Review


O'Sullivan, Taylor, and Leigh

Haven’t written in awhile, but I wanted to write a little today about a delightful film, A Yank at Oxford. This 1938 film stars Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore, Vivien Leigh, and Maureen O’Sullivan.

Lee Sheridan (Taylor) is a well known local athlete whose overly proud father (Barrymore) sends him to Oxford to study journalism.

Sheridan doesn’t receive the welcome he expects, but through his outgoing personality, does eventually make friends. Soon, Oxford students, and one woman in particular,  is won over by Sheridan. He leads the track and rowing teams to victory as well.

I enjoyed this film, especially Taylor’s performance of the brash young American.

Vivien Leigh is also great in the film just before Gone With the Wind. In my opinion, her character is similar to Scarlett O’Hara and Leigh of course does a great job in both roles.

Side note: Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor also star in another great film, Waterloo Bridge. Haven’t seen it in awhile, but I remember it being a great story.

It’s someone’s birthday! Yes, the beautiful, vivacious, Judy Garland! Judy was one of the first actresses I ever watched and admired, and I loved her ever since.

TCM has a great marathon on television today in honor of Judy. Here are a few of my favorites of Judy’s which I highly recommend (I’ve left out some of the more obvious ones like Wizard and Meet Me in St. Louis):

Presenting Lily Mars
Judy stars as Lily, a young girl who pesters her neighbor’s director son to give her a chance at acting. Van Heflin costars.


In the Good ‘Ol Summertime
Judy and Van Johnson costar as music shop employees who hate each other by day, but are secretly pen pals who are falling in love with each other.


Girl Crazy
Probably the best of the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland pairings. Great dialogue, costumes, and swinging music make this musical set in out West at Cody College a fun time for all.

For Me and My Gal
Gene Kelley gets his first starring role alongside Judy in this wartime musical. This is one of my favorites and boasts great numbers and plot. Gene and Judy’s characters are falling in love as fast as their careers are taking off. But their big chance to “play the Palace” comes at the same time as Gene’s character’s draft notice. In an attempt to avoid being called up, he injures himself and in the process almost destroys his relationship with his fiancee. Their reunion scene overseas at an USO show is one of my favorite scenes of all time.



Today, TCM has a marathon of movies about brides and brides-to-be. I decided to watch the charming film The Bride Goes Wild starring Van Johnson and June Allyson.

The plot revolves around the famous children’s book author Greg Rawlings (Johnson) who ironically dislikes children. Martha Terryton (Allyson) is a teacher from a small town who wins a contest to illustrate Rawlings’ newest book.

Rawlings immediately gets on Martha’s bad side when they first meet. She threatens to quit and doesn’t want anything more to do with Rawlings after he gets her drunk and makes a pass at her. But Rawlings’ publisher John McGrath (Hume Cronyn) scrambles for an idea to get Martha to stay. He pays a boy from a nearby orphanage to pose as Rawlings’ son. Feeling sorry for the motherless boy, Martha stays on to spend time with Davey and Greg.

The charade works for awhile and Martha and Greg do fall in love. But Rawlings must find a way to cover his tracks when the good-hearted teacher Martha wants to visit the boy’s home during her time off from drawing. Hilarity ensues as Rawlings and McGrath sneak onto the property of the boy’s home and try to tell Davey to keep up the charade if he sees Martha.

In the end, the truth does come out, and Martha is understandably upset. The “bride” part of the title comes into play when Greg tells Davey to do whatever it takes to stall Martha’s wedding to another man. Davey and his pet ants do a great job of creating chaos. Greg makes it to the wedding in time and true love prevails and an instant family is born as the two adopt Davey.

Bride is a fun comedy with great lines and acting. Cronyn’s character is acted especially well. The poor frazzled publisher runs around like crazy trying to reign in his flaky author and get him to finish the book on time for the Christmas rush.

Today is the amazing Jimmy Stewart’s birthday. Since TCM so thoughtfully decided to play a marathon of Stewart’s movies (and I have the day off!) I decided to watch one of his movies I have never seen before. The fact that the movie also stars Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon is an added bonus!

I have actually never even heard of this film: Bell, Book, and Candle. The central plot revolves around two witches, warlock, and an unsuspecting book publisher (Stewart).

The scene opens on Christmas Eve as Gillian (Novak) laments her loneliness. She is an art dealer and also, a witch. She is clearly interested in her upstairs neighbor Shep Henderson (Stewart) but he is already engaged. When Gillian meets Shep’s fiancee, she recognizes her as an old school chum who she disliked in the past.

Gillian wonders if she could make him love her without any tricks. But when Shep tells her he is getting married the next day, she decides to cast a spell on Shep to make him quickly fall in love with her. Shep is spellbound!

As most romantic comedies play out, Gillian and Shep fall in love for real. But Gillian is torn between her love and having to hide her powers from him if they are married. But she decides to take the risk and marry Shep. And she takes a bigger risk in telling him that she is a witch. He is angry at first and tries to get rid of Gillian’s love spell. But since a condition of the undoing spell is to confront Gillian, Shep and she are able to talk and realize they are still in love despite what they have been through.

Lemmon stars as Gillian’s warlock brother Nicky and Elsa Lancaster stars as their Aunt Queenie who is also a witch (she is much like the character of Endora from the TV series Bewitched).

Lemmon’s character is great, but I wish he had been given more material. He is known for his comedies, but his character is a bit limited in this film. Lancaster is great her portrayal of the busybody aunt. Novak’s performance is also good; she is clearly torn by wanting to give up her powers and live normally and also wanting to make Shep love her.

Bell was made the same year as Novak and Stewart’s widely popular film Vertigo directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Though this film never gained the notoriety or acclaim as Vertigo, Bell is a cute funny film worth watching.

Bette Davis and the great French actor Charles Boyer co-star in this 1940 film about a virtuous governess and a lonely Duke who is the father of four children.

Henriette (Davis) comes to work for the Duke and Duchess de Praslin and is immediately a success with their four children. But as the Duchess’ emotional outbursts estrange her children and husband, she becomes suspicious of the new governess. As the Duchess pushes her husband away, she pushes him right into the arms of the devoted governess. The two dance around the feelings of mutual attraction, but both are too proper to act on their feelings.

Nevertheless, the Duchess imagines a scandal between the Duke and governess and fires Henriette. She promises her a letter of recommendation so that she can find another job, but then never comes through on her promise.

Henriette’s name has been soiled by the air of scandal and she is unable to find work without the letter. The Duke visits her with the children and sees her current living conditions, which are dreadful. He immediately goes home and confronts his wife. She reveals her true feelings and in a rage, the Duke kills her.

This movie is somewhat slow in pace, but the performances overall are great. There are several familiar faces in the film. Virginia Weidler, who portrays one of the Duke’s four children, costars alongside Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story as the younger sister of Tracy Lord (Hepburn). Barbara O’Neil from Gone with the Wind (she played the matriarch of the O’Hara family) played the Duchess de Praslin. The other child actors are a highlight of the film and are quite adorable.

It was very different to see Bette Davis in a role in which her character is more reserved. Usually she is taking command of every scene by force, but in this film she quietly, but not too meekly, stands up for herself against the paranoid wife of the Duke. She is fiercely protective of the children whom she grows to love as she cares for them.

Boyer is also great as the father who is struggling to balance his duties to the king and his children. It is evident how much he loves his children, but cannot see how much his wife loves and needs him.

All This and Heaven Too is a great story about a typical family of the time period that struggled with balancing family, social obligations and work.

A New Kind of Love starring the real-life couple of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward tells the story of a man and woman who hate each other at first sight, but, as in almost all romantic comedies, end up loving each other in the end.

Samantha “Sam” Blake (Woodward) is a dowdy fashion designer who meets the playboy newspaper columnist Steve Sherman (Newman) on a plane to Paris. Sherman has been exiled to Paris by his boss to keep him away from his wife. Blake and her boss are in Paris to steal designer fashions and reproduce them in the States.

It is most certainly not love at first sight. Blake has yet t0 embrace her femininity (she covers her boyish hairstyle with a hat and wears dark glasses) and Sherman mistakenly calls her “mister” when they first meet. She does not disguise her contempt and, thinking he is drunk, tells him to call AA.

They happen to bump into each other a few more times while in Paris. After Blake decides to give herself a makeover, she goes out on the town to celebrate. Sherman sees her again but does not recognize her as the same woman from the plane.

Blake decides to play a trick on him to get even. She pretends to be a French call girl named Mimi and gives Sherman stories about her profession that he cannot resist writing about. The trick goes on for longer than Blake originally wants, and in the process, Sherman realizes he has been duped.

The truth about Blake’s real identity comes out and so does the fact that they have fallen for each other.

Thelma Ritter co-stars as Blake’s older confidant who is romantically challenged as well. She steals almost every scene she is in with her quick wit. Eva Gabor and Maurice Chevalier also co-star.

This film reminds me of Paris When it Sizzles with Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. There are some funny moments, but there are also a few strange scenes. Overall this was a cute film, but both of the leads made much better films together and separately. The chemistry is there but could have been better with a better script.

The opening credits do boast Frank Sinatra singing “A New Kind of Love”.

Bette Davis and James Stephenson star in William Wyler’s 1940 drama The Letter.

Howard Joyce (Stephenson) must defend his friend’s wife, Leslie Crosbie (Davis), in her self-defense trial. Leslie supposedly shot a man, several times in fact, in self-defense after he tried to assault her in her home. As the case develops, it turns out Leslie had written the man a letter although she had stated that she had had no recent contact with him. The letter begged him to come and see her, specifically stating that her husband would be out. The dead man’s wife found the letter and blackmails Leslie.

Joyce knows he should not give in to the woman’s demand, but he also wants to win the case. Leslie claimed the letter was innocent, a simple invitation to discuss a birthday gift for her husband. But after reading a copy of the letter, Joyce knows there was something more. But he goes ahead and uses Leslie’s husband’s own money to buy the letter and save his case and Leslie’s neck.

After the trial. Leslie’s husband finds out about the high price of the letter and demands to see it’s contents. Leslie finally confesses her affair and the murder to Joyce and her husband. She became angry at her lover for marrying another woman, a Chinese woman at that, and killed him in a rage.

For a short time, the Crosbie’s go on with their lives as normally as possible. Finally Leslie breaks down and confesses that she still loves with all her heart the man she killed. I do not want to give away the complete ending, but I certainly did not see it coming!

Only Bette Davis can still look proud and dignified even when kneeling at another woman’s feet to pick up a purposefully dropped letter. Later in the film, she is calmly restrained as she tells her husband and lawyer the truth about her affair. But you can sense her anger when she recounts how and why she killed her lover.

Stephenson is great as the ethically conflicted lawyer and friend of the Crosbie’s.

It is interesting to me the way the letter itself was shot. Viewers never get a chance to read the letter for themselves as in most films. They only see the back of the letter as a character reads it. The contents are only read aloud once.

The Letter is a great story that was filmed and acting excellently. I would recommend it as I would most other Bette Davis films.

Below is an old poster from TCM advertising The Letter in their lineup for the summer of 2009. The link (http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/tcms-summer-under-the-stars-posters-are-phenomenal) has several other awesome posters. Which is your favorite?

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