words a minute. Even so, there is still a lot of improvisation going on, and it’s a lot of fun.

And here’s my pick for #1:

1. People Will TalkPeople Will Talk

I have this lobby card in my home office, my wife gave it to me for Christmas one year, knowing it was my favorite film of all time, let alone, my favorite Cary Grant movie.  Joseph Mankiewicz wrote and directed this film from a play (Dr. med. Hiob Prätorius) by Curt Goetz.  Great cast includes Hume Cronyn, Jeanne Crain, Finlay Currie, and Walter Slezak. This film never ceases to make me laugh and cry, it’s full of humor, suspense and drama. It also doesn’t shy away from some of the biggest social commentary that I’ve ever seen in any movie.  Dr. Praetorius as played by Cary Grant simply represents a better man that many of us rarely ever achieve. His motives pure, his intellect, compassion, wit and his viewpoint strong and true. In truth, I haven’t seen a film that was more thought-provoking than this one. It’s introspective and makes you examine the human spirit, social mores, science, etiquette and prejudice of community and medicine in such broad and entertaining ways. Maybe I’m looking into this way too much, but it sure is damn entertaining! I guess I like this film so much because at heart I am an emotional animal and this film is at it’s core, emotional. The plot may be muddled for some and it’s identity lost as some people can never define if it’s a comedy, drama, romance, detective story or what, but to me it’s all of those things and more.

Well, there you have it. Now you may want to go back and watch all of these, or I hope, re-watch most of these, but the most important thing is that you enjoy his body of work. You may end up with a list like mine or you can go back to the drawing board and include his other films like, Notorious, Suspicion, Arsenic and Old Lace, Night and Day, Bringing Up Baby, Topper, Once Upon a Honeymoon, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Indiscreet, That Touch of Mink or any other of his fantastic films. But that’s the fun…finding your own top 15!cary-grant1

Original Mock-Up of Issue 1 of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club Magazine Found at Auction

 

For those of you that are old enough to remember, the Mickey Mouse Club TV show published a magazine along with the show that lasted 23 issues before it was cancelled.  My brother Adam and I recently went to an auction in Phoenix, Arizona and purchased what I believe to be the Mock-Up of the very first issue of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club Magazine.  I’m no expert, but here is what I’ve been able to find out from my research on the Mock-Up and my history with it.  I’ve added pictures to help you decide for yourself if it is an important historical item.mickey mouse club magazine

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club Magazine was initiated in late 1955 by Western Publishing (New York) and was produced with the help of Disney staffers.  It’s unclear to me if this Mock-Up is from Western Publishing themselves or one of the Disney staffers, but the latter seems more possible as I have a stack of Christmas Cards that the Disney Company only sent to employees that came along with the magazines.walt disneys mickey mouse club magaziines

I purchased the Mock-Up along with all 23 issues of the Magazine and a few other Disneyana items at an auction this last
spring and when I looked through the lot of magazines I realized that one was different.  The Magazines, along with the Mock-Up appeared to have been archived originally in some way as they have been hole punched to fit in a binder of some sort.  All the magazines have matching holes, as if they were put together for storage.Walt Disneys Mickey Mouse Club Magazine Mock Up

The Mock-Up has light pencil marks throughout where someone wanted to highlight some changes for the final printing and on the cover at the top it has writing in pencil that says, “1st Issue Mock-Up”.Mickey Mouse Club Magazine Comparison

Mickey Mouse ClubThe Mock-Up was also unusual to me in that all the pages are printed one-sided and then glued together to show what the final may look like.  The Mock-Up is in all black and white and on several pages, you can see where the text and pictures were made up of several smaller pieces as they show the edges of the paper.  These are all indications to me that the Mock-Up was done in the 50’s as it matches the technology we had back then.  No desktop publishing or computers were used to piece the first issue together.Mickey Mouse Club Magazine Edits

7I have added several comparison pictures with the Mock-Up and the finished first issue for your review.  I hope this is helpful.  If this truly is the Mock-Up for the first issue of the Magazine as it appears to be, it represents a singular historical document that should be placed in a museum or archive that can be preserved for future generations.  It’s interesting not only for the fact that it’s the Mock-Up of the very first issue but also because it represents the techniques in magazine printing and publishing in the 1950’s.Mickey Mouse Club Magazine Last page

Walt Disneys Mickey Mouse Club Magazine Back Cover

We’ve tried to get it authenticated by contacting the Disney Archive and on Antiques Roadshow, but it’s such a unique document that it would really have to be looked at by someone involved in the original printing of the magazine or by an expert that is very familiar in how the original magazines were published, so we may never find out.  Regardless, it is a fascinating piece of history and we will keep good care of it in our own files until a museum or Hollywood Archive of some sort shows an interest in it.  For now, I thought it would be a fun story to share with our readers.

Best Movie Stunts of the Year List 1950-1959

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1950-1959 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1950:  The Flame and the Arrow

the flame and the arrow

Burt Lancaster met Nick Cravat when they worked in the circus as acrobats, early in their careers.  This movie highlights some great acrobatics from the two of them, along with some great fighting sequences.

1951:  The Thing From Another Worldthing full body burn

I loved this movie and the remake that followed with Kurt Russell, but this one has a very cool fire burn done Tom Steele that just has to be seen to be believed.

1952:  Ivanhoeivanhoe03

Paddy Ryan was in a group of some of the finest stuntmen to ever come out of England.  In this film he does a real gasping fall from a castle, which was held as the highest fall from a castle for many years.

1953:  Code Twocode two

Motorcycles were really starting to come into their own.  This movie was one of the first one to introduce motorcycle stunts and chase scenes, with many movies following after.

1954:  The Seven SamuraiSeven_Samurai_Fight

This film was probably the most mentioned movie to ever influence a slew of filmmakers, before Star Wars.  It’s an incredible film with a great story, great characters and especially great action.  Most of the actors were hired because they could really fight.  Let’s imagine this as the very first Expendables, where some real action masters were at work here.

1955:  To Hell and Backto hell and back tank

The real life story, played by the real person himself, Audie Murphy, the highest decorated soldier of World War II.  Quite a war film!

1956:  Trapezetrapeze1956

So I mentioned Burt Lancaster was in the circus, right?  Well, here is the movie where he really shows his chops!  You just thought he was a great actor, but he was a really accomplished acrobat, that could have had an amazing career as a stuntman!

1957:  The Curse of Frankensteincurseoffrankenstein1

Hammer Films, out of Great Britain were making some of the most interesting genre films ever made with some of the finest actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and with fantastic stuntmen like Jock Easton.  Some really great stuff!

1958:  The VikingsVikings oars

So I fell in love with Vikings movies when I saw this one (another great one is the 13th Warrior!).  With that in mind, Kirk Douglas blows my mind when I see him, “running the oars” with such ease as he does in this film!

1959:  Ben HurBen Joe Canutt Jump

A stunt that goes wrong is not an “accident” when no one gets hurt…I just consider it an improvised stunt.  In this one the results were so cool they added it to the film.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Audie Murphy and the Stuntmen go To Hell and Back

 

A very successful war film when it came out, it was Universal’s biggest hit until Jaws came out over two decades later. War films get a little overlooked when considering stunts, but it’s because stuntmen are more crucial to a war picture from when the cameras start running all the way to the end, that they are sometimes forgotten about. A war picture automatically ups the danger factor for everyone involved on the picture. To give you an example, to film the war scenes on this film, a total of 50,000 rounds of ammunition, 300 pounds of TNT, 600 pounds of blasting powder and 10 cases of 40% dynamite were required. Many of the battle scenes were re-used for Universal Studio’s later picture The Young Warriors.to hell and back audie murphy

This film is highly unusual as it’s about Audie Murphy and stars Audie Murphy as himself.  The son of poor Texas sharecroppers, Audie Murphy became a national hero during World War II as the most decorated combat soldier of the war. Among his 33 awards was the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for bravery that a soldier can receive. In addition, he was also decorated for bravery by the governments of France and Belgium, and was credited with killing over 240 German soldiers and wounding and capturing many more.  His story caught the interest of superstar James Cagney, who invited Murphy to Hollywood. Cagney Productions paid for acting and dancing lessons.

He bumbled about in bit parts for many years and then finally became the lead in a few films when he was ultimately offered the opportunity to play himself in this autobiographical film based on his time in World War II.  He originally declined the opportunity to portray himself in the movie, not wanting people to think that he was attempting to cash in on his role as a war hero, but reluctantly took the role eventually.  The rest is film history and makes for the ultimate Hollywood success story.to hell and back tank

It’s interesting to mention that even though the country though of him as a hero, Murphy didn’t think of himself as one.  In his book, Murphy modestly described some of his most heroic actions – without portraying himself as the hero. He did not mention any of the many decorations he received, but praised the skills, bravery, and dedication of the other members of his platoon.  Murphy once said, “I never liked being called the “most decorated” soldier. There were so many guys who should have gotten medals and never did–guys who were killed.”   To Hell and Back was Directed by Jesse Hibbs for Universal.

Things to look up (go to IMDB page):

tohellandbacktheatreopening

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

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