Easy Living (1937): Everybody fall down

When a an expensive fur coat falls on her head, Mary Smith’s life of scraping together enough for food and rent turns upside down. She suddenly finds herself in a world of wealth, as she’s mistakenly perceived of as the mistress of Wall Street banker and tycoon, J.B. Ball.

Easy living was never so hard — or muddled and funny.

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American Rebel: Eastwood bio a disappointing read

While I remember the song from Rawhide I don’t recall ever having seen it. For me, Clint Eastwood’s career would have begun with A Fistful of Dollars (1964).

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Leopards and actors and Cary Grant

I rewatched for the nth time (I’ve lost track) Howard Hawk’s Bringing Up Baby (1938). Apart from being great fun each time I watch it, this time was a bit different having read Marc Eliot’s book, Cary Grant: A Biography, and having previously watched Cary Grant: A Class Apart (a documentary on the second disc of the two-disc special edition DVD).

Here’s why this is interesting: Seeing Bringing Up Baby, at least as I do, you would think Cary Grant is in full command of what he’s doing — the ever skillful and brilliant, Cary. However, what you find out is that that is anything but the case.

Grant had had huge success with the previous year’s The Awful Truth (1937). However, he never took credit for its success because he had no idea how he had done it. He felt it was a fluke. He had been extremely anxious over his character, not sure how to play him, copying many mannerisms and stances of his then director, Leo McCarey.

Following closely on The Awful Truth, he was worried again about how to play his character in Bringing Up Baby and, compounding this, “… he was afraid to make a movie that was too stylistically similar in which his performance would not be as good.” (From Eliot’s biography of Cary Grant, p. 178.)

“Hawks then suggested to Grant that he look at some of the films of Harold Lloyd. Grant did and was so taken with the comedian’s style of acting that he actually copied it, almost gesture for gesture, in putting together his interpretation of David Huxley, down to the thick horn-rimmed glasses, one of Lloyd’s cinematic trademarks.” (Eliot’s biography of Cary Grant, p. 178.)

Still, while his template may have been Harold Lloyd what ends up on screen is pure Cary Grant, albeit with a Lloyd influence and the Cary Grant of a certain period of his career (younger, pre-Hitchcock etc.).

Of course, background isn’t necessary to enjoying this comedy classic. It may even get in the way until you’ve seen it a few times. It’s one of the great screwball comedies, peppered with absurdities and the better for it.

For what it’s worth, here’s the assessment I wrote a while back of Bring Up Baby (the two-disc special DVD edition).

Rethinking Jimmy Stewart – Part 1

I’ve finally finished Marc Eliot’s book, Jimmy Stewart: A Biography. Reading it was an interesting process because, as I did, I re-watched many of the movies Jimmy Stewart appeared in. Between the book and the movies, I’ve re-evaluated my opinion of James Stewart, both the actor and the man.

Truthfully, I didn’t really have an “opinion” of him prior to this as Jimmy Stewart and his movies were always a given for me. By this I mean that when I was young I would watch old movies with my mom and, of course, Jimmy Stewart starred in many of them.

Back then, I wouldn’t have thought about the quality of his performances. They were simply movies – some I liked, some I didn’t.

Not long after that, as I got a little older, I’d “stay up half the night,” as my mother would put it. This meant I stayed up watching The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. (I remember when it was just The Tonight Show and I remember when they tagged the “starring …” part to the title.) If memory serves correctly, it ran between 11:30pm and 1:00am (until it was reduced to a 60 minute show).

Jimmy Stewart was often a guest, as he was occasionally on other shows, like The Dean Martin Show (with The Golddiggers!) which my mom and I also watched, usually together.

I think my image of Jimmy Stewart as both a person and as an actor was determined, or defined rather, by the Jimmy Stewart I saw on these shows: avuncular, not too serious, friendly, quaint and drawling. Just a really nice guy in the way a lovable relative might be. There was a disconnect between the George Bailey of It’s a Wonderful Life, the Scottie Ferguson of Vertigo and the Lin McAdam of Winchester ’73.

It’s likely that business of first impressions. Because I came to Jimmy Stewart at the age I was, and he was in the latter portion of his life, he was (for me) defined by that latter half – which was accurate to some degree, but nowhere close to being complete. Once you get an initial idea in your head about someone it’s very difficult to shake loose of it.

But with Eliot’s book and a somewhat different eye as I watched some of Jimmy Stewart’s movies again, I am to some degree free of my initial idea of him and I think the opinion I now have is very much different.

I think now, as I never would have thought before (it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to think in these terms), Jimmy Stewart is easily placed high in the pantheon of Hollywood actors of the period considered The Golden Age.

And I think it’s very possible he should be placed at the very top. When I think of the kind of person he was and the body of work he produced it strikes me as nothing less than remarkable though, in one sense, perhaps inevitable.

Who would have thought that nice, drawling old guy could have produced such work?


I describe this as “Part 1” because it strikes me there must be a Part 2. What I don’t know is exactly how much I’ll find myself writing. I’ve scribbled enough about many of his movies, so hopefully I can restrain myself and just keep it to one more post … then move on!

Two movies, one Jimmy Stewart

I’ve been watching quite a few Jimmy Stewart movies lately because I’ve been reading his biography by Marc Eliot. It just seems the thing to do …

Over the weekend, I wrote up assessments of two of his lighter films, both directed by Henry Koster and both of which I’ve always enjoyed, though one is considerably better than the other.

The better of the two (by a long shot) is 1950’s Harvey, a movie that, as I write, perfectly articulates one aspect of Stewart’s personality. It’s what I think of as the aspirational Stewart, what he hoped he was or could be or, perhaps more accurately, how he felt the world should be. The other side of that coin would be the movies he did with Hitchcock and Anthony Mann.

The other movie was Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, which I wrote about here. What can I say? Although I know it isn’t a great movie it has its moments, actually does make me laugh, and has a nostalgic quality, at least for me. Yes, I like it.

A guilty pleasure? Perhaps, perhaps …

A little something about Jean Arthur

I watched and wrote a review of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington the other day. After writing and posting the review I discovered that I had already written a review of it back in 2002. And here’s the thing: the first was a helluva lot better than the one I had just written.

On the other hand, the new review did help me realize I wanted to write something about Jean Arthur (this is not the post). I absolutely love her. Yes, it’s partly due to her squeaky voice that has a “cute” quality to it that you can’t resist. However, it’s also because I think she was a pretty darned good actor, particularly as a comedic actor.

Many of her movies are among my favourites like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take it With You and Only Angels Have Wings. (Look who she worked with: Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant!) To learn a little bit about her, have a look at the bio on IMDb.

I don’t really like the term “appreciation” but I suppose that is what I hope to write. Before that, though, I hope to learn a bit more about her by picking up John Oller’s biography of her from about ten years ago, Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew.

By the way, one of the initiating factors in my watching and collecting of older movies was Jean Arthur. Sometime around 2000 or 2001 a series of DVDs were released under the heading Columbia Classics. Movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Only Angels Have Wings were among them and they are what got me interested in Jean Arthur.

Jimmy Stewart rides again

I’ve just started reading Marc Eliot’s book, Jimmy Stewart: A Biography. Having just begun, I can’t say anything about it’s merits, though I can say I read Eliot’s book from a few years ago, Cary Grant: A Biography and enjoyed it. I’m not sure why, but I like reading biographies of Hollywood’s luminaries of the “golden” years. I do have a theory, though.

I think I read these books because they prompt me to go back and rewatch movies, some I had almost completely forgotten about. In Stewart’s case, Wikipedia says he, “… appeared in 92 films, television programs and shorts.” So, although I have quite a few Jimmy Stewart films they are just a smidgeon of what he made. But they’re almost all good ones!

Last night, I decided to go through some of them and decided to start with 1939’s Destry Rides Again. If you haven’t seen Destry, you’ve no idea what you’re missing. It’s a western comedy, with Jimmy Stewart playing a gunshy lawmen brought in to bring order to the lawless town of Bottleneck. It also features Marlene Dietrich. You can take a look at my 2003 review here.

Jimmy Stewart, by the way, was named third Greatest Male Star of All time by the (AFI), just behind Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant.

And some other Jmmy Stewart movies I’ve written about:


I just found an old post, from 2005, regarding Eliot’s previous book (the one on Cary Grant). The post is titled: Cary Grant — who was that guy?

The combustible Ava Gardner – review

Ava Gardner: ‘Love is Nothing’ (2006)
by Lee Server

Book cover for Ava Gardner: "Love is Nothing"I recently finished reading Ava Gardner: “Love Is Nothing” by Lee Server and it’s nothing if not entertaining. Somewhere, he makes mention of her living life “like a rocket.”

It’s an apt description but I think I’d say she lived like she drove cars – fast, carefree and just a little bit out of control (and with more than a few crashes).

It really is an extraordinary life and, if the end has a bit of sadness to it, it should be seen in context. Her highs were very high and the lows – well, very low. It strikes me as a life characterized by extremes.

I found the biography very good and, as one reviewer mentioned (I can’t remember who it was), while Server details the good and the bad he does appear to have an affection for his subject. But then, really, who didn’t? One thing the biography makes fairly clear is how easily most people found Ava to like, even to love.

And yes, the book covers all the marriages and the affairs and, good grief, there were a helluva a lot of them.

As for her film work, one thing that comes across (for me, at least) is how much we missed of some fine acting – for several reasons. In part, a studio that seemed incapable or indifferent to placing her in good roles, and also Ava’s own insecurities and capriciousness. She was better than she knew, better than the studio allowed her to be and so she probably never achieved what she might have on film.

We do, however, have Ava Gardner in some gems, like The Killers and (my favourite) The Night of the Iguana. (Server often mentions the film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman and, while Gardner is quite fine in the film, as is James Mason, the movie as a movie is a bit of a turkey.)

If I have any objection to the biography I think it is that an explanation for the kind of personality Ava Gardner had may be absent, though I’m not sure anyone could actually explain what went into making Ava Gardner. This is not to say the book omits anything or is remiss in anyway. But she seems to have experienced major swings in mood (many, I would imagine, caused by alcohol – she was, I think, an alcoholic, taking it in like water). She was also plagued by insecurities.

And really, what explains that relationship with Sinatra? Alcohol and combustible personalities … It’s an explanation but I’m not sure that fully accounts for it.

Whatever the reasons, Ava Gardner’s life is utterly fascinating. And perhaps more than just the endless incidents and relationships, it may be its inexplicable quality that makes it most compelling.

Also see:

Reading about Clark Gable, movie star

I’m currently reading Clark Gable: a Biography by Warren G. Harris. While not great, it’s certainly pretty good. I’m almost finished it and I have to be honest, what I find most interesting is how uninteresting Clark Gable is.

Perhaps a more rigorous biography might have helped this – a bit more psychological focus, assuming there is sufficient information available to do that.

The book itself is interesting enough, but it just seems a bit odd that someone of that “star” stature should be so … well, bland. But perhaps that’s the real story of Gable – a huge success in that Hollywood world, yet really just an average guy.

Of course, I should also say that while I’ve never disliked Clark Gable movies, and there are few I like quite a lot (Gone With the Wind and Run Silent Run Deep, for instance) I’ve never been a huge fan of his.