Weekly Round-Up: January 24-30, 2016

I’ve been making steady progress on this year’s Oscar nominees, and had an exciting week: I liked every movie I saw!

This week’s slate included:

  • Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) – This essential classic about home and family gave us the standards “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and boasts gorgeous technicolor visuals. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Amy (2015) – Documentary looking back on the rise and fall of the jazz pop singer Amy Winehouse. While clocking in pretty long, I couldn’t help but be impressed at the quality and breadth of footage compiled for this film. RECOMMENDED.
  • Gilda (1946) – Still an excellent film noir, as mentioned last week. ūüôā I went through all the special features on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray, including the audio commentary by Richard Schickel. Commentary is good for repeat viewers, while the film is still REQUIRED.
  • The Revenant (2015) – Masterfully shot epic western about one man overcoming nature and the elements to seek revenge. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – First time watching the extended edition with audio commentary by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens. Really illuminating insights into the film’s production – I was particularly surprised by how much scenery was miniature models (rather than CGI). The audio commentary is best left for the most hardcore fans, but the film is absolutely REQUIRED.
  • Brooklyn (2015) – Very¬†moving romantic drama about a young Irish woman who immigrates to the United States in the early 1950s and falls in love with an Italian. This film is an instant classic, driven by its believable script¬†and endearing characters. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • The Conjuring (2013) – Smart paranormal horror film, with parallel stories between a family terrorized by demonic spirits and the investigators who help them. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

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The Girl Next Door: Garland & Minnelli in “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944)

The glorious technicolor MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis brought future husband-and-wife Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland together. This collaboration became a six-year-marriage and their daughter Liza, but it was a landmark for the film industry in general, as a key success for the MGM musical as a genre, and for their careers specifically.

Prior to¬†St. Louis, Garland was known to audiences as a typical girl next door type, often paired up with Mickey Rooney as an “ugly duckling” who doesn’t win his heart til the last reel. With this film, Minnelli tasked his team with presenting Garland as a beauty, adjusting her typical makeup design as well as through camera staging. Liza Minnelli points out how often her mother is framed within the camera – in a window pane, in a mirror. This presents Garland¬†to the audience as a work of art, allowing the memory of an “ugly duckling” to fade away and allow this new, more mature, beauty to sink in.

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In addition to his bride-to-be’s¬†onscreen presentation, Vincente Minnelli also had to work on Garland’s on-set persona. While a more grown-up¬†beautiful character¬†than she typically portrayed, Garland’s role as Esther Smith was still that of a young woman, on the brink of adulthood – still playing a “girl next door,” albeit a mature one. The story goes, she would play her scenes with a wink, and ditch the lengthy rehearsals midway through – only to be intercepted by a phone call from Minnelli to the MGM studio gate. Venting about this to Mary Astor, an established star playing her onscreen mother, Astor turned the tables back on her, insisting Minnelli “knows what he’s doing. Just go along with it, because it means something.”

The trust paid off.¬†Meet Me in St. Louis opened in November 1944 and earned over $6 million at the box office during its initial release. Even today, the film is a staple on classic movie channels, particularly during the holiday season, and has given us the immortal standards “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” It connects to audiences so well for the genuine love the characters share for each other onscreen, while behind-the-scenes a new romance was just beginning.


Special thanks to the excellent audio commentary by John Fricke, available on the DVD, for providing much of the insight into this piece.

This post is part of the Classic Symbiotic Collaborations Blogathon hosted by CineMaven. Check out the full roster to read other excellent posts on unforgettable director-star duos!

Barbara Stanwyck: Wife, Actress, Canteen Hostess

When she wasn’t bamboozling beaus in¬†The Lady Eve, enlightening scholars in¬†Ball of Fire, or murdering husbands in¬†Double Indemnity, Barbara Stanwyck paid her civic duty by volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen. The Canteen was a real-life establishment in the early 1940s as a club offering food and entertainment for service men & women; many stars, notably Bette Davis, volunteered their efforts in this admirable cause.

Ms. Stanwyck was among these volunteers, and her charity is immortalized in film within the same era as many of her most classic roles. Here is her brief, yet memorable, scene within Hollywood Canteen, a 1944 film inspired by the real-life Canteen:

The soldier is Slim Green, who during his leave in Los Angeles, wins a date with actress Joan Leslie. When he visits the Canteen, he is starstruck by everyone around him (and, to be fair, who wouldn’t be!). Jane Wyman (!) introduces him to Barbara, who is managing the food counter. She instantly has him wrapped around her finger:

“You’re Barbara Stanwyck!”

“How can you tell?”

“Because you look like you look, only more so than I thought.”

She plays up her charm and puts him on the defensive:

“Well, I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment.”

“Disappointment?! My gosh, I was more crazy about you than just about anybody until…”

“What came between us?”

“Joan Leslie.”

“Aw, darn!”

After this light teasing, she shows her genuine warmth and tenderness. He asks:

“How did you know my name was Slim?”

“We got word from the South Pacific that Slim was coming and to treat him right.”

In her comic roles, Ms. Stanwyck typically plays a similar function: initial assertions of power, ignited by sharp humor, before moving into softer affection and care.¬†Her scene in¬†Hollywood Canteen¬†may be brief, but is a perfect snapshot as Ms. Stanwyck’s power as a comedienne, entertainer, and citizen.



This post is part of the Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Be sure to check out the other entries!