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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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The Tantalus Dilemma Redux

In 2012 I attended the 3rd Annual TCM Classic Film Festival (and my 1st). In 2010 I was unable to attend because I had a bun in the oven and in 2011 the little bun was too young for me to leave. It was hard for me to stay here, watching the commercials, seeing the live blogs and tweets, and of course the footage from the Festival itself. I honestly didn’t think it would ever be a possibility for me to go. When the opportunity arose for me to attend in 2012, everything fell into place. All of the things I worried about were non-issues and all of the things I didn’t think would be issues? Well…

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2012 Holiday Gift Guide

Happy Holidays from The Fence!

 

It’s never been a better time to be a classic film fan. With numerous theatre screenings across the country, the TCM Film Festival, never before released and remastered films on DVD/Blu-ray– there’s an abundance of goodies for every fan. With only two weeks until Christmas, I have put together a gift guide for the classic film fans on your list. Already done with your shopping or don’t celebrate Christmas? Then pick something out for yourself! Make sure to scroll through the entire post for some fantastic deals and enter the giveaway.

 

Books

I love reviewing books here at The Fence. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a review, but I’ve been keeping an eye on new releases. There are a few must-haves for classic film fans:

 

Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capitol, 1928-1937

by Darrell Rooney and Mark A. Viera
Angel City Press
MSRP $50.00

Released in March 2011, Harlow in Hollywood is quite possibly the best classic film related book in my collection. With a well-researched biography and stunning photos of Harlow all throughout her career, this is an absolute must for Jean Harlow fans. You can find my detailed review of the book here.

You can order Harlow in Hollywood directly through Angel City Press or for bit cheaper on Amazon.com

 

Silhouettes From Popular Culture
by Olly Moss
Titan Books
MSRP $16.95

Titan Books has released a collection of Olly Moss silhouettes from the hugely popular Paper Cuts exhibition. This is a fun book for not just film fans, but pop culture buffs too! Look for a review coming soon.

You can order Silhouettes From Popular Culture from Amazon.

 

Marilyn in Fashion
by Christopher Nickens and George Zeno
Running Press
MSRP $30.00

There are countless books on Marilyn Monroe. Let’s face it: most of them are complete garbage. There are gems scattered throughout the trash, and Marilyn in Fashion is one of those beautiful gems. The photos alone are worth the price, but the book is so much more. With anecdotes of Monroe’s working relationship with designers and her fashion transformation throughout her career, Marilyn in Fashion is a lovely book to add to your collection. Order on Amazon.com

 

Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies
by Christel Schmidt
University Press of Kentucky
MSRP $45.00

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about this book. I just won a copy from TCM’s monthly Book Corner giveaway. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and read it yet, but have thumbed through it a bit. It is absolutely stunning.

You can order Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies from the TCM Shop or on Amazon

 

DVD/Blu-ray

Here is a collection of some of my favorite DVD/Blu-ray releases along with some can’t miss deals:

 

Criterion Collection

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) on DVD and Blu-ray
MSRP: $49.95

 

 

 

 

 

Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1947) on DVD/Blu
MSRP: $39.95

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) on DVD/Blu
MSRP: $39.95

 

 

 

 

 

Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living (1933) on DVD/Blu
MSRP: $39.95

 

 

 

 

* All of these Criterion titles and others are on sale at Amazon.com.

 

Kino Classics

The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection on Blu-ray
MSRP: $299.95

 

 

 

 

 

William A. Wellman’s A Star is Born (1937) on DVD and Blu
MSRP: $29.95

 

 

 

 

 

Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930): Remastered Standard Edition on DVD and Blu
MSRP: $29.95

 

 

 

 

 

Warner Archive

W.S. Van Dyke’s Rage in Heaven (1941)
MSRP: $19.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean Harlow Collection
MSRP: $64.99

 

 

 

 

Conflict (1945)
MSRP: $26.99

 

 

 

 

 

Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume 4
MSRP $49.99

 

 

 

 

Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume 5
MSRP $49.99

 

 

 

 

 

Fox Home Entertainment

Bond 50: The Complete 22 Film Collection DVD/Blu-ray
MSRP $299.99

 

 

 

 

Princess Bride: 25th Anniversary Edition DVD/Blu-ray
MSRP: $19.99

 

 

 

 

Patton (1970) Blu-ray

MSRP: $24.99

 

 

 

 

Can’t miss bargains

The Complete Thin Man Collection
This retails for $60.00. Right now on Amazon it is only $17.99! If you don’t have this set, it’s a must!

 

 

 

 

Myrna Loy and William Powell Collection
Another great deal for Powell/Loy fans (and really, who isn’t a fan of theirs?) at only $18.49. This is a great set. My personal favorites are Manhattan Melodrama and I Love You Again.

 

 

 

 

Tracy & Hepburn: The Definitive Collection
This set includes every single film Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn made together. It’s under $25.00. Need I say more?

 

 

 

 

Christmas in Connecticut
One of the greatest Christmas films ever is only $4.00! You can find it at Amazon and at your local Target.

 

 

 

 

For those of you with a Costco membership, you might want to take a trip to check out their movie section. Recent finds include The Joan Crawford Collection, Warner Gangsters Collections, The Premiere Frank Capra Collection, Busby Berkeley, The Marx Bros Collection– all for under $15.00. Also in stores are numerous “Signature Collection” sets including: Bogie/Bacall, Tracy/Hepburn, James Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, and Clark Gable. Of course there are no guarantees on what is in stock, but I always find lots of goodies! I’m still kicking myself for passing on the Preston Sturges set…

 

Other classic film goodies

  • Love Charlie Chaplin? Then you definitely need to check out this lovely canvas print of The Little Tramp over at Ikea. There’s an Audrey Hepburn version, too.
  • Fans of TCM are all too familiar with Robert Osborne’s signature TCM bistro mug. I own two and drink my coffee out of them every single day. A must have!
  • If you’re a big spender, you can always go for a pass to the TCM Classic Film Festival. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed. Money well spent!

Last, but certainly not least…

  • My pal Cliff over at Immortal Ephemera has an amazing deal right now: Free shipping on all orders over $25.00 with additional discounts depending on your total. Cliff sells classic film related photos, postcards, tobacco cards, and other ephemera. Great selection and fantastic customer service.

 


It’s giveaway time!

The lovely folks over at Fox Home Entertainment are providing a copy of Patton (1970) on Blu-ray.

To enter the giveaway there are two requirements:

1) In an effort to curb spam entries, I’m requiring all entrants to subscribe to this website via email. You can do so at the very bottom of the page. Don’t worry– your email will remain private.

2) You must send an email to Contests (at) sittinonabackyardfence (dot) com. Please include “PATTON GIVEAWAY” in the subject line.

 

You have until Monday, December 17th at Midnight EST to enter. The winner will be chosen via random drawing and contacted during the day on the 18th.

This contest is only available to U.S. residents.

 

 

Full disclosure: Some of the links to Amazon are linked to this site’s affiliates page.

 

Day 2: Myrna Loy

 

My girl Myrna is in the spotlight today!

 

Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

I have never heard anyone speak harshly of Myrna Loy. In fact, just the mere mention of her name elicits such a positive response it is hard not to crack a smile. My first encounter with Myrna’s films was her work with Cary Grant in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse.

She is brilliant in both roles and is one of Grant’s greatest co-stars. When I eventually discovered her films from the 1930s, I finally understood why she is so highly regarded among classic film fans. Soon I began scrounging for every Loy performance I could find, including all the films she made with the charming William Powell, with whom she co-starred 14 times.

In the late eighties, Myrna Loy worked extensively and exclusively with James Kotsilibas-Davis to pen her autobiography Being and Becoming. This personal account has been the only significant information regarding Loy’s private life and career until now. Emily W. Leider, author of Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, utilizes Loy’s recollections from Being and Becoming, along with newly obtained material, in an attempt to piece together more of Loy’s life story.

Leider begins with a detailed account of Myrna Loy’s childhood leading up to being discovered in Hollywood. In her hometown of Helena, Montana, a young Loy took an interest in performing arts–especially dance. After the death of her father, Myrna, her mother, and other relatives moved to Southern California. She continued taking dance lessons and eventually sought work to provide for her family. More importantly, Myrna desperately wanted independence. In 1923 she was hired as a prologue dancer at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. For frame of reference, these elaborate stage productions (which provided in-house entertainment for moviegoers), were akin to the prologues featured in Busby Berkeley’s Footlight Parade. Before long, Loy’s beauty and talent were noticed by Rudolph Valentino and his wife Natacha Rambova. Myrna quickly acquired her first uncredited role in the 1925 film What Price Beauty?

After several of these smaller roles, Loy was offered parts as exotics, often playing a temptress and homewrecker. She would be typecast in this kind of role until around 1934 when she gave breakout performances in Manhattan Melodrama and The Thin Man. Although she had shed one typecast, she gained another in being labeled “the perfect wife.”

Leider writes of Loy’s early years in Hollywood, including when she fell in love with a married man, producer Arthur Hornblow. Eventually they married, but Arthur’s infidelities and lack of commitment led to their divorce. Myrna had four husbands in all, yet never found the reciprocal love she so desperately sought. Since she could not find complete happiness in her romantic life, Myrna looked for other ways to gain fulfillment. She was a dedicated volunteer during WWII and raised millions of dollars in war bonds for the cause. She was also quite active in liberal politics and outspoken against the House Un-American Activities Committee. A staunch supporter of President Roosevelt, Loy soon became friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the two worked closely on social and political causes. Myrna was also an unabashed supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, which was not a popular stance at the time. Later in her career and life, Loy retreated from Hollywood to New York where she remained until her death in 1993. In the final years of her life she was finally recognized by The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award. Up to that moment, Loy had never even been nominated for an Oscar.

I have long awaited a biography on Myrna Loy. Her autobiography Being and Becoming is out of print, so finding an affordable copy has proven to be difficult. When I first heard of Emily W. Leider’s book, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I am slightly disappointed. Leider’s account of Myrna Loy’s early life is well written. I appreciate her attention to detail in retelling Loy’s story from a different perspective than what has already been written. What I noticed is Leider references Loy’s book numerous times (almost to the point of distraction), and it quickly becomes apparent that perhaps there really isn’t much information about Loy’s life outside of what has already been written. In other words, Loy wrote what she thought we should know about her and therefore disclosed a filtered, if incomplete version, which is fair. That said, there are a few new bits of information in The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, that according to Leider, Loy either briefly mentions in passing or ignores completely in her autobiography. For example, Leider discusses the reason behind Loy’s inability to bear children, something that Loy never divulged.

One of the trappings of the star biography is an author’s tendency to give synopses of movies in an actor’s filmography. In telling the story of Loy’s early fledgling career and rise to prominence in Hollywood, Leider often falls into the pattern of film synopsis and review. I understand that anecdotes from the filming of Loy’s movies is important to paint a complete picture of the surrounding events in her life. However, when plotlines are detailed from start to finish accompanied by critique and opinion (either Leider’s or that of a film critic), it is too much.

Overall, I have mixed feelings on Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood. I would like to revisit this book after reading Being and Becoming. Perhaps Leider’s book will be a nice companion piece to Loy’s, but in all honesty I was looking for something more.

Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood
ISBN: 9780520253209
University of California Press
October 2011
424 pages

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood directly from the publisher, University of California Press. I would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.

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.

As you will come to realize, I have many favorite actors and actresses. Four of them are in this movie (well, one has a relatively small role. The horror!): Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, and a really young and adorable James Stewart. Wife vs. Secretary is a perfect example of the typical run of the mill studio production: top talent under contract forced to make 3 or 4 movies at a time and regurgitated story lines. Definitely not the most memorable film in terms of film quality or story, but memorable because of those involved.

I don’t think anyone would deny the incredible chemistry between Gable and Loy and especially between Gable and Harlow in all of the movies they made together. Wife vs. Secretary is no exception. Gable is Van Stanhope (V.S.), a successful publisher and devoted husband to Linda, played by Loy. Harlow is “Whitey”, Van’s secretary and go-to gal. V.S. and Whitey’s relationship is purely business. Linda acknowledges Whitey’s importance to V.S. and his business affairs and never shows any shred of jealousy. She even expresses gratitude at Whitey’s helpfulness…until V.S’s mother Mimi (May Robson) suggests her son and Whitey are having an affair. Linda scoffs at the idea until a series of suspicious circumstances leads her to question V.S.’s fidelity.

Although I enjoyed Wife vs. Secretary, I had no real investment in the story or the characters for that matter. Gable is charming, as he is in every role, but his performance falls flat. I don’t think it is his fault, but rather because of poor writing. Harlow, known for her more seductive roles, is actually playing against type for a change. According to comments made by Myrna Loy, Harlow desperately wanted to be taken more seriously and wanted to shake the loose lady image. As Whitey she accomplishes that, which is completely refreshing to see. It’s also sad because she had a long career ahead of her and it was tragically cut short. I’m torn about Myrna Loy’s character. I love the sex appeal she brings to the role. It’s not often we see a wife with sex appeal who is also faithful. However,  I do not love Loy as the weakling. I like my Loy to be sensible and independent. Doesn’t everyone? James Stewart has a minor role as Whitey’s dopey-eyed boyfriend Dave. He wants to marry her but does not support her choice to continue working once they are wed. Stewart’s performance is effective and there are glimpses of the grand actor we know and love today.

One thing I always love about Depression-era films is their portrayal of the wealthy and elite classes. At the beginning of the film, V.S. and Linda are celebrating their wedding anniversary. V.S. surprises Linda with a diamond bracelet inside her breakfast fish. 1) Who eats a whole damn trout for breakfast and 2)who puts ridiculously expensive jewels inside a fish to be discovered? Apparently Myrna Loy was not too fond of that scene and tried to have it removed from the film. I also love the solution to a dissolving marriage: Take an ocean voyage! Nothing like the slow boat to Europe to think about your life. I guess it’s to avoid the prying eyes of the gossip columns and the social set. I must remember that if my husband and I ever have marital problems, I should book a cruise immediately.