I told Rochellelynn I would post about TCM’s September theme -The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film featured on Tuesdays of this month. I looked at the themes TCM was highlighting for the month and couldn’t make up my mind which to write about. I would pick one film subject which would lead me to another which led me to another which made me decide I would make up my own themes: Directors, Writers, Actors or favorite movies I like best pertaining to the Jewish Experience on Film and in real life.
One of my favorite movies based on a book in the Old Testament is The Story of Ruth, I rescreened it for the umpteenth time for this post and paid attention to something I guess I never paid attention to…The Director was Henry Koster, who knew?
When I think of Henry Koster I think of Deanna Durbin’s earlier movies, I think of the other light hearted or subtle message classic Hollywood movies he has directed. Two Sisters from Boston, The Inspector General, Harvey, D-Day the Sixth of June, Flower Drum Song, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation to name a few.Henry was nominated as Best Director in 1947 for The Bishop’s Wife but lost out to the Turkish born Elias Kazancioglu (Elia Kazan) for the eye opening Gentlemen’s Agreement.
Henry Koster was born Hermann Kosterlitz May 1, 1905 in Berlin, Germany. He experienced firsthand the anti-Semitism that ran rampant in the 1930’s in his birth country. He had to leave Germany after being insulted by a Nazi officer and clocking him on the jaw knocking him out cold. Henry immediately fled to France, then Budapest where he met Producer Joseph Pasternak, finally entering the United States through Mexico.
On his application for citizenship to the United States it lists his Race as Hebrew, his nationality German. I like to think of him as: Henry Koster, Director, American.
“Don’t you remember the day you took that Chinese vase from the Royal Palace? And you made it into a lamp for my night table.”
While watching Trouble in Paradise, an Ernst Lubitsch film, in a script written by Billy Wilder, I must say my expectations were set rather high!
And I was not disappointed. The scene where Gaston Monescu pretends to be Baron, is only improved when he discovers his lover is a thief. The pair played by Herbert Marshall ( Gaston) and Miriam Hopkins ( Lily) could not be happier to discover the others indiscretions.
But when the Baron sets his sites on Madame Colet, the heiress to a perfume empire, things threaten to disrupt the happy thieving lovers.
A stolen handbag, a 20,000 franc reward, and a memorized safe combination later, Gaston is soon running her household as her personal secretary.
What makes this film not only a gem, and we’ve been finding a few lately ( The Good Fairy) is the excellent writing.
Nothing tugs at your heartstrings more than Lily pleading with Gaston to choose her over the beautiful rich girl.
“I want you as a crook, I love you as a crook, I worship you as a crook. Steal, swindle, rob! Oh but don’t become one of those useless good for nothin’ gigilos.”
M. Filliba, played by Edward Everett Horton in classic character actor style, is the bumbling on again, off again lover of Madame Colet, destined to surface at exactly the wrong moment. See the daring and scandalous robbery that brought Lily and Gaston together threatens to be revealed when its victim, M. Filliba, runs into Gaston at a party.
With no chance at all of coming outta this thing, Gaston and Lily decide to make a run for it, and escape while they have a chance.
There’s just one problem.
Madame Colet’s got a line that makes him want to stay.
“But I don’t like you. I don’t like you at all, and I wouldn’t hesitate one second to ruin your reputation,” and she doesn’t mean professionally.
As everything begins to unravel, you can’t help but be unsure as to who it is you want him to end up with, or if you want him to get caught or not,
And when that lovely unpredictable ending shows up, you’ll realize it couldn’t have happened any other way.
Irene Dunne plays Theodora- a woman who has a secret that she intends to keep. As all the people in her small town throw a fuss about the new erotic romance novel sweeping the country, Theodora tries to find distractions in the city, and finds it in a very curious artist playboy- played by Melvyn Douglas. So intrigued by Theodora, ….he somehow traces her back to her little town, putting her secret identity as the erotic author- Caroline Adams- at risk. No one that writes books like that could possibly be this wholesome. Let the seduction and slapstick begin.
If you’re not familiar with Ruth Chatterton, now’s the time to get familiar. While there may be good reason to not know Ruth, her work in some fantastic pre-code films in the 20′s and 30′s warrant attention. Those that paired her with husband George Brent were always particularly steamy.
One film most memorable is FEMALE, starring opposite hubby George. As in most of the pre-codes Hollywood goes to town with risqué topics- here we see the successful career women, unable to keep a man of her own, and as a result goes through them like water. Thus many a young engineer comes through her car company only to be spotted, tried out, and promptly disposed of. On a whim, and not wanting to be known for her success, Ruth takes to the town and runs into George. They flirt, and play and at the end of the night separate. Of course the next morning when he starts as the wonder boy engineer at her company, and suddenly doesn’t want anything to do with her. He knows this game, but she’s never been turned down before. The problem—she doesn’t really know how to be chased, and a man, well..likes to feel like a man. And so begins her transformation into a somewhat helpless lily in order to snatch the man she wants. But can she maintain the farce long enough to secure the man, or will her true nature get the better of her?
Melvyn Douglas narrates this film, and as Bill Cole( aka the best friend/lawyer) shares the billing with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy ( Mr. and Mrs. Blandings).
Trapped in a small apartment in NYC, the uptight Mr. Blandings needing something, anything… sees the potential for salvation in a broken down old house, while trying to avoid a 7,000 dollar interior decorating bill thought up by his wife. Bill acts as the only voice of reason, and Melvyn Douglas does a commendable job trying to talk the insane Cary Grant out of getting swindled in a country house purchase. But the heart wants what the heart wants.
“Good thing there are two of you, one to love it and one to hold it up.”
This, like so many other films, was remade into an 80′s Cult Classic with Tom Hanks and Shelly Long. While The Money Pit may seem like a far stretch given it’s classy and sophisticated predecessor- the premise is the same. Take your biggest and best dream, and finally get yourself into the place to reach it ( aka- the dream house), then watch it fall apart right before your eyes. Being the uptight, type A man- it’s difficult to let the dream go, so you poke it and prod it, and pour money into it. That’s what you do. All your beliefs support it. Meanwhile, your family falls apart and your marriage strains. The plumbing, electricity and foundation crumbles, and still you are sure, so sure, this is your dream- you must save it! So while you’re best friend makes a play for your wife, and your sad bank balance forces you to borrow credit, you stick by principles that you made up to support dreams you think you should have. But sometimes, most times, that little voice inside you knows what its doing. Sometimes its not blatant stubbornness, and the heart really does know what its doing. What culminates is something you can be proud of- an external representation of a necessary journey.
The Money Pit successfully drives this concept home through ridiculous antics( tom hanks stuck in the floor), and lots of screaming, while Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House uses cartoon imaginings and snarky remarks from Melvyn Douglas. But the message is the same,
“Why is he always hanging around, why doesn’t he get married or something?” “Cause he can’t find a girl as sweet and pretty and wholesome as I am.”
TCM’s September Star of the Month Melvyn Douglas spent 63 years as an actor. From the eligible bachelor in his early films to notable character parts in his later years, you’re probably wondering why you don’t know him as well as Cary Grant. Perhaps most known for Ninotchka, he was the guy pursuing the very cold Greta Garbo, and made us believe she could finally be won over. Where do we like Melvyn Douglas best?
As the house guest and friend who won’t leave in Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House.
As the incorrigible playboy, opposite Irene Dunne in Theodora Goes Wild
Opposite Fred MacMurray fighting over Jean Arthur in Too Many Husbands
and of course as die hard Deanna Durbin fans
we love Melvyn as the crush catching Deanna’s eye in That Certain Age
See him Wednesdays this month on TCM
The Girl with the Million Dollar Legs!
A Yank in the RAF (1941), I Wake Up Screaming (1941), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
Hers to Hold (1943), Niagara (1953), Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)