Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Ahoy there, mateys!

As September 19th be International Talk Like A Pirate Day and as September be a bit light on holidays,  yer Holiday Film Reviews crew wishes to sharrrre some piratical viewing recommendations with ye.

What be this "Talk Like A Pirate Day", ye ask?    It be a parodic holiday created in a spirit of fun and romantical notions of piracy by two friends who declared that September 19th should henceforward become a day when everyone in the world should talk like a pirate.    It caught on with folks and has been observed by many since 2002.  Information on how to speak pirate is available from the Official Talk Like A Pirate Day site and many other places around the web, savvy?  

In the spirit of the day,  here be some excellent viewing options for ye!

Treasure Island (1950) 

The Walt Disney Company's first entirely live action film based on the 1883 book of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson,  this version starts Robert Newton as Long John Silver and Bobby Driscoll as Jim Hawkins.

Fun facts:
* Newton's performance as Long John Silver is so iconic that it's thought by many to be the basis for our "arrrr!"-based pirate patois.
*  Treasure Island was one of the first Disney movies to be shown on television,  its first telecast was in 1955.

The Pirates of Penzance (1983)

This is a film adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta.  The story concerns a young lad named Frederic (Rex Smith) who has just been released (he thinks) from his apprenticeship with a band of tender-hearted pirates.  Frederic promptly falls in love with a young lady named Mabel (Linda Ronstadt).  However, the Pirate King (Kevin Kline) and Frederic's old nurse Ruth (Angela Lansbury) discover that due to a clerical error having to do with Frederic's birthday occurring on February 29th,  he may still be on the hook for his indenture, thereby imperiling Frederic and Mabel's future.   It's brilliant, silly fun!

Fun facts:
*  Kevin Kline won the 1981 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of the Pirate King on Broadway the preceding year and memorably reprises his role in the movie version.
*  The Broadway production began its run as part of the 1980 Shakespeare in the Park season before transferring to Broadway and thence to film.  This production and the film feature a Gilbert and Sullivan song from another of their operettas (the patter song "My Eyes Are Fully Open" from Ruddigoreinterpolated into the show.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) 

In this fantasy swashbuckler (based on the Disney amusement park attraction),  young Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) must rescue Will's love,  Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) from Sparrow's former colleague Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his undead crew of miscreants.  This is quite a fun adventure film due to great production values and a top-notch cast.

Fun facts:
* The film was so successful (it's the 12th highest grossing franchise of all time according to imdb) that Disneyland and Disney World updated their Pirates of the Caribbean attractions to feature animatronics of Jack Sparrow and Barbossa in the storyline.
* Pirates of the Caribbean  put an end to the "Pirate movie curse" that was believed to have been in effect since the mid-1970s, when movies like Swashbuckler (1976), Yellowbeard (1983), Waterworld (1995) and Cutthroat Island (1995) all severely under-performed.   Media expectations for the movie were understandably low, but the film became a world-wide artistic and commercial success.  There have been four sequels.

The Pirates! :  Band of Misfits (2012) 

In this stop motion and computer animated offering from Aardman Animations, Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and his ragtag crew set out on a mission to win the coveted Pirate of the Year Award and show up their rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayeck) .  Their adventures range from the shores of Blood Island to the streets of Victorian London and feature an encounter with Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who wants to steal the pirates' pet dodo (the last living example of its species) so that he can impress Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).  As one might expect from Aardman (who brought us Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit, among other things), it is gloriously goofy!

Fun facts:
* The original title was The Pirates! an Adventure with Scientists!  (and it was released under this title in the UK and elsewhere), but it was changed to The Pirates!  Band of Misfits when it was released in the U.S.
*  As of 2016, the film is the fourth highest grossing stop motion animated film of all time.

Have we missed any of your favorites?   Share your favorite pirate movies in the comments!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Holiday Inn

Premiered August 4, 1942.
(Note:This film was released 75 years ago today - 8/4/17)

Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby), Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) are a popular song-and-dance trio.  Jim decides he wants to quit the act, marry Lila and retire to a farmhouse in Connecticut.

Lila has other ideas and informs Jim that not only is she not ready to quit show business, but she has fallen for Ted! So Jim moves to his farm alone, but discovers that life as a farmer isn't all he thought it would be.

The following year at Christmas time,  Jim decides to convert the farm into Holiday Inn, a hotel with dinner and floor show that's only open during holidays.  He makes a trip to New York to tell Ted & Lila of his decision and try to maybe recruit them to participate, they're not convinced.

Meanwhile, Ted's agent Danny (Walter Abel) runs into a flower shop sales clerk named Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds).  She recognizes Danny and seizes the opportunity to ask him if he can help her break into showbiz.  

He recommends her to Jim, who hires her and she arrives at Holiday Inn on Christmas Day.   Jim realizes he rather likes Linda and would like to see more of her -- maybe their partnership at the Inn will lead to romance?

Ted and Lila's business and romantic partnership comes to an abrupt end when Lila dumps him on New Year's Eve.  Having no place better to be, a drunken Ted shows up at the Holiday Inn's New Year's Eve party.  He dances with Linda and they put on quite a show for the New Year's Eve crowd. 

Ted is smitten with his new dance partner but the next morning, he can't remember what she looks like since he was drunk.  Jim, fearing he will lose another romantic and performing partner to Ted, does what he can to obfuscate Ted's search for her -- up to and including inviting his old flame Lila to come perform at the inn as a distraction!

But Ted is determined to learn the dancer's identity and decides to stick around Holiday Inn each holiday until he can figure it out.

Can Jim keep Linda's identity secret from Ted?  Will Ted steal another partner from Jim?  Will the Holiday Inn be a success?

RigbyMel says:

This is a special holiday film for a number of reasons, the great song and dance performances by the cast and the wonderful Irving Berlin music being the most notable.   It's really not about the romance plot so much as it is about the various holidays portrayed and the musical numbers.

Holiday Inn is the film that introduced Bing Crosby's signature number "White Christmas" to a worldwide audience.  The song went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song and the single has sold hundreds of millions of copies making "White Christmas" one of the best selling songs of all time.   One imagines that the mix of nostalgia and melancholy inherent in the song really resonated with WWII audiences and contributes to its enduring popularity.

The film also focuses not just on Christmas and New Years, but on other holidays throughout the rest of the year as well.  

There's an interesting comedic minuet/jitterbug number for George Washington's birthday.  The switch in styles is one of Jim's ploys to sabotage Ted's dance partnership with Linda.

The Valentine's Day number "Be Careful It's My Heart" was, I suspect, intended to be the "breakout hit" from the movie and it's nice, but doesn't quite hold a candle to "White Christmas."

"Easter Parade" also makes an appearance to good effect.

There's a standout Fourth of July dance number in which Fred Astaire sets off firecrackers onstage while he's dancing which really adds flash and bang (literally AND figuratively!!) to the proceedings.

A couple of other fun facts:

*  According to multiple sources,  Fred Astaire took two shots of bourbon before the first take of the "drunk" dance for the New Year's Eve sequence and the same after each successive take.  The seventh (!) take was the one that was used in the film, so Astaire's performance was really a couple of sheets to the wind.

* There's an animated sequence for Thanksgiving featuring a confused turkey running back and forth between dates on the calendar which was a topical (at the time) reference to the "Franksgiving" controversy of 1939/40.   

President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to change Thanksgiving from the 3rd Thursday in November from the 4th Thursday in order to extend the holiday shopping season and bolster the retail economy.  Eventually, an Roosevelt signed a 1941 act of Congress designating the 4th Thursday of November as the official day.  No wonder the 1942 animated turkey was confused!

* The movie also lends its name to the Holiday Inn motel chain, which first opened its doors in the 1950s.

The one thing that keeps me from unreservedly naming Holiday Inn an absolute must watch classic is some unfortunate racial humor that while common at the time is decidedly not respectful to people of color.  There's is a blackface number for Lincoln's birthday which is just straight up unpleasant to watch.   It's of it's time, but that doesn't make the stereotyping okay.

That being said,  Holiday Inn is fun to watch -  my advice is to just skip the Lincoln's birthday sequence and enjoy the rest.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 candy canes.

J.A. Morris says:

I’ll echo what my co-blogger said about the blackface scene.  It’s ugly and was wrong then and now. That scene may be why Holiday Inn is often overshadowed by its cinematic "descendant" White Christmas.  It's mainly remembered today for introducing the most popular Christmas song of all time.  

Holiday Inn is entertaining and has some great song and dance numbers and Bing Crosby has great onscreen chemistry with Fred Astaire.  Their co-stars Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale aren’t well remembered today, but they hold their own with Astaire and Crosby.  

The cast includes Louise Beavers, who plays Jim’s maid Mamie.  

Beavers acted in dozens of films in a career spanned from 1927 to 1960, usually playing maids or slaves.  She made TV history when she played the title role in the series Beaulah, the first TV sitcom to feature an African American lead.

It's worth noting that this film was released during the first year of the United States' entry into WWII. During Jim's 4th of July performance, a very patriotic film (some would characterize it as propaganda). is projected on the stage.

It features footage of soldiers and pilots preparing for war, war production in factories and it ends with an image of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt. If you're fascinated with history (like I am), you'll appreciate this scene.

As RigbyMel said, here isn't much of a plot here, just great singing and dancing by two of the biggest stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, with songs written by the legendary Irving Berlin.  Since this blog covers programming related to every holiday, Holiday Inn is tailor-made for us.  

This film is available on DVD and also streams on Amazon and iTunes.

Holiday Inn is generally good in spite of its threadbare plot.  However, it has a few too many songs for my taste (I’m not a big fan of musicals).  That, combined with the blackface scene keep me from giving it a higher rating.  

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 and a half candy canes.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Miracle On 34th Street

Premiered June 4, 1947

As the date above indicates, Miracle On 34th Street was released 70 years ago today. That's right, one of the all time classic, most beloved Christmas films was released in June!  We suspect that most people reading this blog are familiar with the story, so rather than summarize it, we figured we'd discuss some interesting aspects and behind-the-scenes stories about the movie.

Why was it released out of season?  It seems Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox Studios, believed more people went to the movies during summer months.  Miracle On 34th Street was promoted with no mention of its Yuletide-themed plot.  The original movie poster seen below emphasizes the romance between Doris (Maureen O'Hara) and Fred (John Payne).  Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwen) and Susan (Natalie Wood) are relegated to the background of the poster.

Miracle On 34th Street begins on Thanksgiving Day.  Kris takes on the role of Santa in the Macy's Parade when the man hired to play Mr. Claus (Percy Helton) is too drunk to go on. Viewers of the film today might be surprised to learn that Edmund Gwenn actually did play Santa in the 1946 edition of the Macy's Parade!  Here's a photo:

This is rare case of a 1940s film being shot on location.  This means we get to see actual vintage footage of the 1946 Macy's Parade!

Character actress Thelma Ritter made her film debut in this movie.  She appears uncredited as a Macy's shopper.

While her role is brief, Ritter managed to make a nothing-role memorable and it lead to her being cast in more movies.  Ritter went on to a distinguished career, racking up six Oscar nominations, one Emmy nod and a win at the 1956 Tony Awards for New Girl In Town.

We love this film and watch it every holiday season, Edmund Gwenn is still the best movie Santa Claus seven decades after he won an Oscar for the role.

Needless to say, Miracle On 34th Street gets our highest rating.

RigbyMel and J.A. Morris' rating:

4 Candy Canes!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Golden Girls: "Mother's Day"

Premiered May 7, 1988.

It's Mother's Day and Dorothy (Bea Arthur), Rose (Betty White) and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) are waiting for calls from their children before they take Dorothy's mom, Sophia (Estelle Getty) out to brunch.

While they wait to hear from their children -- much to Sophia's dismay (she wants to get to the buffet before the good shrimp is all gone) -- the girls reminisce about Mother's Days past.

Dorothy recalls a time when she was still married to her ex-husband Stan.  They chose a Mother's Day visit to ask Stan's mother (Alice Ghostley) if she could lend them money.

Rose remembers spending a Mother's Day in a bus station with someone else's mother, a woman named Anna (Geraldine Fitzgerald).

Blanche remembers the last time she spent the holiday with her own mother, in a nursing home, and Sophia chips in with a story about a visit from her own mother, Dorothy's Grandmother Petrillo in 1950s Brooklyn.

RigbyMel says:

This episode from season three of The Golden Girls is both funny and rather sweet.

Each of the women's stories about past celebrations of Mother's Day feel like little one-act plays.  Every story plays on stereotypes a bit (the annoying mother in law, asking an elderly relative to move in or dealing with one in a nursing home, etc), but puts an interesting spin on each scenario.

Rose's story is probably the most touching, but also contains some very humorous repartee regarding the ... rustic simplicity of the residents of her hometown of St. Olaf.  Anna, the lady Rose meets at the bus station is played by Oscar nominated actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, who appeared in films like Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory and Arthur during the course of her career.

We learn that perhaps Dorothy's mother in law doesn't hate her quite as much as she thought.

In Sophia's story,  we see a young Dorothy (played by Lynnie Greene -- best known now as the producer & writer of shows like Nip/Tuck) and meet Sophia's mom, who is played by Bea Arthur -- very meta!

My favorite line in the episode belongs to Blanche -- I don't want to spoil it, but it has to do with her unabashedly owning what people think of as her defining characteristic.

If you are a fan of The Golden Girls series, this Mother's Day episode is well worth revisiting.  If you're not, you should check it out to see a classic and sassy sitcom featuring feisty older women.

RigbyMel's rating:


3 and a half Mother's Day bouquets.

J.A. Morris says:
I'd never seen this Mother's Day episode until this year, but it's a great episode of The Golden Girls.  I generally agree with my co-blogger, but I think I liked it even better.  It's very sweet, but contains just enough of the series' trademark sarcasm to keep from ever feeling treacly.

Rue McClanahan gives a particularly great performance as Blanche here.  The scene with Blanche's mom gives Mclanahan the opportunity to deliver a monologue about Blanche's attempt to get married at age 17.  It's an Emmy-worthy moment.

Betty White's is also very poignant in Rose's train station flashback sequence.

The flashbacks that focus on Dorothy and Sophia are played more for laughs, but that's okay.  They help balance out the sentimental parts, keeping "Mother's Day" from ever getting corny.

It should be noted that when she portrayed Sophia, Estelle Getty was made up to look much older than she was in real life.  Sophia's Brooklyn flashback gives us a chance to see how Getty looked when not wearing her "Sophia" makeup.

This episode streams on Amazon and it's also available on The Golden Girls: The Complete Third Season DVD set.

There aren't many Mother's Day episodes out there (this is the first we've reviewed) and this one contains the perfect combination of humor and sentimentality.  "Mother's Day" is an excellent episode of The Golden Girls and gets my highest recommendation.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 Mother's Day bouquets!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement

Premiered April 1, 1980.

Three Easter/Spring-themed cartoon shorts starring some of your favorite Looney Tunes characters!

With Easter approaching, the pressure is on for hens, since Easter is peak egg producing season. Foghorn Leghorn tells his employees they need to speed up production so they have enough eggs for the holiday. Foghorn puts extra pressure on Miss Prissy, who hasn't laid a good egg in months.  She keeps laying oddly-shaped eggs.

This changes when she lays a golden egg!  She thinks it's bad news and tosses it down a hill.

Nearby, Daffy Duck and Sylvester are hungry and scrounging for food.

When they decide to steal an egg from a chicken coop, they wind up stumbling on the golden egg.

This creates a conflict between Daffy and his feline "pal," because they both have dreams of using the egg to gain riches.

Elsewhere, a chocolate factory in Mexico is producing Easter candy.  The factory's owners hire Daffy to guard the chocolate from the local mice.  The town's mayor collects all the money the people have in an attempt to buy chocolate bunnies for the kids.  Daffy takes the money, but he sends the mayor away without any candy.

When all hope seems lost, Speedy Gonzalez, fastest mouse in all Mexico appears on the scene and is determined to save Easter for the children.

But Daffy takes his duty as security guard seriously and pulls out all stops to defeat Speedy.

In the special's final short, as winter turns to spring, Daffy flies north with a flock of ducks.  But Daffy's tired of the same old routine and decides to try a different method of migration.

He tries hitch hiking and skiing, but gets nowhere.  Daffy eventually finds a horse and decides to ride it up north, but the horse is not on board with this idea.

J.A. Morris says:
Longtime readers of this blog know that we're huge fans of classic Warner Brothers cartoons and that Daffy was a big part of our childhood.  However, this Easter special is a big step down in quality from the earlier Daffy shorts.

It's worth noting that when Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement premiered on NBC, the network also aired The Daffy Duck Show as part of its Saturday morning lineup.  This show mostly consisted of cartoons produced in the 1960s by the Depatie-Freleng company that also featured Speedy Gonzalez, Foghorn Leghorn and Sylvester shorts.  NBC did not have the rights to air Bugs Bunny cartoons, which is why everyone's favorite "Wascally Wabbit" doesn't appear in this special.

The positive part of this is that in Bugs' absence, we get to see Daffy interact with characters like Sylvester and (briefly) Foghorn Leghorn, something rarely seen in the classic shorts.
The show opens with Daffy talking to his animators, a nice (if obvious) call-back to the classic "Duck Amuck" cartoon.  It's a fun bit (Daffy calls the animator a "Van Gogh of vandalism!") but ultimately it just makes you notice that this Easter special is inferior.

The two Easter-themed shorts were entertaining and the Speedy toon made me smile a bit (especially Daffy's encounter with a vat of chocolate), and Mel Blanc does a nice job with all the voices.  The last short deals with duck migration and has nothing to do Easter.  It's the weakest portion of the special.  However, this special isn't a "forgotten classic" by any means.  Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement rarely made me laugh, but it's generally enjoyable and fans of Daffy and the other characters will want to seek it out if they haven't seen it.

This special is available on DVD.  It can be found on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 6.

Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement is mildly entertaining, especially the Speedy short, and nicely animated.  I'm giving it a marginal endorsement for Looney Toons fanatics, but it's not likely to become a part of anyone's annual Easter viewing.

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 and a half Easter Eggs.

RigbyMel says: 

As J.A. Morris, says this special was produced by the Depatie-Freleng company, which also produced things like the classic 1970s Dr. Seuss specials featuring the Lorax and the Cat in the Hat as well as the Pink Panther cartoons.   Unfortunately, their work with Looney Tunes characters is not generally characterized as being classic at all.  In fact, many cartoon historians cite the Depatie-Freleng era as the nadir of Looney Tunes production.    I think I am inclined to agree with that school of thought.

To my eye,  Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement feels like a cheaply animated rehash of things that had been done better previously.  The timing seems off and the music cues are nowhere near as cleverly deployed.  It even sounds like Mel Blanc is phoning in his voice characterizations a bit.  It's not utterly awful, but it really does not stand up well when compared to the classic Looney Tunes shorts.

It's nice to see Daffy and pals cutting up Easter-style on screen, I just wish the production values and scripting were up to classic standards.

RigbyMel's rating: 

1 and a half Easter Eggs.