Lady and the Tramp

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1955, 75 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by Buena Vista. Based on Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog by Ward Greent. Voice Talents: Peggy Lee, Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucom, Verna Felton, Stan Freberg, Alan Reed.

Plot summary: One of the greatest love stories of all time, a cocker spaniel and a mutt are sharing spaghetti in the moonlight.

Lady and the TrampReview: For anyone who is not fond of dogs, this film is probably a bore. For anyone who loves canines and their world, Lady and the Tramp is a gem. Inspired by true events and loosely based on a short story by Dan Green, Disney’s fifteenth animated feature tells the story of cocker spaniel Lady and her life in a posh neighborhood. As the only dog of her human owners, she is sheltered, spoiled and used to the comforts of a collar. Tramp is her direct opposite, a mixed breed, hardened and laddish. Charmer that he is, he impresses her with stories of a stray existence, of a life beyond her picket fences. It is a world she cannot get accustomed to although she slowly falls in love with the mutt who introduces her to it. When Lady suddenly runs into mischief and needs help to save her family from harm, it is Tramp who rushes to her rescue and ultimately wins her heart.

Presented in Cinemascope as the first of its kind, Disney’s “happiest motion picture” is colorful, elegant and delightful. Told from Lady’s perspective, the plot takes place in a world shaped by humans but experienced on four paws. The main characters are all canines, beautifully brought to life by Disney’s expert staff. With a carefully executed love to detail, Lady, Tramp, Jock and Trusty move and look exactly like the breed each one of them represents. With their previously demonstrated awareness of animal expressions and their idiosyncratic behavior, the Disney animators continued a tradition they had started with the production of Bambi in 1942. With a mixture of realism and fantasy, they created a world that doesn’t exist to tell a story that reflects human emotions and needs. Lady is like a child who takes her first steps in the world without parental guidance. In the beginning, she is still a little clumsy and naive, but always charming. The first lessons she learns are secondhand stories shared by her older peers. But before long, she has her own adventures.

What sets this film apart from similar stories are the combined talents and skills brought together by Walt Disney Productions. From the first glimpse of an idea in 1937 to the final sketches in the 1950s, the story was revised, improved and edited to become the classic it now is. Vocally perfected by Peggy Lee, the film premiered on June 22, 1955 and turned into an immediate success. Making more money than any other production since the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Lady and the Tramp was re-released to theaters four times before the film was made available to the public on VHS in 1987. Today, it is available on DVD and Blu-ray with many extras, including deleted scenes and a making of. Although the film widely differs from modern productions, predominantly in language, attitude and design, Lady and the Tramp is the kind of motion picture that will never go out of style. It is a film blessed with unforgettable tidbits and scenes. From Lady’s first appearance to the famous spaghetti dinner and my personal favorite, the names of Lady’s owners, Jim Dear and Darling. It is a film from a bygone time when beauty still mattered and animated features invited us to dream. Watch the trailer here to refresh your memories. I’m sure the music alone will bewitch you within a short few seconds.

The Far Horizons

Talkie of the Week: The Far Horizons

USA 1955, 108 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Rudolph Maté, Written by Winston Miller, Based on the novel Sacajawea of the Shoshones by Della Gould Emmons. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Charlton Heston, Donna Reed, Barbara Hale, William Demarest, Alan Reed, Eduardo Noriega, Larry Pennell, Julia Montoya, Ralph Moody, Herbert Heyes, Lester Matthews, Helen Wallace, Walter Reed.

Plot summary: After purchasing the Louisiana Territory in the early 1800s, President Jefferson sends Meriwether Lewis and William Clark out West to explore the new territory and claim the adjacent land leading to the Pacific Ocean for the United States.

The_Far_Horizons_1955Review: There are a lot of things one could say about Paramount Pictures’ The Far Horizons, historically correct is not one of them. As one of the few features (if not the only) ever made about the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-06), the film is a piece of fiction rather than a serious rendition of actual events. Dominated by a dramatic love story, the film borrowed an exciting setting to weave a colorful story around an adventure that in itself bears enough material for two feature-length adaptations. Based on Sacajawea of the Shoshones though, a novel by Della Gould Emmons, The Far Horizons falls sadly short of paying tribute to a now famous team of brave explorers.

Sacajawea, although praised as a key figure of the successful expedition, is but a mere shadow of the actual historic figure. Donna Reed – refurbished with a wig, her skin a deep made-up brown – did a decent job transforming herself into a native teenager who, as fiction would have it, falls in love with Charlton Heston’s philandering Lieutenant Clark. But the spark is strangely missing. Reduced to an unfortunate loser in love, Fred MacMurray did his best to flesh out his version of Meriwether Lewis, a man who (in real life) presumably committed suicide a few short years after completing his expedition but was on friendly terms with his fellow explorers. Barbara Hale played Julia Hancock, a young woman who choses Clark over Lewis in the beginning of the movie and has to deal with her fiancé’s change of heart when he returns to Washington in the end. Although none of the heartache ever happened, Barbara Hale’s scenes with the main characters are heartbreaking and one of the reasons to give this picture an honest chance. It’s also a plus to see this film released in widescreen format on DVD. Produced in Technicolor and VistaVision, the nature shots are beautiful and even breathtaking at times, the quality genuinely mid-1950s.

In general, The Far Horizons is not the kind of film you may turn to more than once (unless you are a fan of one of the above mentioned actors). Rated by Time Magazine as one of top ten historically most misleading films in 2011, the plot definitely leaves a lot to be desired. It is still a film, however, that – despite its many controversies – also has acting highlights towards the end and even offers discreet comments about society, including the status of the female sex.

Watch the original trailer here.

The Flintstones

TV classics: The Flintstones

USA 1960-66, six seasons, 166 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, ABC, color. Cast: Alan Reed, Mel Blanc, Jean Vander Pyl, Bea Benaderet, Gerry Johnson, Don Messick, John Stephenson

Plot summary: Yabba dabba doo!

Review: Meet Fred and Wilma, last name Flintstone, a couple of modern Stone Age Honeymooners whose next-door neighbors are the Rubbles. Betty and Barney are best friends with Wilma and Fred and together, they live through everyday adventures in Bedrock, including household mishaps and dinosaur malfunctions. Although things get rocky from time to time and their friendship is tested on occasion, the Flintstones and Rubbles are like Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel – nothing can separate them for long. Two married couples in the beginning of the show, they grow even closer at the arrival of baby Pebbles and Bam-Bam soon after.

With their endless references to pop culture and contemporary topics, the show is now available on DVD and offers a great look back at small-town America of the 1960s. What was hilarious then is still amusing now – from dinosaur-operated cranes, over foot-powered cars to mammoth trunks as garden hoses. Show creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera reinvented and redesigned modern-day amenities to translate the roaring 60s into a rocking Stone Age that appealed to children and their parents. Although declining in popularity after rejuvenating the plotlines with the inclusion of Pebbles and Bam-Bam, The Flintstones were the first animated show in TV history that lasted more than two seasons and has an ongoing impact on popular culture today.

Originally inspired by The Honeymooners, the show has stood the test of time with generations of families and is still a treat for anyone who enjoys imaginative storytelling and loves to chuckle about names like Gary Granite, Rock Hudstone or Perry Masonry.

Enjoy a sample episode here.

Emergency Wedding

Talkie of the Week: Emergency Wedding

USA 1950, 78 minutes, black & white, Columbia Pictures. Director: Edward Buzzell, Written by Dalton Trumbo, Nat Perrin and Claude Binyon. Cast: Larry Parks, Barbara Hale, Willard Parker, Una Merkel, Alan Reed, Eduard Franz, Irving Bacon, Don Beddoe, Jim Backus

Plot summary: Rich heir Peter Kirk Jr. marries a young lady doctor who puts her career first and thus makes her husband think about the value of his own life.

Review: In this remake of You Belong to Me from 1941, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, young millionaire Peter Kirk has an accident with his car and thus meets Helen Hunt, a lady doctor whom he falls in love with at first sight. Insisting on having her as his physician in the ER, as well as his company for the rest of the road trip back to California, Peter charms Helen into marrying him, despite her initial reservations. After all, she is a doctor and worked hard to start her own practice, she doesn’t want to see her efforts wasted, something Peter agrees to without realizing what it means to be married to a doctor. Despite his best intentions, Peter soon gets irritated, bored and jealous watching his wife leave at odd hours and having a life outside their home. Coping with his wish to control her life at first, Helen finally decides to leave her husband if he doesn’t find himself an occupation other than distrusting her with her male patients. Awakened by his wife’s plea for a divorce, Peter ultimately tries to make a difference in his life and the life others, an endeavor that ultimately makes him fight for the love of his soon-to-be ex-wife.

With its slightly altered plot, Emergency Wedding is one of those remakes that is worth watching without regret. Apart from the diverting storyline and funny dialog, it is the chemistry of its main cast that makes this film worthwhile. Reunited on screen after their first Columbia success, Jolson Sings Again, Larry Parks and Barbara Hale did a wonderful job creating two characters who love each other although they come from two different worlds. With his boyish yet mature charm, Larry Parks presented an heir who is funny and handsome even when he starts meddling with his wife’s professional life. Barbara Hale, mostly hearty and sweet on screen, got to show a tougher side of herself as she played an educated woman who knows how to stand her ground in court against her own husband. Supported by an entertaining Willard Parker, the two lead actors took the story of Peter Kirk and Helen Hunt and made it their own, delivering genuine performances. It is unfortunate that the film wasn’t more successful and thus hasn’t made it onto the Columbia DVD release list so far. It is a gem fans of romantic comedies shouldn’t miss and a real treat for anyone who enjoys the warmth and universalism of Barbara Hale, as well as the buried talents of Larry Parks.