Merry Christmas!

As a holiday treat this year, I bring you a list of my favorite holiday films. So lean back and click the links to the trailers and teasers to get into a blithe mood for Christmas.

  • It’s a Wonderful Life: The older I get, the more I appreciate this film and the deeper I fall in love with it. James Stewart and Donna Reed are so powerful and touching in this film, for all of you who haven’t seen it yet, here’s a colorized version for you this season.
  • Miracle on 34th Street: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn and a very young Natalie Wood – this 1947 original was remade for TV in 1955 and then again for theatrical release in 1994. Judge for yourselves which version you like best.
  • Barbara Stanwyck Christmas movies: Yes, she starred in two – in Remember the Night in 1940 and five years later in Christmas in Connecticut. Both films are not what you might expect of holiday entertainment and yet they capture the essence of the true meaning of Christmas.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas: Yes, an animated classic from 1965. Charlie, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy – what’s not to love?! Never mind that Charlie Brown even manages to turn Christmas into a problem.
  • White Christmas: Yes, granted, the song was already a hit when the film was released in 1954, but the cast turned it into a smash of its own. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen sang and danced to Irving Berlin’s beautiful music and thus conquered the hearts of a romantic audience.
  • The Bishop’s Wife: “Sigh, Cary Grant” as a friend of mine would put it. Yes, and David Niven and Loretta Young, too. Now if that’s not an incentive to watch this special film from 1947. It was remade as The Preacher’s Wife with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington in 1996, but like so many remakes, at least for me, it doesn’t hold a candle to the charm of the original.

And last but not least, I recommend another Christmas favorite of mine, The Andrew Sisters Christmas album. Here’s a sample song from their joy-filled collection of songs –  exactly the kind of spirit I like on Christmas!

Season’s greetings to you all, wherever you are, and a wonderful start into a blessed new year 2013!

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My Favorite Wife

Talkie of the Week: My Favorite Wife

USA 1940, 88 minutes, black & white, RKO Radio Pictures. Director: Garson Kanin, Written by Bella & Samuel Speweck, Leo McCarey, Based on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Enoch Arden”. Cast: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott, Gail Patrick

Plot summary: When Nick gets married seven years after his first wife went missing at sea, he does not reckon to end up being a bigamist by the end of the day.

Review: After seven years on a lonely island with the only other survivor of a shipwreck, Ellen Arden returns home only to find out that her husband got married to another woman. Unwilling to let go of him without a fight, she follows him to his honeymoon destination and stirs up his new life. As silly and entertaining as it sounds, this screwball classic was based on a poem by Arthur Lord Tennyson and received three Academy Award nominations including Best Story. And rightly so. Led by Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, the cast lived up to the decent script and turned My Favorite Wife into a success.

Using their chemistry to create a direct opposite to the nature of Nick Arden’s relationship with his new wife, Dunne stressed the warmth and sass of her character which benefited Grant’s despair and confusion. Convincing as always in his comedic roles, Cary Grant switched from disbelieving to enamored to jealous within a few short scenes, always allowing his fellow cast to sparkle next to him. Gail Patrick (who would later produce the Perry Mason TV series) did a beautiful job as his new wife Bianca, rejecting her unexpected rival and despairing at a marriage that turns out to be invalid. Randolph Scott gave an equally brilliant performance as Ellen’s former shipwreck partner, annoying Grant’s Nick Arden out of his wits.

Successfully remade as Move Over, Darling with Doris Day, James Garner, Polly Bergen and Chuck Conners in 1963, My Favorite Wife is one of those gems that never get old. With its stellar cast and excellent writing, the film is still diverting and funny on DVD today. It’s the perfect movie for a lovely spring night when you crave a smile and feel like watching a good movie with a couple of friends who enjoy the classics.

My Favorite Wife trailer

His Girl Friday

Talkie of the Week: His Girl Friday

USA 1940, 92 minutes, black & white, Columbia Pictures. Director: Howard Hawks, Written by Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, Porter Hall, Ernest Truex, Cliff Edwards, Clarence Kolb, Roscoe Karns, Frank Jenks, Regis Toomey, Abner Biberman, Frank Orth, John Qualen and Helen Mack

Plot summary: Editor-in-chief Walter is used to getting his way until his ex-wife Hildy returns to New York to get married to an insurance man from Albany who will take her away from the newspaper business.

Review: His Girl Friday is a fast paced screwball comedy directed and produced by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the 1940 adaptation was altered by the playwrights themselves and additional screenwriter Charles Lederer. Russell’s Hildy Johnson, originally male on stage, was turned into a quick-witted female reporter who is trying to get away from her ex-husband and editor-in-chief Walter Burns, played by Cary Grant.

Living on smart and funny dialog, His Girl Friday paints the breathless world of newspaper journalism in a time that’s long gone. It creates the myth of the ruthless editor-in-chief and his go-get-it attitude who would do anything to keep his star reporter from quitting her job. Cary Grant was an ingenious casting choice for the slick Morning Post chief who’s always cooking up a new idea to delay his ex-wife’s departure and wedding plans – Grant’s undying energy has the potential to leave the audience out of breath they get so caught up following his schemes. Rosalind Russell did an equally impressive job, slowly falling for her ex’ cabals although she smelled the rat behind his motives right from the start. Matching wit with her former husband and employer, she also easily outshines her new desired prey: fiancé Bruce Baldwin, a simple-minded insurance agent from upstate New York, brilliantly played by Ralph Bellamy. The restaurant banter between ex-wife, her husband-to-be and former spouse is one of the best scenes in the entire movie. But there are many more memorable and over-the-top moments a good screwball movie needs.

If you enjoy these kinds of comedies, this classic is a definite must-see for you. You’ll rarely stop chuckling about Grant’s and Russell’s entertaining repartee and the story itself has the quality to make you come back to this movie again and again.

Available on DVD, youtube and Hulu.

An Affair to Remember

Talkie of the Week: An Affair to Remember

USA 1957, 110 minutes, color, 20th Century Fox. Director: Leo McCarey, Screenplay: Delmer Daves and Leo McCarey, Story by: Leo McCarey and Mildred Cram. Cast: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt

Plot summary: On a cruise from Europe to New York, infamous playboy Nickie Ferrante meets Terry McKay and falls in love with her mildly abrasive charm. The couple, though otherwise engaged, has an affair to remember until they reach their destination and vow to meet again, six months later, at the top of the Empire State Building.

Review: An Affair to Remember is a classic. Warren Beatty remade it with wife Annette Benning and Sleepless in Seattle refers to it all the way through. There is something about the combination of Hollywood legends Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, the heart-wrenching storyline they know to sell. The music, the colors, the wardrobe. Take your pick. This movie is a composition of romantic chic.

Cary Grant is beautifully cast as infamous playboy Nickie Ferrante, newly engaged to a rich heiress, who is used to wrapping women around his finger wherever he goes. Deborah Kerr gives an equally expert performance as Terry McKay, a former singer who is now engaged to a wealthy entrepreneur. Together, they spark the screen with a tale about falling in love outside of existing relationships. That story alone is probably as old as humanity itself, but the film depicts it without the now common celebration of infidelity and juicy sex. The film is from 1957 and thus lingers on emotions, yearning and eschewal, a perfect setup for the tragic twist.

An Affair to Remember is a love story, pure and simple, with a dash of sentimental music and Southern French flair. Most memorable for me are the scenes with Nickie’s grandma – probably for personal reasons, but Cathleen Nesbitt is such a darling (as Nickie calls her), I truly cannot imagine anyone not falling in love with her. And then there is the end, poignant and richly emotional. You better invest in boxes of tissues because there is no way I’m not going to recommend this movie to you.

Available on DVD and VHS.

Remakes

Although it may sometimes seem as if remakes are a contemporary idea, they actually go back to the 1920s (e.g. The Battle of Sexes, made in 1914 and then again 1928, each directed by D.W. Griffith) and the 1930s when talkies became more popular than silent movies. When studio bosses decided to re-do successful films. Hollywood, after all, has always been an industry.

But as old as its core motivation, the discussion of remakes has also remained the same – is it necessary to re-tell a story that has worked before? Can’t Hollywood come up with new ideas? New characters and plots?

Well, in times of reshaping and relaunching TV shows from the 1970s and 80s, I guess the answer is clear. It is often cheaper to pick up on an already established franchise. May seem more sensible. Almost like an homage – although  how could it be  if everything that used to work and made a product genuine is being replaced, updated and beautified?

Opinions will always differ on remakes. I myself was thrilled when I first heard about a new version of The Women back in 2008. Annette Benning’s name truly pleased me when I saw it listed for the project. Then I saw the movie. And in spite of Ms Benning, it paled in comparison to the original movie from 1939 on all levels.

But remakes can work. There are examples, sometimes unknown to us today. Love Affair from 1939 for example, starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. It was remade by the same director, Leo McCarey, in 1957 with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, called An Affair to Remember. And then again under its original title in 1994, starring Warren Beatty and Annette Benning, plus Katherine Hepburn.

The Window from 1949 (see Talking Classic‘s first “Talkie of the Week” entry) was also remade in 1966, under the title of the short story the film was originally based on, The Boy cried Murder. I have not yet seen this version but would love to see how and if they made it work.

Father of the Bride and Father’s little Dividend from 1950 and 51, directed by Vincente Minnelli, starring Spencer Tracey, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Bennett, were also remade in 1991 and 95. Then with an all-star cast led by Steve Martin and Diane Keaton.

What’s striking about the remakes of Father of the Bride and The Women though is the almost screwball-like quality paired with hysterics. Although equally well cast, the films don’t live up to the originals. It may be a reflection on the 1990s and 2000s, but the adaptations seem to lack a sense of sincerity in their otherwise entertaining and comedic plots. Steve Martin is not a Spencer Tracey, Diane Keaton is no comparison to Joan Bennett, nor is Meg Ryan a Norma Shearer. How could they be? They live in different times and so do the stories that were told so beautifully in their own time, with their original cast.

Now another remake is being discussed, green-lit by Warner Bros. The Thin Man is supposed to be redone, starring Johnny Depp and Rachel Weisz. I personally adore the original six movies which came to theaters between 1934 and 1947. William Powell and Myrna Loy. What better a pairing could you find? I am not convinced that you could replace them. Or that the plot will work in a new movie with a contemporary perception of Dashiell Hammett’s characters. Mind you, it worked to base a couple on Nick and Nora on TV in the 1980s. Hart to Hart was a good success. But William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora are so iconic – just have a look at the screen version of Bewitched  from 2005. Another example for an over-the-top version of a classic hit franchise. It disappointed fans and didn’t exactly score with the critics. However, the film did bring in some money, so if that’s the old motivation, I better keep spending it on the originals. And hope for more of them to be released on DVD.