14 January 2009

How to Make the Transition Back to the US After Your European Vacation (Hint: The Answer Involves Movies)

A fortnight ago I returned from two weeks in London and Paris. A few things: It was the greatest all time trip ever; I did not want to come back (at least not yet); and I was exhausted. How to soften the blow? How to ease back into that accursed thing called "normal life". How to tip toe past culture shock?

Easy. If you have Turner Classic Movies as part of your cable package. (And if you don't you are either not a devotee of classic films, can't afford the extra dough or are brain dead.)

Yes upon returning home there was TCM host Robert Osborne to greet me. What a grand fellow. Like your wealthy old "bachelor" uncle who always has a nice gift and a classy story to tell. Indeed Osborne does have gifts in the form of the films he introduces and stories in the form of his pre and post movie chats.

Timing is everything. I settled onto the sofa just as TCM was about to show It Happened One Night (1934). Perfect because its a film one never tires of -- least I don't. Capra directed and I reflected on some of the stars who appeared in is pictures. How's this for a Hollywood who's who: Jimmy Stewart, Jean Harlow, Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, Barbara Stanwyck, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Claude Rains, Loretta Young, Glenn Ford, Bette Davis, Ronald Colman, Katharine Hepburn, Thomas Mitchell, Jane Wyman, Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, Bing Crosby...need I go on?

It's been said that Gable was more a star than an actor. Perhaps but he exercised ye olde acting chops opposite Colbert in this film. They made a grand movie couple in this road trip, romantic comedy. Walter Connolly played Colbert's father and I've got to get around to a post someday about his various roles as a beleaguered screen dad.

Next up was another classic from the 1930's the original King Kong (1933). Here's an impossible task: try explaining to a teenager why this version is far superior to Peter Jackson's overblown remake of a few years past. The special effects were relatively primitive in the original but there are two things to note: they were quite sophisticated for their time, a good movie doesn't require digital computer enhanced anything. A good movie requires a good story with strong characters. The original Kong has it.

The next day I started with another Capra film that I had DVR'd while we were away, the oddly named Platinum Blonde (1931). (What was it with the word "blonde" in a film title back then? James Cagney and Joan Blondell were in a wonderful film called Blonde Crazy (1931) and that title didn't quite fit either.)

Anyhoo, Robert Williams features -- who??? Herein is the sadness associated with this film. Walker was an actor whose star was on the rise when he made this movie and a legitimate star upon its release. It was his last. He died months later from peritonitis after his appendix burst. He had some delightful scenes here with co stars Harlow and Young. He plays ace reporter Stu Smith who falls for a society dame played by Harlow. They fall in love and shock one and all by marrying. This is most disappointing to Williams' reporter buddy, Gallagher played by Young. You see, she's got a crush on Smith.

The absolutely gorgeous 18 year old Loretta Young actually upstages the nasty Harlow character. She is the picture of beautiful sweetness and possess, what I'd call an innocent wisdom. A film not to be missed by fans of...well films.

The last of my marathon was a film I'd never even heard of let alone seen a half dozen times, It All Came True (1940). I couldn't resist a film that co-starred Humphrey Bogart and Ann Sheridan. The premise intrigued me too. A wanted crook (Bogie) hides out in boarding house which he converts into a nightclub. Of course Sheridan plays one of the residents among a passel of colorful eccentrics which includes Felix Bressart as a has been magician. Sheridan falls for a real milquetoast, the straight laced piano player played by Jeffery Lynn. Lynn also got the girl from Bogie in Roaring Twenties (1939) (this time the prize was Priscilla Lane). Lynn was one of the players of the Thirties and Forties like Alan Jones who provided deathly dull music and a romantic lead to contrast with colorful sorts like Bogie and the Marx Brothers.

It All Came True was okay, nothing I'd go out of my way to watch again but a pleasant enough diversion. It along with the other movies also helped serve the purpose of easing back into society. I was now ready to venture out into the world and -- see a movie!

(Many thanks the greatest TV station ever, Turner Classic Movies and its host Robert Osborne. You go, Bob!)

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