Summertime at The Stanford - Volume II

mrpsoftball.jpgYesterday, I found myself chanting along with a hundred screaming ten and twelve-year-olds. We were sitting in the shirtsleeves of a small baseball diamond on the Sinnott Elementary School campus in Milpitas, and Mr. P was stepping up to the plate. The annual softball match between the Sinnott Teachers and the Sixth Graders is pure fun for everyone, but I haven't watched a game since I was on the Sixth Grade team myself back in 1995.

Giant patches of sunlight floated across the grass and then were swallowed up by the thick, gloomy clouds. Still, it was definitely Summer. I could feel Summer in the buzz of electricity coursing through the veins of the students around me as the strained in their seats and called for a hit. I could hear Summer in the muffled, moist whistle of the boy beside me as he pursed his lips and blew around a plucked blade of grass squeezed between his fingers. I could hear Summer in the crack of Mr. P's aluminum bat as it connected with the softball.

Mom and I cheered. Mr. P rounded the bases at a healthy trot, knowing he was being watched closely by the two women who have the right to lambaste him when he exerts himself. Mr. P, beloved by his students and his fellow teachers, is my dad, and I'm never prouder of him than when I see him in front of his kids.

But the whopping smile on Mr. P's face as he "stole" home was due to more than the impending Teacher win. He was smiling because he was within a day of his Summer vacation. Lucky teacher!

I was smiling, too. Summer is fun! It means BBQs, fireworks, the Alameda Country Fair (starts July 1), and, perhaps best of all, the Summer schedule at The Stanford Theater in downtown Palo Alto!
I've seen it at The Stanford, and it's well worth the trip. So much color! So much music! Gene Kelly is at his heel clicking handsomest and Debbie Reynolds couldn't be any cuter. The plot is set around the history of Hollywood itself, specifically the transition from silent films to the then-dreaded "talkies."  Never have the movies made more or better fun of themselves.
A decade later, Katherine Hepburn would be solidified in the ranks of Hollywood's greats and her name would be synonymous with a sharp wit, a silver tongue, sexy slacks, and formidable acting talent. But in Bringing Up Baby, she plays the ditsy, flaky socialite with a pet leopard, and her feminine (read: brainless) wiles are aimed directly at the heart of the best looking paleontologist in the history of film (sorry, Ross!). Cary Grant is entirely at her mercy!  Costarring Asta, the dog from the Thin Man series!
Holiday (1938)
Hepburn in the same era, still being costumed in feminine finery to play down her razor sharp nose and husky voice, plays the black sheep of an extremely wealthy family. When she is introduced to her younger sister's new fiance, a youthful Cary Grant (who performed his own handsprings in this movie, thanks to his real life showbiz beginning as a circus acrobat), Hepburn is taken with his unorthodox views on life and love. The family prestige stands to ruin the marriage, but true love in 1930s Hollywood always prevails!  You'll see a prominent appearance by Edward Everett Horton, the famed British character actors who also appeared in several Rogers & Astaire films.
Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire perform many great dance numbers in this film. As is the case with many Rogers & Astaire movies, the plots itself has been wedged in around the dance scenes, and is almost expendable.  The formula is simple... Rogers is a beautiful, wealthy divorcee and former stage performer on holiday. Astaire is the man who sees her across the room, falls in love, and pursues her for 72 minutes, mostly on his toes. Again, Horton provides some extra comic relief.
Hitchcock at Cannes. The ravishing Grace Kelly is almost exclusively utilized as eye candy in this movie about a retired jewel thief called "The Cat," an older and wiser Cary Grant.  But Kelly dominates the beauty of the South of France with her equisitely coiffed golden hair, her tan shoulders, and the perfect purr of her voice as she propositions a dazzled Grant with the line, "The Cat has a new Kitten; when do we start?" Could you say no?  The minor car chase scene has become iconic because Kelly, who soon left Hollywood to marry the Prince of Monaco, later died in a car accident in the region.
Notorious (1946)
Back to the black and whites which truly capture Hitchcock's magnificent understanding of suspense, Notorious boasts a spy plot involving Nazi's and an all-star cast. Again, Cary Grant, but this time he's faced with Ingrid Bergman, the exotic Swedish actress who is most famous for her role as Ilsa in Casablanca. Also from the Casablanca cast is Claude Rains, a tremendous force in Hollywood for many years. He, too, seems best known for his turn in Casablanca as the unprincipled French police chief with the ready wit, but that reputation does him a disservice. In Notorious, Rains is the epitome of charisma, poise, and human contradiction. The original Invisible Man is excellent in this movie.
One of my all-time favorites, this biopic of George M. Cohan, the Broadway legend who composed such timeless hits as "Mary," "Grand Old Flag," "Over There," and, of course, "Yankee Doodle Dandy," stars Jimmy Cagney and follows the life of this great performer. Cohan was the quintessential patriot, actually born on the Fourth of July, and was dancing and singing on stage with his parents and sister when he was only five years old.  But beyond the cheesy moments and the elaborate dance numbers, Yankee Doodle Dandy is a love story. Cohan was an amazing man, and Cagney does him justice. (Joan Leslie is darling as Cohan's wife and the inspiration behind many of his songs.)
At the top of AJC's list of the best films of all time, I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. The lead role of Tracy Lord, the wealthy, unmerciful divorcee with the strictest moral code, was written with Katherine Hepburn in mind, and she owns the role entirely. Again she stars with Cary Grant as her flippant, unflappable ex-husband. Co-stars include Jimmy Stewart as the reluctant reporter sent to secretly cover Ms. Lord's wedding for Spy Magazine, a role for which he received the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award in 1941, and Ruth Hussey as the pretty, sarcastic photographer who accompanies him on assignment. Having suffered from Tracy Lord Syndrome much of my life, I may well be the perfect audience for this film. Either way, there isn't better dialogue anywhere. See it!
Barbara Stanwyk is the statuesque tempstress out to snag the heir to a fortune, a clumsy hunk in a tux played by Henry Fonda (the best of the Fondas, by far!). Her seduction rites include silk evening gowns, low, silky voice, silky eyelashes, silky decolletage... you get the picture. Poor Fonda doesn't stand a chance. It's a romantic comedy aboard a ship, and while Stanwyk definitely knew how to handle the femme fatale role she made famous (see Double Indemnity, below), I believe she was at her best as a sensual comedienne.
A Barbara Stanwyk double feature always includes this movie, with Stanwyk as the greedy, backstabbing wife out for her husband's life insurance money. Fred MacMurray, broad shouldered and granite jawed, is her conspirator in this excellent example of 1940s noir.
A tremendous musical set in at the turn of the last century in St. Louis, Missouri, the site of the World's Fair that year, this colorful, happy film follows the antics of a single family for one year. Judy Garland stars as the second eldest daughter who is deeply in love with the boy next door, and it's a pleasure to see Garland in Victorian costume singing her heart out. Originally a play, the movie is set in roughly four acts, one per season, and takes in the growing pains of all five children, but especially Garland's character and the youngest sister, Tootie, played by plucky Margaret O'Brien. Comedy abounds, and you'll recognize the songs, too.  "The Trolley Song," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and, of course, "Meet Me in St. Louis."
Roman Holiday (1953)
Number One on the AJC Best Film's list, Roman Holiday is a treat in every respect. Witty, charming, lively, vigorous, timeless, and fun. Audrey Hepburn's first American film earned her the Best Actress Academy Award. In it, she is the epitome of Audrey, impish and lovely, a twinkle in her eye, and so she steals every scene as the princess who runs away for a day on her own in Rome. Gregory Peck, many years Hepburn's senior, knew immediately that she would become the next big star in Hollywood, and he insisted that she receive top billing, above the title, along with him.  Peck is wonderful as the cunning reporter out for a scoop who generously offers to escort the oblivious princess around the city as he catalogs her every adventure. The chemistry sizzles and the laughs keep on coming, and it includes one of the best onscreen kisses of all time. I've seen this at The Stanford, and it's more than worth the visit!
Midnight (1939)
Romantic comedies in the 1930s were known for their fantastic (read: unbelievably stretchy/ridiculous) plots. In Midnight, Claudette Colbert is an American down on her luck in Paris. She's broke and looking for a job as a nightclub singer when a sympathetic taxi driver takes her around the city. Overnight, they fall in love. But, unwilling to resign herself to a life as a taxi driver's wife, true love not withstanding, Colbert makes a break for it and winds up amongst the rich and famous with a fabricated aristocratic identity and a sponsor who will pay all her expenses in return for her seduction of that man's wife's lover. If that's not crazy enough, imagine that the taxi driver isn't willing to let her go that easy, and that he's as dashing as Don Ameche. (The cheating wife is a young Mary Astor, who later co-starred in Meet Me in St. Louis, see above, as Judy Garland's mother!)
In the role of Eliza Doolittle, made famous on Broadway by Julie Andrews, Audrey Hepburn is perfect as the perky, Cockney guttersnipe who vies for the chance to learn proper speech from Professor Henry Higgins.  Rex Harrison reprized his Broadway role as Higgins, and he's tremendous.  Hepburn's voice was dubbed out after the fact, something she didn't learn until after the fact, and she was passed over for the Best Actress Oscar that year in favor of Julie Andrews who won for Mary Poppins. Many believe this was the academy's way of acknowledging that Andrews should have been given the role of Doolittle without competition, but Hepburn is the perfect balance of urchin and elegance over the course of the movie, and it wouldn't be the same without her.
T thewomen.jpghe Women (1939)
Recently, Hollywood made the mistake of attempting to remake this film, and I'm bitter. In the modern movie, the all female cast is racially diverse, includes a lesbian among the circle of best friends, and reworks the plot so that the women are supportive of one another rather than resentful of and unfaithful to one another. Naturally, the first two changes to the casting don't bother me; 1930s American wasn't as enlightened as America today. But part of the zing and zest of that original screenplay lay in the intricacy of feminine relationships and the degeneration of those relationships when women refuse to look out for each other. The moral of the story was defined by the poor morality, the mutiny, the malice, and the malcontent. In trying to reverse all of that, making the movie an example of What To Do rather than What Not To Do, the story lost all of its tenacity. The classic rendering is the best, hands down. The dialogue is rapid fire. The women are merciless to each other and to themselves. And it offers a fascinating glimpse into the social standards and repercussions surrounding a man's adultery and the aftermath when his wife seeks a divorce, still an almost taboo practice then. Beyond that, the cast in the original is unmatched for star power: Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Mary Boland, Marjorie Main, and Hedda Hopper. Virginia Weidler is cast as the daughter of the divorcing, and she's a whiny one.  Weidler was much better as sassy Dinah Lord, Katherine Hepburn's little sister in The Philadelphia Story (see above).
Tyrone Power defines 'tall, dark, and handsome' as the masked man who fights for justice in California's early days. Swordplay is set to exciting music, and the hero gets the girl. Basil Rathbone is in his element as the sneering Captain Esteban Pasquale. Rathbone was one of the most talented fencers on the silver screen, a talent best showcased in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1936) opposite fellow swashbuckler Errol Flynn.
This is as kitchy as a swashbuckling pirate movie can get. Tyrone Power's costar in this film was his own chest, exposed in most scenes, and that was absolutely okay by most of the predominantly female audience who flocked to the theaters in the early 1940s (while the men we overseas fighting WWII). Gorgeous Maureen O'Hara, the redhead who became synonymous with the wonders of Technicolor, is technically the leading lady, but she does little more than hop around agitatedly, brandishing her Irish temper. The plot is practically beside the point, but let's just say it's set in Jamaica at a time when the Time of the Pirate was coming to a close. Fun, though occasionally ridiculous.
This edition of a Sherlock Holmes adventure starred Basil Rathbone as the sharp, slow spoken detective with a pipe and an harebrained best pal, Dr. Watson. They investigate a series of deaths supposedly caused by a family's curse. I remember being terrified by the hounds in this film, foaming jaws and gnashing teeth! But Rathbone is excellent, as usual, and considering that Hollywood is coming out with a new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr., it makes sense that The Stanford would capitalize on that release by showing this edition. From the trailer, it appears the new Holmes is on something, looking a little haggard, a little paranoid, and apparently he's been given a touch of the 007 with steampunk gadgets. Could be good, but I think Baskervilles will remain in the top Holmes slot.

Summertime at The Stanford - Volume I
Homage to Hitchcock


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This page contains a single entry by Audrey Camp published on June 11, 2009 9:31 PM.

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