February 26: The Singing Nun
I have a long, disjointed relationship with the Singing Nun. On one of my first days of French class in High School, Madame Stone played us Soeur Anne’s album and we all laughed our asses off–that’s what children do after all. After that, we made the occasional joke about the CD, but for the most part thought nothing more of it. Last year, when I was in Dubuque for my birthday, I stopped in at a Christian charity shop and found the same record in their dark, cluttered basement. Inside the album sleeve were watercolor prints that depicted the lives of the nuns, and I was enamored of her completely after that. A few weeks later, when I was back in my writing studio editing my future New York Time’s Best Seller, Terrible Miss Margo, I decided to put the album on and I loved it. The picture, The Singing Nun, starring Debbie Reynolds is a biopic of Sister Anne, the singing nun. She is sweet and charming and just how I imagine nuns to be. She is an unorthodox nun, though–she plays the guitar and is allowed to keep it with her. It isn’t long before the other nuns and Father Clementi discover that the bitch has pipes on her–Lord! Girl can sing! They realize that her voice could bring a lot of people joy (and cash). So, Father Clementi decides that they should press an album (the same one that I have!) to send to other convents around Europe. He calls in a favor with a friend who happens to be a record studio executive. In a turn of events so fantastic that they seem unlikely, this record executive is also an old flame of Sister Anne’s. He tries his hardest to rekindle their old romance, but she is totally committed to Christ and his Church. (This is one of the reasons I love nuns and romanticize their lives so much–they seem so totally happy with their simple lives in ways that I wish I could be.) After hearing Anne sing, he realizes that her singing could be rather profitable and good for the church. So, they strike a deal to sell the album to the public and not limit it to the Church. It is a sensation–she is an overnight star! Even Ed Sullivan comes all the way to Belgium to hear her sing. She is loving the attention–it’s what she always wanted–but she also comes to understand that she can never be a successful nun living in two opposing worlds, so, she gives it up. Sad, but beautiful. (My Rating: 8/10)
February 27: I Married a Witch
I recorded this movie based on the title, and in all honesty, wouldn’t you? This is the picture that inspired the classic sitcom, Bewitched, although there are very few, if any similarities between the two. Well, the wives are both witches, and both are set in present-day New England, but that is about it. This film is about Wallace Wooley who is running for governor and is unwittingly suffering from a family curse set by an angry witch who doomed his family to be unlucky in love until the end of time. The curse certainly works and he is about to marry Estelle, an absolutely unpleasant woman. Due to extraordinary circumstances involving a lightning storm, Jennifer, the witch who cursed the family, is freed from her prison–a tree. (Her ashes had been buried in the roots of the tree to keep her spirit captive there forever.) Unfortunately for her, she is mistaken by her own magic and falls madly in love with Wallace. She seduces her way into his arms and they are very happy, especially when she bewitches the entire electorate into voting for her new husband. They live happily ever after. It’s decent, but decidedly unessential. [My Rating: 6/10]
February 28: Hollywood Canteen
This was a picture that I’ve long been curious about, but never in any rush to see. It’s kind of a cameo-feature, much like our modern New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day. As such, I thought it would be amusing for a walk on the treadmill. I did not expect to love it so much, but I most certainly did! It was magnificent. The story is about a young soldier named Slim who was wounded in duty and sent on leave before receiving his next assignment. Luckily for him (and his friend, Sgt. Nowland–a role I would love to play if ever a theatrical or cinematic remake should be made–he really stole the picture with his great comedic talents) their leave was in Los Angeles…Hollywood! Slim finds himself at the Hollywood Canteen where he is surrounded by stars–they are everywhere! The celebrities are the entertainment at the Canteen. They’re also the waitresses, cooks, dish washers, everything. The Hollywood Canteen was an establishment founded by Bette Davis and completely run on star power that provided a place for military men to enjoy themselves a bit before being shipped off to the horrors of war. Thankfully, the film steered clear of this and focused on the happiness to be found inside. (But, imagine how dreary it mush have been to dance with a sailer, smile and talk to him, when you knew he had a good chance of dying. Anyway…) Slim is absolutely infatuated with Joan Leslie, and it is secretly arranged for him to meet her–he is absolutely starstruck and smitten–it’s adorable! Slim feels quite special and deservedly so, but his luck increases millionfold when he becomes the “Millionth Man” the one millionth person to pass through the front door. As such, he is rewarded with a luxurious suite, admission to any nightclub, the freedom to roam through the studios, and a week with the celebrity of his choice. Quite naturally, he selects Joan Leslie, and she couldn’t be nicer about it. They seem to potentially have a very nice relationship with sincere feelings for one another. In the meantime, Nowland is still trying to find a girl to hang out with, but with no such luck. The girl he is fond of has been cold and distant to him. So, he dances with another girl. That girl is JOAN CRAWFORD! I would have died on the spot. Dancing with Joan Crawford! Good God! I can’t even imagine. I would not have been able to dance or to speak or breathe or do any normal bodily functions. I would just happily black out and die! Finally, it’s time for Slim to go back and he expects Miss Leslie to take him to the station. Sadly, her car breaks down and she is unable to get there, so Slim assumes it has all been a publicity stunt. He gallantly boards the train and makes to leave, but at the very last moment, Miss Leslie arrives! She truly does care for him and there is such a happy ending. I’m demanding a sequel right now! Are they still alive? [My Rating: 10/10]
February 29: Strangers on a Train
If I have learned anything at all from all the movies I have watched this year, it is that Alfred Hitchcock pictures are an absolute delight. I used to wrongly feel that they were overrated, but then, I had only ever seen To Catch a Thief and The Birds. I absolutely adore his black and white pictures. I have another one waiting for me at home on Bluray–Rebecca, and I could not be more excited. It’s Joan Fontaine, darlings! This picture was another quality one that I heartily enjoyed. It was about a tennis pro named Guy who was having a well publicized affair with Anne, the daughter of a senator. He was trying to get a divorce from his wife, Miriam, but she was having none of that. One day, on a train, he meets a stranger (clever title, this picture has, eh?) named Bruno, who is a really rather creepy fellow. He jokes with Guy about exchanging murders: he’d get rid of Miriam and Guy would get rid of Bruno’s father. They laugh awkwardly about it and go their separate ways. Much to Guy’s shock and surprise, Bruno was deadly serious and he had killed Miriam–strangled her! Now, Bruno felt that it was time for Guy to complete his part of the bargain. So, he begins to stalk Guy, to call him, to threaten him. Guy can’t call the police or he’ll be framed or tried as an accomplice! I won’t give away what he does or what happens at the end because it is terribly exciting. I will tell you this–it involves a runaway carousel that is the epitome of tragic chic. I enjoyed it very much. [My Rating: 9/10]
MOVIE OF THE MONTH: This took less than a millisecond to decide. Let’s say it together: JOYFUL NOISE! Go see it! Go buy the soundtrack! Sing! Dance!
March 1: Because of Winn-Dixie
Now that I work full time in the sixth grade, I see an awful lot of movies intended for younger audiences. Surprisingly, these are a delight–I sometimes think I’m too sophisticated and cultured to watch such lowbrow things as children’s entertainment, but how wrong I always seem to be! I oftentimes love these movies. Because of Winn-Dixie is another such example. We read the novel in class and I thought it was charming, but poorly written. The story, which was very nice (standard, really) was sadly ruined for me due to the author’s tragic lack of a thesaurus. Good Lord, woman! Look up synonyms. My friend, Mark Twain, and I share this same frustration. Read his excellent autobiography for further irritations we share. I did appreciate the inclusion of Gone with the Wind and the paragraphs dedicated to the word melancholy. We might be writing soulmates, you’ll get that just as soon as Terrible Miss Margo is published. These blogs aren’t a literary review, though, so on with the show. The picture was quite faithful to the book without hacking it to bits, which I always appreciate. The story is about a young girl named India Opal who is raised by her single father. The two of them have just moved to a Floridian trailer park because her father is a preacher and he has a new post in town. One day, while shopping at the Winn-Dixie grocery store (not the chicest purveyor of foodstuffs I’ve visited, but that’s irrelevant) she claims a dog who was wreaking havoc upon the produce aisle. Unbeknownst to our young heroine, the dog she saves and christens Winn-Dixie will change her life for the better. Through him, she meets all kinds of weird and wonderful people like Otis, the pet shop keeper, Miss Franny Block, who operates the library, and my personal favorite, Gloria Dump, an elderly blind woman who is also a recovering alcoholic. All these people, and children her own age, too, help little Opal find a sense of place. Through these people, she weaves a thread of community in the sleepy town. It is a charming and heart-warming story that I recommend you see. It’s not Oscar-worthy, but that wasn’t the point. And Gloria Dump had the most beautiful line: “You cannot hold onto anything that wants to go. Do you understand what I’m sayin’? You just got to love it while you got it, and that’s that.” Sobs escaped me, but I held it together for the children. [My Rating: 8/10]
March 2: The More the Merrier
Jean Arthur was much more prolific than I ever knew–she was in all sorts of pictures. Not really, I suppose, she seemed to always play a single modern woman or woman courting a beau. This film was no different. In it she is again cast with Charles Coburn, who starred opposite her in that horrid film of January 1, The Devil and Miss Jones. In this picture, she plays Connie Milligan who decides to sublet half of her apartment to bring in a little extra money. Coburn’s character, Benjamin Dingle, does a bit of trickery and settles himself in. Connie was not wanting a male renter in her home, she was hoping for a kindly old lady, but he seems harmless enough and nothing she does can get rid of him. When Connie is out, another would-be-renter appears, and Benjamin has the idea to sublet half of his subleased half of the apartment. It’s more money and he doesn’t seem to have any personal space issues. Not like me at all! I feel crowded with two people in a spacious 4-bedroom home with several sitting rooms. This fellow, Joe Carter, seems to be a jerk, but once his walls are broken down, he becomes likable enough. Connie is not at all amused when she discovers yet another strange man living in her apartment. After a while, they all become rather comfortable with each other, especially because Connie is secretly falling for Joe. Somehow, though, Joe gets called in for questioning because somebody has turned him in for spying and for being Japanese, which he most certainly is not. Rude! Anyway, the thing will cause a terrible scandal because Joe and Connie are unmarried and living in the same apartment! 1940s shock! So, the only way they could possibly resolve the issue is to hurry off to New Jersey and get hitched. I know, I’m not quite following the logic–maybe I missed a critical line? Anyway, after they both admit their affections for each other, they live happily ever after, or as happily as two can when one of them is sailing off for Africa in the morning and maybe never to be seen again. It wasn’t all that great, really. I will always love my Jean Arthur, though. [My Rating: 4/10]
March 3: Laughing Sinners
No film is ever a stinker with Joan Crawford, but this one came mighty close. If Clark Gable had not been the male lead, I don’t know if I could have gotten through it. This film is a classic Crawford vehicle–bad girl gone good. Her other frequent storyline was about a poor girl making good. This is in a similar vein. In Laughing Sinners, Joan plays Ivy, a wild girl who sings and dances in a club and partakes of all kinds of scandalous behavior. Not very scandalous to modern audiences, but quite nearly criminal to a 1930s audience. After her lover leaves her for a wealthy woman, she feels that she has had quite enough of life and makes to throw herself off of a bridge. Much to her irritation, in her rush to die, she is stopped by a handsome Salvation Army preacher named Carl and played by Clark. (I love me some Gable.) She resists him and he attempts to save her a few times, and finally she relents and is quite happy to live a life dedicated to helping. Everything is going along swimmingly until one night she comes across her old flame. He is still passionately in love with her and wants her back, but she is having none of that–at first. I could never understand if she does it for attention or out of sheer desperation, but she momentarily goes back to him and her wild ways–but only for about three minutes. Carl rushes in and she comes to realize that he adores her, cares for her, is over the moon for her, and so they live happily ever after. It’s not all that thrilling, but for a Crawford fanatic like myself, it is required watching. [My Rating: 4/10]
Film of the Week: Hollywood Canteen It’s so sweet and well told and there’s music and Joan and Bette, and…oh, do I really need to say more?