This remake of Howard Hawks’s Ball of Fire is very scripty – so much screenwriting that there’s no room for anything else. Maybe a powerful performance could break through the scriptiness, but Virginia Mayo (ah, who?) is no Stanwyck, and Danny Kaye (I can never remember who he is exactly, and think of him as “Fake Donald O’Connor”) is no Gary Cooper (and I don’t even like Gary Cooper), so we’re boned. Mayo and her gangster boyfriend “Tony Crow” get in some real good slang, at least, while Kaye avoids Mayo because of her distracting body and the demoralizing effect of her presence, and hides out with his music scholar buddies, none of whom are Cuddles Sakall (but one of whom is Benny Goodman). Popular musicians Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong look on as Kaye finally gets the girl, and picking up the second half of this movie a day later, we forgot why we’d ever started it, until we saw the Hawks name again – he remade his own pretty-good movie as a pretty-bad movie in the same decade.

Named after the song, for some reason, since mostly it’s a Christmas movie – a semi-remake of The Shop Around the Corner, with Van Johnson as the insensitive lunk. Tom Hanks and Jimmy Stewart are extremely likeable actors, offsetting the insensitivity of their character, but here the producers were mostly focused on finding excuses for Judy Garland to sing old-fashioned songs, so they changed the shop to a music store, hired a bunch of comedians for the support roles, and accidentally cast a lunk to play the lunk.

Cuddles Sakall (this is his latest film that I’ve heard of) is their boss, a music store owner who plays his expensive violin very badly, with his Devil and Miss Jones costar Spring Byington as his secretary/fiancee, plus nordic-sounding Minnesotan Clinton Sundberg (Good Sam), and Buster Keaton! Keaton gets to smash the offending violin (actually another violin, long story) and directed the chaotic scene when Judy and Van meet – which we knew because the P-Bog doc just showed it. Van’s violinist friend was actually a violinist, who had just appeared on a Life magazine cover.

Opens with heavy narration, which thankfully peters out. Judy looked and sounded great onscreen – this was a brief productive spell between The Pirate and Summer Stock during the period when she kept getting fired from movies. Mostly she sings period-appropriate songs for shop customers looking to spend 15 cents on sheet music, but she gets to stretch out at a company party, following a lively barbershop song with the crazy-energetic “I Don’t Care.”

Criterion posted a pile of MGM musicals, and I got Katy to watch The Pirate, which she didn’t like, even though it’s about a circus-boss scam-artist ladies’ man who pretends to be a notorious pirate in order to win over a pretty girl, then discovers her fiancee is the real notorious pirate, fat and retired.

Stars: Gene and Judy

Blustery and Loud: Walter Sleestack (The Clock King of TV’s Batman) and Gladdie Cooper (Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady)

Yitz: Lester Allen as Capucho, the movie’s secret star

Michael Koresky:

In The Pirate, Garland’s unhappily betrothed Manuela, who craves romance and adventure, insists, “Underneath this prim exterior, there are depths of emotion, romantic longings.” It’s a statement that could be made by virtually any character in any musical. These are hardly frivolous matters. The musical is for anyone who has ever longed for something or someone — that is to say, everyone. What is life without fantasy? To be firmly grounded, one must occasionally walk on air.

Based on a then-twenty-year-old novel, which somehow hasn’t been remade yet, but I suppose every movie about no-good men coming into money then turning into paranoid murderers is a remake in spirit. Damn good movie, but the true stories about the contested identity of the novel’s author are even better! John Huston’s fourth non-doc feature won oscars for himself and his dad, and his other movie that year won Claire Trevor an award.

A couple of downluck laborers overhear Walter Huston (just off playing “The Sinkiller” in Duel in the Sun) bragging about his prospectin’ skills, and they ask if he’d join them on an expedition. I didn’t know who was the bigger sucker, but it wasn’t the two Americans since Huston indeed had the knowledge and skills to find all the gold dust you please; it was jolly Huston for taking on these bozos as partners. I guess Tim Holt (prolific cowboy star, an Earp in My Darling Clementine) isn’t so bad. especially compared to his villainous partner Humphrey Bogart (what?) who becomes gold-crazed, tries to kill the others and finally gets murdered by banditos who lose all the gold dust to the wind (making The Killing another semi-remake).

We heard that someone, somewhere, was having a Jean Arthur marathon, so we decided to participate and found this. Jean’s neglectful husband Fred MacMurray is lost at sea and presumed dead, but returns to find she has a new neglectful husband, his business partner Melvyn Douglas, and Jean enjoys having two men fight over her. The guys try leaving it to chance, but Melvyn cheats – the movie is pretty much on Fred’s side from the start. I guess Wes Ruggles was popular in his time, since his photo appears on the movie poster. I was not a fan of the first thing I saw him direct – looks like his thing is to cast all my favorite actresses opposite Melvyn Douglas. Written by Somerset Maugham, the highest-paid author in the world, also featuring butler Melville Cooper, who had played the Sheriff of Nottingham vs. Errol Flynn a couple years earlier.

Katy found us a new Christmas movie. Aloysius McKeever (Victor Moore, star of Make Way for Tomorrow) is a squatter who lives in mega-rich Michael O’Connor’s summer house during the winter (and his winter house in the summer). He starts inviting other unfortunates to stay with him during a post-war housing shortage, leading to a More The Merrier situation where roommates Jim (Iowan Don DeFore, who somehow played a German later in a Douglas Sirk movie) and Trudy (Gale Storm of some Joseph Kane westerns) fall in love. Jim is blandly unmemorable, so fortunately there’s more going on – Trudy is the homeowner’s daughter pretending to be down on her luck, and she invites both divorced parents (Lubitsch actor Charles Ruggles and Ann Harding of Double Harness) to play along – I forget why they go along with it, but Ruggles eventually reveals himself to Jim, donating land to his housing-crisis alleviation project, after all the family togetherness somewhat unscrooges him. They never clue in McKeever, who heads merrily to another mansion in the new year.

Pretty straightforward biopic of Wonder Woman and lie detector inventor Marston, his wife and their live-in lover… a solidly-made film with good performances. Usually “solidly-made with good performances” isn’t much of a recommendation for me, but it’s also thrilling that something this deviant played in the months between Wonder Woman and Fifty Shades Freed at the Grand, where I’m always subjected to trailers for Dennis Quaid Christian dramas. Seems a bit slow/long at times, but it’s covering ideas as well as incidents, and allowing each one the breathing space to feel natural so the characters don’t come across as sexy weirdos. Luke Evans (the documentarian in High-Rise) and Rebecca Hall (Christine) are the Marstons and Bella Heathcote (an evil model in The Neon Demon) is his teaching assistant who gets invited into their marriage long-term, though they have to keep it quiet since this is the 1940’s. From the writer/director of D.E.B.S., which I’ve been mildly wanting to watch for over a decade now.

A rah-rah-war movie in which an apparent simpleton with amazing gun skills (Gary Cooper) falls for a pretty girl (Joan Leslie), wins a turkey shooting contest, gets screwed out of some land he wants to buy, gets hit by lightning, and is convinced by his pastor (Walter Brennan) to chill out on the drinking. Then the army comes calling, and tricks poor Gary into believing that the bible justifies killing for your country, so Gary goes off to war and captures a whole flock of enemy troops.

Not that we didn’t enjoy watching Cooper mow down Germans. It’s a well-paced movie full of fun characters, which makes up for Cooper, who is very bad at playing drunk and speaking with hick accents.

Playing Coop’s serious little brother, Dickie Moore’s child-actor career was winding down while Joan Leslie’s was just taking off. York’s barely-seen sister June Lockhart went on to be an anti-war activist, then appear in C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud. All three were the same age, less than half of Cooper’s.

Dickie:

Joan:

My second ghost story this month after Journey to the Shore, which also featured corporeal-looking ghosts with appearances signaled by lighting changes. Widowed Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney at her cutest, also of ghost film Heaven Can Wait) gets a good deal on a haunted house. She soon runs into financial trouble, but rather than get rid of the housekeeper (Edna Best, the Doris Day of the original Man Who Knew Too Much), she teams up with house-ghost Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison, the My Fair Lady/Unfaithfully Yours lead shouter at his shoutiest) to ghostwrite his uncensored memoirs.

The living Mrs. Muir and dead Mr. Gregg learn to tolerate each other and gradually develop deeper feelings, but Gregg disappears after she starts dating a children’s author she meets at her publisher’s, creepy George Sanders (Ingrid’s husband in Voyage to Italy). When that doesn’t work out because he turns out to be married, she stays home staring at the sea for decades until death, when she’s reunited with her beloved captain (he could’ve come back sooner and kept her company, but it’s still a nice ending).

One of Joe Mank’s earliest movies, two years before A Letter to Three Wives. The story was expanded into a late-1960’s TV series with Laura Dern’s mom from Blue Velvet as the lead, and an Irishman from Caprice as the ghost.