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William Wyler’s Love Letter to His Comrades in Arms: The Best Years of Our Lives

In the opening shot of William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), CAPT Fred Derry walks into an airport terminal in hopes of catching a flight home to Boone City, USA. Upon reaching the clerk at the counter, Fred learns there is a several day wait for a commercial flight, even though he’s a returning war hero. A wealthy middle-aged businessman then charges up next to Fred, interrupts his conversation with the airline clerk, and confirms his seat on the next flight regardless of the extra cost. He barely acknowledges CAPT Derry, no nod or a “thank you for your service.” The air is thick with rotten apathy, and it’s this scene that signals the audience is in for a different kind of war movie. William Wyler, himself a WWII veteran, saw America’s shift in attitude immediately following the war. The wells of patriotism had been tapped dry and those keeping the fires burning on the home front were tired of making sacrifices. Once the servicemen returned home, the warm welcome was short lived. After fighting for years in the Pacific and Europe, these soldiers were expected to resume life as normal almost immediately. Definitely easier said than done. The transition back to civilian life was difficult for many of the soldiers displaced by the war, and Wiliam Wyler wanted to pay tribute to their post-war struggles.

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Beloved Infidel from Twilight Time

In 1933, British gossip columnist Sheilah Graham arrived in New York to accept a position writing for The New York Mirror and The Evening Journal. After two years establishing herself in the entertainment scene, Graham was offered her very own syndicated column, Hollywood Today, with the North American Newspaper Alliance. Graham moved to Los Angeles so she could insert herself into the Hollywood scene, putting her in with the likes the notorious gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper.

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Rage in Heaven (1941) from Warner Archive

One of the reasons I love classic film is the extensive number of “deep tracks”– those little hidden gems waiting to be discovered and shared. Alright, so maybe not all deep tracks are “gems”, but it’s still loads of fun to discover new-to-me old movies. A few years ago during a Robert Montgomery marathon on TCM, I managed to catch the strange psychological thriller Rage in Heaven. Released by MGM in 1941, and directed by W.S. “One-Take Woody” Van Dyke, Rage in Heaven stars Montgomery, the charming George Sanders, and the young, delightfully fresh-faced Ingrid Bergman. Discovered by David O. Selznick after seeing her performance in the Swedish film Intermezzo (1936), Bergman was immediately signed to a contract. She made her Hollywood debut in 1939 with the remake Intermezzo: A Love Story, with Leslie Howard. Bergman instantly won the affections of American moviegoers. And although her iconic role in the romantic classic Casablanca was three years away, Bergman quickly established herself as a Hollywood mainstay.

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William Powell in Rendezvous (1935) from Warner Archive

William Powell is one of the most lovable, charming actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood. His dry wit, distinct voice, and gentlemanly disposition truly make him one of a kind. Like most of the stars of the Studio Era, Powell had to deal with his share of recycled scrips and grueling production schedules. Sometimes the result was a rough-hewn gem. Other times it was an easily forgotten misuse of an incredible talent. But when it comes to Bill Powell, just give me what you’ve got. I’ll take it all.

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Wife vs. Secretary (1936)


Well dear, men are like that. So honorable and able and wise in some things, and just like naughty children in others. You wouldn’t blame a little boy for stealing a piece of candy if left alone in a room with a box full of it, would you?

I am ashamed to say that I haven’t watched many “new to me” classic films lately. I’ve been so incredibly exhausted that whenever I snag a spare moment I fall back on my tried and true favorites. Lots of Wyler, Wilder, and Hitchcock. Not a bad group to fall back on, but it’s not like me to go this long without discovering something new. Maybe I’m still bitter about losing everything on my DVR and that’s why I’ve been so unenthusiastic. Whatever the reason, my dry spell is over! I don’t know if I picked the best for my movie watching homecoming, but it feels good to be back regardless.

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