Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952)

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This is a story about money … remember it! Ageing heir-less millionaire Samuel Fulton (Charles Coburn) wants to leave his fortune to the unsuspecting family of his first love Millicent Blaisdell but not before testing his prospective heirs by living with them under the guise of a poor boarder under the alias John Smith.  He finds history repeating itself when he leaves them an anonymous bequest and observes Millicent’s daughter Harriet (Lynn Bari) losing the run of herself keeping up with the town’s richies and urging her own daughter Millie (Piper Laurie) to wed the son (Skip Homeier) of a wealthy family instead of Dan (Rock Hudson) who works in her dad’s (Larry Gates) pharmacy while studying at night …  Hot diggity Millie, you’re the cat’s miaow!  Set in Tarrytown, New York at the end of the Twenties, this nostalgia-fest was one of several smalltown films made by Douglas Sirk and his first in glorious Technicolor.  Not quite a musical, it takes its song and dance cues from diegetic sources so we have singalongs courtesy of the wireless and a windup travelling pianola.  This has a sharp moral lesson under the fun and it’s the kids who are smarter than the parents – little Roberta (Gigi Perreau) is the one who knows the value of friendship and paints alongside ‘John Smith’ while he starts working as a soda jerk in the store.  Twenty-one year old James Dean makes his infamous debut as the kid ordering a super-complicated malt to which Coburn makes the disarming retort, Would you like to come in Wednesday for a fitting? Handsome William Reynolds as Howard, the son who gets a gambling habit, would make another notable appearance for Sirk in All That Heaven Allows along with There’s Always Tomorrow, while Hudson and Dean would both make another film together – the legendary Giant. Hudson of course became a star under Sirk’s direction in a handful of productions for Universal. Here he’s comfortable in a funny ensemble piece.  Adapted from a story by Eleanor H. (Pollyanna) Porter by Joseph Hoffman, this is an utter delight, camouflaging its social comment with an abundance of witty lines and smart playing. What else can you expect from the nouveau riche?

The Lawless Breed (1953)

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I love you the way you are. The way you really are. Legend has it that gunslinger, card sharp and outlaw John Wesley Hardin once shot a man because he was snoring. In this Universal-Technicolor version of a story he wrote about himself – his real life, as it were – we get the fast-moving, adventurous western that veteran director Raoul Walsh favoured, with a luminous performance by Rock Hudson in the role that made him a star. It starts with a beautiful framing device:  freed after 16 years from a prison sentence, the aged Hardin (and Hudson looks just like he would twenty years later in MacMillan and Wife!) leaves those portals and the first beings he touches in many years are a donkey and a dog. He has us at hello. Then he walks into a print shop and hands over a manuscript – his autobiography. It’s a great opening. Then we relive his life from his point of view in one long flashback:  as a young man he’s whupped by his strict preacher father (John McIntire) and launched into a life of crime following a card game. “It was self-defence,” becomes his mantra. He’s followed through Texas by Union soldiers, takes refuge with his sympathetic uncle (also played by McIntire), continues his relationship with the most beautiful girl in the State, Jane (Mary Castle) and eventually takes refuge with the saloon girl who understands him, Rosie (Julie aka Julia Adams). It’s a fatalistic tale which became a Bob Dylan song but this being Hollywood we don’t see the sordid ending that actually befell the man and Hudson imbues his character with wonderful gentleness.  When he returns home to save his grown son (Race Gentry) from his destiny the reason for writing his memoirs becomes clarified. Great, rousing tale, brilliantly handled by Walsh with his usual terrific staging and pace and doesn’t it look beautiful, like all movies should. Very loosely adapted from Hardin’s book by the great (and blacklisted) screenwriter Bernard Gordon. Never mind the facts – print the legend!

Pillow Talk (1959)

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Producer Ross Hunter thought Doris Day could be sexy and her husband Marty Melcher resurrected a script by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene that had been loitering unmade since 1942, and with a rewrite by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin and a co-star in Rock Hudson, a new movie partnership was born. From the titles sequence to the original ending (reshot, making things legal) this romcom about an interior decorator (her) and a composer (him) sharing a party line (ie telephone!) whose lives cross, this skirts all sorts of sex and censorship issues using split screens with hilarious results. It doesn’t hurt that Tony Randall is her besotted suitor and his disgruntled friend, or that Thelma Ritter is the dipso housekeeper with rare repartee. A new era of sex comedy was born, with awards and profits flying in every direction and both Day and Hudson re-inventing their careers in the first of their screen collabs. A great looking film in every respect. Directed by Michael Gordon, who advised Hudson, Comedy is the most serious tragedy in the world. Play it that way and you can’t go wrong. If you ever think of yourself as funny, you haven’t got a chance.

The Mirror Crack’d (1980)

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Oh joy! An Agatha Christie murder mystery set in the 1950s on location in England with … four of the era’s real-life stars in the leading roles! What a brilliant idea, at least. Elizabeth Taylor re-enacts a story Christie knew about Gene Tierney who was embraced by a fan at the Hollywood Canteen while Tierney was pregnant with her first child by husband Oleg Cassini. The fan had left quarantine where she was languishing with German measles. Tragically, Tierney’s daughter was born blind and deaf and severely retarded as a result of the woman’s selfishness. Christie took the idea and ran with it, bringing movie star Marina Rudd on location to film the story of the sisters Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots with old rival Lola Brewster (Kim Novak) a production being directed by her husband Jason (Rock Hudson) and produced by Lola’s husband Marty (Tony Curtis). This was Taylor and Hudson’s second film together twenty-five years after the epoch-defining Giant. A chance meeting at the launch party brings Marina into contact with the woman who she now realises had infected her at a theatre during WW2 and the woman is murdered then anonymous letters start arriving … Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler adapted the novel, John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin produced and Guy Hamilton directed, with Angela Lansbury playing Miss Marple in what proved to be an audition for Murder, She Wrote. She is accompanied by her nephew at Scotland Yard Dermot Craddock (Edward Fox):  there’s a top-notch cast list with Pierce Brosnan to be spotted in a small role. And when was the last time you saw Anthony Steel?!  This isn’t the tense mystery that it should be, but it provides vast pleasures for those of us consumed with Hollywood in all its iterations. The cinematography by the great Christopher Challis doesn’t hurt but the final shot of the fabulous Ms Taylor is deeply unflattering and should have been rethought (Natalie Wood had been the first choice for the role).  On the other hand, there are close shots of her eyes that are not in any of her other films – and they are legendary!

Strange Bedfellows (1965)

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Rock and La Lollo in London! Oh boy! In an amusing pre-titles sequence the petroleum exec (him) and bohemian artist (her) get married after a one night stand, row constantly and separate for 7 years. Then she wants to marry and requests a divorce which his PR (Gig Young in the Tony Randall role) wants to stop because it’s bad for business. He seduces her and they argue all over again – her politics and general kookiness drive him nuts. But he’s being made the company’s international president …  Then they agree to stay married but she insists on no sex until things are sorted out. Mayhem ensues when her situationist art protest is due to coincide with the boss’ visit. There are some very funny scenes including a taxi conversation and a bedroom situation which no doubt the queer scholars spend their nights poring over. The leads are gorgeous and Terry-Thomas turns up, which is all you want, really! Co-written by Michael Pertwee and director Melvin Frank from a story by him and Norman Panama.

Lover Come Back (1961)

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Rock Hudson and Doris Day made some fine movies but their work together has a special place in the heart of most cinephiles. This was their second teaming after Pillow Talk and they’re rival ad execs on Madison Avenue engaged in all sorts of down ‘n’ dirty ploys to get advantage for their agencies. Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning got together and constructed another (Oscar-nominated) mistaken identity scenario replete with parodies of advertising, psychiatry and masculinity as well as the battle of the sexes, monitored by two middle aged men in awe of Rock’s success with the ladies. The dialogue is sharp, Doris is winning and Rock is basically the model for Don Draper minus the neurosis. Great fun and fabulous to look at. And Doris sings!

Come September (1961)

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Ah the Sixties, when romcoms were glossy and mainly inoffensive and women wore beautiful clothes without being slut-shamed. Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin wrote a few of them for Doris Day at Universal and in the midst of that deluge and immediately before Richlin started writing the Pink Panther series, someone thought it’d be a busman’s holiday to set a movie in Italy because Liguria, Lazio and Milano are pretty great places to shoot a movie. With Rock Hudson as the home owner coming back to resume his relationship with La Lollo only to find she’s got another guy and his major domo (Walter Slezak) is making money on the side by using it as a hotel in his absence and Lo! Bobby Darin and his gang are making moves on Sandra Dee and her posse. Bobby sings Multiplication. Gosh, they really don’t make them like this any more. Lovely, light entertainment.

Send Me No Flowers (1964)

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The last of the three Hudson/Day sex/marriage comedies is an extremely funny exercise in black humour and sight gags. He’s a hypochondriac who in the mistaken belief he’s dying tries to fix his wife up with a replacement. Then he doesn’t die and she smells an affair and leaves him. Hilarious one-liners and terrific look at life in the ‘burbs. Paul Lynde is hysterical as an aggressive graveyard salesman. Director Norman Jewison is working from a screenplay by Julius (Casablanca) Epstein who adapted it from a stage play. Jewison had shot the previous Day marriage comedy, The Thrill of it All, with my beloved James Garner. Sigh!

Bend of the River (1952)

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Anthony Mann directed a big cycle of wonderful westerns in the 1950s. This adaptation by Borden Chase of a book by Bill Gulick stars the redoubtable James Stewart, who was busy remaking the notion of the hero in that decade. He is taking a wagon train to Oregon so that 100 people can build a country from scratch. But his background hoves into view when he teams up with another man (Arthur Kennedy) whom he rescues from a hanging tree and whose outlaw life is altogether more recent and the film is structured as they both reconcile in their different ways to a new kind of life – or not. Rock Hudson shows up as a gambler and Lori Nelson offers the female support. There is some good comic banter with the captain of a steamer. Beautifully shot with the usual familial trouble and secondary villain tropes detectable in Mann’s work. This reminds us that a complex interesting, characterful piece of work could be done in 91 minutes. With Julie (Julia) Adams.

The Last Sunset (1961)

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Douglas Sirk’s concoction of lust and forbidden actions were potent enough for Robert Aldrich to borrow two of his big stars and plant them in a western. Leonard Maltin’s Guide calls this Strange on the Range and it’s true that incest is not often featured in the genre. Add Kirk Douglas to the grouping along with rising star Carol Lynley (remember her and Brandon De Wilde in Blue Denim?!) and you have a time capsule of some degree of wonderment. The script was courtesy of blacklistee Dalton Trumbo (subject of a new biopic starring Bryan Cranston) whose career was resurrected spectacularly by star Douglas when he helped to have him credited for Spartacus (1960). The action is well handled by Aldrich, the tough guy director, while it is charming to hear Joseph Cotten continuously refer to ‘Virginia gentlemen,’ of which he was famously one.